Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A Few Thoughts on a Perplexing Morning

One of the tasks of ‘pastor’ is to help shepherd the flock through times of confusion and transition. It is not necessary to be the only mouthpiece for the congregation or to quickly heal all wounds, but I think it IS important for the pastor to offer some words of encouragement, hope, and direction moving forward after events of huge magnitude. So here’s my best attempt at faithfully responding to what happened last night…


This is a strange morning. Perplexing. Confusing. Disorienting. President Trump wasn’t my first choice…and yet he’s the choice. And I honor the democratic process that has gotten us to this point this morning. I don’t love the outcome, but I respect it. President Trump will have my support – as a person. I will pray for him. I will try my best to keep my words about him from ever being dishonoring. And yet, I find myself torn this morning as I wonder about the future of our country…and most importantly, it’s people.

This morning I find myself thinking about the Beatitudes – the beautifully challenging opening words of Jesus’ infamous Sermon on the Mount. I find myself thinking about the poor, the mourning, the meek, and the hungry; the merciful, the pure, the peacemakers, and the persecuted.

What does this morning feel like for those on the underside of our nation?

See, I’m going to be just fine. I’m a straight, white male who has a good job and is doing just fine financially…and we just elected a straight, white male who has a good job and is doing just fine financially. But what does it feel like for those who aren’t in my demographic? What does it feel like to wake up this morning as a Muslim man or a gay woman or an undocumented Mexican whose kids are American? What does it feel like to wake up this morning as someone passionate about the Black Lives Matter movement or the Dakota Access Pipeline or the ongoing destruction of God’s creation? Because up until this point, our President-elect has not proven to care too much about these folks and these issues.

And I pray that he actually does…truly I do and I will. I pray that President Trump will be a unifying force for a nation divided. I pray that President Trump will faithfully lead us into a new future as a nation – a united nation; a peaceful nation; a nation that loves and cares for all of its people.

But more than anything, on this strange and disorienting morning, I woke up committed to being the sort of pastor who leads the sort of church into loving the sort of people that Jesus loved. I woke up committed to helping my church actually be the church. I woke up committed to actually knowing and loving our neighbors. I woke up committed to actually being a supportive presence for all those who so often feel neglected.

I woke up convinced that, perhaps more than any time in my life, God could really use the church to be a leading and guiding force for peace, justice, hospitality, reconciliation, and goodness in our society. I woke up convinced that the church has a unique opportunity, at this moment in American history, to reclaim its original, grassroots mission of being ordinary radicals – a rag-tag group of normal people who have had their lives upended by the abnormal love and grace of Jesus and are committed to being the incarnation of this love and grace in a world that could desperately use a little love and grace.

So now is our time to rise up – not in fear and opposition; not in mindless allegiance to the status quo – but in subversive love that breaks down barriers, crosses bridges, and unites the country under the platform of Jesus – the poor, humble, Middle-Eastern vagrant who changed the whole world through a death-defeating, salvation-bringing, enemy-loving, peaceful means of self-sacrifice.

America’s been great for a long time and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. But it’s time to make America love again…and it can start with us.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Power of Hope

There's a famous passage of scripture that ends with the line, "And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love." And that's totally true -- that love is the greatest of all characteristics and actions. No question about it. But I wonder if, for some people, the other two characteristics or concepts might not be more significant and vital at certain times in people's lives. I wonder if, for some, faith or hope might be the sort of idea they need to cling to as a sustaining force in certain periods of life...even more than love.

For me, hope carries a terribly potent energy. I can so easily fall into the trap of pessimism and cynicism and begin to wallow in my own despair. Even if love is present, without a glimmer of hope from time to time, depression nips at my heels. But hope rejuvenates. Hope fills me up when I am empty. Hope has an electric dynamism that allows me to push on despite all obstacles.

Hope is a powerful drug.

Hope has a way of reminding us, in the midst of all the challenges and uncertainties life brings, that it might. just. be. okay. That there is an end in sight. That there is light at the end of this tunnel. That this will all work out in time. And for people of faith, like myself, hope is a reminder that God will be a comforting presence through all of these trials and doubts and fears.

For me personally, I have a job that can sway my emotions by the minute. I can be riding high after a wonderful church service and be brought to rock-bottom by one fleeting, critical comment. I can be on cloud nine after a great week of ministry, only to be wondering when the pink slip will arrive in my office after an average sermon and a Sunday of low attendance. It's a sick cycle -- and probably reveals something of my insecurities and flaws -- but it's real and it's ugly...and the only antidote to this poisonous pathology has been hope. A small victory. A great conversation. A beautiful and meaningful Sunday morning. A word of encouragement.

Hope is a sustaining force. 

Hope has a way of subtly grabbing us by the shirt collar and reminding us of our worth and our true identity in God. Hope, for me, comes and goes with random unpredictability. But when it shows up at my doorstep, I welcome it in with open arms. Because we all need a little hope from time to time. To buoy us in our moments of drowning. To comfort us in our moments of despair. To remind us that it's all going to be okay. Keep hanging on. Keep trusting God. Keep hoping.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Striving for Both/And in an Either/Or World

It has been like this forever – as there is nothing new under the sun – but we currently live in polarizing times. We are pitted against each other. We are expected to take sides. One group must be right and the other must be wrong. Red vs. blue. Gay vs. straight. Black vs. cop. It is an either/or way of thinking about the world.

