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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!

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

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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!

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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!

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New Every Morning

For the last three weeks, we have heard about the connections between our Christian faith and politics. We reminded one another about the political dimension of our faith, its call to common good, the flourishing of all creation, and the care of the most vulnerable.  We have also heard the call of Jesus to be the blessed ones of the kingdom who graciously live humbly, compassionately, and peacefully.

The purpose of our conversation was to prepare ourselves for the coming election. To discern what it meant to vote based on our Christian faith. I spoke of my own set of values that guide my own decision making, these are aspirational and recognize that no matter the candidate or their party that all are flawed, none are perfect, all will fail at some point, none will bring the kingdom. Also recognizing that some can and should strive for the kingdom we proclaim.

Humility, Compassion, and Peace, these virtues guide . . .

These virtues are guided by the promises we make at our baptism:

On behalf of the whole Church, I ask you:

Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?

Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?

Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the Church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races?

The baptismal covenant calls us to live in this way by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit called down upon us at our baptism and sustained in us through the sacrament of Holy Communion.

 

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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.

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In Memoriam X

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Dear Garrett,

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 that calling that I’m unable to live into without your intercession and the Spirit’s power.

A few months 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. There was this peace that I felt 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.

I’ll see you at the great feast!

Peace & Love, J+

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The Church Gathers: GC2016


Each Lord’s Day the body of Christ gathers. We sing songs of praise, hear a word proclaimed, and gather around table. Each week we remember our identity, our call, and our mission. Each time we gather we are gathering with the people of God in all times and places. But often it is easy to think that our gathering is only about those that are present in our particular community at a particular time.

Gathering at General Conference 2016 is a needed reminder of the scope and gift of a global church.

Being such a diverse community is beautiful but it comes with many challenges. Different cultures, customs, languages and different ways of telling and living the story of Jesus. This requires a deeper and more patient listening, a purposeful and intentional decision to make room for conversation, silence, and clarification.

It also requires our willingness to listen to the Holy Spirit in this place. The Holy Spirit invoked by our praise, thanksgiving, and table sharing. The Holy Spirit that makes us one people through our baptism. A people united by our call to be agents of God’s reign of peace, justice, and love.

As we begin my prayer is that we live into our prayer that God’s kingdom will come and God’s will be done. Here in Portland, in Louisiana, around the world, as it is in heaven.

Stay tuned . . .

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The Bishops Speak: GC2016 Episcopal Address


One of the highlights of every Annual Conference is the Episcopal Address. The time when our chief shepherd, teacher, and overseer inspires us, convicts us, and reminds us of our identity as God’s people. As we gathered this morning in Portland as a General Church, it was not any different.

Bishop Gregory Palmer from the West Ohio Area delivered a stirring call for unity. Unity through humility, confession, and common mission. Unity through repentance, care for the other, and a common humanity. Unity through re-membering our baptism, our shared worship, and our encounter with Jesus Christ at table.

For me the key moment came when he reminded us that:

“Our credibility and integrity are suspect if we get all the words right but our behavior has little resemblance to our words.”

In his book Integrity, Dr. Henry Cloud reminds us that integrity is not just about being honest but about being a person “with integrated character.” A person whose words, actions, and intentions match one another, a person that “possesses the awareness that it is not all about him or her and the ability and willingness to make the necessary adjustments to the things that transcend him or her at any given juncture.”

As I heard Bishop Palmer speak I was convicted. I realize how often in my desire to follow my call I easily dismiss the other and how often I am unwilling to do the hard work that listening to each other and life together requires. I was convicted of how difficult it is to live a life of integrity, being aware enough to recognize that is not all about me, my personal opinions, or my personal belief system.

As we continue in conversation across our global church the call to humility and unity is a call to integrity. This call is difficult but we serve the God who calls us to be a new creation, whose Spirit lives within us, giving us what we need to live life together in ways that lead to life. A God who continually calls us to conversion.

I pray that we are open, that our body has been convicted, that we not only heard Bishop Palmer speak to those that we disagree with, that we let his words about our witness inspire us to pay attention to the ways that we live life together in these days.

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Discernment: GC 2016


One of the continued conversations here is around how a body discerns. How do we hear each other? What does it mean to listen to each other? What happens when we disagree? What does it mean to discern across the many cultures found here in this body? How has the Christian tradition practiced discernment?

