Tuesday, December 3, 2013

measuring seasons, measuring change

The weather is amazing in San Francisco. 50-70 degrees just about all the time. Pretty perfect. Only one wardrobe needed. I love it.

The only downside of this weather is that it gets hard to measure the seasons.

I grew up in the mountains of North Carolina where seasons gave form to our lives. They gave us a rhythm by which we knew what to expect next. Change was welcome because it wasn't TOO new, we experienced similar change last year and the year before. We knew that spring brought showers and flowers, summer brought mosquitos, humidity and thunderstorms, in fall the leaves would turn brown and fall to the ground and in winter the air would become brisk and snow and ice were due.

Now in San Francisco, I'm depending on other means of measuring the seasons.

Sports, for one. I know it's fall when football is on our television ALL.the.TIME. And then when it shifts to college basketball, I know we're into winter. Spring and Summer are dedicated to baseball…though I admit we don't watch it as much as football and basketball.

Food and coffee are another way to measure seasons. I love pumpkin and so I really love fall. I know it is the fall season in SF when the coffee shops bust out their pumpkin spice. Then there is a big shift right before thanksgiving to winter holiday themes (gingerbread, caramel, peppermint).

There are certainly seasons in my line of work. Sometimes they are tied to the church calendar (advent, christmas, lent, easter, "ordinary" time). Though, most times I find they are unpredictable. A wave of new folks coming in, a wave of folks moving out. Passions and excitements for projects and movements that wax and wane. I'll admit it's a little unsettling and still takes me by surprise sometimes when the change occurs, though the change itself isn't bad. I'm ready for the "seasoning" that comes with more experience leading an organization where I can take these seasons in stride and even anticipate the next one to come. But for now, my rookie self will just enjoy the ride.

It's probably good for me to get used to surprises in shifting seasons. Helps me to let go of control I don't really have anyhow.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

bring them in without burning them out

Volunteers are amazing. Period.

Especially for organizations like the church I lead, where volunteers really make it possible for us to be viable.

I've been thinking a lot recently about how to create space for volunteers, how to engage new volunteers, and how to facilitate expectations and fair loads. In other words, how to "bring them in without burning them out."

My goal is to help those who volunteer to identify their passions and their gifts and then connect them to opportunities where those passions meet the needs in the community. What I'm learning is that there are some pretty talented people out there with LOTS of passions and great ideas. My connection time is short and the limitation is usually time. How do we as an organization make the connections smoothly and (here goes my boundaries awareness again) how do we practice saying "no" so that the load doesn't become too much for any one person?

If only people weren't so awesome with so many talents, right?  :)

The organization has needs, too. Consistency and Commitment. There are things that have to get done "the nitty gritty" to keep the mission alive. Sustainability of the organization is an ongoing pressure I feel as we want to honor the movements of passions, dreams and new ideas.

As I'm thinking about this I'm curious what resources are already out there?

What creative approaches are you using either in your own discernment of how you volunteer your time or as a leader of an organization that depends on volunteers?

Looking forward to learning from you - the community that reads this - to learn how to better enable and support our volunteers. Thanks (in advance) for your help!

Thursday, October 10, 2013


"No" was a word that didn't really exist in my vocabulary. Particularly in response to being asked to do something social or service oriented or that I thought I "ought" to do.

The word "no" entered my vocabulary in seminary, when a dear friend Leslie reminded me I'm not superwoman and shouldn't expect myself to do everything. I have limitations. I need self care. I need boundaries. Say "no," she said.

I didn't realize boundaries were such a major theme in my life until recently. I was talking with my coach about situations in my life and current ministry where I felt like a line had been crossed, I felt manipulated, guilted into doing something, I felt like people were requiring too much of me. And then I realized, I can say "no." I can define a boundary that makes sense for me, for my family, and for the church.

It's a hard thing to move from a place of always saying "yes" to others, always putting the needs of others above your own to a place of creating safe and clear boundaries in which my own needs are respected and valued. In my line of work, sometimes it can even feel wrong. I'm supposed to be super available, always giving, practically Jesus. Wait, no, no I'm not.

