I had a wonderful experience yesterday. I was blessed to have the opportunity to sit down with one of the individuals in the congregation I serve and spend some time in conversation. I LOVE doing that as you get to learn things about individuals when you sit face-to-face that you would otherwise never learn in larger groups. We spent the better part of an hour sharing thoughts and life experiences.
As we were nearing the end of our time together, the individual happened to mention she spoke another language. I got VERY excited because multi-cultural commitments are a huge piece of my practice of ministry. In fact nearly every month when I serve communion, I make a point of offering the liturgy in various languages as a way of embodying my belief that the Communion experience is - at its core - a global (or universal) experience. I would have never known about the individual’s linguistic gift, if I had not taken the time to sit down and get to know her.
The experience was yet another reminder that so often in our lives, we settle for getting to know one another in rather superficial ways. We hear a part of someone’s story and think we can fill in the rest. When we do that, however, we cheat ourselves out of the opportunity to get to know each other.
That’s exactly what happened in the passage I read today from the Gospel of Mark. In that passage, the folks in Jesus’ hometown only got to know Jesus superficially. They knew him simply as a carpenter, as Mary’s boy, and as the brother of James, Justus, Jude, and Simon. When it came to getting to know Jesus at a deeper level, however, Jesus’ neighbors fell flat on their faces. As Eugene Peterson noted in his paraphrase of Mark 6:4-5: “They tripped over what little they knew about him and fell, sprawling. And they never got any further.”
Maybe there are individuals in your life that you have not invested enough time and energy getting to know: individuals whose gifts and graces could be a HUGE blessing in your life if only you found time to get to know them. If that’s the case, I would encourage you to make some time this week and invite one of those persons to sit down with you for some conversation. You just might be surprised (and blessed by) what you learn.
Til next time…
When I was younger, I heard the old saying “Better the devil you know than the angel you don’t” – and had no clue what it meant. Then I began a career in human services, I began to figure out what the saying meant.
I remember the first time I worked with someone who had a long history of being involved in on abusive relationship after another. I couldn’t understand at first why anyone would go from one unhealthy relationship to another. I kept wondering to myself, “Isn’t one bad relationship enough?!”
Then I began to realize the dynamic that was at work in such situations. Often, people who are involved in abusive relationships arrive at such a point because they had painful relationships in their childhood. They sometimes don’t know the dynamics involved in healthy relationships. That’s why when one bad relationship ends; the person moves right into another bad relationship. That cycle might be all they know…
The first story in the passage I’m reading today from Mark gets at a similar dynamic. The story involves Jesus exorcising the demons from a man and sending the demons into a nearby herd of pigs. At first glance, you would expect that the people of the community would have been grateful to Jesus for helping someone from their area.
And for a brief moment they were.
Then the old tapes kicked in and they realized change was being thrust into their comfortable world. They weren’t ready for that. That’s why they felt compelled to drive the agent of change – Jesus – from their midst. They would rather have “the devil than knew than the angel they didn’t.”
Perhaps there’s an area of your life where dis-ease has run rampant: an area in which you’ve told yourself you’ve longed for change. If that’s the case, ask yourself, “Am I really ready for the possibility of healing, or would I rather hold on to the pain to which I’ve grown accustomed?”
Til next time…
There’s been a subtle shift that has occurred in the landscape in our faith communities. For many years, some folks in faith communities articulated their faith (and the positions their faith compelled them to take) using facts and statistics.
When we talked about the need for economic justice in migrant communities, for instance, how did we build our case? We resorted to statistics that talked about the scope of the problem and perhaps the ways in which we benefited from the labor of the migrant populations – hoping this sensitize people to this vulnerable population.
And when we talked about controversial issues like abortion, how did we build our case? Once again, we used statistics to show how some populations were denied access to health care and built a case why it was important for all people to have access to health care systems in all areas including reproductive health.
That approach may have been engaging, but often it failed to change people’s position.
And why is that?
We failed to change people’s positions because we forgot to engage another piece of them: their hearts.
The older I get, the more I realize how wise Jesus was in pointing all of us toward the method that is most effective in reaching folks and causing them to change their position. After telling the parable/story of the scattered seed, Jesus said: “But to those who can’t see it yet, everything comes in stories, creating readiness, nudging them toward receptive insight.”
And the author(s) of Mark later noted: “With many stories like these, [Jesus] presented his message to them, fitting the stories to their experience and maturity. He was never without a story when he spoke.”
The power of the story is that stories engage both head and heart.
I know it’s easier to use facts and statistics in communicating our beliefs and passions with others. It’s easier because we have something in front of us – buffering us from the possibility of pain and rejection if the other person does not respond the way we like.
