Blog Post: Getting Angry without Action About Politics Doesn’t Change the Situation

Suffice it to say, Facebook is the hotbed for political ranting, discussions and debates, and it isn’t confined to only the times of an election. People seem most comfortable discussing a woman’s reproductive capabilities, religion, the weather, and…politics. And for some reason, politics are the most charged, particularly when they are in a faceless forum like Facebook & Twitter. Without the accountability of a face-to-face interaction, there is no need to have any respect, any tongue-holding, or any grace for a different perspective. Instead, the internet becomes the filterless battleground for any and all political perspectives, and frequently these perspectives come with absolutely no substantiating evidence behind them. 

I’ve become quite interested in politics over the course of my adult life, as it pertains to my ministry, personal life and such, but I become rather frustrated when the political arguments are associated with hostility, aren’t shared with respect and grace to the opposing perspective, or backed up by theological, scriptural or factual evidence, then frankly, they do not deserve to be had. Political opinions are a right in this country, that is undeniable, and yet, the ability to express them is a privilege. And yet, when the right to express an opinion is abused by allowing it to be abusive in the first place, it loses its power and authority. 

Most frequently, I saw a debate occur on Facebook between two individuals regarding a political election, where one side was more educated on the candidate than the other, and was able to substantiate their argument based on actual fact. While the two parties were certainly in opposition to one another, the first party, party A we shall call them, became defensive, likely because they couldn’t provide educated evidence to their point, and was simply “shooting from the hip.” Their feelings were sufficient to make a political point truth, rather than depending upon actual factual truth, despite the fact that such a thing is not so (and in the end, they came out the [sore] loser in the argument). While party B’s point was less than tasteful at times in my opinion (I don’t agree with the political party & candidate they were agreeing with), they were able to provide proper and substantiated evidence for their views and beliefs, and so in this case, I tended to agree with them wholeheartedly, as they didn’t look foolish and ignorant. 

Growing up, my mom would always say, “knowledge is power,” and the same holds true here. Getting angry about politics on Facebook doesn’t do the world any good, especially when it involves posting a single-sided argument without any substantiation. To argue a point implies the willingness to listen to another side, and even more so, the willingness to be changed, to be respectful, and to even agree to disagree should change not be possible. Any opinion is extraordinarily personal, and often the reasons behind them run deep; as my CPE supervisor would say, everything means something, and I would believe this even applies to politics, as politics extend beyond their own sphere into the personal lives of everyday human beings. This is perhaps why heated discussions over various issues ranging from women’s rights to the definition of marriage run so deep; it isn’t just about those issues, but about what those issues represent to a particular person on a particular day and time. 

So bear this in mind – before you post a position and click post, think about whether this position represents the majority (or minority) of your readers and friends, and whether what it represents might hurt those reading your wall/tweets/feeds whether you intend it to or not. Further, what you post should be substantiated, and you should be able to substantiate it further should someone ask. “Shooting from the hip” is unacceptable, and if that is the sole means by which a political point is dealt with then posting should be held back entirely. 

Politics are a wonderful part of our country’s judicial and free expression system, and yet, if a person deals with politics with hostility and anger with the expectation that others will respond positively, they are sorely mistaken and foolishly delusional. Anger will not inspire change, nor will it positively impact a political system. Anger only inspires further anger and hostility among parties, whether they agree or disagree; what is more, anger does not inspire change of any kind, nor does it encourage progress, in whatever manifestation that will come. 

Anger fosters hate, hate encourages violence, and violence only perpetuates a cycle of misunderstanding, rumors and thereby halting any possible discussion discussion. Discussion won’t hurt humanity, if a willing spirit is present between the two sides. Anything in theory is possible, and yet as broken, faulted, fallen humans, laying down the sword of pride makes the changing of minds, opinions and hearts challenging or impossible. And yet, prayerfully and in the name of God, anything is possible. 

I plead, think and discern your posts, whether they are political or faith-based, as they have the power to harm, alienate or wound another – especially if they make claims that corner a faith, political, ethnic, racial, or other group based on a broad brush stroke that is unsubstantiated, and based on information you have not and cannot fact check on a moment’s notice. Think about what you are posting and whether you would be willing to stake your life on it, because a simple post could change the way in which you are viewed by others, by the church, and by those you seek for the highest forms of respect. And those types of relationships cannot be regained easily, if at all.

