Advent 1- Hope

Come, house of Jacob let’s walk by the Lord’s light. Isaiah 2:5
 
One of my new favorite songs of the season is “A Light” by the Brilliance. The chorus goes like this, “Peace to all this night. A hope and light shine bright.”
Hope-candle
As we enter into this season of Advent that leads us to Christmas, we are seeking to find peace.  Peace in our personal lives.  Peace in our communal lives.  We lament that which seeks to tear us apart in this day and age. Many of us may be worried about Christmas gatherings that include family and friends who think and believe differently than we do.
Isaiah is writing during a fractured time in Israel’s history. The prophet seems to be writing encouragement towards a future time, but is actually calling on the people to look in the proverbial mirror now. God’s peace and justice are not for a far off time, but for a time such as this.
As we enter into the season of Advent, perhaps it is time for us to closely examine our own lives.  Are we the type of people who radiate a light that draws people towards God and God’s ways?  Madeline L’Engle offers this for us; “We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.”
Isaiah had deep trust in the people of his time and that trust remains today.  We are not only called, but equipped to walk in the light of the Lord. It is simply who God has created us to be.  During this Advent season, may we each fully embrace this reality.

3 Things You Can Do for Your Pastor at Christmas

The administrator at church got in the habit of clearing my calendar and marking me out during the second week of January. The first time it happened I asked her about it. She was smart enough to observe that I put so much into and ran so fast during the Advent season, that once the adrenaline stopped flowing my body would shut down. I was always sick during the second week of January.

Advent

As we enter the season of Advent that leads to Christmas, clergy know how important this season is in our spiritual lives. Leading up to Christmas, your pastors will be fully immersed in the life of the church and all that happens during the season. While your pastors are doing much for you, here are three easy things you can do for your pastors.

Be Kind, Don’t Criticize

When the tree lights don’t go on at the appropriate moment at your Hanging of the Green, or the Advent candles don’t have sufficient enough wick to light, your pastors are the first to notice. Trust me, anything you notice that seems out-of-place or didn’t go as expected, your pastor notices long before you did and it bothers them twice as much as it bothers you.  Clergy spend months planning a meaningful season that will make for a powerful journey to the manger for the congregation. When something doesn’t go as planned, its tough to take. After all, something is going to go wrong and when it does, your pastor needs words of encouragement and gratitude.

Remember That Your Pastor Has a Family

Family celebrations, stresses, and logistics are part of this time of year. Pastors are no different from anyone else. She is working on being a full participant in family gatherings and activities on top of the ministries of the church. They desire to be a fully present spouse during the season. He wants to spend time with kids or aging parents just as you do. When the final Christmas Eve service is finished, pastors are going home to help their spouse face the three most feared words in the English language: Some Assembly Required. Trust me, putting together a play kitchen at 1 a.m. isn’t all that its cracked up to be. Give your pastor space to take part in their family’s celebration. Know that they might be dealing with some of the same baggage around family issues that you are. Find ways to honor their commitment to family.

Give an Extra Financial Gift to your Pastor

An extra financial gift collected among the congregation makes a big difference for your pastor. Many congregations are generous when it comes to additional gifts. As we learn more about the slippery financial slope upon which many pastors sit, a gift like this becomes even more important. To make it “the gift that keeps on giving,” consider using the gift to add to their retirement account or college savings account. In a season in which we lift up great causes, remember that your pastor is a great cause.

You Are Enough

I put up Christmas lights yesterday. For someone who doesn’t like to climb ladders, this is a daunting task. In Atlanta, we had a neighbor who held nothing back when it came to putting up Christmas lights. Every year on the day after Thanksgiving, he would begin a two-day project of putting up lights, inflatable characters, and whatever else he could get his hands on. Any display that anyone else put up paled in comparison. The neighbors would gather out in the street, shaking our heads and lamenting that we just didn’t have enough lights when compared to the Clark Griswold of the neighborhood.

out-of-focus-christmas-lights

This time leading up to Christmas is a time when many of us feel like we are not enough. Our inadequacies in what we don’t already own are suggested through each Black Friday advertisement. “You must get here at 6 am to get this deal. You can’t live without it.” We are led to believe that we need more to be enough. We feel the need for everything to be spotless and eloquently decorated for holiday house guests. We are led to believe that perfection leads us to be enough. The mail overflows with perfect family holiday cards, touting how good everyone looks and how well their grown children are doing. Inevitably, we wonder why our family is not as perfect and we feel like we aren’t enough. A struggle for me is the feeling of inadequacy comes from not leading a congregation through the Advent season for the first time in a long time. Will I be enough without this leadership role in this holy season?

