What I'm Writing
Here it is: the pivot we are all facing.
As Church, we are in a place where the magic words have failed. The plans we made don’t match the geography we are living in. And, the hopes we had, where we placed our faith, might not be the plans God has for us.
Makes no difference what denomination, creed, or congregation you belong to.
This is the pivot.
Looking back over these little pivots, these points when my life changed, I tried to impose some order. I wanted to find a great story that encapsulates them. Some great Biblical truth, or truism, or some great slogan that will tie my life up into a neat little bow.
I don’t really have one.
The best I can do is offer what I did in a previous post: Notice. Love. And Let Go.
When we talk about spiritual transformation, when I do at least, it is this process that I am mostly referring to.
So, what is the Good News?
The Good News is these pivots are never really what we think they are. We know what they feel like. We worry about what they mean. We try to approach them the best we can.
And We Let Go.
Honestly, openly, humbly and faithfully.
Because, friends, the world is watching.
The church has never been more exposed to the world than it is right now.
Every wart, bit of tarnish, and blemish will be drawn out for the world to see.
And, the world will sneer. Is this the best your God can do? Fallen. Sinful. Broken people. Living lives worthy of scorn?
And, we will answer: yes.
And, God will answer, yes, and Not Only That, I will still send my only son.
Because, whenever we feel alone, broken, and battered, and the darkness is closing in…
The Good News, friends, is that Jesus is right there beside us, crying with us, loving us, and urging us on.
And, that friends, is what we offer.
Not gold or silver. Large crowds. Or, the latest and greatest.
This humble savior is all we have ever had, and we only keep him, by giving him away.
Looking back over your own faith, what sorts of pivots stand out to you? Leave a comment. Share a story. Touch a life. And, thanks for reading, Pastor J.
A friend in ministry, once asked me of a congregation I was serving, “have you ever really told them your story?”
And, I have come to think, I think so, but then, I’ve made that mistake before. I always assume that my life and its story is sort of an open book, which most of the people I know can just pick up and know. I think this might be the age in which I have grown up in, filled with instant access, shocking public exposure, and places, like Facebook, which tell you far too much about just anybody.
Since, we’re in stewardship season now; it seems fitting to offer some of how I have lived these years God has given me. If only, because, I think, if I were you, I might like to know a little more about this guy who came last September.
I suspect, I hope, I figure, most of you will know some of this, but, frankly, I honestly suspect you don’t really know. And, for my new readers, I apologize in advance; I’m not usually this self-focused or self talky.
Into all this expectation: here goes.
I’m a Connecticut Yankee, a grandson, of two old Connecticut dairy farmers. I lived down the road, less than a mile, from my Grandfather Rood, Gampy, as we called him. (No idea)
Our family plowed, hayed, and tended that little plot of land for generations.
Same story on my mother’s side, only, in Washington, CT.
Some farming connection brought my parents together.
I attended a local regional school. Went to UConn.
Moved to New Hampshire after school. Became a reporter. Went to seminary. Searched.
And, moved to the Pioneer Valley.
Ordained in the church I grew up in; where I was baptized; and I suspect where they will hold my funeral.
So, that’s my basic biography.
I suspect you could draw a circle around all the places I’ve ever lived and it wouldn’t be very big. Maybe a few hundred miles?
Not much of interest there, beyond the fun of geography and dates, maybe the “did you know, so and so…”
Not much new there either. I suspect all of you know this sort of information.
I think what interests me, at least at this moment, are the pivots.
The places where things change. Where I was something, or lived somewhere or did something; and then things changed.
To make this a little more Biblical: Mark tells us the Rich Man had been living one way, had an encounter with Jesus, and decided to go back to living the way he did before. Jesus gave him that out: sell your stuff, give it away, and follow me.
And, the guy couldn’t.
These little pivots, big and little, are what make life interesting, right?
Looking back over your own life, what sorts of pivots stand out to you? Leave a comment. Share a story. Touch a life. And, thanks for reading, Pastor J.
Hi there. Rev. Jeremiah here.
So another Pastor Jeremiah fast fact is I’m a sucker for any new sort personality test; the latest being the one offered from Strengthsfinder.com. (You do need to buy the book, get a secret code and log in before taking the 35 minute test.)
I would recommend it to folks and to congregations looking for something positive to build upon. All too often in church land, we tend to focus on what’s missing and not what’s possible. This book would force a governing body, a small group, or a clergy gathering to focus more on the strengths present in the people in the room.