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Blog Post: Created in the Image of God

I am not a tattoo woman. That is to say, tattoos have never really been my thing. But if I were to get one, I know exactly what I would get, and precisely where it would go. I would get “Created in the Image of God” written in a delicate hand right over my heart, where only two men’s tools have been – God’s when He crafted and formed me in my mother’s womb, and two decades later, my EP (which stands for an Electrophysiologist, a special kind of cardiologist that deals with diseases of the electrical system of the heart), who burned my electrical system four times before putting in and removing my pacemaker twice. Only two men have seen the inner workings of my heart – the Creator Himself, who crafted and molded it into what it was before its malfunctioning, and then the bold and courageous man who was willing to take a risk to make it more functional years later after infection.

But why “Created in the Image of God” over a heart that didn’t work perfectly? Because it absolutely did, and because in the face of issues, God carried me through them. Because God never makes mistakes in His creation, and because I believe in the power of Scripture (not in its infallibility, but in its inspiration), and therefore, that my heart was created mirroring God’s; if mine had weird quirks, then so must God’s, and if my heart breaks, so must God’s.

Don’t worry, I am not rushing out to get a tattoo, and likely won’t ever – commitment issues? A fear of permanence? Will likely get destroyed in further surgeries, and then what will it say? (Laugh away…) Permanent Ink has never really been my thing anyway.

But will stay is the theology behind the sentiment. We are all created in the image of God, which means that we were created perfectly, with all our foibles, imperfections within, defects (birth, emotional, psychological, physical and otherwise) and never forget that. God saw it fit to carry me through all this, and wrap his hands around the perfect heart He created in the beginning, out of nothing. How unfathomable that is still boggles the mind of this weekend theologian, and yet with my mind set on gratitude, the scars I carry in and on my heart as a result of the five surgeries and procedures, I still tout the verse from Genesis 1, which says,

“So God created humankind in His image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them. God blessed them…” (Genesis 1:27-28a, NRSV)

Because regardless of what we carry, we were created in the image of God, in the beginning, and blessed by God following that act of creation. I don’t need a tattoo over the heart that has been burned, ablated, scarred, infected, nuked with antibiotics and stimulated with electricity during countless EP studies to know that it was lovingly crafted by the Divine Creator who continues to compassionately hold my hand, guide me through this thing called a Call, and smack me in the back of the head when I stubbornly insist on a mentality of “my way or the highway.” This heart was created, whether it was created in the state its in now, or without its foibles, is as perfect as a heart without any issues, as God created it.

And so goes everything that God creates because the bottom line is, God the Father created it out of selfless and undeserving love for the very thing He was creating. And thanks be to God for that selfless and undeserving love, that we continue to feel each and every day, in a variety of ways; because in a world that struggles with inclusion of broken beauty, the perfection of God’s creation, just as it is, is something to be embraced and praised, and treasured as a precious jewel.

We are all created in the image of God; no one person is more created than another, nor is anyone created better, more whole or less whole. Everyone is created as God intended, and for that, I must say Thanks be to the God who created, who continues to create, and who will be the sustainer of such a glorious creation. And that creation includes tattooless but no less created me.

Blog Post: How Great Is Our God…But Right Now I’m Just Plain Mad!

My first field placement was in a local hospital not far from seminary; that summer, I had already discerned that I was not emotionally ready for CPE quite yet based on what I had been told from “upperclassmen” friends as well as from my home pastors, and so I decided that I would spend the summer prayerfully discerning whether hospital chaplain was “my thing” (aka whether I was called to this by God) by working one-on-one with a Presbyterian minister and PTS grad. To this day, this man is a mentor in ministry, someone I look up to and even someone I call a close friend. He taught me that a part of being a Chaplain means frequently giving permission to both love and be angry with God simultaneously. Initially, I brushed this off, as in the average, white-picket fence Christian Church in WASPy suburbia, how oft is this message truly preached to the bobble heads in the pews? 

