Weekly Devotional 4 (Luke 21:5-19)

This devotion was published first in the IGRC for Unity weekly email. As the Communications Director for IGRC for Unity, I compose a weekly email with news, resources, and reflections. IGRC for Unity is a group of Illinois United Methodists who have rejected the Traditional Plan for the United Methodist Church and are working to create a United Methodist Church that is truly open to all. These devotionals will be taken from a text from the Revised Common Lectionary, and will often have a theme of inclusion and welcome.
   The Gospel reading for November 17 in the Revised Common Lectionary is Luke 21:5-19. This is one of those weeks where the lectionary, and most of the subtitles of modern printed Bibles, do a disservice to the text. Many Bibles separate verses 1-4 from the story we have for today, which is a huge mistake. In fact, to truly see this passage and its power, the reader should go back to at least 20:45.
   But first, let’s look at the passage the lectionary gives us. In verses 5-19 Jesus predicts not only the Temple’s fate, which is disastrous, but also predicts the coming troubles for those who follow him. Verse 5 opens with people talking about the beauty of the Temple. Jesus responds that this beautiful structure will all come crashing down. What’s more, in the coming days things are going to get worse. He reminds his followers that remaining faithful to him will come at great cost. Many of the things Jesus mentions, earthquakes, famine, and epidemics were not altogether uncommon. These things however, were often interpreted as signs of God’s punishing judgment. Instead, Jesus is reminding them that even in the midst of trial, God’s plan is still unfolding. The disasters are not a sign of God’s wrath, but instead should serve as reminder’s of Jesus’ predictions. The disciples could take comfort in the midst of disaster knowing that their God is still with them.
   Of course, the destruction of the Temple did occur some 40 years later. It is difficult to overstate the trauma of this event, even to the early Christian church. Instead of seeing it as a disaster though, followers of Christ were called to see even this devastation as a sign that God was working in the world – not causing the destruction, but working even through such destruction to bring God’s Kingdom.
   Now, let’s get back to verses 1-4. This is known as “the widow’s offering.” Jesus saw a widow give the last of what she had to the Temple. In the very next scene, the people are marveling at its beauty. Jesus did not see its beauty – although it was quite magnificent. Instead, he only saw an institution that was taking a widow’s last coins. The beauty of the outside of the institution did not match the fruit that it was bearing. Instead of being a place where people were inspired to care for the widow, the orphan, and the alien, it was a place where marginalized were pushed farther away. In the verses immediately before the widow’s offering, Jesus warned against those who “cheat widows out of their homes, and to show off they say long prayers.”
   The widow’s offering and the beauty of the Temple served as a perfect object lesson for Jesus, and it should serve as a timely warning for us in the grand temples of Methodism today. We live in an institution that has appeared to have a beautiful facade. It is the second largest Protestant denomination in the United States. There are great cathedrals in our cities, first churches in our towns, General Boards and Agencies that wield power and influence. The Cross and the Flame is indeed a beautiful ornament dedicated to God. Perhaps on the inside though, something has been ill. Does the fruit of exclusion match the fruit that Christ calls us to bear?
   Jesus’ prediction against the Temple came on the heels of witnessing first hand the “devouring of widow’s homes.” What would he say about the Church who continues to marginalize and do harm to our LGBTQ siblings?

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Weekly Devotional 3 (Haggai 1:15; 2:1-9)

This is my weekly devotional, based on the Revised Common Lectionary, with a theme of inclusion. I started this exercise as a part of the IGRC For Unity newsletter. IGRC for United is a group of centrist and progressive United Methodists who have rejected the Traditional Plan (and its punitive exclusion of LGBTQ people and those who support them), and are working for a United Methodist Church that is truly for all.

One of the readings in the Revised Common Lectionary is from Haggai. This is one of the “Table of Contents” books of the Bible. If I had an actual printed Bible, I would be turning to the table of contents to find it. I know its somewhere near the back of the Hebrew Bible, but its short and easy to flip past. It’s safe to say that the pages of this prophet are not well-worn. This does not mean it’s not worth reading.

Like any of the prophets, Haggai’s historical context is important; and unlike some prophets, it Haggai’s context is remarkably clear. “The second year of King Darius” can be translated to August of 520 BCE. Darius was “noted for his administrative genius and for his great building projects” (Encyclopedia Britannica). Cyrus the Great officially ended the Jewish exile in 538 BCE, 18 years before Haggai. The people were trying to rebuild the Temple, but it was not going well. There were some who considered it of secondary concern. Some were conflicted over how it should get done.

Haggai came to try to set the people on the course of rebuilding. He saw the construction of the Temple as an essential part of their relationship with God, and the people were too busy on their own pet projects to get to work on what mattered. There were some that thought that building something new wasn’t worth the trouble because there was no way that they could recreate what had come before.