Here’s the thing; Christmas is God’s way of saying to each and every one of us that we are enough. If a baby born in a humble manner is enough to bring light to the whole world, then surely it is enough to remind you and I that we are enough. The trick to really getting Christmas is to remember this great truth in the face of everything that would tell us different. We need nothing else to be enough in God’s eyes. No lights, no material goods, no perfect Christmas card, nothing changes the way that God sees us.

One of my favorite quotes for this time of year is from the late Peter Gomes, who reminds us, “For those of us who believe that the greatest gift is the gift of love, Christmas is the ultimate and most intimate expression there is. The child in the manger is the means whereby God’s love is presented to the people whom God loves”

I need that reminder. We are the people whom God loves. You are enough.

Five for Thanksgiving: Five Things for Which I Am Grateful

2017 has been giving 2016 a run for its money when it comes to civil dysfunction. Let’s be honest; things aren’t exactly getting better in our political and civil discourse. As a Jesus follower, my predisposition is towards hope, but that’s not exactly an easy path on some days. As we slow down and prepare to eat tomorrow, here are five things I am grateful for this Thanksgiving,

thanksgiving-dinner

People who have tables that are expanding, not shrinking, this Thanksgiving.

In the midst of threats to Dreamers, Haitians, and whoever else the Administration decides to target, there are individuals, religious communities, community organizations, etc. who are growing more committed to being welcoming to refugees, immigrants, and others. The strength of this country has always been room at the table for more people who seek to call this home. There is much good work being done each day to make this a more, not less, welcoming nation.

Kindness and grace in day-to-day interactions

Despite all the rhetoric, people are still generally kind towards one another. Sure, we get frustrated with each other from time to time, but that pales in comparison to the simple acts of kindness and grace we offer daily to others. There is good in each of us. Each interaction with another is an opportunity for kindness and grace.

Artists are making beautiful music, art, and writing

In the midst of muck in so many places, there is an abundance of great music, art, and writing that inspires, challenges, and brings beauty to our lives.

The depth of emerging prophetic voices

I don’t necessarily mean the mainstream ones you know.  I mean the ones you see each week in your local pulpit. The local church pastor has always wrestled with the tension between pastoral and prophetic. There are many great voices in the local church who are claiming their prophetic identity, while doing the work of shaping disciples through preaching. I believe that this important work is still the best way to shape people to bring wholeness to our world.

And finally….

Elections in 2018 and 2020

I can’t believe I am saying this, but these can’t come soon enough.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Guns and the Church

“You know you are a sitting duck up there for twenty-five minutes every week. Don’t worry though, I’ve got your back.”

This statement was made to me by a church member as I was walking into the sanctuary to lead worship. When he said he had my back, he pointed to the side of his leg, right where someone would carry a concealed gun. Two thoughts immediately came to mind;

Country Church

Have I really been preaching for twenty-five minutes lately?

Why is the person bringing a gun to church with him and what exactly does he think is going to happen?

This conversation was top of mind as I heard the tragic news of yet another mass shooting, this time at a church in Texas. This one hits close to home. I’ve spent many a Sunday behind a pulpit or lectern looking out at people whom I dearly love who have given up a few hours of their time on Sunday to worship and be in community together. It’s one of my favorite views. It is a place of peace and centering for me. I’d be lying if I said that after the comment was made to me, it’s a little less peaceful.

Churches, by nature, are different public gathering spaces. For one, you are hoping to see people, lots of people, that no one else recognizes. A Monday morning with a full visitor list is a preacher’s delight! Second, every door in the building is unlocked. You want to allow as much access as possible on a Sunday morning, even for those who might accidentally stumble into your building. In this day of high alert and high surveillance, the church goes against the grain. It is counter cultural. There is no physical screening process to enter the doors of a church.

Reading the list of places mass shootings have occurred is like reading a litany of places we frequent; Schools, malls, work, and concerts to name a few. Still no action, no real conversation on the epidemic of gun violence. Yesterday a church was once again added to this tragic list. The place where people gather to be transformed to live as the one we call Prince of Peace lived. With our lack of action and the fear that permeates everything we do, maybe it was only a matter of time. I can’t even believe I am writing that previous sentence, but its true. We fell behind the moment something in our culture triggered the need to begin bringing our guns to church to protect ourselves. When we looked at our worship leaders as “sitting ducks.”