The need for this type of message hit home on a particular patient visit which still sticks to my memory like glue, even two years and countless patient visits and trauma calls later at two different hospital centers. Who the patient was and what he/she was suffering from is inconsequential (not to mention a breech of pastoral confidentiality – something I have come to hold quite highly having been a patient and on the receiving end of pastoral care in hospitals; I’ve also seen a breech of this on social media sites to the shame of legal contracts and the sacred bond between the body of Christ); what does matter is that this person was suffering, both physically and spiritually, and was on the verge of divorcing his/her faith entirely because they didn’t know expressing anger to and at God to God was perfectly acceptable. His/her understanding of God was that of, “if I do everything right in my life, God will reward me,” and yet, because they were struggling with a potentially terminal diagnosis, God had somehow missed all the right stuff and skipped straight to punishment. In this moment of deep sorrow, grief, fear of the unknown and what must have felt like God’s total abandonment, this person did not know that it was appropriate and acceptable to express their emotions to the Divine One who was still very much there, despite the world crumbling beneath his/her feet. 

Expressing anger and frustration accompanied with our admiration and appreciation for God is not a concept dreamed up by a team of pastors underneath the cone of silence (yes, a Get Smart reference…) for use only in certain circumstances. Feeling a sense of anger and sorrow toward God is a common and prominent theme in the Scriptures, especially noted by the Psalmists. 

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?

How long will you hide your face from me? 

How long must I bear pain in my soul, 

and have sorrow in my heart all day long?

How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O LORD my God! 

Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,

and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed;”

my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.

But I trusted in your steadfast love; 

my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.

I will sing to the LORD,

because he has dealt bountifully with me. (Psalm 13:1-6, NRSV) 

Or, the most notorious and sympathetic Psalmist voice of them all…

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? 

Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?

O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;

and by night, but find no rest…

But I am a worm, and not human;

scorned by others, and despised by the people. 

All who see me mock at me;

they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;

“Commit your cause to the LORD; let him deliver – 

let him rescue the one in whom he delights!” (Psalm 22:1-2, 6-8, NRSV) 

Even those chosen for ministry, as Jeremiah was (albeit against his will and prior to his creation, see Jeremiah 1:4-10 if you don’t believe me!), struggle with God’s at times irreconcilable inconsistencies, or so they seem here. 

O LORD, you have enticed me, 

and I was enticed; 

You have overpowered me,

and you have prevailed. 

I have become a laughingstock all day long; 

everyone mocks me. 

For whenever I speak, I must cry out,

I must shout, “Violence and destruction!” 

For the word of the LORD has become for me 

a reproach and derision all day long. 

If I say, “I will not mention him, 

or speak any more in his name,” 

then within me there is something like a burning fire

shut up in my bones; 

I am weary with holding it in,

and I cannot…

O Lord of hosts, you test the righteous,

you see the heart and the mind;

let me see your retribution upon them, 

for to you I have committed my cause. (Jer. 20:7-12, NRSV)

The Psalmists and Jeremiah give us today the permission we desperately need to bring our heartaches, our sufferings, our sorrows, and perhaps most urgently, our anger with the creator of our innermost beings. Culture teaches us that we should keep things to ourselves – out of fear of judgment, that others are far more burdened, and that our voices in times of struggle are not worth hearing. In certain church circles, our struggles seem prioritized, as though their is a list out there, either written or unwritten, and to voice them publicly is trivialized. But scripture teaches that God listens and can handle the struggle, the darkness, the dirty nitty gritty anger and everything in between that we as humans face each and every day. The Triune is in it for the long haul with us – His Creation – and needs to hear the struggles of our heart, even though He knows it already. 

The Church is the very place where human struggles – both with one another and with God – can be voiced, prayed over, properly discerned and dealt with. The thing is, it takes an act of great grace to create such a place from the ground up, to reform what is being preached from the pulpit, and also the mentality of those entering the doors each and every Sunday. Like the saying goes, it takes a village to support an individual, just as it takes the Divine to support an individual through what feels like the World War that is a personal or familial crisis, whether it be illness, a divorce, or a major life change. 

But God can take the anger, can take our despair, and can weather the storm ranging within, and might even prefer to hear us voicing our concerns, just as the Psalmists poured out their emotions to their beloved God when they felt most grieved. Because God is greater than His Creation, He can not only take our grief, our anger and our sorrow, but He can provide us with the cracked door to find our way out of those emotions again, even if the situation itself is still underway. God cannot always make the bad, nasty, not so good things in life go away, but He can certainly act as the protector, shepherd, Father Almighty, companion and guardian in those situations.