Today, I would invite you to move beyond facts and statists and begin incorporating stories into your efforts to connect with others. While the sense of vulnerability in sharing your stories with others might seem frightening at first, you just might be surprised how much your story affects people in ways that facts and statistics don’t.
Til next time…
What I’m Reading Today: Mark 2-3
I’ve been walking on clouds the last two days since my installation service. I suppose that’s because the service was a wonderful opportunity to step back and realize the power of relationships that develop within a faith community. In today’s culminating words from Mark 3, for instance, Jesus has a chance to redefine people’s perception of family when he says, “Who do you think are my mother and brothers?.. The person who obeys God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” Sunday, I realized just how true that is. So today – in honor of my family at Woodland Hills (and in remembrance of my other family members in both Washington State and Colorado) – I share one of my new favorite videos from (yes, you got it) Glee that captures the essence of our relationship (at least from my perspective). The song title may not use the most pastoral language, but the chorus says it all: “Cause we belong together now, yeah; forever united here somehow, yeah; you got a piece of me and honestly – my life would suck without you.” I can’t help but giggle every time I hear the second verse too: “I know that I’ve got issues; but you’re pretty messed up too.” I guess that’s the foundation for mutual ministry :) Thanks everyone for making these places God has called me feel like … well … home... Til next time...
One of the greatest challenges progressive people of faith face is trying to figure out how to share our faith perspectives with the world. That challenge is understandable since a huge piece of who we are is about respecting the fact that there are different ways to approach our search for healing and wholeness. Our message, therefore, isn’t easily reproducible to quaint slogans.
So how then do we get the word out?
Well, ironically I’ve stumbled upon two resources the past few weeks that have helped me arrive at a clearer understanding of that very question. The first resource came from my Co-Dependents Anonymous Literature. In the section of the literature that deals with the 12 Traditions of 12 Step programs, the tradition reads: “Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion.” That wording captures perfectly the way we progressive people of faith can “get the word out”: attracting people by living lives of authenticity and integrity (not by promoting our faith through clichés and glossy brochures).
This leads to the second resource that helped me figure out how to get the word out: today’s passage from the Gospel of Mark. In that passage, the stories reveal a pattern about the way in which Jesus lived his life. When it came time to heal others (i.e. Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, the hoardes of people, and the leper), it is significant to note that not once did Jesus seek out individuals who were in need of healing. In each instance, Jesus waited for the opportunity for healing to present itself. And when it did, Jesus was ready. And when Jesus went to the rest of the villages to preach, did he set up shop in the center of the public square to impose his message on others? No, he went to the meeting places and spoke to those who were ready to hear. In other words, Jesus used the principle of attraction not promotion.
As you live your life today with authenticity and integrity, know that I give thanks for your life and all of the ways it is attracting others to seek out the God of love, compassion, and justice that they meet through you.
Til next time…
Yesterday was my service of installation as senior pastor at Woodland Hills Community Church. What an amazing celebration it was! It would have been impossible for the experience to be any more meaningful for me.
As I sat through the service, there was one thought that stayed with me throughout the day. That thought was this: ordained clergy aren’t the only ones who have a call. Each and every one of us has a call. In fact, I believe a huge piece of my call as an ordained clergy person is to help others find their call.
What gives me reason to believe everyone has a call?
Well, when I look at the call stories contained in the Gospels – stories such as contained in the passage from the first chapter of Mark that I’m sitting with today – I realize two things about calls. I’ll let you read the language of the call stories for yourself and then share the two learnings I pull out of them.
“Passing along the beach of Lake Galilee, [Jesus] saw Simon and his brother Andrew net-fishing. Fishing was their regular work. Jesus said to them, ‘Come with me.’”
And a few verses later:
“A dozen yards or so down the beach, he saw the brothers James and John, Zebedee’s sons. They were in the boat, mending their fishnets. Right off, [Jesus] made the same offer.”
Two things stand out for me in those stories. First, the calls were issued to regular folks like you and I. None of them had advanced degrees. None of them were particularly prominent. Second, the calls didn’t come in some special moment set apart from the rest of their lives. The calls came within the context of their daily lives.
So what are the implications for us?
The first is to open yourself to the radical possibility that you – like those first disciples and like ordained folks – have a call. And second, be open to experiencing that call within the context of your day-to-day life. In fact, your call might not be to drop everything and hit the road as it was in the case of the first disciples. It might be as simple as re-conceptualizing your current job/life circumstance so that you honor your role for what it is: a call.
Don’t hesitate to let me know if you’d like to explore the notion of call a bit further. I’d love to be one of the resources available to you as you come to embrace your call.
Til next time…