Blogging silence, hard questions, passive aggression, and the Jesus-litmus test

Blogging silence, hard questions, passive aggression, and the Jesus-litmus test

If you follow my blogging, you may have noticed my recent absence from the blogosphere.  Following daily blogging through Lent 2018, I intended to continue blogging weekly.  But, a couple months back, I hit the proverbial “writer’s block,” and simply couldn’t think of anything worth blogging.  Or, perhaps, if I’m honest, I haven’t been in the right mental/emotional/spiritual “state” to write much worthy of public consumption.  Though I’ve opened my blog-site, attempting to write numerous times, words I was comfortable expressing just wouldn’t come.

Why?

As I’ve shared in previous blogs, the February 14th tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School deeply affected me.  Though I’ve worked through most of my theological angst, I think, I’m still wrestling with thoughts, ideas, and questions I haven’t before.  I’ve never believed in easy answers.  But, my previous questions – ABOUT EVERYTHING – haven’t usually been this complicated.

Then there’s the daily news coming out of Washington D.C.  Though I’ve never been a fan of our current President, and doubted his competency for office from the start, I’m increasingly shocked and outraged by his words and actions, on a daily basis.  I don’t understand how he gets away with saying the things he says, and doing the things he does.  I’m especially shocked by how so many “Christians” are so quick to defend him, his words and his policies, and so quick to condemn those who question him.  In recent weeks, my shock has turned to anger.  Some days, my shock and anger gives way to doubt and despair.

Then there’s the state of the United Methodist Church – the denomination I serve.  For decades the UMC has been divided over issues related to human sexuality and how we relatedly understand, interpret, respect, and enforce Scripture.  Since 2016, a group called the “Commission on a Way Forward,” has sought to discern a way to keep the UMC united, and to find a “way” for us to avoid schism.  While I deeply respect many who served on the Commission, and appreciate their efforts, I’m deeply disappointed by the blunders and suspicion following their report to the Council of Bishops.  Though I’ve long believed in the biblical value of unity, as clearly espoused by Jesus, I’ve become increasingly doubtful – and sometimes despondent – that we’ll a find way to remain united.

I’m also wrestling with finding my prophetic voice.  As a pastor, I’ve mostly focused on “spiritual” things – church programming,  preaching, prayer, Bible study, “doing” missions – leaving prophetic speech to others.  Frankly, sometimes, I was just cowardly.  I’ve always respected prophets, but haven’t wanted to be one!  But, increasingly, I feel called to speak – for women, for immigrants, for people of color, for the LGBTQ community, for justice and fairness, for decency.  But, speaking out has consequences.  Learning how to deal with those consequences, without retaliation, is a test of patience and love.

And, I’m wrestling with the institutional Church.  There’s no secret the institutional Church in America is increasingly irrelevant and rapidly in decline.  I’m increasingly wondering how much the modern institutional Church has to do with the Church Jesus intended.  When I read the New Testament, I read about a family-like community, gathered around a living, risen Lord.  As diverse communities of mutual love, sharing, and service, they experienced the presence of the living Christ amongst them, and in each other.  Focused on the Lordship of Jesus, the early Church sought to be an alternative, radically-inclusive, counter-cultural society, equally welcoming and honoring men and women, rich and poor, young and old, saints and sinners, Jews and pagans, leaders and followers, converts and seekers.  In the early Church, lives were radically changed by the Holy Spirit.  The Church of the New Testament, as I read it, strived to love, in word and deed.  I don’t read about denominations, or institutional preservation, or building debt, or annual budgets, or advertising campaigns, or growth strategies, or music styles, or calendars, or church-management software, etc.  In the New Testament, I read far more about “being” the Church as a reflection of Jesus, and not so much about “doing” Church business.

In other words, during this blogging hiatus, I’ve been wrestling.  I’m still wrestling.

“How do we speak honestly, confidently, truthfully about who God is and what God does in this world of ugliness and violence?”

“What does it mean to be a faithful follower of Jesus?  What do we stand for?  Who do we stand for?  How?  What do we speak for, or against?”

“What does it mean to be the Church?  Who is the Church?