The patient ultimately didn’t survive his/her illness, but was able to reveal his/her anger and frustrations to God. We sang, prayed, cried and read the Psalms together in a spiritually intimate moment I will never forget as a pastor. In those moments, they were able to come to terms with the fact that their anger with God were signs of a deeper faith and the markers of a budding faith waiting to bloom forth out of a place of deep suffering and great promise. 

As pastors, we learn from these parishioners and their strength; their willingness to express their fears verbally, out of places of great sorrow allows us to realize that a life of faith is not perfect, but rather is filled with bumps, bruises and anger – with ourselves and with God – and that both is perfectly fitting and acceptable. We shouldn’t be afraid to model anger with God, so long as we too can model imperfection in this faith, and that our lives with God include these bumps, bruises and something on the other side, just as the Psalmists and Jeremiah so boldly showed as well. 

Thanks be to God.

Blog Post: Finding God’s Blessing in the Glimmers of Real Life “Stuff”

I’ve been living in (or out?) my “new life” for four months and one week now (well, who’s counting?!), and what a whirlwind it has been. I graduated from Seminary, I took a place as a resident at UCSF medical center beginning in September, and I went to General Synod in Pella, Iowa, blogging every step of the way. 

Facing a health crisis at 23 through 25 was unexpected to say the least, and perhaps this is one of the greatest understatements known to humanity – what is that saying, no one expected the Spanish inquisition? Well, I certainly never saw this coming, but I wouldn’t change a thing about the last two years, as God was certainly a huge part of them, and they were definitely a blessing. 

Now let me clarify that last statement; not everyone who has been to that deep dark wilderness place of illness will make such a statement – that their illness has been a blessing and that they wouldn’t change any part of it – and I must clarify that illness, with its life-changing side effects, and its forever changing scars (both physical, and emotion), sudden illness is not always perceived as a blessing to all. But for me, it was a tremendous one, resulting in a deeper bond with my friends and faith community, and most especially, an inseparable bond with my God. 

When I was diagnosed with an arrhythmia disorder just prior to Thanksgiving of my Middler Year of seminary, the wilderness phase of my twenties began, and a true sense of soul searching ensued. A few months prior, a litany of “whys” also flowed from my mouth, as is perfectly normal, but a dear friend of mine boldly told me that asking why was pointless as the Lord of Hosts surely wouldn’t give me an answer to my persistent questions, no matter how many times I pleaded. As a type A personality, I constantly long for the definitive answer to all things, and yet, living a life of faith exists in direct contradiction to my personality; I must have faith in light of the unseen, I shall forever more have faith despite not always having all the answers I desire, but having the answers to a plethora of questions never uttered from these lips. All my “whys” were futile, as no answers were going to appear, not from clouds, out of a rock cleft in half, nor out of a fiery bush, nor out of an ocean split in half: why did this happen to me [in the middle of seminary]? why my heart? why? why? why? 

And yet, one day, the questions ceased, and a peace came over me, as though everything was going to be ok in the midst of chaos in this wilderness period. While everything was not ok – (three) failed cardiac procedures, medication trials and finally two (yes, two, within twenty-four hours of each other no less) pacemaker implantations – God’s providence, presence and peace made everything completely ok. The thing with faith in God in the midst of a crisis is that it has the power to still even the most chaotic of storms. 

The blessing comes in the oddest of places; I considered myself a Christian before, but felt my prayer life and understanding of the Holy Spirit, providence, grace and omnipotence strained and distanced at best prior to all this. But in the face of something unexpected, having to turn to God, not for answers but for strength, courage and purpose turned into a blessing. Over the course of the journey, I heard other testimonies of strength and courage, of all that God had done in the lives of others during tremendous tragedies and challenges, as well as the stories of sorrow and trauma, simply by opening myself and my own “blessing” up to others. God had blessed me, not with the “affliction” itself, but with the opportunity to be strong in the midst of it, to walk the path and stay the course, and what is more, to give me a purpose on the other side of it and the tools to stay the course. 

The blessing also came in the form of a stronger faith, and the desire to seek God above reason; when life gets really tough, as mine did over the last two years, the only answer to the problem is God. Reason is nice, and yet, not sufficient; only God can explain why this happened, and only God can make put it to good use, as I have seen glimmers and whispers of so far. 

