Reflecting on a week of preachers

I just spent a week at the Festival of Homiletics. This year’s theme was “Preaching and Politics.” It was all it was billed to be: inspirational, educational, and relational, building connections with others who are passionate about communicating the Gospel.

Every day, I was up earlier than my normal workday to commute into DC. I’m not a morning person. This was a true test of my will! But the speakers and the worship services were worth it. I grabbed a few books for my ever-growing “to-read” pile. I had many, many good conversations with old and new friends. I purposely went to hear preachers and speakers who were as un-like me as possible. It was worth every dollar I invested to attend, especially given that I don’t get reimbursed for these conferences by my job or my church. (When I heard people talk about their “books allowance” and “travel allowance”, I confess I was pea-green with envy. I funded the whole thing, including my vacation days.)

One of my preacher friends who has attended many of these conferences noted that she often gets “preacher envy” after attending these events. I totally get that. But festivals like this renew one’s appetite for the discipline of study and application of scripture. It also made me realize that I am more of a storyteller than expositor, more of a pastor than an executive. I have great appreciation for those with their churches in the thousands, but my heart remains with leading a solid local church of a couple hundred. I appreciated the heady and brilliant professors among us, but connected more with the hearts of those who tend the wounded and hurting. It was inspiring and encouraging to be in this work.

My last day of attendance culminated by attending a prayer service for the Reclaiming Jesus movement. Billed as “A Confession of Faith in a Time of Crisis” its intent was to bring solidarity around specific justice issues of our time and lament and repent of our self-absorption in “political, material, cultural, racial, or national idolatries.” We left the service and walked in a candlelight procession for a few blocks to the White House in a silent display of solidarity and hope, praying for our nation, our churches, and ourselves. This was inspiring, too. But I was left with a few sticking points with the whole Reclaiming Jesus movement:

  • There was a lack of clarity on the full inclusion and affirmation of LGBTQ persons. While the Reclaiming Jesus statement did affirm that all persons as made in the image of God (Imago Dei) there were limited statements of support IN WRITING for LGBTQ persons. While it was implied in Article 21, it was not specific. It could be implied, and it was clearly spoken to from the pulpit, but it was not in writing. I am disappointed that the leadership of this movement did not take the opportunity to affirm their LGBTQ siblings who are serving in churches as pastors and lay leaders, as seminarians, parents, and youth group members.
  • There was a lack of clarity on the role of women as pastors and leaders. It was implied but not stated, and women who were leaders in their individual denominations were present and spoke from the pulpit. However, since many of us in the Baptist tradition have had a long road to fully embracing and engaging our Calls in the local church, and particularly with the singular rejection of conservatives towards women in ministry, it would have been an easy step. To their credit, the statement does address misogyny and abusive relationships. But they could have done much more.
  • There was a lack of inclusion of other denominations and Christian social action groups in the statement. Were they not willing to sign-off on the statement as it was presented? Or were they not invited to the table for discussion and reflection?  Specifically, I wonder about:
    • the Alliance of Baptists (my theological home)
    • The Poor People’s Campaign
    • Metropolitan Community Churches
    • Faith in Public Life

I’m hopeful the leadership of the Reclaiming Jesus movement will address these questions in the future, or at the very least, be more transparent about the process of writing the statements. I look forward to reading more and participating in the movement because I believe it will be shaped by our interest and activism.

When Nature Grieves With You

I walked past the grand ornamental cherry and thought, “It looks like it’s weeping flowers…” Since I had just left a family grieving over the death of their matriarch, it seemed appropriate.

Sometimes Nature does the best job of explaining our feelings and fears, so I’ll shut up now…

The Rock Piles of Ministry: Who Knew?

 

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Behold. A rock pile.

Not just any rock pile. Oh, no! It’s taken years to get this pile of rocks.

There was a decent start to the pile when we moved in 22 years ago. As I dug new garden beds, I’d find rocks and add them. When we added a retaining wall, the landscape crew added to the rock pile. When we did a major remodeling of our home, the builder found even more. And when I installed a simple spiral labyrinth in the back yard, there were incredible amounts of rocks to toss on there, too.

Everyone was glad to have a place to discard the rocks. It was a lot easier than taking them to the landfill. Each contractor looked at me askance (at first) when I said, “if you find large rocks, I want them.” But since it was cheaper to reuse rather than remove them, there were no arguments!

I learned a lot along the way because of these rocks. Patience. Perseverance. Techniques of rock removal (yep! there are some!) Reality checks. And seeing progress and naming it for the hard work it takes.

 

 

Some of these rocks made my new landscaping projects very frustrating. At the start of building the labyrinth, I bent every single hand tool I owned because they were not up to the task of chiseling large rocks out of clay!

So now… those rocks are no longer discards!

It was with a bit of irony that I had to haul loads of these rocks back down the hill to grace the edges of a water feature we just installed this spring. Three wheelbarrows of rocks. (Yes. I counted.) And as I heaved and hauled and placed them, I had to laugh. Here they are. Being put to good use. Finally in their right place.

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It made me ponder a perverse truth about Calling and ministry…

For any of us who battle ourselves, our environments, our churches, our relationships to be finally FINALLY brought to just that right moment of ministry… it’s seems like it will never work. We interview. We candidate. We preach. We study. We try to do our best, battling the odds like rocks in hard clay. We set things aside for another day, making a muddy hillside into a landscaping feature of a retaining wall of cast-off rocks. We try to see the beauty in what we do. We keep adding to the pile. And then… and then!!!!

Those rock piles of ministry are put to use. Those mossy, ignored, strengths that we have set aside in obedience, or sometimes, out of necessity and not by choice, they suddenly become relevant. And they are beautiful, in their right setting, at the right time.

I hear you, friends. I know your sense of relief. And a bit of wonder, too, that though we felt like we were forever gathering moss, perhaps even feeling useless, we will one day see a change!  For now… NOW is the appointed place and time God has for us. There’s stuff to do – even on a rock pile. And greater things are ahead.

And if you are still waiting, like me, marking time on the rock pile with a prayer of fatigue and longing, know this…

You are not a cast-off.

You are not a mistake.

You are not in the way.

You are called… press on!

…for such a time as this…