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Fellowship of Saints and Sinners

Fellowship of Saints and Sinners

Why “Church, Inc” Has Failed Us and Why Jesus Won’t: An Interview

Fellow saint and sinner Lance Ford has set out to reform how we think about church leadership, with Jesus as his guide.

And now, finally, what a number of you have been waiting for…Today’s guest is missional church thinker and activist Lance Ford, who is organizing the upcoming Sentralized gathering in Kansas City, Missouri (September 27-29), in which I’ll be taking part.  He is also the author of the newly released book, Unleader:  Reimagining Leadership And Why We Must.  

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After having a chance to read through Lance’s book and mark it up with plenty of exclamation points and “Amens,” I was privileged to sit down with Lance virtually for the below interview about his book…

Kristina:  Your book overturns Western models of church leadership that so many of us now jaded pastors and disillusioned lay people have been spoon fed until we’re tired of the same old hash- all in favor of an older, far more foreign and uncomfortable way, that of Jesus as the suffering servant.  In this sense, your book is both radically revolutionary in our context and deeply faithful to the church’s primary source material (the biblical story of Jesus’ way of leading).  What did you most want to achieve or convey to your readers in writing this book?

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Lance: We’re now well into over 40 years of church growth thinking that has had a primary focus on leadership for about the last 20 years. Where has it gotten us? We are getting bigger churches (which I have no problem with at all) but we are not seeing more people in church. Everyone has heard all the statistics to back that up. And we are not transforming our cities and overall Western culture. As the missional movement has gained traction over the last decade I am convinced that it will never become a full blown reformation—which I believe it has the potential to do—if we don’t do as Jesus said he came to do, and go to serve. Churches are being led by people obsessed with leading and not those captivated with a vision of authentic servantship.

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Kristina: I couldn’t help thinking as I read Unleader that it had to take a big dose of God-given courage to write it.  I mean, there are a whole lot of church leaders out there wedded to five-point vision plans, strategic goals, and other business models of success who will summarily dismiss what you have to say or even mock it.  Was this a hard book to write?  What for you was most risky about writing this?

Lance: I can’t really say it was hard to write. It would have been much harder not to have written it. I am convinced that we are at a tipping point in the Western church and if we will get our leadership ethos right then the movement will take off like mad. Why? Because the people of God will truly be released to be a priesthood and the Jesus Jerks who have gained leadership immunity will either have to repent or get benched. Probably the thing that was most risky was that people would dismiss me as just a cranky prophet type that says there should be no leadership. I have no doubt that there will be those who will say as much, but only if they do not give the book a fair read. That is not the message of the book whatsoever. My push is that we are not to seek our identity in leadership. Leadership is a fruit, a product of following Jesus’ lead…which is servantship. And it is not a rant. I don’t offer critique void of answers and direction to head. As I said in the text, this book is confessional as well. I am a leaderoholic myself. It takes one to know one.

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Kristina: I’m struck by the fact that the Jesus of Scripture exudes a hermeneutic of suspicion about religious power and those who wield it.  I can’t think of anything good Jesus has to say about the religious leaders of his time (which always keeps me, an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church, trembling a bit).  What are ways you would suggest we as ministers and lay people speak truth to power within our congregations?

Lance: What we witness (over and over) in the Gospels is Jesus subverting power at every front…especially the religious field. In Matthew 20 (v.25) He could not have been clearer when he calls the Twelve for a “talkin to.” He says, “The Gentiles exercise dominion over one another…but it will not be so among you.” It has become very much so among us. We have ignored Jesus on this. We’ve also ignored his clear cut commandments on the usage of titles. I would suggest to all Christians to look to Jesus, and the words in the epistles about how to treat one another. Jesus turns power structures upside down at every turn. Church leaders have built power structures. The bottom line to it all is an issue of trust. Do we trust Jesus to build his church his way, or not? I think we need to go back to the old hymn—“trust and obey.”

