A Minister of Last Resort

If you are a regular reader of our blog, you know my blogging comes in waves that follows the seasons and patterns of life. During 2014, I didn’t blog as regularly here but that is in large part because I’ve also been blogging ever other week for our church, Wilshire Baptist Church (http://www.wilshirebc.org/) on the Wilshire Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/wilshirebc).

My favorite blog post and one of my favorite experiences or relationships of 2014 is the friendship I have built with my hairstylist “Misty.” I wrote about our friendship back in September in a post “When a haircut is not just a haircut” (https://www.facebook.com/notes/wilshire-baptist-church/when-a-haircut-is-not-just-a-haircut/10154568612825317).

This past Saturday, I got my last haircut of 2014. As usual, I was there a few minutes before Great Clips opened and as usual, Misty welcomed me in and told me she was just about ready for me. I took my seat in her chair and we picked up our conversation like we had just talked yesterday, not a month ago during my last haircut.

She told me about moving in to the new home she is renting, her new to her pre-owned car she bought as a Christmas gift to herself, a 2004 Nissan 350Z, and how her granddaughter was doing. I wish you could have seen her eyes light up as she told me how well 2014 was ending up for her. She said it had been a hard year but she was optimistic headed into 2015.

Naturally we talked about Christmas and family. If you read my previous post about Misty you know she has a broken relationship with her adopted family. Her adopted father happens to be a conservative Texas pastor who has disowned her. When she was in her late teen years she tracked down her biological father and mother. Both of them told her they wanted nothing to do with her. Needless to say, the holiday’s are a different experience for Misty, her daughter, and granddaughter. There is no invite to visit for Christmas, no phone call wishing her and her family a Merry Christmas, not even a Christmas card. Misty said she still calls her adopted parents to say Happy Holidays and Happy New Year. She leaves them a message. There is no Merry Christmas phone call in return. Not even a text message. That breaks my heart.

As I’ve said previously, Misty will most likely never walk through the doors of a church again. She has been burned one too many times by the church and those who claim to be Christians. Yet, somehow, by the grace of God, she welcomes me into her life and story each month when she welcomes me into her barber’s chair. I’m honest with her, she knows Heather and I are both ministers. I let her know that our lives and families are messy too. We show one another what psychologist Carl Rogers calls “unconditional positive regard.” I call it just trying to live in the Way of Jesus. I think Misty lives more like Jesus than many Christians I know. I know she is Jesus to me more than many people I interact with on a regular basis.

At the end of my haircut, I gave Misty an end of the year tip. She thanked me and said she looks forward to our talks every month. I had to fight back tears as she told me this. I told her I looked forward to it as well. She said see you in two weeks? I saw no, it’ll probably be about a month, I’ve got to stretch it out as long as I can. With disappointment on her face, she said, alright, I guess you’re gonna make me wait to talk with you. I should probably just get my hair cut more often. As my dad would say, I’m her minister of last resort. Maybe I’m her life line to Jesus? Or perhaps she is my Jesus life line? My friendship with Misty is one of my greatest honors of 2014. I am a better person and a better chaplain because of Misty. I look forward to continuing in friendship with her in 2015.

For “Misty” and all the Misty’s of the world, I say thanks be to God. May God bless them and keep them. May God’s face shine upon them and may God be gracious to them.

Amen.

Here are the last few blog posts I wrote for Wilshire in 2014. Enjoy!

A lesson in going without: https://www.facebook.com/notes/wilshire-baptist-church/a-lesson-in-going-without/10154826259440317

Too (fill in the blank) to be a good neighbor: https://www.facebook.com/notes/wilshire-baptist-church/too-fill-in-the-blank-to-be-a-good-neighbor/10154781962220317

Brothers and sisters, we are the church: https://www.facebook.com/notes/wilshire-baptist-church/brothers-and-sisters-we-are-the-church/10154732759460317

Mustain Christmas Update 2014

As many of you know, Heather and I adopted the yearly Mustain family tradition of a year in review Christmas update letter that my parents modeled for me growing up. We continue that tradition with our Must Christmas Update 2014:

T

To our Family and Friends with whom we share the journey-

Last year, I closed our Christmas letter by saying, “In this coming year may we all remember that ‘[g]rowth is a slow, secret, unspectacular affair’ and may we be committed to a journey of mutual transformation and love.” I would say that the theme of a journey has characterized this past year for Heather and I. We have tried to lean into growth, mutual transformation, and love in our life-partnership, with family, friends, and our ministerial callings to serve the local church and hospital parish. This past year the journey has been beautiful, challenging, and exhausting, full of laughter, joy, and tears.

