SpiritStirrer

sojourner, hearer, & follower of Jesus

Category: Spirit (Page 1 of 3)

And With Your Spirit

Ritual is the way we (learn to) believe with our bodies.
James K.A. Smith in Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works

There were no announcements, no instructions, no words of welcome, and no introductions. We gathered, called by the melodious sounds of music. We settled into our places, hushed, by a few chords on the instrument. Before we knew it, we were worshipping.

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Abbey Church at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Benedict, Louisiana

I’ve been to mass many times. Parishioner’s family funeral, weddings, and the occasional “stop” to worship. I love the worship rhythms of this ancient tradition, its sensuality, earthiness, and aesthetic. I love how those around me know by heart the movements, gestures, and words. I love how you can “sneak in” and still feel part of what is happening, even if you don’t know the choreography.

I am not saying that it is perfect. Sitting in Mass reminded me how thankful I am that our tradition includes women as leaders. I also longed to partake of the Eucharist alongside my brothers and sisters. For the un-initiated it could be intimidating: with its movement, responses, and gesturing. And there are a series of other important theological differences that make Wesleyan Christianity my home.

In the end I’ll have to say that from the moment I entered the space — with its smell of incense, the baptismal waters, the gathered community kneeling as they prayed — I began to be transported into God’s presence.

I wish those of us in the protestant tradition would lean more towards this kind of kinetic aesthetic. I think at times we are too “chatty,” explaining too much, acknowledging too much, and moving too fast. We leave little room for silence and we certainly struggle with using our bodies.

It is our bodies that open the door for the holy to shape us into a sanctified people. It is our bodies that move us into a life of discipleship. Theologian James K.A. Smith tells us:

[P]ractices — communal, embodied rhythms, rituals, and routines that over time quietly and unconsciously prime and shape our desires and most fundamental longings.

We need these movements, silence, and common language to fully experience God’s transformative presence. Our ministry of hospitality should extend in worship as we “teach” each other what it means to worship in this place, at this time.

Our Christian tradition is rich with ritual, movement, and embodied practices. Our Wesleyan heritage is rooted in an experienced grace, through sacrament, through looking over one another in love, through study and reflection on God’s word, and through worship on the Lord’s Day.

My prayer is that we find ways to move, to bow, to kneel, to raise our hands, to pray together, to hear God in the silence, to allow the smells and sounds to call our bodies to a posture of prayer. Our bodies becoming visible temples of the Holy Spirit.

Making Home Again . . .

The house embodied for him the general blessedness of his life, which was manifest, really indisputable. And which he never failed to acknowledge, especially when it stood over against particular sorrow.

Marilynne Robinson in Home

It is truly amazing how quickly time goes, and how different life can be in the blink of an eye. We hear this often in times of tragedy, when those affected can’t believe that life has taken a turn. We also hear it in times of struggle when we are trying to make sense of all that is going on around us.

In our life this kind of reflection comes as part of our vocation. Time flies indeed, an in a moment everything can be totally different. Adjusting to the new normal, and settling into it is an important challenge in our lives.

A year ago we were sitting comfortably in our home in Ragley, LA. We had “settled in” living into the patterns of life there and in some important ways becoming a part of the people there, we chose to let life unfold in those ways. Then we came here to Baton Rouge and once again made a decision to “make home again,” to settle in, and become part of the people here, choosing to let life unfold in whatever way it would.

At times it seemed life settling in would never happen, like life as we knew it would conspire against us and not let us change. But we kept at it, we kept living as though this was home and little by little it has truly become that, and quicker than at any other time before.

This year there has been much learning about our life together. Our family has navigated through this transition and we’ve had to learn new ways of living our life. Surprises have come, unexpected realities have surfaced, disappointments have visited us, but we have carried on making home. At each turn we have grown as people and as a family.

This past week we headed on a vacation to Shannon’s grandparents in Kentucky. It was an important journey as Shannon’s mom and dad, brother, and niece, and nephews, traveled up to gather and spend time with “Papa Gene” and “OtherGrandmommy.”

One morning as we were getting ready to head back to the home-place I looked up and saw the sign that said “Home is Where Your Story Begins.” It grabbed my attention as many of those things do and I have spent the last few days thinking about that . . . home, stories, and beginning.

I can venture to say that for us “home” is where we are, together, no matter the geography. Each time our story begins again, a new chapter of the anthology of our life, a continuation, and a new beginning all at once.

It strikes me that this is the way that our spiritual life works also. We must “make a home” again and again in the way of Jesus. At times our own way, our own propensity to sin and death seems to conspire against us, growing in love is difficult work. But we must keep at it, rehearsing our new life, desiring to make life with God our new home, making home in God again. Our story finding a new beginning point, a new narrative, a different center.

As this year of “making home again” comes to a close we look forward to God’s unfolding for us in this new year. We are thankful for what God has done, for the blessings of this year, for the growth in our life together, and for the new home, new friends, and new community of faith that has received us, allowing us to be part of  their unfolding story. There are some things we hope to accomplish in this new year, these are not really “resolutions” as much as they are goal and dreams. We look forward to my sister’s wedding in a few weeks, to Shannon’s return to grad school in the fall, we look forward to celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary in May, and to our continued ministry at St. John’s UMC.