Modern Christianity trivializes the term “blessed” far too often, perhaps even to the point of removing its meaning altogether; I’ve seen it on Twitter in reference to people not receiving speeding or parking tickets, to people getting an extra shift at work, or being spared a bad grade in a class. And while I believe that God cares about each and every one of His creation, the minutia of every day – grades, a speeding or parking ticket or not drinking spoiled milk out of the fridge are frankly not high on the Triune priority list for this weekend. #blessed has become a linguistic and theological cop out, a cheapening of our relationship with the Divine, when in reality even the smallest and greatest of things in our daily lives are blessed and we don’t even know it as modern day Christians because we fail to stop and take in the moving of a puffy white cloud or the first giggles of a tiny baby. These equally are as much a blessing as my illness – blessings from on high, and things to be joyfully received, recognized and embraced. 

My blessing is that I get to take a breath each and every morning – a breath of fresh air with full lungs. These lungs for nearly two years didn’t expand, but rather coughed and felt congested, but now, each and every morning they fill with air as though they don’t know any better. For two years, I lie in bed each night with my palm pressed to my heart feeling its frantic and frustrated efforts to beat – between 120 and 160 beats/minute – and breathlessly wait for sleep to overtake me. And now, with a battery and two wires in its place, my heart beats as though it never knew anything different – slow and steady like the tortoise in Aesop’s Fable. 

The blessing is not the steady heartbeat, nor the countless breaths of fresh air, but rather the testimony of God’s faithfulness throughout. It is easy to testify God’s faithfulness in the good times – that God has the provider of opportunity and courage, but it is even more difficult to attest to God’s omnipotence, faithfulness and providence when all has gone awry. God has taught me patience, to trust that things will happen not according to my timeline, but according to His, and that all will be well, but that it just might look different. These are the blessings. Blessings are the very things that are unexpected and do not come from our own hands but from Gods; they are shaped and molded and are the answers to our unasked questions; two years later, my “why” questions have still gone unanswered, but I have received so many different answers, responses and things in between from above that I never would have imagined. I have strayed down paths as a result of God’s leading that my “whys” wouldn’t have led me; the “whys” are distractions from the true purpose and leading of God, and from seeing the glimmers of God’s blessings in this muddy and murky world, and will always go unanswered. 

#Blessings are not the blessings conceived of by God, but the bright and shiny things of this created by the material world; blessings come in the strangest and at times the most unconventional of ways, but are accompanied by God’s love, and over the last two years, I have felt nothing but God’s love. Because of that, I am able to continue to preach the Gospel, to sing, to care for others, to testify to the power and Glory of God, and even to jog! God is wondrous, miraculous and works in the most incredible of ways, blessing each and every one of us in odd and crazy ways throughout our lives. I should know, I’ve been there! 

 

You’re rich in love, and You’re slow to anger

Your name is great, and Your heart is kind

For all Your goodness I will keep on singing

Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find

 

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My EKG in September of 2012. Suffice it to say, This is NOT normal! It looks much better now thanks to this…

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Blog Post: Including All the Words Given To Preach and Live Out the Gospel

My favorite author tweeted the following 140 characters this afternoon: 

“If authors avoid all words that readers object to, we’d be left with no vocabulary except ‘and’ and ‘the.’ ‘But’ would be out.” 

As I write my sermon for next weekend on Matthew 10:40-42, the Gospel reading from the Lectionary, I think it is appropriate to ponder how the language choices we make as Ministers of Word and Sacrament (RCA), Teaching Elders (PC(USA)), Preaching Elders and all who attempt to faithfully preach the Gospel to the ends of the Earth impact the way they are received and taken into the world. My Princeton Education professor talked about Explicit, Implicit and Null Curriculum until he was blue in the face throughout my class with him this past spring, and given that I never felt a direct call to be a church educator (or any sort of educator otherwise), I may or may not have ignored the meaning of these words other than their obvious meanings; however, as preachers and ones who are called to live out the Gospel in our daily lives, these three disciplines so-to-speak speak volumes, and here’s how. Explicit, implicit and null curriculum for a lack of a better explanation, all imply different things, but for the sake of this blog post, each can imply things from the pulpit as well. The language choices we as pastors and preachers make in our sermons, beginning with our exegesis, use of commentaries, and even our choice of translations (NRSV, NIV, ESV, CEV, etc.), sends a variety of messages to the congregations we are serving on a number of levels. Complicated, no? 

