Saturday, February 26, 2011

Honesty Is the Best Policy

Honesty is the best policy. So often we tell lies about ourselves, our family, and the world around us. We live in denial. We sugar coat our problems and pain. Why? Sometimes we don't want to deal with it. Other times we are too distracted. Sometimes we are even blind to it, we just can't discern light from darkness.

The more we cling to Jesus and seek light and truth the more we have to be honest. Radical honesty. I am amazed at the lies we hear from politicians, local leaders, Church officials (including bishops and hierarchy!!!) about what is really going on. We hear that Senator A will vote for a bill but then later on we hear that he had some back-door dealings with a major Fortune 500 Company not to vote on it or some political action group got his ear. People give lip service to the truth but do we really want it. People say one thing or do another.

I think most of us would rather live in our own little closed off worlds than to deal with life as it comes to us.

We'd rather put our head in the sand rather than deal with our problems, pain, anxiety, or hurt.

The Apostle Paul says "speak the truth in love." Are we capable of speaking the truth, the full truth, and nothing but the truth every day? Are we capable of telling the truth to our partners, children, friends, and family? Or would we rather ignore the problems hoping that they would go away?

Life is too short. Why live in a world of lies?

Seek the truth in all things.

Seek the light of Jesus.

Seek to live an honest life.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Feeling Stuck Lately?

I like this picture of the pig stuck in the mud because that's how I feel most of the time, stuck! Surely you have felt the same way too, at least once in a while. If you are saying, "no, not me" well, I think you're lying, we all have been in tough situations.

Following my post yesterday about new ways of Church life I feel that many of us in Church/Parish land feel stuck. Some communities are doing some great creative and innovative things in their parish communities, doing some great work and really following the gospel. Yet many of us in Church land feel stuck. We have have some great ideas, new ways of doing things perhaps and we share these ideas with the people around us. And we share and share and share and we realize after a while NO ONE IS LISTENING! Now that should make anyone feel stuck!

So many pastors have tried new ways of doing things in worship, singing new hymns perhaps or creating new ways of connections and community in parish life. Pastors have tried new ways of being community whether it is creating small groups or new ways of financial giving. Yet there is little if no response. People are busy. People are not interested; yada, yada, yada............

Most people like the tried and true the old and familiar. They are scared of new and different. When they hear the word "new" or "innovative" or "creative" ikes, they run the other way!

Yet when reading Acts and Paul we see a new message being preached, that finally, after hundreds of years God sent his Son into the world to save it. The messiah has come! One may think that everyone was happy and excited and thrilled about this good news. Yea, right. What do we read. Yes, some people were interested and thrilled, but most people kept on doing what they were doing not interested at all. They turned a deaf ear.

I wonder, did Paul or Peter feel stuck? Maybe so. All I know is that I feel stuck most of the time, maybe this is part of being a pastor, one foot in this world and one foot in the world yet to come. One eye on earth and one eye on heaven, meanwhile, we are stuck in the middle of two worlds.

Oh well, at least I try getting out of the mud once in a while :)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

New Ways of Being Church

Lately I have been reading about new ways of being Church, or in other words, new forms of community life. While many people see the Anglican Church in the UK as declining, and perhaps it is, they at least have dealt with the issue with a national program called Fresh Expressions which can be found in the link at the end of this post. The Anglicans, like most other denominations are facing hard times these days mostly due to finances. Let's face it, those of us in full time parish ministry see the writing on the wall. How can our parish communities sustain our current situation. Most people don't realize the cost of maintaining a physical plant with high mortgages, heating and cooling costs, maintaining the physical plant, not to mention insurance and everything else. Several years ago Brian McClarnen and others created the Emergent Church movement as a way to try to "be Church." Smaller, more intimate settings, not focusing so much on building and material things but on true community life. After all, what do we read about in the Book of Acts? The early Christians focused on the prayers, the breaking of bread, and charity. They met on the "first day of the week' which was Sunday and then went back to work, mostly as farmers and day laborers. They certainly didn't have to pay insurance, mortgages, or cut the grass!

Fresh Expressions is just one way of dealing with the issue. The main problem is that most of us in "Church land" are not dealing with the problem at all. A friend of mine has a parish that has to deal with a major roof repair let alone upfitting the ancient heating and cooling system. Who is going to pay for this? People come and go in parish life. We live in a culture where people move for new jobs, homes, or work without batting an eye. Most people are not that committed to their local parish. They have other forms of community too, their local neighbors, YMCA, or other associations. Furthermore, Generations X'ers and Y'ers and the new "Millenials" as they call them are not interested in keeping large building afloat. But they are interested in community life that is engaging, serious, stimulating, and fulfilling. They are interested in learning about Christianity in a way that is honest and real. They are not interested in yard sales, sisterhood meetings, flower committees, or big buildings. They are interested in charity and helping others. They are not interested in Friday night bingo.

