The Trailblaze

On Saturday of last week I got roped into going up with a10422670_728048740591995_1510864702_o
group to do some trail work at Genesee Park, west of Denver in the hill above (and I mean RIGHT ABOVE) I-70. We were working with Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado, one of the cooler and better-organized non-profits I have ever encountered. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 120 volunteers showed up – we were divided into teams of eight. I could tell you all sorts of cool stories about various parts of the experience – the pure joy of being in the mountains, the familiar sight and scent of douglas fir, the delight of honest sweat in worthy manual labor, but the thing that really caught my mind was the endurance – the deliberate creation of something lasting and meaningful in our transitional world.

The hillside where we labored was subtly covered in old road grades and other signs of human habitation. I thought of the last two centuries, and who with horse or mattock or spade had cut into the earth, “to make” as Kipling wrote, “a path more fair or flat.” I thought of the history of human relationship with this land, miners and trappers and traders. I thought of its current purposes – a new trail to lead from campground to vale, where the bison roam on the hillside above the roadway.

As my pulaski dug into the hillside, pulling down the crumbling dirt to make the bench of a level trail, I thought about my parents. How I would drag them up the freeway into the foothills and walk them on a trail that my dad could manage, mostly flat, no stairs, and point to a few hundred feet and say “This. This was my section. Here’s where I pulled that infernal stump. Here’s where we rested and ate lunch. I made this. It will last.”

I love the building of lasting things. My words on my blog or on my papers will scatter – preaching is an inherently ephemeral act. We speak, and our words vanish into the eternal aether. Taking up axe and mcleod, though, and blazing a trail – a soft place in the earth where folks can find their way, something that lasts…

I’m very fond of this story, one that I think the church needs to hear more and more often. As American Protestants (and I worry, also, about the non-denominational, here) we do not think in these terms. We do not ask what it is that we will build that will last not only through the next pastor, but through the next century. Our mission as Christians is immediate and present – it is also eternal. What gift are we leaving to our grandchildren that will inspire them with a sense of our faith? What path are we laying to guide their feet in the Way everlasting?

I’m not sure, yet. I hope we’ll figure it out soon, though.

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Inspired, or The Day of Pentecost

A little more than two years ago, I was Image
ordained at a service at Mineral Presbyterian Church in Mineral, WA. As part of our process, I commissioned from my family a stole in honor of my ordination, and two banners for Mineral Presbyterian. I’m wearing the stole today, and you can see in this picture the Pentecost banner. the figures in the image have individual flames of fire (Acts 2:3) over their heads.  These tongues of flame are the sign and seal of the Holy Spirit, descending on these disciples. They begin to preach, and in such a way that all who heard them, from many different parts of the world, all understood. The Holy Spirit rested on them, and they were empowered to speak.

After a long struggle with and through the New Beginnings process, we are, today, celebrating the end of the beginning. The discernment is done – now comes the work. We ask, also, that as the Spirit descended on the early church and commissioned them to proclaim Jesus Christ to all the world, that God might send the Spirit on us to live out our new mission. We share with you today this new mission in statement form, a new call to the ministry that we are already doing, and hope to do in the near future.

As St. Andrew Presbyterian Church, 
our mission is to share Christ’s love across boundaries
of age, language, ethnicity, and class. 

We have many dreams and plans and ideas and hopes about how this new mission may look, but we ask you to pray with us today that God will bless the mission as we have received it, and that the Holy Spirit may inspire us to new work and new love with our neighbors, across many boundaries.

Pray with me, friends, for the Holy Spirit, and its inspiration, that we may do wondrous things together in Christ’s name.

Amen!

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The Memory

I had a very small (miniscule) debate with some sisters and brothers in Christ on the subject of Memorial Day a few days ago, and I don’t mean to gloat too much, except that I was TOTALLY RIGHT. It’s a problem system-wide in our society, that we’re not really entirely sure what our holidays, especially our civic holidays, are for. Especially when we talk about things like “Labor Day” and “Memorial Day” and, in Boston, “Patriot’s Day,” we’re not quite sure what’s going on, really, except that there are BBQs and beach days and leisure. More on many of those others later, but I wanted to say a word about Memorial Day, and its particular weight and meaning.

You see, on Sunday, I walked after worship up the hill to Fort Logan National Cemetery. I had no one on my personal list (although I was just informed by my father that I may have relatives there), but a few names of folks in the congregation. I had no gifts or flowers to lay – just my own prayers and words. I said hello to a few fellows I had never met, my heart and mind full of the interment of my grandfather, and the friends that I buried in Goshen, New York. I thought of my Canadian heritage, remembering the poppies that would be laid on Remembrance Day in Britain and France and British Columbia and across the Commonwealth.

Remembrance Poppies from Canada, with a soldier’s photograph

I remember the CDs that my dad would play every Memorial Day, especially John McDermott’s Battlefields of Green, and Charge!, which I cannot find online. I think of the Ashoken Farewell from the Ken Burns Civil War documentary and of the songs of our people, and of the loss of our soldiers from this country and its allies.

