My Challenge to You

So, the ALS ice bucket challenge is all the rage right now. I have intentionally refrained from posting or commenting on anyone’s post for fear of being called out. Well, my dad challenged me and my siblings (thanks a lot dad!) and as the challenge goes, “you’ve got 24 hours.” I’m supposed to accept the challenge and post my own video dumping a bucket of ice water on myself or I can give to the ALS Association (or both!). As of August 22nd, over $50 million dollars in donations had been given to the ALS Association: http://time.com/3159673/als-ice-bucket-challenge-donations/

I celebrate the awareness that has been raised and the generosity of so many. However, I have felt unsettled every time I see another video on my news feed. Throughout much of the United States and around the world, we have heard about drought conditions and water shortages all summer long. I recently saw a picture on Facebook of a group of individuals walking with buckets on their heads to retrieve water with the caption: “Ice bucket challenge? You know how far I had to walk to get this?”

I cannot help but think about my friends in Ghana and what they might think about all of this? If you have read my blog before, you no doubt have read about my dear friend Vincent Asamoah. Vincent and his family are some of my favorite people in all the world. They truly live out what they say they believe. As a result of God’s calling upon their family and the passion God placed in the depths of Vincent’s soul, Vincent stepped out in faith, resigned from a job that paid the bills but took him away from his calling and passion, and went to work full-time as a completely 100% fund raised staff member through Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Vincent and his family knew Shoot 4 Life Ministries was what God was calling them to do. They knew this would require sacrifice and change.

Vincent had to give up the vehicle his former job provided him. They had to move to a more affordable housing situation. Unfortunately, landlords in Ghana are often greedy and corrupt. As a result, the most affordable housing Vincent and his family could afford does not have running water.

My dear friend Vincent and his family have lived without running water for over a year now. But this is not what Vincent would want you to know. This is a small inconvenience for the beauty and Good News of the Gospel of the Way of Christ.

Vincent would want you to know that over the last year, Shoot 4 Life Ministries and their ministry partners have shared the love of Christ with THOUSANDS of children through sport of basketball. Shoot 4 Life Ministries demonstrates to and teaches children about the Way and Love of Christ, respect and love for one another through the sport of basketball, and provides a meal and ice cold water to children who attend basketball camp.

I am going to use my pastoral voice and authority to re-frame the challenge I have received. I support Vincent and Shoot 4 Life Ministries on a monthly basis but I am going to give an additional gift to Vincent and I challenge YOU to do the same. I challenge you to give a one time gift or better yet, to join in and support Vincent on a monthly basis. You can give to Vincent here: https://my.fca.org/3742-asamoah-vincent.aspx

There are many worthy causes to give to and to challenge people to learn more about. I challenge you to support the work of God in Ghana through Vincent Asamoah, his family, and his team. I challenge you to learn more about the mission of God in Ghana and how Shoot 4 Life Ministries seeks to join in with what God is doing. Learn more about Shoot 4 Life Ministries here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/SHOOT-4-LIFE-MINISTRIES/270228426354555

As an aside, I have not posted on this blog recently, however, Heather and I have both been active writing this summer. Please feel free to check out things we have written published elsewhere. Enjoy!

Born anew? https://www.facebook.com/notes/wilshire-baptist-church/born-anew/10154466280090317

Is there room at the table? https://www.facebook.com/notes/wilshire-baptist-church/is-there-room-at-the-table/10154413866275317

Talk and Action: https://www.facebook.com/notes/wilshire-baptist-church/talk-and-action/10154364939015317

Here are two posts Heather had published on a larger scale:

Until the Lion Has Its Historian, the Hunter Will Always Be the Hero: http://nacsw.org/blog/2014/until-the-lion-has-its-historian-the-hunter-will-always-be-the-hero/

As Rockets Fall: http://www.abpnews.com/opinion/commentaries/item/28765-as-rockets-fall

