Tag Archives: presbyterian church (usa)

Let Your Faces Shine

Last week I attended #salic or the Six Agency Leadership Consultation in Baltimore which is a fancy way of saying that the PC(USA) sent representatives from the six agencies that make up the denominational institution to consult and dream about the future and about the 21st Century leadership in the church with 30 -40 pastors from around the country. For much more in-depth description of the conversation you should read Nanette Sawyer, Dawn Hyde, Adam Walker-Cleaveland and Jeff Foels reflections… or you could check out Adam’s storify event which is a wonderful compilations of reflections, tweets and images of our time together.

Instead of adding to the reflection pool which has been wonderfully representative of our time together I am posting here, my sermon from Transfiguration Sunday in which I attempt to integrate some of what I encountered in our conversation as well as speak to the call of leaders in my own context at Friendship Presbyterian Church. We ordained three new officers and installed four, two ruling elders and two deacons. Due to the conversation at SALIC I reformatted our constitutional questions so that they were read responsively  If you would like a copy of the questions send me a note, I’m happy to share! My sermon is below and the images came from my time listening and dreaming at SALIC2013.

Ebb & Flow: Visual Notes from  SALIC2013

Visual Notes from SALIC2013

Transfiguration Sunday

February 10.2013

“Let Your Faces Shine”

We are living in a world that is absolutely transparent, and God is shining through it all the time.

~Thomas Merton

 

 

Scripture: Luke 9:28-36, (37-43a)
Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.

Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” — not knowing what he said.

While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.”

Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And all were astounded at the greatness of God.

Baptized By the Fires of Change: Visual Notes from SALIC2013

Baptized By the Fires of Change: Visual Notes from SALIC2013

Sermon: “Let Your Faces Shine”

Most of the time repetitiveness and redundancy doesn’t make for a good story… we usually experience them as a sign of literary laziness or boring content… but our biblical texts are an exception. In the bible when we notice a pattern, a repeated theme, something happening again and again… and again, it is usually a good sign for us to pay attention. You would think even the disciples would have figured this out by now – I mean we share a common ancestry, a common story – for Peter, John and James the mountaintop was a familiar place, in their own lives and in the stories of their Jewish ancestors. I’m not sure I’d go anywhere near a mountain with Jesus, especially if I had an inkling of what who he really was, which according to Luke (chapter 9), they should have – Jesus the messiah (which he has just confirmed for Peter in their last conversation those eight days before they find themselves climbing this mountain).

I mean think about it… every time Moses, or Elisha or Jesus climbs a mountain something crazy happens… the sky breaks open, God speaks or reveals something… like the laws of Moses or the promise land, there is always some insane weather wind, earthquake, fire, deep silence (like an eye of a storm) or enormous thick clouds or bright shining lights… When Luke tells his listeners that Jesus and his favorite three disciples are heading up the mountain it’s a clue that something brilliant, something revealing, something revolutionary is about it happen. It’s Luke’s way of beating God to the punch line, “Pay Attention!” “Listen Up!” he says – what happens here… and what will happen next is IMPORTANT…

Ruth Everhart, a writer and pastor in DC traveled the Holy Lands in Israel and Palestine and wrote a book about her experience. She tells this story about visiting Mount Tabor… even though our biblical text (Luke or any of the other gospel writers) does not give a name to the mountain Jesus climbs in today’s story the early church (348 CE) chose to commemorate it or celebrate it on this mountain because it is central to the area and communities in which Jesus ministered.

Ruth writes:

When I was on a pilgrimage in Israel, we visited the Mount of Transfiguration. Our itinerary allotted thirty minutes for this taste of mountaintop glory. As the bus rumbled toward the base of the mountain, I thought: It’s a ridiculous timeframe, of course, but maybe it will be enough.

In the story, Jesus manages to “get in and get out” of glory rather quickly. It’s Peter who tries to hang onto the moment.

At the foot of the mountain we pilgrims had to switch to taxis. The only road up is a series of hairpin turns that a bus can’t manage. We ascend, sloshing back and forth across the seats, the vista switching abruptly at each turn like looking through a viewfinder held by a child.

