SpiritStirrer

sojourner, hearer, & follower of Jesus

Category: Community (Page 2 of 6)

Advent: No End to His Kingdom

"Annunciation" by Lawrence OP

We have been waiting, we’ve been preparing, and we’ve been counting the days. Now we are drawing near, salvation around the corner, I wonder if we are ready.

I don’t mean to be a cynic but I have a love/hate relationship with Christmas. I guess to be more specific I struggle with our cultural celebration of Christmas and how, in the lives and practices of Christian people, it has taken over our religious commemoration. I know I am not alone in all of this, and I don’t want to be another religious leader complaining about our cultural Christmas celebration. But I do struggle and I approach these Sundays of Advent with much reverence and care, hoping to hold the space for preparation, reflection, and realization.

Now we enter a final week. After hearing about an end that becomes a beginning, about one who prepares the way, about us not being the light, now we hear how salvation will be made possible:

‘Look! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father. He will rule over Jacob’s house forever, and there will be no end to his kingdom.’ Luke 1:31-33 (CEB)

Salvation made possible by one like us and unlike us. By one holy, promised, and whose kingdom will have not end. I needed to hear that this season. God’s kingdom still unfolding, Christ still making all things new, the Spirit . . .

. . . who made Christ’s body in Mary’s womb and keeps re-making the church…is a Spirit that is hovering – in the words of Genesis – over a new creation. –Archbishop Romero

A new creation is dawning: justice, peace, reconciliation, and love still unfolding, still available in the world, no matter how difficult, how distant it seems. Year after year, season after season, celebration after celebration, it keeps on dawning.

And it just so happens that this new creation is birthed through each of us. Each of us transformed by the Spirit, each of us ready to become agents of Christ’s in-braking in the world as we become the incarnation of Christ to our struggling world.

As I prepare for this last week of Advent I recognize more than ever our need for a savior. I am more thankful than ever for Jesus Christ and for Christ’s body the church. I am also deeply aware that there is little that I can do with the cultural celebration, but that I can continue to hold the space in my congregation, in my family, and in my own heart, for the return of the one who will make all things right.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

Till then I’ll continue to proclaim God’s kingdom, to call God’s people to the way of Jesus, and will remind myself of the words of Archbishop Romero,  that God’s Spirit is still “re-making the Church . . . hovering over a new creation.”

“No end to his kingdom” indeed!

Advent: We Are Not the Light

A man named John was sent from God. He came as a witness to testify concerning the light, so that through him everyone would believe in the light.  He himself wasn’t the light, but his mission was to testify concerning the light. John 1:6-8 (CEB)

As a pastor I often remind myself that I have been sent. Although in our tradition we are indeed sent to places of service by the bishop, I like to remind myself that in the end I have been sent to serve and lead by God.

It started long ago when my parents brought me forth and made the claim that I belonged to God. The prayers of a community of faith, the waters of baptism, and the many voices that helped me clarify my vocation. Each of these moments were “sent” centered as these varieties of people helped form me as a fellow “sent” one.

To believe in being sent is easy, what is difficult is to recognize why we are sent. I’ll have to admit that at times I have forgotten. My passion, my dedication, and my ego have gotten in the way. It is almost as if my mantra needs to constantly be “I am not the light, I am not the light, I am not the light.”

We are called, empowered, sent . . . to “testify to the light.”

It is easy to believe that we are indeed the light. How many times have I spoken of My church, My ministry, My calling? It has taken many wise sages in my life to remind me that is God’s church, God’s ministry; God’s calling in my life. These fellow sojourners have called me back to our shared vocation, to our baptismal call, to the light.

Here comes Advent again, getting us down from our high horses, pushing us to recognize our desperate need for God, getting us ready for God’s in-braking in Jesus Christ. Here comes Advent with its call to reality and new life. Here comes Advent with its proclamation of promises to be fulfilled.

This Advent I am keenly aware of our search for answers as a church. We hear the reports, the statistics, and calls to action. Many of our congregations are trying to survive, in the midst of economic uncertainty and a shrinking pool of resources.

