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Posts Tagged ‘Preaching’

Cutting Through the Noise to Listen to MLK

In Uncategorized on January 16, 2012 at 1:58 pm

Submitted By: Gentry

There was no greater American preacher during the twentieth century than the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. Although other preachers such as Billy Sunday and Billy Graham transformed the Christian landscape by challenging individuals to engage and be transformed by the gospel, Dr. King realized that the gospel transforms societies and calls us into the beloved community.

Yesterday the 11 am service at Christ Church finished with a rousing rendition of Lift Every Voice and Sing, which is often known as the Black National Anthem. As I lifted the cross at the head of the procession the congregation sang that great interrogatory, hopeful question – yet with a steady beat, have not our weary feet, come to the place for which our father’s sighed? – I was almost overcome.

As Sheriff Andrea Cabral said at the Roxbury YMCA’s MLK Business Breakfast on Friday, I’m thankful that Dr. King had a dream and went to the mountaintop, but I’m also glad that he marched with sanitation workers, stood up for Vietnam War protesters, and launched the poor people’s campaign.

Over the years I have heard several evangelicals whom I love question the impact or, on one occasion, even the faith of Dr. King because he had clay feet. Although King’s personal failures were particularly well documented since he lived in the twentieth century and was illegally wiretapped by his own government, I doubt in the end that his sin was greater than ours or many of the great saints – such as the ancient man whose faith we claim who repeatedly whored his wife to save his life – that have gone before. Those concerns may be the reason we neither study Dr. King’s sermons or social vision in our seminaries nor celebrate his life in our churches.

Today, as we celebrate the life of Dr. King, I hope that you can cut through the noise that sometimes surrounds his personal life to hear his clarion call to the Christ shaped life and beloved community. Pick up a copy of A Testament of Hope, wiki and watch some YouTube videos, or, even better, set aside some time to attend a celebration of Dr. King’s life and get a taste of the beloved community. In honor of Dr. King, approach today not simply as an opportunity for recreation, but for spiritual formation.

Thank God for Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. May our weary feet, continue marching to the justice beat, straining towards the beloved community always before us.

On Killing a Darling and Being Surprised by New Life

In Uncategorized on November 19, 2011 at 1:58 pm

Submitted By: Gentry

Annie Dillard once said that one of the hardest parts of learning to write is having to “kill your darlings” by excising beloved words that just won’t work. In a similar vein, I’ve recently learned that Christians sometimes have to bury what appears to be most precious and anxiously wait to see what is resurrected.

For eight years I had the privilege of being a bi-vocational pastor in Boston. My days were occupied with a variety of tasks such as marketing Christian subculture for a major online bookseller or helping youth with disabilities start their careers. In the additional hours that were not focused on my family, I wrote sermons, participated in the emergent conversation, and struggled beside people as we tried to walk in the way of Jesus.

Over the past year my occupation and vocation have become more closely aligned. The energy behind this movement is IMPACT:Ability.

IMPACT:Ability is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation supported initiative that empowers people with disabilities and communities to prevent widespread abuse. In the two decades that have followed the Americans with Disabilities Act people with disabilities have made great strides towards full inclusion in the workforce, local neighborhoods, and many other spheres of society. However, in the midst of such positive movements, people with disabilities continue to experience disproportionate amounts of physical and sexual abuse.

According to the Massachusetts State Sexual Violence Prevention Team adults of all genders with disabilities are four to ten times more likely than their non-disabled peers to experience physical or sexual assault. Because of trauma related to past abuse or the fear of potential abuse, many youth and adults with disabilities chose to live and work in substantially separate environments rather than choosing to live, move, and find their being in the midst of community.

IMPACT:Ability provides individuals with the verbal and physical safety and self-defense skills they need to pursue lives of their own choosing. Since – as we’ve seen in the Penn State football scandal – organizational systems play a vital role in either preventing or perpetuating abuse, IMPACT:Ability has partnered with the largest disability focused state agency, the largest school district in Massachusetts, as well as our parent organization to develop initiatives focused on proactively preventing abuse and encouraging the promotion of healthy relationships.

