Love, grace, and goodness

I love to re-read books. I suppose this love of mine is going to come in handy in a few short months when Jimmie shows more interest in books and wants me to read and re-read them to her. Every time I re-read a book or re-watch a TV show or series, I see things bit differently, I pick up on a subtlety that I missed previously. In a similar fashion, as a minster, I tend to share many of the same messages. I am convinced that often what the world needs is not the next big thing but the ability to understand and practice the idea, concept, or value right before us. For instance, you could teach on love of God and love of neighbor and never run out of possibilities.

Last week, I wrote a blog post for Wilshire called “Goodness.” This is a lesson I will most likely revisit with Jimmie (because it is one I need to continually be reminded of for myself) throughout the various seasons of our lives together. Right now, the message is quite simple, I sing to her and remind her time and time again that she is a “good, good daughter.” When I feed her and she finishes her butternut squash or her bottle, I tell her “that’s a big girl! You were a good eater.” Sometimes I find myself telling her she is a “good girl” after she eats well. Her inherent goodness has nothing to do with eating or performing well. When I catch myself doing this, I immediately correct myself and tell her “Jimmie, you are good, it’s who you are. In this instance you ate particularly well” or I’ll tell her “good is who you are as a beloved child created in God’s image and sometimes we just don’t make the best decisions. That’s OK, neither does daddy. We’ll learn together.”

This might seem like a minor thing. As someone who struggles with feeling like my goodness is linked to my performance (why I struggle with perfectionism among other things) I want to help create a different narrative for Jimmie.

So, this might be a cute lesson between a father and daughter. What about the “real world” though? How do we embrace love of God and love of neighbor when a person’s view of God or views they hold about politics or immigration are so different from your own? Heck, you might think this very thing about me every time I post something on Facebook or post a blog. Do we truly believe that ALL human beings bear the imago Dei, the image of God? No matter their skin color, religion, political views, or sexual orientation?

A foundational belief I have about God is that God is on mission in the world to redeem, restore, and renew and we are invited to be participants in God’s mission. This is the greatest of invitations because to be on mission with God is to be in relationship (with God and others), to be in relationship is to love, and to love is to risk.

Love is messy. Parenting is the most rewarding and most difficult journey I have ever embarked on, hands down. And love and risk go hand in hand.

So, every time Jimmie’s little hand grabs mine, I’m reminded of the great gift, the great responsibility we have been entrusted with as we attempt to guide her into love, grace, and goodness.

Seeing the world #likeagirl

As a new parent, I see the world much differently than I did seven months ago. It seems like every time I turn on the TV or jump on Twitter I am reading about another school shooting, there is another story of law enforcement abusing their power, and there is yet another story of a person or group of people experiencing racism, discrimination, and acts of violence.

And this is the world we are bringing Jimmie into? Lord have mercy.

Running is my refuge. It’s where I am able to disconnect for a few miles from all of the noise of life and center myself.

On Sunday I ran the Cowtown Half Marathon in Forth Worth. It was overall a really wonderful experience and I ran my third fastest half marathon time of 2:03.4 (my personal record is 1:58 and change and my second best time is 2:02 and change). This was my first race to run since Jimmie entered the world. I have previous written about how a baby changes everything and I was surprised how Jimmie’s impact on my life has even changed how I view running and motivational language that is used in sports and other settings.

One of my favorite aspects of running a race are the hilarious signs that people create to encourage you. One of my favorites from Sunday’s race was “If Ben Carson can stay in the race this long, so can you.” Another favorite from a previous race (also during an presidential election year) was “Run your race better than Gov. Rick Perry is running his.”

Here’s the thing, though, degrading women and even violence were an all too common themes of the “encouragement” or “motivation.” There were signs that said things like “Make this hill your b%t*#h” and “Keep going . . . keep going . . . that’s what she said.” Others had themes like “Man up and don’t run this race like a whiny girl.” Believe me, there were worse things written on all fronts.

Why is this type of language and thinking acceptable? If you happen to catch any Trump campaign speech it’s clear that this type of thinking and this mentality still has far too deep of roots in our country and culture. My friends, this should not be so!