When we emerge at the top, we are breathless and rumpled and disoriented enough for glory. [Imagine…] That this was the very spot, this mountain tiptop, where Jesus shone like the sun, the veil between heaven and earth pierced for a moment.

They’ve built a church up there by now, of course. Peter’s way won out. After all, we humans are like that. We like our hammers. We all know what it’s like to be the onlooker, the disciple in ordinary clothes, gawking at the dazzlers. We want to hang onto our brush with a moment of glory.

Like plain-clothed Peter, we humans are well-meaning and awkward, helpfully offering to do unhelpful things. “Let us make three dwellings . . .” And don’t we all feel for Peter? He was being so goodhearted, so helpful. So entirely human. “Hey, I know how to use a hammer. Let me use it. Let me build a booth. Let me nail this moment down.”[i]

This is a Sunday I really appreciate the lectionary… in both our Exodus and Luke accounts both Moses and Jesus demonstrate the two essential pieces of what it means to be people of faith… to be responders to God’s call.

There is the work of the mountaintop and the work of the valley.

There is the listening, seeking God, seeking peace, seeking illumination and there is the response… the reporting back, the testimonial, healing, doing work of God in the world.

These two pieces are like two halves: not so much in tension or competition with one another but two halves that make for a holistic and meaningful life of faithfulness, two halves in which we are called to move in and out of and back and forth and in-between in the pattern of our own lives.

And both… both halves result in transfiguration and transformation.

The first half is this – We are called to climb the mountain – that is to find the places where we can see, taste and know the presence of God. For some folks this looks like a church or a synagogue… a house of worship, a gathered community. For others it’s the quiet moment at the start of the day, before the world wakes up, a moment of connection with God.

We are called to seek God out. Luke makes a point of telling us multiple times that Jesus was setting aside this time for prayer. This wasn’t a moment of care-giving or activity. It was a moment of worship – a time of centering, a time of infusion.

Luke tells us that Jesus’ face changed, that he was infused with the light of God, so much so that his face and clothes shone brilliantly.

Where or when are you infused with God’s light?

Luke also tells us that when Peter suggested they build three dwelling places… God engulfs Peter in a cloud and seems to be speaking directly to Peter and the other disciples:

“This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”

Instead of speaking to Jesus, like God did at Jesus’ baptism – God urges the disciples to listen, to listen to Jesus and to pay attention. When I think about Luke’s community… early Jesus followers – waiting and wondering what they should do next… how to be and become the church – folks who would also very much like to build some dwelling places… find a place of safety, a place where God seems to live. A place to live and worship and build community… and yet they are urged to listen to Jesus… to follow Jesus’ lead – to do as Jesus does.

Which brings us to the second half… the other part of the story. Some scholars believe that God tells the disciples to listen to Jesus because God wants them to understand who Jesus was – the messiah, and this might be the case. Understanding and believing in who Jesus is was incredibly important to the early fledgling community of Christ followers that Luke writes to.

But I think God was getting Peter (and the Luke’s community… and ours for that matter) ready – God is getting us ready for what comes next. God says: “This is it friends, this is my Son, I have chosen him and you will listen to him… now watch what he does next.”

He goes down the mountainside and into the valley. He doesn’t stay long in this holy place, this thin place where God’s radiance pierced through the atmosphere and recharges him. He returns to the work of ministry, he returns to the place where there is deep need. Where a man waits, frightened by his son’s illness, distressed that no one can help him –and Jesus uses his power immediately to help another, to rescue the boy.

enterhope

Enter Hope: Visual Notes from SALIC2013

It’s two parts – two halves… personal and public. Mountaintop moments of transfiguration and valley work of transformation… Light infused and light reflected… both moments holy…

I’m interested in this idea of trans… transfiguration… transformation, transfusion – the prefix trans or tran means to cross over, go beyond, to change thoroughly…

Transformation has become a bit of buzz word in the church – not just ours, I mean the whole denomination, even the whole Church Universal. And I think sometimes we do that with words that both inspire and scare us… we domesticate them, write them into our mission statements and goals, we long for new life and growth and yet we also long to contain such things…. Or to control them… incremental change sounds a lot more manageable than transformation… or transfiguration.

It’s scary to imagine utter and complete change. What if don’t recognize ourselves or one another? What if we lose track of who we are? Of where we’re going?