“What does it mean to hope, and what can we hope for?  Who, or what, do we entrust that hope?”

“What does it mean for followers of Jesus to be ‘in’ the world, but not ‘of’ the world?”

About the time I wrote my last blog, I realized how many of my posts have a negative, critical tone.  Over the last year, as I’ve learned about being an Enneagram 9, I’ve become painfully aware of my passive aggressive tendencies (a common trait of 9s, who tend to avoid face-to-face conflict like a plague!) – an ugly trait I was previously blind to.  Blogging became a forum for saying those things I’ve struggled to say, and allowed to internally fester.  Blogging became a place to express frustration and anger I’ve suppressed.  While I stand by everything I’ve written, I don’t want to be passive aggressive in any aspect of my life.  My blogging ought to be a healthy and accurate reflection of who I am in the pulpit, standing in line at the grocery home, at home in my boxer shorts, or chatting over coffee at Starbucks.

Though I’m wrestling with loads of hard questions (for me) these days, I don’t claim to have many answers.  Though I don’t claim to be absolutely “right” about much of anything, I’m increasingly convinced that we are wrong about MANY things.  The litmus test for me is Jesus…

“What did he say?  How did he say it?”

“What did he do?  Why did he do it?”

“Why did he come?  Who did he come for?”

“How did he love?  Who did he love?”

“Who did he welcome and who did he turn away?”

“What does he expect of me?”

“Where is he now?  How do I find him?  How do I see him, and hear him?”

“What does he feel about the current state of the Church and the world?  How do I find out, and what do I do about it?”

What does he think about our current political and cultural divides?”

“If he returned today, what would he affirm and what would be condemn?”

I’m fully aware that you might have a different litmus test for right and wrong.  I’m fully aware that you may conclude different answers to my questions than I have or will.  But, here’s my challenge.  If you claim to believe in Jesus – and claim to follow him as Lord – make sure you actually do.  It may be a lot harder than you think.  Study what he said in the Gospels, especially the Sermon on the Mount.  Rather than drawing your own conclusions about what is right and wrong, find out what Jesus said is right and wrong.  Before you take a stand, study what Jesus stood for.  Before you condemn or criticize, find out what Jesus condemned and criticized.  Imitate him, as authentically as you possibly can.  Until you’ve thoroughly read, studied, prayed, and meditated on the words, teachings, and actions of Jesus, assume you might be wrong.  There are no easy, simplistic answers with Jesus!  And, after fully submitting everything to Jesus and concluding you might be right, be humble enough to know you might still be wrong.

So, perhaps that explains my blogging silence.

Am I back?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Only time will tell.  If and when I do write – as with every other aspect of my life and ministry – I intend to do so as faithfully as I can to who I believe Jesus to be, and who I believe he is calling me to to be, and to say and do.  One thing I can guarantee – I won’t do it perfectly.  It’s hard to keep my flawed humanity out of Jesus’ way.  May I suggest the same is true for you?

 

 

Post-Easter Pondering

Post-Easter Pondering

For the second year, I’ve written daily blog posts for Lent.

I don’t presume to believe I have that much to say, worth sharing publicly.  I could have just journaled daily for Lent.  But, there’s something about the discipline of writing a complete thought, that others might read, and the accountability of public posting, that’s particularly helpful to me.

Like I said, I haven’t presumed anyone would read anything I write.  But, for those who do, I am grateful.  I hope it’s been worth your time and attention.

On this Monday after Easter, I thought it might be useful to reflect on what this Lent has meant to me; specifically, what I’ve learned from the discipline of daily blogging.

Reflection 1:  The Marjory Stoneman Douglas Shooting

When I wrote my first post, Two Essential Elements, on Ash Wednesday, I never could have imagined how the events of that day would unfold.  By nightfall, seventeen were dead, seventeen were injured, Nikolas Cruz was in custody, and our entire community was in a state of shock.

We scrambled to change our evening Ash Wednesday service, to provide comfort, care, and prayer in the immediate aftermath, as we have with much of our ministry every since.