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Kristina: Ah, now to one of my favorite chapters in your book for its brave insightfulness about the proverbial skeletons in so many church closets- namely, senior pastors and their executive pastor sidekicks.  You have some very resonant things to say about senior pastors, and, intriguingly, the kinds of personalities senior pastorates often attract, namely those with some degree of “narcissistic personality disorder”.  What do you suggest we do if we are in a congregation with a senior pastor like this?  Shall we give them your book (wink)?

Lance: You might want to send the book anonymously (wink). We are going to have to treat this stuff just like we would treat any other sin. It needs to be named for what it is and people need to confront it. I am convinced that we just don’t take Jesus seriously, nor the epistles seriously when it comes to the way that top of the org chart leaders get free passes on the way they treat staff members. But we have set the table for this stuff in the first place in the way we have created hierarchical leadership systems that devalue servantship and reward and applaud results over character.

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Kristina: You seem to be saying that following in general, as opposed to leading, is something that most of us in the West, maybe especially Americans, are not used to doing.  I love this statement:  “A true follower cannot be bound to follow.”  Can you unpack a bit more this notion of following and why it is so central to your understanding of authentic leadership (i.e., servanthood)?

Lance: First of all, we are all to be co-followers of Jesus. We are not to make followers of ourselves, which is the very thing the leadership gurus have taught us to do, i.e., you’ve got to be a great leader so that people will follow you. John the Baptist had followers but as Jesus’ ministry surfaced he backed off and sent his disciples to follow Jesus (I must decrease, and He must increase). When we “lead” through command and control, threats, ultimatums, etc, people are not following us. They are only being led as an ox is by a leash. There is no following going on. My dog follows me everywhere I go, not because I drag her around…she wants to be with me…she loves to be with me. No leash is needed. That is true following. 

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Kristina: You don’t tackle this issue, since it’s not quite within the realm of your topic, but I wonder whether you would agree that one natural implication of the hierarchy-less nature of your unleader ethic is a freeing up of women to serve as spiritual leaders?  I’m inclined to think from personal experience that women in leadership is an especially difficult pill to swallow for more evangelical churches, and I wonder whether this less relational, less egalitarian emphasis on corporate, business management models is, in part, related to an inherent, deep-seated conservatism (I would call it plainly “chauvinism”) about the equal calling of women to mission.  What do you think?

Lance: Next question. Kidding. I would certainly hope that that would be the case. But in my research I found the dominant leadership ethos to be exercised by some female executive pastors as well. So my focus is on the leadership-centric focus itself, regardless of the gender issues. But again, I hope the book will help in regard to setting women free to serve in all capacities and roles.

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Kristina: This preacher girl found herself agreeing with her bro in Christ throughout your book, all the way up to the part where you dropped the bomb that preaching “is not the answer.”  Tell me more.  (This, admittedly, is a self-interested question, since I’m considering a Ph.D. in homiletics.)

Lance: Disciple making requires inviting others into our lives. Jesus invited the Twelve to be with him…not just to hear his sermons. Any preacher can preach beyond his own character but none of us can mentor beyond our character. Many pastors (dare I say most?) have never been discipled by anyone, so they don’t know how to mentor, though they may be great at preaching. Preaching comes into play in discipling, but it is not the discipling answer…not by a long shot.

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Kristina: What is your biggest source of hope that one day “Church, Incorporated” and her many affiliates really will wake up to see the error of their ways, and be, with God’s help, the people she was meant to be?

Lance: That Jesus declared that He would build his church and the gates of Hell would not succeed in stopping it. And I also believe that most men and women in the ministry sincerely want to serve and be real Jesus people. The missional movement we are seeing gain traction is a true people movement. And true revolutions are always people movements. We are seeing and hearing the best stories coming from soccer moms and diesel mechanics…everyday people on everyday mission. The hope I have is the Body of Christ getting out of the pews and out of the church building into the neighborhoods and marketplace with the love and justice of the kingdom of God.

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Kristina: You’ve assured me that I don’t have to have a goatee to come to Sentralized in a couple of weeks, and that this won’t be just another conference.  What are you hoping this conference will do to unleash the church in the direction of unleader servanthood?