Rebuilding is not about re-creating what came before. Pining for the “good old days,” while neglecting what needs to be done now is the most toxic impulse connected to nostalgia. If the Church is to be in the business of renewal and revival, it should not be trying to recreate the 1950’s. We are to seek a relationship with the living God. We are not called to build a museum to what things used to be.

In this passage, God promises restoration and salvation. The promises are rooted in how God has saved in the past, but this does not mean God is doing the same thing as before. God saved and will save again. We are to do our part, rebuilding our hearts, rebuilding our communities, and yes, rebuilding our churches – not in the image of what was before, but in the image of God who creates all, redeems all, and sustains all.

 

 

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Weekly Devotional 2 (Luke 6:20-31)

This devotion was published first in the IGRC for Unity weekly email. As the Communications Director for IGRC for Unity, I compose a weekly email with news, resources, and reflections. IGRC for Unity is a group of Illinois United Methodists who have rejected the Traditional Plan for the United Methodist Church and are working to create a United Methodist Church that is truly open to all. These devotionals will be taken from a text from the Revised Common Lectionary, and will often have a theme of inclusion and welcome.
Many churches will be recognizing All Saints’ Day this Sunday. The gospel reading from the Revised Common Lectionary is Luke 6:20-31. Some call this “The Sermon on the Plain,” because it draws on many of the same themes and sources as Matthew’s much more famous Sermon on the Mount, but Luke 6:17 says that “Jesus came down from the mountain with them and stood on a large area of level ground.”
Geography matters in the gospels. In Matthew, the fact that Jesus was on a mountain was reminiscent of Moses receiving God’s Instruction on Mount Sinai. In Luke, Jesus is on “level ground.” This week’s passage even opens with “Jesus raised his eyes,” to speak. In Luke, Jesus is often about the business of “leveling.” Here, he speaks on level ground and then flips everything about how society decides who were “higher” and “lower.”
Translators differ on if Jesus called the people “Blessed,” or “Happy.” Of course, Luke adds the infamous “Woe to you…” or “How terrible for you…” Instead of thinking of Happy and Terrible, let me suggest “Honored” and “Shameful.” This was a culture where the strict code of honor and shame was very well known, and influenced actions, travel patterns, dinner plans, seating charts, family relations, and almost every aspect of the social world.
There, on the level ground, Jesus lifted his eyes to this ragtag group and called the poor, the hungry, and the hated “honored.” He reserved shame for the rich, the full, and those with good reputations. This was a reversal of all cultural norms. This was an undoing of the social structure that provided stability, and it was the foundation of what Jesus was doing. The Kingdom of God is built on the honor of the outcast and forgotten. Who are the poor, the hungry, and the hated who Jesus would call honored today? Who are those that are discarded, outcast, and marginalized? What would he say to those of us who are on the inside of our institutions and social structures? How shameful it is for us who are rich, full, and respected.
Then Jesus reminds us how to live into this reversal. Stop cycles of violence. Force someone to look you in the eye. Strip naked before your oppressors, thus bringing as much shame on them as it does on you. Don’t place yourself over another in need, shaming them for asking for help. These are rules to live by. This is how the Kingdom of God works. It’s not about shame and honor, placing some over and above others. It is a level ground, where even the Son of Man lifts his eyes to his disciples. On this day we honor those that have come before, we can be inspired to live a new way.
PRAYER: We pray for all the saints who have come before. We thank you for they have found rest after the course of labor. We remember the fathers, mothers, and parents of our faith who molded us, taught us, shaped us, and modeled for us what it looks like to follow Christ. Though they were not perfect, they showed us something beautiful. They led us to you, and for that we are eternally grateful. Let us be inspired by their journey, their struggles, and their triumphs. Guide us in Your Way until we may be reunited and feast together at your heavenly banquet. In the name of Christ we pray. Amen.

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Weekly Devotional 1 (Luke 18:9-14)