And that’s what I mean to say today about Memorial Day. We have a day for the celebration of all those people who died – there’s an app for that. But on Memorial Day, we remember those who gave their lives in service of this country, and those who, having served, have since died. It is a day to remember the graves of of servicewomen and men, soldiers and airmen and sailors who bought for us the precious freedoms of our society. Disagree with a war, disagree with a policy, say that our freedoms are under threat (they are), but these people gave what Lincoln called “the last full measure of devotion.”

So if you haven’t yet, visit the grave of a loved one who served, or a memorial to a long-forgotten war. Remember the cost of our nation, and the cost of our freedom, and hold those things precious. Cling to them, and remember.

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Solo Pastors in The 21st Century Church

revmmlj:

An interesting read – what do you all think? What would it look like if I spent less time fishing, and more time teaching y’all to fish?

Originally posted on achurchforstarvingartists:

My denomination defines “solo pastor” as one who does not supervise other blue_solo_cuppastors on a church staff.  He/she might supervise organists, educators, office administrators and sextons, but – at least according to the PCUSA – he/she is not a “Senior Pastor” or “Head of Staff.”  In other words, a solo sings alone.

Increasingly, there are more and more “solo pastors.”  (Attention Multi-Pastor Congregations:  this might be your future.)

According to 2012 PCUSA statistics:

  • About 3100 congregations have less than 50 members
  • About 2400 congregations have 50-100 members
  • About 2200 congregations have 100-200 members

Of all those congregations with 200 members or less:

  • About 3200 of the churches have an installed (‘permanent’) pastor
  • About 2600 of the churches have a temporary pastor (temporary supply, stated supply, interim, supply preacher)
  • Almost 2000 of the churches have no pastor at all (so they rely on guest preachers each Sunday and a neighboring…

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More Transgenerational Ministry

Presbyterians Today published online a thing about young adults and transgenerational ministry that I wrote with Ruling Elder Carla Lesh of Hudson River Presbytery.

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Worship Attire by Ruling Elder Kaye Lamb

The following is the counterpoint to my preceding post by one of my Elders, both intended for presentation in our church newsletter. Check it out!

What is appropriate wear for worship? Walt Disney said that if you dress like ladies and gentlemen, you will act like ladies and gentlemen.  Today people dress casually everywhere,  in fine restaurants, at work, and even for weddings & funerals  But what does God expect?

God gave very specific directions to Moses and Aaron in Exodus about  priestly attire which was meant to give dignity and beauty.  Aaron was to wear a breastpiece, an ephod, a robe, an embroidered shirt, a turban and a sash out of blue, purple and red wool and linen sewn with gold thread. The beastplate had precious stones – a ruby, a topaz, a garnet, an emerald, a saphire , a diamond, a turquoise, an agate, an amethyst, a beryl, a carnelian and a jasper all mounted with gold settings. All the pieces were elaborately decorated.   God expected the very best from his people when they worshiped him.

Even Jesus on the way to be sacrificed had  a “robe which was made of one piece of woven cloth without any seams in it” that the soldiers threw dice for.  It was too good to be torn and divided.

In our society, people who have professional jobs are expected to dress appropriately.  Job applicants are instructed to wear their best clothes in order to make the best possible impression.   Lawyers and business people always dress professionally.  Even charitabale institutions have learned that the best way to get people to support their cause is to appeal to their sense of dignity and beauty which means the best food, clothes, drink and accommodations.

Should we approach God to whom we owe are very being with anything less than our best?

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The Suit, or, Why I Don’t Like Wearing Ties in Worship in Six Steps

This is probably the single most difficult issue for me personally in my ministry thus far, which causes me to give thanks to God, from time to time, because it’s easy potatoes. It’s a source of distress to many to whom I minister, though, and so here’s my apologia – these are the reasons that don’t like to wear a tie to worship, barring special occasions*. I note heavily that this is me – in some ways this is also a confession of the intensely personal reasons that I struggle with the issue.

 

1. I learned to dress professionally in the technology world

Zuckerberg, Gates, Jobs – these are the men who were lifted up as role models during my development. Smart, professional, capable, and competent…and not a one of ‘em will you see, these days, in a suit and tie. Business casual is my default setting, the uniform of the technology professional that I, to some extent, remain today. It’s my most comfortable context, and just for me personally, it’s where I like to stay.

2. I experience it as off-putting to young people

I was once prepping a talk to my college Christian Fellowship. As I was about to sling a necktie around my neck, having been persuaded of its necessity by a former pastor’s wife, a friend stopped me. “Don’t do that,” she said, “or no one’s going to listen to you. I am less likely to believe or listen to you in a necktie than without it.” I was so struck by the experience that it stuck with me. When I am addressing folks under a certain age, I try to respect their context in this particular way.