Theologian and pastor Sean Gladding shared this on his Facebook page this morning:

“‘Make America Great Again.’ After watching another Trump rally where white men yell at and shove a young black woman exercising her first amendment rights – this time here in Kentucky while NO ONE intervenes, it is clear that what that slogan means to those who show up for his rallies is a return to an America where people of color, women, and people for whom English is not their first language are to be denied the rights white men claim for themselves. If you vote for Trump, you are aligning yourself with THIS vision for America – because he encourages exactly this behaviour. If you vote for Trump and call yourself Christian, then you are no longer seeking the kingdom of God, but supporting its very antithesis made manifest in this demagogue. I denounce the racism, misogyny, fear-mongering and hatred that are the hallmarks of his campaign. America – we can do so much better. And we must.”

I could not agree more. We must do better.

In my race time pace of 2 hours to 2:15, I was surrounded by women. I got passed and out run by numerous women. When I ran down in Waco, early in the morning I regularly got passed on the Bear Trail in convincing fashion by the Baylor women’s running team. I have thought to myself more than a time or two “wow, I wish I could run like a girl!”

I love the #likeagirl  campaign that appeared in 2015. Here are some of the videos:

#likeagirl? You’re damn right!

Jimmie, here’s to you. I commit to helping change the world and to always have your back so you can live fully and completely #likeagirl.

C.H.A.O.S.

During my time in as a CPE resident, I tried to make sense of the chaos of life. Chaos can take many forms; an unexpected health crisis, a car accident, a horrific fight with a family member or loved one, a loss of a job, or a crisis of faith as a few examples. Sometimes, multiple events occur at once, sending life into a terrifying tailspin, utter darkness, and a place where there seems to be little hope.

So how do we make sense of chaos? Where do we go? What do we do? To whom do we turn?

In my on personal self work, I came to understand chaos in this way:

Christ here amidst our suffering.

I have never seen this acronym used elsewhere so I am laying claim to it unless corrected otherwise. I have also played around with different words for the “s” of chaos: sorrow, searching, sickness, sin, silence, and solitude.

During our recent 2015 Mustain, Brown, and Bianconi family Christmas where we gathered together in Oklahoma City, there were many moments of joy, laughter, and special memories that were made. However, there were some moments of chaos. Some were big, some were small, and others just left you scratching your head saying, “Huh? What just happened?”For example:

Suffering . . . seeing my dad’s parents rapidly decline in their health.

Sorrow . . . grieving the loss of hopes, dreams, and expectations of what we thought our individual families and collective family was going to be or look like.

Searching . . . to discover our new family normal as we all have grown, changed, and are  all in process.

In our immediate family we have four different marriage partnerships. That’s four different ways of doing life. Really it’s eight. It’s eight different ways of seeing holiday traditions, fun,  finances, parenting, theological, social, and political views.

There were some good discussions and there were some hard discussions. There were some moments of deep connection and some moments unexpected heartache. And yet there were also:

Smiles . . . three grandkids bring so much joy, hope, and excitement into family life.

Singing . . . we sang Christmas carols and worship songs and made up bed time tunes together.

Stories . . . any time we have a family gathering there are lots and lots of stories. Remembering things from childhood, laughing at the ridiculousness of decisions we made as we tried to figure out life, and updating one another on current life events and decisions.

Christ here amidst our suffering  . . . smiles . . . sorrow . . . singing . . . searching . . . stories.

Please let me be clear, I am in now way bashing or critiquing my family. Our family is our own normal. We are just trying to figure out life together, one day at a time. We gave up on being the “perfect family” long ago. The burden was simply too heavy and life was just too messy. So, we are learning to it for what it is and continuing to believe that God is in the business of renewal, restoration, and redemption.

And yet still there is chaos.

The chaos of life will happen. I’m not trying to be a Debbie Downer, it’s just the simple facts of life. Despite our best efforts, we cannot control life. Sure, we can try, perhaps with much success, but eventually chaos will find us. The phone call in the middle of the night, bad test results, or a major family blow up.

So the question is, how will you interpret the chaos? How will you work through it? How will you just sit in the midst of it and figure out how to take your next breath?