IMG_8290Our journey throughout the early months of 2014 was a bit of a blur, filled with lots of on call and overnight shifts for Chaplain Chad at the hospital and as Heather traveled everywhere from the Texas/Mexico border to North Africa leading Wilshire Baptist Church in the participation of the mission of God. This year included many evening walks debriefing our daily experiences at White Rock Lake with Maeby (see above).

Over the summer we journeyed to Colorado to visit family, to celebrate Heather’s grandparents 50th wedding anniversary, and to celebrate six years of partnership together. The highlight of the year was sharing in the journey of a lifetime with the Mustain’s, Brown’s, and Bianconi’s to Israel. This Holy Land experience was truly beyond words and so meaningful to us to share as a family as we attempt to walk in the Way of Jesus. We sat on the Mount of Beatitudes where Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount, we felt the cool water of the Sea of Galilee where Jesus shared so much life and learning with others, and we walked the roads of Jerusalem where Jesus slowly journeyed to the cross at Golgotha. We are forever grateful to my parents for providing our family with this experience.

This fall it was a joy to celebrate with Heather’s sister Esther as she and Sean committed to life partnership together. I stayed very busy writing for board certification in chaplaincy and was also honored to receive the Service Excellence Award for my work at the hospital. Heather and I are both interested in doctoral work and Heather took a key step in that direction as she taught her first class in a virtual classroom for Baylor University’s School of Social Work. Heather also helped Wilshire respond to the Ebola crisis as one of our church families was directly affected.

As I close, I share this reflection on gratitude by one of my new favorite theologians: “And prayers of thanksgiving are like breathing spaces in all the work of prayer and the work that flows from prayer. Gratitude shapes and forms us, flows through us and from us, mingling with our sorrows as well as with our joys. Gratitude is the sheer delight of being a conscious participant in the dance of God, the dance with God.”

In the coming of this New Year may we continue to walk in the hope and expectation of the season of Advent and may we experience “the sheer delight of being a conscious participant in the dance of God, the dance with God.”

Happy Christmas to you and yours,

Heather, Chad, and Maeby (the Boston Terrier) Mustain

For more pictures follow us on Instagram: hmichaele15 and chadm02

New is often messy

I have a pastoral crush on Nadia Bolz-Weber. I have been slowly reading her book Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint. It has been too rich of an experience to just fly through. Heather and I were able to attend the church she leads in Denver called House for All Sinners and Saints a few weeks back. It was an experience that made my heart come alive in a way that I have not felt in quite some time.

I don’t really know what I am trying to say this morning or what is stirring within me so I am just going to share a few passages that are ruminating in me like good, black coffee on an empty stomach.

“For many churches,” I said to the crowd, “Easter is basically another word for church showoff day— a time when we spiff up the building, pull out the lilies, hire a brass quintet, and put on fabulous hats and do whatever we have to do to impress visitors. To me, it had always felt kind of like the church’s version of putting out the guest towels, which makes no sense. Easter is not a story about new dresses and flowers and spiffiness. Really, it’s a story about flesh and dirt and bodies and confusion, and it’s about the way God never seems to adhere to our expectations of what a proper God would do (as in not get himself killed in a totally avoidable way).” […]

“Jesus didn’t look very impressive at Easter,” I said, “not in the churchy sense, and certainly not if Mary Magdalene mistook him for a gardener.” […]

But then what we all end up with is a perverted idea of what resurrection looks like. My experience, however, is that the God of Easter is a God with dirt under his nails.

Resurrection never feels like being made clean and nice and pious like in those Easter pictures. I would have never agreed to work for God if I had believed God was interested in trying to make me nice or even good. Instead, what I subconsciously knew, even back then, was that God was never about making me spiffy; God was about making me new.

New doesn’t always look perfect. Like the Easter story itself, new is often messy. New looks like recovering alcoholics. New looks like reconciliation between family members who don’t actually deserve it. New looks like every time I manage to admit I was wrong and every time I manage to not mention when I’m right. New looks like every fresh start and every act of forgiveness and every moment of letting go of what we thought we couldn’t live without and then somehow living without it anyway. New is the thing we never saw coming— never even hoped for— but ends up being what we needed all along.

“It happens to all of us,” I concluded that Easter Sunday morning. “God simply keeps reaching down into the dirt of humanity and resurrecting us from the graves we dig for ourselves through our violence, our lies, our selfishness, our arrogance, and our addictions. And God keeps loving us back to life over and over.” (p 173-4 on my iPhone Kindle app).