We know that surprises will come, that unexpected realities will surface, and disappointments will visit us. We’ll just keep on “making home,” letting our story unfold, trusting God’s presence and power along the way. I’m thankful that we serve a God who allows us to “make home again.”

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To know more about our journey read my “Reflections on Leaving” series here & my “Pastoring Squyres UMC” series here.

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: Salvation’s Way Prepared

The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, God’s Son, happened just as it was written about in the prophecy of Isaiah:

Look, I am sending my messenger before you.

He will prepare your way,
a voice shouting in the wilderness:

“Prepare the way for the Lord;
make his paths straight.”

John was in the wilderness calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins. Everyone in Judea and all the people of Jerusalem went out to the Jordan River and were being baptized by John as they confessed their sins. John wore clothes made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey. He announced, “One stronger than I am is coming after me. I’m not even worthy to bend over and loosen the strap of his sandals. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Mark 1:1-8 (CEB)

Last week I struggled with endings that become beginnings. It struck me that this season of Advent, if taken seriously, could truly prepare us for God’s repeated in-braking in Jesus Christ. Each Advent reminds me of my own need for salvation and the need of the world, of all of creation. The reality of an end, of all that is not right in the world, causes me to pay attention to the ways that God’s kingdom is birthing forth a new beginning; just like God promised.

Soon it becomes evident of how difficult it is to take that step. The narrative of faith reminds us time and time again that human nature prefers the familiarity of slavery and exile to the uncertainty of freedom and home. Those that came to John came to the wilderness, obviously they wanted something, needed something, so they came. “Change your hearts and lives,” he proclaimed. But as this passage nears a close we hear more uncertainty, “One stronger than I am is coming after me.”It is good to know that the way of salvation has been prepared; God’s own initiative at work long before we become aware. The prophetic words from Isaiah were a call to return home from exile. God was indeed making a way, preparing the path, no stumbling blocks would be left, and no excuses could be found. God making it possible, the people of Israel just needed to follow the path.

On Sundays I stand before my congregation with the goal of proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. Like the writer of the gospel according to Mark, I too recognize that what I am to proclaim has been at work from long ago. The words that I say are a repetition of the great narrative of our faith. Yet each Sunday I am amazed at how difficult it is to recognize our need to walk away from our “slavery to sin and death” into the freedom of God’s grace.

The way has been prepared. Advent guarantees that we know that year after year. The way has been prepared because a way was needed, because we are not to stay in the comforts of exile and slavery, because God wants us to be freed to enter into the work of God’s kingdom.

May this season be a one where we “change our hearts and lives,” a season where we recognize our slavery to sin and death and accept the freedom that God offers to us. May we in recognizing that freedom work diligently by the power of the Spirit to be preparers of the way so that all of creation can experience the final consummation of God’s kingdom as revealed by Jesus Christ; Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!

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

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+

Embodying the Practices

It seems like talk of “practices” is popular again. People and groups both inside and outside the church are re-discovering that our faith is not just about beliefs or intellectual affirmation but about a way of life, a way of living, that connects us to one another and to God. These are not in and of themselves “salvific.” In other words, practices for practices sake, for getting our own spiritual fix, are not transformative, are not converting. But if we engage them with the purpose of connecting with and being transformed by God, then we are living their purpose in our lives.

We have been blessed in our time here to have an opportunity to be grounded, rooted, and founded in the practices of life together. We have committed to creating spaces to explore vocation as a community, to ask self-awakening questions, to reflect theologically on ourselves and our community, and to envisioning and enacting the next faithful steps. These are deep and important commitments that we have made, commitments that if kept can change the face of the communities of faith that we are leading and will lead.

To embody these practices means to engage them to such an extent that they become part of who we are. They no longer serve as checklists in our life together, or requirements for faithful conversation, or program for a new way forward. Instead we become the space makers for faithful listening, intentional speaking, growing self-awareness, and passionate makers of the destiny that God is unfolding for ourselves, our congregations, and the community around us.

Embodying requires us to live actively. We can no longer make excuses, skirt responsibility, or blame other. We must become active participants of our own baptismal call to be about God’s kingdom in the world. To be “called” is to acknowledge that the divine is still creating, renewing, and transforming. To “practice” is to try again and again, no matter how many times we think we have failed.

As we have gathered in this city we have been forced to embody what we proclaim. We have entered with care into a space that groans with new life. We have been able to hear stories, to ask the questions, and to reflect on how our story, relates to the story of this city, and to God’s call for the renewal of all that is broken, all that misses the mark, all that necessitates renewal.

I pray that we carry this way of living and believing when we go from this place. Let’s embody, let us not fear, let us proceed boldly into the enacting of God’s kingdom through the people called the church.

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Originally appeared in the Fund for Theological Education “Next Narrative” Blog.

