A Confession Following Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, and Dallas

I feel like I need to confess

After a tragic week in our nation, perhaps “what the hell is going on?” is the best response. Common DreamsWe are heartbroken at what happened in Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, and Dallas. This is a civilized society? Hearing from Alton Sterling’s son asking to see his Daddy makes this all too real. Knowing similar scenes are taking place in Philando Castile’s home and in the homes of five Dallas police officers is almost too much. We have lost our sense of value for human life. We have lost our sense of “us”, only seeing people not like us as “other.” We are all too willing to let our politicians divide and incite us. We uphold this type of behavior as strong leadership, rather than condemning it as we should. As I went to write about all of this, the only thing that could make any sense to me was my own confession. You see, I am implicit in being a part of a world that has given way to all of this.

The biggest thing I have learned in ministry is to never discount anyone’s experience. Life shapes each of us uniquely and gives us a unique view. I’m a white male who has had a fairly privileged life to this point. I spent my early years in a diverse community until we moved out farther into the suburbs in Atlanta’s white flight of the 1980s. As an adult,. I’ve taken a fairly comfortable life and sought to make it even more comfortable. I’m an ordained minister in a religion that is built upon the life of someone who spent most of his time with the poor, the marginalized, and challenging power structures..I spend very little of my time with the poor, the marginalized, and challenging power structures.  Far too often, I take the path of least resistance because that path protects my relative comfort. It is time I own this.

I don’t know what it’s like to be a black man and be pulled over by the police. I don’t know what it’s like to have that twinge of fear that a routine traffic stop may suddenly go really bad. I also don’t know what it’s like to be a police officer and to know that when you leave the house for work it might be the last time you see your loved ones. I don’t know what it’s like to put oneself in harm’s way in order to serve and protect communities that are becoming increasingly hostile. Neither of these is my experience. Too often though, I’ve thought and acted like I know what either of these life experiences is like. I’ve made assumptions based on my experience rather than theirs.  I will not do that again.

My realization is that perhaps I am part of the problem.My assumptions and my comfort are part of the problem. As I look at my kids and they type of world I want them to live in, I realize that I thought I was part of the solution, but I’m not.

In seeking to make their life comfortable, I am doing the exact opposite. In working to make the church more faithful and sustainable, I am doing the exact opposite. In seeking to be who God created me to be, I am doing the exact opposite. We live in a complex world where there are no easy answers and perhaps no comfortable paths to the fullness of life.

Today, this is my confession. Lord, in your mercy. 

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Summer Reading (and Listening) List

If you can’t tell by the heat, we are in full summer mode. Many are taking time away over Summer Readingthe next couple of weeks for rest, play, and rejuvenation. Summer is also a great time to catch up on reading. Here are some books that would be a great read this summer. I’ve also listed a few podcasts that I have gotten into that would be great for listening to on the beach, lake, or climbing a mountain.

How to Survive a Shipwreck by Jonathan Martin. I have a lot of clergy friends reading this one right now. I love the subtitle: Help is on the way and love is already here. As one reviewer says, “Who would ever guess that a few reflections on wind and waves, shipwrecks and sea monsters, could comfort and challenge so profoundly?” I am only a few chapters in and already  this book is working on my spirit.

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight. A wonderful story about a small start-up company in the 1970s that would later become Nike. This is a great memoir by the Nike founder that carries many great nuggets of wisdom about life and perseverance. It’s also a great look at one of the world’s iconic brands before Jordan, Tiger, etc.

Rising Strong by Brene Brown. I’ve loved Brown’s previous works and found Rising Strong to be a great continuation of that work. Her work centers around the conversation on courage, vulnerability, shame, and worthiness. She shares the stories from leaders in Fortune 500 companies and the military to artists, couples in long-term relationships, teachers, and parents about  being brave, falling, and getting back up. I’m currently doing a short-term online study of this book with some friends and colleagues that I know will be life-giving.

Life’s Too Short to Pretend You’re Not Religious by David Dark. I just picked this up off a recommendation from a friend. Dark writes, “If what we believe is what we see is what we do is who we are, there’s no getting away from religion.” This book is described as incisive and entertaining, which is my favorite combination,

What Are You Listening To?