This devotion was published first in the IGRC for Unity weekly email. As the Communications Director for IGRC for Unity, I compose a weekly email with news, resources, and reflections. IGRC for Unity is a group of Illinois United Methodists who have rejected the Traditional Plan for the United Methodist Church and are working to create a United Methodist Church that is truly open to all. These devotionals will be taken from a text from the Revised Common Lectionary, and will often have a theme of inclusion and welcome.
The lectionary texts for October 27 include Luke 18:9-14. This is Jesus’ parable about two people praying: the Pharisee and the tax collector. Jesus told this story about two people praying to a group who “convinced themselves that they were righteous and who looked on everyone else with disgust” (Luke 18:9 Common English Bible).
The prayers of these two are vastly different, but in one important way they are alike. They are both praying the Psalms. The Pharisee is praying Psalm 17:3-5 “If you try my heart, if you visit me by night, if you test me, you will find no wickedness in me; my mouth does not transgress…” The tax collector is praying Psalm 51:1 “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy…”
The mistake the Pharisee makes is when he compares himself to the other. He creates a hierarchy, placing himself above the tax collector. Jesus’ Kingdom is not about hierarchy. It is not about social strata, or placing one above the other. Like Mary had sung in the beginning of the Gospel “He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed.” (Luke 1:52-53)
Like most parables, we are invited to see ourselves in these characters. It is easy to see yourself as the tax collector and others as the Pharisee. The surprising thing is though, that while the tax collector is “justified,” the Pharisee is not condemned by Jesus. The high is brought low, but not cast out. We must be careful in these divisive times, realizing that both progressives and conservatives can fall into the trap of the Pharisee:
  • Thank God I am not that godless, politically correct, unrealistic liberal…
  • Thank God I am not that close-minded, judgmental conservative…
Instead, focus our prayers on our own shortcomings, our own sin, our own celebrations, triumphs, and victories. This does not mean we ignore others, but we never place ourselves above others. God does not pick and choose. God welcomes and loves all.
PRAYER: O God, show mercy to us, sinners all. Forgive us for missing the mark of your love. Forgive us for the times we have looked upon others with scorn, disgust, or apathy. Help us to see others as fellow pilgrims to be encouraged, not as sinners to be condemned. Empower us to be righteous without being self-righteous. Strengthen us in our weakness, and help us to see all humanity as beloved and created in your image. In the name of Jesus we pray, Amen.

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Maundy Thursday Pot-Luck Liturgy

On Maundy Thursday, my church has done something a litte different the last two years. Instead of a traditional worship service in the sanctuary, we have done a Pot-Luck and Liturgy. The idea of this service is to come together in fellowship for a meal and together tell the story of Jesus on holy Thursday. The liturgy below mostly follows the story as told in Matthew 26:17-56. There are two reading parts and congregational reading as well. Reader 1 mostly functions as the narrator. Reader 2 is usually the words of Jesus. Most of the congregational reading are the words and responses of the disciples, especially Judas and Peter.  In my context, both Reader 1 and Reader 2 are ordained clergy. If yours are not, you may want to adjust the Communion section accordingly.

To set up this service, you need to have a regular pot-luck (or some meal provided). Each table should have a loaf of bread, a pitcher of grape juice, and cups for everyone. There are four main parts:

I. Before the meal: Prayer of thanksgiving, reading the ‘commandments of Jesus,’ and a prayer of confession

II. The meal: People are invited to gather their food and begin to eat.

III. The Bread and the Cup: Before everyone is done eathing their supper, there are readings for the Words of Institution, a prayer of invocation, and people are invited to share the bread and cup with one another at each table.

IV. After the Meal: Readings from when the story goes out to Gethsemane. The prediction of Peter’s denial and the arrest of Jesus.

Below is my script. There are places for three different songs, which help get people’s attention in the midst of the meal. We have a piano in our fellowship hall, so this should work. If you don’t, you might use selected recorded music to help set the liturgy apart in its sections.

Maundy Thursday service and pot-luck. April 18, 2019, 6:00 p.m.

Words of Welcome

Reader 1    We gather on this night to remember Jesus’ last night with his disciples. Friday is a day of mourning, reflecting on the death of the Messiah at the hands of jealous men. Saturday is a day of waiting, pondering the mystery of a tomb that is soon to be empty. Sunday is a day of joyful excitement, proclaiming the Resurrection.

Reader 2    Today is Thursday; a day to remember what Jesus lived for. It is a day to remember how he loved, what he taught, and how God’s steadfast love was revealed through him.

Reader 1    Today is Maundy Thursday. Maundy comes from the Latin “command.” So today we remember what Jesus commanded us to do. As we enjoy this great feast set out before us, we will recall Jesus’ words and deeds. We will recall the response of the disciples, who all fell away, and we will leave with a prayer for us all to remain awake through the very end.

Song 561   Jesus United by Thy Grace vs 1, 2, 6

The Meal Begins

Reader 1    On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus and said,

All                “Where do you want us to prepare for you the Passover meal?”

Reader 2    He replied, “Go into the city, to a certain man, and say, ‘The teacher says, “My time is near. I’m going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.”’” The disciples did just as Jesus instructed them. They prepared the Passover.

Reader 1    Let us pray together and give thanks for

All:      Gracious God, we give you thanks for all which is set out before us. Send you Holy Spirit to fill each of us with thanks and praise. Guide us as we remember that your Anointed One, on the night before he suffered, instituted the sacrament of his body and blood. Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life. Amen.

Reader 1    Here are the commandments of Jesus

Group 1     Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. (Matthew 22:37)

Group 2     You must love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39)

Group 1     Do not pay back violence with violence. (Mt. 5:39)

Group 2     Do not withhold forgiveness. (Mt. 6:15)

Group 1     Do not hate or curse your enemies. (Mt. 5:44)

Group 2     Do not pray like the hypocrites or make a show of your faith. (Mt. 6:1)

Group 1     Do not ignore the needs of the poor. (Mt. 19:21)

Group 2     Do not put the letter of the Law over the heart of the Law. (Mt. 15:10)

Group 1     Do not be afraid. (Mt. 28:10)

Reader 2    Jesus said, “As the Father loved me, I too have loved you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love. This is my commandment: Love each other.”

