Showing posts from September, 2020

Why The World Needs You To Tell Your Stories

I  remember the day I met with the chair of the committee I was supposed to meet with in order to begin my process of becoming a pastor.  I was full of energy and enthusiasm, idealistic and ready to begin. 
Then he laid before me a piece of paper that contained a list of over a hundred steps that I would have to complete before I would be ready to be ordained.  
I  stared at that list, and swallowed hard.  Then he asked me a question that I would have asked of me over and over again over the next four years.  "Why do you want to do this?"  
The answer I gave then was suddenly tempered by the weight of the process that I would have to enter into, and I can't honestly recall exactly what I said in that moment.  
The gist of it was simple enough, though.  I wanted to be a bridge for people who had been wounded and hurt by religion, and who had given up on the Church to heal their their broken heart. I  wanted to spend my life showing them that there was more to Christianity tha…

What If 2020 Is The Year We've Been Waiting For?

I don't know about you, but I've caught myself more than a few times over the past several weeks wishing that this year was over.  At this point, I would love nothing more than to put 2020 in the rear view mirror, and drive away as fast as I can.  
Let me put it bluntly.  2020 has been a dumpster fire.  
I know what some of you are going to say, so let me just head you off at the pass there friend...  You want to tell me, "Now Leon, there have been other bad years, don't get all melodramatic."  
Okay, okay... but let me just put this out there...  
In addition to a global pandemic, election nonsense, fires, floods, riots, and much, much more, 2020 has thrown us another curveball: zombie storms.    
Seriously, I  just read that there's a "zombie storm" out in the Atlantic Ocean--a hurricane that had all but dissipated only to regain strength and come back to life, confounding meteorologists.  What the heck, man?  A zombie storm?  
With everything that has …

How To Avoid Selective Memory

The other day I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and I saw some posts from several friends that I used to work with years ago when we were all young.  Upon closer inspection, I realized with some surprise that these old friends of mine were posting words of hope from the Bible, photos of their children's first communions, baptisms and the like.  I had to smile because I remembered them differently from the wild, late-night parties we went to in our youth, the crazy escapades we shared and an absolute absence of anything that resembled religiosity, church or any of the things that mark our lives now. I also realized that when my old friends see my posts, and watch video of me preaching it has to be a bit of a shock for them, too.  Let's just say I wasn't always a pastor...  The funny thing is, when I remember my friends, I often forget my own role in our past, choosing instead to fast forward past those stories of mine to brighter and more "honorable" ones.�…

That's What They'll Say About Us

I was at the grocery store yesterday and I walked up behind a young father who was shopping with his little baby.  I usually don't spend a lot of time studying other people's kids, but for some reason this little guy and his dad caught my eye.  
The baby was sitting in the child safety seat in the front of the cart, intently watching everything his dad was doing.  The man stepped away for a moment to pick something out of a cooler, and the baby's eyes widened, and a concerned look flickered over his face.  
Then the man returned to the cart and he received an enthusiastic greeting from his little son, whose legs began to kick wildly and he jabbered a bunch of nonsense that seemed to make sense to him, but no one else.  He squealed as he pointed to the sky, and then the cooler. 
It was almost like he was saying: 
"You came back!  You came back!  And I thought for a minute you weren't going to come back, but you came back!  And you brought something that you got from th…

You Are Called

I've never been all that sure about my calling as a pastor.  I know it sounds odd, but it's true.  Someone once told me that was a good thing.  They told me that if I was too confident, too sure of myself it would mean that I would lose my sense of vulnerability, which they told me was infinitely more important than any measure of self-confidence. There's so much truth in that, but it's a hard truth.  And that hard truth has been painful to swallow during difficult seasons when what I've longed for more than anything is to be sure.  Several years ago, and late one night, I found myself lying face down on the floor in the Sanctuary of the church I was serving at the time.  I  was tired inside---tired of conflict, tired of feeling inadequate and ill-equipped.  I prayed like I had never prayed before to be set free from it all.  I begged God to let me go, to release me from the burden of the calling.  I wanted to do something else, anything else.  I knew that I wasn&#…

Rebel - Week 3: Millstones, Necks & Hacked Off Limbs

This week we are continuing the sermon series for the month of September, a series entitled Rebel.  Following Jesus isn’t easy.  It was never meant to be.  The Way of Christ sometimes demands a radical countercultural and even rebellious kind of sacrificial love.  The passage of Scripture we are going to be exploring today includes probably one of the most challenging and strange sayings of Jesus in the Gospels.  In this passage, Jesus presents a challenge to Christians not to be a bad example, what he calls a stumbling block.  We'll dig deeper into that in a moment. 
But first, I thought I would share some images with you of some bad examples just so we can get ourselves into thinking mode about all of this... and they're funny.  
You Had One Job - Images
The great author Victor Hugo once said, "No man is completely useless, he can always serve as a bad example."  
You Had One Job...  This is a meme that makes its way into our culture over and again, doesn't it?  So…

Because You Care

As I read the news today, I decided I must be living in an alternate universe.  It's that fantastic and unbelievable.  It feels like the end of the world... First, there's so much crazy in politics right now, and not just the normal amount of crazy that we have come to expect from politicians.   It's absolutely frightening, to be blunt.  And this virus...  how is it possible that we have become divided over the simplest of anti-virus spreading measures: wearing a dang mask?  HOW?  Then there are the massive, deadly fires on the West Coast, devastating hurricanes on the Gulf Coast.  It feels sometimes like the darkness is winning.  I do battle with the darkness every day of my life.  It's always threatening, always lurking around the corner waiting for the moments when I feel like all might be lost.  Maybe some of you know what I'm talking about.  Maybe the darkness feels more than a little overwhelming to you right about now.  I get that.  There are days when the d…

