dark moments and ways forward

It has been a hard 36 hours.   Margo and I learned something a couple of days ago that potentially halts important plans that have been months in the making.    The news was not a bump in the road; it was a deal-breaker.   It could halt everything and potentially change the direction of our next few years.

The bad news involved circumstances and realities that are completely out of our control.   Hearing the news made us all of the sudden feel very vulnerable, victims of an impersonal world and other people’s bad decisions.  I wish I could share more details, but they are both complicated and personal.  Suffice it to say, what’s important here is that our very sense of security and self-determination was completely undermined.  It created a feeling of insecurity and dread that I feel still. The outcome is unsure and the feeling lingers.

I know others have been here.

We experienced this kind of loss of control over our lives before when Margo was first diagnosed with TTP in 2007.  We spent 30 days fighting for her life in an out-of-state hospital, racking up a bill we didn’t know would get paid.  This time, the circumstances were different.  But, the feeling of helplessness and insecurity were the same.  Emotionally and mentally, it was debilitating.   Everything was up in the air.  We felt trapped.  This was one of those moments when the flow of life, itself, was disrupted and you can question everything.

Everyone, I think, experiences these situations from time to time.  It can be from a death, unforeseen bad news, an innocent but bad decision, loss of work, break-up of relationship, loss of control.   Some live with the dark feelings of these situations chronically.  We live in a world where more and more of us are seemingly less and less in control.   Economic crisis, unemployment, divisive religious issues, shrinking churches, strained friendships, loss of security, increased isolation, hostile politics – no wonder we live in a culture that seems to perpetuate and profit from depression and escapism.   No wonder the airways are full of angry talk about security and freedom.   Along with trust and sanity, both seem to be so scarce these days.

Dark moments can hit from out of the blue or haunt us seemingly incessantly.  Few things can shake the foundations of faith like a loss of control in your life and an inability to see a way forward.  I’ve experienced that myself lately.  When this happens, many people either try to lose themselves in the busyness of immediate demands or others’ needs: going to work, hitting deadlines, focusing on getting kids to practice, keeping schedule, and making lunches.  Others lose themselves in other things: eBay, day trading, internet outlets like facebook, gaming, and online communities.  Not all are bad or destructive.   Connecting with others and healthy outlets can be a salve for getting through difficult feelings.  The ways to escape and channel the energy of dark times and their feelings of anxiety or insecurity are as many as the people who feel them.  Sometimes the darkness and feelings pass.  Circumstances change or we make our own adjustments.  Sometimes, the darkness lingers and is difficult to escape.  In either case, withstanding the difficult loss of control, helplessness, and insecurity is a passage of its own.  Faith, I think, plays an important role in keeping both our mental sanity and emotional flexibility, as well as strength and sense of peace.

One way people use their faith in dark times is to use faith, itself, as an escape.  This isn’t all bad.  It’s easy to suppress or counter dark feelings and chaotic circumstances by telling us God is in control or God will make a way.  This can be incredibly important.  But, it can also be a short cut and follow an incomplete understanding of God and faith in our lives.

In my view, the problem with turning to faith for escape is that it does not provide a new way forward.  It becomes an alternative – rather than a reason to face – reality.  The dark moments and feelings are real.  The situation that causes them are often real.  But, God and faith offer more than merely surviving dark moments by waiting out the situation in a bubble.  Again, this path forward isn’t always bad and sometimes necessary.  The difference is a matter of spirituality.  A simple way to make the distinction between an escaping kind of spirituality and using faith to move us forward into reality may be the difference between faith as belief versus faith as how we choose to live.

Of course, the distinction is real, but it represents a false choice.   Spirituality can mean separating beliefs from actions.  But actions usually aren’t separated from beliefs, conscious or unconscious.  Nevertheless, the distinction is helpful.  If faith is simply a matter of what we choose to believe, then believing God will turn things in our favor, restore our sense of control, or take care of us becomes one way you use faith.  We believe something despite our feelings and circumstances.  But, this kind of spiritual approach is very different than one that uses faith to face immediate reality, take it in, accept dark moments of insecurity and our shaken sense of things.  Faith can be power in and into these moments of helplessness, not just go around them or survive them.

