While You Do What You Do…I’ll be over here working and waiting for a baby

My newsfeed is flooded this week with World Cup soccer and the CBF General Assembly currently taking place in Atlanta. I am probably rendering myself un-American by saying it, but I could care less about the World Cup. And the last time I went to the General Assembly in Atlanta I remember having a conversation with hubs about the beginning of the end of our involvement in Baptist denominational life. He was already feeling pushed out–for several very good reasons. I was still looking to hang in there but even that was short-lived. (My last General Assembly was in Charlotte, in which I basically found the experience frustrating and irrelevant.)

So while we were in the ol’ ATL, we stayed with friends and drove into the city for any of the CBF events we were going to or expected to attend. Most of our week was spent with friends who have very little to do with church–let alone Baptist life. Most of it was spent in a cigar bar, drinking beer and playing pool, watching the Miami Heat win the NBA Finals, and catching up with people who are important to us. And those things were more life-giving and memorable than any workshop I attended that week.

As we have moved away from denominational life, the trend has continued. We find that we spend most of our time gathered with people who could care less about denominational ties, usually with wine or beer involved, and incredible conversation that translate into holy moments. The people range in ages, backgrounds and life experiences. The conversations are open and honest and contain more questions than answers. There is a stronger sense of identity–or at least the development of an identity as an individual created by God and containing a piece of the essence of God. Those things continue to be more life giving than my previous experience with the annual CBF meetings.

Of course, some day I may again find myself participating in Baptist life in some capacity. It certainly provided me with a solid foundation from which I have developed and grown in incredible ways, and I am thankful for it. But it is not the sole basis for my thinking or beliefs. Much of what I think and believe has been shaped by my own experiences of life on this earth as well as the relationships I have with so many different kinds of people. And for now, my church experience is a really good fit. It happens to fall outside of denominational lines with true autonomy and the freedom to make decisions about how best to build relationships that change things locally and globally. And it’s a good thing.

So while people are over there watching soccer or going to workshops in Atlanta (or even heading to Wild Goose this week–and I’m jealous of that crowd), I’m over here working and waiting for the next miracle to enter into my world. And I’m good with it.

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Headlines and Hope

It’s been a hell of a summer for things coming out of downtown Raleigh.

And don’t tell me you don’t know what I’m talking about. Our state government makes decisions that capture the attention of the likes of The Daily Show, Stephen Colbert, Rachel Maddow, and Bill Maher. Any time that happens, it can’t be good.

In fact, it’s been pretty frustrating.

The most recent headline out of downtown Raleigh is something you’ve probably seen or heard of by now, as the story was picked up by pretty much all local media, Good Morning America, Huffington Post, Time, NPR, and Al-Jazeera…and gone viral with the help of social media.

Love Wins Ministries was told by local PD to stop their typical weekend Saturday and Sunday morning routine of going to Moore Square to feed their friends who live outside. Failure to comply (because they were in violation of an undisclosed ordinance) would result in arrests. I’m not sure what prompted this particular event on this particular Saturday morning when Love Wins has been operating in this manner for 6 years, unobstructed.

Needless to say, people were outraged. Love Wins has done their best, though, to respond well and engage in conversation with the appropriate people on all sides of the issue…including Raleigh mayor, Nancy McFarlane, and the Raleigh City Council. And the conversations have already begun…an effort which seems to have promise.

In all honesty, I have felt, deep within my innermost being, THE most hopeful about this headline from downtown. The situation is not resolved–far from it. But for once this summer, people from different sides are actually having conversation in an attempt to understand and reach a solution that is beneficial for as many people as possible. And THAT is the key reason I have hope.

For more on the story, you can go here: http://lovewins.info/2013/08/frequently-asked-questions-about-the-moore-square-indicent/

In the mean time, you can continue to follow along on Love Wins website and, for more immediate updates, on their Facebook page.

 

Situation Normal, Part 4

Working in church as it is now requires a lot of energy. I still don’t have it and Mom’s been gone for 6 years. So I may not ever get it back.

Then again, even if I did have the energy, I wouldn’t do ministry the way it’s always been done. Which means I probably wouldn’t get hired by a church.

Because if I’m a youth minister, I’m going to talk to your teenager(s) about sex. And gender. And media. And I’m going to provide a space for them to question and think and encourage them to do so. And teach them that there’s no dichotomy between the contemplative life and the active life. And most of you, churches, don’t like it when I do that. Or when any other youth minister does it. Because most of you, churches, like things in a nice, neat package that can be marketed to the larger community.

God doesn’t work like that, so why should that be the nature of my ministry?

And if I’m a youth minister in a church, I’ll be having series for parents. We can talk about parenting teenagers in this increasingly complex world. We ought to. And I will coach you on how to talk to your teenager(s) about sex and set limits and make good decisions…and not be so dang entitled.

And I won’t be feeding the youth ministry machine. Don’t get me wrong. I would provide opportunities for various types of growth and we’d still do the mission trips and youth camps. But…God is not a machine and church shouldn’t be either.