I believe in the depth of my being that Christ (is) here amidst our suffering, whatever that suffering may be.

That is why one of Jesus’ names is Emmanuel; God with us.I believe God is with us and God is for us because God is love.

That is the beauty of the Incarnation. “The Word [Jesus] became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.”

If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there; if you’re kicked in the gut, he’ll help you catch your breath.”

I have shared this before but something our family (the Mustain’s, Brown’s, and Bianconi’s) strives for is captured in a piece of artwork we each have hanging in our homes:

In our home we do second chances, we do grace, we do real, we do mistakes, we do I’m sorry’s, we do loud really well, we do hugs, we do family, we do love.

So when the chaos of life finds of, that’s how we’ll make it through.

My Friend Karl

As many of you know, I recently completed the monumental task of reading through Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics. I kid you not, I read it start to finish in a little under two years. Karl become a very good friend over the course of these two years. After finishing Church Dogmatics, we needed some space and went on break to think and process where we would go from that point. About a week together, he and I got together again, mostly in the mornings over coffee as I went through Dogmatics in Outline.

As a point of clarity, Dogmatics in Outline is not a summary or the cliff notes version of Church DogmaticsBarth utilizes the Nicene Creed as the filter or lens in which to talk about Church Dogmatics in lecture form and it just so happens that it is more accessible than the 9,000 page plus English translation of Church Dogmatics. 

I found a nice little summary of Dogmatics in Outline on a blog called “Barth for Beginners.” There is also a guy who summarized each volume of Church Dogmatics in a series of tweets.

So, back to me and my friend Karl. Karl and I became good friends over the course of the past two plus years. We shared a lot of coffee and a lot of beer. We agree on a a great deal of theological matters and we disagree on a number of things as well. I’ll be the first to admit, despite all of our time together, he is very much an enigma to me as well. I know him well enough to know that I don’t know him as well as I or others might think I do. There are things I wish were different about Karl. I wish he didn’t ramble on so much. I really wish he used more inclusive language and was inclusive of certain communities of people. That’s a strange thing to say of someone often accused of being a Universalist.

I’m pulling a Karl right now and just rambling on. The purpose of this blog was to share a series of statements from chapter 22 of Dogmatics in Outline called “The Church, Its Unity, Holiness and Universality.” I am afraid I might be seen as one who is really down on the universal and/or local church. I promise I am not. As I have said previously, I love the church (universal and local) so deeply. However, I believe in and desire more for her.

The statements I want to share from Karl gave me hope today.

“To-day there is rather too much than too little said about the Church. There is something better: let us be the Church!” p141

“The first congregation was a visible group, which caused a visible public uproar. If the Church has not this visibility, then it is not the Church.” p142

“The truly ecumenical Christians are not those who trivialize the differences and flutter over them; they are those who in their respective Churches are quite concretely the Church. […] In Him, despite all varieties in the individual congregations, we shall somehow be bound up with one another.” p143

“In faith I attest that the concrete congregation to which I belong and for the life of which I am responsible, is appointed to the task of making in this place, in this form, the one, holy, universal Church visible.” p145

“Where the life of the Church is exhausted in self-serving, it smacks of death; the decisive thing has been forgotten, that this whole life is lived only in the exercise of what we called the Church’s service as ambassador, proclamation, kerygma. A Church that recognizes its commission will neither desire nor be able to petrify in any of its functions, to be the Church for its own sake.” p146

“There is the ‘Christ-believing group’; but this group is sent out: ‘Go and preach the Gospel!’ It does not say, ‘Go and celebrate services!’ Go and edify yourselves with the sermon!’ ‘Go and celebrate the Sacraments!’ ‘Go and present yourselves in a liturgy, which perhaps repeats the heavenly liturgy!’ ‘Go an devise a theology which may gloriously unfold like the Summa of St Thomas!’ Of course, there is nothing to forbid all this; there may exist very good cause to do it all; but nothing, nothing at all for its own sake! In it all the one thing must prevail: ‘Proclaim the Gospel to every creature!’ The Church runs like a herald to deliver the message.” p146-7

“Where the Church is living, it must ask itself whether it is serving this commission or whether it is a purpose in itself?” p147