All:               This is our commandment. To love each other.

Reader 2    Jesus said, “No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I don’t call you servants any longer, because servants don’t know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends… I give you these commandments so that you can love each other.”

Reader 1    Before Jesus and his disciples gathered for the meal, there was one who had taken matters into his own hands. For thirty pieces of silver, Judas had agreed to hand Jesus over to the chief priests. From that moment on, Judas was looking for the right time to betray Jesus.

Reader 2    “I assure you, one of you will betray me.”

All:               I’m not the one, am I, Lord?

Reader 2    “The one who will betray me is the one who dips his hand with me into this bowl.”

All:               Judas said, “It’s not me, is it, Rabbi?”

Reader 2    “You said it.”

Reader 1    Let us confess together:

All:               Merciful God, we confess that we have betrayed you. We have denied you. We have not loved you with our whole heart. We have failed to be an obedient church. We have not done your will, we have broken your law, we have rebelled against your love, we have not heard the cry of the needy. Forgive us, we pray. Free us for joyful obedience, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Moment of quiet reflection for personal prayer and confession.

Reader 1    Hear the good news: when Christ gathered with his disciples to remind them of his love, he knew that he gathered with the one who betrayed him, the one who would deny him, and all who would abandon him. This proves that Jesus loved them, even when they failed him, and he loves us still today. In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.

INSTRUCTIONS: All are dismissed to the buffet line one table at a time. Begin the meal, but please be aware that we will have more readings before the meal is finished. We will come together by singing:

Song 616   Come, Sinners, to the Gospel Feast (v. 1, 2, 5)

Sharing the bread and cup

Reader 1    On the night in which he was betrayed, and while they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said,

All:               “Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you”  

Reader 2    And when the supper was over, he took the cup, gave thanks to God, shared it with his disciples and said,

All:               Drink from this, all of you; this is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, as often as you drink of it, in remembrance of me.

Reader 1    And so,
in remembrance of these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving
as a holy and living sacrifice,
in union with Christ’s offering for us,
as we proclaim the mystery of faith.

 All:  Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.

Reader 2    Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here,
and on these gifts of bread and wine.
Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ,
that we may be for the world the body of Christ,
redeemed by his blood.

By your Spirit make us one with Christ,
one with each other,
and one in ministry to all the world,
until Christ comes in final victory
and we feast at his heavenly banquet.

Through your Son Jesus Christ,
with the Holy Spirit in your holy Church,
all honor and glory is yours, almighty Father,
now and forever. Amen.

Each table will have one loaf to share. Please break off a piece, hand it to the person next to you and tell them, “this is the body of Christ.”  When all have eaten their piece of bread, the remaining bread may be placed back at the center of the table. Then take the pitcher of grape juice, pour out a cup for your neighbor, give it to them and tell them, “This is the cup of forgiveness.” You are free to eat more bread and drink more juice if you wish. You may finish your meal. When all the places are cleared, we will finish the service after the choirs sing.

CHOIR ANTHEM

After the meal

Reader 1    Then after singing songs of praise, they went to the Mount of Olives.

Reader 2    Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Tonight you will all fall away because of me. This is because it is written, ‘I will hit the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will go off in all directions.’ But after I’m raised up, I’ll go before you in Galilee.”

Reader 1    Peter replied

All:               If everyone else stumbles because of you, I’ll never stumble.”

Reader 2    Jesus said to him, “I assure you that, before the rooster crows tonight, you will deny me three times.”

All:               “Even if I must die alongside you, I won’t deny you.”

Reader 1    All the disciples said the same thing.

Group 1     I won’t deny you

Group 2     I won’t deny you

Reader 2    Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane. He said to his disciples “Stay here while I go pray over there.” When he took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, he began to feel sad and anxious. Then he said to them, “I’m very sad. It’s as if I’m dying. Stay here alert with me.”

Reader 1    As Jesus prayed in anguish, none of the disciples could stay awake. A moment before they all pledged their undying loyalty. Now they couldn’t stay awake to pray in Jesus’ time of need. Finally, it was time.

Reader 2    After finding them asleep again, Jesus said, “Get up. Let’s go. Look, here comes my betrayer.”

Reader 1    While Jesus was speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, came. With him was a large crowd carrying swords and clubs. They had been sent by the chief priests and elders of the people. His betrayer had given them a sign.

All                “Arrest the man I kiss.” Just then he came to Jesus and said, “Hello Rabbi.” Then he kissed him.

Reader 2    Jesus said “Friend, come do what you came to do.”