So often, however, church is a machine. And it chews you up and spits you out. And I’ve seen far FAR too much of that lately. So much so that it makes me want to gather my tribe and start another new church (because they’re isn’t already one on every block in the South).

But then I remember that I don’t have the energy for all that. At least, I don’t think I do. Not right now.

So my plan for now is to finish this PhD. And write a book on the coming of age of girls—because no one has synthesized all that lately. And write parent training materials for prospective adoptive parents. And do parent training for the rest of us. And throw in some counseling and advocacy for good measure. And that’s just my professional life.

I Don’t Go To Church

I have a seminary degree…and I don’t go to church.

For a long time I thought something was wrong with me. I was too critical, too pessimistic, too anti-institutional to be OK with church. It doesn’t help that being seminary-trained ruins you for church…and adding CPE on top of it pretty much f&$*s you up for good.

For a long time I questioned why I couldn’t get into church…why I couldn’t fit into a community in this area (preferably Baptist). But then I heard some interesting stories last week while at a large gathering of Baptists…and it led me to the following conclusions:

Baptist churches where I live are bat shit crazy. Either that, or they lack something that meets the needs of my family–like a youth group.

I concede that there is a certain level of crazy in churches that is acceptable. There is a certain level of crazy that keeps the drama going but still allows the church to function in the way it should. This is how church is–and always will be. I’m still looking for a church with an acceptable level of crazy that provides a loving, supportive community in which my whole family can be involved.

Of course, I’m not sure I can find the kind of church I’m looking for in Baptist spheres–or any sphere for that matter. But I want to keep searching.

And I’m not sure I can articulate at this point why it’s so important to me to do so. I just know that it is.

I also realized while at this gathering that, at least in the way I was treated by some (read: enough) people, I took a different trajectory and my ministry will take a different shape. And in so doing, I gave up my seat at the moderate Baptist table. Perhaps even other types of Baptist tables as well.

But the more I thought about that, the more I realized that maybe that perception is limited to those individuals and informed by the area in which I live. For you see, if I lived in another city–say, Greensboro–I know where I’d go to church. And it would be a Baptist church. And I would do so happily.

For now, it appears as though I’m a Baptist on the margins, moving closer to the edge of another denomination altogether.

Fill The Truck

I had a conversation with a minister friend yesterday about why we left one church for another. Reason #1: we were persona non grata. A close second: the church isn’t a good fit for us and our ideas about ministry. She asked what we liked about the new church…and about their stance on women in leadership. Currently, the church is not in favor of the latter–but I think it’s moving that way…and doing so the right way. She wondered aloud at the fact that, more and more, intelligent, educated women are willing to attend churches that wouldn’t allow them to fill certain leadership positions. I told her that, for me and where I am currently, this church meets other needs and that, consequently, the woman thing isn’t a deal breaker.

This morning, we “had” to go to our former church. Before doing so, I went over to our current church…not to attend a service–though it turned out to be the most worshipful part of my day. Today was “fill the truck” day to help restock the Durham Rescue Mission with things such as clothing and household items in order to help them continue to meet the needs of people in the community as they try to get back on their feet. (In a crappy economy, non-profits are among the hardest hit.)

The truck was to be at church from 8-1. When I arrived at 9:40, there was no truck. I thought maybe it was in another part of the parking lot where I couldn’t see it. Nope. No truck. I drove around the parking lot and still didn’t see a truck, but there were a few spaces blocked off with cones and there was a table with a few chair sitting there. Still no truck, though. There were, however, a few men standing out front and I pulled up to ask about the truck. Turns out, the truck had already been filled once, and they had taken it back to unload it so it could be reloaded.

In an hour and a half, the truck was filled.

At that rate, they could have conceivably filled it a total of 2-3 times.

That’s just one example of why I like this church. The other is even more powerful. The church has partnered to do ministry in Haiti to care for poor, orphaned children. A piece of land on the coast came up for sale. It had an AMAZING view that would heal any soul. To be able to provide housing for a number of children there was the epitome of heaven on earth. The land cost $400,000. The pastor felt the burden of wanting and needing to buy the land, but also the burden of asking his congregation to raise that much money above and beyond their budget…at the time the recession was starting.

And they had to put up the money within a week to be able to buy it.

The pastor asked the church to raise the money, hoping people would be willing to follow the example of Jesus…or even the widow who gave her last two cents…but uncertain of their reaction.

Within one week, the church raised that $400,000.

No committee. No vote. No let’s table the motion and think about it. No let’s put together a team to determine the best way to finance this operation.

Just a big fat check at the end of 7 days.

What church does that?!

Added to that is the fact that most Sundays I walk out chewing on something from the sermon.

The woman thing can wait. The bottom line is that we’re called to love God and love people. Regardless of where people stand theologically or politically, that bottom line is the one thing that can unify people and bring them into a deeper and more meaningful relationship and way of life. And that is where the rubber meets the road.

I’m thankful for the truck I didn’t see this morning. I’m thankful that it was full by 9:40. I’m thankful that moment in the parking lot at one church helped me to be OK with sitting in the pew at another. And I’m thankful for the 2 minutes of worship I experienced before my day really got started.