As a person of faith, I am called to reach out to others. I'm to share good news and speak truth in love. I'm also to be prayerful, centered, full. As a church, we are to reach out, share good news, comfort, love, challenge injustice. And we are also called to recognize our limits and work within them. None of us, individuals or collectives, are called to do it all.

Boundaries are a hard thing to figure out. Not all boundaries are good. In fact, I'd argue that some of the lines churches and people draw are unfair and hurtful. Still, some boundaries are good and necessary, especially when they are intentional and loving....set for the purpose of building care, safety, and love.

Jeannie, my coach, said often when we pray for patience God doesn't give us patience, God gives us lots of opportunities to practice patience. So. True. I know as I'm more aware, more prayerful, more intentional about desiring boundaries that are healthy and safe and good...I will be presented with many opportunities to practice these boundaries.

So, if you hear me say "no," please don't take it personally. I need to. If I don't pick up the phone or answer your email right away, know I still care about you. I just might be sleeping (no joke, I've been known to sleep 14 hours in a day to catch up), or outside running without my phone in hand, or lost in a good book or ridiculous T.V. sitcom. Know I'm not saying "no" to hurt you. I'm saying "no" to help me.

I don't anticipate this being an easy journey, but I am excited about it.
I'm ready for it.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

doubts and stouts

It still kind of surprises me that 10-15 people show up each month curious to talk about some controversial/theological issue. It reminds me how hungry people are for a connection, for some understanding about who God is and how God is at work in our lives.

Last night we met to talk about the doctrine of election. Predestination - the belief that God predestines some to heaven and some to hell. Over the years, predestination has given Presbyterians a bad rap. In corny church-culture jokes, we're sometimes called the "frozen chosen." Now, gathered with actual church folk I was surprised to learn that they hadn't really heard about this belief through the church, only through history books. It seems our church is so shocked (or shamed) by the stigma that we don't teach about it anymore.

As always, there were more questions raised than possible solutions and as I know this is frustrating to some, it's quite beautiful for me. As Sarah Miles writes in her book Take This Bread, we are perhaps called to be "the personal and institutional capacity to dwell in the ambiguity and unsettledness."

Many of us were uncomfortable with the belief that God chooses some and not others. We struggled with the continuous tension between God's sovereign character (all powerful, all loving, always present) and our own free will.

We did find grace though. We found comfort in knowing God has reached out to us. We found great encouragement in scripture where it is written in Ephesians 1:4 that "God chose us in Jesus Christ before the creation of the world." We found some solace in 20th c. reformed theologian Karl Barth's thoughts who said that Jesus was both the Elect and the Rejected and that through him all are invited to know God. We felt more comfortable with God choosing all of us, granting us free will and then acknowledging that some will turn away. Also acknowledging that justice needs to be part of the equation and we don't need to play judge, but trust that God does.

All sorts of new questions came up for us: What is heaven, really? And what about hell? Are these places or spaces after death or experienced here, too? What about when Jesus talks about the kingdom coming now (on Earth) in the Lord's Prayer...

Well, stay tuned. Next month, that's exactly what we're discussing. Join us and please feel free to continue the conversation by adding your thoughts here.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

when relationships fall apart

Most of us experience our relationship with God through our relationships with other humans.

Particularly through the relationships closest to us - a partner, a parent, a best friend. In a lot of ways, this makes sense. It is through our spouse, our family members, our closest friends, that we share intimate love. We depend on each other to understand - and even love - ourselves.

Covenant relationships - where we both commit to care for each other - can be great windows into our faith with God.

But what happens when they fall short or worse, fall apart? What happens when a parent ISN'T God-like in the way they love you? Or a partner diminishes your self worth.... Or a best friend closes you out...

Then these relationships are no longer helpful windows through which to experience and know God. Often in ministry, I have to remind myself and those I care for that human relationships are flawed. That though our faith may be built upon close, intimate relationships, it must be more. Because God is more. God accepts us, loves us unconditionally, and will never EVER leave us alone.

Humans aren't perfect and therefore our relationships with one another aren't perfect. We will make mistakes, we will hurt each other, we will create wounds for each other that sometimes feel too deep to heal. And though we certainly will make mistakes and create wounds in our relationship with God, God will be our rock. God will grant forgiveness and radical love.

Prayers for all those mending relationship wounds. It's really hard, but trust me, God is still there.