New is often messy.

Thanks be to God.

Brokenness

That spoken word poem is a from a guy named Micah Bournes who I met in my time working with Baylor University and in the summer we spent in Bend, Oregon in 2012 when I was doing my mentoring at Antioch Church (no affiliation or connection with Antioch Waco).

Brokenness is on my heart this morning and brokenness abounds in our country. Racism, health care, poverty, liveable wages, violence, power, disease, LGBTQ discussions, and marriage equality to name just a few. These areas of brokenness are not just “out there” in a broken world but they are very real and present in our churches and faith communities. Sadly, throughout history, the Church has been on the wrong side of many issues and very slow to realize its faults. I believe today is no exception.

I love the last lines in Micah’s poem:

“And as we work with our sister in humble love, maybe we will discover how to fix what is broken is us, for brokenness belongs to us all, but hope, only to those who come together before God.”

Brokenness abounds in our churches and faith communities. Churches and those who attend are so focused on their own needs, wants, desires, and brokenness that little time and attention is given to the needs of the community, city, and world in which God called us to be to salt and light.

This should not be so my friends!

Ask nearly any minister and they will tell you they wish they had more time to be with people outside of the church wells. Sadly, most of their time and attention is invested in church people inside the church walls trying to encourage and empower them to get OUTSIDE the church walls. True discipleship is practiced not in a sanctuary, auditorium, or classroom. True discipleship takes place around tables, at the dog parks, at the local pubs, and in the schools. Discipleship takes place in the neighborhood! John 1:14 says, “The Word [Jesus] became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.”

Lesslie Newbigin believed a community will experience renewal when “local congregations renounce an introverted concern for their own life, and recognize that they exist for the sake of those who are not members, as sign, instrument and foretaste of God’s redeeming grace for the whole life of society.”

I believe in the Church and I believe in a better Church! May we not just attend a church, give to a church, and invite people to a church. Rather may we BE the church in our neighborhoods and communities. May we “exist for the sake of those who are not members” so that they might know “God’s redeeming grace.” Amen.

As a side note, I have not posted on this blog as often. Here are some of my recent blog posts for Wilshire Baptist Church:

Our Continued Response: https://www.facebook.com/notes/wilshire-baptist-church/our-continued-response/10154680217270317

Jealousy and Judgment: https://www.facebook.com/notes/wilshire-baptist-church/jealousy-and-judgment/10154616465525317

When a haircut is not just a haircut: https://www.facebook.com/notes/wilshire-baptist-church/when-a-haircut-is-not-just-a-haircut/10154568612825317

Work from our rest: https://www.facebook.com/notes/wilshire-baptist-church/work-from-our-rest/10154521402805317

This is where theology meets the real world. And let me tell you, it’s messy.

I love my job as a chaplain. There is not place I would rather minister. The types of people I meet and the scenarios I find myself are like no other ministry setting. My father has begun to adopt the term “minister of last resort” to describe the encounters he has in his evolving calling as a community minister and the new non-profit he has started (http://www.lovingcommunity.info/). I find myself resonating with this term as well.

But there are days like today when there are no words. The horrors I encounter I do not know how to give voice to. Honestly, today was a fairly “normal” on-call shift. However, I found myself at two drastically different ends of the spectrum with two different patient/family encounters believing in and claiming miracles.

The first was the death of a girl in her late teens in a car accident. When the doctor delivered the news to her parents and numerous family and loved ones . . . there are no words to describe the pain and suffering that filled that room. I facilitated the viewing of the body. She had been gone for several hours but those present immediately began praying, pleading, calling out for, and claiming a miracle. They were strong in their faith. They cited Scripture, they affirmed visions and prophecies of what her life was to be and this was not it! They renounced Satan and his plans, they claimed Jesus as the Great Healer, they cried out of the Holy Spirit to fill that place and to breathe the breath of life back into her lungs, and clung to God’s sovereign power and control. And there was no miracle. The body was eventually removed and the family and loved ones departed.

A little over an hour later I had the honor of leading the chapel service. One of those in attendance was the mother of a patient and family I have been ministering to over the past few weeks. After the service, with joy on her face and tears in her eyes, she told me of the miracle that had occurred since I last saw her earlier this week. God had been faithful. God had heard their prayers. God was sovereign and in control. Her daughter’s recovery was miraculous. It was a miracle. There was abounding joy, tears, and gratefulness.

This is where theology meets the real world. And let me tell you, it’s messy.

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.

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.)