Reader 1    Then they came and grabbed Jesus and arrested him. One of those with Jesus reached for his sword. Striking the high priest’s slave, he cut off his ear.

Reader 2    Then Jesus said to him, “Put the sword back into its place. All those who use the sword will die by the sword. Or do you think that I am not able to ask my Father and he will send to me more than twelve Legions of angels right away? But if I did that, how would the scriptures be fulfilled that say this must happen?”

Reader 1    Then Jesus said to the crowds

Reader 2    Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as if I were a thief? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me.”

All:               Then all of the disciples deserted Jesus, and fled.

Reader 1    Get up. Let’s go. Look, the hour is at hand. It is time to depart from this place. Tomorrow is another day to remember and reflect on all that Jesus did and gave for us. Go now and remember Jesus’ last commandment: to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Go in peace, transformed by Christ’s commands.

All:               This is our commandment: To love each other. We will go in peace and wait. We will try to stay awake.

 

 

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E and Me Podcast, episode 1

E and ME ep 1-1The first episode of the E and Me Podcast has been released. While we’re not on Apple podcasts yet, you can download it or listen directly to it if you click on this link.

Follow us on Facebook or Instagram at @EandMePodcast.

E and Me Podcast Site to see all four episodes

 

Our first episode is about body image, beauty, and fitness. Ellie reveals that she hates the name of this blog, and we talk about what it means to be healthy. We ask some discussion questions for you to ponder with people you love.

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A New Daddy-Daughter Adventure

My daughter and I are about to launch a new podcast called “E and Me.” We are looking at an April, 2019 launch. I’ve been writing this blog for over ten years. One of my most common topics has been struggles, reflections, and thoughts about raising my daughters. Some of my earliest blogs were about her. Another topic I write about is my journey with fitness and weight loss. Through it all, my daughters have served as a huge motivation to be more healthy. My desire to live longer for them and to be better for them have served as motivation for me on the treadmill or on the weight bench. My oldest daughter is 12 now. When I started this blog she was not even 2. Below, I picked out some of my favorite entries about our relationship. These range from the fish funeral, about a frank conversation about death with a two-year-old, to Preacher’s Daughter, where I reflect on her dating, falling in love, and exploring herself.

In April we are going to launch a new project together. As evidence from Fish Funeral, she and I have had truthful conversations all her life. Most of my adult friends have kids younger than E, and they were talking about how hard it is going to be to talk about difficult things like sexualiy and death. One day E and I were talking about how great it is that we can share so openly and realized that our relationship might be fairly rare. As we chatted we realized that other kids and parents might be able to learn something from the way we talk to each other. From this conversation, E and Me was born.  The E and Me Podcast is meant to help families begin truth-filled conversations. Our first season will be six episodes, Body Image, Relationships 1 (friends), Relationship 2 (boyfriends), the Future, Gender roles, and A Wrinkle in Time Book Review. You can follow our podcast on Facebook and Instagram. You can listen to the preview of episode one here. You can read more about our relationship in the blog posts below.

Preacher’s Daughter  — “Our culture of consumption and commercialization will do enough to oppress her. I do not want to add to that with my misguided attempts at protection. I love my two daughters more than I can possibly express, and I am so afraid for them. I am afraid of how the world will treat their kindness. I am afraid for others may try to pervert their beauty. I am afraid of so much, but I cannot project my fear onto their lives. They deserve to live.”

For as long as I am able, and as long as you want me to — “I know that there will be a time when she may be physically small enough for me to carry her, but she will not want her Daddy to do such childish things any more. I seldom tell her to “grow up” in admonishment. I know that she will. There will be a time when I put out my arms, and count, “one, two, up,” and she won’t leap into my arms. There will never, however, be a time when I won’t be willing to try.”

I’m not babysitting, I’m her DadNo. I’m not a babysitter.  A babysitter is someone who occasionally watches a child, often for money.  A babysitter has temporary hours, and goes home.  I am her Daddy.  I cut her umbilical cord and handed her to her mother.  I never breast fed her, but I spent many long nights holding and feeding her.  There were a few months when there was no one on earth that could put her to sleep faster than me.  I changed diapers, wiped butts, and cleaned up puke.  I was at the helm of The Great Poopy Disaster of 2011.  The last time she had a stomach virus, the only place she wanted to sit was my lap.  I had to change shirts twice.  I once got a little bit of her poop in my mouth.

My own Tower of Babel — Every morning I wake my daughter up to get her ready for school, I build my own little tower. I crawl into bed with her and wrap her in my arms and want so badly to keep her from being scattered. Every time I whisper into her ear, “Honey, it’s time to get ready for school,” I break the tower down. It is one of the hardest things I do. Settlement and safety are not inherently bad things, but anything that works against God’s mission for the world must be worked through. It is so tempting to hold her and never let go. It would be so easy to keep her in my own Tower, but in trying to protect her, I would be hurting only her.