3. I don’t like what the suit and tie symbolize

Now that’s what I call a sharp-dressed man.

Many in my generation – I certainly place myself in this category – experience “suits” as a source or symbol of oppression and imperialism. The suit and tie are a symbol, for us, of corporate greed and unhealthy power dynamics. Wall Street bankers and corrupt politicians are suit-wearers, and as much as possible, I want to distinguish myself from that crowd. If I have to dress formally as a symbol of my office, I vastly prefer my clerical collar (which sends an odd message to some people) over a necktie. At least, there, I am buying into a tradition of care that I have chosen.

4. I don’t care what people wear

At my previous congregation, I started hearing complaints about how some of our younger female parishioners were dressed. Very literally, I had to ask the complainer who they meant, and what particular garment had offended them, because I hadn’t noticed. I am a healthy, young, straight male, and I hadn’t processed any distracting outfits, because my fundamental assumption is that people are, y’know, wearing clothes. I don’t care, by and large, what other people wear, and so am always deeply surprised when people have opinions about what I wear. It seems to me such an profoundly unimportant fixation, how folks are dressed. Clearly I am not in the majority on this viewpoint, but it’s deeply rooted in how I feel. I don’t care what you wear, up to a point. If we’re avoiding obscenity, who cares what we wear?

5. I understand respect and reverence very differently

The most common and consistent comment I hear about “appropriate dress,” the one that concerns me most today, is that it shows respect and reverence for God. These are concepts which, to be frank, I struggle in terms of dress and appearance. My lifelong experience is that respect is a matter of action and speech. I have never once felt disrespected by something that someone has worn or not worn, and have often felt disrespected because of something that someone said or did. I have experienced enormous deference and respect from people in enormously casual wear, and tremendous disrespect from people in extremely crisp suits.

I'm having a hard time processing how I feel about this imageRespect is also tricky because it MUST be a two-way street. Being respectful of other people must fit in a context that they can experience clearly. Wearing a suit and tie is a sign of disrespect in some cultural moments. Being derisive or nasty about folks’ tattoos is a sign of disrespect in those same cultural moments. If we’re going to demand respect, we also need to be willing to give respect. Respect is a construct between two equals – it cannot flow simply from the powerless to the powerful, or much of Christ’s work is nonsense.

Reverence is tricky for me in short, because I can’t imagine a time that my life is disconnected from God. God is with me when I’m praying on my knees, when I’m laughing at a movie with friends, when I’m weeping with a broken-hearted congregant. I find the idea that Sunday worship is a time somehow set apart from other times problematic. The Holy thing in our faith is not Sunday, nor worship, nor the sanctuary, nor my robe nor stole nor cross. The holy thing is the people. The Church is the holy people of God, be they sinners and tax collectors and prostitutes or drunk or addicts or HIV positive. We are made holy not by what we wear, nor what we say, nor what we do, nor even by what we believe. We are made holy by the grace of God, and none of us, no matter how sharply dressed, has deserved that glorious gift.

6. God has bigger fish to fry than how you dress on Sunday morning

God, speaking through the prophet Isaiah, says of the respectful, reverent practices of Israel, “Is this the kind of fast I choose, a day of self-affliction, of bending one’s head like a reed and of lying down in mourning clothing and ashes?…Isn’t this the fast I choose: releasing wicked restraints, untying the ropes of a yoke, setting free the mistreated, and breaking every yoke? Isn’t it sharing your bread with the hungry and bringing the homeless poor into your house, covering the naked when you see them, and not hiding from your own family?” (Isaiah 58:5-7). Again, when Jesus is questioned about the behavior of his disciples, violating the letter of the Jewish law as it concerns Sabbath rest, he replies, “The Sabbath was created for humans; humans weren’t created for the Sabbath.This is why the Human One is Lord even over the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27-28) For me, worship is a time of authentic presence before the face of God, a stripping down to the essential elements of your spirit. I say, if your necktie is causing you to sin, is separating you from the call of God to love and compassion and obedience, then strip it from your neck! It is better to enter the Kingdom of heaven “improperly dressed” than to burn in a blazer and a sharp tie.

From the promos for The Devil's Advocate, about a diabolical law firm

Don’t be these guys.

Finally this – and this is critical. If you have a problem with something that I am doing, or not doing, come and speak to me. I heard about these issues folks were having at secondhand, and that is not fair to me, or to the receivers of complaints. You can ask around – I have no problem whatsoever being criticized, no problem listening and responding. I’m here to listen – just pop on by the office, ring me up, drop me an e-mail, or send me a card.

And for this one, please – comment and respond! This is an ongoing conversation for me, and one I’m always happy to work on further. I’m especially interested in what “respect” means to various folks, because I’m almost 30, and I don’t think I really understand respect.

Be sure also to check out the rebuttal from ruling elder Kaye Lamb!

* Special occasions are tricky to define, but, in short, I feel that Easter, Christmas, funerals, weddings, and job interviews qualify. Few others do.

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