I struggle with many of these conversations because at times they seem to be self-serving.  I hear a fear of our “demise” as a denomination, a fear of closing churches, a fear of losing “market share.” Could we say that we are living in the darkness, in the shadow? Could we say that we are groping for our way forward? Maybe a mantra is needed, “We are not the light, we are not the light, we are not the light!”

I pray that John’s proclamation helps us focus our attention to our light proclamation, to reminding God’s people of their God given mission, to tell the world that

“the people who lived in the dark have seen a great light.” Matthew 4:16a (CEB)

Advent: End Becoming Beginning

Who will put a prophet’s eloquence into my words
to shake from their inertia
all those who kneel before the riches of the earth –
who would like gold, money, lands, power, political life
to be their everlasting gods?
All that is going to end.
There will remain only the satisfaction of having been,
in regard to money or political life,
a person faithful to God’s will.
One must learn to manage the relative and transitory
things of earth according to his will,
not make them absolutes.
There is only one absolute: he who awaits us
in the heaven that will not pass away.

(Archbishop Oscar Romero)

On the eve of what is normally dubbed the “biggest shopping day of the year,” a day we reflect on the many blessings given to us, the economy continues to struggle. We are not alone; our struggles, it seems, are common with other nations in the world. Fear, uncertainty, and suspicion abounds. Many corners of our world are in the midst of war and strife, injustice abounding, power struggles widespread. From whom shall our help come?

The least everywhere find themselves living their everyday. While many others who could make ends meet just a year ago are finding themselves with less and less, with little hope ahead. Some of our citizens out of frustration and anger have taken to the streets to “occupy” places of power. Can we stand aside while the rich become richer and the poor poorer?

Our politicians are in a gridlock. Extremes abound and I can’t see any sign of helpful conversation and a way forward. I wonder if the “common good” will ever dominate our decision making.

This Sunday we’ll gather in the midst of uncertainty only days after many will spend beyond their means hoping to make this season meaningful. They have struggled through early mornings, long days, and crowds of people, all for the chance at the “great deal.”

For so many this is no season to be merry. So many have lost jobs, others have lost loved ones, still others have lost hope. It might be better to skip this all together.

In the church we might be tempted to get on the celebration bandwagon, while ignoring the plight, the hurts, and the reality of so many. We might ignore our own uncertainties, the ways that our ecclesial world is also changing. We could act like no end is needed and jump to the celebration of new beginning but the reality of life speaks to the great narrative of our faith in the promise that only in an end can a beginning be found.

There is no better time for Advent!

Advent comes to remind us that God’s story unfolds towards a renewed creation. The brokenness in our world will not prevail, God’s kingdom of justice and peace will have its last say. In the meantime we wait; we continue experiencing loss, despair, and pain. We continue experiencing ends and wonder if that is all there is?

During these special times of the year, seasons of so called “celebration,” we are more aware of ends experienced. Yet in surprising ways these “ends” can become agents of new life, of renewed relationship, of a transformed world. The story of faith seems to know these rhythms of life: Fruitfulness after a fall, an olive branch after a flood, a journey home after settling as strangers, a child in old age, empowerment after captivity, freedom after slavery, a word of the Lord in a strange land. . .

Here are the words of Jesus from the Gospel for this Sunday:

In those days, after the suffering of that time, the sun will become dark, and the moon won’t give its light. The stars will fall from the sky, and the planets and heavenly bodies will be shaken. Then they will see the Human One coming in the clouds with great power and splendor. Then he will send the angels and gather together his chosen people from the four corners of the earth, from the end of the earth to the end of heaven.

Mark 13:24-27 (CEB)

So today I pray for the in-braking of God in our world:

Come once more gracious God, shower us with your grace, and empower us by your Spirit so that we can become agents of your kingdom. Heal our brokenness; bring justice to our world; make love our way of life. Come, Lord Jesus, come make our endings into beginnings, come bring us your salvation!

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I’m excited to be part of the Common English Bible Blog Tour 2011. To find out more please LIKE the Facebook page http://facebook.com/LiveTheBible. You can also follow on Twitter @CommonEngBible #CEBtour

Daddy’s “God” Book

We promised to raise them in the faith . . . I still remember each of them as infants receiving the waters of baptism. I will never forget the promises we made that we would teach them “the way that leads to life.” So from the moment that they were born we have gathered as part of what we now affectionately call our “evening ritual.”

