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.

March Madness

I cried yesterday in Torchy’s Tacos. Seriously.

Let me back up. So Heather was gone for the past week on a mission trip with Wilshire. She returned Friday night and I got home later than expected because there were three deaths at the end of my shift and it was the right thing to do to help the incoming chaplain so she wouldn’t be trying to play catch up throughout her deep night shift. Saturday morning I woke up early, got in my run, and then washed Heather’s rental car because it was absolutely filthy from being in far south Texas near the Texas and Mexico border. After dropping off all of the left over supplies and materials from the trip at the church, we returned the rental car (with one window busted out and covered with cardboard and duct tape but that is a whole OTHER story) and then went to brunch together at Torchy’s.

We were just catching up on the past week and that’s when I cried. I was telling her about a particularly difficult situation with a patient and his family. I cried talking with the patient’s daughter on Thursday and I cried telling Heather the bare bones details of the situation. I love the Church with all my heart and I refuse to abandon the Church but seriously, the Church can give people some whacked out theology. She was afraid to be angry with God because she had been told “this was God’s plan” and that it was “wrong to be angry with God.” With tears in my eyes I was dumbfounded. She asked if this was true? I asked if I could help paint a different picture of the good and gracious God that I know.

OK, scene change.

It’s March and you know what that means? March Madness!! This is my favorite sports season of the year after the baseball playoffs. I love that anything can happen. Every game is a risk and it doesn’t matter if it’s a basketball Goliath facing the little known David (or Cinderella). I love cheering for the Cinderella or the under-dog. I love the stories that emerge from the players, coaches, and teams. The adversity that they over come, the challenges they have faced, and they ways they have supported one another as a community.

Here is what I dislike though. It’s a guarantee that when a Cinderella team does well, they almost always lose their coach to a major school. I know basketball is a business and every coach and player looks for opportunities to advance their career. I seriously hate it though. I think deep down the school president and athletic director are secretly just a little bit disappointed when their school makes it to the Big Dance because they know they are about to lose their coach.

So often, this happens in churches as well. If you pastor’s name starts floating around church circles, if s/he has a successful podcast or blog, at some point, some bigger and larger church is going to scoop them up. The other strange situation is when a pastor’s fame, name, or popularity gets too big for the church s/he pastor’s and then they “go solo” and launch their “solo career” speaking at conferences, doing their best one-off sermon over and over and over again, write book after book, and become a full-time tweeter and blogger.

If I sound a bit jaded or frustrated, it’s because I am.

One of my greatest honors in life is being with patient’s and families during both the painful and joyful moments in life. Part of being a chaplain is helping connect patients with their local church and their local pastors. I had a patient the other day ask me to contact her pastor. As soon as she gave me the name of the church, I knew it was highly unlikely she would get a visit. She was a member of one of the mega churches here in Dallas. It was a Friday so I knew I would be lucky if I could even get anyone to answer the phone. I never spoke to a live person, I haven’t gotten a call back, and I doubt she was visited.

So, where am I going with all this? Am I down on pastors and the Church. Absolutely not. I am crying out for the Church to become all she was called and empowered to be! In seminary, one of my professors, who is now a dear friend am mentor, shared a few of his thoughts regarding the Church at the end of the semester. He wrote:

Do not abandon the bride.  As marred, cracked, feeble, sullied, and human as the church is, she is still the bride.  You do not have the prerogative to slander her, berate her, or cast her aside as you might some other human institution.  Scripture does not give you that option.  Embrace the local and universal, temporal and eternal body of Christ. 

Be the Church.  God has created the church to be more than she wants to be, or would be, if left to herself.  Even though she is the church of the grassroots and awaits her perfection, she can be sure of God’s purpose in and through her.  Christ has promised this.
Hear the words of Christ – “The gates of hell will not prevail against the church.” 
Hear the words of Paul – “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ….”
Hear the words of Peter – “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
This is a great mystery … you – the broken, abused, abusers, sinners – are the holy ones, the royal ones, the people of God.  You are to live this mystery by faith. [...]

Believe in the future, hope in the future.  Your belief and hope are leaven for the lump, seasoning in the meal, and light in the darkness.  Actively hope for the church.  Faithfully believe in Christ and His church.  Give witness with your life and with your words that there is a future, a wonderful future for the church.  You understand only in part what He is doing through His bride; by faith believe that much more is happening – believe that through the church lives are being changed and God is glorified.