My first Father’s Day Present — My dreams for their futures are a luxury that most fathers in the world cannot afford. For most daughters of the world, safety, dignity, education, and health are unattainable dreams. So my gift to my daughters on this Father’s Day is to the daughters of the world. My gift this Father’s Day is a word of encouragement. It is a word of awareness. It is a call to action.

To my daughters on Valentine’s Day — I want to raise you as girls that love God, and I pray that someday you will find someone that loves you as much as I love your mother.  It’s my job to teach you what that feels like.

Fish Funeral — Ellie knows a little about death. She has been to funerals. We have allowed her to see bodies laying in state. We talk to her about death. I’m not sure what she understands, but we haven’t hidden it from her. We feel that society does enough death-denying. We don’t have to participate in it too. Sometimes she asks questions or says things that give us pause. But we try to be consistent in telling her that eveything dies. Even Dorothy, even our dog, even Mommy and Daddy.

“Will I die?” she asks.

 

 

 

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Preacher’s Daughter

The first time I heard this song, it was still a project. This is why I love house concerts and small venues. You can get a glimpse into the heart of an artist as their work takes shape. There seems to be few things more vulnerable than an artist who says, “This is something I’m working on, and I would like to share it with you.” Ben Grace shared this song with me in a small church concert. When he said it was called “Preacher’s Daughter,” my own little girl turned her head to look at me. As I listened to it that night I was touched by its simple beauty, but I wasn’t able to fully take it in because it was a fleeting moment of music in the midst of a night of art and storytellilng.

Now it has been released as a single – a finished product (as much as a song can ever be finished). I can listen to it again. And again. And as I listen to it for the third time with my earbuds in, my little girl turns and asks me why the tears are flowing down my cheek, and I can barely respond.

My daughters are 12 and 8. One of them could be the girl in the song. She could be the girl who likes a boy, who nervously writes him a note and hands it down the pew. She could be the girl who is embarrassed by her mother in front of her friends, whose tender words are torn to shreds. She could be the girl who steals a kiss, with her heart beating wildly. She could be the girl who faces the scorn of an angry father.

I could be that father. I don’t want to be.

I want them to be safe. I want them to grow up and get a solid education. I want them to chase their dreams. One wants to be a politician so she can help make positive change in the world, and I know the world would be a better place for her efforts. The other wants to be a chef or a teacher or a vet, depending on the day. They are both mighty girls of passion and strength and courage and kindness. I want to protect their vulnerable hearts, and the big, bad man in me wants to protect their bodies too. If I could just hold them in my arms, they will be forever safe. They will never be hurt, or insulted, or discarded.

There is a part of me that understands the angry preacher wanting to protect his daughter. I want to protect hem, guard them, and cherish every moment of their lives, but I know that is no kind of life.

One of them is sitting on the couch across from me as I listen to this song. I want her to love. I want her to have crushes and write notes and kiss boys (or girls if she so chooses). I want her to feel that wild, scary, earth-rocking feeling of touching his hand and wondering if his world shook too. I want her to call him on the phone and awkwardly hang up after two minutes of stunted conversation. I want her to explore her feelings, her emotions, and yes – her sexuality. I want her to treat herself with respect and demand it from others, and if I intervene with anger every time she ‘likes’ a boy, she will never learn to do that on her own.

Our culture of consumption and commercialization will do enough to oppress her. I do not want to add to that with my misguided attempts at protection. I love my two daughters more than I can possibly express, and I am so afraid for them. I am afraid of how the world will treat their kindness. I am afraid for others may try to pervert their beauty. I am afraid of so much, but I cannot project my fear onto their lives. They deserve to live.

static1.squarespace.comThey deserve to pass notes, share feelings, and steal kisses. I will love them fiercely until I die, but I never want to be the reason for their fear. I want my love to give them the courage to take chances and know that they can survive the heartbreaks and disappointments that will surely come. I want them to know my shoulder will always be a place to for them to rest their head. I also want them to find another shoulder if they so choose, or be a shoulder for someone else who needs their strength. I want them to know that love is not something to fear – it something to pursue and embrace.

So thank you, Ben. Thank you for telling this sweet, heartbreaking story. Thank you for reminding me to overcome my own fear so that they will be free to live fully. Thank you for these tears and for the chance to tell my daughters why they are there. I never want to miss what this preacher’s daughters said.

 

 

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Another Resurrection Moment

Mom, Dad, and me after my ordination in 2010.

When I was ordained as an Elder in the United Methodist Church, I had a vision. I wrote about it once. I think of it as a resurrection experience. I was at another ordination recently, and it happened again.

Ordination in the United Methodist Church takes place within regional gatherings called Annual Conference. These are our yearly gatherings of about a thousand people in a huge convention hall where budgets are set, retirees are honored, churches are closed, resolutions and statements are debated and passed, minimum salaries and healthcare for clergy are set, and those joining the guild of clergy within the denomination are brought forward for their final approval and vows.

