November 19, 2012

Gentiles and Stepfamily as Intruders: Reflections on a Sermon

Last Wednesday ended a lapse from preaching for me. Honestly, I can’t recall, for sure, the last time I preached. A year ago, possibly two.

Our youth pastor has been in a series entitled “Repossess.” There have been three segments: identity, generation and family and Wednesday kicked off the segment on family. Obviously then, mine was the privilege of sharing a bit of my story and some reflections on family. Specifically, and this was the main reason our youth pastor had me preach, I shared about my experience--both good and bad--with stepfamily. Since divorce and mixed families are as common as anything else, I thought this was an important and necessary item to talk about.

The question I wanted to answer was simply, “How do I treat my stepfamily when I see them as intruders?” I think this is a valid question, not just for teenagers, but for anyone who has felt the relational tension between, now, members of the same family. Nowadays, it takes zero stretch of the imagination to think of a woman marrying a man with two kids of his own or vise versa. Stories like this happen all the time, every day. But their normalcy doesn’t dissolve the deep feelings of being intruded upon, as if it’s totally fine that this stranger is now living with me and assuming a role they haven’t earned (i.e. mother, father, etc.).

Early on, I had this thought of how to capture this issue within the biblical narrative (albeit, now, I would have done it slightly different since my storytelling skills aren’t what they used to be, causing some kid’s faces to looked annoyingly bored--preacher's worst nightmare). I thought about Ephesians 2:11-22: in Christ, two people groups, the Jews and Gentiles, God’s people and the others, had, expressed at Pentecost and beyond, become one, united as God’s single dwelling, as one people, as one family.

And for some reason, I thought it would be brilliant to attempt to explain the whole story from its proper origins in Abram. This is where some kids got bored, at least this is what their faces were telling me. Sometimes you have to adapt, change it up, screw the itinerary.

At the end, what I wanted them to see was that they, being Gentiles, since none are full-blooded Jewish, were separated from God, not apart of Jesus’ family, like Paul wrote in that passage. I wanted them to take that in! Because, if they did they would realize they have an insider’s perspective on what it’s like to be stepfamily.

The way that many kids today view their stepparents and stepsiblings is probably similar to how the early Jews saw the Gentiles: intruders. Can’t you hear them say? “This is our covenant, our family, our God! They have no business here!” And as we know, both peoples had a difficult time understanding the radical reconstruction of the former way, the original rules.

My advice at the end was so basic: love Jesus by loving your stepfamily, pray for your stepfamily often, get to know your stepfamily and, in some instances, forgive your stepfamily. It seems almost like I threw together this application section. To the contrary, I sat for a long time, laptop open, cursor blinking, thinking about how the kids could apply this. At the end of the day, I guess it comes back to what we all know, the Christian fundamentals: love, care, prayer, forgiveness. Oh, the simple, difficult Christian way. How beautiful it is.

I told the kids I wanted them to make eye contact with me if they wanted to become apart of God’s family for the first time and/or they were going to try to live as a Christian among their complicated, messy family situations, as their heads hung downward during those last moments when slouched bodies perk up and bored faces become calm. I was shocked by the many eyes that looked into mine. I gave back a look like, “Are you sure?/Do you know why you are looking at me?” to some of them. It seemed it wasn’t accidental.

All the struggle through that sermon seemed like nothing in the lightness and calm of those few seconds of catching the eyes of teenagers who, in sincerity and freedom, decided that in the difficult and beautiful way of Christianity, as led by Christ, is where they plan to place their feet. Ah, yes. And just how exactly did I manage to be away for so long?

November 15, 2012

The Rolling Jubilee

"There’s something very good about forgiveness," writes Felix Salmon, concluding his post on Occupy's latest bright idea, Rolling Jubilee. Indeed!

I heard about Rolling Jubilee a couple days ago while reading Richard Beck's blog. And since then I've read several articles from writers across the political spectrum. So far, everything I've read salutes the idea and its biblical roots and ancient genius.

Among the articles I read was one written by Charles Eisenstein, author of Sacred Economics, which I'm currently working through. It's quite good.

Some others engaging the idea are Anya Kamenetz, senior writer at Fast Company, author Matthew Yglesias and Tim Worstall at Forbes.

Rolling Jubilee is kicking things off officially tonight! You can stream it live. The ole biblical witness, with its outdated ideas, is applicable today. Who'd a thought?

November 6, 2012

The Good in Defeat (or what feels like it)

She didn’t bother to say, “Hey, call me back when you get this,” which, now, in retrospect I kinda understand. Hearing this would have perked my ears and imagination to think I got the job. Alas, it was all there, everything I needed to hear in that simple voice message.

Honestly, I was a little surprised I didn’t get the job. Maybe I was too positive about it. I went in for an interview last week for a youth pastor position at a church in Bellevue, Wa. Overall, the interview was good. I was told that I was the only person called in for an interview. Shocked, I excitedly figured I had a good chance, no? The pay was good, which I wish wasn’t a deciding factor (but anyone who has shaken hands with the devil and successfully found themselves floundering in student loans will readily attest to the necessity of a decent salary). And it was a job I wanted: youth pastor. Hello! Just the thought of seriously engaging students--junior to senior high to college--in matters of Christian faith and spirituality can spark an all-too-easily-lit fire I usually keep contained in the bottom of my heart.

This is all I want to do: saturate young imaginations in God’s narrative, the story he’s writing, ya know, the one from the dawn of time and give them an example, a life of a struggling, attempting-yet-failing, loving, thinking, experimenting, life-taking-serious Christian and preach the best sermons I got and teach them about faith in a way that’s creative, embodied and wise. Ok, there’s more, but this sums up a major chunk.

And some may find this fascinating or stupid or both, but I spent a good amount of time this night talking to myself--by social standards that is. But I wasn’t, technically. I was preaching and instructing teenagers--in my imagination! Although, youth workers got some attention as well. A little weird I know.

Today though, honestly, felt like a defeat. It wasn’t just about being rejected as youth pastor from the Bellevue church. That was the culmination of a number of setbacks. Amongst other things, there are emails I set to churches and pastors that were inquiring or needing a youth pastor that have yet to be responded to. Emails are pretty impersonal, sure. And I know pastors get a ton. But if some guy takes the time to send an email, cover letter and resume seeking about an opportunity at your church send something back. Right? In the face of the neglect I would have seen even one simple “thank you” as super pleasant.

You can ask a bunch of my friends: I was perfectly torn, and for a long time, upon graduation, between youth pastoring or teaching english abroad. Constantly, like a pendulum, my mind alternated between these two options. I had legit reasons for both. Doing the latter is still something I would love to do somehow, sometime, somewhere. But I want to youth pastor. Hands down. I minored in it for a reason.

Amidst feelings of frustration and disappointment, and in true Davidic style, tonight, I encourage myself: Son, what great warrior, athlete or CEO has never been shackled to defeat? What hero has achieved their status flawlessly, with no cuts or bruises, embarrassment or shellacking? Could such a scoundrel be remembered as great? I know it’s not about fame or glory, but you must see properly the nature of defeat. Do you see only failure, only a sight to be mocked? Wrong! Of course there is more to it than that! God sees you son. And where he sees you he will lead you. So rejoice that he would bless you with such a gift, with such a great teacher. Everything that happens, remember, passes through God’s purifying flame of love, his ever burning agape. In such divine love, even the most unpleasant thing is consumed in order to bring about what's authentically good. Carry on!