Bath, pajamas, tooth brushing (when they were old enough), and prayer. At first it was a simple blessing as we rocked them in the middle of the night. In those early days the prayers were mostly for us, for strength, for wisdom, for rest! From the beginning we used the prayers of the church, we sang the psalms, said the Lord’s Prayer, and used the ancient antiphon “Guide us waking O Lord, and guard us sleeping . . .”

As our oldest reached pre-school age we began to use the full Night Prayer service (the office of Compline). It became our time together as a family, a powerful way to end our day together. I began to pray Compline as a college student and has been a part of the closing of my day on and off since then, but saying it together has been more transformative than I would have ever thought.

My prayer book sits on the side table in the living room, that way its available for our evening gathering. The other night as our two year old came into the living room with his pj’s on, with his blankie and his George (stuffed monkey) on one hand, he headed straight to the side table, picked up the prayer book and said: “daddy’s God book, pray daddy, pray.” He proceeded to crawl on my lap ready to begin our time with God.

We were surprised. Somehow the rhythms of prayer and gathering were actually forming, shaping, and calling our children. God’s Spirit called upon them at their baptism doing a work in them, reminding them of who they are in light of our story of faith. We made a promise but in the end what is blooming is God’s promise to them, that they belong to God, that sin and death do not have the last word.

It has not always been easy. We have been busy, tired, sick, or just not in the mood. At times we have allowed so many other things to get in the way. But now, over seven years into it, we are grateful that we have kept at it, that we have gathered, that we have rehearsed the prayers of our faith.

Through our children we are learning that our faith is learned. That the way of Jesus is not automatic, that it does not happen, it does not take root, unless it is modeled and practiced. It turns out that learning to love God and neighbor is a lifelong task but that it starts with the life of prayer.

So, we’ll continue to gather around “Daddy’s God Book” and pray that they will continue learning the way of Jesus!

Passion & Possibility: Exploration 2011

How did you decide to become a pastor? I often hear this question as I meet people for the first time, especially young people. For me it was this inner voice that has been part of my life for a long time. So many times I tried to ignore it and walk in different directions. Now as I continue my pastoral work I am more aware than ever about the importance of the practice of discernment.

Discernment takes time, it needs a community, and should help us connect with our inner longings to live out our God given passions.

I am thankful for the community that Exploration builds. It provides the space to struggle with and discern what God might be up to in our lives. We gather from different places, we come with our dreams, visions, and hopes for the future. We come wondering what God could do through us. So many possibilities . . .

Much prayer went into my journey. Now I join many others to pray for you and for all of those who will gather to hear God’s voice at Exploration 2011 in St. Louis, MO, Nov. 11-13, 2011. I pray that God will speak, clarify, and direct. I pray for all the small group leaders, plenary speakers, and the staff. I pray for resources to travel and attend. I pray for leaders willing to make this possible. I pray for the many churches that have young people waiting to be told of their gifts for leadership and for those who have already called their own and are sending them out. I pray for the Holy Spirit to go ahead of us and sanctify our efforts to provide a place where God can be heard, seen, and experienced.

God is calling . . . come and see!

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FOR MORE INFORMATION & TO REGISTER CLICK HERE:

The Bible in 90 II

As many of you know last January I began a bible in 90 adventure. It was a transformative time as I engaged the great narrative of our faith. After I finished I tried to start over reading the bible in 180 but life happened, a move came, and transition interrupted the plan.

Tomorrow (September 1) is time to begin again and again remind myself of the great story (this time I’ll be reading from the Common English Bible). Is a perfect time to begin, kids are in school, boxes are unpacked, and we feel at home here in Baton Rouge. I don’t begin alone, this time my partners are not going to be on the blogosphere (although there might be a post or two about what I learn ;-)) instead I am joined by friends and colleagues the Rev. Katie McKay Simpson and the Rev. Drew Sutton.

We are going to read together, pray for one another and share what God is telling us along the way. We are going to be thinking and discerning together about our vocation, about the church, and about our discipleship. We are going to let the great narrative help us see what God is up to in our neighborhoods and our communities of faith. Is going to be a wonderful journey.