Much to our delight, IMPACT:Ability has been incredibly well received by the community of individuals with disabilities as well as the organizations that support this population. I personally feel like this initiative is one of the greatest opportunities I will ever have to provide the resources people with disabilities need to navigate one of their greatest challenges, find their power both as individuals and as a community, and live more independent lives in our neighborhoods, cities and towns.

Because of IMPACT:Ability, I’ve decided to kill one of my darlings by stepping down from active pastoral ministry and leaving the preaching and presiding to others. I cannot say that this transition has been easy – I’m often writing sermons in my head or subliminating my passion for preaching by consuming copious amounts of stand-up comedy – but I can say that the story of Jesus and the active practice of the faith continues to shape me every day.

For instance, I cannot think of the unspeakable abuse experienced by young people like Cheyanne – a 14 year old who recently went on the Today show to talk about the abuse she experienced in a Special Education classroom where teachers chided her for her weight and condemned her as “dumb, dumb, dumb” – without considering it an affront to the Imago Dei. If, as Christians believe, we were all created in the image of God, then surely the physical abuse of people with disabilities is a direct strike upon that image, and verbal abuse is a way of drowning out what Henri Nouwen often called “the inner voice of love.”

In killing my darling by stepping out of the pulpit and burying my pastoral practice to focus on IMPACT:Ability, I have been surprised by new life. Although Triangle is not a faith-based organization and most of my deeply valued, incredibly gifted colleagues and collaborators are not Christians, I am confident that the work we are doing is well aligned with my understanding of humanity and my abiding belief that in the end all things – even people who have suffered abuse, the people who have perpetrated it, and the organizations that have accommodated it – will be made new.

Random Reflections on 11 Years in Ministry

In Uncategorized on October 25, 2011 at 11:12 pm

Submitted By: Gentry

I almost started by saying, “ten years in, where to begin?” then it hit me. I’ve been in New England eleven years and that’s a really lame rhyme.

Here are some disconnected strands and fragments of ideas that are ricocheting through my heart and mind as I look back on eleven years of ministry and start this sort of fearless ministry inventory.

1. I felt at home in New England almost the moment the decrepit Lincoln Christian College bus rolled in during “Week of Evangelism” 1997. My connection to this place and these peculiar people has yet to abate and I suspect, hope, dream that they never will.

2. Although I’d like to report otherwise, I haven’t been able to sustain a partnership with the Christian Church, Church of Christ (CCOC) tradition of my youth out in this area. If you’ve read or spoken with me before, this is not news. However, what I’ve realized the past few days is that over the past eight years or I have not only experienced a growing disassociation from the CCOC, Restoration House Ministries, Danny Clymer and the like, but have also experienced some degree of growing disassociation from evangelicalism as a whole. As much as I would like to lay the blame for my disassociation from tradition at someone like Clymer’s feet, I’ve also worked with other young evangelical leaders in the area who are no longer interested in or do not think they can sustain a collaborative relationship with me. I’m neither angry with nor bitter about any of my former colleagues in the latter group, but am simply observing what appears to be reality.

3. In regards to evangelicalism, it seems to me like there is a rapidly growing split between neo-fundamentalist evangelicals – especially of the Calvinist stripe – and evangelicals who are open to the evolution of their theology and unexpected new relationships/missional engagement with our incredibly pluralist society. The first person I heard talk about this shift was Dr. David Wells at Gordon-Conwell in the early aughts. He openly admitted that he embraced a foundationalist theology, could probably be characterized as a fundamentalist, and wasn’t sure that non-Calvinists should be considered evangelicals. In later conversations with friends like Jenny Wise, he distinguished evangelicals who looked at theology and practice as a foundation with those who looked at theology and practice as a journey. I am a part of the latter group along with others – many of whom would self-identify with or would have sympathy with the Emergent Conversation. Dr. Wells clearly sees himself as part of the former group and is part of what appears to be a rapidly growing neo-Calvinist movement within evangelicalism. This latter movement – which includes a number of people I deeply value, whose ministries I treasure, and am honored to work beside – appears to be generating a significant amount of growth in white and Korean American Evangelicalism. The rapid growth of Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill Churches as well as the associated Acts 29 church planting movement is, in my mind anyway, paradigmatic of this growing neo-Calvinist movement. Unfortunately, it seems to me that there is rapidly growing differentiation – as well as often a rather startling lack of charity – between the foundation evangelicals and the journey evangelicals. I suspect that as the foundation evangelicals take even stronger positions of leadership within large denominations and quasi-denominations such as the Southern Baptist Conventions, fewer and fewer of the journey folk will speak of themselves as evangelicals. Although I still speak of myself as an evangelical, I think the latter migration is happening already and I have decidedly mixed feelings about it.