I love the podcast medium, especially listening on Overcast, which allows you to speed up the conversation so that you can listen to more faster! Below are a few of my favorite podcasts.

The RobCast. This is Rob Bell’s weekly podcast. I’ve long been a fan of Bell and love listening to his guests, sermons, and thoughts on faith

StartUp. StartUp is an episodic narrative about what it’s really like to start a business. A great listen for anyone with an entrepreneurial spirit.

Preachers on Preaching. This may be a little too “inside baseball” but I love listening to the weekly interviews of various preachers to hear about their approach to the pulpit and the ministry. If you want insight on what it’s like to step into that holy space of preaching each week, this is a good listen.

Hidden Brain. Brought to us by NPR, Hidden Brain helps people understand the world and themselves. It uses a mix of science, experience, and storytelling to determine the unconsciousness patterns that drive the world. You want to know the sweet spot for Uber in terms of rate and usage? Take a listen to Hidden Brain.

The Bill Simmons Podcast.  Either you like Simmons or you don’t. I like him.

That’s my list. I’d love to know yours. Let’s get a cup of coffee and chat about any of these.

Grace and Peace 

 

 

 

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When Will We Say Enough?- A Reflection on Orlando

A dear friend approached me at the door of the sanctuary on Sunday morning, tears slowlyVigil streaming down her face:

50 dead

When worship started, that number was 23. In the course of an hour, as the church had gathered to worship and sing praises to God, the death toll in the Orlando nightclub shooting had more than doubled, becoming the largest mass shooting in US history.  It is heartbreaking. The predictable reaction is sad. We take so little time to grieve before we start pointing fingers at who’s at fault for such evil being perpetuated in the world.

When will we say enough?  We lift prayers to God on behalf on the victims, their families and for our own grief. Some might even lift prayers for our enemies like Jesus asks us to do. On the surface, we know that hatred and bigotry has no place in our faith and in this world. Our prayers need to be a starting point, not the last stop. We need to do something

To be clear, a spirit of hatred and bigotry is not limited to a particular religion. Any worldview that stakes its legitimacy on the belief that their way is the only way is dangerous.  The marginalization of those not like us is an ethic that is hard to turnaround. The deeper in you get, the harder it is to get back out.  The marginalization of gay and lesbian folks as well as people of various faiths needs to stop. Marginalization of anyone has no place in Christian doctrine or practice.  Our addiction to violence needs to end. The solution to violence is not more violence.

Friends, if we believe that the realm of God is coming, if God believes in us enough to think that we can create the world God intends, we need to start living like it.  The sin of numbness and resignation cannot have the final word.

We will want to move on in a few days, as something else dominates the news cycle, but we shouldn’t. God is counting on us. We are God’s plan. Every interaction we have with another either moves us forward or sets us back. We have more power than we think.

That’s where we need to start. Together, let’s say enough

Grace and peace

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Muhammad Ali- A Role Model Who Happened to Be an Athlete

There have been few moments like Muhammad Ali stepping out of the shadows to take the AliOlympic torch from Janet Evans at the 96 Summer Games. It is fitting he lit the eternal flame that is the Olympic torch because his light is an eternal flame that will continue to shine long after his death.

Ali was not only a famous athlete, he was one of the most famous people on the planet. He will go down as one of the most well-known people to ever live. We are mourning his loss while celebrating his life. Of course, Ali made some difficult choices in his life that led him to not only be vilified, but lose his livelihood as well. During the height of athletic popularity, he was disliked by many for his views and social action.

Ali’s opposition to the Vietnam War  influenced Dr. King’s own opposition to the war. His vocal support  of women’s rights gave Billie Jean King the courage she needed to be a pioneer for equal rights for women. Ali gave courage to oppressed people to come together and not stand for oppression any longer. The former Cassius Clay converted to Islam and became Muhammad Ali, not a popular decision at the time. Ali did not test the political winds to see what might be prudent from a person in his position, rather he let his conscience and his calling from God lead him.