“We may often have distaste for the whole of Church life. If you do not know this oppression, if you simply feel well inside the Church’s walls, you have certainly not seen the real dynamic in this matter. In the Church we may be just like a bird in a cage which is always hitting against the bars. Something bigger is at stake than our bit of preaching and liturgy! […] If we really hope for the kingdom of God, then we can also endure the Church in its pettiness.” p147-8

“The Christian hope, which is the most revolutionary thing we are capable of thinking and beside which all other revolutions are mere blank cartridges, is a disciplined hope.” p148

I’m grateful for my friend Karl. The thing I love most about Karl is he always points me to Jesus. He is perhaps best know for saying “The answer is Jesus. What’s the question?”

Thanks Karl.

“Semi-millenial rummage sale of ideas”

12439540_1135630789804954_8684460907992481954_nThis image has been floating around social media this past week. The caption says it all.

Earlier this week, I was texting with a good friend about Lesslie Newbigin. We met our friend while we were resident chaplains for Baylor and he was an undergraduate student at Baylor. He participated in two trips that we led to Ghana, is now a student at Truett Seminary, and is slated to co-lead the trip to Ghana for Baylor Missions in May. We could not be more proud of him and are honored to have played a small part in his journey.

For one of his classes, Biblical and Theological Themes of Missions, he is currently reading a book called “The Open Secret” by Lesslie Newbigin. This book and Lesslie Newbigin’s life and writings were the most influential voice during my seminary journey. I received permission from my friend to share this portion of our text conversation:

Friend: “In BTT today, we had Newbigin’s conversation about election and liberation theology. My brain hurts haha”

Me: “It hurts but it is oh so good and worth it yeah?”

Friend: “So good! It just hurts me that these conversations aren’t happening. Especially his dialogue on the Eucharist being the table for all people, oppressed and oppressors, but we’re too quick to throw it in at the end of the service a few times a year just to maintain tradition in the by laws of the church.”

Me: “Agreed.”

Friend: “But the stuff on election just completely flipped the whole argument of election on its head with a new way of talking about it.”

Me: “Told you. Election not as privilege but as responsibility. And the Church is to exist for the sake of its non-members.”

Friend: “To be elect is a fearful responsibility. Now if only people would truly understand that and not think the church is for them.”

The dialogue in the cartoon captures the disconnect in the mission of God and the focus of far too many local churches perfectly: “Basically, we’re looking for an innovative pastor with fresh vision who will inspires us to remain exactly the same.”

 

This past week I led a study on a chapter out of Barbara Brown Taylor’s book “Learning to Walk in the Dark.” In this chapter she was talking about the dark night of the soul that individuals experience but said it can also occur in a community of people like a local church or the universal Church. In an extended excerpt she shares:

“While the dark night of the soul is usually understood to descend on one person at a time, there are clearly times when whole communities of people loose sight of the sun in ways that unnerve them. This seems to be what is happening to a lot of church people right now, especially those in denominations that are losing members at an alarming rate. While they experiment with new worship styles and set up Facebook pagers, most of them know that the problem runs deeper than that. The old ways of being Christian are not working anymore, not even for those who are old themselves. Something in the ways has died, or is dying — truly cause for great sorrow, even among those who know the time has come — and yet at the same time something is being born.”

She continues sharing: “Phyllis Tickle says that we are in the midst of a great rummage sale that the Christian church holds from time to time. Every age has its own accumulation to deal with, along with its own reasons for deciding what stays and what goes. [. . .] In Tickle’s terms, what many of us are taking part in, willingly or not, is Christianity’s ‘semi-millennial rummage sale of ideas.’ The last one was called the Protestant Reformation. No one knows what to call this one yet.”

She closes this section, sharing some thoughts inspired by Harvey Cox. “People have voted with their feet. Doctrines and creeds are no longer enough to keep faith alive. Instead, the faithful seek practical guidance and direct experience of the sacred. The new age we are living in is the Age of the Spirit, Cox says, already well under way in the global South. If this is a liberating moment for some people of faith, it is a moment of profound loss for others. Maybe you do not get one without the other, but age makes a difference.”