Reflection on the Pool of Bethesda

John 5:1-9a (NLT)
Afterward Jesus returned to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish holy days. Inside the city, near the Sheep Gate, was the pool of Bethesda, with five covered porches. Crowds of sick people—blind, lame, or paralyzed—lay on the porches. One of the men lying there had been sick for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, “Would you like to get well?” “I can’t, sir,” the sick man said, “for I have no one to put me into the pool when the water bubbles up. Someone else always gets there ahead of me.” Jesus told him, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!” Instantly, the man was healed! He rolled up his sleeping mat and began walking!” (emphasis mine).
As I have reflected on our trip to Israel, our experience at the Pool of Bethesda has impacted me deeply. It wasn’t just the site itself but the visit to the site along side the encounters and conversations surrounding this experience. While we were there, I was able to offer a reflection or devotion on this passage and the significance of the word “saw” found in verse 6 and the imago Dei. I’ll let you in on a little Mustain family secret: we aren’t perfect. Never have been. Never will be. Never tried to give the impression we were. Life can be messy. Family can be messy. But life and family can both be beautiful and life giving as well. Love and risk walk hand in hand.
Our family is made up of a collection of unique individuals made in the image of God. In the midst of our similarities, we have different backgrounds, different educations, and different beliefs. We each bring our unique set of experiences to the table. We see eye to eye on some things and on other things we couldn’t think more differently. Yet, we are still family. During one family debrief at the end of the day, my dad reminded us that what we desire in our family is love and unity, NOT uniformity. Too often uniformity is the expectation for many families, churches, and communities. That may be how it works in your family but that is not how it works in ours. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
So, why this Scripture passage and this background information? This past Wednesday, I was given the opportunity to share a devotional at our Baylor Scott and White system staff meeting for the Office of Mission and Ministry. There were roughly 50 chaplains and other staff members present in the room and linked in via video conference. Slightly intimidating to say the least. I shared a devotional reflection on this experience at the Pool of Bethesda. This is what I shared:

I have always loved this story but I especially fell in love with it when I sat by the actual Pool of Bethesda with my family on our recent trip to Israel.

I learned that until the pools were discovered by archeologists, we did not know if these pools existed or if it was more of a metaphoric or symbolic teaching from the Gospel of John. I also learned that the name Bethesda is a sort of play on words as well. The name is made up two Hebrew or Aramaic words: “beth” meaning house and “hesda” meaning mercy or grace. I’ve been told that depending on the context, hesda can also mean shame or disgrace.

So, in our passage, we read of a pool in Jerusalem where people would gather, hoping to be healed, to be shown mercy. It says there were crowds of sick people. They were blind, lame, and paralyzed. We don’t know specifically what was wrong with the man in the story but it says he was sick or ill. I am guess he was disabled in some way because he needed help getting into the water.

Perhaps these people who gathered at the pool outcasts? They might be the shame of their family or community. They might be or feel disgraced because of their disability but they are hoping to be healed or shown grace. So, I think you can see how the name Bethesda is fitting. Perhaps it was a place of shame or disgrace, hoping to encounter mercy and grace?

So, the man in the story was sick for 38 years and I am guessing he has also been completely overlooked and forgotten. When he meets Jesus, he says someone else always gets in the water before him. He was over looked. No one cared. No one helped him. It does not seem he has anyone to advocate for him.

But all that changed when he met Jesus.

I think the key word or phrase is saw: “When Jesus saw him…”. I don’t think Jesus saw just the outside of the man. I think Jesus SAW him. I think Jesus saw not just someone who was disable and felt pity for him. I think Jesus SAW deep into the soul of a man who despite his illness was still a person who bears the image of God.

In the creation poems of Genesis 1 and 2 we find this idea of the imago Dei, the image of God. And for many of us chaplains, that is a basic building block of our ministry, believing every patient we encounter bears the image of God.

However, do we really believe or treat everyone as one who bears the image of God? How often do we fail to see or chose not to see? The homeless person on the street corner begging for change? That church board member who just makes your church experience a living hell? Perhaps it’s that Facebook friend or family member who’s political or religious views are just so different form yours you’re convinced you can’t love and serve the same God?