Lance: I love the fact that every man and women we have speaking at the Sentralized Conference are UnLeaders. They are humble servants of Jesus and are focused on the Kingdom of God. I hope they sneeze the servanthood virus on everyone and an epidemic across the world will continue to spread.

Got a question of your own for Lance? Leave it here in the comments section, and I’ll make sure he gets it.

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“Gracefull”

Tammy in 1977, age 5.

Fellow saint and sinner Tammy gives below another honest, raw examination of her life through the lens of God’s grace.  God’s grace, not our own often clumsy efforts to achieve goodness or live right or follow our own hearts or lost dreams, is, afterall, I believe, the most important thing.  It’s the reason we’re alive and the underlying rhythm of our life’s song.  And it reminds me that, as preacher and teacher Tom Long has put it, the best things in life come to us not as anything we can dredge up or manufacture on our own, but as serendipitous, breathtaking encounters from outside of ourselves.  “Happenings” of sorts.  Love.  Joy.  Peace.  Patience.  Kindness.  Self-control.  Grace.  Mercy.  Truth.  Justice.  Goodness.  They happen, usually not by my own effort, I’ve found- and only by more of God’s grace in my life.

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Thanks for your courage to share some of your own story, Tammy; you have encouraged me this morning to share with greater depth of honesty and humility the gracefull “happenings” in my own life, which one day will appear in my book, Grace Sticks: The Bumper Sticker Gospel for Restless Souls.  You’ll be in the credits.:

I am not graceful. No, really. I am the polar opposite of graceful. See this picture above? I was five, rollerskating in the driveway (that had a pretty steep incline) and I yelled to my mom, “Look, Mom, I’m Dorothy Hamill!”  I then attempted a spin that she was very famous for at the time in the figure skating world and probably the Olympics. As you can see in the aforementioned picture, I did not so much execute her award-winning maneuvers, opting instead to spin out of control, land on my wrist, and break it. It’s a legendary story in my family.

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When I was 12, and Mary Lou Retton became the first female American gymnast to take the all-around gold in gymnastics in the 1984 Olympics, I decided I would give gymnastics a try. My mom even bought my sister and I matching Mary Lou Retton leotards, which you can see here, but not on me. My career ended shortly after, when it was determined that I had nothing at all that was required of a gymnast. I retired the leotard.

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According to the world’s definition of grace, I have none of it. I can’t walk in a straight line, I bounce off of door frames and clip the corners of walls on a regular basis. I have absolutely no depth perception so my parallel parking resembles a bumper car ride on the boardwalk in Ocean City. A friend once told me I had a distinct “lack of body awareness.” I trip over invisible objects, I graze people constantly when I try to pass them. One time, I kid you not, I fell off a curb on Michigan Avenue, the Magnificent Mile for crying out loud, and hit my head on the side of a car. It was not moving at the time, thank the sweet baby Jesus. Not very magnificent at all. Again, a legendary experience.

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So in terms of graceful as in physical grace, I am just plain deprived.

Were I to turn the definition to a more supernatural one than I may be able to contribute. Mostly because I have been the recipient of so much grace. I have required it so very often in my life. As much bodily harm as I have inflicted upon myself due to my complete and total lack of physical prowess, I have MORE THAN made up for in terms of spiritual and emotional and mental damage. But grace found me and claimed me and gave me a new name. GRACEFULL. Full of it so I could give it to others. Which brings me amazing amounts of joy. I love to be a wild and crazy grace dispenser. Tell me your story and I will heap lavish grace on you until you can’t breathe for grace.

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How’s this for the grace of God? That picture was taken on the grounds of Friends Hospital in Philadelphia. The mental institution my mother worked for. Yes, we played there. There were huge expanses of field, a duck pond, trails in the woods, and prize-winning azaleas. There were also underground tunnels that my sister and I loved to explore. Yes, in a mental hospital. There was beauty to be found even there.

Twelve years later, at seventeen, I found grace in another mental hospital. As a resident. I was broken. And alone. And so very scared. I prayed the prayer there. I think it went something like this: “I can’t live right, I can’t die right, so Jesus, if you want this life, you can have it.” I had prayed before, but this time was different. I knew what it was going to cost me and I knew just how badly I was in need of it. Jesus met me there. Grace was dispensed in a wild and crazy way by a wild and crazy God. And from then on, I was full of grace too.

