Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Creating Space for the Authentic

Also posted on the Christ the King, Wilbraham website:

Now in the last week of my Project Connect Immersion Experience at Christ the King, I’ve really started to reflect on what I learned during my time here.  While I’ll soon make another post about that topic in a general sense, I wanted to devote this space to one lesson I’ve learned in particular:

A couple nights back I was reading through some of the Psalms and thinking about my immersion experience when I came upon the following verses in Psalm 139:

Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!  Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.  You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.  You saw me before I was born.  Every day of my life was recorded in your book.  Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed… Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts (Psalm 139 14 – 16, 23).

Over the past couple months I’ve spent a lot of time working through what it’s going to mean to be a pastor while still being a real person.  If public ministry is a vocation where you’re “on” in some way almost all the time, balancing being a professional and a leader while still being a less than perfect human being (especially if you’re a pretty goofy guy like I am) seems like a daunting task.  On the other hand however is the fact that I feel very affirmed in my sense of call to be a pastor…  If I am correct in discerning God’s call, then it would logically follow that I could be a successful pastor without having to pretend to be something I’m not.

In the end I’ve arrived at the decision to be as authentic as possible going forward.  I imagine that no matter how well one acts to perfectly “fit the mold” of being a pastor, not being authentic could likely put a large barrier between myself and whatever congregation I’ll be working with.  In a world where we all feel pressured to fit various molds in various situations, I think in the end people crave authenticity.  While folks might appreciate authenticity in others, people crave even more for space to be authentic themselves. 

I’m sure my train of thought seems a bit dis-jointed here, but in conclusion the greatest lesson I’ve learned from immersion experience is that a central part of my ministry will be helping to create that space for others and guiding congregations in seeking to do the same.  Helping others to show that wonderful complexity and workmanship spoken of in the passage above can’t be a bad thing… and perhaps in doing so it’ll help me be a little more authentic myself.

God’s peace,

Sunday, April 18, 2010


Manuscript of the sermon I preached this Sunday @ Christ the King, Wilbraham.  Enjoy!!

Often the purpose of a sermon is to explain a detailed theological concept based on the day’s readings or perhaps to invite us to deeply explore an aspect of our faith. Whatever its purpose might be, a sermon can often get complicated, frequently trying to explain a somewhat nuanced message. In stark contrast however, I think the message of today’s readings is a refreshingly simple one: let go of your perceived limitations! Celebrate where you are! In this joyous season of Easter celebrate the glory of the risen Christ! Celebrate God’s work that has been done… and celebrate God’s many blessings! Even if everything isn’t perfect, know that in Christ, anything is possible… and celebrate that fact! Whether it’s in our own lives, the life of the congregation here at Christ the King or the life of the wider church, it’s important to recognize both the positives and negatives of life, both past and present. Recognizing past missteps allows us to release and grow past them; celebrating God’s continued triumph through our lives brings greater clarity to some of the amazing opportunities God’s calling us to.
Next Sunday marks the completion of my immersion experience, and while there’s still a week to go, I’ve already begun to reflect on the invaluable experiences I’ve had and the amazing people I’ve met at Christ the King. The major goal of any Project Connect immersion experience is to help people decide whether or not they are called to ordained ministry… and I’m happy to say that you guys haven’t scared me away! In fact, my time spent here has completely reaffirmed my sense of call and I’m extremely excited about my future… things are going great, there’s certainly a lot to celebrate, and it’s in part thanks to all of you.
As I continue to reflect on my time here and celebrate my successes however, it’s also important to recognize that this period of discernment didn’t always look so great. In particular I have a crystal clear memory of one night this past September. I was sitting by the water at York Beach in Maine, about half an hour from where I was still living in New Hampshire, and reflecting with a close friend about how scared I was of the future. I had decided to leave Thrivent Financial for Lutherans about a month earlier to work in a job that would allow more time for me to actively discern whether or not I wanted to go into ministry… and my careful crafted plan for that period of transition had completely failed. After many expensive car repairs and dealing with a job market that was even worse than I expected, I was facing the issue of being nearly broke with no job. With my apartment lease soon up, I was also dealing with the prospect that I’d have to move back to dad’s house, something that I felt pretty ashamed of at the time. I was really beginning to doubt my decision to leave my well paying job with Thrivent, and more importantly I thought I had many personal limitations that wouldn’t allow me to be the great pastor I wanted to be.
Looking back on it, that evening was one of those rare turning points in life… standing on the edge of a sort of spiritual precipice I was presented with one of two options. I could easily step back from the edge, give into my perceived limitations, and follow that all too human need for comfort in what’s familiar… or I could celebrate who I was, have some faith in God’s call, and take that leap into a future of amazing opportunity.

I don’t think of that story as at all unique to me however… we all have those moments in life. We all have our own “road to Damascus moments”, where much like Saul, as we let go of our perceived limitations, the scales fall from our eyes, allowing us to celebrate… who we are. Only with that recognition and celebration of who we are can we step into the amazing future God is calling us to. In today’s gospel story, even after seeing all the amazing miracles of God’s love through Jesus, Peter still had denied Him… Peter stepped back from that spiritual precipice and just went fishing. Unlike some of the other gospels, there’s no definitive timeline in the Gospel of John… we really don’t know how long Peter went back to the comfortable familiarity of fishing. However long it was though, in Jesus, God still met Peter where he was… whether it is was four weeks after the crucifixion or four years. Sometimes in our lives, or in the life of our congregation, we might be right up on that spiritual precipice and decide to step back… and sometimes I think God might be calling us to do that too. We still should take the time let go of our perceived limitations, celebrate God’s very real achievements through us… but then rest in that joyful celebration. And even if we’re not following God’s call by stepping back from that spiritual precipice… through faith we know that God’s still going to meet us wherever we are.