Hear these words from Ali himself:

 “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on Brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? No I’m not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would cost me millions of dollars. But I have said it once and I will say it again. The real enemy of my people is here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality….”

In a culture that adored black athletes while criminalizing them for their skin color, Ali stood up and said “No.” Some athletes happen to be role models.  Ali was a role model who happened to be an athlete.

Would we listen to Muhammad Ali today? Not the beloved Ali figure of his later years, but the Ali of the late 60s and the 70s who challenged assumptions, societal norms and social structures. Would we adore the Ali who made unpopular calls for justice and righteousness? Would we appreciate someone who challenged us, even if we didn’t agree with them?

Inside a boxing ring, Muhammad Ali is the greatest of all time. However, it is outside the ring where he may have very well left his mark. Rest in peace, Champ, rest in peace.

 

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A Disciples Pastor’s Thoughts on General Conference

I have been watching the United Methodist General Conference in Portland (a lovely place UMCto gather)through Twitter, Facebook posts, and some incredibly thoughtful blogs. I have many United Methodist clergy friends, having graduated from a United Methodist seminary. I have Methodist friends, and my father and step-mother are active members of a United Methodist church. So, I have watched with interest.

I can only imagine what the delegates and most United Methodists are feeling. Their General Conference has seemed extremely painful for many. Conservatives, Moderates, and Progressives are struggling with what it means to be global church, especially when it comes to full rights and welcome for LGBTQ people. I applaud the brave clergy who have come out as gay or lesbian, knowing that it may cost them their livelihood.

I don’t want this to sound like a higher than mighty post from a Disciples of Christ pastor bragging about our open table and our welcome to all. We have had many difficult, painful discussions at our gatherings. We have said and done harmful things to the LGBTQ community.  I confess that we as Disciples still have work to do.

We have conservative, moderate, and progressive members across our movement.Heck,  in my congregation we have conservative, moderate, and progressive members. It’s a bit of a tricky dance to make it all work. It’s why I tell people that we are an open table church rather than another label one might use. We are all welcome. No matter what others have chosen to label us we each receive Christ’s love and grace through the power of a shared meal. Far be it from me to tell another (or God) who should and shouldn’t be welcome. After all, God has welcomed me. The very least I can do is to return the favor. This is what I so appreciate about the Disciples.

Things are changing in our culture and in the church. Old power structures which were run by and benefited the privileged few are going away.. This is causing people to act out in fear. We fear anything that would bring us out of old comfort zones.We fear what we don’t understand.

I believe that God always calls us forward, not back.  The neat lines and definitions by which we attempt to define God baffle me, as if we can control or determine who God loves and who God calls God’s child.

My prayers are with my United Methodist friends, my brothers and sisters in Christ. I pray that the church may cause no one any more pain, rather it give the life abundant that Jesus promises. My prayer is that there are no winner or losers, rather a church unified by its love for God and all people.I pray that through the pain, we might trust that God is working to bring the fullness of life to the Church and to all people.

Grace and peace

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A Conversation with My Kids about Red Ribbons, Car Accidents, and God

Here is the conversation my 8 year old and 5 year old had in the car the other day.Red Ribbon

5 year old: Why are there red ribbons on everyone’s mailbox?

8 year old: They are there to support the family on the girl that died in the car crash.

Whoa. This was not the conversation I was expecting (nor prepared for) on the car ride.

A few weeks ago, four UGA students lost their lives in a tragic car accident. It’s the kind of thing that makes you wonder about the goodness of God and where God is in moments like this. One of the students, Halle Scott, was from Dunwoody and went to Dunwoody High School which is right down the street from us. In support of her family, many in the community have tied red ribbons around their mailboxes. Red, because it is one of the school colors of both DHS and UGA.

5 year old: Why did the girl die in the car crash? Am i going to die in a car crash?

8 year old: I don’t know. Daddy, why did God allow the girl to  die in the car crash?

It’s at this point that I am desperate to turn up the radio as loud as possible. Please, where is Taylor Swift blaring “Shake it Off” when you need her?