P.S. For the record, I have not attempted anything I saw on the Olympics this year. Yet. I will keep you posted.

You can find more of Tammy’s grace-filled reflections at her blog, Raggle Taggle.

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True Love, Compliments of “Louie”

For those of us who still believe in true love, and for all my single friends traversing the landmines of today’s crazy dating world, this recent clip from Louis CK’s new comedy television series, “Louie,” shared by fellow saint and sinner Paul Dover, touched me.

In a moment of raw vulnerability with his platonic friend Pamela,  Louie confesses his love for her.

I suppose the scene is also a metaphor for thinking about how God in Jesus loves us.  I can think of nothing less risky or vulnerable than a God who comes to us in our own skin, gives us the freedom to say “that’s nice but I’m not interested,” and even lets us crucify Him over and over again.

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“Bringing Jesus”

The other day I heard something that I often hear in various Christian circles.

“My husband and I have a heart for bringing Jesus to people,” someone said.

And, I can appreciate the sentiment behind the remark.

But, bringing Jesus to people?

Whenever I hear that line, I tend to shudder just a bit.  Kind of like when someone says, “I have a word from the Lord for you.”  Usually my instinct is to duck.

I understand that certain expressions are just this- expressions.  Euphemisms.  Aphorisms.

Still, since when did anyone ever actually “bring” Jesus to people?

I love how Rob Bell muses in Velvet Elvis that Jesus would be awfully “heavy” to carry. Sure, Jesus tells us, “take my yoke upon you;” but I’m pretty sure Jesus is not talking about evangelism or discipleship here; I think he’s talking more about finding rest for our own weary souls.

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Actually, I’m at a loss to think of another place in Scripture where one of the disciples “brings” Jesus to people, by way of an introduction.  Worried parents summon Jesus to heal their sick children.  The disciples consult Jesus when they’re stressing out about what to feed the crowds.

But in most cases Jesus is already there.  In the midst of things.  The disciples don’t need to go find Jesus and bring Jesus to the scene of need.

I’m struck in fact by how rarely it is the disciples who do the summoning of Jesus.  Often the folks who summon Jesus are just ordinary people outside Jesus’ inner circle of followers who have needs.  Their son is demon-possessed.  Or, their daughter has died.  Or, their friend is paralyzed.

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And this sort of thing happens often with Jesus.  People get in some sort of trouble and discover that Jesus has been there all along or just shows up when they call, right when they most need Him.

This has been true in my own life, too.

The only time I can think of in Scripture that a disciple actually brings Jesus anywhere- feel free to correct me!- is when Judas, the disciple who betrays Jesus, hands Jesus over to the chief priests.

Most of us know what happens next.

No mass conversions or crowds lining up to be baptized in the Jordan River.  No dazzling testimonies about how Jesus transformed Jane’s life or put Bob’s marriage back together, so that Bob and wife lived “happily ever after.”  What happens next is just a nasty crucifixion next to a couple of common criminals.

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When resurrection does happen, the news of its happening is more of a trickle than some dramatic, over-night transformation of the world.

That’s when Jesus tells his followers to go share the good news.

And notice that Jesus Himself never says “go bring me to others.”  I suppose that’s either because he’d be asking us to do the impossible, or he’d be telling us to hand Him over to be crucified all over again.

The alternative, thankfully, is a whole lot less grave.  We can simply talk about how Jesus has shown up in our own lives when we most needed Him, or in the everyday messiness of living.  We can bear witness to the God who is always on the move and always one step ahead, even as this God is also with us.

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Christ above me.  Christ below me.  Christ before me.

Yes.

But if Christ is under my arm and I’m carrying Him like I would a Bible or a bag of groceries, I may want to ask myself if He really is Christ or just another idol that I’ve let hang around.