We could take this deeper still. In a recent article my wife had published she said that “We so often attach labels to people who are different than us or that we don’t understand. We have a human tendency to assign categories to people that only really help us disconnect from the biblical idea of the imago Dei.” She says, “as a Christian, I believe no one is so far beyond God’s grasp of redemption, not even the one lost sheep, coin or son.”

We often see people but do we truly see them? Do we see them and stop? Do we see them and engage them in conversation? Do we see them and listen? Do we see them as someone who bears the image of God?

Here in the hospital, I see a lot of patients and families as a resident chaplain. I have the opportunity, hopefully, to see people. So often, people are defined by their illness. What I have learned through the power of story is that people are more than their illness or struggles. Prior to needing a a liver or kidney transplant they were a successful business person. Or they loved to be outdoors and were very active. Or they loved babysitting their grandkids. Their story has been consumed by their illness and they are only seen as someone who’s color is changing to yellow as their liver fails them or they are extremely bloated from kidney failure.

Every day I am presented with opportunities to stop, to see, to listen, engage, and to learn. As I discover the imago Dei in them they also help highlight the imago Dei within me.

So, do we really see people? Can we see beyond skin color? Can we see past the illness or disability? Can we see in spite of the political and religious difference? Can we like Jesus, see some because they bear the image of God? May it be so.

So, that’s what I shared on Wednesday. A good sermon or message is always most pertinent to the one who delivers it. I am in need of the message just as much, if not more, than to those who have heard it or read it. This question of the imago Dei is hitting home for me right now in more ways than one. In order to get home from Baylor University Medical Center, I drive through not the best part of Dallas. After a hard day of ministry at the hospital, I just want to get home but I pass by numerous people who I want to choose not to see because I am tired but yet they bear the image of God. It is a difficult tension to ask when am I “on the clock” and when and am I “off the clock?” When have I served enough for one day?

And honestly, in recent days, church people have been some of the most difficult people for me to love and see as ones who bear the image of God.

So, I close with some words from the recovery tradition praying: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know it’s ME!”

Amen.

(P.S. I had intended to post pictures I took at the Pool of Bethesda but for some reason I am unable to right now. I will try to edit this post later and post a picture or two.)

Tensions: A Holy Land Pilgrimage

On Thursday, we returned from a family pilgrimage to the Holy Land. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity that my parents afforded us to experience together as a family. We are all deeply grateful for this unique experience to share together.

I posted some of my favorite pictures of the experience on my Facebook, Instagram (http://instagram.com/chadm02), and Twitter. Feel free to check them out.

Throughout the experience and since we returned, I’ve reflected upon the all that we saw, learned, and enjoyed. I think the learning that took place on this trip will be gradually discovered like peeling back the layers of an onion. In the midst of the experience, there were many tensions that were present. Tension is a word I used often to describe my life experiences. For instance, here are some of the tensions that I recognized:

Theological: a literal reading versus a narrative reading of the Scripture text.

Historical: there are two different traditional sites of where the crucifixion and tomb burial took place. One site is in the heart of the city where an elaborate church was built to commemorate the location. The other site has been preserved as a garden and you can see the rock face of Golgotha (the place of the skull). I’ve posted pictures of both sites here (http://instagram.com/chadm02).

Family: although we are a family, there were four different couples and four different ways of doing life (Jim and Sharon, Chad and Heather, Joy and Caleb, and Katelyn and Jesse). There were eight different theological, historical, and present day interpretations of what we saw and experienced together.

Present day: there are many dynamics and interpretations of the current situation of present day Israel (the tensions with the Palestinians and Israel’s other neighbors, the role/purpose of Israel in history, and theories of the last days/events). For a great reflection of one of the present day events we experienced on the Golan Heights, read Heather’s reflection here: http://www.abpnews.com/opinion/commentaries/item/28765-as-rockets-fall

Additionally, the pilgrimage experience is shaped by the views of your tour guide. We were blessed to have a wonderful Jewish tour guide who is now a believer. Yet in the midst of our commonalities of belief, he added another layer of the tension as he would share his interpretation of the theological, historical, and present day tensions we were experiencing.

