Monthly Archives: March 2017

What do we leave behind?

**Each week we are following up the sermon theme for our lenten series, Hitchhiking with Jesus, with a devotional that continues the thought of the sermon.  They will make sense without the sermon but if you missed it and wish to watch you can always catch them on our YouTube page here along with anthems and next week’s sermon teaser.****
Years ago, I read a thought on forgiveness from John Patton (formerly a pastoral care professor at Columbia Theological Seminary) that used the metaphor of a being an air traffic controller.  All the things we are carrying with us: the worries, the slights, grievances, shame, guilt… all if it, they are all like airplanes circling our brain.  The more “junk” that is circling the more energy we are investing just keeping it all from colliding and crashing.  It becomes a full-time job just to maintain it all… energy that would better be served elsewhere creating, fostering, and celebrating life.

In this scenario forgiving someone, forgiving yourself, and allowing grace into the equation, is the equivalent of landing an airplane so we don’t have to keep it going and can let it rest in peace.  The regular practice of such forgiveness and grace allows us to stop living life backward in maintaining a set of things to which we are beholden and which suck the life from our present and future.  Thus forgiveness, in this understanding, isn’t simply about what we owe (or should do) for the other.  It’s something we owe ourselves: an unburdening of self.  Remember, Jesus said, “I come to give you life, and life abundantly.”

As we are hitchhiking with Jesus we are invited to drop go our nets and follow.  We are invited to sell off possessions, drop oppressive labels and expectations, and yes – even traditions and ‘ways of being’ that may once have been helpful but have become masters of our daily routines.  We are called to drop them all.  Land the planes… and move into the future with the freedom Christ offers us.

What are you carrying?  What weighs you down?  What anchors you to death?   What planes are you keeping aloft at the cost of people around you… and your own sanity?

What do you need to leave behind?

 

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A Tribute on International Women’s Day

The reflective thinker that I am is a product of my mother. A reader, a student, and a leader because she expected me to be those things… not that she told me so, but she lived those so core to her being that I could not help but follow in her footsteps. Thank you, Lynda Kukla.

I grew up with 3 sisters and no brothers. Which was a lot like having 4 moms. Because of their strong, talented, creative way of being in the world I never imagined they weren’t my equals (except when they were my betters). I grew up sharing a bathroom in such a way that I never expected to have warm water left for my shower, I was well acquainted with feminine products and can discuss their various functions as naturally as football and I have always put the toilet seat down. Our basement had a full sized balanced beam in it (when it wasn’t in our living room) and I played with dolls as much as with matchbox cars. I had very little sense of socialized gender roles. Thank you, Robin, Karen, and Sally

I had many great professors but the one who likely made the most difference in my life was my fourth-grade teacher who believed I had a depth of talent no-one else had seen and pushed me to find it. She encouraged me to skip two reading levels and forever altered the trajectory of my academic career. Thank you, Mrs. Mullholland.

I can still recall being in the 7th-grade concert choir which was about 30 people, 28 of whom were girls. I was too awkward a boy to do anything with that great ratio when it came to dating but it was fundamentally ok for me to love doing something that was apparently perceived as a “girl thing.” Thank you, Ms. Kennedy and fellow choral members.

The most random professionally altering encounter I ever had was when a classmate of my eldest sister (9 years older than me), now an English teacher at my high school where I had just started my freshman year, wrote me a note saying I should come to the informational meeting about Speech Team. I was an awkward introverted kid who had no business going to such a place but her individual effort on my behalf felt good so I did… and it has made all the difference in my life. Thank you, Miss Heck, (edit: correction from my sister actually – go figure, now Mrs. Martin).

The better two-thirds of me is my wife, for whom I am daily grateful. I would say more but it would take volumes. Thank you, Caroline.

My favorite supervisor ever (I have had many good ones – but the one most dear to my heart) was in chaplaincy and she is a feisty, resilient, wise, American Baptist, African-American, female clergywoman and Head of Chaplaincy in an inner-city southern hospital. I hear her voice in my head at least once a week. And if life had gone a different direction I would love to be working for her still this day. Thank you, Robin.

