Baseball Stadiums and Gratitude

So if you follow me on social media, you know I have been posting a lot about baseball, having recently gone to games at two new stadiums (bringing my total to 12) in my quest to see a game at all 30 active MLB ballparks. I will never forget my very first MLB games with my dad to see our favorite team, the Atlanta Braves, at the old Atlanta Fulton County Stadium. We saw two games on this family trip to Atlanta and as the story goes, I fell asleep on my dad at both games. I also remember buying a shirt together at a street vendor after the game. Good times, good memories. 

Here is my list of stadiums in order of how I enjoyed them. 

1. Fenway Park

2. Wrigley Field

3. Camden Yards

4. Busch Stadium

5. Globe Life Park

6. Dodger Stadium

7. Minute Maid Park

8. Coors Field

9. Safeco Field

10. Chase Field

11. Kauffman Stadium

12. Turner Field (and Atlanta Fulton County Stadium).

I have had the joy of going to all of these stadiums to see baseball games with family, friends, and loved ones. There have been many rich conversations, lots of laughter, and beautiful moments of gratitude. There has been one exception, Camden Yards.

When I went to Camden Yards, I was still working for Adventure’s in Missions and was going to help facilite a week long mission trip in Alexandria, VA. I flew up to Baltimore  a day early to catch a game so I went by myself. As much as I love the game, the stadium, the atmosphere, and the experience, I learned very quickly it’s who I am with that makes the experience so meaningful, not just the stadium where I am seeing a game. Sure, I struck up conversations with fellow fans, the ushers, and others at the stadium but it just wasn’t the same.

I think we all have the deep, fundamental desire to know others and to be known for who we truly are. When I attend a game with Heather, my dad, and other family and friends, I am with people who I am sharing in the journey of life with. They know my joys, my fears, and my deepest longings.

So while I enjoyed crossing another stadium off my list yesterday, it was sharing this experience with my brother in law Caleb, one of my best friend since we were 15 years old that gave it richer meaning. We have spent hours and hours taking, laughing, and reflecting on our journey together. Two weeks ago in Los Angeles  with Heather, it was a celebration of life and partnership and the transition of life seasons as we prepare to welcome our little girl into the world in August. 

So yes, I will always love baseball and the stadium experience but the deeper feeling is that of gratitude for those in my life I share the experience with. For my family, friends, and loved ones, whoever you are and wherever you are I say “thanks be to God.”

“Salvation lies in remembrance.”

I’m reading several books at the moment, some for work and some for pleasure. One book we are reading as part of our Clinical Pastoral Education curriculum is “The Spirituality of Imperfection: Storytelling and the Journey to Wholeness.” I’ll be honest, while I wish everyone would read this book, it is probably too unsettling for many Christians.

There is a beautiful story found on page 155:

Once some disciples of the Baal Shem Tov approached him and asked: “Why do you answer all questions by telling a story? Why do you always tell stories?” The disciples then steeled themselves, certain that, true to the tradition, the Baal Shem Tov would necessarily answer such questions about story with a story. But the Baal Shem Tov, after a loving, lingering pause, responded: “Salvation lies in remembrance.”

“Salvation lies in remembrance,” the Baal Shem Tov taught, because “in the process of reminiscence, we regain the present.” The Besht knew the fundamental spiritual truth: Those who have no past, have no future. Our past continues to live in our present, and the way we live this day, the way we live this moment determines our future. Spirituality’s “pervasiveness” embraces both the past and the future in the present moment. (Kurtz and Ketcham, 155).

Heather and I are out in San Clemente, California celebrating our partnership (check out some of our pictures here) together to this point as we wait with great anticipation the new season we will begin (and in many ways have already begun) when our little girl fully enters our lives in August. Last night at dinner overlooking the Pacific Ocean, we shared some of our hopes and fears. We remembered our own childhood experiences; things we hope to hold on to as we parent and things we hope to release in order to perhaps do things a bit differently. What was central was remembrance.

I love that line, “Salvation lies in remembrance.” In one of my favorite stories from Scripture, the angel of God asks Haggar, “Where have you come from and where are you going?” (Genesis 16). We hope to model, teach, and experience together how to be a family who remembers well.

Good times and difficult. Beautiful moments and brokenness.  When all seems right with the world and chaos.

Spirituality, faith, religion, history, civil rights, racism, war, exclusion, inclusion.

May we remember.

May we discover our salvation as we foster sacred safe space to remember.

