Monday, June 27, 2011

What Is This Feeling? - Reflecting on "Chidren of Eden"

What is this feeling?

An exhausted exhilaration has settled within and around me today. I guess that’s the way to describe it. It feels like significance. As though something of consequence has happened (is happening?), and I was (am?) a part of it.

From Tuesday, April 5, 2011 until now has been one of the most hectic, amazing, frustrating, wonderful, tiring, energizing … the list could go on … periods of time in my life. I peg it to April 5 because that was when I got up on stage at the Lander’s Theatre and auditioned for “Children of Eden” with a song that nobody knew but me and probably wasn’t the best choice and left me feeling like I should have chosen a different one. But I got called back, then learned that I was cast as “Noah” in the show, and began rehearsing.

What was it about this particular show, this particular production of this particular show, that was so miraculous? Script, music, message, director’s vision, cast talent, amazing set, gorgeous costumes, brilliant lighting, spectacular projections … ? These things added together? Just the magic of theater?

Or was there something else happening?

It was something that the cast sensed early on, forming deep and intense connections among one-time strangers. It was something that the audience sensed every single show, many times standing and cheering even before the final blackout. It was something that “theater people” who had been a part of live theater for umpteen years even had trouble describing. When you hear a theater veteran say, "I've never been a part of anything like this," it points to something beyond the ordinary.

The show was religious. Whatever your faith, this show elicited reflection on God. That was true for the audiences as well as the crew and cast. And when you are with a show that compels theological reflection for three months, there’s a lot of opportunity for divine activity. It pulls out of you a response that for lack of a better word we call “emotional.” But this experience obviously affected more than just emotions.

When you are kneeling on stage among a phenomenal cast who have become dear friends, heads bowed during the final song, and you hear not just sniffs and sighs but actual sobs as we all weep together before joining together for one final refrain … “Children of Eden, seek for your garden, you and your children to come, someday to come home…”

Added into the mix for me personally were a whole slew of moments of significance: our kids finishing their school year, welcoming a newborn baby into our home for foster care, being elected a delegate to the United Methodist Jurisdictional Conference from Missouri, participating in this year’s amazing Vacation Bible School, helping two gifted young men begin their process toward ordination, plus the everyday significance of worship, pastoral care, staff transitions, and all that other ordinary stuff that makes pastoral ministry so extraordinary.

Which goes to say, my experience with “Children of Eden” would have been flat-out impossible for me without my incredibly amazing and infinitely supportive wife Erin, the absolute love of my life and my best of best friends in the whole world. Not to mention our two exceptional children who just so happen to love the fact that their Daddy got to be on stage for this show. And the unbelievably gifted and talented staff of Campbell UMC who covered for me during weeks of rehearsals and encouraged me during weekends of performances. Plus the wonderful people of Campbell who bought tickets by the dozens and dozens and cheered me on and were so gracious in understanding why their sort of off-the-wall pastor wanted to do this weird, wonderful thing in the first place. Thank you, every single one of you!


I stood, hand stretched upward, head up, energy given, practically hovering in the air, surrounded by 50 of my best friends doing exactly the same thing, in the forever instant of time after our final cut off and before the blackout.

I had never before so desperately wanted a moment to last forever; I had never before been so grateful for a moment to pass.

“The time has come for us to begin our journeys.
We have no map - only the ways we most wish for ourselves.”

“Funny now how Eden doesn’t seem so far.”

“I cannot bear to feel this pain … but I would not go back again.”

“If no outer force will show you your course, you’ll have to look inside.”

“The hardest part of love … the rarest part of love … and the truest part of love …
… is the letting go.”

What is this feeling?

I think it might be love.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Prophecies, Visions, and Dreams - Oh My!

Part of the Pentecost story in Acts is the prophecies, visions, and dreams that followers of Jesus are given when the Holy Spirit comes to them. It is actually Peter, quoting the prophet Joel, who makes the allusion.

The followers of Jesus received the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit empowered them to dream.

We all dream. We all envision a future for ourselves, our families, our congregations, our communities. We know what it means to desire a different future, a better future.

But how do I know the difference between a dream that comes from the Holy Spirit and a dream that comes from within myself? How can I tell if it is God or my ego creating this picture of the future in my mind?