As most of you know, I am a morning person so each morning I often had several hours of solitude to reflect, read, and write. Throughout the trip I read the book Care of the Soul: A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life by Thomas Moore. This book was a valuable conversation partner for me throughout the trip. Towards the end of the book Moore shares:

“Soul-making is a journey that takes time, effort, skill, knowledge, intuition, and courage. It is helpful to know that all work with soul is process — alchemy, pilgrimage, and adventure — so that we don’t expect instant success or even any kind of finality. [...] This is the ‘goal’ of the soul path — to feel existence; not to overcome life’s struggles and anxieties, but to know life first hand, to exist fully in context. [...] But the only thing to do is to be where you are at this moment, sometimes looking about in the full light of consciousness, other times standing comfortable in the deep shadows of mystery and the unknown. [...] The soul becomes greater and deeper through the living out of the messes and the gaps [...].”

At this point in my process of reflection and learning about our Holy Land pilgrimage, the last line best sums up where I am at currently: “The soul becomes greater and deeper through the living out of the messes and the gaps [...].” Life is messy. Theology is messy. History is messy. Family is messy. The present is messy. Yet in the midst of the mess, there is depth, beauty, richness, and joy. In life and faith, love and risk go hand in hand, walk side by side.

May we be blessed as we continue in this pilgrimage and process of life together.

Amen.

Blogs and Bullies

These days, the bullies I encounter don’t hang out on playgrounds but on blogs, twitter, and facebook. No, I’m not the victim of “cyber-bullying” but in the past week there was some unfortunate bullying taking place in the blogosphere.

Many of you are familiar with Rachel Held Evens (http://rachelheldevans.com/). She sort of came out of nowhere with her first book and is now a regular speaker at conferences, church retreats, universities etc. Her views are not for everyone but she is passionate about helping create safe and welcoming space in Christianity for those who no longer resonate with popular, white, North American Evangelicalism.

This week, Owen Strachan took to bullying RHE because her views were not what he deems orthodox. He is, among other things, the president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Yes, sadly, there is such a thing. You can read his bullying here:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thoughtlife/2014/05/when-a-theology-post-is-unsafe-for-facebook/

and here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thoughtlife/2014/05/rachel-held-evans-and-what-god-herself-means/

You can read RHE’s response here: http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/owen-strachan-facebook

This breaks my heart because despite our differences they are both my brother and sister. Most importantly, it breaks the heart of God. I meet people every day who have left the Church because of various reasons from being told they did not believe “correctly” or because they were not dressed “correctly.” Friends, this should not be so!

I believe in a better Church. I resolve to peacefully help bring about a more loving Church. I am hoping for and participating in a different kind of tomorrow.

Amen.

Community is the Cure

In CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) it is often asked of us to “trust the process.” Often times it is hard to trust the process. It’s equally hard to trust the process of a peer, colleague, friend, or family member. Yesterday I was reading a devotional by Fr. Richard Rohr and he shared: “I am still not in control, and I still know that it is not about me, but about Life and Love.” — Fr. Richard Rohr

On Friday I sat with a patient as she cried. She also swore, a lot. And rightfully so. Her health journey has been unbelievably hard over the past few years. Her friendships have dwindled as she is a friend who needs a lot and has little to give. Her family has grown tired and no longer visits. She says they just don’t understand. Financially, she and her husband will most likely never recover. She has no control.

I often sit with patient’s and hear them utter things like “where the hell is God?” As I sit there, I often think to myself, “yeah God, where are you?”

Four year’s of seminary, four units of CPE training, and this is what I had to offer her: “It’s OK to not be OK.”

I picked up that line under a big blue tent in a dusty field in Gainesville, GA.

In that moment, she needed permission to be upset with God. She needed to experience someone sitting with her in the pit and in the ashes raising clenched fists towards to sky.

If I’m honest, I’m in process looking for God right along with the patients and families.

Often I feel just as lost as they are.

It’s OK to not be OK. When we are lost, we just might be found.

Everyone is looking for healing. Hoping for a cure. Praying for a miracle.

I lead a support group for transplant patients and families on Monday’s.