When the bad news came to Margo and I, at first I was extremely frustrated, even angry.  Because of my feelings, my thoughts raced.  Without thinking, I began to rant and blame.  I also immediately felt helpless.  “What are we going to do, now!?!?”  This question haunted me.  As long as it haunted me, a feeling of despair and helplessness set in.  In all reality, there wasn’t alot I could do except be patient and come to peace with alternatives I could not control, but I could face.

As I faced what might be, my difficult feelings compelled me to pray.  They were so real.  The loss of power and choices made me feel abandoned.  The situation reminded me of how much our sense of wellbeing and security in this world is based on our ability to make decisions, control the outcomes, follow our desires and seek (what we think is) our best interest.  When these are taken from us, the darkness of the loss is total and can feel equally unjust and debilitating.

Instead, however, I faced my feelings and my options.  I didn’t do it with cool confidence or grace.  I just refused to believe what my feelings wanted to say.  I was not abandoned; God does not abandon us.  I also knew faith wasn’t about being in control.  With all the tragedy and injustice in our world, God also may not be in full exacting control.  But, God’s power is also not a power we understand.  I know and trust God’s presence in all things – even darkness and tragedy.  Looking and expecting God in these concentrated moments of loss and seeming darkness is difficult, but also transforming.  It brought a peace the ways of the world couldn’t give me.

Prayer was a passage into humility, something my modern sense of power and control could not provide nor fully understand.  Nor, could it help me escape.  Accepting and taking in the humility, even humiliation, of my situation all was a profound feeling that helped me embrace what was happening.  All was not lost.   Salvation, whether here and now or in the hereafter, is not based on my own power to control my life & circumstances.   The substance of God was in present reality, not escape from it.  That’s where I found both myself and myself with God.   Together, I was able to find both peace and possibilities if things didn’t go our way.  The experience was transforming for me, and the future I was dreading.

I want to be clear about this.  This wasn’t a moment of “let go and let God.”  It was a moment of embrace, not letting go.  It was based on a spirituality and faith that God is in and amidst reality – not in flight from it.  The humility of it all was deeply grounding.  I emerged from the bad news and negative possibilities somehow more grounded, capable, alive and complete.  It’s something that is difficult to put into words.  It wasn’t just resignation or a change of mind.  But, it was also an experience that was incomplete without bearing my experience in testimony.

I’ve always been led to believe, by the Spirit I trust, that God’s passage in Jesus Christ is a passage of God from heaven in, to, and through our reality – not around it.  Jesus, on the cross, did not commit the great escape.  The only way we can believe he was the messiah, that we die with him and in him (like Paul), and that all creation is changed because of him is if we also believe that, somehow, Jesus came into the world and into its darkness.  All human reality came to a head and a turning point in his death on the cross and its humiliation.   In this passage, God, in Jesus, teaches us how to die and live.

I can only conclude that when Jesus says, “Bear your cross” and “Follow me,” Jesus does not point the way out of or around this world.   Discipleship and the cross are not a path or way around reality or escape from its dark moments, but a path to go through them – not alone.

In scripture, that’s where we find Jesus, Immanuel.   The only way to tell God’s passage from heaven to earth – for our sake – was to tell of God in sufficiently human terms.  Jesus was that human, who’s ministry and death bear all the marks of a real human life – birth, parents, temptation, struggle, calling, moments of embrace as well as betrayal, eventual humiliation and tragedy.  The point of the story is that God triumphs.  Jesus did not overcome to escape, but embrace and change reality.

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gospel = good news…for whom?

I was moved this week by an encounter I had at a grocery store.   I posted it on facebook.  An interesting discussion of Christians, ministers, and non-church-goers ensued.

I was at the store helping a church member and friend.   A disease was changing his life and his family’s.  He had not been able to work for three weeks due to this disease.  It made him chronically sick.  He was just starting to think about applying for disability.  His wife and four kids had run out of food.  The lack of income was beginning to cave in on them.  We were out at the grocery store getting food for the next week before some other aid kicked in.  The difficulty of the whole situation was really heavy on he and his family.  We talked about what was harder:  the emotional stress of the family’s financial crisis and no longer being able to work, or just suffering through the disease that was making it all happen.