I am preaching for the second time at my home congregation, which is by no coincidence the congregation supporting me for ordination, next weekend. Being a lectionary preacher at my core, I felt God leading me to choose the assigned texts for that Sunday, which coincidentally came from Matthew 10:40-42; this text picks up on Jesus’ lengthy “whoever” instructions to the Twelve as they are about to head out to the Gentiles, which begins in verse 5. Jesus has been going on for quite some time, instructing them on how to minister and spread the Gospel in the Gentile communities, and then he comes to verse 40. 

“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple – truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.” (10:40-42, NRSV)

Matthew 10:40-42 is a message of hospitality and inclusivity, not just Christ’s to his disciples, but also to us as pastors to our congregants, and as Christians to one another and to those of other faiths and no faith at all. We have been accepted and welcomed, flaws, faults, brokenness and perfections; because of that, it is of the utmost imperative that we also welcome. We cannot welcome, warn, encourage and exhort if we are masking the message of the one who came before; we will not lose our reward in heaven (or our reward in the here and now…hint hint membership in the Body of Christ) if we are too fearful to do so. 

My favorite author got it right in 140 characters, and Matthew’s Gospel got it right in two verses; but regardless of the character length, the message we as the Body are encouraged to follow is clear – how we convey the Gospel and the words we use to do so sends a specific message. By removing certain words because they are deemed too difficult or challenging removes the power of Christ’s sacrifice on behalf of sinful humanity, as well as God’s initial selfless desire to form a perfect creation ex nihilo. Shocking as it may be, the commandment is to be radically inclusive, not exclusive, and I take that to also include the language of sermon writing as well; congregations need to be challenged, not sheltered from difficult texts, especially in a world of instant gratification, “vending machine Christianity” and an “I do what I want and deal with the consequences later” mentality. The language choices (explicit, implicit and null) used in a sermon indicates a personal willingness to lay one’s life down for the Gospel – perhaps not literally (which is ok), but even theologically. Accepting God’s call to ministry  comes not without a further acceptance that boldness (a word which Paul uses frequently in his letters to the various churches across the First and Second Century Mediterranean world) is a must; using bold language in sermons, albeit intentional and carefully placed, is not only a must, but also good for the well-being of the congregation. To borrow from my favorite author, if ministers used only the words that their flock agreed with, their sermons would be quite brief, if substantive at all. 

We are encouraged and even commanded to boldly preach, as Christ’s ministry on Earth and God’s initial act of creating was bold; if we are to read scripture and faithfully live according to it, then it seems only right to continue such a streak. What is more, it seems to me an act of loving hospitality to not censor the language of our sermons, our prayers and our liturgy out of fear that someone, somewhere at some point might find a minute problem with it. Life ought not be lived in fear, and yet for many it still is; therefore, the preaching and sharing of the Gospel should not be associated with fear, at least in the context of the church, in our context as modern Americans (despite the fact that in many corners of God’s creation, it still very much is).

Have courage and preach courage, because courage fosters courage and acceptance, as well as hospitality and boldness, not just in our congregations, but also out there in the big, bad, amazing world! Christ’s message was bold in the first place, and his intention was not to encourage others to be safe for generations to come, but to breed a church that was radical; thus, don’t mince or parse words out of fear of offending this congregant or that one, but do so in the name of Jesus Christ, who was willing to sacrifice it all so that we could be welcomed, and therefore welcome others.

Blog Post: In the Wake of a Storm, There is Always Calm

Life is about storms; huge, massively violent, and sometimes destructive storms with thunder, lightening and flooding, and also those small storms punctuated by the smell of the most beautiful spring rain and a beautiful, sunny rainbow at its conclusion. But either way, whether the storm wipes out entire towns, destroying homes and livelihoods in its wake, or whether the storm causes beauty and revival, storms do come to an end, and bring about change. 

In everything, whether it be our lives as created women and men, or whether it be in our service to the church as the Body of Christ (although these two are not mutually exclusive theologically in my opinion…), storms happen, and even more often than we would like to admit. They happen not out of our desire for unity, but rather our inability to seek after God toward a singular purpose, and it is possible that they result from our broken, sinful nature, but in all honesty, it is is likely a result of our individual desires to be right, to have a say, and perhaps even, to make a difference in a world that seems to dramatically out of control. The storms rage, schisms begin to form – among people and among groups, arguments ensue, and yet, God persists to be present, to show a direction, and to show His grace and providence; God is bigger than our disunity, God is bigger than our desire to silence one another’s attempts at discerning God’s call for the church and in our own lives, and what is more, God is bigger and stronger than our ability to isolate one another from God Himself. 

