Wit and the Battle of Demons

Posted: April 21, 2015 in Uncategorized

Timothy Brown:

For some reason this was on my mind today.

Originally posted on Reluctant Xtian:

He was beautiful and tragic.Drinking-the-beer-and-smoking-a-cigarette

At least that’s how I took him to be at the time.  And I’m not romanticizing here…at least I don’t think I am.  And I’m not talking about “beautiful” as in “attractive.”  I’m talking about beautiful in that deeper way you talk about beauty, if you get what I mean.

Maybe I’m not sure what I mean by that, but it’s the only way I can describe it.

We were in Denver at The Great Divide, a nice little brewery that spits out tasty pints.  We were waiting to take a tour, but it turned out that there weren’t enough people for a tour that day.  We had to just settle for the wares of the place, and I stood at the edge of the crowded bar for a long time before the tender, also enjoying a tasty pint, noticed me.

Drink in hand, the…

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You’ve all heard the hubbabaloo by now going on in Indiana where Governor Mike Pence signed-in private I might add-the9740026677_b5c818f328_o Religious Freedom Restoration Act which effectively allows businesses and vendors to not serve people if it violates their…<cough>…religious convictions.

Great.  Because we have so many examples in the Scriptures of Jesus not serving people because of their sexual orientation, occupation, reputation, and (insert favorite reason to dislike people here).

So many examples.

So many, that I’m not sure how to choose from the examples.

Like that woman at the well who had so many husb…oh wait, scratch that.

Like that woman about to get stoned because she was adulter…oh wait, not that one.

Like that man, the short tax collector who was cheating people, his name started with a Z…oh wait, nope.

Well, at least there is that traitor Judas, right?  At least Jesus puts him in his place, right?

Except that right before Judas betrays Jesus, Jesus kneels before him and washes his feet.  Right before he sells Jesus for profit, Jesus lovingly takes his heel, douses him with water, and scrubs the dirt right off his sole.

…see what I did there?

Lexicon it.  Jesus doesn’t refuse service.  Even the Gentile woman in Mark’s gospel gets a piece of Jesus’ love, despite Jesus’ initial protests.

So tell me, Indiana legislators, lobbyists, and general public who might support such drivel, where you get the idea that this somehow restores religious freedom.  Because I don’t think you’ve read your Bibles.

I really don’t.

Because if you read your Bibles, if you read the story of Jesus instead of the soundbites of crazy, profit-hungry, TV preachers, and bigoted, rapture-awaiting, crazy folks who pretend to be pastors/messiahs/prophets, but are nothing more than charlatans or hustlers, you might realize that to Jesus religious freedom actually means that you are not free to do whatever you want.

My patron saint (no, not Jimmy Buffett…he’s my muse), the Blessed Martin Luther says it this way, “A Christian is absolutely free; subject to no one.  A Christian is absolutely bound, servant of all.”

Another way to think about that is to recall Jesus’ call for us to be yoked to God.  That yoke is “light.”  When we bind ourselves to God, our yoked-ness is light.

How?

Because being yoked to God actually takes away your choice.

This was something that Christopher Hitchens actually got right in his books.  He took umbrage with the idea that we must, as Christ followers (and Torah followers), love our enemies.  It was the height of forced-abuse, he thought (for more on this read his God is Not Great).

So I call on all Christians in Indiana to actually do what this bill, in title at least, claims to do: restore your religious freedom.  Restore the yoke of God to yourself, because if you refuse service to someone for any reason that may be part of an “ism,” you’ve sloughed off the yoke.

But woe to you liberals, too (no one gets out of this one unmarked).

I hear your calls to boycott legislators from your businesses.  I hear your cries of anger, and your threats to not serve supporters of this act in your establishments.

To you, again, I encourage a close reading of Scripture.  Because Jesus actually has said something about this.  In Matthew 18 Jesus instructs Christians on how to deal with those who sin.

And I gotta tell you, I think this law is an example of sin in this world.

What do you do?  You talk to them.  I know many have done that already.