I mean, I could have a dream of myself driving a brand new, silver, Porsche 911 Carrera 4 GTS Cabriolet with the top down and U2 blasting out of the speakers, but I’m pretty sure it didn’t come from God. But obviously not all of my dreams would be so easy to distinguish.

I have a different vision for the church than some do. And I actually think that having multiple congregational visions is healthy for the church as a whole. When it comes to congregational vitality, “one-size-fits-all” is not a good rule to follow. And I do not begrudge one person their dream for the future of the church, as long as it is not harmful.

What are our dreams for the church?
- Bigger congregations
- Smaller congregations but more of them
- More small groups within larger congregations
- Networks of simple churches meeting in living rooms
- New congregations emerging from within older congregations
- Younger congregations
- Multi-generational congregations
- Ginormous congregations with multiple locations
- Congregations without locations that gather as flash mobs in various public places
- The complete dissolution of the notion of a “congregation” and creation of a new connectional concept of church, networked somewhere in the cloud

There’s nothing wrong with multiple dreams within the church. I’d say the only thing wrong is no dream for the future, no vision, no motion forward.

Last night at rehearsal, an actor noted that in one particular scene different people in the chorus were making different choices about our respective reactions to the action on stage. The actor asked if the director wanted one uniform response from the chorus. She replied that no, the multiple reactions actually created interest and energy. The only thing that would be “wrong” is if there was no reaction at all.

It’s like that with vision for the church, too. The vision in one congregation is different from the vision in another congregation, and that’s okay as long as it first of all does no harm. What would not be okay is if a congregation claims no vision at all. The Pentecost story is all about the Holy Spirit sending prophecies, visions, and dreams to followers of Jesus, and I believe that the Holy Spirit continues to do so today.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

To Love With Our Full Capacity

Yesterday at the table my wife Erin said, “I wonder what would happen if there was a tornado in Topeka and Westboro Baptist Church was destroyed.” In all of the hullaballoo about their phantom protest in Joplin, I must say that is one thought I never heard uttered.

How would people react if that happened? The better angels of our nature might like us to think, “Of course, we would send rescue teams and clean-up crews and mission teams to rebuild the community, including their church building.” But I wonder.

I wonder if we might feel a certain smug satisfaction; “They had it coming.”

I wonder if there would be people who said God was punishing them for their behavior.

I wonder if, even if we didn’t say it out loud, we might think it to ourselves.

And I wonder how Christlike that would be.

This weekend United Methodists from around Missouri will gather for our Annual Conference in Springfield. It is a time to renew the connection and affirm our mission as the Body of Christ in the world. This year, a lot of our attention and energy will be invested in communities like Joplin and Sedalia that have been impacted by harsh spring weather, and the response of the church in those communities.

We also spend time this year electing representatives to go to two other conferences, sort of the next levels up from our state - Jurisdictional and General. It breaks my heart that, during voting years like this, often our differences are highlighted more than our unity. And most of the time, those differences emerge over social issues, left and right, conservative and progressive, yada yada yada. It is rarely pretty.

What a strange confluence these two weeks! The Joplin devastation shakes everything up. The overwhelming response is a powerful symbol of unity. The hints of the Westboro protest create division. Annual Conference is the unity of the connection embodied. The election of delegates, rather than celebrating Christian unity, often highlights our differences, differences that the Westboro group has falsely magnified to the point of ridiculousness.

It’s maddeningly wonderful, isn’t it? To be the church in 2011? It will drive you crazy at the very same time it is filling you with deep and abiding joy. Sure, there are times I wish following Jesus was easier, but the truth is it’s not. It’s hard to follow Jesus. It is so hard to love people with the same love Jesus has for us, love deep enough to die for us!

Following Jesus means that we are going to love people that we may not be inclined to agree with. And being the church means that we love with our full capacity; as the Body of Christ we really have no other option. I was thinking the other day about just how insignificant the theological, political, and social differences are when people are working together to clear rubble, distribute supplies, and rebuild homes.

We are many; we are one. We are the church. My prayer for Annual Conference this year is that we will remember to love with our full capacity as we all help one another in becoming disciples of Jesus Christ.