There is a narrative of fear being fostered in the political sphere and in our country right now. I would argue there is also a narrative of fear being fostered in local churches as well. Churches are afraid of change. It’s complicated but true. Whether it’s a pastoral search committee, influential church members, or even some of the pastors and church staff, self-preservation is too often the primary focus of the church, not the mission of God. Narratives are created and fostered to maintain the status quo.

My friends, this should not be so! I have a deep, deep love for the Church. I believe in the local church. That being said, I do not believe she is all that she should be. We get in the way with our own agendas. We are too busy with our stuff. And we are afraid of the great unknown.

The most often repeated phrase in Scripture is “do not be afraid.” Let us not be a Church who is held captive by fear. May we not inspire one another to remain exactly the same. Rather, may we be reminded that we have been called to be the Church. It is not a privilege but a responsibility. Our existence is not for ourselves or our own safety and preservation. We are to exist for the sake of the non-member as we follow the mission of God, God’s missionary spirit and movement in the world.

Good Good Daughter

My current favorite song is Good Good Father sung by various differnt artists. 

I have been singing it lately to Jimmie and I adapt the chorus this way:

You’re a good good daughter

It’s who you are, it’s who you are, it’s who you are

You are loved by your daddy, it’s who I am, it’s who I am, it’s who I am. 

I can hardly sing these lyrics to her without crying. J woke up early this morning so we had a nice time together before everyone got up. I played this song over and over from my phone, I sang these lyrics to her adapting them as my heart led me, and I cried like a baby as my little girl laughed and smiled. 

It’s one of my favorite memories with J so far. 

I sing modern worship songs to J as often as I can because they are simple yet deep and help me teach her some of the most important aspects of who I believe God to be, that she is loved by God and so many others, and we are holding her in faith as a gift entrusted to us until she can (hopefully) begin a faith pilgrimage herself. Nothing in life brings me greater joy than being a partner with H and a parent to J. 

Jimmie, you are a good good daughter, it’s who you are, it’s who you are, it’s who you are. You are loved by your daddy (and mommy too) . . . 

Mustain Christmas Update 2015

Here is the update that we snail mailed out to many of our family and friends. I invite you to read it and to hold it in tension with what I shared last week in this blog post: https://themustains.wordpress.com/2015/12/13/honesty-helplessness-and-hope/

To our loved ones near and far-

As we reflect back on the past year, it was about this time in 2014 that we were overjoyed to announce the expected arrival of our first child. In March, we found out that we would be expecting a little girl and on July 30, 2015 we welcomed our daughter Jimmie Kathleen Mustain into the world. Her name typically prompts questions of its origins, as I suppose it’s a bit unique. Jimmie is named after my father “Papa Jim” and Heather’s mother “Grandma Kathleen.” Jimmie is approaching five months old and is a healthy and happy little girl who loves to go for walks, chew on her hands, and watch Baylor football.

IMG_5221

I don’t know what else we could really share about 2015 that could top the news of our little Jimmie (also affectionately called Jimmie Kat, Jimmie Jams, and J-Kat). It has been the year of new arrivals for our extended family as well. In September, my sister Joy and brother-in-law Caleb welcomed their second child, Hannah, into the world and in November Heather’s sister Esther and brother-in-law Sean welcomed their first child, Lincoln, into the world. Needless to say, all of these new arrivals are blessed with incredible grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

IMG_0498

In other news, Chad completed the provisional board certification process through the Association of Professional Chaplains in March. He also completed his second year of chaplain residency at Baylor University Medical Center in August and transitioned to a part-time position on Tuesday’s and Thursday’s, allowing him to be the primary stay at home parent with Jimmie. December 1st was Heather’s two and a half year mark as the Minister of Missions at Wilshire Baptist Church. She continues to excel in her role as she helps lead the congregation in their participation of the mission of God and missional formation. She will resume travel both domestically and internationally in the coming year as she re-connects with existing mission partners and helps forge new relationships and opportunities.

IMG_0434

Happy Christmas to you and yours,

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

For updates throughout the year follow our blog: www.themustains.wordpress.com

For more pictures follow us on Instagram: hmichaele15 and chadm02