Shopping at the store, I overheard another young woman near crying to a store associate.  She was a young mother.  All I heard of the conversation was this as I passed by filling our cart:  “…and the churches kept saying that they would only help out their own members.  I have three kids.   What am I supposed to do?…”  I immediately felt convicted by her words.  I am a full-time minister.  I was helping friends that were members of my church.  Even though they had not attended for a while, the situation they were in was not – and is never – the time to talk about how often they had been attending.   I had a relationship with them.   I care for them.  It had been years since we saw each other, but we shared a heartfelt connection.   But, what about this women at the store?    I thought about the verse in Luke:

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.”  (Luke 6:32-33)

This was the same passage in which Jesus teaches to give without expectation of return and to love our enemies.   This is the heart of Jesus’ gospel.

The women I overheard was now down the aisle.  I opened my wallet.  All I had was $20 in cash.  The $20 was neither guilt money or anything to get puffed-up about.  It was simply a matter conviction, a matter of principle.

I chased her down.  I gave her the $20 and said, “I’m a Christian.  I don’t believe churches should just look after their own.  It isn’t much, but please take this.”  I put it in her hand.   She received it.   No angels sang.  No crisis averted.  It was no great act of generosity.   It was simply a moment of awkwardness between strangers, but also a moment of graciousness.   Maybe not all churches and church-folk were the same.  Or, that’s what I hoped.  I walked away with a feeling I still can’t explain.

I get the arguments.  I’ve been a church administrator.  Church’s could not help anyone if they practiced no discretion in offering financial help.  But, can we justify restricting generosity to our own membership?  What do church’s say about Christ, Christ’s message, and God’s mission when they only support their own?   I think this is the deepest betrayal of the gospel, and I think Luke’s gospel supports that way of thinking.

On the facebook discussion about the experience of this young mother, there were several insights.  They came from good friends and ministers in the UCC as well as some ministers and volunteer pastors in Community of Christ.  One was from my friend Derek Sanders, who said that he is more interested in relationship than membership.  I believe Christ’s example is precisely that relationships are the fabric of the gospel and his ministry.  To that, I say, “Amen.”   Nan, another pastor of a Community of Christ congregation, talked about her struggle with how many people were reaching out to her small congregation for aid.  She said her congregation was going to have this conversation about building relationships soon.  Others talked about how congregations they knew cooperated with local agencies to pool resources and centralize ways to help.   These are things that, I think, churches can and should do – not proselytize to those in financial crisis or only help their own.

In the end, for churches, the question of helping others in material ways comes down to a simple matter of Christian identity and mission.  What are churches, really?  Why do Christians comes together in “churches”?  For themselves? What is their gospel and who is the good news of the gospel really for?    Matthew’s depiction of Jesus’ judgment of the nations in chapter 25 should not be read as a scriptural scare-tactic for church folk, as much as a humble moment of clarity.   When churches reach out to those in need, the good news of the gospel come to both.

31 ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory…34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” 37Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” 40And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,you did it to me.”  (Matthew 25: 31,34-40)

wrestle until you’re blessed

From Genesis 32:24-30

24 Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.  26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” 27 So the man said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.”  28 Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him.  30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face…”

This is one of the most memorable stories in Genesis.   It’s also one of the most interpreted.

Who is the man Jacob wrestling with?  Is it God?  An angel?  His own conscience?  A thief?  A demon?  And, what is the

struggle over?   Is it preparation for reunion with his brother Esau?  Is Jacob wrestling for his life?  For a blessing?

The passage is also about naming.   When spoken, Jacob’s name resembles the Hebrew word “to wrestle.”   The man asks Jacob his name, but he renames him Israel, which means “God strives” or “‘the one who strives with God.”   Jacob also asks the man his name.  But, no name is given.  We are only told that Jacob is blessed.   Then, Jacob names the place he wrestled a name that means “the face of God.”