And if they don’t listen, you take another with you so there is a witness.

I think we’ve all witnessed this step…

And if they still don’t listen, you bring in the church leaders.  And for us in the ELCA, this has already happened, too.

And if they still won’t listen, you “treat them as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.”

And this is the moment when you think you’re given permission to stick it to The Man.

Except, when you look at how Jesus treated Gentiles and tax collectors (see references above), you realize that, unfortunately for our egos and sense of justice, we are servant here, too.  We do not boycott them from our eateries and services.  We do not block them off from our handshakes and welcome.  We may not re-elect some of the legislators, but we in no way get to marginalize them.

See, this following Jesus thing is pretty tough.  This yoke is light in that it takes away my choice.  But it is pretty heavy on my ego and my own sense of retaliation…

Ugh.  This mess in Indiana makes me a reluctant Christian.  And then Jesus’ own advice on what I’m supposed to do makes me reluctant, too, because it’s not what I want to do.

So, what should Christians in Indiana do in response to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act?  Speak out; yes.  Be active; sure.

But also eat with those who you consider your enemies.  Bless those who persecute, because in doing so you show them a love that they are unwilling to give and to receive.

Your anger is justified.  But your discrimination is not.  None is.

The Day We Buried Richard

Posted: December 28, 2014 in Church Life
Tags: , ,

thThe day we buried Richard I had a bit of a headache.  Maybe I hadn’t eaten enough that day, or maybe a cross word or two had fallen on my ears and had crossed into my heart leaving me colder than even the 22 degrees outside would have me be.

The day we buried Richard I had just done a baptism.  A beautiful baby boy.  He was asleep when the water touched his head, and didn’t make a sound even as I smudged oil on his brow and lifted him high for everyone to see with claps and cheers and tears.

Had I been at Richard’s last moments a similar thing would have happened: oil, tears, lifting his spirit high.  No clapping, of course, just reverent silence.  But still, transformation.  Something new.

The day we buried Richard I went quickly from morning services and put myself in my office.  Sometimes we can fake it, and sometimes we can’t.  Today I couldn’t fake it.  I didn’t want to be around people too much.  It wasn’t in me.

Richard and I met at the local coffee house, The Grind.  A place of legend in Lincoln Square, and in my own story, as it was the first place I went when I started working at the big cathedral on Wilson and Campbell.  I got to know the baristas and the owner and the regulars.  When my son was born they made a card for us, hand signed by all the baristas and the owner.  I knew every name.

Now as we wait again for another birth, they always ask about it.  I inspect the mugs on the shelf because I know Levi makes them, and he is dating one of the baristas.  Liam was gone, but now is back.  Happy to see him again.  And Claire made the Christmas decorations lining the walls.  This is a place I know like the playgrounds of my youth.

Richard sat next to me at a table one day five years ago.  He was 80 years old that first day he talked to me.  He was not shy, and no topic was off the table. Politics, religion, literature, art, music; all were fair game.  And not in the competitive way people talk nowadays.  Richard longed to know and to teach, and brought out those two qualities in the willing conversation partners.

So many of us only long to learn what we already know.  “Please, tell us the things we already think so that we’ll know we’re correct!”

Not Richard.

When he stopped coming to the coffee shop I became worried.  Tara, the owner, clued me in.  She was visiting him, as were many of us, at the new sterile room he called “home.”  He had some of his books, and though Parkinsons had taken some of his stability, he still held his mind.

The day we buried Richard I saw some tears.  He had no family to speak of, save for those of us he brought under his maven wings from The Grind.  Bradley, the lawyer from Minnesota.  Tara, the shop owner and lovingly unwitting community builder (did she know that this would be her world when she started to serve coffee?).  Rose, the sweet woman who lived above him who loved fiction and fairies.  Michael, his roommate of 30 years.  Nathan, one of the first baristas at The Grind who remembers Richard from the “old days” of 2004.  John, whom none of us knew but who had performed in a play with Richard, in Gaelic mind you, back in ’78.  Liam, who served him coffee with good cheer.