To give you a taste, here are my own top five: futuristic, input, strategic, includer, and learner. I know it sounds like a salad made of the latest business buzzwords, but I found it to be an affirming test and worth your time.
The beauty of this time is it has never been easier to connect the various strengths and needs, or to put it in Paul’s language, for the foot to find the ankle and the leg.
Here’s a link: www.strengthsfinder.com
Let me know what you think? Tried it? Liked it? Hated it?
Sitting here on Labor Day: I realize that I have never been able to see the parking lot across from me empty before. It’s usually overflowing with cars looking for takeout from Mesa Verde.
It’s Labor Day in the Pioneer Valley and I’m stuck working.
There is something calming about how the blue of the sky hugs the orange siding and the exposed brick of the building next door.
Downtown Greenfield, MA is a fascinating place, but when it’s basically empty of people. It is possible to see both the beauty and the need more clearly. Beauty in the old buildings. Scratch the need bit. Add, more beauty.
People being people despite the heat of the day. Riding bikes. Running. Walking slowly. Or, merely, there in the aching absence a public square feels without people to fill it.
This afternoon I’ve been reading a book about bringing the arts into spiritual direction. The author describes how there are really two approaches to living the spiritual life: kataphatic and apophatic; or receptive and expressive.
Sitting here, watching the day slowly turn from hot afternoon to more shadows and threat of thunder storm, I am struck by the idea that places some time also need the empty spaces to come into their own. Perhaps, this is another way of understanding place, by looking deeper at what a particular space is waiting for?
Speaking about my home in the Pioneer Valley, I’m thinking this place is waiting for something to happen. The region’s older mill and industrial towns especially almost seem to want to let out their breath and let something go. I see this in the struggle the older generation clings to itself. I feel it in how relations, well known family groups, and friends have a tendency to burrow into themselves. The implied fear being: the next breath might send them spinning away.
Call it the fear of the emptying spirit.
There is another story happening in this little valley, which I am only lately coming to understand. There is a stream of people that come down from places like North Adams, slips into Greenfield, flows down to Holyoke, and settles in Springfield. This is the stream of the poor looking for opportunities, jobs, and better housing, a stream that all too often gets trapped in places this older generation wishes not to see.
My eyes have seen the glory of God and I am ever watchful for God’s new song. I hear the echo of God’s work in this river flowing down.
I suspect, can’t know for sure, that this great flow of people is part of a much larger pattern that could be discerned for the people and places all across the nation. We are a people once again on the move: seeking new jobs, new families, and new hope. Few now are those that live and die in the place where they were born.
This emptying spirit has made many of us pilgrims again.
I have a hope and prayer that, years hence, we will be thankful for the space this gives.
Part of an occasional series about the nuts and bolts of church work. I’m always interested in learning more about how people work, write, and create. I offer the following up in the hope that it inspires your own preaching efforts, or at least is marginally helpful.
Step 5: Pick a focus text. I usually use the Old Testament text to point to the New. Meaning, I am reading the Gospel, standing in the place of the Old Testament. Or, sort of, kind of, if you squint. like the informed listeners of Jesus’ day.
For example: in the parable, Jesus is describing the actions of a farmer, who chooses not to pull the weeds before harvest time for fear of damage to the wheat. Now, my family has been dairy farmers for generations. Something doesn’t sit right about just letting the weeds be, free to steal the nutrients from the soil away from your good crops. Here’s the rub: would they, those old listeners, have felt the same way?
That’s what commentaries and scholarship is for.
Last Thursday, I was flip-flopping back and forth between talking about parables and thinking about dreams. The commentaries I consulted left me feeling a little dry.
Step 6: Go online! There really are a great many good resources online.
I tend to check out WorkingPreacher, whose Craft of Preaching video casts are great!
My latest tool: google.com/trends
Looking at the word: dreams/Google score.
in dreams 100
the dreams 95
dreams lyrics 70
sweet dreams 65
my dreams 60
broken dreams 30
What’s that list mean? Drill down a little. These are song lyrics; probably. But, I’m more interested in seeing the tone of the searches. Are they hopeful? Sweet dreams beats broken dreams. Tuck this away: people searching for dreams, might be following songs, music, or creativity.
And, I wonder, what would the music have been like for those angels Jacob saw? Enter: sense of sound.
Another great one: google.com/trends/correlate
Correlated with dream
Analysis: dream is paired most strongly with home and business, and then some money thing, and then concerns about health and fitness. Sounds right. Success. Money. Beauty. And, then travel. I’ve played around enough to know, that these are not real high correlations, at least in the world of Google correlate.