Personally, I had no idea how this tragedy would affect me emotionally, spiritually, and theologically, leading to some significant wrestling with God and a difficult search for Truth.  It’s been a difficult journey, as has been evident in some of my blogs.  Though I still have questions, and am still uncomfortable with some of the answers, I’ve been forced to dig deeper than I would have otherwise.

Reflection 2:  Closer Observation and Deeper Reflection

Daily blogging requires a fresh idea, worth putting into words, daily.  Knowing I needed something to write required me to be more observant, and more reflective.  I had to pay closer attention to the details of life, of conversations, of what I was thinking and feeling, and what I was reading and learning.

I can’t help but wonder how much of life I normally miss, simply because I’m not paying attention.

Reflection 3:  A Complete Thought

Reflecting is often open-ended, as were many of my blogs.  But, offering a blog for public viewing requires a higher degree of “completion.”  A particular blog may have started with a question, or a partial thought, or an observation.  But, before I could hit “publish,” I was compelled to complete my thoughts, to the best of my ability.  Though I often end posts with questions, I tried to never leave a reader wondering what I was attempting to say.

Reflection 4:  Everything is Spiritual

Yes, I’m a pastor.  Yes, I spend a lot of time thinking about God.  Yes, I spend a lot of time reading spiritual material.  But, beyond that, looking for daily inspiration for blog posts has opened my eyes to spiritual truths in unexpected places.

God is everywhere, in everything.  All we have to do is look.

Reflection 4:  Views, Likes, Comments, and Shares

I’ll confess, I’m a bit obsessed with how people react to my writing.  I’m always curious about what posts attract readers’ attention, and which ones don’t.  I wonder what will create controversy.  I wonder what will be helpful.  I wonder about how much of my self to reveal.

I’m embarrassed to admit, I check my stats a lot.

Vanity.

Some days are more humbling than others.  My least viewed post, Remember Your Baptism?, was only read 29 times.  But, that anyone – even 29 anyones – chooses to ready these posts honors me.

On the other hand, What Broke Him, was read over 3600 times, and shared on Facebook 961 times!

I also realize blogging daily may be overkill.  I don’t read the same writers everyday.  Why would anyone else?  I can’t help but wonder if less is more.

Reflection 5:  Am I Passive Aggressive?

As I’ve been learning about the enneagram (I’m a 9 and The Journey toward greater health and wholeness), I’m learning that 9s (my type), have a tendency towards passive aggression.  The last thing I want to be is passive aggressive.  But, I do, admittedly, avoid conflict, often swallowing and suppressing my hurt and anger.  Perhaps that anger slips out in unconscious ways.

Undeniably, I’ve felt the freedom to be “snarky” in a number of my posts.  Would I be as open and honest in public, or face-to-face?  Honestly, probably not.  Have I use my blogs to be passive aggressive?  Maybe.

This is, very likely, one of my growth areas.

Reflection 6:  TV and Social Media

For several years, I’ve given up TV and Social Media for Lent.  Though my blogs automatically post to Facebook and Twitter, I’ve been “logged out” since Ash Wednesday.  Normally, I give up TV and Social Media, simply to create more space for quiet, reflection, reading, and writing.  And, after Lent, I’m never in a hurry to turn the TV back on, and I’m usually slow to reengage on Social Media.

But, this year, with all of the negative news, especially surrounding the Parkland Tragedy, I was glad to be shielded.  I suspect, in my own inner-turmoil, watching the news or reading ugly posts would not have been good for me.

Reflection 7:  Post-Easter 2018

My personal belief is, whatever we do, or stop doing, for Lent, ought to have some impact on your life when Lent is over.

For example, in 1992, I gave up meat for Lent.  I’m still a vegetarian, 26 years later.

What about this year?

Some have asked if I will continue blogging.  I certainly won’t be blogging daily!  Last year, I blogged sporadically; mostly after major events, or if something was on my mind.  This year, I am going to attempt to write a weekly post, every Monday, and then when I feel led to write anything else.

I also have a stack of books to read – as always.  But, these were books I planned to read for Lent.  The Parkland tragedy, and my inner-turmoil, forced me into some books I hadn’t planned to read.  So, my Lent stack is still mostly unread, now becoming my Easter reading, instead.