When I was at a week of church meetings a couple of weeks ago, I was struggling.   The meetings I was a part of were very institutional.  They dealt with administration, policies, funds and fund raising.   The meetings were important from an institutional perspective.  But, the meetings also went 8-10 hours a day for three days.  They were so large that there wasn’t an opportunity to disagree, question, or participate in the decisions being made.  Though, an invitation for feedback was made.    I was around friends I loved and respected, but I felt very alone.  A depressing question kept haunting me, “Is this life with Jesus?”   Despite all the opportunities afforded me through church, I wondered again if there was really a place for me?   This seems to be an ongoing spiritual struggle.  At a low point, I remembered the  story of Jacob wrestling.  It was as if the Holy Spirit befriended me and slipped me a note.  “Wrestle until you’re blessed,” were the words I heard.  These words came to me in a way that I knew they should define my entire relationship with church.  “Wrestle until your blessed.”  Do it at every service, every meeting, each week, each day.

I’ve had similar struggles when I am in local congregations.   On the one hand, I’m lucky.  I enjoy many different kinds of worship.  I enjoyed mass for four years in Catholic school and fell in love with the tradition.  I spent years going to church with my Dutch grandparents at a traditional Reformed service.   I spent four years attending high Methodist liturgy in seminary, another 6 years at lively congregationalist services at another.   I’m comfortable around people whoopin’ or being slain in the Spirit.

But, I also am in an age group  that really never claimed church or recreated it in its own image.   The examples are sparse.  Compared to generations before me, most of my peers abandoned church or at least denominational committment and congregational life.  By in large, they have not stayed around to create churches that reflect GenX skepticism, spirituality, or sense of relationships.  I’m very much in touch with that part of myself, too.   This explains why I’m never fully at home even in congregational life and worship services.  Like everyone else, I’m looking for my place.

Most of us have a complicated relationship with church, if we have a relationship with it at all.   As a professional minister, theological-type, and aspiring disciple of Jesus, I even do.  As I struggle to feel at home or find space for myself in denominational life or congregational settings, this ancient story of Jacob wrestling brings meaning to it all for me.

Wrestle until you’re blessed.  Even if you get kicked in the groin (see Gen 32:25 above), stay with the struggle.  Expect to be blessed.

the Covenant, ours together and ours with God

I started to add running to my morning exercise about a year ago.  At first, it started as just adding a ½ mile jog onto the end of my 3+ mile walk in the morning.  A year later, without pushing myself hard, I run/jog the majority of my 3+ mile route usually 2x a week.  It’s been a rewarding journey learning how to pace myself and trust my body as someone who’s overweight, an ex-smoker, and diagnosed with asthma at 15.

The time I spend exercising each weekday morning along the Lake Michigan shore is time I spend with God.  The team of ministers I work with have made a covenant, which includes living our discipleship and upholding each other and our mission for about an hour each day.  As I walk or run, I’m often in prayer, feeling the frustrations of my life and/or focusing on our team praying.  I also try to listen, to allow myself to be spoken to by God through my thoughts, to see God in the sunrise over the lake or the behavior of the water.  Sometimes, it lies motionless.  At other times, waves crash against the seawall where, at points on my trail, sea spray hits against my skin.  This morning, however, I heard God in a different.  God spoke to me through shutting out my surroundings.  In doing so, I had a brush with divine wisdom that I needed for today.  I want to share it with you.

On the mornings I chose to run, I often push myself.  I’m either tired from the day before and need to force myself to run through my fatigue.  Or, I try pushing my endurance and breathe a little harder, which is very rewarding when I am done and I feel the release in my legs and body.   Running can have a calming effect on my day that way.  If I do this often, my morning run changes the character of my time with God.  My prayer and medication is more based on feeling my way through.  I strive to find God in the run.  My thoughts focus on the meaning of my physical pain, the fatigue of my legs, and my thoughts compete with obsessions about how far I’ve run, whether I’ve reached the mid-way point, or how far I am from finishing when I can cool down and walk the rest of the way.  Pushing myself has a spiritual quality to it.

