The Well Played Life: Real Player

The Sacrament of the Last Supper by Salvador Dali

The Sacrament of the Last Supper by Salvador Dali

It is difficult to speak about the spiritual needs of thirty to sixty years olds. The main reason for the difficulty is that I am in the age group (36) so the places of struggle are very real. To think about work as play, about the importance of repenting from workaholism, and remembering our call to die to self so that we can live is way too close to home.

Then I am reminded that is not a sermon if it has not convicted me first. This week has been filled with much convicting and a call to new life!

“But while in the First Age we are nurtured within a community of faith, in the Second Age, we become full members of that community as Truth makers, Beauty stakers, and Goodness sakers.”
Len Sweet in The Well Played Life: Why Pleasing God Doesn’t Have to Be Such Hard Work, 140-1.

Truth and truth-telling is a significant value in my life. From early childhood I remember my father reminding me of the importance of telling the truth, later becoming the importance of character, integrity, and a good reputation. These are virtues that are formed in us over time and I cannot think of a time when they are more severely tested than during these years of family, career, and social mobility. What strikes me from Len’s challenge is that we are not just to be truth-tellers but truth-makers. We are to be a people who are living in ways that help communicate through our actions the truth’s of our life; a life centered on the joy of Christ.

A few weeks ago I spoke about my own encounter with beauty. It was a reminder that God uses beauty to awaken us to the reality of God’s kingdom. To be a beauty staker we must develop a theological imagination, we must grieve for the ways that the world does not reflect God’s peace. Beauty sustains our hope for a better day, for the in-braking of God in the world once more. Awareness of beauty is difficult in the midst of life. I think this might be why Len tells us to be “stakers” in beauty. We must claim it, expect it, own it, in order to experience it.

Goodness is one of God’s attributes. Through the Spirit we too can model goodness in the world and behave for the sake of goodness. Yet even though we are capable through the Spirit to be about goodness in the world and in our lives it seems so difficult. Yet time and time again we are called back to it. The founder of the Methodist movement, John Wesley, called the people called Methodist to be about “doing good.” This is not simple do-goodism, instead is an attitude of loving kindness in our actions everywhere and always.

I am calling my age group to a time of self-reflection this weekend. To consider what it means to live a joy-filled life in Christ. Remembering that what matters most in our lives and what brings the most joy is the relationships, the memories made, and the way that the Spirit shapes us through the journey called life.

Can’t wait to share a word with you this weekend!

A Well Played Life: Novice Player

photo (18)I will admit that I’ve had to learn to play. I was a serious child and teenager. As a college student folks would tell me that I had an “old soul.” I will give much of the credit for my transformation into a more playful self to my spouse Shannon, who helped me learn to relax, to laugh, and to be more spontaneous. I will give credit to my children who have allowed me to be silly and remind me when I am taking myself too seriously.

“We were created to have a sense of play imprinted on our souls . . . [b]ut somewhere along the path, our native sense of play and story gives way to an overlay of words and work.”
Leonard Sweet in The Well Played Life: Why pleasing God doesn’t have to be such hard work, 93.

Until I read Sweet’s book I did not think about the possibility that a sense of play has been “imprinted on our souls.” That somehow play and playfulness is part of God’s image and of the dynamics of God’s communal nature. This might explain the walks in the garden, pillars of cloud and fire, and the constant reminders of peace.

It is risky to play. We’ve been accustomed to production, to always being on the go. Playing puts at risk productivity which in turn puts at risk our sense of worth to the world and even to God. Yet it is play that opens up our imagination allowing us to see possibility and gives us the opportunity to try new things.

In trying new things through play we learn to deal with failure and disappointment. We learn to persevere! Like the toddler learning to walk or the teenager learning to drive it takes time and failure to accomplish great things.

The “novice player,” as Sweet calls ages 0-30, is ready to learn. This hunger gives us the opportunity to help young people learn to live a playful life and a prayerful life. We do this by modeling the joy of discipleship. Playfulness is contagious so as we tell the stories of faith in word, song, and gesture we pass on the meaning of a well played life to a new generation. Prayerfulness is taught by living a prayerful life with its rhythms of talking and listening, always with the goal of seeking God’s will.

Finally as people grow from learning to play to learning to pray they set the tone for seeing life as pilgrimage. Seeing life as pilgrimage recognizes that in the everyday of life there are markers that help us see and experience God. Pilgrimage requires letting go and being fully present at each step of the journey. Pilgrimage recognizes that no matter how many times we get lost our destination is secured in our home in God.

Play, prayer, and pilgrimage all help us see our lives as part of the tapestry called faith. In this tapestry we are able to be rooted in story and play not in words and work. A well played life indeed!

The Eyes that Have Cried

10371371_10152745197114050_343981751106196093_nI’ve been silent, maybe silent for too long. It is easier that way, at least it is easier for me, who is not close to the source of so much pain and aguish. As a religious leader I should know better, I should know that if I don’t speak then who will? If I do not lament and call God’s people to do the same then, who will?