Call the church to the mission of God.  Insist that mission is the very essence of the church.  Mission is to church, as hydrogen is to water; protons are to an atom; lyrics are to a ballad; tents are to camping; cream is to Blue Bell; coffee beans are to Starbucks.  Without mission, church is void of essence, power, flavor, drive, purpose, caffeine.”

So, in this March Medness, 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.

Amen.

 

Always Changing

It has been said that the only constant is change. Yet, sadly, the Church resists this reality and truth so strongly. Whether it’s the “appropriate” way to dress, the style of the music, or the language and methods of ministry, the Church is too often resistant to change. Yesterday I finished a brief yet powerful contribution by my theological hero, Lesslie Newbigin called Mission in Christ’s Way. One of the most significant statements he made was about change:

“This means that if we are faithful in mission we must recognize that Christianity is something that is always changing. I would not say, as has been suggested, that we have to ‘re-invent the gospel’ for each new generation, for the gospel is news of what has been done once for all. I would rather say that the Holy Spirit, through the faithful witness of the church to the gospel, teaches the church new things and brings it — through its successive missionary encounters — into the fullness of the truth.”

I know you must be thinking “that’s a slippery slope Chad.”

It’s not my role or your role or the Church’s role to lead but rather to follow, to follow the Spirit.

We overestimate our place in the Story.

Newbigin closes writing:

“Perhaps it is unfortunate that the history of mission is so often written by missionaries. They over-estimate their role. It is the Holy Spirit who is the primary missionary; our role is secondary. Mission is not a burden laid upon the church; it is a gift and a promise to the church that is faithful. The command arises from the gift. Jesus reigns and all authority has been given to him in earth and heaven. When we understand that, we shall not need to be told to let it be known. Rather, we shall not be able to keep silent.”

Amen.

Meanwhile, the real issues . . . .

. . . . continue to stare us in the face.

Let’s see a touchdown dance for the Christians. We just scored a big victory!

Various faith-based groups put enough pressure on the Paramount Group that is releasing the movie “Noah” that Paramount actually released a disclaimer:

“The film is inspired by the story of Noah. While artistic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values, and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide. The biblical story of Noah can be found in the book of Genesis.” You can read more here: http://movies.yahoo.com/blogs/movie-news/noah-disclaimer-forced-religious-critics-193523987.html

Phew! What a relief! Something tells me the Triune God isn’t having a dance party right now over this “victory” while millions will go hungry today, the fight regarding health care rages on, and another predatory lender pops up on the street corner near you. But chalk one up for Jesus and the Gospel right? We’ve protected the integrity of Scripture.

Or have we?

Are we as followers of the Way of Christ known more for we are against or what we are for? When I hear church members say that social justice, advocacy, and meeting the felt needs of the poor are liberal, democratic themes finding their way into the church and “high-jacking” the Gospel, my heart breaks.

In the Gospel according to Luke, we find the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry in Luke 4. One of my favorite passages of Scripture says:

14 Then Jesus returned to Galilee, filled with the Holy Spirit’s power. Reports about him spread quickly through the whole region. 15 He taught regularly in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

16 When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures. 17 The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
    that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
19     and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”

20 He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. 21 Then he began to speak to them. “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!”

Here, Jesus is quoting Isaiah 61:1-2. Is Jesus mistaken? Is this not part of the Gospel? Was Jesus just a liberal taken up by the popular social issues of his day as well?

Or perhaps is this part of the very essence of the Gospel? That the Triune God holistically cares for the individual and the community and that includes food, health care, jobs, relationships, finances, government policies, equality, war, and so much more? Is John 3:16 the Gospel? Yes. But is that just one facet of the Triune God’s grander mission in the world? I think so.

One of my all time quotes continues to be “What I believe is not what I say I believe; what I believe is what I do.” Right belief AND right living. Orthodoxy AND orthopraxy. At the end of the day, I’m going to lean into right practice. If I have to give an account before the Triune God one day for my “liberal” practices in social justice, advocacy, and caring for others, so be it.  I take heart in Jesus’ words that “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

Today, may we love God and love people.

Amen.

