SpiritStirrer

sojourner, hearer, & follower of Jesus

In Memoriam X

 

Dear Garrett,

Welcome your spirit back from its wandering. It may return in pieces, in tatters. Gather them together. They will be happy to be found after being lost for so long.

Joy Harjo from “For Calling the Spirit Back from Wandering the Earth in Its Human Feet” in Conflict Resolution For Holy Beings: Poems

I’ve thought about you often in the last six weeks. As I was getting ready for my sabbatical I kept on thinking about those that would come alongside me on my journey. I thought about my ancestors, then I thought about those companions that have helped me find life in the midst of struggle. I knew for sure that you were with me!

More than once in the silence of hiking trails, prayer times, and monastery I could see you. In some ways, you cheered me on, reminded me again of what you taught me by your leaving. You, happy that I’m still living into the calling that I’m unable to live into without your intercession and the Spirit’s power.

A few months ago it came to mind that this was the 10th Anniversary of your leaving. In some ways, it is hard to believe, but then I look around at my own children and realize that time has indeed gone by, your playmates are now into their teen years, just like you would be.

Then there are those moments when the weight of these years without you make the time that has gone by so obvious. I can still see you waking up on that fateful day when I arrived and asking for your mom, I can still feel your warm forehead on my palm and your beautiful eyes. Eyes that I can still see, full of mischief, wonder, and possibility.

So you are still deeply missed!

There is a little boy in my congregation that has your eyes (mischief and wonder included). He’s become a reminder to me of your presence and the huge impact you’ve had in my life. Your leaving turned into life, eternal life, for me, today.

Some months ago I had a dream that I had died.  I felt peace as I closed my eyes one last time. Immediately I opened them again and I found myself in this perfect place. As I walked towards a group of buildings I saw a group of people that seemed to be gathered. There you were at the front of the group, with your smile and your eyes waiting for me. Behind you were many others that I’ve walked with during their leaving, all of you together waiting, smiles in your faces, making room for me.

I woke up thankful to have experienced the hope of resurrection. Thankful that even though not with us in body, you are with us and waiting for us. Thankful that life and love have been experienced, that your leaving did not ruin my call, my faith, and my hope even though it got close. Instead, it allowed me to experience a deeper understanding and a humbling awareness of the mysteries of life.

Today we’ll gather where you await resurrection. Today we grieve and celebrate with hopeful expectation. Today I know that you are waiting for me, till then I’ll keep on stirring, keep on praying, keep on inviting, keep on challenging, and I’ll keep on dreaming.

You have helped me welcome my spirit back, for that I am deeply grateful. Your leaving still bringing life. I’ll see you at the great feast!

Peace & Love, J+

Sunday Early Evening

Weekends are a flurry of activity. It is the one time of the week that we all gather. Worship has been prepared, rehearsals have taken place, and servant teams are ready to welcome, love, and serve. The sermon has been simmering, at times for months, but now it comes to life.

I’ve also prayed, worried, and wondered. Prayed that all who come will experience an encounter with God. Worried that something might not be in place, that people might not come, and that we are able to get out of the way. Wondered if I will see your faces, meet new people, and communicate the love of God in ways that will connect and transform.

I have also observed the world around us. This week we watched the struggle of immigrants and refugees. The continual animosity and division in our nation. As pastor and theologian I work hard at trying to listen to all who struggle while remembering that the bible tells us again and again that God sides with the struggling, the hungry, the forgotten, the stranger, the refugee, yes, no matter what political party or presidential candidate, the scriptures are clear about what our duty is as disciples of Jesus.

But even when it is clear, even when we know that love should guide all that we do, that we must proclaim the good news, I fear that my reminding the body of God’s call to love God, self, and neighbor might make some walk away from our shared life.

I have also observed and engaged our shared life. The illnesses, struggles, and challenges in your lives. The ways that God has seemed present and absent in your week. The need to remind you of God’s compassionate presence and grace. Our gathering a visible reminder that we are not alone and that salvation is near.

There is some relief once worship begins on Saturday at 5:30. We get to see you and meet your friends. We sing, pray, and hear a word. Saturdays are the beginning of the weekly assembly an important time of warming the space, of calling upon God to show up and make us God’s people again and again.

On my way home on Saturdays I hear my sermon, make notes of changes needed, and rehearse it at least once more.

It’s amazing how quickly Sunday morning arrives. My first cup of coffee is finished by the time I reach the parking lot, a second cup is consumed as last rehearsals are held and the welcome team arrives. Soon God’s people begin to gather, stories begin to be shared, places are found and coffee is consumed.