Then I’ve thought of the times when I have felt in danger because of the color of my skin or my “funny” last name. The times when I’ve wondered if our “mixed children,” would find hospitality or would be rejected. The times when jokes were shared and glances exchanged that clearly indicated that I was not welcomed.

Now that I am often in a privileged position it is easier to stay quiet. I know that I should not, for me, for my kids, and for communities of color everywhere.

I watch in pain and a sense of hopelessness. I know that violence begets violence, but have I raised my voice as one who is convicted? No. Maybe because as I close in on a decade of pastoral ministry I am tired of seeing little change, in fact it seems that more than ever we are addicted to violence as a recourse.

I watch in pain and a sense of hopelessness. My stomach turns as we see another reminder of the deep seeded racism that plagues our society. In spite of all the so called advances people of color are still being targeted, labeled, profiled, and hunted.

I watch in pain and a sense of hopelessness. I read my Facebook feed and see news of a video with “proof.” Maybe I am not smart enough to figure out the connection. I thought that we were all innocent before proven guilty but when you are brown you should know better. Truth be told we are always guilty and we often do not have enough money to prove we are innocent. And if the latest struggles continues innocence or guilt will not matter because we are fighting for our lives!

I watch in pain and a sense of hopelessness. Quickly I recognize that a prayer comes to my lips:

“Deliver me from my enemies, O my God;
protect me from those who rise up against me.
Deliver me from those who work evil;
from the bloodthirsty save me.” Psalm 59: 1-2 (NRSV)

I pray for deliverance from the forces of wickedness that seek destruction. I pray that the cycle of violence finds an end, that justice will push its way through the brick walls of hatred and apathy. I pray that all of us examine our hearts, repent, and become agents of resurrection.

At times like this I am thankful for the saints, especially Archbishop Romero. There I find much hope, comfort, and call to action. In one of his sermons he reminds us that “There are many things that can only be seen through eyes that have cried.”

May God’s people become the eyes to our communities. Eyes of justice, reconciliation, forgiveness, and a call for repentance. Eyes that give sight to our collective grief and to the realities of privilege. Eyes that cry alongside those that for generations have been victims of dehumanization. Eyes that cast a vision of the New Jerusalem, where Christ promises to

“wipe every tear from [our] eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4 (NRSV)

Till then we must bear the pain and rehearse hope. Till then we’ll stand alongside and give sight. Till then we’ll call for justice and for peace! Maranatha!

This post first appeared on August 18, 2014 in Key Voices Blog

Six Weeks In: A Commitment to Fruitfulness

Grapes_growing_in_ValpolicellaIn the last few weeks I have often been reminded of the many ways that a congregation can make a difference in people’s lives. Our experiences of worship are uplifting, there is a genuine desire to welcome all who come, and the leadership of the congregation seems hungry and ready for what God has for us next. Conversations outside the worship space speak to our missional initiatives, small group ministries, and our commitment to raising a new generation of people in “the way that leads to life.” These are only some of the ways that we speak of fruitfulness.

In the gospel according to John chapter 15 we encounter these words from Jesus:

15”I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

Jesus has just finished reminding the disciples to be agents of peace, that to love is the greatest commandment, and that they will have a comforter, the Holy Spirit to help them live into this way of life. Fruitfulness is only possible if we are the branches fed and nourished together by Christ-self.

Commitment to fruitfulness means that we are committed to discipleship. If our efforts at growth, kingdom transformation, and mutual care are not rooted in our desire for all people to experience God’s salvation then we are missing the mark. You can read more about a commitment to discipleship here but for our purposes I will say that fruitfulness is an outgrowth of a discipled people.

Commitment to fruitfulness also means that we are committed to numerical growth. This growth is not to be the end in itself but instead it comes from our desire to share the good news with others–because we have experienced grace we want others to experience it–and because we have shared the good news with others then “the Lord adds to our number those who are being saved.”

Commitment to fruitfulness means that we are committed to tending and nurturing the vine that is Christ and nurture others as they are grafted into it. This means that we are committed to a worship life that helps all who come to offer their sacrifice of praise in ways that help them grow deeper and stronger through the story we call faith. It also means that we are constantly initiating pathways for all who enter our campus to find a discipling community that models the way of Jesus through accountability, mutual care, and loving service in the world.

Fruitfulness takes intentionality, accountability, and alignment. We must focus all of our resources–people, money, facilities–towards our congregational mission. We must also be willing to constantly assess through discernment, asking the question “How is it with the soul of our congregation?”

I am thankful for these six weeks . . . I continue dreaming, hearing, and visioning. But most of all I continue praying for all of us, the people called Grace Community, that we are guided by the one who continues to grow the vine of God’s kingdom!