If we are not encouraged to truly think, ponder, ask the tough questions and push back, then the calm will seem like yet another an extension of the storm it seeks to advance and improve itself. Whether it is God’s preferred future that is the belief system in question or Calvin’s understanding of (double) predestination, the church is ultimately not a possession of creation, but that of the Triune, who created not out of obligation, but selflessly; with this understanding, it is the duty of the church to listen both obediently, prayerfully, discerningly, and with a rebellious and passionate ear to the thundering ground in the most stormy of areas so that when the storm is over and the clouds have rolled back, the still small voice of God is just as clear and strong in our ears as leaders of this church we have been given as a gift, albeit undeservingly. 

And so I continue to push back, to question, to ponder, to head into the midst of the storm however frightful or mild, not because of the potential for a fight, but because of my love and passion for the God who has called me into life, who has spared me from the pit (more than once…), and who has seen it fit to put me into service in this most incredible church. I push back because of this fire burning within, a fire for life that burns and cannot be extinguished, but rather grows the tiniest bit more vibrant each and every day that I am granted a new morning in community with the Body of Christ. This fire wants to see the stormy moments yield rainbows, yield taller stalks of corn, and to see little children jumping into puddles with playful and carefree giggles, filled with the pure and unadulterated joy that is only of the presence of the Holy Spirit among them. But mostly, I push back because I long for more – as a member of the Body of Christ, as someone who has felt the call to ministry from the deepest pits of illness, the highest mountains of joy, and every incredible storm in between. I long for more, and am willing to seek for God’s grace, providence, and that very path which God has predestined before the creation of the church with every breath and every heartbeat, for the sake of God, by the grace of God, and to the glory of God. Because in this way, the church, even in its rocky seas, in its disagreements, in its fights and frustrations, will see the wonders of a storm, will be able to weather it together as though it is a unified and strong body that is the Body of Christ, formed by God the Father, and sustained through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I will do so because if we don’t, we will never be more than the sum total of our past experiences, both individual and cumulative. And that certainly cannot be what God intended for us – as the Body of Christ, and as His Church. 

To God, not humanity, be the Glory, and all shall be well, no matter how rocky the seas, and no matter how stormy the skies.

Blog Post: Offering a Hand of Grace, Despite Our Differences

Over the past few days, the RCA has done some frankly groundbreaking (and for some, heartbreaking) work. We as a denomination have offered a hand of reconciliation to the CRCNA (the Christian Reformed Church of North America), and have asked for forgiveness for more than 150 years of sins committed. We have gathered together for worship, for combined synods, for prayer, and for the healing of wounds; the amazing thing is, God has done wonderful things during this General Synod – two churches previously divided over both minute and significant theological and polity issues have been able to come together and gather at the Lord’s Table, pray together and celebrate what God has done and is doing. We have celebrated each other’s growth, and have asked for forgiveness. We have looked at our differences, but most significantly, we have looked at the very things we share in common and have asked one another where we can grow together as a unified people in Christ. 

This morning, our church voted on a number of issues, and while my heart breaks for one particular decision that was made, God is bigger than a collection of people attempting to figure things out based on their ability to read and interpret scripture in the here and now; God is bigger than a collection of broken individuals on both sides of the issue, both of whom admittedly feel hurt, regardless of the decision that is reached. This post is not about an individual issue, but rather about the extension of grace when feelings are hurt, when arguments are approached, and when conflicts arise; grace is something we have all received at least once in our lives, and something we continue to receive regardless of our position in the church. And yet, it seems like we don’t extend it enough to one another, despite the fact that we receive it amply from the same, awesome, Triune God – the God we share and worship together. 

