Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Feeling at Home

For any who haven't heard, our lives have been a bit tumultuous lately. We almost bought a house... well, I'm not sure "almost" is the right word. We put an offer on a house and the current owners took it off the market the next day. I guess our offer wasn't "in their neighborhood."

All that happened last week, so this week I'm thinking of home. Not so much of the houses I grew up in or of the house we're renting now, but the idea of home; the idea that a person can (and perhaps ought to) have one accepting and stationary place that they call "home." The idea of home is that almost mythical notion that gives us the ability to explore and to grow, yet always remaining able to return back to the security of that immovable and constant "home."

It's that notion of constancy that has my gears turning today. I don't think I've looked at any place I've lived in as permanent since I was a child: it dawned on me as an adolescent that my parent's house would not always be my house and, ever since then, I have been living in places that have belonged to other people. That was fine while I was in school; it even made sense in what I consider the early part of my calling, but I'm ready to be done with that now. I'm in a place in my life where I need to belong; I need to develop an identity that is about more than just what I do, but about where I am and about the people who are there with me. My wife needs to see the fulfillment of her dreams, my children need the security of living somewhere for more than a few years, and I need to feel "at home."

As I say this, I recognize that there may be some who only understand this idea of "home" in an abstract way, if at all. I feel fortunate in that I grew up in a secure and unshakable home that I can look back on fondly and strive for, but perhaps the idea of home is only best understood abstractly (at least it's less easily muddied up by a "family values" debate). Besides, if we talk about "home" in a less tangible way, then we can also talk of how the church can help to meet that need.

I was speaking
the other day with someone who was church shopping. As she put it, she was looking around for a church that was like the church she grew up in. Although eventually I suspect that she'll have to "settle," what she said resounded with me. I credit the church I grew up in with having a tremendous impact on the path my life has taken. In a sense, I look back on my early church experience in the same way I look at my early home life. In fact, the idea of home and the idea of church are to me the same idea in many ways. And just as I have this drive to live out the idea of home I also desire to create a church that lives up to the image of "church" as I idealize it. When that church shopper told me that she was looking for the church she grew up in, my response was, "That's one of the reasons I got into ministry: to re-create the church I grew up in."

I'm quite certain that I'm not the only one who does that. In fact I'd love to hear from you on this: please drop me an email or leave a comment below and tell me about your ideal church. Tell me about the church or churches in your life that you'd like to re-create. What are the common traits that you currently see in your church and what could be done to make it feel more like "home" to you?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Up-Side of Presbyopia

Last night was our monthly Session meeting. I usually begin each meeting with a short devotional, seeking to center us on our Savior and ground us in why we have gathered to serve him. Lately the church’s mission statement has been on my mind so I used it to get our meeting started. If you don’t have it memorized, here it is:
We are a congregation
centered in the Good News of Jesus Christ,
seeking in our lives and our life together to be
obedient to and
shaped by the Scriptures,
growing in faith and service
as a congregation of the Presbyterian Church (USA).
There is also a longer version on the church’s website, but this is the one we’re all supposed to be familiar with. Sure, it’s a little dated as purpose statements go (it was written in 2005) and sure, it could use some revision, but it is a rather good description of us as a congregation and what our intentions are in this community. Frankly, as we were reading through it last night, the only thing that I bristled at was the last line.

I’m not big on brand loyalty. Just because a thing has a recognizable name on it, doesn’t mean I owe it any special consideration (with the obvious exceptions of things like my family). I have spent most of my life as a Presbyterian. I married a Presbyterian. I serve Christ in the Presbyterian Church. And that’s just the thing: I serve Christ. I know firsthand that the PC(USA) is not perfect. We are a flawed institution made up of flawed individuals that somehow seeks together to overcome those flaws by the Spirit’s help. I see the same Body of Christ reflected in the ministries and insights of my Baptist, Foursquare, Catholic, Assemblies, Congregational, etc. friends that I see in my Presbyterian friends.

But that being said, as I reflect on last night’s Session meeting – especially in light of our mission statement’s last line – I am reminded of why I will probably be a Presbyterian at least as long as I am a minister. I came into that meeting feeling burdened and insufficient for the call that God has been placed on me. I left that meeting feeling re-energized and enthusiastic for all the things God is doing here. And as I think on this transformation this morning I am aware that this is not the first time this has happened. I seem to find this same revival about the same time every month. About the same time every month, I start becoming overwhelmed by the work and worries leading God’s people in proclaiming the gospel in a relevant and transformational way. And about the same time every month I gather with these amazing women and men that you call Elders and the Spirit uses them to build me up. When I gather with them I am led by a wisdom that is beyond my own. When I gather with them I am encouraged by a common mission. When I gather with them I am strengthened by the knowledge that the work of this church does not fall on my shoulders alone. Please continue to pray for and encourage our Elders as they are a tremendous gift of God to all of us.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Christians Shouldn't Vote

I was recently listening to a pastor friend of mine preach about the responsibility of Christ’s followers to be involved in the democratic process. I appreciated that he didn’t tell me how to vote – as some pastors do from time to time – only that we ought to vote and that our vote should be an expression of our relationship with Christ. Of course he was right; who would argue with that? Aside from the fact that faithful Christians cast opposing ballots out of their relationships with Christ in every election, every one of them would probably tell you that their choices were at least inspired by their faith. It seems that one way or another Christ will have cast votes both for and against our next president.

But my pastor friend also encouraged us to pray. He encouraged us to pray for the process and for the people we elect. This got me thinking: which is more important for American democracy? Which really makes the difference: is it the “rightly” filled out ballots that we put in the box or is it our petitions to God on behalf of those leaders and issues?

Clearly we ought to be doing both; God has entrusted both of these profound responsibilities and privileges to us and to neglect either is simply disgraceful stewardship. But what if it were one or the other? Which would you choose? Which would be more beneficial to our nation? What would happen to American democracy if the followers of Christ simply gathered in their “precincts” to pray instead of vote? Would the “wrong” issues and candidates be approved? Would our nation become less of a “Christian Nation” than it is?

When it comes down to it, these are ridiculous questions in the sense that we are unlikely to lose either of these privileges any time soon. But I don’t think that asking which is more important to our society is at all ridiculous. Christians don’t always agree on the people our votes should go to, but we all agree on where our prayers should go. So if your choice today is to pray or to vote, then I think you should pray.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Let's Try This Again

I just realized that I haven't written here since September. Ugh. That's actually one of my pet peeves: people who put up a blog and then never write anything. It isn't as though my brain's been inactive for over a month, I just let myself get out of the habit of writing and posting. I will try to throw at least one thought a week up on this electronic canvas from here on out... but like I said yesterday, "I'm not perfect."
As always, if you have discussion topics you'd like me to hit, feel free to drop me a note.