I posted my own brief prayer on Facebook Sunday after learning of the shooting in Orlando, and I’ve shared a few posts from others that moved or touched me. But I confess that I’m a bit tired of well-crafted prayers proliferating on my social media pages. At some point it starts to feel like a prayer competition. No doubt most of these prayers are heartfelt and helpful to many, but I’ve seen so many of them in recent years. At the same time that thoughts and prayers have begun to grate on me, I am far beyond that with American society.
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My wife and I are in Maine for a memorial service celebrating the life of the grandfather of my children, my beloved father-in-law from the first go-around. The collection of his children and grandchildren, and his wife’s clan of three generations, includes a handful of other LGBTQ people. It’s been a wonderful experience, living into the way we’ve all worked so hard to make our two household-family work for 20 years now.
A few years ago, I was asked how long I had been a pastor. I forget how long it was precisely, but it must have been somewhere in the window of two to three years. I told my questioner this and the response was darkly humorous: “Oh, so long enough to disappoint some people.” Indeed. I was having a conversation with a friend recently about the broad strokes of our city’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis.
We sat on the T, hot and tired after a morning wandering the streets of Cambridge and the ivy-Hogwarts glory of Hahvahd's campus. It was the final day of an all-too-short vacation. It being public transportation, the public was present, a sampling of the Boston streetscape.
I’m closing in on my 11th year of serving this particular congregation and more so every day I’m convinced there is fruit in ministry that only becomes possible with a longer measure of time. For instance, a few weeks ago I confirmed about 30 students in our congregation, many of whom I remember from their baptisms and from their day-school years here at the church.
My first congregation was a three-point parish in rural South Dakota. Three points meant that there were three churches. Two of them were in tiny towns, and one of them was out in the country. I lived in one of those tiny towns, in a large parsonage across from the church.
I have written before about sharing worship with my son—the frustrations and the triumphs, the whys and the hows, the values and the hopes. It was especially meaningful to share space in the pew with my son week after week while we were living overseas. All of that work and reflecting, hoping and teaching, has culminated in this new moment in our worshiping life as a family.
When I was younger, I imagined that people who inhabited the pastor role had some specific set of skills that made them uniquely suited to sift through the wreckage of human pain that they encountered. I imagined that they strode confidently into rooms where people were coping with tragedy and death and doubt and loss and grief and crushing pain and anger and fear armed with just the right words for the job, just the right Bible verses, just the right insight into when to give someone a hug and when to give them space, just the right prayers, just the right ability to project just the right combination of warmth and decisiveness and spiritual authority (whatever that might mean), just the right combination of attitudes and attributes to make bad situations somehow better. And then I became a pastor.
One of the more challenging things I face as I try to present my historical-critical-mystical perspective on scripture to others is explaining pseudonymous texts. For pointed example, only seven of the texts in the Bible that are purportedly written by the Apostle Paul are likely to have been written by him.
I’ve always liked the word fallow. I like the sound of it, the short “a” sound followed by the long “o” sound. I like that it’s almost follow, but not quite. Mostly, I appreciate its indication that when it looks as if nothing is happening, looks are probably deceiving. Rest is some of the deepest work to be done.
Toward the end of last semester, a student walked through the door at St. Francis House, the campus ministry I serve, and abruptly stopped, standing inside the entryway. Frozen. I was passing through the space, which connects the chapel and the lounge, and stopped to introduce myself. "What brings you in today?" I asked him. His answer expected the question.
My church goes off-lectionary frequently. Part of me is sympathetic: I, too, grow weary of the cycle at times, and I long for something different to ponder. Part of me mourns the fact that we're not in sync with the larger Christian world; when we're on-lectionary, I love knowing that Christians of all sorts throughout the world are reading the same texts. On Sunday my church heard about the Babylonian exile.
I trust that my wife knows that I love her even if I do not tell her that on a daily basis, but I tell her anyway because hearing and saying “I love you” does both of us a lot of good. When Elizabeth sprints through the day, running errands, transporting children, taking care of our house, and preparing our supper, I tell her how grateful I am for all that she does for our family. Even though she probably knows that I am appreciative of her efforts before I say a word, I say it anyway because some things cannot be said often enough. I hope that it goes without saying that everything we do as a church is all about Jesus, but I think that it is time for us to move beyond that assumption and begin to proclaim that Christ-centered focus clearly and boldly.
I held two small first communion classes for a few students from the church. It had been a while since I organized a class like this, so I felt a little rusty. The book that I used to use (and that I loved) had gone out of print. I cobbled together some resources and we talked about baptism and sacraments and words along with things that you can touch. We drew pictures and watched a scene from the movie Holes, and read a couple of stories about meals in the Bible. We talked a little bit about the Passover, and we ended up talking about trusting God, that God comes to us in this meal. It was not everything, but it was something.
In the summer of 2013, our family moved to Cairo, Egypt to serve as mission co-workers for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) living and working with the 150-year-old Presbyterian seminary there. Because of the sensitivity of our work and the moment in the life of Egypt, we didn’t share much online of our work and experiences while we were there. Now we are living and working back in the United States and are still trying to process all that we experienced those two years: church life, politics, culture, and of course the hundreds of windows we walked through into another time.