So, see Jacob, there, on the plain. And, see him dreaming, and he’s dreaming of a place to call his own, a home, and a place to be accepted. And, with that I have found a key to connect our current people, those who will be here on Sunday, with the wider world.
I won’t take you down the same track with the Matthew text, but it could be done in a similar way by picking out the key themes and drilling down into them.
The preaching challenge is always a couple fold: first to make the stuff in the bible have any sort of sense and then to make people actually care about it.
When I was a kid, say eight or nine, one of my favorite games to play after school was to go “camping.” Camping, in this case, didn’t involve anything too elaborate.
Looking back, it was probably just a chance to be outside, playing in the dirt of the driveway, and driving around our collection of little plastic and metal cars and trucks.
For my brother and I, camping, as near as I can remember, involved filling the little vehicles up with sand, pushing them somewhere new, and watching all the sand flow out.
The sand in this case represented all the awesome stuff my eight year old self thought was essential on camping trips: food, candy, and cookies. Not necessarily in that order. (It was after school and snacks were on my mind.)
And, then, when all the sand had run out, we’d pick a new place to go, load up and head out.
What’s my point?
On my walk this morning, this was the story that came to me, given all my recent losses associated with the established church in this nation. I won’t bore you with mine here, but I suspect you, dear reader, have some sense that the established church is simply not enough as it is.
This sense that the church is not simply good enough as it is; too concerned about its own problems; or the sleeping patterns of others; or countless other ways.
This sense, if you let me continue the metaphor that the grains of sand are quickly slipping out the sides of the plastic VW bus.
Too often, church development schemes and leadership begin by attempting to prop up, stop up, and seek to hold the sand inside. The sand in this instance, standing for everything from the young people, the money, the building, or the people in the choir.
That’s not good enough.
My eight year old self would tell them: shake the rest of the sand out, pack some more and head off in a new direction.
And, pack lots of cookies.
Final thought: my first piece of advice to congregations and individuals I have worked with: clear the clutter. To survive today people, institutions, and groups, must learn to pack lighter for the journey. There are lots of great books and resources out there about simple living, clutter busting, and the rest.
Part 1: the beginning. Part of an occasional series about the nuts and bolts of church work. I’m always interested in learning more about how people work, write, and create. I offer the following up in the hope that it inspires your own preaching efforts, or at least is marginally helpful.
Step 1: Select a text, or texts. Unless I feel compelled to speak about a particular issue, or topic, or theme, I usually follow the Revised Common Lectionary. (Know, should you choose this route, that there are pros and cons, either way. The Lectionary dodges the really difficult texts far too often. Your own choices might do the same.)
Our text this third week of July: Genesis 28:10-19 and Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.
Step 2: Find the texts in the bible. I prefer books to Kindles, because the books tend to have better footnotes. Read the footnotes. Can’t tell you how often those little things have sent me in interesting directions. I have a shelf full of five bibles: NIV, NRSV, Good News, Message. (In case you’re counting; that’s two different versions of the NRSV. I do love footnotes.)
Here’s what I found doing this step for Genesis: this represents Jacob’s first encounter with God, place could also mean shrine, which linked in my head to a great post on stadium vs sanctuary, documentary hypothesis tells us that the “J source” may have added to the conversation and expanded v.15.
Now, Matthew: it’s a parable. Footnotes only go so far.
Back to Genesis: 28.14 is a promise, it’s not a ladder so much as a step, the words, “he had a dream” jumped out at me.
Step 3: Pray. I usually try to do this first off, but it usually happens after I get a little more clarity about what I am thinking about/working with/dealing with. I’m not really sure if God appreciates focused prayers, but I know it helps me to have a little bit of a direction to face.
My prayer goes something like this: help me God to find the way forward. Open my eyes and ears. Grant me strength for the journey.
Step 4: Commentaries. I don’t have the luxury of having a complete set of any particular commentary series. I tend to find them in second hand stores and used book stores. I figure the books that come into my life are the books I need. This means I have a pretty eclectic mix of stuff to begin with, which combined with the typical pile of library books I have lying around, becomes a pretty strange brew.
I’ll continue this post series tomorrow, but for now, here’s where I’m at.
As I type these words, my father has just been admitted to a hospital in a city, which feels very far away. Earlier, I was playing around on Hootesuite, trying to make some sense of the Twitter verse.
And, I entered in a search phrase, “please pray.”
And, I have been watching as people, I don’t know, can’t know, call across the distance of cyperspace asking for prayer.