So stay tuned, there is no telling what the Spirit will say along the way . . .

2011 Calling Congregations Conference

In the summer of 2002 I had the great honor of being part of the Fund for Theological Education’s (FTE) summer conference. FTE gathered a group of young adults who were eager, passionate, and gifted to lead the church into its future. We gathered to meet each other and learn together. It was life-changing to know that we were not alone, that there were other young people like us who were hearing the call, and who were being called to lead with pastoral imagination.

We had arrived to that place because we had been blessed by congregations where our call was heard, clarified, and put into action.

In the close to ten years since that amazing summer I’ve had the great honor of becoming a pastor. Some of the dreams and hopes planted in me have grown and are bearing fruit, and others are still being watered and cared for, each congregation served adding to my pastoral identity.

It has become clear to me that our work as pastoral leaders can only go so far. Unless there are congregations ready, able, and with the tools needed to be about their work in their local communities, the church will not be able to be about its transforming work in the world. Congregations need to reclaim their identity as places of public proclamation, of teaching the faith, and of mutual care. They need to reclaim their identity as places where God calls.

What are the practices needed in order to sustain churches in their work? How can we help congregations become places where God calls people to deeper engagement in the way of Jesus, to leadership, to discipleship? How can our congregations become a place where people, especially young people, can hear the call to religious leadership?

The Calling Congregations Conference, sponsored by the Fund for Theological Education, provides the space for congregations to wrestle with the important questions that guide a congregation into a “deep dive into communal practices to care for courageous leadership, the next generation, and the church’s future!”

As readers of this blog know I care deeply about the church and its life together. I am thankful to be part of the FTE family and know that the practices that you will engage in and learn about in this conference will transform your leadership, your congregations, and your community.

Peace, Juan+

A Butterfly in the Heat: A Lesson on Reverence

GLORY be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

“Pied Beauty” by Gerard Manley Hopkins

©2011 Todd Rossnagel

It was a hot and beautiful afternoon and as we walked,  Katie (friend and colleague Katie McKay Simpson) noticed the most beautiful butterfly! It took her attention and as she pointed, it took mine. There it was, in some ways so out of place in the middle of an urban jungle.

Since then I’ve been thinking about being present. I’m sure that often in my struggle to get things done and be “successful” I miss beauty and the opportunity for awe and wonder. Duty calls and it grabs us so strongly, it demands our attention, and requires our devotion. In the meantime the butterfly goes by . . .

In her book, An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor, calls us to “reverence” as the “practice of paying attention.” She says:

“From [my father] I learned that reverence was the proper attitude of a small and curious human being in a vast and fascinating world of experience.” (19)

Small and curious we can be, if only we took the time. Unfortunately we spend so much time trying to be big and well informed, leaving little room for the possibility of the unknown, mysterious, and surprising to come and visit us.

No wonder so many of us struggle to pray, to listen, and to live in community. It all takes attention, intention; it takes the practice of being present, the practice of reverence.

Until I read Taylor, I would not have called it “reverence.” Then I thought about the title we give pastors, “the Reverend.” I have often struggled with it for I don’t consider myself worthy of reverence. Then I realized that we are to be agents of reverence. We are called to facilitate the ministry of paying attention.

In one of my favorite bible stories a blind man “hears” that Jesus is passing by. In the midst of the loud crowd Jesus “stands still,” hears him cry out and calls on him. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks, “. . . let me see again,” says Bartimaeus. The bible tells us in the Gospel according to Mark that “[i]mmediately he regained his sight and followed [Jesus] on the way.” (Mark 10:52b)

So let us stop and pay attention, pay reverence. Let us be surprised by butterflies on a hot and humid afternoon in the middle of the city. Let us be agents of this reverence so that many can find healing of body, mind, and spirit.

“Glory be to God for dappled things . . .”

Leadership as “Story Telling”

In his book One Hundred Years of Solitude Gabriel Garcia Marquez tells us the story of humanity, the humanity of his experience, the primal story of his people. The story is haunting, at times confusing, but it seems so real, the human condition lined out in each sentence, the possibility of grace always around the corner. It’s first lines sets us up for an adventure into our own story:

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. At that time Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point.