Monday, September 9, 2013

church for the broken

I used to think what brought a church together was a communal belief system. We gather on Sundays for worship because we can recite the same prayers and creed. To some extent it is cultural, but also choice.

Now, I think what brings people together to "be church" is a common brokenness. A shared sense of emptiness, a recognition of the hurt in our world, and a hope for something better. As I get to know the people in my church, we do not all ascribe to the same beliefs. The diversity among us is a blessing, actually. Our diverse religious backgrounds and beliefs keep the conversation active and fun. What we share in common is our experience of the brokenness in ourselves and in the world around us. As we come together, we find hope in God and in one another for a world beyond our human experience. One in which healing, reconciliation, justice, peace and love are all possible. Wholeness made a reality.

At first it sounded bizarre to claim that our church was a place for the broken and yet as I think about Jesus on the cross.... brokenness is a huge part of our faith story. It is from this common place of brokenness that new life emerges - resurrection is made possible. Hope again feels real.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Is Jesus the ONLY way?

I've been asked by some of you to blog about our last doubts and stouts gathering where we engaged the question - Is Jesus the only way?

It was a really fruitful discussion and not a topic we all agreed on. Some decided a definitive "Yes," others "No," and many stuck in the middle very aware of all that is at risk by claiming a definitive answer either way.

At stake for us in saying "Yes, Jesus is the only way" to God...to heaven...to eternal salvation and peace is 4/5 of the world's population. What about those who haven't heard Jesus' name? What about people devout in other faith traditions? We sacrifice important interfaith dialogue and working together for peace and justice in the world around us. We limit God's freedom to speak in different ways to different people. Sometimes, safety is at stake by making this claim. We've been violent with one another over this issue by not being tolerant of other faith traditions.

At stake for us in saying "No, Jesus is not the only way" is the costliness of the cross. Various faith traditions allow space to reach out to God, yet Christianity is unique in that we believe that God actively reached out to us by coming to us in the form of a human and giving the greatest gift of sacrifice so that we might know God. If we don't claim Christ as unique and essential to our faith, why practice Christianity over any other religion? Do we take the cross in vain when we say that it is not essential for knowing God? Perhaps our scripture is at stake when we say that Jesus is not the only way.

Rev. Susan M. Strouse gives us some historical and literary context for the gospel of John in her article "Is Jesus the Only Way?" She reminds us that John 14:6 was not written as an answer to a 21st century question about other religions. It was written to help those early Christians - and us, too - not to fear what comes after death.

One suggestion brought up in our conversation is the metaphor of God as a large being, say an elephant, and we are situated around the elephant such that we are all seeing a different view. Those of us facing its front may describe it's trunk, those from the side, it's belly, those in the back, it's tail. God's allowed to be complex :)

Another suggestion was to think about who Jesus is for us - what Jesus stands for - and to try substituting a different word. It was suggested that sometimes our words get in our own way of hearing and understanding one another's experience or belief. So, if we believe that Jesus is truth, light, peace, forgiveness, justice, love, reconciliation....we can say "It is through truth/light/peace/forgiveness/justice/love/reconciliation that you come to God/heaven/true peace/eternal life.

The push back here is that Jesus made it so that there is nothing WE can do to enter God's presence. It is a gift. The language substitutions make it seem like we have to live in truth, light, peace, forgiveness, peace...etc. I get it. I also think it wouldn't be bad (and Jesus would even love it) if we lived that way.

Needless to say this remains a complex issue with no simple answers. Living in the 21st century, experiencing Christianity as a world religion and seeing that we create violence and war over these questions...I think it's important that we seek space for safe conversation, understanding, and tolerance even when we disagree.

We need to claim our faith on our own and not apologize for what we believe. And at the same time we need to be very careful not to play God and use scripture as a weapon to hurt others.

Monday, August 26, 2013


No one likes being critiqued. At least no one I know.

And yet criticism, when productive, can be such a gift for our own self-development. I think it's really important for leaders in particular to be able to receive criticism in order to remain accountable to the larger community.

Still, it's not easy.

