Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Life isn't fair

Life is just not fair.

This is a truth we all learn in life. As a pastor, I'm finding that I'm reminded of this truth all too often.

As I step into the vulnerable lives of those I know and love, I see time and time again how bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. I read the news and watch people advance in their careers by lying and cheating their way through the system, while honest and talented people can't even get interviews for a job. I watch my friends in Haiti get pummeled by natural disaster after natural disaster having to rebuild with no resources as I sit here in comfort not affected by disaster at all. I see parents ache to have a child only to be met with barrenness and miscarriages while other couples are surprised and even terrified with unexpected pregnancies.

I see an elderly person wanting their family to see and accept that their time has come to die and I see lives taken all too soon.

What are we to do as people of faith in the face of unfairness? How are we to seek guidance and help from our God when we feel God is being a parent who won't play fair?

It's a daily struggle to find peace in all the chaos and to trust that God is in control. It's hard to know how we are to fight for justice in the system when it doesn't feel like justice is even an option. Today, I pray for those who experience the unfairness of our world. I pray that God might provide a sense of comfort, hope, and joy amidst their pain.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Modeling Ministry

I read a blog recently on the importance of modeling ministry. The article shared the benefits for both the pastor and the community when the role of the pastor is redefined to share the responsibilities and gifts of ministry with the members of the congregation.

This isn't a new discussion by any means... the "priesthood of all believers" has been an important doctrine of the Reformed Tradition. We believe that the pastor is no closer to God than other members of the community, that one need not "go through" the pastor to confess or communicate with God. Nor does one need always to be ministered to by the pastor. Sometimes ministry is more effective coming from those other than the pastor.

This blog caught my attention because it reminded me of the benefits I've experienced serving as pastor of Mission Bay Community Church. Not to toot this church's horn too much, but I have been so excited to serve alongside this community of leaders who understand that it is their responsibility and joy to share in ministry with me.

Probably the best example of how they share ministry with me is through their involvement in the sermon. Each week this community EXPECTS the preacher to pose a question where they can engage and respond. I've been blown away by how the Holy Spirit moves through their experience and opinions to bring about profound and rich meaning in the text. As they share their interpretation of the scripture passage or their experience of God, we all gain greater insight to how God is alive and at work in each others' lives.

Not only do they participate in the sermon weekly, but a few of the leaders in our church have led the sermon themselves. This has been a gift to me. Writing and giving sermons each week is exhausting work! Their preaching has given me a break to breathe and cultivate my love for scripture again. It's also been a gift to the community. Each preacher uses a different lens (historical, medical, pedagogical) and allows us to see scripture in different ways. Some of the most meaningful conversations for me have been with these preachers about their process of sermon writing/giving. This opportunity to preach has given them space and permission (maybe even prodding) to study the text, wrestle with it, reflect on our context (our community, our city, our world) and shape a word that is both authentic to them and to the text. I've enjoyed listening to them, learning from them, and growing closer to God and scripture through them!

Though I think this church is doing a great job participating in ministry, I want to challenge myself to do more. To encourage new preachers and students of the Word. I want to model how to take a step out of our comfort zones to particpate in worship, outreach, justice, and fellowhsip in ways that are new and scary for us.

Equally important for me, I want to model how to say "no" when our plates are too full. I want to model how to honor the sabbath and keep it holy...whatever day that is for us. I want to model how to seek wholesome balances in the time we devote to our relationship with God, to the church, to our families, to work, and to our own self care. This is a challenge for me because there is a never ending list of ways the church can be more engaged with itself and with the community. The temptation is to always want more of each other in ministry. To expect more. Yet, we have to look for sustainable ways to be engaged. We have to pay attention to our individual needs as well.

What are your thoughts? How is your congregation participating in ministry with you?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Religious Tolerance = Weak Christian Identity?

Last week I heard Brian McLaren speak and I'm still chewing on some of what he said. He shared the philosophy that having a common enemy builds a strong identity.