Anytime I write or speak about guns, I offer this disclaimer. Guns have not been a part of my life. Growing up, we did not have one in the house, I’ve never been hunting or sport shooting, and I’ve only shot a gun twice in my life. I have no desire to do so again. I understand and respect that guns hold a different place in others lives, including many of the folks whom I call friends and family.The person who told me that “he had my back” was well-meaning and offered in the spirit of friendship and respect.

Here is what I don’t understand- how much longer must we write “how long O’ Lord?” Why are we not willing to at least have conversations about guns and about our addiction to violence and fear that would necessitate one to carry a gun wherever they go?

Yesterday, the first tears were God’s. Will this be the event where we say “enough” and are at least willing to have the conversation? I hope, with the greatest of hope that it will be. Because this is enough. its past time to do something.

5 For the Next 500: 5 Changes I Would Like to See in the Church

It’s the beginning of the next 500 years for the Protestant Church. The first 500 really flew by didn’t they? A lot changed over those first 500 years, beginning with Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the door. I don’t have 95 things, but I do have a few I would like to see change in the next 500 (or 5) years in the life of the church.

Horizion

We will no longer need churches to carry an Open and Affirming Designation

I say this because my hope is that when someone hears “church” they know the church is open, affirming, and welcoming to all people. It’s shameful that communities rooted in a faith and ethic of universal love find grounds to tell people they aren’t loved because of who they love. Open and Affirming should be the norm, not the exception.

Scripture claims a central place in our witness

Too often we know the how, but we don’t know the why. The progressive church’s ministry is rooted in the stories of the scripture, but we don’t claim it as such. We lament the way Scripture is used by others, but don’t use it ourselves. We need to find new ways to teach our adults and bring the Bible alive for our children. The Bible is good stuff, lets use it.

The Church better reflects the diversity of God’s creation

Most people still go to church with people who look, act, vote, and think like they do. The challenge is not only integration along racial lines, but socio-economic ones as well. Churches become bubbles where closely held notions are affirmed rather than challenged. The Church of the (near) future will better reflect the diversity of God’s creation.

The Church is a source of transformation, not information

All of us need to be liberated from something in order to experience the wholeness God intends for each of us.  A renewed passion for the Good News of Jesus Christ is in order. Often, we settle for consuming the Good News like we do the Sunday paper. My hope is for the church to find a renewed interest in the transformation of lives and communities.

The Church takes the lead on combating climate change

Climate change is not a political one, but a spiritual and theological one. If we believe that God is creator, then the church must take caring for creation seriously. If we believe that climate change is a threat to that creation, then the church must be an active leader in combating climate change.

Bonus: Children are full participants in the life of the Church

Jesus is one of the few figures in antiquity who spent time with children. The church should mirror this ethic. Children have much to teach all of us about what it means to live a faith-filled life. The Church is better when children are full participants.

Those are my five (well, six.) Here’s to the next 500 years.

The Widow’s Might

Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I assure you that this poor widow has put in more than everyone who’s been putting money into the treasury.”  Mark 12:43

Admittedly, I have a habit of associating much of what happens in the world with the Biblical story. This past weekend I managed to tie 311 lyrics together with Colossians 3 for my brother’s wedding. Sometimes I even impress myself.

Folded-American-Flag

When I see the image of Gold Star widow Myeshia Johnson leaning over her husband’s casket, I can’t help but think about the story of the widow’s mite from the Gospels. It’s a story about a widow who literally gives everything she must the temple treasury. It’s a story about money, but also a story about a lot more. There is no doubt that in agreeing to serve our country both La David and Myeshia Johnson gave all of their lives.

In many experiences with people grieving the loss of a loved one, I have learned two things:

It’s never easy to walk with someone through losing a loved one.

It’s far easier to say the wrong thing rather than the right thing.

I commend POTUS for calling her. I understand that perhaps what he said wasn’t what he meant to say. Maybe the moment overwhelmed him and he tripped over his words. I realize I’m stretching the benefit of the doubt.

Here is where this gets problematic for me; we know that the POTUS is a bully who especially enjoys belittling women and people of color. At the very least he could have hung up the phone and not said another word about their conversation. Instead, he lied about what happened and took to Twitter to call Myeshia Johnson a liar. So, either a man who lies like its going out of style is lying or a grieving Gold Star widow is lying. You decide, right?

I cannot imagine the grief that Myeshia Johnson is experiencing right now. I cannot fathom the immense pain she feels. I do know that like the widow in the Gospels, she gave her all.  She continues to give her all. Like the widow in the Gospels, she inspires others to give more. Her might in standing up to a bully in this most difficult time is inspiring. I hope her might encourages us to each find our own might and say, “enough is enough.”