It’s important to understand the dysfunctions at church as systems. We know this. Most of us learn this in seminary. But then we get caught up in things, and it all feels so personal. So it’s good to remind ourselves of the reasons why systemic thinking makes sense.
Each year, I fast for Lent. The process is always transformative. After doing something for forty days, it becomes easier to maintain the discipline after Easter. The habit becomes a part of me, and my cravings shift. And so, over the years, I stopped consuming fried things, sugary drinks, and meat. I’ve learned to appreciate my wheat whole instead of bleached.
One pastor in New Orleans would end every examination by asking, “What is your favorite work of fiction?” The other ministers collectively groaned. But I applauded the question. To be in South Louisiana meant being in a land of stories. As this NYT article observed, South Louisiana is “a place that produces writers the way that France produces cheese—prodigiously, and with world-class excellence.”
A friend went to UNCO (short for Unconference) to see how it worked. She had been a part of numerous “future of the church” conferences who paid the best and the brightest speakers and leaders to impart their wisdom. Everyone attended and talked about how the church was changing.
A friend from seminary visited a couple of weeks ago. Her father-in-law was a pastor in the South, and she had been on a church staff for years before she became a pastor. She talked about how the male pastors of former generations would say that they were going to make visits, and they would spend the afternoon at the golf course.
Before I went into the ministry, I was a business manager. Scuttling papers back and forth on my desk, I dreamed of seminary. A headache grew between my eyes every single day. As I downed the aspirin, I couldn’t wait to train for my “real job.” I had no idea that being a business manager was preparing me for my calling.
This morning, I couldn’t wait to open the New York Times to find out how the Republican debate went with Donald Trump out of the picture. Who would shine in his absence? What was the general tenor? Cordial or bombastic? Dignified or scrappy? I don’t watch the debates on television.
“Do we lean in, or blame society?” We don’t need a solution that addresses either/or. With many structural inequities, injustices, and cruelty, the answer is both/and. Do we feed the homeless, or advocate for a society that no longer produces so many homeless people? Do we protest the death of one young black man, or do we work to change the brutal policing system? Do we send the people in Flint bottled water, or do we fix the pipes? The answer to all of these is yes and yes.
I used to get a phone call every Monday morning. “I just wanted to let you know what’s being said,” the caller would begin, and my body would tense as if preparing to be punched. Then, I would get the rundown of every complaint that people had about me.
I met with my writing group as they looked over the pages of Tribal Church. I had written about my experience as a teenager traveling to China as a short-term missionary. I looked out of the train window and saw people everywhere—good, kind, smiling people. They were in misted rice paddies, using each inch of land was wisely. They were in the grey city, riding bicycles to factories.
It is extraordinary to hear a song reverberating off stonewalls and then dissipate into thin air. The soaring beauty of ephemeral art! Sometimes I find myself holding my breath as the soloist hits a high note or that incredibly awkward person tells his testimony. Do we appreciate that moment? Because many of us are conductors of that symphony, curators of beauty and we don’t realize the importance of our position.
I, like many people of faith, am reeling from Jerry Falwell Jr.’s proclamations to his student body. Falwell encouraged the students of Liberty University (there are more than 100,000 of them) to arm themselves against Muslim terrorists.
His rhetoric reminded me of a bumper sticker I see here in Tennessee: “Only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun.”
I always have difficulty blogging and engaging in social media during a tragedy. My feelings run deep, and I can rarely sum them up in 140 characters without feeling trite. The perpetual heartache from the ISIS attacks in these weeks have hampered my ability to be pithy and clever in a status update.
In Chattanooga, I walk with steady steps over a pedestrian bridge that stretches over the Tennessee River, listening to the soft souls of my shoes keeping a rhythm against the worn wood. As my Instagram account can attest, almost every day, as long as my travel schedule allows, I’m drawn to river’s rich beauty and horrifying history.
I hosted UNCO again this year, and it’s been interesting to see what’s going on in the innovative church world. The conference is open-space, so the participants generate the topics. It's for church leaders who serve traditional congregations and new churches.