I often feel that all of us in denominational ministry, especially serving the Community if Christ, are running a marathon in our work with the church.  The pain and frustration I feel from pushing myself as I run can be the same experience of pain and frustration I feel emotionally as I try to fulfill people’s expectations in my role in ministry.  Whether preparing a sermon, running a meeting, or just trying to do the right thing by a church member – all in an environment of denominational decline and dwindling resources in which our problems are too big to respond to – I hit points in my role in ministry in which I just look for the finish line or obsess about how far I have to go before I can stop.   I’m looking for a break from the jurisdictional responsibilities and congregational problems that our North American church, as a whole, are facing.

I had a different experience today, though.  As I ran this morning, I began a little tired.  I had a 13 hour day yesterday.  And, on Sunday, I was a part of closing one congregation and at another that is trying to be reborn.  I had my mind on some relationships and projects that I’ve been trying to get control of and successfully complete.  Taking a different tact today running, however, instead of pushing myself I decided to pace myself because I wanted to run a little longer today.  During my time with God as I jogged, I felt God talk to me.  It didn’t come through the beauty of the lake or my meditations on God.  The moment of communion and epiphany came when I felt divine wisdom intersect with my body’s feeling and prayers as I was jogging.

Almost ½ way into my run, I realized I was really enjoying it.  Yes, I was tired.  My legs were fatigued and felt a bit heavy.  But, I was pacing myself and my body felt good.  I emotionally felt up and I wanted to keep enjoying that feeling.

As I continued to jog, instead of enjoying the beauty of the lake or the sun rays I could see descending through the cloudy morning sky, I closed my eyes and shut out all that was around me to focus on the enjoyment of jogging.  My eyes peeked open every few second just to make sure I stayed on the trail and didn’t run into cyclers or other runners on my path.  But, for the vast majority of those couple miles, I kept my eyes closed.  I didn’t focus on how far I’d run or how far I had to go.  I simply enjoyed the running.

I felt God speak to me through the experience about the pace of my mind and of my life in all this.  This wasn’t a mental exercise or logical conclusion I came to.  It felt like a moment of revelation – revelation for that moment, for today, for what I was struggling with at this point in my ministry and my walk and run through life.

As I serve in this call to the church, I don’t have any idea how long it will take before I see things turning around for my congregation, the congregations I serve, or the North American church in general.  I don’t know how long it will take before the decline and contention seems to end.  I don’t know if the search for good pastors or volunteers for church camps will ever become easier, or if there will be a change in momentum.  I don’t know how many congregations I will help close or watch struggle for direction.  I can’t see the finish line for this job, nor any sort of mid-way point.  And no amount of short-term accomplishments will change the overall trends.  All I can do is keep running.

But…if I pace myself, discipline myself to stay with the Covenant, discipline my life to pray for and seek community with others, I won’t only learn to enjoy the run.  I can learn to close my eyes and take my mind off the obsessive search for signs of change, for finish lines, and half-way points.  I don’t have to rely on my eyes to find meaning or see what I can only trust in faith, whether it be new life or just plain relief.

There is no finish-line in ministry any more than there is a finish line with Christ.  Ministry, like discipleship, is not a series of tests on fulfilling others’ emotional or scriptural expectations, or test of organizational accomplishments.  We are called to trust less in these criterion of success or fulfillment and, instead, on the covenant.   Covenant and discipleship are Christian code words for a different kind of life and different kind of community than our world offers.  It is measured in completely a different way.

True.  Life, and life with others, remains a marathon, of sorts.  But, we cannot measure our progress solely on what we can see.  It isn’t always about finding God in the beauty of our surroundings.  Sometimes, there is more tragedy than beauty.  We also cannot give into staving off life’s despair and difficulties by setting artificial goals with discernible mid-points and finish lines.  Ministry, like discipleship, requires that I learn to close my eyes and trust in what I cannot see.  Living in covenant with God and others requires trust, which is only learned when we can pace ourselves and enjoy the journey.  The Covenant, like our life’s journey, is sure.

Christ has crossed the finish line and continues on that we might learn to walk/run with him each day.

counsel to the church II

In the last few days of discussion over the words of counsel to the church, I’ve heard several views against the counsel that I believe are mistaken. There are many people seeking the floor at conference, so it is difficult to respond to individual statements or offer alternative perspectives. The restraint on debate to two minutes per person and slow speech required for translations within those two minutes also make it difficult to express or explain ideas. I understand why these constraints are in place and would not want to endure meetings in which these time limits were lifted or non-English speakers were excluded. So, perhaps blogging is a more removed but alternative way to speak on some of the issues expressed in quorum meetings and on the conference floor. Perhaps my thoughts can offer a broader or alternative understanding for church members to choose from or prayerfully consider with their own.