Stay tuned later this week for an interview with guest Lance Ford.  Ford, who is an organizer of the upcoming Sentralized gathering in *Kansas City, Missouri (September 27-29), recently authored the book, UnLeader: Reimagining Leadership…And Why We Must.  You’ll also get to read my review of Rachel Held Evans’ A Year of Biblical Womanhood for the ecumenical publication Sermons That Work.

[*Correction: An earlier version of this post had the location for the gathering wrong.  Sentralized will be in Kansas City, Missouri, not St. Louis!  Please do not make reservations for St. Louis, because Kansas City is the place to be.  And forgive my blonde moment.]

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The Venezuelan Poodle Moth

This “Venezuelan poodle moth” was the “face of the day” several days ago on Andrew Sullivan’s blog, The Dish.  Apparently the image had been buzzing around the Internet for a while, its authenticity confirmed by zoologist Dr. Karl Shuker, according to Sullivan.

Today I was reading from Ephesians 6:18 where the apostle Paul instructs the church in Ephesus to “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.”

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Every so often I’ll meet a Christian who does just this sort of thing, but the encounter is a bit like stumbling upon a Venezuelan poodle moth.  It’s a novelty and an oddity, kind of strange and maybe even distasteful- those of us accustomed to viewing life only in earthly terms may find a life also lived in the Spirit too much of a mutation for our tastes.

Yet it’s also strangely beautiful in a one-of-a-kind way.

Maybe more of us need to become like Venezuelan poodle moths.

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Sleepless in Atlanta

“Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness,” by James Tissot

Every so often my demons- they know me well- stop by.

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Early this morning, not wanting to wake my husband who lay snoring next to me, I found myself crouched in silent tears next to the kitchen door, seeking some sort of empathy from our puppy, Roosevelt, (our latest addition to the family) as he downed his morning breakfast.  Pedigree’s puppy chow was his happy, youthful oblivion to my pain.

It was so early that as I write this it is still dark.

When my demons come, usually they have this to say: “You’re a mess-up.”  Or, “you’ve not amounted to anything.” Or, “look at how disappointing your life has turned out.”  Or, “you deserve better than this.”  Or, “things will never be different.”  Or, simply, “you’re stuck.”

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The accusations can be enough to send me into a silent crying fit at 3:30am on the back porch.

Funny thing is that my demons come and go, often very unexpectedly.

Life can be going along pretty uneventfully, often with much to be thankful for, when suddenly, with the click of some seemingly random trigger, my sleeping demons are off again in a high speed chase.

I have often wondered why this is the case.  Don’t we reach some sort of spiritual acme even in this life where we don’t have to confront our demons anymore, where the demons have all been put to rest, where we can say with satisfaction that we have overcome?  Don’t we reach a turning point at which, after enough psychoanalysis on a couch or pastoral counseling or sheer prayer, our demons just leave once and for all?  Isn’t there a time when, after we’ve learned to talk to our demons (see “Playing Host To Our Demons“), they become bored of trying to spook us and just move on to torment the next person?

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I’d like to believe this.  Indeed, the apostle Paul, at least when it comes to trials such as hardship, famine, persecution or danger, describes us as “in all these things…more than conquerors through [Christ] who loved us” (Romans 8:37).

But what about the demons that don’t appear on Paul’s long list of trials?

Jesus Himself, notably “full of the Holy Spirit,” was led into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, the gospel of Luke says (as I was reminded in church yesterday); and, if it is true that Jesus, who was human in every way but without sin, successfully resisted the devil, it is also true that Jesus’ forty days of temptation in the wilderness were not some final duel at the end of which the devil would depart forever.  No, “when the devil had finished all this tempting, he left [Jesus] until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13).

In “opportune times” like these, all I’m left to do is cling a bit harder to Jesus, hold on for dear life, and be content not to have the answers.

 

 

 

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Underwear God: The Scandal of The Incarnation

Until she met Jesus, doing the laundry was never this exciting.

It is frankly absurd to believe that God came into this world as, of all things, a human being.  Fully divine, yes, but fully human, too.

Yet the whole crux of Christianity, I believe, hangs on this one great, scandalous mystery called “the Incarnation.”