In high school my grandfather gave me a key chain of "tough skin." I was a drum major and he said tough skin was essential for leadership. As a leader himself he knew that receiving criticism, even harsh words, is part of the role. Over the years I've had to discern between criticism that is productive and needed for my own growth and criticism that has more to do with the person giving it than with me. The key chain is a good reminder to receive the criticism, but not let it inside. It's helped me pause before taking it all in and consider what is true and what is not.

I also remember a mentor instructing me that when I give criticism I need to tread lightly and treat people fragilely. He is wise. He told me that I don't know what people's lives are like outside of my time with them and so it's always good to fall on the side of grace. I like to think of it as a posture of humility. Remembering that as a leader it is our role to serve others. To guide them, sure, but to account for the wholeness of their humanity and to respect them.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

doubts and stouts

You may be surprised to hear that pastors doubt.

I certainly do and I'm ok sharing it with the world because my doubt often allows me to move closer to trusting and loving God. Instead of avoiding that there are hard things in life to reconcile with my faith, I prefer to name them, test them, and debate them. And this process helps me claim my belief in God even more.

Mission Bay Community Church just recently formed a group called "Doubts and Stouts." A member of our community, Joel Bylsma, had this hunger to talk about hard theological/philosophical questions and wondered if others might, too. So, we started this group. He coined the awesome name "Doubts and Stouts" and we met last night for our first gathering at a grill/pub for conversation and craft beer.

Our first topic was theodicy - If God is all powerful and all loving, why is there suffering in the world? I know...start easy, right? The conversation was rich and diverse. More like a brainstorming session than a philosophical argument. We provoked each other and the question and we found ourselves considering history, philosophy, science, scripture, and church culture. We had a lot of fun!

For those of you interested, here are some brief notes from our discussion. You'll notice there are WAY more questions than answers :)

 Theodicy = if God is all powerful and all good/loving, then why does suffering exist?
- Why do we believe that God is all powerful? (God created, Jesus' miracles - power over nature)
- Why do we believe that God is all loving/Good? (The Bible tells us so. Jesus loves us. John 3:16)
- Does God love ALL people? What about when God told the Israelites to kill their enemies. Is God loving then? Contradictory scripture verses. 
- God's justice. Do we comprehend God's justice? Sometimes it feels like God is just unfair. 
- Deism - belief that God created the world and then stepped back and let the world run its course. We don't believe this. We believe God is personal and interacts/cares/provides for us. We believe this through the life, ministry and death of Jesus. 
- What are examples/expressions of pain and suffering that make us question God's character? cancer, natural disasters, suicide, young death, accidents, addictions, genocide.
- What about prayer? Do we believe that God is affected by our prayers? Or is prayer more about changing us and our perspective? What do the psalms do?
- What are some explanations for theodicy? 
(1) God is mysterious/we cannot know God's plan. Some of us are unsatisfied with this answer because it can make us complacent/passive. We think the conversation and action is important. 
(2) God gave us free-will, so suffering is our fault. This explains suffering that we can create, but not illnesses or natural disasters.
(3) The analogy of life being a quilt....the threads underneath don't make sense to us, but are being woven together to create something God-intended/beautiful. It's a perspective thing...we don't see the whole picture. We liked this explanation more, but still believe that God cares about us (little threads, if you will). We are told in scripture that God provides - God cares for the flowers of the fields and feeds the birds ..how much more does God care for us? (Matt. 6) 
- Question of scripture vs. theology came up. Why do we want historically/culturally to affirm that God doesn't change (all powerful/all loving), when in scripture God does change God's mind and sometimes God's character (wrathful, loving)
- Maybe suffering is given. Suffering is life. If this is the known, then how do we live our lives to find joy, hope, truth and love? 

At the end of the discussion, we had not solved this great problem. We affirmed that we only see dimly (1 Corinthians 13) and that faith cannot be built upon facts or philosophical claims. We talked about how some of us are ok accepting the mystery of God, but that we couldn't expect everyone to like or embrace the mystery. Some of us are just like "doubting Thomas" and we need more intellectual discourse and explanation. What I know... is that it is good for us to be faithful to our hunger...to doubt, to question, to debate, to share our life experience, to share our brokenness..and that through all of this, we may catch glimpses of hope in God and in one another.