One thing I’d like to respond to is the way scripture is being used against the current counsel, particularly around the issue of baptism.

Some voices have expressed how previous scriptures on baptism, either D&C 20’s treatment of the question of rebaptism or general lack of scriptural support for any other authoritative form of baptism other than immersion, are reason to vote down or doubt the document’s divine counsel. In both cases, prescriptive scriptures about the practice of baptism are being used as if they are the proper or only scriptures to use for comparison or to test continuity. Some have also said that the current question being asked about rebaptism is the same one answered by D&C 20, as if the context is no different. While I think these are tenable comparisons to make and important for consideration, D&C 20 and other scriptural prescriptions for the mode or proper form of baptism are not the most important scriptures in which to look for precedents or comparative references. These kind of references are important only for a literalistic or legalistic view of scripture. Such an approach forgets or relegates other forms of scripture as less important or irrelevant for consideration. It is easy to forget scripture is much more than theologically prescriptive or ritual instruction (like Leviticus). Scripture also expresses divine revelation in the form of proverb, poem, narrative (like the Gospels), parable, and analogy – which are arguably more indirect forms of revelation that require nuanced and more responsible interpretation. The change in the practice of baptism prescribed by the inspired counsel provides just the opportunity to explore how there are previous precedents for just the kind of change in baptismal practice we are facing today.

A more appropriate comparison for the kind of change in the practice of baptism proposed in the inspired counsel is in the New Testament, specifically Paul’s struggle over circumcision with Jerusalem in Acts 15. Consider context. D&C 20 was given in a context in which there was not yet a people developed in a unique tradition. The church was new. There was no multi-national context cutting across the distance of difference in culture as Paul faced similarly in Acts 15 and we face today.

Like baptism in the early Restoration church, circumcision was a peculiar sign of select membership for Israel. It was a sign that conferred Israel’s special place with God. It signed Israel’s election. The sign of circumcision marked Jews as a peculiar people shaped in an exclusive covenant between God and them in the same way baptism in the early Restoration church marked a special and unique relationship between God and the Restoration. It was a sign of the return of the full Gospel and its authority in the world. When Paul crossed cultural boundaries and went forth among the Gentiles making disciples of Christ, he did not requiring this sign. This created a fundamental tension with the Jerusalem church, which was shaped by centuries of practicing circumcision. In the end, the Jerusalem church reasoned that it “seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose no further burden” (Acts 15:28). The exclusive sign of election gave way to a more relevant prescription for what it meant to be a disciple of Christ in other cultures. Viewing the inspired counsel this way, it does not come out of the blue but follows one of the most important and decisive scriptural precedents in the New Testament. It follows a period in the life of the earliest Christian church, which the Restoration looks to for its example and modern-day expression.

I lift this up simply to provide another foundational scriptural reference that supports rather than dissents from the inspired counsel given today. Of course, Acts 15 should not be considered an exact parallel to the situation of the current church. Rather, I offer what I believe to be a responsible interpretation and application of scripture that demonstrates the same kind of shift in tradition or former understanding of “Law” that Christ required as God’s people encountered the Gospel across cultures.

This reading of Acts and its application to our current situation also informs how latter parts of the inspired counsel also reflect the kind of shift from Law to Gospel and the meaning of the Gospel across cultures that Paul faced in his day. But, that’s another post.

President Veazey, thank you.

Dear President Veazey,

I just finished listening to your sermon this evening at the 2010 World Conference.  I’m grateful, again, for your message and leadership.  Thank you for reminding me of who I am and reminding us, the church, of who we are.

As the baptized, we are first a new creation in Christ.  Before we are even male or female, Greek or Jew, any nationality or ethnicity, slave or free, we are one in Christ.  (Galatians 3:28)   Our oneness in Christ is first, prior to any other aspect of our identity.  Amidst every question about our identity, your prophetic leadership reminds us that the very meaning of our lives in in Christ.  The meaning of the Restoration is in Christ.