I still get nervous as worship begins, then again as I’m about to bring a word. For me, worship does not begin until we are gathered and it is not a sermon until I open my mouth and proclaim it to this body. As I proclaim I hear God’s word too, I watch you the body, trying as I proclaim to see what the Holy Spirit is doing among you as I hear what God is doing in me.

In between our times of worship, I listen. I hear your stories, I pray, I bless your children and grandchildren, and check in on your week.

As the last conversation is had, thoughts of the sermon for next week begin to flood my consciousness. Floating around are also the many stories I’ve heard, prayers said, and updates received.

As evening falls I walk around our common home, our place of worship, of gathering, and of stories. I sit in my office, look out the window and play through the day. I think about what God is doing among us, about our capacity to set the world on fire, about how our sufferings, struggles, and stories continue to shape us into a grace-full people, and about how blessed I am to be a leader among you.

 

The End is the Beginning

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Advent, a time of beginning, a time of ending. Advent, a time of expectation, of waiting, and of hoping. Advent, a time when salvation sneaks in, when needed most. A time when salvation shows up in the every day of life.

These are interesting days. Days when we wonder about God’s work in the world. Days when we are reminded that salvation is desperately needed, that our lives and our world do not reflect the fullness of God’s creation.

Unfortunately, year after year we must come face to face with our brokenness, with our need, with our sin-sick soul, and with the ways that all of creation still groans for salvation. We also must face our participation in structures of sin and death – the hatred, prejudice, and apathy about neighbor, the -isms too many to name, the ways we seem to have forgotten the centrality of the common good.

Advent invites us into reality, into the messiness of our condition, and into the hopeful expectation of new life. This requires that we are willing to embrace ending, death, and letting go. It also requires us, in this season filled with distraction, to stay rooted in the now, to sow seeds of peace, justice, and love today.

Completeness is coming, healing is near, new life is around the corner . . .

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,
God with Us!
We need you, with us.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,
God with and in the world,
We need you, in us.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,
God through the most vulnerable,
We need you, through us.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,
God for all of creation,
We need you, give us new life.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,
We are hungry, hurt, haggard,
hopeful, end becoming beginning.

Why #givegrace?

© All rights reserved by mollie | corbett | photography

© All rights reserved by mollie | corbett | photography

This past Sunday we gathered as a community to eat together and to hear about how our financial resources continue to allow us to live into God’s call for our life together as a congregation. Some of us met each other for this first time — over half of attendees at the meal have been with us twelve months or less — others were able to finally catch up with friends and neighbors.

We have much to celebrate. Our children and youth ministry continue to grow and each weekend we have many guests that are looking for a place to call home. Those that are new to our community speak to our welcoming atmosphere as a primary reason why they choose to return. Our new people describe our congregation as loving, kind, and filled with energy. Wherever I go in Shreveport folks tell me that they have heard great things about our church.

We are blessed in so many ways!!

As I walked away from our time together on Sunday afternoon I began to wonder about the impact that our congregation has had, is having, and will have in the future. I began to wonder about the stories that illustrate our impact, that tell of the many ways that we are encountering God in this place and of the ways that this place is helping each of us see God in places unexpected.

I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because we have received it!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because we cannot help but respond in generosity!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because we know that our congregation is needed in this city and beyond!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because there are so many children, youth, and adults experiencing God’s unconditional love!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because we are finding healing from our addictions, freedom from the things that keep us bound, and redemption into new life, abundance, and joy!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because we are a unique community called by God to provide a place for ALL people!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because everywhere I go I meet people who have disconnected from the church and are looking for a place where they can be who God has called them to be!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because our identity is rooted in service of neighbor, especially those who would be easily forgotten, who have been ignored!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because we have been called to be a diverse community that reflects God’s love for ALL people, no matter our story!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because we are a community willing to live in the tension of unanswered questions and the messiness of life stories!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because we believe God is found in unexpected places!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because our only requirement to come to the table is to be hungry for Jesus!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because we know that being a follower of Jesus is more than just showing up at church or talking about Jesus, it’s about loving ALL and growing in that love!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because only together we can live into our call to welcome, love, and serve!

I am so thankful and honored to be one of your many leaders. Leading in this season towards a fruitful and life-giving future is challenging but extremely rewarding. Leading in this season inspires me because our unique community is sorely needed.

So why will you #givegrace in 2017? Tell me in the comments here on the blog or in the Facebook comments. I cannot wait to read of all the ways that inspire you to make our 2017 ministry possible!