A Theology of Enough

I have seen lot’s of blog posts, facebook status updates, and heard sermons referencing a  theology of enough. Easy to talk about and post about but much more difficult to practice.

The way I understand it, there are two different ways of thinking about a theology of “enough.”

1. One way is to think about when it is we have enough. Is one car enough? Two cars? Does every family members need their own laptop AND tablet AND cell phone? Do we need homes that big? Or that many clothes hanging up in the closet? Do our executives need to make THAT much money? You cold go on and on and on.

2. A second way is thinking about enough has to do with the distribution of stuff. Money. Food. Resources. Is there truly ENOUGH in the world? I think most would say yes. If so, perhaps the issue then is (RE)DISTRIBUTION? For a great blog post about this thought, read more here: http://twocents.co/features/theology-of-enough/

This week on facebook, a blog post entitled “When Pastors Live In Multimillion Dollar Mansions, It’s Not A Sign Of God’s Blessing– But Our Sinfulness” was being shared left and right. You can read that post here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/formerlyfundie/rich-pastors-peoples-stupidity/

This blog post highlighted the extremes and naturally, people are infuriated by both. The comments about pastors in mansions are just heartbreaking and down right sad. There is so much hatred shown towards others in the comments section. Selfishness and stupidity are everywhere. And millions and millions and millions of people will go to bed hungry tonight while others will throw out perfectly good food because they have had enough.

Something has gone drastically wrong. Something MUST change.

Yesterday Heather said to me “do you realize we own three cars?” Immediately felt a little sick to my stomach. I am part of the problem.

This past week Heather and I bought a new to us used car. It’s a 2001 and has 106,000 miles. We bought it to replace our 1991 Accord with 206,000 miles that now only starts intermittently. We test drove a used sport-utility a few weeks ago and we loved it. It had all the bells and whistles. We sat down with the dealer to talk money. We got down to $22,000 and that figure made me feel dirty. We walked away.

We talked and talked and talked in the days that followed. We just couldn’t justify spending $22,000 on a car, even if we had saved and were able to pay for over half in cash. It just felt wrong to us. So, we adjusted our expectations and got a very nice used car in great shape for about $14,000 less.

Where am I going with this? I don’t really know. In our partnership, Heather and I want to be good stewards. We want to live out what we say we believe. We believe God calls us to be good stewards and God wants us to live within our means. We believe God wants us to love and give radically. We live very comfortable lives and have all we need. Correction, we have more than we need. We try to make conscious decisions to live sacrificially. I just laughed a little as I wrote “sacrificially.” I know little about living sacrificially.

When I say sacrificially, I’m talking about buying used cars. I’m talking about not having cable television. I’m talking about using the free internet provided by our apartment complex that often won’t stream the TV shows we want to watch and gets stuck buffering. I’m talking about continuing to use an iPhone 4 when many are anticipating the release of the iPhone 6. What I’m talking about is a joke and downright insulting to many of my brothers and sisters around the world and even in my own neighborhood.

I was talking to one of my fellow chaplains who is from India. He supports five pastors at $100 U.S. dollars a month each back in India. He gives $500 a month on top of tithing 10%. The $100 U.S. dollars a month he sends to those pastors in India is all that they receive each month. They support their families and their ministries on $100 U.S. dollars a month. For them that is enough but is it really?

How is it that there are pastors living on $100 U.S. dollars a month and others are flying around in private jets and living in multimillion dollar mansions. Something is seriously messed up.

So where do we go from here? I really don’t know.

Here is a place to start: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/formerlyfundie/5-practices-toward-a-more-radical-christian-life/

The author suggests five practices for us to begin living differently:

1. Practice Purging Possessions

2. Practice Curbing Your Impulse to Acquire

3. Practice Fasting

4. Practice Radical Generosity

5. Practice Radical Hospitality

(Read the blog to see how the author unpacks these five practices)

The Holy Spirit is stirring something in my soul. Today I caught the scent of diesel fuel so I know the Holy Spirit was near to me.

Will you join with me in listening for the gentle whispers of the Holy Spirit? Will you join with me to discover practices to live in the Way of Jesus? Something must change and it begins with you and me.

Amen.