There is something in this listening, which is close to prayer and close to discernment.
Prayer requests used to be local, or so large they made national news, but now in the comfort of my dining room I can watch the prayer needs of thousands scroll through my feed.
And, they call out for a response.
Figuring out that response is the work of discernment.
Learning to listen, that is the first skill.
So, as an experiment, take a few moments, and enter, “please pray” into the search bar in Twitter.
Sure, some will be for things like, getting a new haircut, but most will be for very real, very clear needs for love, for support, and for connection in a difficult time.
Here’s my point: the internet erases the distance between each of us. We all know this, but what is becoming clear it might also erase some of the distance between people and God.
That’s my hope, at least.
So, dear readers, how has the internet informed your prayer life?
Have you found yourself typing “please pray” into your feed?
And, you can thank your neighbors for it!
Phyllis Tickle and others have described a great emergence of new faith happening in our time. For those of you not paying attention to this sort of thing: think a church shake up akin to the Great Reformation that birthed Protestant Christianity.
Here’s my nut shelf version of that history: one expression of Christ’s message; bad. Multiple messages work better. All the power in hands of the clergy; bad. Instead give the people a chance. (Enter, Martin Luther.) And, now, enter the new emergence and the rise of Spirituality, the Nones, and all the rest.
Here’s my problem with all of Tickle’s critique: it leaves you hanging. Something needs to be done, but, history will tell us what that needed to be.
And, now, the neighborhood speaks, and says, you Christians aren’t living up to what you say. Because, this to my mind, is what is happening now, given our hyper connected, inter connected, and always aware world. The warts that used to be hidden behind church walls are now on full view for all to see.
Warts in this case being code for: hypocrisy, clergy sex abuse, shame, all manner of sin, and beyond basic ignorance. Not to get all cynical here, but if you ask someone why they don’t go to church, they likely have a pretty good reason.
So, from where does our help come?
Here’s my idea: our neighbors.
I believe that it will be the love of our neighbors, both towards them, and from them that, will set the church back on its hopeful, cheerful, joyful, God inspired path.
If you read enough “church success stories” you will discover, while it might be some awesome new programing or inspired leadership, the real truth comes down to neighbors taking charge of these old God outposts, these local congregations, and making new meaning for them.
Our neighbors, both local, and not so local, already know what they need to find our collective message hopeful and inspiring. I don’t for one minute believe that God is currently absent from their lives.
They are looking for Good News.
Here’s my message, my thought, trust that if we let our neighbors love us, not as we in church love ourselves, but as God does, then the world will be forever changed.
Can I get a witness?
Let me ask you: “what does the fox say?”
Here’s my guess: it says we are slouching ever closer to that Gomorrah known as the one world culture.
You’ve heard, watched, or been subjected to that internet meme: “What does the Fox Say?”
(Click over; if it’s new. I’ll wait.)
And, now, with that catchy little rhyme and those strange masks in your head. Consider the fact for a certain portion of last week, the first week of June 2014, the Wikipedia page for that song was the top trending story for the entire planet.
Now, here’s the point: what does that mean?
This is where the world needs not just skill, but creative inspiration to help make meaning from that little bit of data. Making meaning means taking a contextually specific stand about something that matters to you. Or, said simpler, it means looking at your life and your world and making a judgment call about how something matches or doesn’t.
So, for many of us, the Fox doesn’t mean all that much or even really matter all that much.
However, and here’s my point, the difference in this new post-post world is we have the opportunity to discover the context we thought mattered – culture, history, religion – matters differently.
These holy three used to define people’s worlds, but no longer. People today need to develop their own skill at making meaning, divining how some new bit of data, connects with the context of their lives, and leads to new understanding.
It could almost be a math equation:
Internet fox + my life (context) = meaning (understanding)
Making religious meaning used to be the sole or largely so, responsibility of those in traditional roles of church leadership, but no longer. As people, learn to navigate the informational tidal wave, they must either learn to swim or be washed away.
The challenge people of faith face is how to make meaning using some of the traditional markers of faith, which can feel very confining in a world so awash in newness.
Teaching people the skills of meaning is one of the great challenges all of the world’s faith traditions face.
The Christian response is that each life has meaning, because of the shared meaning found in Jesus the Christ. Said, another way, each life matters, because God cares enough to love.
Today’s challenge is not getting information into the hands of the faithful, but rather to help people of faith learn to make meaning within the various contexts that they find their lives.
So, what do you think? How do you make meaning in this world today?