I have had several great pastor mentors but when I’m unsure how to be pastoral in a situation it is the Senior Associate Pastor from my first call whose voice and example I look to in order to be lead through the tangle I find myself in. I loved popping in her office to bounce ideas off of her or vent and receive care and guidance and make it through the day. Thank you, Carol.

I have worked on staff with 3 co-worker associate pastors and 2 associate pastors who have worked alongside me. They were all females. They all made me a better pastor. They all taught me lessons I didn’t want to learn. Thank you, Carol, Laurie, Katie, Joanna, and Katey.

I always wanted a daughter. I love my son and I’m grateful for him but I had a special desire to raise a daughter. I get to do it times three. And as I have been surrounded by awesome women my whole life it just makes sense that this would be so. They rock. Period. Thank you, Elizabeth, Meredith, and Danielle.

I could go on forever because it doesn’t stop there. Neighbors, friends, students, co-workers, church members… everywhere I look there are two or three women for every man, often more. That’s no joke. The world without women would not exist. And a world where women didn’t shape me would be sad indeed. I’m wearing red today because in a world that still struggles to value you – I love you and I’m grateful that you have shaped me at more than a fair cost to yourselves… because it’s what you do and its who you are. In the words of a friend, “I’m thankful you were born.”

#internationalwomensday

Who do we leave behind?

Each week through Lent I will provide one or two devotional reflections to continue the thoughts of that week’s theme.  This week as the first part of our Hitchhiking with Jesus series we reflected on the Call to Discipleship as dropping nets (Matthew 5) and Jesus’ redefinition of who was his mother and brothers / his rejection by his hometown (Matthew 12:46-50 and 13:54-59) and consider the question, “Who do we leave behind?”

(If you missed the sermon and wish to watch it you can do so here.)

“What a relief it must have been when the stone was rolled across the entrance to the tomb, sealing everything shut so they could go back to being fishermen, which they knew how to do, rather than fishers of men, which they didn’t.” — Richard Russo, Empire Falls

(quote compliments of Jill Reardon who texted it to me after Sunday’s sermon)

I remember being asked once about discomfort, was it necessary to move outside of our comfort zones in the journey of discipleship. My answer?  Yes.  Of course, there is more I’d say than just yes.  Jesus rarely is reducible to simple answers.  Jesus relieves us of anxiety born of shame and guilt. Jesus forgives sin and builds up (sometimes literally lifts up) those who have been cast aside.  In this sense, Jesus brings comfort to those who lack it.

But Jesus also unsettles us.  Jesus breaks us out of routines that normalize injustice, he questions systems of power that dehumanize some on behalf of others and generally invites us to “pick up our cross” as a perpetuate journey in not becoming passive and comfortable to a status quo that is “less than” the Kingdom of God.

As we think of last week’s texts about Jesus leaving his family and his struggles to be a prophet in his hometown that could not get over him being “the carpenter’s son” we are confronted with our own need to name what we need to leave behind in our journey of discipleship.  If we are going to hitchhike with Jesus what fears, comforts, and habits keep us from being able to do that?

The answers may be hard, and the commitment to imagine life beyond those “ways” that have always worked for us is discomforting… but they also lead us to new life – because this is the way of the cross.  This is the way of sealed tombs that become empty.  This is the way of Jesus Christ.

We leave our self behind (both our own distorted self and the image of self the world has forced us to carry) to find our new self in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Who are you leaving behind?

An Overly Revealing Problematic Sharing Moment Because I Love You

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Note to email subscribers: you are getting this a second time. My apologies.  I deleted the initial post thinking I shouldn’t actually post it.  Then I triple-guessed myself and remembered that I swore a long time ago to live more transparently (despite my discomfort with it) and decided to repost it.
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First: I don’t like sharing articles like this (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2017/03/01/happens-pastor-people-leave-church). As a pastor, it feels passive-aggressive and a backward cry for help/attention.

