In Memoriam VIII

EightDear Garrett,

Eight . . . eight is the number of years since your leaving. So much life happens in eight years, so much grief outpoured, so much thinking and reflecting done. Eight is long enough to notice that time has gone by but when it comes to death, eight might as well be one. Such is the finality of death, such is the promise of eternal life.

Recently I told your story, our story again. This time around a dinner table as we gathered to say goodbye (for now) to Papa Gene. Death stimulates our longing for stories, death begs for re-membering, death begs for the balm that stories bring. So I told our story, your story again.

I know that I am not alone, that the many you touched in life are often telling your story, somehow still trying to make sense of it, trying to find healing for what is now a scar that will never go away.

In the last year, I’ve been constantly reflecting on scars. On how the pastoral life leaves you marked, the longer you live it, the more marked you become. This scarring is varied and unique to each person and place. In some ways it could be seen as the rings of a tree, a sign of age, perseverance, and new life.

At times it’s our baptismal mark that gets tender, these are the moments when it seems like God has come visiting. Babies being born, couples making covenant, people gathering around crumbs, and oil on foreheads for healing, all making our baptismal mark active, tender, and strong.

Then there are the marks of disappointment, trials, and heartbreaks. Those events, encounters, and seasons that make you question yourself, your call, and the ministry of the church. These scars are incarnate examples of the difficulty of discipleship but also of the power of God to work in us and through us in spite of our scars.

Eight . . . eight is the number of years healing, hearing, and heading into my continuing call. My re-membering guides my way, my scars, keeps me humble, and your leaving continues to inspire me to be a spirit-stirrer, space-maker, and gatherer of people.

I’m still marked . . . you are still missed . . . I’ll 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.

One Year at Grace Community

It’s really hard to believe that a year has gone by!

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Arriving at a new appointment is always difficult. Pastoral work is relational and relationships take time. Guiding a congregation like Grace Community requires the pastor to guide a group of people, connecting with them as individuals yet ministering alongside them as a community. It requires investing relationally while at the same time keeping the health and mission of the whole at the center of pastoral time, effort, and energy. Learning this balance takes time and I am thankful that now that I’ve had the honor to walk through a calendar year I’ll be able to focus on deepening my pastoral competencies, no longer focusing on experiencing everything as new.

Each day in the last year I’ve learned something new. Pastoral work is rooted in a particular community. This requires every pastor to make their curing of souls incarnate to that place at that time and to be nimble enough to leave room for the shifting hungers and needs of the mission field. Each day I’ve asked myself, how does my understanding of my task as a curer of souls, as a spiritual director, preacher, teacher, and leader, need adjustment in light of these particular people called Grace Community?

I look forward to this next year of life together. We are a unique community as we continue to find ways to tell the story of God’s redeeming love to all people in ways that they can truly hear it, in their language, where they are, good news of great joy! I think we are uniquely positioned to become a shining light in the city of Shreveport and beyond!

There are three specific gifts that I see in us that I pray will guide our future:

  1. A desire to mature spiritually – seekers becoming servants has been our mission from day one, this means that maturing spiritually (becoming a servant) is at the forefront of our identity.
  2. A desire to make spaces for reconciling conversations – our diversity across the theological, social, and political spectrum positions us uniquely in this city to have “courageous conversations” about the many issues that divide us today as we continue to make space for all people.
  3. A desire to invite others to our shared work – this is what some have called “relational evangelism” but is truly about being so excited for God’s work in our lives through our community that we want others to experience the same: Christ through grace restoring lives!

I look forward to many more years of shared life (decades?). I look forward to continue leading you as I preach/teach, empower our staff and lay leaders for ministry, and lead strategically through relationships across our denomination and community. These three tasks are at the forefront of my role as your pastoral leader into our gifted and fruitful future.

Thankful for the past year and looking forward to many more!

Peace, Juan+

What I Wish That Young Guy in the Picture Would Know: 10 Years in Pastoral Ministry

Commissioning Practice 2005

Commissioning Practice 2005

Honestly, I am not sure where the last 10 years have gone. The only reason I know it has been that long is that the calendar says so and that the 16 mo. old at my house is now about to enter 6th grade.

I’ve recently been consulting my journals from my season of preparation to become a pastor, especially the last few months in the spring of 2005. There was so much excitement about beginning that which I had been preparing for since I woke up in the winter of 1994 knowing that God was calling me to the work.

After 10 years, I can say that it has been an unexpected, thrilling, rewarding, exhausting, challenging, and transformative journey. Here are some things I would tell my younger self:

  1. Be Ready for Surprise – people, places, and situations are not always what they seem. Take a deep breath, trust, and enjoy the journey.
  2. You will Fail – at times miserably, at others more modestly but the work of curing souls is humbling, so get back up, you’ll survive.
  3. Don’t be a People Pleaser – no matter what you do, how you do it, when you do it, there will always be someone who will be disappointed, who will question you, your relationship with God, your competence, your call. Live into your calling humbly and honestly. The rest will take care of itself.
  4. Persevere – get up and remind yourself that the harvest in indeed plentiful. Dry your tears, control your disappointment, walk away, and get back at the work that God has called you to, you will not just survive, you will thrive, in time.
  5. Root – everywhere you go be fully present, especially at home to Shannon and the kids, but also with the sheep that God has surrounded you with and with the neighborhood that you live in.
  6. Talk to friends more often (especially Josh Hale) – believe me, they will be your lifeline, do not hesitate to pick up the phone, you need them and they also need you, you are in a yoked and ordered life, you are not alone!
  7. Be Who You Are – you’ll change towns more often than you think, you’ll adapt in more ways that you imagine, but always remember who you are!
  8. Remember Joy – this will seem elusive at times but pay attention because it is all around you, do not be so focused on the current task to the point that you miss an opportunity to experience the power of joy.
  9. You Are NOT Leaving Pastoral Ministry – at least not in your first 10 years, in all seriousness you will look at the classifieds more times that you’ll be able to remember, you will have opportunities to do other things with your life but in the end this calling will be renewed again and again and for that you’ll be thankful.
  10. Pay Attention – time will fly, look around, journal daily, enjoy Sundays, put the kids to bed as often as you can, forgive, reconcile, live life with God’s people!