I earn a living walking people through difficult questions such as these. I don’t always know what to say. I mostly sit, listen, and wonder with folks while reminding them that God’s will is always for life and that in difficult times God’s heart is the first to break.

For some reason with children, especially my own children, the ones who think I know all the answers, its different. Kids are usually more honest that adults and their questions are more raw. They also keep asking questions.

5 year old: God allows people to die in car crashes?

8 year old: That’s what I just asked Daddy? He hasn’t answered!

Pressure. We have taught our kids since day one that God is a God of love, that God is a good God who wants the best of all of us. We have taught them that in God’s eyes, all people are equal and beloved. We have taught them that God is with them, no matter what. For whatever reason, in this moment, nothing is coming out of my mouth.The evidence might seem to present something different. How do I deal with this? Where is Taylor Swift when you need her most?

5 year old: God loves those girls. God wouldn’t allow them to have a car crash

8 year old: God probably cried first and is the most sad out of anyone

5 year old: I bet God tied a red ribbon around his mailbox

8 year old: God will help their families feel better

Out of the mouth of babes. Jesus just may have been on to something when he told us that to truly understand who God is, we need to be more like children. For me, I feel blessed by the reminder.

Grace and peace

 

 

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Don’t Be Cruel

Arguing
Don’t be cruel…to a heart that’s true.

Those words from Cheap Trick (and Elvis before) ring in my ears as I watch the morning news. They resonate as I read Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites. They hurt my heart as I overhear the way we to talk and about one another. In short, we as a culture have become cruel to each other.

I was watching Ted Cruz confront a Trump supporter in Indiana. I felt bad for Ted Cruz. Believe me, I am no fan of Cruz’s policies, but it seemed like he was trying to have an actual conversation with someone who supports a different candidate. As Cruz was going into Harvard debate mode, the man kept yelling back “Lying Ted”, “Where is your Goldman Sachs jacket”, “Lying Ted”, “Trump is going to kick your you know what”

Who talks to a candidate for President like that?

In fact, who talks to another human being that way?

Oh, right, we do apparently. Remember when all candidates (and Presidents), regardless of party affiliation were respected.Not to mention some of the racist comments aimed at Malia Obama after her choice of Harvard following a gap year were revealed.

I’ve also seen this cruel spirit  in conversations about bathrooms. People who are working to live an authentic life (which is often a painful process) are having their basic human dignity stripped away through words and actions. It’s okay to disagree with another and its even okay to simply not see something the way another does, but it doesn’t mean you should strip away another’s dignity in the process.

When did we become so cruel? Often the cruelty is made worse because it is offered in the name of Christianity. Try as I might, I can’t find any stories of Jesus stripping away someone’s dignity or humanity. I only see Jesus lifting another’s humanity, giving and protecting human dignity.

If we as a culture have lost the ability to see another’s humanity, our shared brokenness, and the enormous power of restoration we each possess for the other, then that will slowly (and painfully) be the end of us.

We’ve got to step up and stop falling into the trap of cynicism, bitterness, anger, fear, and hopelessness. God has created us better than this.Jesus promised that all things would be renewed and Paul challenged us that we are to do the work of reconciliation.

Something better will arise out of this time because God has made us better than this. It starts with me. It starts with you. Imagine what would happen if we spent our time lifting another and reminding each other of our sacred dignity and worth. We each have that power.

I think I will put on some Cheap Trick (not an Elvis fan) and remember Don’t Be Cruel.

 

 

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Prince

Breaking News. “Oh, okay let’s see what this is going to be?” Prince has passed away at Princethe age of 57.

Wow. I don’t know about you, but Prince’s death hit me in a way I would not have expected. It has struck a chord with so many.

He was a musical maestro, immensely talented and gifted with a way with words that few musicians possess. He encouraged us to party like its 1999, because surely there would be no year 2000.

His concerts weren’t just concerts. They were part work of art, part religious experience. His performances drew you into a different world for a little while while pointing you to a different kind of truth. Perhaps there is something deeper to our mourning Prince’s death than just his music. His music points us to a deeper truth about his life. Prince lived life free and to its fullest. Check out this quote from him, “despite everything, no one can dictate who you are to other people.”