We're meeting again the first Wednesday in August and will discuss another topic - "If God is all powerful, why did Jesus have to die to forgive our sins?" Thanks to David and Bob Boles for the awesome curiosity and honest question! Join us in person on online and feel free to share questions/doubts of your own!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Awaiting News Today

We await big news from the Supreme Court today.

People of faith all around the country are waiting with hopeful anticipation that the Supreme Court will strike discrimination from our federal laws and ensure that all couples who choose to enter into the sacred bonds of marriage receive equal rights and protections.

At Mission Bay Community Church, we believe that every human being is created in the image of God and has sacred worth. Extending marriage to all couples is an important step toward acknowledging the common humanity and equal worth of all God's children.

For all of you on edge today...feeling anxious, scared, hopeful, tired....know that you are not alone. God loves you and has claimed you as God's own. Your love is precious in God's sight. Know we are with you and surround you with support and love as your church community.

Praying God helps justice prevail and love endure this day and always.


Sunday, June 16, 2013

High Schoolers are Awesome

Small Group 28

This last week I was in the mountains of North Carolina helping with a conference for high school youth. My main role was to lead a small group - 30 youth meeting twice a day - to unpack the scriptures and life experiences we discussed each day.

I've been a small group leader before, but I had forgotten how sacred this space is for youth. They're surrounded by new faces and are encouraged to share the real pain and joy going on in their lives (school, home, church) without being judged or followed home by it. And these youth take advantage of it.

The second day we dove deep into the brokenness of their lives. I realized once again the roughness of high school and growing up. We shared the depths of our emotions and encouraged one another in the process. One main theme that kept coming up this week was from Mark 4:38 when Jesus is asleep in the boat during a mad storm. We moved from focusing on the fact that Jesus was sleeping and how that made us feel abandoned, anxious, and unloved.... to recognizing that Jesus is in the boat with us and Jesus does calm the storm. Maybe not as quickly as we would like him to, but in time Jesus calms the storms. We affirmed that the waves of the storms in our lives will continue to rise and threaten to overthrow us, but that Jesus continues to climb in our boat. We are never alone.

I'm grateful for my time with these youth and I'm grateful for all they've taught me about what church needs to look like to be relevant and life-filling for youth. Thanks, small group 28 for being vulnerable and real with each other, with God, and with me.

Check out Montreat Youth Conferences here: http://www.montreat.org/current/2013-youth-conferences-at-montreat

Thursday, June 6, 2013

fiction revealing truth

I really love fiction. Partly because it draws me out of myself. It allows me to escape whatever stress or worries have taken hold of me and it moves me into a place where anything is possible.

Reading fiction also helps me process life. At first the story seems far off - distant from me - and soon it comes close to home, relating more and more to my own story. I find it easier to soak in and process whatever message I need to hear through the lens of a story.

In preaching class, this is exactly how we are taught to write and preach truth. Paint a picture, illustrate the message of truth through the lens of a story that doesn't attack someone or something directly, but eases us into it....lures us in and gives us new eyes and new ears to experience the world around us.

This last week I've been reading The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. This novel is full of truth...both big and small. Here are some of the nuggets of wisdom I've been digesting this week:

"It was the in between time, before day leaves and comes, a time I've never been partial to because of the sadness that lingers in the space between going and coming."

"There is a fullness of time for things, Lily. You have to know when to prod and when to be quiet, when to let things take their course."

"Stories have to be told or they die and when they die, we can't remember who we are or why we are here."

"Life gives way to death and death gives way to life. Draping the bee hives helps us remember that."

"Given the choice, I preferred someone to understand my situation, even though she was helpless to fix it, rather than the other way around. But that's just me."

"You know, Lily, people can start out one way, and by the time life gets through with them they end up completely different."

"There is nothing perfect...there is only life."

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Adjusting to City Life

Plain, Washington
San Francisco, California

I realized I had adjusted to city life when I took a trip for work recently to a ranch 2 hours outside of Seattle, Washington. Some colleagues picked me up from the airport, we made our mandatory stop for coffee, and we headed out into the mountainside. It was a beautiful drive...but I found myself getting frustrated each time I lost 3G cell service.

An hour or two into the drive we made a pit stop at a Safeway...literally in the middle of nowhere. As we got out of the car, I slung my bag over my shoulder and was baffled that the others left their valuables (purse, bags, laptops, phones) just lying in their seats. When I mentioned it they LAUGHED and said, "Dawn, look around...who is going to steal your stuff?" Still, I toughed it out and carried all my belongings inside.