Richard had a knack for languages that would make most professional translators reach for their tools of the trade.  He was that good, recently embarking on learning Arabic in these last years.  German, French, Gaelic, Greek, Latin; his mouth was a globe.

The day we buried Richard we had no body.  We had no ashes; they weren’t yet prepared.  We had some pictures and we had some tulips and we had some coffee and eats.  We buried him much in the same fashion as we lived with him: over conversation, beauty, reflection, some good back-and-forth, coffee, sweets, and fresh flowers which are almost always found at the front bar of The Grind.

Churches would kill for community like this.  And some churches kill this type of community.

And as we all left one another there were hugs and plans to get back together and “let us know when the baby comes!” and a deep sense that we had done something right by someone we all collectively loved and knew from sitting around little wooden tables and little wooden chairs as coffee from ceramic mugs steamed up into our faces.

“So, Richard, what’s new?”  This is how I’d usually start talking to him after my glasses stopped fogging.  And after everyone left I said it out loud in the little chapel.  To myself, to God, to Richard, and to no one in particular.

And in the moment I thought to myself that the little headache and the cross word that still lingered in my ear needs to go ahead and fade away, because life is not meant to be spent around those sorts of things.  There is coffee and conversation and eats to be had, and prayers to be said.

The day we buried Richard was today.

2 (7)‘Tis the season to carry spare change, right?

At my faith community we raised over $2000 this week for the hunger advocacy center we helped to start a few years ago.  We made over 200 meals for gay/bi/trans/queer teens and served them in Boystown on Thursday.  And we packed up over 40 complete Thanksgiving meals for the food insecure in our neighborhood.

Oh, and we fed ourselves that night, too.  Five turkeys, every side-dish you might imagine, wine, cider, and a partridge in a pear tree (extra delicious).

It was awesome.

But the sad thing is that with exception for the 200 meals (we do that monthly), we only do this once a year.

I mean, we do other things in other seasons, but we only do this particular type of feasting once a year.

And, despite what we might want to think, poverty isn’t seasonal.

Do we donate at this time of year so that people can have a “nice Christmas”?  What about making sure that people have a nice life?

Seriously.

Thank God we can reach into our pockets once a year to donate a little more…how generous of the haves…

(and I’m a have)

Dave Ramsey had this terrible list out about a year ago, and it caused a little stink.  In it he lists the 20 habits of the rich (that, the not-so-subtle inference is, keeps them rich) and pits them against what he calls “the poor.”

It’s at this moment that I encourage you to look up Luke 6:20.  Go ahead, I’ll wait.  You know that word “poor” the Gospel writer uses there?  It’s an economic term, not a spiritual term (though Matthew makes it a spiritual term, perhaps to soften the blow).

And how nice of Ramsey to pit the rich against the poor.  No need to draw such lines, Ramsey. Life does it well enough without your help, but thanks for contributing.

It caused such a stink, though, that Ramsey followed it up with an explanation (keep scrolling in the article to see what I’m talking about).  He defends himself by saying that what he posted “is a simple list outlining the habits of the poor versus the habits of the rich.”

The problem is that the list isn’t simple at all (and that there are serious philosophical problems with the whole thing).

It’s not simple because Ramsey imagines that the discussion is just about behavior.  But poverty is not simply about behavior.  I know out of work men and women who work harder than those of us with jobs, and for much less reward.

It’s not about behavior; it’s about systems.

And if there’s one big mistake that I think Ramsey makes it’s that he mistakes privilege for what he presents as “common sense.”

How lovely that you are wealthy enough to eat fresh fruits and vegetables.  How nice that you have the ability to focus on “one goal” in your day.  It probably means that you have access to a supermarket and only one job.

And you read for pleasure?! Bully!

I’m relatively wealthy; no denying that.  I have a bank account, savings, and we have a college plan set up for our children.  I have investments and disposable income.  We have a car, and when it needs fixing we can usually fix it right away. I never wonder how I’m going to eat, and I am (for the most part) not worried about how I’m going to keep the roof over our heads. Our son goes to daycare twice a week, and we fully pay for it. I read for pleasure and for work and spend more a week on coffee than any reasonable human being should (I’m working on it…).