Where Wild Things Grow: A Review

I’ve been a lover of poetry since my father shared poetry with me as a child. I grew up in a home filled with it in various forms: song, scripture, verse, and place. The more I think about it, the more I realize how immersed my life has been in the rhythms of poetry, in its invitation to imagination, and to a way of seeing the world.

Early on in my life I was inspired by the poets of Latin America, especially Pablo Neruda, Frederico Garcia Lorca, Julia de Burgos, Jose Marti, Ruben Dario, and Octavio Paz. In the last 20 years, I’ve been blessed to add William Blake, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Langston Hughes, Wendell Berry, Mary Karr, Mary Oliver, and Christian Wiman. All have provided a point of view, all have inspired me to look at the created order in a new light, all have in some really powerful ways deepened my soul.

I am thankful to add teacher, mentor, and friend W. Craig Gilliam as another window & conversation partner to my journey through words and world.

11058644_10153492517579050_264163910835429953_nWhere Wild Things Grow is an invitation to pilgrimage, to pay attention, and to be present to the moment. From the very beginning, W. Craig Gilliam invites us to “break loose on the wind, soaring” so that we can experience that:

“We are sufficient for the day,
to love, to adventure
to go on the grand tour,
into another
today.” (97)

In a culture that is hurried Gilliam calls us to slow down as we live as a people “walking alongside,” as we make space for life with its wild weediness to transform us, connect us, and propel us into human flourishing. His poetically raw picture of what it means to be human allows all of us to enter into his poetry and see all encounters, all of life, as gift.

Poetry invites us to flourish in the midst of this beautiful and at times heart-breaking life. Gilliam faithfully takes us on this journey as many have before him and adds another voice to the human attempt at shining a light on the mysteries of being human in time, space, and place. This beautiful collection of poems is indeed for everyone, for we are all sojourners, all constantly “[o]n the edge of the forest where wild things grow.”
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Where Wild Things Grow is available today, order your copy here.

A Public Theologian: 10 Years Since Seminary Graduation

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Graduation Day 2005 the little guy is no other than our Andrew Seth

It has been so much fun watching all the graduation excitement. I am blessed to have a number of sojourners this year that are graduating from my alma mater, Emory University’s Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, GA. Following their journey there has been filled with joy. There is something about a community’s ethos, rhythms, and ways of life together that does not change throughout time. As I watched the newsfeeds on facebook, the quotes, the pictures, the stories. It reminded me of my own graduation 10 years ago.

I have to say it’s really hard to believe that it has been that long!

It seems like the other day that I was immersed in that community of learning, struggle, and growth. Talking theology, complaining about the church, and dreaming dreams for my own contribution in the future. The rhythms of worship, prayer, study, and life together strengthened our souls in ways that I did not recognize at the time. It was a time to get to know who I was, to meet God again and to learn about my role in the community of faith. Class by class, conversation by conversation, paper by paper, text by text I was being shaped into a public theologian. A “god talker” for the common good.

More importantly I was being shaped into a gatherer of people on behalf of God’s kingdom. These gathered people could indeed make a difference in a neighborhood, city, nation, and world. My role was to be a truth teller, story sharer and ritual leader. At each of those moments pointing toward the larger and mysterious reality that is God in the world. In some real ways 10 years later I miss that community. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t miss the papers, the deadlines, nor the mac and cheese or ramen noodles. I guess I miss the community that we rehearsed week after week.

For 10 years now I have been attempting to live into the theologian-pastor I have been shaped into. At each stop, I’ve learned something new about God, God’s people, and my own human condition. Each community has shaped me into a more deeply rooted pastor. But also each community has made me dig deeper into the well that was dug long ago through the halls of Bishop’s Hall.

On graduation day 2005 I had no idea what my sojourn would bring. No idea that my faith would be tested, my theological understanding stretched, my perseverance developed. No idea that 10 years later I would be more thankful for the foundation received by professors, mentors, and most importantly by my friends!

The study of God is still needed in the world today. We must continue to shape pastoral leaders into faithful public theologians. Into a people who are connecting the great story of faith to our continued shared work towards the common good, towards human flourishing. Continue to shape pastoral leaders into a kingdom imagination, into a healthy use of power and authority, into a call for God’s people to be peace-makers (makers of shalom) in for the life of the world.

I keep on going to the deep well that was dug long ago . . . I keep on reading, preaching, conversing, making space, and saying prayers. When the difficulties of pastoral life arise I remind myself that there has been a long line of faithful servants that have gone before me and have faithfully led God’s people. When things are going well I ask myself if maybe I should be more courageous, bolder if I’m really calling God’s people to our God-call in our city?

Most of the time though is spent living alongside God’s people constantly being reminded to stay close to the well that is theology and allow the Holy Spirit to sanctify my meager attempts to talk about God, to share good news, and to lead God’s people faithfully: a practiced, public, pastoral, theology.
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Coming Soon: Ten Years as a Pastor: What I Wish the Very Young Man in the Picture Would Know