Then he described his observation that there is a strong Christian fundamentalist identity that is built on making another faith (or non faith) group (Muslim, Jews, atheist, etc) the enemy. And there is a weak tolerant Christianity that is unable to make another group the enemy and thus their identity suffers.

McLaren suggests that it doesn't have to be one way or the other. That there is a third way where we can be tolerant of other faiths and still hold onto our own. He does this by making hostility itself the enemy.

I love this way forward. Though, I'm having a hard time moving forward with how this common enemy - hostility- strengthens our common identity. Here's why:

In my generation, many of us who were raised in a tolerant ("weak") Christian identity are choosing not to go to church. We're grateful for our Christian upbringing and take from it that we are to be nice and practice hospitality to others. (McLaren mentioned this, too). But apart from our choice to be nice we're having a hard time CLAIMING Christianity over other faiths or as a faith at all.

I think our identity has to be built on something more than just our commitment to being tolerant and respectful and nice.

Being a ridiculously curious student, I asked McLaren about this and he had a fascinating answer. He said that younger generations need to reclaim rituals and traditions in order to build their new strong identity in Christ.

I've been thinking about this a lot this last week and it seems to hold true for myself and my worshipping community. We're hungry for space, for silence, for meditation, for prayer, for laying on of hands, for communion and baptism. We want to be anointed. We want to find the sacred in the mundane. We want to find God in the mystery, wonder, and awe of our everyday lives.

I wonder how we might reclaim language, too. How we can reclaim our Christian stories and live into those. I'm excited for how worship and service and fellowship space might change to accommodate the new expressions of this new, tolerant, strong Christian identity.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Be Anxious for Nothing

Anxiety is something I've always dealt with. As a young student in elementary school, I remember talking about my anxiety over tests with the teacher because she wanted to understand how I could do so well in class and then freeze on tests. As I got better about managing my stress in school, life decisions began causing anxiety. My desire to make the right choice and choose the best path became an obstacle to my ability to do anything at all. Throughout my life, I've had to continue taking deep breaths and reminding myself to CHILL OUT. To lower my expectations a little and trust that things are going to be alright.

It's a little humorous, though not too humorous, that I now find myself in a stressful role (pastor) for a stressed institution (the Presbyterian church). Our mainline churches (PCUSA included) are facing great financial stress and we're having to address deep rooted questions of how to be the best stewards of what we have left. We're having to discuss the vitality of our church and be open to the Spirit's movement away from the way things have always been done. And not only are we having these stressful conversations, but we're doing them on a timeline (one that no one really knows). We're dealing with decreasing numbers and an apathetic culture. Needless to say, our church is really anxious.

Anxiety can be a good thing. It can lead us to have important conversations and make wiser decisions. It can teach us to sit put for a second and listen more before we act. It teaches us to take each step with caution and realize the ripple effects of our actions. And anxiety can be good because it points to our deep concern for something. Just as my own anxiety at school points to my deep desire to do the best I can, Presbyterians' anxiety points to the fact that we care SO MUCH for the church. We as a church don't want to make the wrong choice or do the wrong thing. We want very much to know the will of God and to follow it.

Anxiety definitely becomes a BAD thing however when we let it take over. When we allow it to paralyze us. When we live and sleep and dream anxiety over making the right decisions and doing the right thing that we can't move forward. We're stuck in the present, longing for an idealized past, and terrified of the future. We turn inwards to ourselves and hold even higher expectations of what we can and should do to make the situation better.

Yet, scripture calls us to do something different:

"Be anxious for nothing. But in all things make your requests known to God and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your mind and heart forever in Jesus Christ." (Philippians 4:6-7)

We need to acknowledge our anxiety concerning the livelihood of the church and recognize this as a sign of our deep commitment and love of the Church. And we also need to let go of the reigns anxiety holds over us and take a huge leap of faith to TRUST God enough to try something new. To dream. To be open to new perspectives. To live into the promise of hope that we are not alone, that God is still alive and at work here.

And when we let go of our desire to control the outcome, we can live out God's promise to us - "that the peace of God will guard our minds and hearts forever in Jesus Christ."