Christianity, Politics, & #givegrace

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Politics & Religion

I am sure that you have heard the old adage to never speak about politics and religion. Often political seasons come and go and the church remains silent. When issues come up that hit the nerve of congregants the pastor is asked to address them, when addressed there are always those that do not want the church to become political or be political.

In some ways, it would be easier to follow the adage. Not talking about so-called political things stops the pastor from getting into trouble, from upsetting people, and might provide a political free oasis in the midst of all the chatter.

This week we begin a series of sermons that will hopefully provide some helpful context for how Christian people can and should discuss politics. Its purpose is dialogue, the learning of some shared language that will hopefully shape our community towards a different way to speak about difficult subjects.

What is the relationship between politics and God’s kingdom? What does it look like for us to engage one another and our neighbors and friends in political discussions based upon our faith in Jesus Christ? How can we model civil discourse in such a polarized political landscape? What are some key values that should drive our political decisions?

I invite you to become part of this important conversation in the next three weeks!

#givegrace

This coming Sunday we will gather for a preview of our #givegrace campaign. We will celebrate the many that have become members of our body in the last year and the many ways that we have made an impact in the lives of the people around us. I ask you to begin praying for the way that God is inviting you to invest in our congregation so that others can experience Grace in 2017.

We have a generous congregation and I know that each of you will response in gratitude to grace received through your financial investment in God’s kingdom through our congregation. All of us together making sure that others are welcomed, loved, and sent to serve!

Can’t wait for the weekend!

Very Married: A Review

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The problem with marriage is that it ends every night after making love, and it must be rebuilt every morning before breakfast.

Gabriel García-Márquez

The music begins and the couple walks proudly and anxiously towards the future, a future together. Decisions have been made, preparations completed, and now it’s time for covenant making, vow taking, or maybe just contract signing. No matter what, life together begins.

As one who gets the joy of witnessing and officiating at these public/private, sacred/secular, end/beginning type of events I’ve often wondered if there is something that can prepare the couple for this momentous event. Would this couple take vows if their future life together was revealed to them? Would that vision help them discern or prepare them?

Maybe it’s best that Hallmark cards, romantic comedies, Instagram pictures, and the wedding industry monopolize the marriage press! Or maybe we were just waiting for Katherine Willis Pershey to provide us with the revelation that all engaged and married couples needed, a revelation of the beauty and trials of married life.

Very Married: Fieldnotes on Love and Fidelity is not for the faint of heart. Pershey’s poetic prose leads us openly yet carefully through the landscape of married life. As she aptly tells us the “agony, ecstasy, and tedium of wedlock.” (18) This is not the stuff that we are used to hearing about nor the kind of journey that we expect from one who is both married and who officiates at marriages. Yet Very Married is the book needed to awaken all of us to the beauty, reality, and poetry that is life together.

Very Married sets itself apart in how humbly it speaks to those of us who have ears to hear. Pershey’s tone is rooted in the Christian practice of testimony, the humble recognition of God’s presence in the midst of life. This testimony is not just an individual encounter with God but the result of living life in covenant with another. Her vulnerability and honesty are palpable as she guides us through the inner life of one who desires to live life together with another yet found herself ill-prepared for the reality of what that meant.

As she tells her story we quickly realize that all of us come to life together unprepared and yet it is there, in our willingness to recognize the mystery, that grace comes visiting, that blessing becomes activated.

My favorite part of the wedding ceremony is the blessing of the marriage. As I wrap my stole around the hands of the couple I invoke the Spirit. I ask for the Spirit to make them fruitful, to make them one, to help them recognize, like Pershey, that “I know now, and I am known now, in marriage.”

This knowing comes with joys and sorrows. It tests our capacity to be faithful, to stay attentive to our chosen over the long term. It tests our capacity to forgive, to reconcile, and to begin again. It also tests our capacity to love another as we live life with them.

There is yet more for us to know of each other, physically, spiritually, emotionally. And as husband and wife we have the incredible freedom to explore each other without hesitation or shame.

Katherine Willis Pershey in Very Married: Field Notes on Love & Fidelity, 94

The struggles of life together challenge our self-centeredness, immaturity, and desire for control. God uses this way of life to transform us, or as my United Methodist tradition calls it, to “sanctify” us. Pershey’s willingness to share with us her journey in grace allows all of us to identify the God moments in our own relationships and to recognize that “even a family’s sorrows give way to gratitude, eventually.”(164) Pershey’s candor reminds us that perseverance, tenacity, and humility are key components to becoming very married.