-Gabriel Garcia Marquez in One Hundred Years of Solitude

Each time I encounter writings like this I am reminded of the primal stories of the Christian faith. These stories are about re-membering, about home, about promises made and promises broken. At the beginning, like at the beginning of Garcia Marquez epic, the world is recent and we find ourselves having to point, in order to be made aware of the story that is being told.

I say all this to say that at the core of congregational leadership is story. More specifically story-telling and story listening. We are constantly re-calling, and recasting the great story and it’s pointing towards our world today. We too have a rootedness in this epic, our “Macondo” is the land of promise, our “Colonels” are the story tellers that narrate the story of faith.

We must take this story telling seriously. In conversations, in decision making, in sermon, and in teaching we are to constantly frame and re-frame in light of the great narrative of faith. Constantly pointing towards realities not yet named and asking the community of faith to take ownership and claim the unfolding future, the unexpected turn, and the surprise ending as part of God’s continued story in us and through us.

Leading as a story teller and story hearer can be difficult work. It takes patience, time, and a rootedness in the narrative. It also requires our constant immersion in other stories and those who tell them. From novels, to short stories, from songs to poems, from essays to blogs, the leader as story teller immerses him/herself in the narrative of everyday life. At each turn we as congregational leaders ask the God questions, the questions of the human condition, and begin to exegete these as part of our dealings with the sacred story.

Little by little, each story heard, read, and seen becomes part of who we are as congregational leaders. The stories become the narrative extension of the great story of faith: spoken, sung, & prayed. It is our task to connect the dots and call the community to see their own stories, their own narrative, to be a narrative of redemption, a narrative of grace, to be part of God’s activity in their life, even when God might seem absent, when God’s presence is not “felt,” when life seems to be out of control.

I am thankful for the stories that live in me, for those that I am honored to hold, and for the many that I am yet to hear. I am also thankful for the story I get to share each and everyday, a story that I am constantly pointing towards, a story that reminds the community of its name!

Leadership as “Decision Making”

©2011 Todd Rossnagel

I know I might be stating the obvious but leaders “make decisions.” Everyday a variety of choices and options come through our lives. These choices and options do not just impact us but as congregational leaders they impact people given to our care. Our decision making affects a whole community.

We make decisions everyday. Most of these might have little to do with what we normally might call “pastoral” responsibilities. These decisions are about roofs, staff sales calls, other leaders, opportunities, and room assignments.

Then there are those times when the “decision making” is serious. People’s livelihoods are at stake, the state of their inner lives is on the line, the reputation of the body could be damaged. In these cases decision making matters and not making a decision could be even worst than making the wrong one. The leader must lead, must decide, and must carry the burden of the community’s life together.

How does the leader make such decisions? Does “decision making” matter?

The Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola tells us:

By the grace of God, we are meant to recognize the influencing powers by evaluating those motions which are good so that we might let them give direction to our lives and those which are bad so that we might reject them or turn aside from them.

David L. Fleming from Draw Me Into Your Friendship – The Spiritual Exercises: A Literal translation & A Contemporary Reading

Decision making in the Christian community is not done alone. As a leader we lean on the practices of our community. We lean on discernment to help us “lean into” what God might be inviting us into through our decision making. The community story and its participants are also guides. The leader must surround him/herself with wise counselors and advisors to help “think through,” to assist in “testing the spirits,” to help “see God’s vision” in the decision making.

It is easy to want to do it alone, to carry the entire burden and to desire to be the savior through our decision making.

It is also easy to not want the burden of the decision making. To hide, put off, minimize, or ignore. Here we wish it would go away or we ask another to make the decision for us.

Both extremes negate the power of the Spirit that moves in each of us and in the community we call the church; the power that connects us to one another and has been called upon the ordained for the task of leadership in the Christian community. The power of the Spirit gives us the wisdom to evaluate the spiritual motions in the everyday decisions of pastoral ministry.

Decision making matters! I am learning to lean on the Spirit, to continue praying for clarity and to be willing to engage those “wise sages” that form the inner circle of my relational life. I am learning to test the spirits and make decisions with confidence, boldness, and humility.

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