Grow, Stretch, Crack, But Don't Break

Many years ago, in my efforts to engage the "Organ Committee" of the church I was serving at the time, I accompanied the group on a road trip to visit a church that housed a massive pipe organ.  I'd only been the pastor of the church for a couple of years---two very difficult years. But I had just begun to feel as though the tide was turning, that the church was starting to move away from decline toward vitality.  Then I went on that road trip and got my butt handed to me by one of the long time members.  I remember admiring the TV monitors that were mounted on the walls in that massive old church, and I said something about how cool it was that they were integrating something new into their 150 year-old sanctuary.  [The sanctuary of the church I served was 100 years old, for some context]The long time member turned to me, and began a long rant about all of the changes that I'd enacted since I'd arrived.  She fumed about all of the new people who were coming who …

Rejecting Perpetually Sunny Theology

Throughout my years in and around the Christian church, I've witnessed a strange phenomena that doesn't seem to be isolated to just one "lane" within Christianity.  It's a cross-denominational kind of thing, in other words.  The phenomena I'm speaking of is what I would describe as "Perpetually Sunny Theology."  This kind of theology instructs that no matter what is happening in your life, you should never question, never complain, never lament, never wonder why.  Perpetually Sunny Theology lifts up the notion that not only is God "in control" of the situation that you find yourself in, but that God also caused it or at the very least allowed it in order to teach you something.  [So, Rejoice Therefore!]In the extreme, I've seen people who embrace this destructive belief absolutely refuse to accept their own agency in the dire circumstances they find themselves in.  In other cases, I've seen people resign themselves to "God'…

How We Are All Connected In Our Crisis

I have been thinking about the connectedness of things lately.  In fact, it's been weighing heavily on me.  It's probably because I have also been thinking more deeply about how going through a collective trauma (like the one we are experiencing right now with COVID) affects not only individuals, but also society as a whole.  Here's what I've been pondering...  There is an energy that exists between us, all around us and in us that is connected to the universe in intricate, unseen and also very fundamental ways.  I believe that energy to be the Spirit of the eternal, universal Christ--just so you know where I'm coming from on the issue.  It is through the Spirit that all things are created, exist, live, move breathe and have being.  This isn't original to me, by any stretch of the imagination--it's straight up Apostle Paul.  Along those lines, there is a holy interconnectedness that exists between ourselves and all of Creation, including those who share our…

The Grudge & Why It Needs To Go

On the day that I am writing this, I am reflecting on all of the posts that I saw on my social media feed from 9/11.  
Many of them were respectful, somber and introspective as friends remembered where they were on that day, and how they felt.  Others were not.  More than a few were filled with anger and bitterness.  And some chose to take the moment to pledge their allegiance to one presidential candidate or another.  
I posted my own actually---remembering what it felt like in the days after the tragedy of 9/11, and the shock that ensued.  We were unified then.  We put aside our differences, and we came together, bonded by our shared grief, and the fear that filled us all.  
It didn't last, as you recall.  It was mere days afterward that ultra-conservative Christian leaders began proclaiming that 9/11 was a punishment on the United States for the way we had begun to be more accepting of LGBTQ people. 
And then the politicians started blaming one another. And then there was war... yea…

There Will Be Singing

Sometimes you hear a song that speaks right into the moment you are experiencing. And sometimes you realize as you are listening to that song that the moment you are experiencing is one that you are not experiencing alone. 
I've been feeling a bit overwhelmed these past few days.  It's to be expected, I  suppose since I'm coming back from a brief break to the busiest time of year in church-y world. 
Which has been made so much more complicated and challenging because of our current situation.  
I also find myself acutely grieving so many of the things that have been lost along the way during all of this.  It's been a hard week of grieving, in fact.  Both of my younger kids started school---but not at school, which made me sad beyond belief. 
Then I  saw a photo on my Facebook memories of a worship service we held at my church a year ago.  The sanctuary was packed that day, and you could feel the energy in the room even through the photo.  
It made my heart hurt in a surpris…

Pieces of Truth

A bunch of years ago, I preached a sermon from Jesus' teaching on the Good Samaritan about what it means to love your neighbor.  I mentioned in that sermon that our ideas of what constituted a neighbor were often light years away from God's. I went on to say that our duty as Christians was to be humble enough to recognize the image of God in everyone, and to be led by that recognition to be the hands and feet of Christ. At one point, I mentioned that the hundreds of thousands of undocumented people within the United States were not just numbers---they were real people with real stories, and that they were loved and cherished by God.  And they were our neighbors. As I stood at the door after the service greeting my parishioners as they left, two middle aged sisters who had been members of the church for some time stopped to express their outrage at what I'd said.  They told me they wouldn't be returning. "That was the most disgustingly liberal sermon I've ever …

God At A Brewery

I had a strange feeling come over me the other day when I was sitting outside a brewery in Merrimack, New Hampshire.  
It happened as I watched the other people gathered there---a few families sitting at picnic tables, two couples huddled together at their own...  all smiling, laughing, soaking in the golden glow of the late afternoon sun, and a breeze that made it's way through all of us like an invisible shower of feathers.  
I was overcome with a powerful and strange mixture of joy and sadness that was so overwhelming I  had to put my hand to my mouth to keep myself from sobbing out loud.  Instead I choked on the sound, and my eyes blurred.  
There was a thickness in the air in that moment, a heaviness that enveloped me and everything I could see.  It was beautiful and true, and achingly elusive and ephemeral.  

While I knew the moment and the feeling would fade, in that moment I longed for it to last forever.  I laughed out loud, mesmerized by the kaleidoscope of color that I coul…