I could spend the rest of the day asking more questions. Many of these do not have simple answers. Being in this space is a humble reminder that often my perspectives, values, and worldview are so limited by my own story. It is also a reminder that we must have these conversations as we continue to find ways to live life together.

I believe that the best place to reclaim the practice of listening, conversation, and discernment is the local congregation. Let us make spaces beyond our echo chambers, spaces where we acknowledge our common humanity, spaces where we can share life together.

Discernment is a key practice of our life of faith as we tune our souls to the voice of the Holy Spirit for us individually and for our communities of faith. It seeks to shape our souls to God’s desires, wants, and will. It means that we are able to put aside our personal preferences, our opinions, and prejudices. It means that we learn to listening to God’s voice in one another as we share stories of life and faith, especially as we read scripture together. It means that we take a breath and take an opportunity to look our lives and life together from the balcony, where the weeds no longer distract our view.

I believe that the more that we practice discernment in our local communities, the more that we practice communal discernment, the better we’ll be able to handle legislative matters in our life together. Let’s practice hearing one another as we gather around table for dinner with our families, let us practice hearing another over a cup of coffee with a friend, neighbor, or co-worker, and let us practice hearing one another as we share testimony of God’s work in our lives.

As the pastor of Grace Community UMC in Shreveport, LA I am committed to creating an atmosphere — a culture — of discernment, conversations, listening, and respectful dialogue among our congregation and from that congregation to our families, neighborhoods, and beyond!

I can’t wait to return to Shreveport and live into this way, another 8 days to go. There’s no telling what the Holy Spirit might tell me next!

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Sin, Humility, & Mercy: GC 2016


I am a sinner. I do things that I should not do and leave things undone that I should do. Often I only consider myself when making decisions, when engaging others, and when speaking about God. The fruit looks inticing, God might not be trustworthy, my selfish desires often convince me that there is nothing wrong with me following my every whim. I look around and again I am shocked at my capacity to be an agent of brokenness, hurt, and division.

The more stories I hear, the more I pay attention around me, the more I recognize that I am not alone in my brokenness, that all creation seems to be groaning for wholeness. All of creation bound, in need of freedom, in need to be redeemed.

I am thankful that God chose to provide a path to our redemption. It was an risky path, one that required taking on our human form. Choosing a messy holiness (a messy set apartness) instead of choosing perfection, cleanness, neatness, and power. As Paul tells us:

Though He was in the form of God,

He chose not to cling to equality with God;

But He poured Himself out to fill a vessel brand new;

    a servant in form

    and a man indeed.

The very likeness of humanity,

He humbled Himself,

    obedient to death—

    a merciless death on the cross!

So God raised Him up to the highest place

    and gave Him the name above all.

So when His name is called,

    every knee will bow,[a]

    in heaven, on earth, and below.

And every tongue will confess

    “Jesus, the Anointed One, is Lord,”

    to the glory of God our Father! 

Philippians 2:6-11 (The Voice Bible)

Our conviction about our “bent to sinning” and the recognition of our brokenness, should be the catalyst for our growing in humility. Our inability to make our selves whole, our inability to manufacture transformation, our inability to end the enmity that plagues our world, should convict us again and again of our dependence on God and our commonality with one another. It should push us to a willingness to come alongside the other, listen to their story, and begin to build community,  a beloved community, a community of saints and sinners. A community willing to do what God has done again and again, giving power away, being poured out, dying again and again to self while being born again and again to new life, whole life, abundant life.

This morning Bishop Sally Dick (you can read her sermon here) called us to “Go, learn mercy.” Mercy coming from our encounter with it, from our humble recognition of our need for grace. She stirred us up, made us uncomfortable, and challenged us to stop obsessing about the other’s sin and to begin to pay attention to ours. She called us to a willingness to enter a messy holiness so that we as a body could experience salvation.

As we continue in conversation as a church I recognize that this time together can be sanctifying. Us learning to hear each other, us making space for one another in the midst of disagreement, us learning to enter the messiness of our lives (in the messiness of our sin) and humbling ourselves, offering ourselves mercy, and learning to grow in God’s love in spite of disagreement.

The practice for this kind of sanctifying life begins in our local congregations. Can we make spaces where our brokenness is acknowledge, where humility is modeled, and where mercy is practiced? Can we learn to listen and learn to talk to one another in ways that respects the other’s dignity? Can we practice disagreeing with one another in ways that do not question the other’s motives? In ways that does not seek to convince, persuade, or prove wrong?

Broken people, humbly learning mercy and practicing God’s messy holiness . . .