Live with your hands unfolded

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about being a parent. You may or may not know that Heather and I are expecting our first child, a little girl, in August. It was pretty surreal earlier today listening Pandora and hearing some of my favorite songs from high school and college by Blink 182, Matchbox 20, Third Eye Blind and more as I was building our little girl’s dresser.

A few weeks back I was driving to work early one morning and I heard this NPR story. I really hope you will take three minutes to listen to it: http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=394061800&m=394216997

As I was driving down the road, I was balling my eyes out imagining our little girl and the world we are bringing her in to as inequality and injustice are every where you turn. Beauty and brokenness grow intertwined throughout life.

This story is about an African-American family and a dad’s reflections on the challenges of bringing up an African-American boy in Mississippi. Here are a couple of my favorite lines from the interview:

Aiden Sykes (son): “Do you remember what was going through your head when you first saw me?”

Albert Sykes (father): “That was the most proud moment of my life. […] It was like looking at a blank canvas and just imagining what you want their painting to look like in the end but also knowing you can’t control the paint strokes.”

Aiden Sykes (son): “Why do you take me to protests so much?”

Albert Sykes (father): “I want you to see what it looks like when people come together. But also that you understand that it’s not just about people that are familiar to you but that it’s about everybody.”

Aiden Sykes (son): “Are you proud of me?”

Albert Sykes (father): “I just love everything about you.”

Aiden Sykes (son): “What are your dreams for me?

Albert Sykes (father): “My dream is for you live out your dreams. There’s an old proverb that talks about when children are born children come out with their fists closed because that’s where they keep all their gifts. And as you grow your hands learn to unfold because your learning to unleash your gifts to the world. And so for the rest of your life I want to see you live with your hands unfolded.”

I am very much in the hopes and dreams stage imagining “a blank canvas and just imagining what you want their painting to look like in the end but also knowing you can’t control the paint strokes.” Those are hard words for someone like myself likes routine, control, and predictability. Our little girl is going to be my greatest teacher about love and risk.

As I think about what kind of father I hope to be, ultimately, I want to be a father who helps our child learn to unleash her gifts to the world. I want our daughter to live her life with hands unfolded.

As she learns this, I hope she will help teach me to do the same.

Amen.

When A Barber’s Chair Becomes Holy Ground

I got my hair cut today as it had been about a month. I was there a few minutes early, as usual. I saw Misty’s car in the parking lot and whispered a word of thanks, grateful to have the opportunity to visit with her. As always, she greeted me warmly and invited me to take a seat. Misty has the gift of hospitality and her barber’s chair has become holy ground. We proceeded to get caught up on life and how things were going.

I’m not blogging on our personal blog as often as I used to. However, the last time I blogged, I wrote about Misty (https://themustains.wordpress.com/2015/01/01/a-minister-of-last-resort/) and how she was hopeful for a better 2015. Sadly, this hope has not yet coming to pass.

Much of our conversation today focused on “tough love.” Although Misty is older than me, has 19 year old, and a grand child, she looks to me for input as a dialogue partner. As I’ve said before, I think I am her minister of last resort. In short, she said it was one of the hardest decisions of her life but she had to kick her daughter and grand child out of her home. She gave me some details about some of the circumstances and asked if I thought she did the right thing? She said for the first time in her life, she feels she is “on the right track” and said she feels she cannot compromise the positive steps she has taken.

What do you say to a tough situation like this? The Judeo-Christian faith tradition seems to show us that a facet of God’s character is that of “tough love.” For God so loved us that God gave us the ability to say no, to think that we know better, and to go about life in our own way. For love to be genuine and real, there is risk involved. Love and risk go hand in hand. Love does not always get loves own way. So, if God is love, I believe that God does not always get God’s own way. That is why the Scriptures are full of stories of people straying from and (sometimes) returning to God. Love is messy, chaotic, and beautiful.

I remembered Misty was studying for a certification test so she could teach part time at cosmetology school. Unfortunately, Misty shared she failed her certification test by three questions. So, she is saving up so she can retake the test. She said she knows this is the next step she needs to take in life. I suspect some of the drama with her daughter took away from her ability to focus and study. Misty said 2015 hasn’t started the way she hoped but she is still hopeful. Every time I leave her chair, I know I have been in the presence of God. Throughout the course of our friendship, Misty has taught me more about love, hospitality, perseverance, and hope than she will ever know.

Today’s haircut didn’t really end on a nice “feel good” tone. That’s life sometimes though. Life and love are messy, chaotic, and beautiful. Somewhere in the midst of the chaos and the beauty, I believe Christ is there for me, for you, and for the Misty’s of the world. After reading this post, if you wouldn’t mind, say a prayer for Misty.

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.