Earlier this week I participated in a conversation about the Church… where we’re headed and what it means to be leaders at a time of such rapid change. We kept talking about all the changes… social change, technology, pluralism, transient communities, increase diversity…

We kept talking about it as if we had some choice in the matter… should we or shouldn’t we as the Church change too? And after a bit I thought wow, it’s sort of hilarious that we’re having this conversation (myself included). We’re like Peter and the disciples on the mountaintop, sleepily rubbing our eyes and looking around asking ourselves – in the midst of utter change and upheaval, in the midst of transfiguration – we’re asking if we should change when, in reality, it’s already happened – when really the question in front of us is not if… but how?

How will we respond to the change in us and around us? Will we claim God’s power to transfigure us? To refigure, refine and transform us? Will we claim God’s brilliant light like Jesus does and move back into the world to be a beacon of healing and hope?

Often times, once we’ve experienced transformation we’d rather nail it down (like Peter) than risk losing it… and like Ruth Everhart says, “we humans are well-meaning” – there are even times that building something facilitates God’s work. But on this day, in this story, the mountaintop wasn’t meant to be a permanent residence. It was meant to be a flash point for transformation… for experiencing God so fully, so overwhelmingly that Jesus and the disciples are empowered – are imbued with the holy light of God that will enable them to return to their valley work.

In a memoir (Breathing Space) about ministry at a church named after the transfiguration—Heidi Neumark writes:

“Living high up in the rarefied air isn’t the point of transfiguration … [It was] never meant as a private experience of spirituality removed from the public square. It was a vision to carry us down, a glimpse of unimagined possibility at ground level.”

Charge to newly ordained/installed officers and to the congregation:

In just a few minutes we’re going to ordain and install our new elders and deacons. When teaching elders are ordained and installed there is often a series of “charges” – that is words of direction or advice for them and the community. In preparation for this ordination and installation today I offer these words of charge to all of you:

God speaks of Jesus in today’s text saying, “This is my son, my chosen, listen to him!” and yesterday when session and deacons met together we read portions of the Book of Order – in a section about our call to openness and to change we read that we are called to a “more radical obedience to Christ”[ii]

Radical and obedience are not two words we normally see together… and I imagine many of us are attracted to one of these words much more than the other… but here it is again these two halves. In our obedience we seek Christ out, we seek to worship and pray and to love God – we commit to ways of practice and service, of becoming more like Christ… and yet what we discover in doing so, like Christ we become a radical people – radical in our openness, radical in our love, radical in our forgiveness, radical in our ministry of generosity and hospitality…

To those of you entering into or serving in leadership positions – for the time you are in this role – called to be leaders of our community, remember to visit the high mountaintop but do not linger there. Seek ways of renewal and restoration, seek God out and be imbued with God’s holy light but stay on the move… carry the brilliance of God’s love with you down the mountain and into the world… As leaders urge and prod and entice us to follow your lead, your movement, help us in our transitions, cast a vision for our transformation, and together we will be transfigured.

And to the gathered community — the congregation – we must stay awake, there are times we long to build a dwelling place, to plant ourselves and refuse to be moved. But we have learned, in this community, that movement, transition and flexibility can also be life giving. We are called to follow the lead of these ordained and installed elders and deacons, to go with them to the high mountain places and to the low valleys, allowing our faces to reflect God’s light to the world, to shine God’s light into into the dark and shadowy places of own lives and into the lives of those we seek to serve.

AMEN


[ii] PC(USA) Book of Order F‐1.0404

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Thank You for Naming… A Response to Larissa Kwong Abazia

I am deeply grateful for Larissa Kwong Abazia’s reflection titled: “Thank you for NOT asking.” which she guest posted this week on

grounded in three

grounded in three

Jan Edmiston’s blog, A Church For Starving Artists. She writes of her experiences in the call process, of being asked “inappropriate questions” and of wrestling with how to answer them faithfully. She raises some really good and some really hard questions for those of us who are committed to the ongoing work of justice, inclusion and education in the Church. Here is the issue it raised for me:

 Sexism and gender privilege is real and it is present in all of our interactions, even when good people of God are working to call a great pastor, if we don’t name these issues and the ways in which they manifest then things will not change and we will continue to struggle to find wholeness in the Church.