But what if it could be BOTH/AND instead? What if you could BOTH hold your Christian identity with strength and assurance AND honor, respect, and learn from people of other faith traditions? What if you could BOTH support a political candidate AND acknowledge that the opposing candidate maybe-just-maybe isn’t the anti-Christ? What if you could BOTH question the morality of homosexuality AND love our LGBT brothers and sisters through welcoming them into our churches and supporting their equal rights under the law?

What if saying ‘Black Lives Matter’ came with the undergirded assumption that, of course, All Lives Matter? What if BOTH Black Lives Matter AND Blue Lives Matter?

It is possible to BOTH love and support our police officers who daily risk their lives for our safety AND to recognize that there are some systemic racial problems in our country that have led to much discrimination and way too much lethal force of late. The danger of labels like “black” and “blue” is that we can so easily forget that REAL people are ACTUALLY being made black and blue. People are getting hurt and killed as we resort to violence instead of peaceful, creative solutions that might bring about real, actual, substantive change.

The gospel of Jesus is all about breaking down barriers of separation. Jesus, in everything he does and says, is eradicating an either/or, us vs. them, hate-the-enemy sort of worldview. And we are called to do the same. Let’s commit to not demonizing our opponent. Let’s commit to putting aside the false-binaries that our world teaches us exist. Let’s commit to listening to all people, even and especially when we know we will disagree. Let’s commit to the Jesus-centered spirit of hospitality, generosity, and love that we see laced throughout the pages of Scripture. Let’s commit to being BOTH/AND people, rather than EITHER/OR.

Friday, July 1, 2016

The Power of Pilgrimage

Last Time I was in Whistler - David on the far left
It was April 2012. I had just graduated from seminary in March and Mandy was due with our first child in May, so it felt like I needed to do something grand to mark and celebrate these two occasions. So my best friend, David, and I took an epic road trip – mountain biking, rock climbing, and disc golfing from Seattle to Moab and back. It was a fun trip, but an exhausting trip. It was a time of incredible connection and amazing memories. But more than anything, it was a spiritual trip…a pilgrimage.

And now, four years later, David and his wife are about to have their first child and he asked me to join him on another adventure as we mark the commencement of a whole new season in his life. Here in July (perhaps as you are reading this), I will be spending 4 days in British Columbia, riding mountain bikes at one of the most amazing mountain bike locations in the entire world, Whistler. Another fun, but exhausting trip. Another time of incredible connection and amazing memories. But more than anything, another spiritual trip…another pilgrimage.

The art of pilgrimage has been an essential piece of Christian spirituality for thousands of years. There is something significant that happens when we get away from busyness, unplug from normality, turn off the technology, and allow ourselves to simply be. Scripture is laced with stories of journey – of being sent from one place to the next, with the expectation of encountering God along the way. And we have this same spiritual opportunity available to us – the challenge to go and encounter – to see God’s presence in new and transformative ways.

So I’m trying to seize the spiritual potential of pilgrimage, and I’m encouraging you to do the same. Find opportunities for spiritual journey this summer. Find ways to get away. Find places to go that will refresh and encourage your soul. Find good people to do life with – people that will leave you better than when they found you. And I’ll see you when I get back – with my spirit in a better place than when I left.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Power of Worship

I preached about desire last Sunday - that at the most basic level of our humanity, we are lovers - we desire. So then the question for us isn't whether we desire, but what we desire. Are our desires pure and altruistic? Do they benefit the rest of creation? Are they selfish and harmful? What do we desire?

Many of these thoughts were aided by a philosopher named James K.A. Smith. Smith argues, in a book called Desiring the Kingdom, that we naturally create cultural liturgies around our desires. We form rituals and practices that reinforce that which we love and desire. These desires are varied and diverse, ranging from sports and art and hobbies to social justice, spirituality, and volunteer work. We form rhythms around our desires. Borrowing from Augustine, Smith reminds us that,
"We are what we love."
Which leads me to worship. As a Christian, if I claim to love and desire God and relationship with God, then my cultural liturgies I create will manifest themselves in what we normally think of as worship. But we don't just create these cultural liturgies - we don't just create worship liturgies - they also create us. There is a symbiotic power in worship, where we don't shape a worship gathering, but it shapes us as well. Too often worship is thought of as a passive event that you simply attend. But worship isn't just some boring, rote ritual we perform. It's not placebo; it's not a crutch; it's not a task to cross off in our weekly schedule. It's not even something we go to. Once again, from Jamie Smith,
"Liturgy isn't something that you do; it does something to you." 
Worship shapes us; forms us; takes us from one place to another. We don't stand on the outside of a worship gathering and witness the liturgy. Worship is no spectator sport. We join in; we play a role; we get implicated into something bigger than ourselves. We join together with thousands of years and millions of people who have stepped into the formational process and allowed themselves to be moved, changed, transformed. So if you love God - if that's where your desire is located - then show up to the worship gathering expecting to get changed; for something to happen; for the liturgy to do something to you - because I guarantee it will.