Katherine Willis Pershey does not shy away from the difficult topics connected to married life. From pre-marital sexuality, infidelity, and submission to same-sex marriage, divorce, and death, Pershey guides us with humor, humility, and understanding. Like a faithful pastor, she shines a light behind the closed doors of covenant life. Along the way she gives us hope that in the midst of the many challenges that marriage faces today “[t]here’s no shame in needing covenant to live.”(210)

So take up and read! In Very Married we are gifted with an invitation to a new-old way of living life together. Pershey gifts us with a faithful blueprint to the daily rebuilding of this thing we call marriage. Now is up to us, letting our very married life end daily by making love and following the blueprint to rebuild it, again and again, before breakfast!

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Thankful to Herald Press for providing me an advanced copy of the book for this review.

On Thirty-Eight

©Amber Dent – AMD Photography & Design

©Amber Dent – AMD Photography & Design

A year goes by so fast! As I scroll through my Facebook feed I am amazed. Scrolling through my birthday messages is like taking a stroll through memory lane. People from all seasons of my life, all coming together.

I especially enjoy the many greetings from parishioners past and present. It reminds me of how real the body of Christ is, and how important it has been in my life. Being pastor is an honor and a privilege and I have been blessed by all the communities of faith that have called me pastor. I sometimes wish that they could meet each other!

My heart is filled with gratitude for my life with Shannon and the kids. The kids are growing so quickly, the fruits of our formation becoming evident. In the last year, we have laughed much, cried, explored, and rooted.

The friends have sustained us like they always have. They have provided spaces for rooting, conversation, and growth. They have also helped us discover new things and connected us with others. I am blessed!

My prayer for this next year is for a more balanced life. For better rhythms of work, play, and rest. For more time with those that I love. For more time for prayer, silence, writing, and play.  For rooting more deeply in the Shreveport community.

I also pray for continued growth in our life as Grace Community. For continued engagement in the community, to welcome others as Christ welcomes, to grow in our love of God, neighbor, and self, and to serve in the places that each of us live, work, and play.

So . . . bring it on 39th year!

Blessings & Warnings: Matthew 19

Then the little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray.

Matthew 19:13

One of the joys of ministry is the honor to bless. Over the years I’ve blessed couples, jewelry, backpacks, keys, cars, cattle, fields, homes, bread, wine, and oil. But nothing compares to the joy of blessing children!

I love when parents bring their children to me so that I can bless them. Making the sign of the cross on their forehead as I ask for God’s Spirit to come down. I want the parents to know that God loves their child. I want the child to know, over time, that I am their pastor, that we are their church, and that God cares.

In itinerant ministry, we often do not see these children grow up. But these days with social media it is wonderful to see the growing faces of the many children that I have pastored during the years. The many foreheads that I’ve outlined with the sign of Christ, the many prayers said at table with them, and the waters of baptism that had been poured out.

One of my prayers as I continue my work among you is that I get the opportunity to see our children grow up. Experiencing the first blessing soon after birth, the blessing at baptism, the weekly blessing when the parents bring them to me at the door of the church or at the communion station. The blessing of little hands holding bread for the first time, new bibles given and faith confirmed. The blessing of entrance into High School and driving for the first time. The blessing of graduation and leaving home.

Blessing as the continuation and incarnation of the ministry of Jesus!

After speaking to us about being like children, Jesus encounters one like many of us. We know from scripture that he was a young man and that he “had many possessions.” He wants to be “good,” he wants to make sure that Jesus is pleased with him. Jesus turns the question upside down: Does he want to be good (only God is truly good)? or does he want to “enter into life?”

When Jesus mentions that keeping the commandments enter us into life, the young man says, “I’ve kept all of these, what do I still lack?”

Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

Matthew 19:21-22

So often we have so much available to us that we lean on our possessions, our financial resources, our security, and our position in society as the measure of the good life. As the measure of our standing before God, as the measure of how blessed we are.

Today Jesus reminds us that if we are to be like children, to be truly blessed, we must submit ourselves, recognize our inability to keep the commandments (especially the one about loving our neighbor), and our desperate need for divine Grace.

This submission might push us to ask questions of what real life is like. What is true flourishing? What really matters? What grounds us? Where does our help come from? Have we gone away?

These are scary questions, questions that make us uncomfortable, and questions that might send us away grieving since they require us to let go of everything that gets in the way of following Jesus. Everything that gets in the way of our being like children, wholly dependent on God.

This passage is one of the most difficult in the gospels, especially for citizens of the most prosperous nation in the world. So being “good” is actually impossible, and it truly does not save us. Thinking that because we have not killed anyone, cheated on our spouse, or robbed a bank we are somehow ok, is not enough either.