Here are missional church thinkers Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost in their groundbreaking work, The Shaping of Things to Come:  “For us the Incarnation is an absolutely fundamental doctrine, not just as an irreducible part of the Christian confession, but also as a theological prism through which we view our entire missional task in the world.”

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In my work as an itinerant pastor of sorts traveling from trucking companies to real estate firms and assisted living centers, it is not uncommon for people to ask if I really believe that Christianity is unique.  Is Christianity really any different from all the other religions out there?  

I respond that what makes Christianity so distinctive (at least for me) is the crazy idea that God really walked in our shoes.

It’s absurd- but then so is life itself.

And if we human beings are incurable believers, if we have to believe in something, then I’ll hang my coat on this peg over all the others.

Because if God really did what we Christians affirm- if God in Jesus inhabited the same human stuff I’m made of- then God really does believe that my frail, finite, limited flesh is worth redeeming.

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So much so that God will stake God’s life on the fact that I’m worth being made whole.

These days I often wonder if much of the church has simply forgotten the centrality of the Incarnation.  A God who meets us where we are as real people with real questions is not a God who waits for us to show up in church each Sunday, or simply hangs out there, maybe in the stained glass windows, waiting for us to come back in order to admire the pretty colors and architecture.

The God I read about in Scripture is a God on the move and very much in the world, engaging real people with real questions and inviting them into relationship.

I like to say that God shows up in church sometimes.

Which is one of the reasons I do what I do as an itinerant pastor.

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The other day at one of the assisted living homes I serve, I was asked to visit one particular elderly woman known for her orneriness. When I knocked on her door, she bid me come in.  I found her sitting in her undies in a wheelchair doing her bills.

“You’re doing bills, eh?,” I asked.  “That doesn’t look very fun.”

Recognizing me as the chaplain who had visited the week before, she said, politely but cooly, “I think bills are good company actually.”

I had gotten the hint.  When you’re sitting in your underwear and your bills are better company, this chaplain will not overstay her welcome.  You have my solemn promise.

But there is something reassuring in knowing that God doesn’t wait for us to put on our best attire and holiest demeanor to meet us where we are.

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God in Jesus comes to us when we’re still sinners.

When we’re least likely to put up pretenses.

Or buy cheap, self-help trinkets from the pulpit.

Or even set foot in church.

That’s often when God comes to us.

In our gritty, messy humanity, God comes and says “I’m in your court.”

And we?  We get to witness how God shows up.  Or follow God there.

So while the Incarnation may be absurd, as absurd and miraculous as the fact that you and I are here at this intersection between life and God alive and breathing, the Incarnation is also a great, big adventure.

It’s an adventure I’ll take over stained glass windows any day.

If you, like me, are an adventurer, and are curious about how to help the church rediscover the centrality of a God who meets us in our underwear, Hirsch and Frost will be speaking at this year’s Sentralized gathering (September 27-29).  I hope you’ll consider joining me there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Change”

Fellow saint and sinner Tammy Perlmutter knows about change.

In the last several years, fellow saint and sinner Tammy Perlmutter has, like many of us, witnessed a whole lot of change, much of it just downright sad, hard and disenchanting.  Tammy posted this wonderful little entry on change in yesterday’s “five minute Friday” challenge.  (Fellow blogger Lisa-Jo Baker began “Five Minute Friday” as a way to encourage aspiring writers and tired moms to put their thoughts down.  If you’ve ever wanted to write but have been too shy or suffer from writer’s block, this is a great way to try your hand at the craft.)  Here is Tammy on change, and you can find more of Tammy’s reflections at her blog, Raggle Taggle:

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The iPod cable in my car is broken, so I’m resorting to CDs. They’re round and flat and shiny and have a hole in the middle. Sometimes there’s a pretty picture on the side that’s not shiny. That’s for you millennials out there.

I am usually in danger of wrecking the car when I switch music and since I don’t have that many in my car I’ve just kept one CD in the player for months. Yes, months. Ohio by *Over the Rhine.

There’s one song that has been sitting me with me for so long. It plays in my head as I fall asleep at night. It’s there again, waiting for me, when I wake up. And when I’m riding the elevator. It’s always there lately.