The Promise of Pentecost

When we gather for Pentecost Sunday we gather to celebrate the coming of the Spirit. Some call it the birthday of the church. On that day the scared, weary, and timid believers became bold, strong, and vocal about the story of Jesus. On that day they received the promise that Jesus had made to “be with us always.”

Two thousand years later we still celebrate this important event in the life of the Christian church. We dress the church in red and remember the coming of the Spirit with tongues of fire, in wind, in the baptized people. We gather around the Lord’s Table and are reminded that time after time at that table we ask for God’s Spirit to be out poured on us so that we can be the body of Christ for the world.

There has been much talk in United Methodist circles about the death of the church. Charts have been drawn, reports have been written, recommendations have been made. The situation at first glance does not look good. Many in the church today are scared, weary and timid. Can we find life again? How can we be fruitful again? Where is life in the midst of this decline?

In our world we have seen the aftermaths of natural disasters and the continued prize of wars being fought. We turn on the television, look at the news on the Internet and see the condition of people around us and wonder what we can do? We ask ourselves if our faith has anything to say? Does our message resonate? Once again we are made silent by mounting struggles in our world today.

Maybe we in the church today are not so different from those disciples in that upper room. We too have walked with Jesus and have been witnesses to the power of God’s kingdom in people’s lives. We too have been sent to be proclaimers of the message of God’s love. We too have gathered around a table and heard the message of Jesus to do what he did, to love the way he loved. Yet, in spite of all that we have witnessed, we are left wondering what to do next in a changing and complex world.

Enter Pentecost with its promise of new life. Maybe we should call on God’s people to gather in prayer and supplication on that day. To ask for the promise, to plead for God’s promised Spirit to come down upon us and give us passion again, make us strong, to give us boldness. Let’s call the church to take seriously the call that we give the Spirit Sunday after Sunday when we gather around the great table and give thanks. The call that the bread that we break and the wine that we pour becomes for us spiritual food, the sanctifying presence of God for the life of the world.

May this Pentecost Sunday be a turning point in the life of our church. Let us be given ears to hear in the languages spoken in the world today, let us see tongues of fire on our brothers and sisters as sign and symbol that in spite of our differences we are one. Most of all may we not fear any longer, nor panic, nor hide, instead let us move with boldness into the unknown, into the surprise that is God.

Come Holy Spirit, Come Holy Spirit!

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This post originally appeared June 8, 2011 on the Spanish Portal of umc.org under the title “La Promesa de Pentecostés

Thoughts on The Episcopal Address 2011

Bishop William W. Hutchinson, Louisiana Area

Each year we wait eagerly for words of wisdom, support and challenge from our Episcopal leader. From the beginning of the church people have been set aside for the work of oversight of God’s people, the church. The nature of this office is apostolic, which means that it has its roots in the sending out of people into the work of proclamation.

The address is one that seeks to highlight our past year and give us words for the year ahead. This “proclamation” seeks to make “apostles” of all us who are hearers in this place.

Katrina and Rita, the two hurricanes of 2005, forced the Louisiana Conference to begin to look at ministry in new ways. Change is always difficult but in times of crisis change is forced upon us and we are able to look at things in different ways. As people were displaced and new communities began to return we realized that a new way of being the church was needed. This new way was not just needed in the New Orleans area and in southwest Louisiana, but in our whole state.

Six years later we have begun to live into this new day. As Bishop Hutchinson told us we must innovate, we must take risks, we must move in decisive ways. This is not easy to do, our tendency is to want everything to remain the same, but we must do so if as the Bishop said, “our goal is to be a more effective movement for the cause of Christ!”

This kind of movement is a movement of all the people of God. The bishop reminded us that God’s people, the laity, are not being asked to “be followers of clergy,” but “to be complete partners in a new direction.” All of us together, all of us as disciples of Jesus, living into our baptismal calling to be about the transformation of the world.

The more I hear about a new day, I keep on thinking that transformation of the world takes a commitment to our own transformation into the way of Jesus. It requires not a new initiative or new call. Instead it requires a re-commitment to our baptismal calling, a recovery of the Wesleyan of discipleship with its bands, classes and societies, and a renewal of our commitment to to works of justice.

We hear much talk today about death, decline, and survival. The United Methodist Church has to face some important realities. We cannot do things as we have done them before, we cannot fund things in the ways we have funded them before, we cannot continue to do things because we have always done them that way. These issues are important realities that we must face and we must speak about.

Yet, as I contemplate the future of the church I do so with hope!

God is doing some amazing things in communities all around us. Everyday we encounter people in need of good news, with people hungry to hear about God. Are we ready to dig deeply into our discipleship? Are we ready to commit ourselves to the way of Jesus not just in the four walls of the church but as the sent out, baptized, sealed by the Spirit, people of God?

Let us raise our heads, lean on God’s Spirit, trust our baptism, and know that we are people of Resurrection, that we are a people that have found life out of death, that we are a people who have been called to leave our places of worship to let all people know of God’s love!

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