I had the best intentions of writing a post about yesterday, but I was just too exhausted and went to bed after watching my favorite “fake news” shows. This morning I’m headed out to our Mid-Year Boards for the Yearly Meeting where I have been put on our leadership committee. Tonight I’m playing music with a friend in the church who is going to lead music with me tomorrow morning. This is the first time I’ll have led (or helped lead) Sunday music in about 5 years. I’m a little nervous but am going to do some of the songs we used to sing at Pasadena Mennonite, so that will be fun. I look forward to Cherice and Joel Bock visiting our meeting tomorrow and talking to us about their experience with Christian Peacemaker Teams. And then in the evening we’re watching a short film on Human Trafficking called “The Fields of Mudan.” So it’s a very full weekend. I appreciate all of you reading, your prayers and support.
Since high school I have been drawn to ministry among the poor. Part of it was because we grew up poor (at least compared to those around us, we weren’t on the street or anything). And part of it was because I felt like I could identify with people who were on the margins. Then when I was in youth group I had an opportunity to work at a food pantry my uncle ran, as well as do some inner-city “mission” trips working in the poor parts of our city. Each of these instances allowed me to learn the stories and gain some perspectives of those living in poverty in my own neighborhood. At both Malone and Fuller I took urban ministry courses, which all had components requiring us to do work or spend time in places like LA’s Skid Row.
Fast forward to the present and for the first 4 or 5 months of being here I was caught in the in and outs of just learning how to do basic pastorly things. Then one chilly fall afternoon we had our first unexpected visitor come to the meetinghouse. Her visit has represented a kind of “conversion” in our communal story at the church, it has set us on a path of exploring what it means for us to help the least among us. One of the things that happened since this first woman came was that a task force was formed made up of people in churches from our community. We’ve been researching, visiting shelters, meeting with town leaders and gathering our resources to see what we can do. All with the underlying assumption that caring for the poor is not someone else’s responsibility, it is a responsibility Jesus gave his disciples (and that would be us!).
Just as I was heading to bed last night I learned that Howard Zinn, history professor and author at Boston University, had passed away yesterday from a heart attack. When I think about the conversions that have taken place throughout my life Zinn is someone who plays a role. I grew up catholic, started identifying myself as a Christian in high school and became a Quaker in college (and now tend to use that label for myself more than other labels), and have since remained in the Quaker camp but have continued to change and grow in understanding of faith, culture, the world and politics.
Yesterday was a day on the run. My feet didn’t stop moving until sometime after 9pm last night and L was finally asleep. When I sat down, I felt like I was still moving, and my mind was jogging at a pace I couldn’t keep up with (which doesn’t say much). So I just sat there on the couch, holding our 2 month old, breathing and trying to step on the brakes. I find decompressing to be a difficult thing. I’m always anticipating the next thing to the fault of not fully being present in the moments I find myself in. Sometimes I catch myself not really breathing at all. Instead, settling for the short, choppy breathes in my upper-chest that leave one feeling tense and rushed.
I got into an interesting discussion today with a gentleman after our meeting for worship about unprogrammed Quakers. He said he had heard “Silent” worship described by someone (a non-Quaker) as similar to a séance and wondered if the practice really is non-Christian. I think it’s a fair question. With so many interpretations of what the word “Quaker” means, and what authentic Quaker worship looks like, it seems like a question that needs to be taken seriously. My reply to him was that there are a few misunderstandings taking place. One is that it was never meant to be “silent” worship. While it is based in the practice of silence it’s never meant to remain there. The point is rooted in the belief that God can and does speak to everyone (in a variety of ways of course) and desires that the whole body of believers truly have a voice. That we are to be listening, waiting for God to speak to anyone present is to keep the meeting moving forward. If an entire meeting was silent that should give great cause for concern. Is God no longer speaking? Has God run out of things to teach his people? And with early Friends there was a strong emphasis on ministers (not paid clergy), people who were known to be led to minister and teach the Scriptures. So you could expect there to be different levels of participation from the entire community.
Here’s my sermon from today.
Its true that sometimes community doesnt always work out right. Emily and I were a part of a small house church a few years back that used the word community as a kind of buzz word but it became rather oppressive because the leader want to maintain total control. So the word community can also be used to disguise for people out of step with what it really means. But then there are other times that it not only works, but everything flows just right, and the choreography of a community working together for a common cause turns out to be beautiful.
It’s been a hectic week so today was the day for sermon writing. I often like to have it written on Thursday so I can use Friday as a day to rework and tweak what I’ve written or as a day for meetings, and working on other articles (like the one recently published in QL!). We went out for breakfast as a family this morning, an “unfortunate” consequence of having no coffee, eggs, milk, or oatmeal in the house. After breakfast, which was tasty, I left the ladies to do their biding with a fellow by the name of Fred Meyer, or Freddie as his friends call him, and walked to Peet’s. What is it with all these names? Granted it is a Peet’s in a strip mall (rather than this, this, or this) but it’s still on some level Peet’s. (I think what you’re supposed to sense here is that I am subtly mentioning the fact that I miss Pasadena). Anyways, as is my coffee shop custom, I unloaded my mobile office: my stack of books, my legal pad filled with chicken scratch notes, my pen, my glasses, my headphones, my mouse — you get the picture, it’s quite a scene for the onlooker no doubt — all on a small round table in the corner and sat down to write with that high-octane cup o’ Peet’s.
As of late, I’ve been wrestling with the whole idea of conversion. I grew up going to Catholic mass, going to Catholic schools, learning the Catholic way. I never spent much time thinking about conversion in this context, partially because I was young (I stopped attending Catholic-everything after 8th grade) and partially because they have a radically different understanding of what it means to be a Christian (it is not a matter of going to an altar, but learning the practices and language of and living in a family, the Christian church). Then at the age of 14 my step-father asked my brothers and I to say the sinner’s prayer to become Christian. I remember resisting this. First I thought and then asked aloud, “Aren’t I already a Christian? I already try to live and do right and I believe the stuff about Jesus I have learned in school, isn’t that enough?” The answer was an strong no.
Today was somewhat of a typical day for me. I did a bunch of office work this morning, answering emails, going through mail, organizing paperwork and I also watched a number of tutorials on the Bible software I use for working on my sermons. Later in the day I spent a good chunk of time exegeting Romans 12:14-17 a beautiful Pauline passage in my opinion:
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. – St. Paul
I love how this describes the call of the church to truly be a peaceful/contrasting/inspiring community of Christ followers (and for that matter so does the whole of Chapter 12).