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The title? “Changes Come.”

It’s a melancholy little number, with a swear in it, which feels good when I listen to it. I’m right there with Karin when she’s singing it.

The line about the firstborn son, it’s my favorite one. The fact that it is also the one with the swear in it is neither here nor there.

She sings about the world being too messed up for any firstborn son.

She’s referring to having  a baby, of course, but it got me thinking. Jesus was a firstborn son. As Christians we all have the rights and privileges of firstborn sons.

Yet changes come. Hardship comes. Circumstances that feel like death come.We’re not exempt, as firstborn as all of us are.

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And the changes I’ve seen in the last two years make me want to use that swear in the song. (As if I really haven’t.)

A friend told me once that all change is first perceived as loss. It’s played out so true in my own life. My world isn’t the same as it was a year ago. My heartisn’t the same. It’s a little sadder, a bit darker, somewhat softer, slightly stronger.

But Sunday’s coming.

These same changes that brought down calamity on our heads also brought some blessing our way. So would I trade in the changes? I’d be tempted. I love shortcuts. Escape routes. Secret tunnels. Trap doors that get you out of something quick but into something else just as fast.

But I hope to change all that.

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I’m going to stick around and see what changes come.

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Somedays I think that maybe
This ol’ world’s too *mess*ed up
For any firstborn son

There is all this untouched beauty
The light, the dark both running through me
Is there still redemption for anyone?

Jesus come
Turn the world around
Lay my burden down
Turn this world around
Bring the whole thing down

*Fun fact: The tagline of my blog, Invest in the Mess, is a line from Over the Rhine’s song “Long Lost Brother.”

So tell me your troubles
Let your pain rain down
I know my job, I’ve been around
I invest in the mess
I’m a low cost dumping ground

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“Confessio”

Confessio #999- This picture was the best I could do this early in the morning in the way of a pictorial representation of “confession,” and I’m sorry, Lord Christ, that You’re again having to wear that eery halo of light, thanks to the limited imagination of some Hallmark card artist. “Obsecro ut mihi ignoscas.”

It’s amazing how throwing Latin at a subject can imbue it with more solemnity.  

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That’s what Brian Doyle did in laying out his life’s confession in the August 22 issue of The Christian Century.  “I, Brian, a sinner,” began Doyle’s page-long catalog of all of the ways he has fallen short across a lifetime, interspersed with “Obsecro ut mihi ignoscas” (“I beg to be forgiven.”)  

In this case, the sound of “I beg to be forgiven” in Latin makes me think of a snot-nosed kid with a huge, green booger hanging from her nose asking for a Kleenex while wondering if anyone will notice if she uses her sleeve.  (“Ignoscas” has that ring, does it not?) Okay, so maybe not so “solemn” after all, but fitting for this morning’s liturgy of repentance…Because this morning I’m not sure whether Doyle’s “confessio” or my own sinner’s remorse are the biggest source of inspiration- and where Doyle took only a page to describe a whole life, I am taking a whole page to repent of only yesterday’s blunders:

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I, Kristina, a sinner known to have occasional, short-lived moments of saintliness, do here confess that yesterday was largely a wash.

I wrote a smug post about a Christian leader who manages to embarrass himself repeatedly in public, and derived far too much satisfaction in pointing out his stupidity and only adding to the man’s humiliation.

Obsecro ut mihi ignoscas, I beg to be forgiven.

I spent more time in the mirror staring at the two red zits on my left cheek than grieving the worst violence yet in Syria or meditating that You are my Bread of Life.

Obsecro ut mihi ignoscas.

During our chaplains’ monthly conference call, when someone was sharing a serious pastoral issue and the rest of us were praying, I took the opportunity of a bad connection that sounded like nails on a chalkboard to surf the Internet and read the latest headlines.

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Obsecro ut mihi ignoscas.

I lost my temper with the incompetent customer service representative from the mortgage company who was threatening to report me to the credit bureau for a missing payment that the mortgage company (not me) had in fact lost and that I was only hearing about for the first time yesterday.