How liberating is that statement? It’s a gift to own that we are a beloved child of God, uniquely made by God, and given gifts to use in this world. How many of us can’t live out that truth in our own lives for one reason or another? How many people in the world have this truth suppressed in their lives? Do you (and I) suppress this truth for others?

You are a child of God. No one can dictate who you are to God or to other people. No one.

That is what I will miss most about Prince. Prince knew the freedom to be fully alive, to be who God had uniquely created him to be. No one could dictate who he was created to be. The world admired him for that and gave us hope that each could know that same fullness of life.May we embrace that for ourselves while extending it to all people.

“no one can dictate who you are to other people.” 

Thank you Prince. Well done, good and faithful servant.

 

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Discover the Disciples- You Have A Place at the Table

The Table RoundA twenty dollar bill. One of the great feelings in the world is looking in the pocket of a jacket you haven’t worn in a while and finding a twenty dollar bill. Found money!

I’m wondering if the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) isn’t like that twenty dollar bill you find in the pocket of a jacket you haven’t worn in a long time. You had no idea it was there, but once you find it, you are so glad that you did. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) the “best kept secret in the world” I would have a lot more than the twenty bucks I found in my pocket.

The truth is that we are not good at telling our story or even describing in a fluid manner what we love about our church. I am soon beginning a new series called “Discover the Disciples” in which I hope to equip my church people to better articulate what they love about our core values and why this is the church for them. I also hope to share with visitors and those not familiar with our core values why I believe that we are a church that is perfectly positioned to be a meaningful church experience, one that shapes us for wholeness in our life and the world. .

Here are some common questions about our denomination. Oh, one word about that word- the “D” word. I wonder if movement is a better way to describe what we are. Okay, enough about the “D” word.

“Your logo looks like a wine glass with an X. Are you all against drinking?” (No, but drink responsibly of course)

“Are you kind of like Presbyterians? or Methodists? or Lutherans?” (In full disclosure, many of our people answer this question with a “kind of”)

“Are you liberal or conservative?”

and my favorite… “Are you a cult?”

To contrast some of these common questions, I asked on Facebook for people to describe Disciples in seven words of less. There were some great responses. Here is a sampling:

Accepting, evolving, questioning, respectful, supportive, Christ like, home

Y’all come! We love the table!

All welcome, freedom of interpretation, grace spoken

Priesthood of all believers; an Open Table

You are loved, welcome, forgiven, and whole

Loving, forgiving, questioning, supportive, all are welcome

being true to the love of God

Dang, this is good stuff. Sign me up! We shouldn’t be keeping this a secret. Not just for personal reasons, but for communal reasons as well. We need more people who are shaping their lives around this ethos. We need more people who are telling the story of our churches using these phrases and terms. We need the fresh wind of this spirit.

I’m looking forward to this series, not only for our congregation, but for myself as well. Because I need to be reminded that there is a place at the table for me as well. Now, that’s good news.! That is a story we need to be telling.

 

 

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Claiming New Life

CrossOn Easter Sunday, Christians around the world bore witness to Resurrection, that nothing will ever be the same again. History is full of incidents where people sought to snuff out the movement of God, afraid that Jesus is on the loose. During Holy Week, we remember such a time when authorities were so scared of this movement that they put Jesus to death. Even death couldn’t stop Jesus, couldn’t stop the movement of God.

During my Easter sermon, I asked people if they knew that they were joining a revolution by coming to church on Easter Sunday. That’s exactly what happened, one that began anew as a group of faithful disciples peered into an empty tomb long ago. Jesus was on the loose. The promise of a new way of life and a new day was true. A revolution that bears witness to God’s love, a love so strong that it could not be defeated, even by death.

I believe the Resurrection speaks to the desire of God for all people to know the fullness of life. The opportunity before each and every person to claim a new life, to claim who God has created them to be. stands true. Blessings on you as you claim that new life, blessings on us as a nation and world as we claim new ways of being in the world. Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed!

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