We find ourselves like the disciples, wondering who can be saved then? It is good to know that “[f]or mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26

We can turn back and join the community of disciples. The community of those who help one another remember to be like like children. The community of those struggling to follow Jesus. The community that knows and proclaim that all things are possible for God!

Mountain Sermon: Matthew 5

Matthew 5 is the beginning of what we have traditionally called the Sermon on the Mount. In this sermon, Jesus gives us a picture of what it means to be a follower of God’s kingdom, a follower of his teaching, a disciple.

It begins with the beatitudes, a series of statements that should turn our understanding of the kingdom upside down.

Blessed are the spiritually poor—the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
Blessed are those who mourn—they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek and gentle—they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness—they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful—they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are those who are pure in heart—they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers—they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness—the kingdom of heaven is theirs.

And blessed are you, blessed are all of you, when people persecute you or denigrate you or despise you or tell lies about you on My account. 12 But when this happens, rejoice. Be glad. Remember that God’s prophets have been persecuted in the past. And know that in heaven, you have a great reward. (VOICE)

Jesus continues to push us, prod us, and challenge us. He reminds us to be salt and light in the world. To make a difference, to live out our love for God and neighbor in obvious ways. In ways, that might seem foolish to those that observe us.

Let your light shine everywhere you go, that you may illumine creation, so men and women everywhere may see your good actions, may see creation at its fullest, may see your devotion to Me, and may turn and praise your Father in heaven because of it. (VOICE)

These are the chapters in the story of Jesus that forced me to do a self-examination. These are also the chapters that challenge me as pastor and preacher for they are hard to read, hard to preach, and even harder to live. It would be so much easier to ignore, to speak of the gospel in a different way, in a more palatable way.

I often wonder if we take these admonitions seriously? Do we believe that God has called us to live this way, that the Holy Spirit does indeed help us to be disciples, love bearers, space-makers in the world?

I look forward to hearing from all of you that are taking this journey. What do you think? What does following Jesus mean to you? How does the story of Jesus so far help challenge and inspire you?

What has been surprising so far?

I’m thankful for the church. It is that body that I am grafted to and it is that body that helps me live into the demands of discipleship.

Keep on reading . . . it gets better!!

In Memoriam IX

Dear Garrett,

Our youngest, Lucas, is the same age that you were when you took your leaving. It’s hard to believe that time has gone so fast. Hard to believe that life has moved on, things have changed, and yet some things, like your absence, remain the same. You never had the opportunity to meet Lucas, but I suspect that if you all would have been 6 together you all would have had much in common. Especially the trouble making part!

In the last few years, I’ve thought much about my calling. You know how much I’ve struggled with that over the years. Yet each time I think about it, each time I doubt it, I remember that faithful day when your leaving made me a pastor. As a trusted mentor told me recently, in your leaving I experienced the worst day of my pastoral life. In other words, no matter what happens in pastoral life, the worst has already come. If that day did not end my pastoral life, then nothing can . . .

I can still remember that faithful day. Your whininess, your refusal to do what we asked, your hard-headedness, and your assurance that something was wrong. I often think if it would have made a difference if you would have agreed to open your mouth.

I can still remember that faithful day. Reality settling in, you were not coming back. We were going to get used to life without you. You were leaving.

I can still remember that faithful day. Eucharist shared, tears shed, life scattered.  The reality of your leaving becoming permanent. New life arising from our pain.

I can still remember that faithful day. Questions emerging, faith questioned, reality interrogated, and truth heartbreaking.

Although I constantly question, I am committed to this pastoral life. You have called me to it. You have shaped me into it and you have visited me in it. It does not matter where I am, Alexandria, Ragley, Baton Rouge, or Shreveport. You continue to push me into this life, proclaiming, reflecting, hearing, and serving. At each step of the way I can hear your voice calling, your eyes sharing, your presence comforting. At each moment gratitude emerging for this call, for the ways that God shows up even when God seems absent. At each moment making a decision to keep at this calling, even when it seems unbearable.

I could not imagine losing our Lucas. I could not have imagined losing you. Yet nightmare became reality and grace became our salvation. At each step of the way your leaving becoming sealed into our life together, your presence sealed in our communal memory, your story reminding us of our identity.

I’m thankful that you continue to companion and bring clarity. I am thankful that the scars of loss have become signposts to a resurrecting future. I am thankful that your visitations and your story continue to bring life and stir our spiritual imaginations.

You are still missed, still remembered, still present . . . see you at the great feast.

Peace & Love, Juan+

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Be a hero, Donate Life! If you want to know G’s story click here.

Here are the previous yearly notes: In Memoriam, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII

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