Obsecro ut mihi ignoscas.

When I spoke unkindly to Violet, the sweet-sounding manager of the incompetent customer service representative who was just trying to rectify the damage done and seeking to be helpful despite an insurmountable amount of bureaucratic red tape, I probably succeeded in making Violet feel very small.  (The expression, “shrinking Violet,” may alas apply.)

Obsecro ut mihi ignoscas.

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I then snapped at three consecutive customer service representatives from Wells Fargo who, in a three-way conversation with Violet and me did not know what they were doing by introducing themselves, offering the latest line of new products and insisting on my answering the same security questions.  Alas, they still do not know what they do (which is to help customers rather than drive them into fits of angry exasperation).

Obsecro ut mihi ignoscas.

During and shortly after two hours on the phone troubleshooting a problem I did not cause- namely, explaining how it was that a payment I made on time through my bank’s automatic bill pay service was withdrawn from my account but never reached its destination- I was in a foul mood, snapped at my kids, unloaded on my husband and felt genuinely sorry for myself and my first world problems- all this when at least I have a house and can pay my bills and live in a country where some small recourse is given to customers whose mortgage payments have gone missing.

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Obsecro ut mihi ignoscas.

During Cam’s kindergarten open house, when we parents were sitting in a circle learning about the most important things in life which they teach you in kindergarten, things like being kind and considerate to other people and learning one’s A, B, C’s, I was secretly gloating about my son’s intellectual and athletic prowess.

Obsecro ut mihi ignoscas.

When in response to yesterday’s smug post on the latest gaffe by a certain embarrassing Christian leader, fellow saint and sinner Marco Naguib shared a crass, foul-mouthed news clip by The Onion (“Tampa Bay Gay Prostitutes Gear Up For The Republican National Convention“), I laughed heartily and only momentarily grieved that I was laughing at people not with them.

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Obsecro ut mihi ignoscas.

There are many more things under heaven that I could here confess, only some of them truly printable here, but for those I wronged yesterday, and for whom I embodied not grace but only judgment and condemnation, I ask that Your mercy be as real for them today as it is for me- new every morning, for great is Your faithfulness.

Obsecro ut mihi ignoscas.

And, thank you, Father, for the Kleenex: I needed it.

Amen.

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Hurricane Isaac Spares God’s “Chosen People”

“With friends like Pat Robertson, who needs enemies?” – God

Yesterday morning, when tropical storm Isaac was gathering speed and looked ready to hit this year’s Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, conservative Christian talk show host Pat Robertson was, oddly, silent.  The coincidence of a second hurricane in four years to wreak havoc with a Republican convention- in 2008, Hurricane Gustav delayed the opening of the convention in St. Paul, Minnesota- at first elicited no new words of wisdom from the host of the Virginia-based television show, “The 700 Club.”

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Today I learn that this was because Robertson and other concerned Christians were busy praying to avert the disaster.

When it had become clear that the full wrath of Isaac would spare Tampa for New Orleans, almost exactly seven years after Hurricane Katrina, Rev. Jesten Peters appeared on Robertson’s show to say this: “We have had lots and lots of people praying around the clock that [Isaac] would move,” Rev. Jesten Peters explained. “And if you watch from the very beginning where they were saying it was coming up and now where they’re saying it’s going, then it’s really moved a lot for us, and we appreciate God doing that and moving it for us.”

By this rationale, Hurricane Katrina was merely the consequence of too few Christians directing the path of the storm with their prayers.  By this rationale, any time a hurricane blows through we should be mobilizing churches- ideally only the “pro-life” ones, by Robertson’s standards- to pray away the hurricane, or at least to ask God to redirect the storm to the places that “deserve” God’s wrath.  By this rationale, we believers have an insiders’ line not only to God’s ear but to God’s will- never mind that whole line in Scripture about “how anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13).

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Dubious?  I think so.  But more disturbing is the fact that “The 700 Club,” as one of the longest-running television shows in broadcast history, enjoys an average daily attendance of nearly 1 million viewers.

Apparently, there are a whole lot of people who subscribe to this rationale.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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