Second: I’m sharing this because I almost wrote it earlier thinking, sometimes it’s okay to cry for help… or, more accurately, cry for understanding.

Third: What I would add is that I have started way too many conversations lately with:

“I’m running on empty…”

“I’m stressed out…”

“I’m tired…”

I’d like to just flip a switch with regards to that but this is not how physical/mental/emotional health works. And it’s not how you stop the world from dumping more on your plate either.

Fourth: I’m not wanting this to be an excuse.  And frankly, I don’t want attention as strange as that may sound given I’m publicly posting this.  I do want to keep finding appropriate space, support, and help to weather the storm to the other side.  (Fear not: I’m getting help… my hypocrisy knows some boundaries.) But more than that I want you to know that this isn’t about me.  This is about everyone.  Because this isn’t a pastor story – it’s a people living in community story.  It’s a family story.  It is EVERYONE’s story.

And with that said… my own thoughts to add to that article linked above (you will want to read it at some point, whatever point you choose, now/already/or after what follows but now is probably an appropriate time if you haven’t already):

I agree with everything this article says and more. I’d add that there is an even harder process to go through, people who leave for celebratory reasons weigh on a pastor, in fact sometimes even more. A new job, a new relationship, a life transition. All good reasons people leave and you are happy for them… but not happy for the loss of them as part of your community.  Like postpartum depression or an empty-nest syndrome.  A good thing can still cause grief.

It’s harder because the grief is selfish. But the grief is still real. The community of faith we foster is our family. It is, for many of us (not pastors alone), our first, second, and third place/home. And when things outside of our control stress it, tear it, or send part of it off on another journey (which is constantly happening) we carry an emotional toll for it.

When people in that place are stressed, torn, absent… we bear these stresses too.  Because for all our deficiencies, and for all our struggle to show it as much as we might wish to, pastors do what we do because we genuinely hope for a better life for the people around us.   We hope for a better life BECAUSE of the people around us.   And while we struggle sometimes with our own messiah complexes we still know we cannot do that – it doesn’t depend on us and imagining it does is harmful to everyone.  But you still try, our hearts are not rational.  And you yearn for well-being and wholeness, and you lament it when you are reminded again and again that it there are many roadblocks beyond our control.

So yes.  There are seasons of growth and seasons of splendor and seasons of stagnation and seasons of death.  It has always been so and it will always be.  And coping with that takes community and self-care.  And coping with that isn’t necessarily any easier for knowing it’s no-one’s fault.  I share this with a hope that we will all remember that we all carry such burdens… and it’s why we all need grace.  forgiveness.  mercy.  healing.  hope.

Now back to the part where sharing this as a pastor is complicated and probably shouldn’t be done.  Some of you are reading this feeling like it’s your fault I’m stressed – please don’t.  I’m grateful you have trusted me to be a part of your life.  Some of you MAY from some misplaced sense of care decide not to burden me with anything else.  (It’s what I would do, I have a lifelong fear of being a burden to people that I cannot shake.)  And I expressly forbid that line of reasoning!!! (Like you listen to me anyway…. *wink*) Burden me, just as I’m burdening you with all this right now.  Because we cannot carry burdens alone.  That’s why we are so invested in other’s lives. But also, seek understanding, empathy, and grace.  Not to me.  To everyone.  That is the reason I write things here.  Even self-revealing things like reaching my own finiteness and limits.  So, that I might learn from them how to see them in others.  So, that you might see in my story, your story… and your neighbor’s story.  And vice-versa.

Someday I will drop kids off at college.  I will watch them marry and leave.  I will watch tragedy strike them if I’m lucky enough to stay tragedy free myself.  These burdens will happen.  They are not a reason not to experience the joy.  They are not a reason not to fully invest in sharing and living our life together.  I welcome the grief because I love love… and the two go hand in hand.  And I love all the seasons because death is part of life, and rebirth and I’m a child of resurrection.  I just want you to know what season I’m in… and I want to know what season you’re in too… and that I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Though I wouldn’t mind a break right now.

love you! – andrew