I say all of the above not to make anyone feel bad, but to give myself…and you, reader…a gently disturbing thought: one of the fears that I have is that our participation in the systems of poverty is given a nice little exclamation point by our sense of generosity at “this time of year.”

I’m looking forward to giving a little more this Christmas.  More to my neighbor and more to God.

And then I’m hopeful that in doing so I might one day learn to give more on December 26th, too.  And May 9th.  And July 12th.  And…

Because poverty isn’t seasonal, and I want to remember that a Merry Christmas isn’t the same as a merry life.

Jesus wept-John 11:35

For such a short verse, John 11:35 gets a lot of airtime.  And rightly so.ww12

I guess we all need permission to cry.  And if we can get that permission from God, a God who cries with us, then all the better, right?

I’m not sure why we need permission to cry, though.  I think it might have to do with the fact that most of us generally don’t like that emotion, that feeling, that uncontrollable sobbing that happens when we cry.

For me it’s kind of like throwing up.  I hate throwing up because I hate not being in control of my body.

When we cry we lose control.  And, as Kristin Wiig’s character in Bridesmaids noted, some of us are ugly criers.  So there’s that…

On Armistice Day, Veterans Day, my thoughts turn to my grandfathers Red and Sodie.

My Grandpa Red, with his Cardinal red hair, never cried.  At least I never saw it…though I don’t suppose I would have.

He served in World War II, the second time we had cut the world in two, invaded little islands to set up bases displacing people who had nothing to do with our own little fights.  And then we sent babies off to fight in suits and ties.

Today I see more military pictures of women and men in fatigues, but the pictures from my grandfather’s era usually had them in dress uniform.  Suits and ties fighting for the men in big offices with suits and ties who had caused the problems in the first place.

No wonder my generation is experiencing a delayed adolescence.  Nothing makes you grow up at the young age of 18 like being told that today could be the “the day.”  The day it all ends.  The day you end it for someone else.  The day you’re drafted.  The day…

It reminds me of the beginning of the Gospel of Luke where the writer says, “In those days there came a decree from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be taxed…”

Those days.  That day.  Perhaps that’s what Jesus came for.

The only time my grandfather mentioned the great war was when he wanted to tell me vividly that war is hell.  He talked about coming home from battle finally after being a gunner on B-25’s over occupied China (and being shot down), going to the house of his best friend in the war who had died in action, and being rejected by his friend’s mother as she opened the door.

No, not rejected, slapped in the face.  “It should have been you,” she said.

My childhood fascination with the war faded there.  The military channel, fighter planes, hero stories…they all paled in comparison to this story, a story about a grief obscured.

My other grandfather, Sodie, fought in the European theater.  He was shot in the stomach.  He received the purple heart.

He died when I was three, before I knew him.

One day when I was 13 I was nosing around some boxes in the basement, and I found a cassette tape.  I popped it in and found a recording of him, my grandfather, on his death bed saying goodbye.  I don’t know that I’ve told anyone this before…

He was saying goodbye and talked about some regrets.  Regrets of failed relationships and things he had wished had gone better.

And there was a little line in there about the war, about fighting.  And not regretting being in the war or going to war for his country, but something about regretting that we fight at all like that.

The sound was garbled…another grief obscured.

Growing up we used to sing Onward Christian Soldiers as a hymn.  We were “going off to war with the cross of Jesus going on before.”

The irony there, of course, is that the cross was meant to end all war, all record keeping in that way.  It was meant to be the end of such violence and hatred and fear.  It was to show that killing can’t stop God, can’t stop life, so why bother?

But now the cross is a grief obscured.

Obscured by our desires for control and domination.  Obscured by our wanting to seem powerful in a world where we feel quite powerless.