Just as is the case for those of us who are queer pastors in the Church and know that while the passage of 10A is cause for much celebration and thanksgiving it doesn’t shift the job market, many churches will only consider calling lgbtqia pastors when the hard work of education, hearts changing, and policy writing is done, and this is true for women in ministry as well. We have been training and ordaining women in the PCUSA since 1956 but only 34 percent of our currently ordained clergy folks are female and only one out of five are in what’s considered a pastor/co-pastor type of position, this includes small church solo pastors as well as head of staff position.

I believe our individual experiences with and responses to what Larissa has called “inappropriate questions” are shaped by the intersection of our experiences of privilege and oppression. I also believe that our experience of these questions and how they make us feel are a culmination of many of our experiences over time in similar settings.

When I think back on my own experience in my last search for a call in the PCUSA I am certain that I held a much more positive perspective the first time someone on a PNC asked me why I wasn’t married or how my kids would survive “at home alone while I was at work” (someone was making a lot of assumptions, weren’t they?) if they called me as their pastor. It was much more difficult many months, even a year into the search to respond to questions such as, how old are you? And, who will pick your kids up from school if you’re working? Without taking that to mean that the person asking was assuming that I might be too young or inexperienced for the job or that I am not intelligent enough to organize and make arrangements for the care and well-being of my family while I am at work.

I would suggest that it’s tricky business to say that we should respond to these questions with the assumption that the person has the best of intentions or is looking out for my best interest which is what MaryAnn McKibben Dana offered as one option in her well thought out response at her blog, The Blue Room. Overall my experience with PNC’s and APNC’s are that they are in a tough time of transition, they feel a great deal of pressure to make the right choice on behalf of the whole congregation and while they could most likely use some pastoral care they are often asking questions that revolve around the care and well-being of the congregation not the candidate in front of them. I have even experienced members of a PNC whose questions were obviously motivated by their personal needs and issues as well. Therefore, I would be more likely to assume that these “inappropriate questions” arise from unexamined assumptions about the role of women in the life of a family, internalized gender oppression if the person asking is female and sexist ignorance (however benevolent) if the asker is male. I would not assume they meant harm but that is not the same as assuming they are well-intentioned.

Let’s assume also that these questions are not asked in a mean-spirited way and therefore are an opportunity for some education, deeper understanding and personal growth which in the community where, I am in fact, the called and installed pastor it is absolutely part of my calling to help provide. However, a candidate at a job interview is not in a pastoral position of authority. The majority of the power in the relationship is held by the PNC or APNC. They are in a position to continue the process or not, the PNC has the power to recommend you as a candidate to the congregation or not, the PNC has the power to ask an array of questions ranging from faith and formation to theology to your personal life. How do we, as pastors and candidates respond so that we do not perpetuate attitudes of sexism, how do we provide the right amount of transparency without contributing to an imbalance of power and authority and yet care well for those who are asking the questions? It’s definitely a balancing act!

This raises, for me, a hard question. Why do questions about my ability to care for my children, to manage a family life and career or questions about my orientation, stature, my looks or my gender make me feel small, invisible, or powerless? I’m both funny and intelligent, two things Mary Ann McKibben suggests help her to be a strong leader but I have also had some bad experiences. I have often fielded questions that were meant exactly how I took them, meant to make me feel small and insecure. They were asked out of a place of judgment and skepticism as to my skills and abilities. These experiences leave one raw and worried about future questions and experiences and while those of us who have these experiences can and should do the work of wrestling with them and healing the wounds we should also expect the Church to hear and respond to these experiences. To work to create processes for educating PNC’s and encouraging them to tackle difficult issues of sexism, racism, privilege and oppression as well as insuring professional standards for interview processes.

So how do Church leaders, Executive Directors, Associate Execs, COM and CPM Chairs and COM liaisons take responsibility and take steps to institute education around not only sexism but racism and homophobia as well? How do we, as minister members of presbyteries understand our role in the interview processes that are unfolding in the congregations around us?