Reflection 8:  Grateful and Curious

If you are reading this, or any of my previous posts, “thank you.”  I’m honored and grateful you take the time to read what I write.  I’m grateful when you respond.  I’m grateful when you share my writings with others.

And, I’m curious.  Is there anything you would like for me to write about in the future?  Any topic?  Any issue?  Any ideas?

I’m very open to your input, questions, suggestions and requests.

Thank you again for reading my posts.  Have a blessed 50 days of Easter!

 

Reflections on Forty Days of Blogging

Reflections on Forty Days of Blogging

For Lent, I committed to write a blog, everyday, for forty days, plus Sundays.  I did it!  But, now Lent is over…

What now?

I don’t plan to continue blogging daily – I think we would all get a little sick of that.  Instead, I’m thinking that I will continue to post my sermons/messages every Sunday, and write a blog about once-a-week.  Possibly more, if something really excites me. (And, you know how excited I can get!)

Thanks to everyone who has been reading and sharing my blogs.  You have been very kind and encouraging, and affirming of my writing.

Now that Lent 20217 is finally over, I thought it might be appropriate to reflect on what I’ve learned from forty-plus days of writing…

  • It hasn’t been as hard as I thought it would be.  I wondered if I would be able to think of something to write about – every day!  Surprise, surprise – the preacher never ran out of things to say!
  • Blogging made me more observant.  Needing something to write about – every day – made me more observant of life.  My eyes and ears were more open and receptive than usual, as I was always looking for inspiration.  I hope that continues.
  • Everything is theological.  Though I wrote about silly things – ranging from my motorcycle to bonsai trees to the Bible – I found that there are countless ways to reflect on who God is and what God does.  God isn’t just found in Scripture or theology books or sermons.  God is everywhere, at work in everything.
  • Blogging is cathartic.  As an introvert, and a fairly private person – in a very public profession – I have a tendency to bottle up my thoughts and feelings.  It was surprisingly easy to be surprisingly honest in this medium.  And, helpful.  And, healthy.  Sorry if you found out more about me than you really wanted to know.
  • I love to write.  Who knew?
  • I can be really, really long-winded.  Again, who knew?
  • Blogging forces me to think and reflect more deeply.  Frankly, it is pretty easy to be shallow.  But, putting your thoughts, theology, opinions, and the like, out for public consumption, requires a bit more care and attention – a bit more depth.  “Is this true?  Is this worth sharing?  Am I being clear?  Can I say this better?”
  • I have a fixation with “-“s, I can’t keep my verb tenses straight, and I’m a terrible proof-reader.  Shouldn’t I have acquired a mastery of basic English grammar by now?
  • Stats are a trap!  When you blog, you have access to stats regarding how many people have read your blog, and from what countries, and what days you have had the most hits, and which blogs have been most liked and shared, etc.  I wrote my blog for me, just hoping it my be helpful or interesting to others.  I didn’t write for the purpose of gaining a following.  But, I was seduced into looking at my stats every day!  My vanity soared on “good” days, and self-esteem plummeted on “bad” days.  How ironic – my Lenten discipline was an opportunity for my pride and vanity to raise their ugly, demonic heads!
  • “Snarky” is not a word in common parlance.  Apparently, some of you weren’t too sure what I meant when I said I was being “snarky.”  According to Miriam-Webster, “snarky” means,  “crotchity, snappish, impertinent or irreverent in tone.”   Who?  Me?
  • Restoration is a process.  As my sermons, and many of my blogs, were focused on the theme of “Restoration,” I’ve been reflecting on my own need for restoration.  More than anything else, I found myself asking, “Do I really believe this?  Do I really believe that God restores – me?”  Yes – I believe it.  But, I am painfully aware that restoration is a process – a painfully slow process.  Thankfully, God is not done with me yet.  But, I wish he would pick up the pace!

Whelp.  That’s about all I can think of, for now.  I’m currently on the road, riding my motorcycle, alone, northward-bound on A1A, along the Atlantic coast.  I’m sure I may have some things to share when I complete my journey.

(And, yes, the bike is running great!)