I can’t sing that hymn anymore, though it’s nostalgic for me in some ways.  I think nostalgia can sometimes obscure our grief, too.  The church seems to be particularly good at doing this: obscuring the grief of the world through glossing over hard realities.  “Good Friday” can’t be too sad or else people won’t come to services.  Ash Wednesday can be done on the fly, at the bus stop or corner, because people are too busy to observe their mortality for any length of time other than a quick swipe.  Funerals can’t be too mournful because the person is in heaven now and we should be happy they’re in a better place…

Let’s pretend Jesus is a captain and we are Jesus’ soldiers and we’re fighting the world…when the real story, the actual story, is that Jesus was a servant who died for a world all too in love with violence and fighting.

I won’t observe Armistice Day by singing a hymn about might.  I don’t want to obscure the grief anymore than it already is.

I won’t observe Armistice Day by pretending that I think war is ok.  I don’t.  I just don’t.  I respect our soldiers, I pray for them, but I weep that those making the decisions to go to war are not those signing on the dotted line to fight them.

Integrity seems a bit lost there.

As a Christian, I observe Armistice Day by giving thanks for those who have given their life so that I can write like this.  I give thanks for my grandfathers who, though their grief was obscured, lived full lives after the hells of war.

Today I observe Armistice Day by praying that we’ll learn war no more.  Today I observe Armistice Day praying that we’ll have no more grief obscured, that we’ll take care of those scarred by war and help them sort out their grief.

I don’t begrudge people for waving a flag or putting one out.  I understand sacred symbols; I see why they do that. There is a part of me that loves Americana.  But I don’t do that on Armistice Day.

Today I give up a little control as a Christian.  Perhaps I even weep a bit like Jesus.  Weep with my grandfathers who couldn’t, or didn’t, or didn’t feel like they could, for whatever reason.  Today I let myself observe my grief over the whole idea of war; I don’t obscure it.

In doing so, I hope that I not only honor our veterans, but stand with them a bit.

 

 

 

kids-high-fivingThom Rainer posted an article on Saturday entitled “The Top 10 Ways Churches Drive Away First-Time Guests.”

It was a Twitter poll that he conducted.  The compiled answers drew some surprising, and not so surprising, responses.  I kind of love these polls because they’re largely a practice in the discipline of, “See?  Someone will hate something…”

The people are too pushy or too distant.  They’re not sincere enough (subjective anyone?).  Or the building is poorly laid out and poorly marked.

Actually, that last one is a real issue…

I mean, there is no way to please everyone.

But one of the surprising responses is what Rainer calls “The stand up and greet everyone time.”

Which is an un-fancy way of saying, “The sharing of the peace of Christ.”

And here is where we see what happens when practices lose their roots.

Because the practice of sharing the peace is not a “stand up and greet everyone time.”  It is not done to make friends, and it is not done to welcome guests or visitors.

It is not done to chat about your week, and it not done to make you feel uncomfortable.

The sharing of the peace is a rite as old as the first church where (and you can read about it in the books of 1 Peter, Romans, 2 Corinthians) the church is instructed to greet one another with a “holy kiss.”

In fact, ancient Roman authorities called Christians a “kissing cult” because of this practice.

Now, don’t expect a kiss from me on a Sunday morning unless you’re my grandmother’s age, my child, or my wife.  That being said, you could get lucky ;)

But back to the point at hand, this is a liturgical act.  It has deep meaning which we can see in many ways as being Christ breathing on the disciples in the hours after his resurrection where he gives them his peace.  You can see it as a redemption of the kiss of condemnation that Judas gives Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.

And yes it involves touching.  We’re a touch-starved humanity these days.

And yes it is intimidating for introverts and too opportunistic for extroverts.  But community is as much about being stretched in our comfortability as it is being stretched in our restraint.

And yes it is time-consuming.  I’m not a big fan of extended periods of handshaking.  I’m usually a two to three person shaker/hugger/kisser, and then I’m all for moving on.

But, and let me be clear on this, I think it’s something that we can’t afford to do without.