Let’s begin by naming it when it happens and then by doing some education around these issues. Let’s listen, and truly hear the stories of those who have had good experiences and those who have had hurtful ones. Let’s hear them and believe them and then take the next step of critical analysis as to how and why these scenarios happen and how the positive ones can be reproduced and the negative ones can be corrected. In the meantime, I agree it’s a good choice and it shows a commitment to having a healthy pastor to ask questions about a pastor’s spiritual care practices, about how she attends to her own spiritual and emotional health and how she will balance her professional and private life. These are questions that can be applied to any candidate, no matter their status, female, male or transgender, no matter their racial/ethnic background, whether they are a parent or non-parent, caregiver or grandparent, single or partnered, straight or queer.

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Repairers of the breach…

WPGrace Space

Wicker Park Grace is a community that is close to my heart and a vital part of my own life. Wicker Park Grace is a pcusa new church development in Chicago that values hospitality, justice and an inclusive theological perspective. We dig into biblical texts and ask questions in the midst of our worship space and experience, inviting everyone to be part of the ‘proclamation’. Tonight at Wicker Park Grace we discussed a text from Isaiah (58:1-12)…

Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God.

“Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and God will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.

As we sat, and sang and discussed together I began thinking about this breach… the breach between who we are and who it is we’re called to be. The breach between what we claim to believe and value and honor and how it does or doesn’t manifest itself in our lives in day by day and hour by hour. The breach in our relationships to one another, in our families and in our communities, between our rights and lefts and our privileged and poor. There is indeed a wide and long breach between us.

There’s a part of me that cries out to God like the voices lifted up in the passage… I’m doing everything right… why don’t I get wholeness, abundance, vindication? But as I read and talked it through with the folks gathered around me I began to see the challenge Isaiah spoke… it’s on us isn’t it? To stand in the breach and do the work of repair and restoration, the light is already with in us, waiting to break forth. The breach between the Church and world is the place in which I hope this blog will stand. That it will lift up the places where the hungry and tired, the powerless, disenfranchised, hurting and harmed are being invited, and attended by faithful folks and communities that understand that each of our healing, as individuals and communities is dependent on one another’s.

I am part of the community of Wicker Park Grace because this is one place where presbyterians along with many others from various faith backgrounds and traditions and lived experiences are working together to offer such a place of hospitality and invitation. Where mutual teaching, learning and loving is the basis of our community’s movement in the world. We’re a small community and we’re still changing and growing into our call to be a force for justice in our community and in the world but there are certainly repairers of the breach at work in this place.

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PR for the PCUSA… because, clearly we need it.

so occasionally something goes down in the presbyterian church (usa) — the denomination in which I am ordained as a ‘minister of word and sacrament’– and I have a need to respond… and then I realize that so much of the world including my own small communities will have no idea what I’m talking about.

And that awareness… that this denomination that I love and have so much invested in is becoming more and more insular as it declines into a relativism of it’s own making that I become paralyzed in my effort to respond. Therefore I am going to begin a new project.

Instead of responding out of despair, anger or frustration when news that I dislike, disagree with or am disheartened by breaks I am going to start posting news each day of a pcucsa someone or somebodies doing active, proactive, community centered, outward work of justice, love or hospitality in big or small ways. In short, I am going to start a small PR campaign on behalf of the PCUSA and I am going to do it for six months as a personal spiritual practice, as an effort to build up my own (and those who follow along) knowledge that we as a particular slice of Christian community can be and already are a force for justice and wholeness. Selfishly I will do this project in helps of restoring my own faith that we can be a relevant, nimble and creative Christian community of the future… one that I can be a part of with integrity.

Public perception of the Church overwhelmingly negative. Many experience the Church as homophobic, xenophobic, racist, hypocritical, self-righteous and judgmental. Rather than spend time pointing to where these observations are evident (because this is indeed a reality for many) I am going to use this space to celebrate the welcoming, hospitable, loving work that individuals and groups that are affiliated with the PCUSA are doing.

I will begin this project by claiming that I do so from a progressive theological, social and political perspective. I am a white, well educated and grew up in the midwest. I am committed in my professional life to work towards an unabashedly inclusive church and for me the beginning place for doing theology, biblical study or liturgy is the rule of Love. I am interested in stories that lift up the Church’s commitment to Do Justice; Love Kindness; Walk Humbly with God… If you know one, I’d love to hear, post it or link to it.

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