Again, four years of seminary, four units of CPE training, and this is what I had offer: “Community is the cure.”

I picked that up from a friend named Tag.

Healing might not come. A cure might not be found. The prayers for a miracle might go unanswered.

But in the midst of it all, there is a community. Spouses and partners. Friends and neighbors. Kids and co-workers. Pastors and parishioners.

Sometimes I walk into a room and it feels electric, magical even. Sometimes I encounter it. Sometimes I help foster the awareness. But I believe that it is there. Rather, I should say God is there.”The Lord is close to the brokenhearted;he rescues those whose spirits are crushed” (Psalm 34:18).

God, the Triune God, who is found in a divine, mysterious community, offers community. Creator, redeemer, and presence.

I’m trusting the process. I’m trusting it’s OK to not be OK. I’m trusting that community is the cure.

Amen.

For the Joy of the Lord is Our Strength

I’m tired. I essentially work six days a week at the hospital and it’s hard. Yesterday I was on call at the hospital 6:30-14:30. Sunday mornings are actually my favorite on-call shift because I get to lead two 20 minute chapel services. It is a creative outlet for me to plan a short liturgy, including songs and a short sermon/homily. Yesterday I planned a service around Psalm 28:1-2 and 6-9 and used the traditional Doxology (in a musical arrangement by David Crowder) and an older popular worship song “Holy Is the Lord” by Chris Tomlin. The second chapel service I led was at the rehabilitation center and there were five people in attendance. Three people were wheelchair bound in various stages of health and recovery and two family members were with them.

The first line of the song “Holy is the Lord” is: “We stand and lift up our hands.” As I sang those first words, I sort of kicked myself. How could I select a song for a rehabilitation center’s worship time about standing, knowing many people are at a difficult place in their health journey and story and have lost the ability to stand? Just as I was kicking myself, the Holy Spirit gently whispered and one of the sweet ladies that was trying her best to sing along slowly started to raise her right hand.

My eyes immediately started to well up with tears just as they are right now as I write. I got choked up and couldn’t sing for a moment.

So, we sing through the song and repeat the verse again. “We stand and lift up our hands. For the joy of the Lord is our strength.” One of the other ladies slowly raises her hands as well. Hands by the world’s standards that were broken and deformed due to age and the failure of good health. Yet, these were some of the most beautiful hands I have ever seen in one of the most genuine worship experiences of my life. Cue the tears yet again. Thanks be to God.

Earlier this week, I shared this in a facebook status:

It breaks my heart every time I hear someone tell me the reason they left the church is because they were told they were not dressed appropriately. [...] Today someone told me when he was 10 years old he was asked by a Baptist deacon to leave the church because he was not in his Sunday best. He said he has never set foot in a Baptist church again. Fortunately, he eventually found a church home in another denomination. I told him I could not apologize on behalf of all Baptists but as an ordained Baptist minister I would like to apologize for the way he was treated as a child. I was nearly brought to tears as he accepted my apology and thanked me for apologizing. It was a sacred moment.

I love the Church but there are some days and some people who just make it so hard. There are several people who I love and care for deeply who are currently going through or have very recently gone through unspeakable pain at the hands of the Church and specific individuals/families in the Church. It breaks my heart but more importantly, it breaks the heart of God. There are unspeakable horrors going on around the world and in our own cities and neighborhoods yet too often the battles the Church is caught up in are self-center and inward focused quarrels about things like worship service schedules, style of dress, musical preferences, committees, and Bible study curriculum/programs.

Friends, this should not be so!

In seasons where i just want to give up on the Church, I cling to moments like yesterday. Hands raised high, off-pitch sounds being uttered out of rhythm, and hearts that were full. Those women knew the joy of the Lord. In a moment of mutual transformation, they reminded me that the joy of the Lord is our strength. In these individuals yesterday, I encountered the face of the disabled and broken God known most fully in the life and wounds of Jesus the Christ and that gently whispers to us through the Holy Spirit.