Because in a world where you get shot at for wearing a hoodie in the wrong neighborhood, we need to learn how to approach people we don’t know in peace.  Because in a world where you won’t let your child play in the yard or talk to people they don’t know, we need a space where it is safe for us to interact in holy ways.

Because in a world where you might wonder if peace actually exists anywhere, what with the 24 hour news cycles of violence and the constant trumpeting of the next terrorist threat, there must be a place where we can embody the peace that Christ calls us to.

We need to be respectful.  We need to honor that some people can’t be touched for whatever reason, that safe touch is on the hand, that not everyone likes hugs.  We have to understand that.

But we can’t not share the peace just because it’s not comfortable.

And I don’t care if it is flu season.  Bow toward the person if you don’t want to make contact.  But realize that your hand may be the only hand that person touches that week.  If you don’t think that’s true, imagine the widow, or the homeless, or the person with a deformity that keeps people away, and then imagine you withdrawing your hand during a time where we greet one another with the peace of Christ.

You might be the embodiment of grace they need.

We’ll high-five at the bar but not at church?  We’ll high-five in the sports arena but not in the pew?

I’m sorry folks, but if sharing the peace of Christ will keep you away from church, I’m not sure you’re ready for community.

By God, share the peace.

pastor-search

Magnifying glasses can be used to bring things into focus. They can also be used to burn things. In this way they are the ultimate metaphor for good and bad scrutiny.

So you’re a new pastor, eh?  Or perhaps you’re a congregation looking for a new pastor.

Well, after five years in my current call, I’m now reflecting back on it all: the good, the bad, the great, the “man that sucked…”

And I think I’ve identified five things that either I didn’t anticipate, or the people of the church didn’t anticipate.  Nothing groundbreaking here, of course, but when you line it all up it is kind of sobering…and, I hope, hopeful.

Hopeful because for people who listen to death and resurrection stories every week, we’re still not very good at realizing that the pattern of death and resurrection is the pattern of the godly life.  So even when things die, new things rise.  We mourn in death, but we also wait for new life to emerge.

That is the story, right?

Anyway, here’s what I’ve identified as 5 things that will happen when you get a new pastor.

5) People will leave.  Yeah, they will.  No one is prepared for this (not even the people who leave, I think).

Perhaps they’re burned out from stressful leadership roles, or perhaps they’ve entered a new phase in life where the church isn’t as important for them, and their faith life takes a different path.

Or perhaps you’ve ticked them off.  That’s real, of course.  It happens.  As a pastor I don’t think you ever intend to tick people off (at least not to the point of their taking a hike), but it will happen.  And then people will come up to you and say, “What about so-and-so?  Where are they now?” And you have no answer because, while you’re pretty sure it’s because of you, your attempts to rectify the situation haven’t worked…or there’s really nothing you can do about it because their desires and the direction of the church just aren’t compatible.

Or sometimes people will be mad at you not because you’ve done anything, but because their life needs a scapegoat and you’re a convenient one.  That’s just true.  People take things out on the church, out on the pastor.  Or maybe they’re upset because you simply can’t help them in the way they want you to and they don’t know how to deal with that.

Or maybe you as the pastor don’t know how to deal with that.

Sometimes pastors take things out on the church, too.  That’s just as true.

And both cause people to leave or check-out.

I put this as number five not because it’s the least painful of these lessons.  On the contrary: this is the most painful part of it all.  I wish someone had told me early on that this would happen, though I don’t know that you can ever guard your heart enough not to take this personally.  I put this at number five because I think it’s surprising to all parties involved.  It’s a shared pain, but probably an unavoidable one.

Or if it is avoidable, I haven’t figured it out.

4) People will arrive. New people.  People you didn’t ever think would darken the door of a faith community will show up.  And then you and the community have to decide if you’ll be able to make enough social space to have them there.  Most communities want to make space, but they’re unsure how.  Patterns develop, both good and bad.  You have to work together to change them.

And this is difficult.