I am not sure what the answer(s) are but I am sure that we need to begin to think about them.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Pastor: A Memoir by Eugene Peterson

It's finally here! Yes, you heard me correctly, the new Eugene Peterson memoir is here. I have waited almost a year to read this book and I'm glad I did. Back in April I heard Pastor Peterson speak at a national Faith and Writing conference in Michigan. He read several sections from his manuscript and at the end there was a five minute long standing ovation. Peterson is a monumental figure in pastoral care. I first came across his writings while pursuing graduate work in pastoral ministry when I came across his Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work and Working the Angles. Then last year I bought a copy of his famous translation of the Bible into colloquial English, simply titled The Message. Peterson's publishing output is amazing. His books take up at least half of a library shelf.
For nearly thirty years Pastor Peterson was the main pastor at Christ the King Presbyterian Church in Bel Air, MD. Then, before his retirement he spent nearly a decade teaching pastoral ministry at Regent College in Vancouver British Columbia. Peterson is now retired and is a guest speaker at conferences and clergy gatherings.
His memoir, which is simply titled, The Pastor (Harper One, 2011) is not a usual memoir. Rather, as he states in the introduction, it is a collection of thoughts about the people and events that went into his becoming a pastor in the first place. While at New York Theological Seminary Peterson had hoped to enter into a Ph.D. program in Semitic languages and teach in a college or seminary setting. This dream never came to fruition. After several seminary classes and working with such noted pastors such as George Buttrick, Peterson felt called to the pastorate, and he never left.
Peterson has lived a long life and includes much of his early childhood in this book. We learn about his early Church life in the Pentecostal Church and stories about his mother who often preached on Sunday and his father the butcher. We hear about his seminary training in New York and later his clergy gatherings and work in Bel Air. Peterson devoted his whole life to serving God, the Church, and fellow humanity. If there was a Nobel Prize for pastors Peterson should get one. He is what I call a pastor's pastor and of all my books in my personal library I turn to his when I feel down in the dumps or need some inspiration in the pulpit.
However, while reading The Pastor I realized there were some important facts left out. Peterson never really tells us why he left the Pentecostal Church to join the Presbyterian Church, only that a professor mentioned this suggestion to him one day in passing. He spent nearly 30 years at Christ the King but we never hear of any problems or pains that he had there except for what he calls "the Badlands" years but he never fleshes this out. There is no way he pastored for 30 years and never had a breakdown or manic episode not to mention conflict in the parish. We never hear about why he went to Regent College or what he did there, that part of his life was also mentioned only in passing. We never hear of his troubles and trials, what John of the Cross calls the "dark night of the soul." I have been in my parish for only 10 years and have had more than enough "dark nights" that I remember, what about Peterson?
I cannot fault Peterson for leaving out these parts of his life. Perhaps they are too personal or too hurtful to share? Perhaps his editor suggested him to leave them out? Perhaps those events will be in another future volume? After reading the book though I was yearning to hear the whole story. After reading Richard Lischer's pastoral memoir Open Secrets and more recently Barbara Brown Taylor's Leaving Church I realize that pastor's go through a lot of tough stuff, stuff that Peterson left out of his memoir. Was this by choice or by suggestion?
Overall I am glad that I read The Pastor and have noted several pages which I will, like his other books on my shelf, read again and again and again. If you are a Church leader or pastor, go out, do yourself a favor, and buy a copy of The Pastor. Read it and be inspired!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Brother Andre of the Oratory, His Life and Sanctity

About twenty years ago when visiting Montreal I had the chance to visit the St. Joseph Oratory on Mount Royal. It is located in a lovely location overlooking the city. It was early summer and people were walking about and the flowers were blooming. I had no idea of what an Oratory was or even why the parking lot was overflowing with visitors. I later learned that the Oratory was a place of pilgrimage for Catholic Christians. Why you may wonder? The Oratory was where Brother Andre Bessette lived and ministered. While he died in 1937 his life and legacy still live on and now the Vatican has confirmed Brother Andre's sanctity. In other words, Catholics honor him as a saint.

It was overwhelming going into the chapel at the Oratory. Hundreds of cards, rosaries, crucifixes, and notes were pinned to the wall. There were crutches and wheelchairs from pilgrims who were miraculously cured from their diseases. Thousands of red votive candles were burning around the clock. While at first look these things may seem a bit out of the ordinary, over the top really. Yet many people said that they were cured after asking for Brother Andre's intercessions.

In his new English language book simply titled Brother Andre (Ave Maria Press, 2010), Jean Guy Dubuc provides his readers with the life and legacy of Brother Andre. While this is not the forum for a more lengthy review, needless to say Brother Andre was quite an extraordinary person. He was born and raised in Eastern Canada in what is the Eastern Townships and eventually made his way to Montreal. He became a member of the Congregation of the Holy Cross and for most of his life was the Porter or doorkeeper at the Oratory. He also assisted newcomers and visitors, helped with cleaning, and was a good listener. Brother Andre soon became a popular figure at the Oratory with people coming to him with physical and spiritual ailments. Unlike some saints, Brother Andre was very popular during his lifetime. Upon his death in 1937 hundreds of thousands of people attended his funeral in Montreal and his body is now in a crypt in the Church at the Oratory.

I remember visiting the Oratory and while I didn't know much about Brother Andre, I felt a deep sense of holiness there. Every year millions of pilgrims flock to this special place in Montreal in order to walk where a saint once walked. They come every year, young, old, healthy and sick alike to pay homage to a man of God. They pray. They light a candle. They ask for help.