I can face another day and another week of ministry because I encountered God in two of her many faces.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Growing Tired

I’ve taken a couple of weeks off from blogging. I’m just growing tired of the whole social media thing. Life has just been very busy but I’ve also been frustrated and I don’t like to blog from a point of frustration, if I can help it. If you have been following the news at all, you know World Vision has been front and center with their monumental announcement and then their even more monumental reversal of their decision. In some of the reports, it was shared that their board members and leadership had prayed for years regarding their decision and were confident this was the direction that God was leading them. They reversed their decision (and even apologized and asked for forgiveness) in like less than 48 hours. I can’t help but wonder, was it the gentle whispers of the Holy Spirit or the megaphones of the almighty dollar that was the true catalyst in this heartbreaking event. And what is more troubling, is those in need of help are the ones who suffered and lost the most. Children and families in need of the love and support of Christ, through those who call themselves followers of Christ and members of the church, are the ones who are the true victims.

Let that sink in.

I’ll bet that the children who now do not have food to eat, those who were “sacked” at school and sent home because their school fees were not paid, could care less about how an organization that they have no concept of, in a world they don’t even know how to dream about, defines marriage. Those children probably have no concept of marriage because they may not even know their father or one of their parents might have left years ago in search of work or perhaps they are being raised by grandparents because their parents died. Is a definition of marriage really important to those children? The whole World Vision debacle was not about helping those who really need help, it was about the privileged and that is just messed up.

And then there was the firestorm of blogs and tweets and off-hand comments made in sermons about this whole ordeal. It was tough to swallow. I wrote a few weeks back about some of my struggles with the church. You can read that post here: http://tinyurl.com/nq22o69. I concluded: “I still believe and hope in the Church. I will not abandon the bride of Christ and I will listen for the gentle whispers of the Holy Spirit as the Triune God invites us to participate in the mission of God.”

I stand by that post and those words. Do I get frustrated with the church? Yes. Do I get annoyed with individuals who call themselves followers of Christ? Absolutely! Do I grow tired of the endless noise about conservatives and liberals, evangelicals and those who are just bitter and pissed off? You know it!

On Thursday I tweeted: “If some bloggers spent as much time with/in/being the church as they did writing about it & critiquing it they might have different outlook” (feel free to follow me @chadm02).

I had several specific bloggers, tweeters, authors, and ministers in mind when I tweeted that. In recent days, they have had little to say about the church that was remotely positive and they offered little hope as well. Several years back I was hanging out with Bart Campolo at Baylor. For the most part, he is off the grid and just does life and ministry with the community he is a part of called Walnut Hills (http://thewalnuthillsfellowship.org/). He is the son of an influential father, is an author, helped found a missions organization called Mission Year (http://missionyear.org/about/), and traveled around the world speaking. He shared with me that he woke up one day and realized he was just telling the same stories over and over. He hadn’t had a new ministry experience in years because he went from church to church, conference to conference, donor meeting to donor meeting talking about ministry and the church yet he was not an active participant. So he decided he needed a change. He went off the grid. Bart may not remember me and our conversation it still resonates with me, four years later.

Where am I going with this? I don’t know. I don’t know the personal lives of the celebrity bloggers, tweeters, authors, and ministers. I often wonder when was the last time they participated in a worship gathering at a church in their own community? Or the last time they participated in a service project? Or the last time they prepared a sermon or lesson for a people they are committed to and do life with day in and day out? Sometimes I am exhausted just trying to keep up with reading their latest tweet, blog, and forget reading their latest book. I often wonder how in the world do you have time for anything else when you fire off a tweet every half hour?

What if for every tweet we posted, we had to have a real face to face conversation?

What if for every blog post we wrote, we had to have an experience of meaningful participation with a church community?

What if for every rant or negative FB status update, we had to go out and learn and serve and help be the change in our own community?

I think we would all, the celebrity Christians included, have a very different outlook. Almost every day I think about going off the social media grid as well. Perhaps I’ll just journal and that will be enough. We’ll see.

One thing I know for certain, I WILL NOT GIVE UP ON THE CHURCH and I will continuing helping build a different kind of tomorrow.

Amen.