As a synod, as a beautifully diverse body of Christ, equally created by God, and still all guided daily by the Holy Spirit, we still struggle for unity, and even in our natural disunity, to offer a hand of grace to one another when we disagree. In today’s society, the phrase, “I’ll agree to disagree” is frequently thrown around, yet not lived up to. I loved on our first night of General Synod a phrase that was used by our very own Secretary, who said that we will agree to discuss and debate in love and with compassion, even when we disagree with one another, and even when I might get hurt. This is at times what it means to live in the church, and what it means to discuss deep matters of the heart with passion and even with compassion; it is unavoidable that someone will get hurt, as hurt feelings happen, and yet, compassion, prayerful discernment, and most of all, grace is critically important. While there have been times where grace has been lacking on the floor of GS, I have seen beautifully brilliant moments of grace, forgiveness, free space and permission to discern the movement of the Holy Spirit in the life of not only the denomination as a whole, but also in the lives of the small churches on a classis level.  

As a body of Christ, we will never fully agree on the nitty gritty, the small picky rhetoric; it is not possible, as humanity, as a fallen, broken and imperfect collection, focuses not on the important matters of the will of God, but rather on the will of the heart. It is a logical understanding, and yet, it is the very thing which will continue to force a wedge between us as children of the church. Our wounds are deep – to the bone, in fact – and in order for forgiveness to be offered and granted among one another, regardless of whether or not we agree on an issue, movement, point of polity or the interpretation of scripture. Offering forgiveness does not imply submission to a point, but rather the imparting of grace to another brother or sister in Christ; after all, Christ said to his closest of followers, “You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” (Matt. 5:44, NRSV) 

It isn’t about those who agree with you being righteous and those who disagree being unrighteous, but rather about the behavior we exhibit when we agree and disagree. If we are able to be respectful and offer up a hand of grace, even in the most heated moments of disagreement, then we have been righteous; but if we act childlike and lash out at those who disagree with us, then we are unrighteous and cause further wounds. It is undoubtedly difficult to submit to those who disagree with us, especially when it comes to matters of Scriptural interpretation, polity and church order, and I am equally guilty of this sin. Yet God is bigger, the church is bigger, and God’s will for us as the Body is bigger. 

I ask us to think of this: “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.” (Romans 12:9-10) Instead of rushing to the mic to argue a point against a brother or sister in Christ, stand prayerfully to offer a prayer of forgiveness and offer out a hand of grace, understanding that we are all brothers and sisters in the same wonderful denomination, seeking to understand the predestined path God has set out before us, and beautifully unfolds before us. The church is not ours to control, as much as we would like, and therefore, it is our duty as vibrant, differently-talented and gifted members of the body to listen discerningly to what is best – not just for one or a small minority, but what is best for the majority. It may involve some to feel muted, and for that, the church will have to answer to God, but the church is not serving a small few, nor does it answer to humans but to the Almighty Triune. 

As its servants on Earth, even for this time, we must continue to discern, to offer grace, and prayerfully listen to God’s still small voice for us – not for one, but for all; pray, forgive, reconcile, heal, be willing to concede and most importantly, to listen, even if it means that a personal opinion may not be the dominant and prevailing voice of the day. To come to an understanding that God will prevail in reconciliation, and decisions beyond our conception will be reached, regardless of our best efforts, as everything has been written in the sands of the Earth, and will happen for the betterment of God’s Kingdom and His people. 

Try as we may, people plan, God will laugh, and yet, the church has potential as progress is not in the hands of (wo)man, but in the ultimate control of God. And by the grace of God, grace is possible for each and every one of us, man and woman, younger, middle-younger, and less young, and everything in between. We are all one in Christ Jesus, and all one in the Body, and together, regardless of our differences, are issued the same grace in our baptism, and we share in the same grace time and time again, both communally and individually at the Table. So embrace grace as a posture, as an attitude, and as way to live, whether you are a Minister of Word and Sacrament, an Elder or Deacon, or whether you simply call yourself child of God, as this grace is contagious and has the power to unite rather than divide, heal rather than to harm, forgive rather than to forget, and ultimately, to cause the warring nations of our beautiful denomination to sing God’s praises in the face of such unforetold adversity. And if we can unite, despite our differences, then imagine the message that could send to others, who face far greater, and are in need of God’s grace. And if we can offer grace to one another as a Church within the Church by the Grace of God, then we can offer grace to others unequivocally, as the hardest to offer comes most often among those who are the least like us, and that occurs most frequently among the Body, despite the fact that they are the ones who are all in Christ Jesus, created in the beginning by God the Father, and guided by the Paraclete after the ascension of the crucified Lord.