4. All that being said, I think Soong-Chan Rah – see The Next Evangelicalism – and the great folks at the Emmanuel Gospel Center are right in suggesting that the first and second generation immigrant churches are the new strength of American Protestantism and Evangelicalism. We’ve only begun to see how globalized Christianity is going to reshape our understanding and practice of the faith. I’m generally excited about this process, though a little nervous about the potential of the continuing growth of patriarchal theology and practice within the church (you can substitute complementarianism for patriarchal if you so choose).

5. I have started to understand my faith much more in light of practice than I do in terms of a fixed theology. I think the reasons for this shift are my natural emphasis – though sadly inconsistent practice of! – on prayer, my family’s current location within an Episcopal parish, my understanding of preaching as a spiritual practice, and other unknown factors. I am becoming quite comfortable with a life of faith characterized by vibrant Christian practice and an evolving theology. I realize that a lot of people would not be comfortable with that and I’m ok with it.

6. I served in the altar party – as a crucifer – for the first time this past week. Before the service a priest asked me if I was going to pursue priesthood. My immediate, indeterminate response was that I was “not going to stay out of the pulpit forever.” I think that response reflected both my CCOC roots as well as my intended if murky trajectory.

Okay, that’s it. I gave myself 45 minutes to write and I’m going to post with minimal editing. Please keep that in mind if/when you comment. Of course you’re free to question, challenge, or harrumph anything you like.

On Ministry, The Story I Find Myself In

In Uncategorized on August 28, 2011 at 3:38 pm

Submitted By: Gentry

“You’re good with words,” Kellie said. “So learn to use them with more precision.”

Ministry. One of those words that I have read and pondered for so long, but still struggle to define or pronounce.  I’m confident Brandon Bayne, my favorite seminary roommate, could give you a list of other words that I’ve failed to convert from conception to speech, but I can’t remember any of the others at the moment.

Three months ago I made a public commitment to put pastoral ministry on hold for the next four years. I was forced to make a commitment prior to my LeadBoston graduation and that seemed like the logical play.

Over the past four years, the practice of bi-vocational ministry has become more fiction than reality. As our family has grown from 2 to 4 – due mainly to the Pixie’s efficient production – evening hours that were once surrounded by text are now shaped by baths, dishes, and Lydian’s imperative to “brush teeth!”

Moreover, as my Facebook and Twitter streams suggest, my work responsibilities have increased as we’ve been blessed and burdened with a national grant and related focus on reducing the violence visited upon people with disabilities. As with many other nonprofits over the past few years demand for such services has spiked while the supply of providers has dwindled. We love what we do, so we reflexively bear the burdens, but that doesn’t make the work easier.

Thus, life is full, family is beautiful, and I’m fortunate to have work I love.

Yet, every time I hear a sermon – thankfully often skillful ones delivered by Father Patrick or Mother Beth – I wish I could sit with them and discuss homiletical design and function with them the following week. Later, when I lift my eyes above the altar, the host is snapped, and I feel something break inside, I am flooded with longing. Longing for bread in my mouth and chalice on my lips? Surely. Longing to celebrate the sacrament once again? Definitely.

Ministry is the word Kellie wants me to use with more precision. She wants me to recognize that working to reduce the violence that threatens to mar the image of God and accompanying people who are navigating impediments to opportunity is ministerial work well aligned with my calling – if only I have eyes to see it.