The rest of the week, it was the running joke. Each time I left the room they'd sneer that I need to take everything with me in case a bear with incredible fine motor skills might come through.

It took me a day and a half to really settle into this new, rural environment and it was nice. I found myself appreciating the calm, slow pace of life and the freedom of not being concerned with my surroundings. This time away also helped me realize that I am really finding home here...in a big city. I'm learning the "rules" and I'm able to maneuver this world pretty well. It's a good thing...to realize that I'm finding home in the city life.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


When I worked with youth (shout out to CPPC, North Raleigh, and SAPC), identity was always a topic of discussion. Middle and High school years are all about identity...figuring out who you are and communicating your identity to the world around you. It's also about recognizing how much of your identity you let others define for you.

In some ways, I feel like I am back in middle or high school trying to redefine who I am and how I want the world to see me. And guess what? It's still hard :/ On Sunday (5/19), I will celebrate one year of ordained ministry. One very full year as a pastor, a role which is defined by lots of different people in lots of different ways.

This role "pastor" has changed me...some. My work and my faith are more intertwined than ever before. My identities as friend, family member, and pastor are sometimes blurred and sometimes not.

What I struggle with is how much I let this role define me and how much I define the role.  I'll let you in on a secret...we're not given a list of "do's" and "don'ts" when we're ordained into this role. We're actually encouraged to step into it as freely and authentically as possible.

So, today, here is what I can say about my pastor-wife-friend-daughter-self:

- I love people.
- I love God.
- I enjoy running.
- I like not being "on."
- I love to laugh.
- I need to be reminded not to take life (and myself) too seriously.
- I like scotch (bet you didn't see that one coming...I just learned this about myself).
- I like to be adventurous and take risks, but not by myself.
- I like social media.
- I'm a church nerd (I know, big surprise).
- I like to ask "why?"
- I need community roots to feel comfortable.
- I love languages and translating.
- I admire loyalty and commitment in people.
- I like to dance and have been known to be silly :)

Knowing and owning our identity is important for living comfortably in our own skin. It also helps others know how best to relate to us. I doubt I'll ever have my whole identity ironed out, but it's nice to know that as I grow into new roles and change I don't lose past identities or morph into something completely defined by others. I am and will forever be Dawn.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Evangelism is NOT a dirty word

Evangelism tends to be a dirty word in progressive church circles. We still define evangelism as people "pushing their gospel on us." We picture people on the street (or worse, coming to our door) handing us a flyer and trying to "save our soul." We understand evangelism to be oppressive and mean spirited.

But...I LOVE EVANGELISM. Really, I do. And here's why:

"Evangelism is anything you do to help another person move closer to a relationship with God and/or into Christian community." Martha Grace Rees

Evangelism is anything we do that touches someone's life in a meaningful way and moves them closer to God or a faith community. Evangelism is welcoming people to be a part of our family of faith, it's loving on them, sharing a meal or a smile or a hug. Evangelism is telling our story of the one who loves us and why we love others...even those nobody loves.

And you know what? It's time to reclaim this "dirty word" evangelism because it is our call. It is our mission. It's biblical. Furthermore, we're already doing it. Why let someone else define it for us?

This week I have been back in school learning about a new scorecard for evangelism. Instead of counting the number of bums in pews, we're measuring our influence.... on the web, through social media, to the entire world!! That's really our mission right? Share the gospel...take it to the ends of the world. That's what any media (newspaper, radio, TV, telephone, text, tweet, like, share, etc) is doing. It is allowing us to share and spread our story in a new, evolving, exciting way.

We measure how well we evangelize (refer again to the definition as I know you've already forgotten) by measuring our influence. It's both high touch and high tech. High touch because we want the story we tell to be powerful, to be moving, to be worthy of the Jesus we love. High touch is getting the casserole to the family in need, it's providing a shoulder for someone to cry on, it's being fully present with others in a real and loving way. High tech is making the best use of the tools we've been given. It's embracing the new technologies that better connect us. This week we've played with all sorts of new social media (path, prayer engine, basecamp, etc) in churches all over the U.S. and Canada to extend our reach...to further our impact...to evangelize.