#MinistryProblems

Last night #SochiProblems was all the rage. I contributed on FB and Twitter posting: It looks like the U.S.A. athletes raided my grandma’s closet. #SochiProblems

Earlier this week on Tuesday morning I posted a status update that said:

Worked a 15 hour shift at the hospital yesterday. I dislike arriving home from work and leaving again for work without speaking to Heather because she is getting her much deserved rest. #residentlife #ministrylife

My dad responded to my status update saying:

“Praying for you Chad – and that this merely represents a day, perhaps a season, but 15 hour days are NO way to make a ministry life. Jesus said, “my yoke is easy and my burden is light”.  IF I could go back and make course corrections in my ministry I would have spent more time with you, your sisters and mom. I pray you will practice the self-care you, Heather and your ministry deserve!”

My #ministrylife was said a bit tongue in cheek. My dad helped clarify and shared from experience that 15 hour days are no way to do ministry in the Way of Christ.

And that’s the point of this post, #MinistryProblems.

Ministers and ministries too often perpetuate a broken system that just does not work and does not bring life. Ministers often have a deep seeded desire to please and to make people feel good. Ministries want to be pleased and want to feel good. And round and round this broken system goes.

It continues and will continue unless we make a conscious choice to create a new reality. No that is not right, *I* have to make a conscious choice to create a new reality because ministries (non-profits, hospitals, churches, para-church organizations etc) are not going to do this for me. They will ask, take, expect, and demand until the minister ends up bruised, battered, broken, and burned out.

#MinistryProblems

So, as always the million dollar question is, how do we change?

Well, the change starts with me. And it starts with you too.

For me, it is setting the boundary that being a resident is only for a season and the recognition that this is not a sustainable way to live. For me it means saying no to serving opportunities at church and the freedom to sleep on a Sunday morning after working the Saturday night deep night shift. It’s making sure I keep time for things that are life giving to me like spending time with Heather, running, reading, spiritual formation, connecting with others, and yes even having a beer.

The popular term that is often talked about among ministers but poorly practiced is called self-care.

So, today I am practicing some self care. I just enjoyed a great cup of coffee. I’m going to do some reading. When it warms up a bit I am going out for a 6 mile run. I’m going to spend some time with Heather. And then I am headed to the hospital tonight at 6:30pm for a 12-hour on-call shift, because that is the life of a resident. I’m trusting that #residentlife is a season. And that as I fight for my own self-care, someone might join me in my fight and fight for their own self-care as well. Maybe we can learn self-care together? That seems like something in the Way of Christ.

Amen.

Love is always louder

This kid, named Robby Novak, inspires me and makes me want to be a better person! He is commonly known as “Kid President” and is a role model for kids and adults alike. There are so many great lines in this video but here is one of my favorites: “It’s not about what you do it’s about who you are and you, you’re awesome! You’re made that way. You were made from love, to be loved, to spread love. Love is always louder, no matter what! Even if hate has a bullhorn, love is louder!”

Earlier today I went for a little 7 mile run. As I was running I was reflecting on this past week, the ministry I was a part of, and my learning. I also thought about this video. It was a tough week for a variety of reasons but stumbling across this video gave me hope and inspired me to keep pressing on.

As always I did some reading too this week (although not as much as I had hoped to!). Here are two passages I read this week that I want to share:

“God, or the One Who Calls us, acts so as to provide each person with possibilities for ever-new creative transformations.”

“God is the One Who Calls us beyond all that we have become to what we might be.”

In life, it’s very easy to point the finger. I am working hard at not pointing the finger and instead trying to own my own stuff. Sure, people have their stuff too. I can’t change others and what they do. I might have an opportunity to journey with them and in the journey have an affect upon them as the affect me but I can’t change them and they can’t change me. Sometimes the stuff of others affects me and sometimes it’s rather painful. Instead of pointing the finger at individuals, broken systems, and the problems of the world, I can focus on what I can change. Me. What I can do is be more aware of what the actions and words of other evokes in me and how others creates opportunities for me to grow and change.

I love the two quotes I shared above. “The One Who Calls us” invites us to a place where we might discover “possibilities for ever-new creative transformations” and that God calls us “beyond all that we have become to what we might be.” Living is messy. Relationships are risky. I am grateful the One Who Calls us invites us to risk and to love with him. And in the words of Kid President “Love is always louder, no matter what! Even if hate has a bullhorn, love is louder!”

Amen.