When you shared your leadings and meditation on Galatians 3:28 January 17th, I was spiritually moved.  My heart radiated with gratitude.  I, too, have been led to this scripture amidst Paul’s writings in my own study in consideration of the ethical and theological issues taking shape in the church.  I, again, received a personal testimony of the Holy Spirit at work in the church through your leadership.  After years of frustration with church and my own spiritual formation in ecumenical study, I feel affirmation for the church and personally deeply affirmed.  You are leading the church with a witness of Christ – a prophetic witness to Christ and call to discipleship in community that I share and know to be true.

President Veazey, thank you for prophetically leading the church and defining your prophetic leadership by your witness of Jesus .  Thank you for choosing not to lead by personal agenda about the church’s identity.  Thank you for not leading with your views on this or that issue.  Thank you for leading with a prophetic vision that transcends individual perspectives or generational bias.  Thank you for prophetically leading by the light and witness of your testimony of God’s work and purpose in Jesus Christ.  Thank you for reminding us of our call to discipleship, Christ’s call to mission and relationship, and our call to be God’s community in witness of him.  Thank you for prophetically leading by calling us to Christ in order to be the church.

Thank you, and Fred Craddock, for reminding us how to read scripture and what scripture is for.  Thank you for reminding us not to simply read scripture to answer our questions, but to utilize it in light of the grace and character of the God it witnesses to.  Thank you for prophetically pointing our spiritual attention to the church’s moral issues and theological questions, not as big problems, but as an invitation to go deeper with God.  Thank you for calling us and our witness forward to embrace these challenges.   Thank you for putting our lives amidst a Restoration journey that is still unfolding.  Thank you for reminding us that we walk with God amidst scriptural times.

Thank you for reminding us that people suffer and die unnecessarily of disease, hunger, and injustice while we haggle over ecclesial issues and concern over identity.  Thank you for reminding us that the work of Zion is with Christ amidst world– our world and its communities.

Thank you for calling the North Atlantic church to greater global awareness.  Thank you for calling us to become an international community of signal communities.  Thank you for calling us to become a Community of Christ.

from dad

Dear Katy and Kenzlee,

As I sit here this morning preparing for a sermon, it is just past 6:00am.  I am at a coffee shop reading scripture and thinking about some of the most basic and important things in my life.  Your faces beam at me on my computer screen.

My prayer for you is that you realize, at some point in your lives, that the most important thing you can commit yourselves to in your life is serving God.  It will draw your life beyond immediate things or even your own lifespan and into eternity.  From this perspective, you will be able to find and see the eternal worth of persons, the scope of God’s purposes in the universe and even among us, the beauty of God’s creation, and the fragility of each moment and each life.

There is nothing more rewarding and more fulfilling, in the long run, than serving God and seeing life from this perspective.  To find it, you will need to have moments when you can be alone with God, in the silences, and take in the wonder and grandeur of seeing your own lives in this perspective of things.  God knows each hair on your head, and God knows and lives throughout the waves of energy, light, and space that stretches out into eternity.  And, in those moments, you will know and feel how God knows and always thinks of you.  I know my love for you and my affection are both a sign and gift that God gives me because it is God’s own love and affection for you.

As I prepare for a sermon today, I know, somehow, God cares for me and the people I’m going to worship with today in the same way.  Each worship service is a sacrament of our love for one another, shared in Jesus Christ.  What makes Jesus special is that his life, death, and ministry is the promise that all that we sense, believe, hope for, and marvel of in ourselves and each other can become real.  Jesus was the full bloom of God’s eternal love and purposes in one life.  We learn who we are and can be through him.  The love God had for Jesus came true in his life and purpose, even amidst confusion, misdirection, and tragedy.  I, too, feel and hope that the love I feel for you can come in full bloom in you – that you will grab it, grasp it, and pay it forward because it is just a small piece of God’s love that lives in me and so want to give to you.

I love you more that I can say.  I’m thinking about you today, as I prepare for this day, in scope of all things God has for us.

You are the miracle of my mornings.

Love, dad.