I have little doubt she is correct and am trying to cultivate sufficient gratitude for my current work and eyes that are open to intersection. Yet, in this moment, my eyes fill with longing for the revelation that sometimes happens during preparation and eagerly await for the Christ who has been taken, blessed, and broken to be given from my hands once again.

Lord, fill me with your Spirit that I might be faithfully aware during this season and well prepared for the seasons to come.

While wrapping this up, as if on cue, the door slammed open and I was visited by one of the curly-headed reasons for my commitment. Bandy legged and arms outstretched, she offered what appeared to be an invocation for the years ahead.

Tuning Through the Static

In Uncategorized on May 26, 2011 at 2:50 pm

Submitted By: Gentry

the other day, while “cleaning” my desk, i picked up my esv study bible* and it felt foreign in my hands. over the last three months i’ve been leafing through the bible, but i haven’t seriously studied a text or said the word pericope once. there have been moments in the past where i didn’t think i could stand outlining one more text, pulling little kittel off my shelf, or bumbling through bibleworks’ greek nt. but now that i have some distance from my somewhat studious study practices, i miss it.

ok, i’ll be more honest, i miss a lot of it. i haven’t preached in three months. i miss wrestling with the text, listening for the Word, and reporting my paltry findings on sunday mornings. i miss presiding over the eucharist and feel a little bit envious of the marvelous priests at christ church who have that privilege every sunday. i miss playing a more active role in the sunday morning as together we wrap words around the Word and wait for the Spirit to turn that dialogue inside out. i don’t miss the coffee hour challenge of struggling to hear people’s stories and longings over the intermittent static issuing forth from post-sermon exhaustion and self-condemnation concerning my listening skills,** but what longing is ever unmixed?

fortunately, in this sabbatical season filled with long, sermonless weekends, God is leading me into intersections of unexpected connection and offering opportunities to work out my salvation with fear and trembling.

for instance, two weeks ago, before a presentation at work, a community partner asked me about my faith and revealed that her own grandfather had been an adventist pastor – not of the seventh day variety – on the south shore. she mentioned that while she was less explicit about her faith, the spirituality of her family informed her practice on a daily basis. as we continued to talk another collaborator joined us at the stained cafe table, spoke of camp experiences in her youth and, for a moment, it felt like the conversational rotation that incites many a small group meeting. then, as abruptly as it started, we adjourned for the previously scheduled meeting.

a couple of days later, i received an all company email that one of our long-time community members had died. as i was expressing slight shock, our hr director mentioned that we were fortunate that charlotte was involved in the grieving process because she alone had thought to take the longtime partner and housemate of the deceased to the hospital so that he could say goodbye to his beloved. when i first met char, i didn’t know what to make of her manic energy – in a one hour period she can call me with a request to research the gates foundation and hit me again with a demand to listen to her radio friend sound off in the elephant echo chamber – or her spiritualist faith. however, when i heard that she had set aside her, normally wisely boundaried, private time to walk our mutual friend through the grieving process, i was overcome. quite literally. i left the hr director’s office and immediately set off to find char. when i found her, i embraced her in gratitude for her great kindness and realized, for the first time, that in a very vital sense our calling is shared.

so, there’s that. and there is also the everyday privilege of laying my hand on the moppy brown or humidity curled hair of my son and daughter and saying a blessing. in those moments i often feel like buechner’s vision of godric, an utterly unworthy conduit of grace whose hands and prayers can sometimes bestow blessings all the same.

maybe this season is about tuning into the rhythms of every day ministry – which include pleasing my wife by doing things like “cleaning” my desk in circumstances that cannot be labelled duress – and reducing some of the static that renders me a remedial pastor. one can hope.

at the least, as i itch for the pulpit and look longingly at the altar, i’m aware that at the cafe table, on sorrow filled tuesday mornings, and beside my beautiful children, God is still working and willing in accordance with his good purpose.

* though restless, i am neither young nor reformed, but i appreciate the translation and am sold on the study notes and maps.

** forgive me, st. rogers, for my reflective listening skills are for shit.

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