The road to ordination in the United Methodist Church can take years. I graduated with a three-year Master of Divinity degree in 2006. I was appointed to full-time ministry immediately thereafter, but I wasn’t ordained until 2010.

My official journey toward ordination began in 2001, when I told my pastor that I was interested in exploring becoming a pastor. He, a retired pastor, and I met for lunch to talk about what that meant. From that moment, I was an exploring candidate. Really though, my process started when I was 15 years old and my Mother told me that I was going to be a minister someday. I didn’t’ believe her at the time. The road from that conversation in the backseat of her Honda to kneeling at the railing in front of the Bishop and a thousand fellow Methodists took many twists and turns.

It has been eight years since my own ordination. The service then, as it does now, includes the celebration of Communion. Every year at Annual Conference, the ordination service is a highlight. I always tear up at the vows they take as the gravity of “take thou authority” hits me anew. I can’t help but remember my own resurrection experience from when I was ordained. I love to go to Communion with one of the newly ordained Elders or Deacons. After they have been ordained, the Bishop leads us in the liturgy for Communion, and the newly ordained take the bread and the cup out into the large crowd gathered. Communion is always special, but it feels like a particularly holy moment when they break the bread for the first time as an ordained clergy and say, “This is the body of Christ.”

For years, Annual Conference was one of my favorite weeks of the year. It was a chance to see old friends, gather with fellow clergy and be empowered by fellowship and worship. Yes, there has always been the boring business of resolutions and amendments and (heaven help us) amendments to the amendments. I’m not a Robert’s Rule of Order wonk, but I’ve always sincerely loved Annual Conference.

This year, however, felt different. There has been growing discontent within the church over how we can continue to be the church amid disagreement over human sexuality. Rehashing the history of the UMC’s position on homosexuality would take more time than I care to take right now. It has been done by more prolific bloggers than me. Check out Chris Ritter’s and Jeremy Smith’s blogs to learn more about all that from two different sides of the inclusion debate.

Let me just say though, that this year was tough. There was nothing particularly controversial on the docket. I just felt, for the first time, that I was surrounded by people that kind of wished I wasn’t there. That feeling may have been more in my head, but it placed an inescapable pall over everything I did this year. I have long known many clergy with whom I disagree on inclusion. I have always felt though, that we shared something that would keep us together despite the disagreement. I have always been hopeful, but it is growing more difficult to be so.

I’ve grown skeptical about motivations of interest groups. I’ve wondered about the legitimacy of the process. I’ve wondered about the money trails that lead to voting devices. I don’t like these feelings, but this year on my drive to the conference I felt like I was on my way to a funeral, not a reunion celebration.

So I sat through most of the proceedings with my introvert dial turned up to 11. I avoided small talk. I sat in the corners of the giant room. I participated fully in body, but not in spirit. I had a hard heart, and while singing “For All the Saints,” with 400 other clergy at the beginning of the week felt good, it didn’t move me like it usually does.

Then it was time for Communion with the newly ordained. Once again, I heard the vows to “take thou authority to preach the Word of God, to administer the Sacraments, and order the life of the church.” I reflected on that awesome authority to which I still submit. I thought of the people in my little congregation in Rock Island, a diverse, aging, youthful collection of hopeful and spirited people who want to love the world. They embrace refugees, warmly welcome the homeless and mentally ill in worship, feed thousands every year, open the doors of the beautiful ancient fortress to children and community, and seek creative ways to share the love of Christ. They’ve been through so much as a people, and are still growing and struggling and reaching. By the grace of God I have been trusted with the awesome responsibility of guiding these saints to the Kingdom. I owe them more than a hard heart.

And then it was time to receive the bread and the cup. Slightly thawed by the grace of the people of Two Rivers Church, I went forward. I got in line for one of the young women who had just been ordained a deacon. As I waited for the piece of soft bread and grape juice she came to me again.

I have written before about the holy moment of my ordination. When the Bishop laid hands upon me and I took my vows, I had a holy vision of resurrection, and it was one of the most powerful experiences of my life. A few moments later I took a loaf of bread and went out into the crowd gathered and shared Communion with all who would come.

One of my strongest memories of that day was placing the bread of life into the hands of my Mother. It was her prophetic word that began me on my path to ordination. It was her love that guided me to find Christ. It was her love that made me into the man I am today, and I miss her terribly. She died nearly years ago. My grief is not as sharp as it once was, but it is still profound. I remembered that moment from years ago when I placed that bread in her hand, looked in her eye and said, “Mom, this is the body of Christ which is broken for you.” I remember her eyes above all else. I could see the tears welling up. I could see the joy in receiving this thing she had received so many times before, but never quite like this. I remember the pride in her eyes as she saw a baptized infant, a confirmed teen, a married man, a new father, and an ordained Elder all in one moment of infinity.