Evangelism. It's not dirty at all. It's beautiful. It's powerful. And it's our call.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


"We are to hope...that's what we do as Christians. We hope."

These words were spoken to me during a time when I feared for the safety of a friend. They're a good reminder to me still that this is what I am to do as a Christian. I hope.

In times of chaos and violence and great despair... I hope for a better tomorrow.

As I reflect on the violence experienced this year alone - the bombing in Boston on Monday, the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, the threats of North Korea, not to mention the local violence on the daily news - it seems hard to hope that we are progressing as a people to a more peaceful day. It seems more evident that we are growing more violent toward each other instead.

Yet, I am to hope.

Why? Not because that is the only thing to do. In fact, I think it is easier to be cynical and despair.

I hope because of who I am. My identity as a child of God - a believer in God - means that I trust (some days more than others) that God is more powerful than hate and violence. I hope because I know and trust that someday violence won't have the last word.

That's really what the Easter story is about... Death doesn't have the final word. Murder, lynchings, flogging, bullying...none of those violent actions won out. God did. Resurrection did. New life does, today.

It's not easy to be hopeful, especially when each new day brings a reason (or five) to despair. But, it is what we are called to do. It is who we are to be. People of faith. People of hope.

I wonder - engage me if you will - what church communities can do to foster better communication, peaceful ways of living together, more love. How can we speak out against violence? How do we preach (in word and action) love instead of hate?

Please post your thoughts...

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Easter can't come too soon!

My experience of Holy Week this year has been very different from years past.

The obvious difference is that I'm a pastor now and responsible for leading services through the liturgy of death and resurrection. This may be the reason I can't wait for Easter...but I think there is more.

In years past, I've approached Holy Week with a real eagerness for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Living a privileged life full of first world problems, I yearned to remember (and to have those around me reminded) of the suffering and pain Christ experienced in order to give us new life and hope in the resurrection. I was critical of the Easter bunnies and chocolates and the commercialism of this "secular holiday" advertised weeks in advance. I deeply yearned for the rest of the story - the suffering and pain - to be told. 

This year, I yearn for Easter. I'm ready for the new life springing up around us. I'm excited to dance out of worship on my tiptoes full of joy and hope and love. 

And I yearn for this because of the reality of brokenness and pain and despair all around me. Now, living in an urban place, I feel more exposed to the in flesh pain and suffering Christ experienced. I see the long journeys of depression and loneliness and despair...and I'm ready to be reminded (and to remind those around me) of the hope that is true and real and good. 

I guess the age old quote about ministry "afflicting the comforted and comforting the afflicted" rings true. We need both. Joy is not empty when experienced apart from suffering, but Easter joy sure is fuller and deeper when the suffering is real. 

I wish for you a hopeful, joyful, laughter-filled Easter. I sure am ready for mine.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Embodied Prayer

In memory of John Dowling, a beloved member of MBCC who died in December,
we as a worshipping community embodied prayer as we made a communal
mosaic cross. John was a fabulous artist and so this embodied prayer seemed
only appropriate as we remember him and are grateful for his life.
I'm an active person, so I have a hard time sitting still to pray.

Obeying God's command to "be still and know God," I do sit still occasionally and can sometimes successfully quiet myself enough to pray. Most of the time though, I prefer to pray in action - through movement.

I discovered what I call "embodied prayer" sometime last year while swimming. I started praying for someone as I swam a lap and then when I started a new lap I would pray for someone else. The rhythmic pace helped me move through my prayer. I find that as I give my body some methodical task (like free stroke), my mind is free to be still, to connect to God, to lift those I love in prayer.

Swimming has been the best prayer practice I've found, though I've also used running or walking as a means of embodied prayer before. Any type of individual exercise allows me to pray.

Another way I pray is by writing my prayers on large white boards and then erasing them. This seemingly simple practice reminds me to "let go and let God." As I write down names, details, worries, anxieties, fears... I acknowledge their presence in my mind and heart and then as I erase them, I physically give them over to God.

Connecting with God in prayer isn't always easy. We have to experiment to see which types of prayers work for us. Some people connect to God through music...playing an instrument or listening to music. Others use creative expressions of art...using a creative medium to express their thoughts and prayers.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Where Have I Been?