But people will arrive…you must prepare for that.  You should expect it.  And you should have a lot of open discussion about how these people may not know anything about being a part of a faith community, or may not care to join this committee or that, or may want to start a new initiative that looks nothing like previous missions.  You have to be prepared to tell people in the church that things will not be the same.

I remember one of our members pointing out to me that they started collecting high chairs years and years and years ago, long before there were enough children to fill them, with the expectation that they’d be used one day.

That’s good prep-work.

3) People will feel excluded.  Sometimes leadership change is welcomed, and sometimes it isn’t.  Sometimes ownership over ministries and initiatives are willingly and eagerly changed over, and sometimes they’re not.

It’s tough.

It’s tough when the ministry that really gave you purpose is now shared by others.  It’s tough when the close relationship with the previous pastor isn’t shared with the new one, for whatever reason.  All of that is tough.

It’s tough when people who have been in the church for a long time feel like they’re being displaced.  It’s tough when you’re new to a church and no one has invited you to help in a ministry because it has run the way it has for years upon years.

No one expects to feel excluded.

It’s tough.  Community takes intention…and your pastor will try to do it all, but she can’t.  Your pastor will try to meet everyone’s need to be included and accepted and important, but he won’t be able to do it.

This, in my experience, leads to more burnout than anything.  As a pastor I sometimes want to sit everyone down in a room and say, “You are all important.  You are all needed.  And I need you to understand that without me having to tell you, show you, or start initiatives to prove it all the time.  I need you to live it.”

The cure for exclusion is to start taking inclusion for granted.  What I mean by that is that if you’re in charge of a ministry area, take for granted that you are to look for and invite new people to enter into it.  Constantly.

What I mean by that is that if you’re new to a community of faith, take for granted that you’re welcome to participate in all facets of life.

I hope any good pastor would try to foster that kind of atmosphere and would welcome it.  But we can’t create the atmosphere all on our own.  We all have to breathe the same air in rhythm to change the atmosphere.

2) New ideas will fail and old ideas will gain new life.  When I came to this community our second worship service, which is different in style and tone from the first, had a consistent 30 people in attendance and had been consistent in the 30-40 range for two years before I came.

That’s not sustainable in the long run. It was at a crossroads.

I was hearing voices on both sides of the “keep it/abandon it” argument speak logically.

Today after tweaking and retooling, it’s now a consistent 80-90.  This old idea gained a new life, and now has a life that is feeding many on a weekly basis…though it doesn’t look exactly like what it used to.

That being said, the evening service that was quiet and contemplative that I started two years ago didn’t last.  It was feeding people, but not enough to create a lasting community (though there is always a chance for resurrection!).

Sometimes old ideas gain new life and gain a new form.  Congregations need to be prepared and become OK with this.  Sometimes more effort isn’t what an initiative needs. Sometimes it’s effort that is differently focused.

In short, a new pastor will breathe new life into some old things, and will start new things that don’t have enough life to last.  There has to be space for all of this to happen.  New pastors always think that what they start has to last forever.  We think this because we don’t take seriously Ecclesiastes 3 when it lifts up time as the sordid mistress she is. There is a time for everything under heaven.  Not everything has to be forever.  Stars eventually burn out; but they’re beautiful in the process.

1) If you give it enough time and godly space, you will get used to one another and even love each other.

You will.  It will happen if you give it enough time and godly heart-space.

Despite the fact that some leave, that roles change and evolve and egos are hurt on both sides, that new things start and die while old dying things get new life (or vice-versa), if you allow godly space to grow together, if you hold each other accountable to the reason you’re called together, if you open your heart to the possibility that you might be wrong about this opinion/option/initiative or that one (both pastor and congregant have to reserve the right to be wrong), you will love each other.

You will.

All of my favorite theologians talk about the mature person as one who embraces the shadow-side of life (how Jungian, right?).  And the above are part of the shadow-side of having a new spiritual leader.

Embrace the shadow-side. That’s not a Star Wars reference; that’s life.

Hug these five cacti, prickly as they are, and trust that God’s mission in the world can work even through such imperfect systems.