I moved forward in the line as the tears started to flow. Then the bread was placed in my hand and I dipped it into the cup. The Holy Spirit washed over me as I was forgiven by Christ’s blood and was unified by Christ’s body. The sweet and tangy grape flooded my mouth and in one moment of infinity she was there. I knew her joy in sharing this meal with me in this moment. Her pride in the pastor and father I am. Her sadness over my pain. Jesus’ grace for my sin. It was all there. His arms rested upon me. Her eyes fixed on me. Her cool, soft, refreshing hands touched my face and I knew resurrection again. Through the locked doors of my heart, she appeared, and I wept.

I went back to my seat and found an old friend sitting where I had been. She and I share a similar struggle with the church, and I said to her, red-eyed and sniffling, “sometimes I wish I didn’t love this place so much. It would all be so much easier if I didn’t care.” She laughed and agreed.

Then I remembered one of my last conversations with my Mom. General Conference of 2016 was over, and anxiety among Methodists was high. She was in bed, and we talked about it because I needed to know. I needed to know how she felt because she had once made it very clear to me how she felt.

Twenty years earlier she and I had a conversation where she made it clear that she agreed with the likes of James Dobson, who was highly influential at the time. She did not think it was “okay to be gay.” When I first contemplated seminary, she warned me against “those liberal seminaries.” I heeded her warning for a while, and put off seminary altogether for a few years. Later I did pick one of “those liberal seminaries,” but neither of us really knew it at the time.

Me, Adam Hamilton, and my Pulpit Fiction partner Eric Fistler. We met Adam Hamilton at a Festival Homiletics. His book “Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White,” was highly influential to my mother. She and I shared many conversations as she read it in her book study at her church.

She changed a lot over the years. We had many talks about the Bible and church and books she was reading. She had a pastor she loved who helped open up the Bible to her in new ways. She called me after she read Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White, by Adam Hamilton. She called again after she read Love Wins by Rob Bell. She didn’t always agree with what she read, but she started to see gray. She started to wrestle with her faith, with her old ideas and conceptions of life and death and heaven and hell. Somehow through it all I had helped guide her, which always felt like a tremendous privilege but also a little trippy. So there, literally on her deathbed, I needed to know.

I needed to know for my own heart. I needed to know for the sake of her grandchildren. I needed to know she would celebrate them no matter whom they fell in love with someday, even if she wouldn’t be alive to see it on earth. I needed to know what she thought about the church we loved so much. I needed to know what she thought about the United Methodist Church, which she loved with her time, talents, and treasure for many years. She was too sick to be following the church politics closely, so I explained to her what had happened. I told her there would be a commission to try to figure it out, that it might result in a split. She sighed and wondered, “Why can’t they just love each other?” I pressed her. “What do you think, Mom?”

She answered, “Love is love.” Those were not her last words to me, but they were pretty close. She died only a short time after that. “Love is love,” she said to me. She spent 38 years on earth with me, and I can think of no better final words than those. She taught me so much, but “Love is love” may have been the most important of them all.

So I sat there next to my friend and in the real presence of my Mother, and we all wondered, “Why can’t we just love each other?” I left that service with my heart powerfully warmed. I don’t know what the future holds for the people called Methodists. I do not know what kind of pain lies ahead for the denomination, or even for my congregation. Regardless of what happens in convention centers with voting devices, people are going to be hurt.

You may agree with me about affirming our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, or you may think I am leading people astray. I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything with this post. I hold onto my mother’s naïve wish that we could all just love each other. All I can do is be faithful to the expression of love I have found through the Bible and through Christ. I still wonder about what the future holds, but I have seen transformation. I have seen healing. I have seen resurrection. I know that love is love, and I will keep doing everything I can to tell, show, and spread Christ’s love.

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Solitude vs Loneliness

This Lent I have started a new series called “Deeper.” The idea is to take the six weeks of Lent to go deeper with our faith, and to go deeper in our relationship with God. Many of us barely scratch the surface when it comes to examining our relationship with God. This Lent, let’s try and go deeper. Each Sunday I will look at a practice that can help us connect on a deeper level with God. The problem, as I see it, is that many of these things that can help us go deeper, can also have a dangerous side. This Sunday I explore solitude.

Solitude is an important part of the spiritual life. Jesus pursued solitude, and was often drawn out of his own yearning for solitude by the needs of the people. In fact, the Bible story for this sermon includes Jesus withdrawing to a deserted place, only to be ‘tracked down’ by Peter. When Jesus was told that there was a crowd waiting for him, he says, “Let’s go the other way.” I take a closer look at this story, and this aspect of Jesus’ personality that we often forget.

The problem with solitude, however, is that there is a fine line between it and loneliness. The same empty house that can be exhilarating to the exhausted parent can be crippling to the newly widowed. I encourage us all this Lent to “seek solitude and redeem loneliness.”

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