Going quickly back to the example of my own life, while I may have taken that leap of faith six months back, I have no intention to do so again for at least the next few months… soon after I’m done here at Christ the King I’ll be heading back up to Camp Calumet for my eighth full summer on staff. After taking a leap and having a period of extreme turbulence in my life, I think it’s really important to celebrate what God’s achieved in me with the people I care most about. That doesn’t mean I won’t experience any new challenges at all this summer or that I won’t still be working hard… far from it, as I finally found out I’ll be running the Counselor in Training program for the first time… but it does mean I’ll be recharging for what’s ahead of me at seminary in the fall… and that’s what in the end celebrating is really all about. Whether we step back from that spiritual precipice or not, recognizing and celebrating who we are allows us to know why we’re stepping back… are we stepping back from God’s call because we’re afraid of the future or are we stepping back to recharge for what God really is calling us to do next?

During the children’s moment today, we took some time to recognize and say thanks for the many ministries you’re all a part of at Christ the King… to celebrate all the good stuff God has going on here. I imagine you may be wondering why it was decided to do so. Here’s why: I made it a major goal for myself over the past few months to take in as much information as possible from everyone here and in doing so I wanted to provide some legitimate outside perspective of congregational life at Christ the King. Through many talks over dinner, conversations during coffee hour or time spent at adult forums, a few common narratives seemed to develop. First, I heard how the congregation had come a long way over the past few years and how a lot of tough stuff has been successfully worked out. Second, I heard a lot about how while things were in general going good at Christ the King, there were still a lot of challenges: how there was a budget deficit, how there were more jobs than people to fill them, etc. Third, I also heard about what some of the strengths of the congregation were: a great music program, and great ability to welcome guests, and of course a great pastor.

There were two things I didn’t hear however that sort of surprised me: first, what I perceived as your greatest strength wasn’t often mentioned. As I look out at the congregation today seeing all your smiling or perhaps bored faces… it’s been a long sermon, it’s easy to realize that everyone I see here is actively participating in one of the many ministries of Christ the King. Everyone’s doing something! At least compared to the other congregations I know of, that’s a really incredible thing and I think its something to be recognized and celebrated.

Second, while I heard about many amazing individual ministries here, I don’t think I really heard a general sense about what was next… where God was calling the congregation to use its many gifts. It might be that Christ the King is called to celebrate the successes of recent years and rest in that celebration… or it might be that you’re on that spiritual precipice and God is calling you to soon take that next leap of faith. I myself have no idea what’s next for everyone here, but I do know there’s should be one common denominator: recognize your gifts and celebrate where you are… you deserve it! God’s peace.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Care of Creation

As posted on my blog at the Christ the King, Wilbraham website:

Throughout the season of Lent at Christ the King, we’ve been exploring the many different faces of Christian stewardship… we’ve talked about being good stewards of our talents, our time, the Sabbath and our communities.  This past Sunday we concluded our Lenten adult forum series by talking about stewardship of God’s creation, a topic many of us were particularly passionate about.  There’s a lot involved with that sort of conversation, much more than we could ever cover in one hour, so our first issue was figuring out where to begin.

We could have talked about how to “green” the church or perhaps about how to get folks to stop using Styrofoam coffee cups and start drinking fair trade coffee, and while those are important conversations, it seemed like that would be getting a little bit ahead of ourselves.  Instead, we really wanted to start at the heart of the matter, discussing why (and even if) God calls us to care for the environment as Christians.  We all quickly agreed on the importance of environmental stewardship, and the conversation next turned to addressing why we don’t always seem to focus on that call.  It’s a topic that many folks are talking about nowadays, often by asking, “how can Christianity begin to address preserving the environment?”

After thinking quite a bit about it over the past week, I wonder if part of the problem is that we’re asking the wrong question. While I’m not a historian or a theologian, it seems like for much of its history, Christianity was very concerned with the environment.  Check out this quote from an actual theologian:
Some people, in order to discover God, read books.  But there is a great book: the very appearance of created things.  Look above you!  Look below you!  Note it.  Read it… God, whom you want to discover, never wrote that book with ink.  Instead he set before your eyes the things that he had made.  Can you ask for a louder voice than that?                       - St. Augustine (354 - 430)
And this one:
All creation is a symphony of praise to God. - Hildegard of Bingen (1098 - 1179)
And also this one (my favorite):
God writes the Gospel, not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars. - traditionally attributed to Martin Luther (1483 - 1546)
If the trees and the flowers are important expressions of God’s love (perhaps almost as important as the Gospel), it seems to logically follow that we should preserve those things.  To be fair, Martin Luther and St. Augustine never talked about reducing your carbon footprint or using light bulbs that look like curly fries, but care of creation was still a part of their message.  Perhaps then, the question should really be, “Why have many Christians turned away from caring for the environment in recent decades and how can we get back to where we were?” Asking the question phrased in that particular way for me really results in some interesting answers.

To start, I think saying “the environment” isn’t a good thing.  Much like referring to “climate change” as “global warming,” referring to God’s creation as “the environment” doesn’t fully express the concept… the environment seems like something apart from us, something “out there” (and increasingly distant).  Most Christians however, would consider themselves part of God’s creation.  I myself can’t wait for it to get warmer so I can get out in the woods or play Frisbee in the fields… the environment doesn’t seem like something I can enjoy sitting in this coffee shop.  God’s creation though is something that seems much more all around me… he even created the chocolate chip scone I’m eating right now (and very much enjoying).  If we can begin to see caring for God’s creation as caring for something we’re a part of, maybe it’ll seem a little more important. St. Augustine didn’t lock creation up in a park or wilderness preserve… he wouldn’t have seen himself as separate from the creation that he so applauded at all… why should we?

God’s peace,