I’m walking with a little jump in my step today and I want to tell you why... I just spent the last few days with some dreamers in the church and I am bursting with excitement for what God is doing among us. 

This week I was in Baltimore. I was called with various other church leaders to “talk back” to our denominational office. The structure of our church is such that the ministry and work of the church is done through 6 agencies. More information here. This conference, Six Agency Leadership Consultation Initiative (#salic13), was intended for the agencies to hear from current leaders how the structure is experienced in the church and how we can do ministry better together. 

I’m leaving this conference energized because I feel heard. I am renewed in my belief that God is still working among us and that we now have better ideas for how we can share our resources (intellectual, financial, artistic, and physical) with one another. We dreamt together about PCUSA TED talks, Craigslist for the church, church partnerships, funded sabbaticals and rest, organic new ministries found and funded quickly. We reflected on how we are called to be open... to God, to each other, and to this new reality that we experience in the church. We worshiped together and gave life and breath to words of Isaiah 43 “Do not be afraid. I have called you by name you are mine... [PAY ATTENTION] I am doing a new thing.” 

Together we practiced unity in the spirit. We opened the complexities of scarcity and abundance, fear and hope, open communication and boundaries. We encouraged one another to take risks. We reflected on sustainable ministry and medical coverage care. And through all of it, I think we really lived out our covenant of not attacking each other, but “wondering” together about each other’s stories (taking time to hear them) and then wondering together what God must be up to in this part of our story. 

The complexity I see us still struggling with (daily/yearly/eternally) is our inability to believe that tradition and change come from the same spirit. We do NOT have to give up one in order to have the other. Shawna put it well in our last reflection together... “We keep arguing about whether or not to change when that really isn’t the choice before us. The choice is how we are to live into that change.” We have been charged with the call to create and recreate the church, ourselves, our story. I think the youth of our church are leading us yet again. Last week in Montreat, the youth decided that the theme for the Montreat Youth Conference in 2014 will be “Rooted and Reaching.” We are both rooted in God’s love/our tradition AND called to reach beyond ourselves and change, simultaneously.

I fly home today excited to be back with my congregation. Excited to share this good news that the national church is listening and encouraging us to try new things. To be bold in our listening and acting out God’s call on our lives and to to trust that the larger church goes with us...supporting us. I share the message with the church at large that “Louisville is Listening”...share you creative ideas and dreams for ministry with them. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Young Adults Leaving Church

Morning Edition did an awesome series this last week called "Losing our Religion." The series focused on why more and more young adults are checking "none" for religious affiliation. One-fifth of Americans now claim no religion and the numbers are growing among those under 30 years old.

Rigoberto Perez (from left), Kyle Simpson and Miriam Nissly participated in a roundtable discussion about
religion with NPR's David Greene at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue.
click here for NPR article:

I really appreciated NPR's attention to this issue and the way they interviewed young adults to give us a glimpse of why young adults are leaving the religion of their parents. The last part of the series, though, made me a little angry. It was titled: "Social Issues Drive Young from Church, Leaders Try to Keep them."  And...the statement is true. Lots of young adults choose not to participate in religion because the religions they see engaging social issues are making claims that they don't agree with. Melissa Adelman, a 30 year old interviewed, said that she disagrees with the Christian stance on homosexuality and the male hierarchy of power in the church.  Instead of using this opportunity to give progressive Christians (and church bodies) a chance to speak in the media to say "WE EXIST," Morning Edition gave more press to mainline Catholic and Methodist leaders who shared the same exclusion - "we don't ordain women" (Catholicism) and "yes, we tend to be behind modern culture on relevant social issues." 

I think progressive Christians need to be louder. We need to have influence in the media because the majority of young people are only getting one side of what religion can be. Most young people don't know that churches exist where all people are included. Churches exist where emphasis is placed on social justice issues, community, and outreach. 

I've emailed Morning Edition and I hope you will, too. Let's not just view this series as a sad reflection on how we've lost a younger generation. Instead, let's make a demand that the whole story be shared. Let's make sure the world knows that churches exist that are busting at the seams with young people. Churches exist that will welcome young adults and their doubts and make their social issues part of our church mission.