Monday, December 31, 2007

My New Church Plan

Is this thing on?

As some of you might know, I am looking into the idea of planting a church again. I've sent it out to some people who haven't reviewed it yet- it is the holidays, but now I want to share it with a wider audience. Please let me know what you think, and if you are interested in joining me in this crazy endeavor, please let me know.

Here it is.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

A Nativity Prayer

Another Tuesday prayer from Erik. Again, if you are interested in using these prayers, please email him.

Tuesday prayer for the Nativity:

Last night our pastor preached
about you being close enough to touch
about us being Christ for each other
when we act with love to care for each other.
Thank you for becoming one of us.
Thank you for drawing humanity into God.
Thank you for the ways you touch our lives through those around us.
Help us also to reach out in love to others.

© 2007 Erik Doughty. Permission to reproduce this work is granted only when the author is credited.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Christmas Sermon: Midnight is When the Day Begins.

“Midnight is When the Day Begins”
Luke 2:1-20; John 1:1-14
December 24, 2007
Lake Harriet Christian Church
Minneapolis, MN

“Midnight is When the Day Begins.”

That is the refrain of a song called “Lemon” from the Irish rock group U2. As the lead singer, Bono sings in falsetto, the Edge, the group's lead guitarist sings this line over and over.

What does U2 have to do with the Christmas story? Well, everything. We are gathered here tonight to celebrate the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ in the form of a tiny, helpless baby. In a few minutes, we will do something that we always do as Disciples: have communion, which we remember the death of Christ for our salvation. This is an odd juxstaposition, isn't it? On the one hand, we are celebrating the birth of Christ, and on the other hand, we remember his death. It's interesting in this season where we are supposed to be happy, that we are reminded of such a downer.

Christmas is about light. We read about light in Luke's version of Christmas. We have just passed the winter solstice, which is another time we remember that it's getting lighter outside. All of this reminded me of another Christmas story, one that's doesn't seem like one at first blush. It comes from the first chapter of John. In verse 5, it talks about the light shining in the darkness and not be overcome by the darkness. In verse 14, it talks about the word becoming flesh and dwelling among us. God came into this world as a baby to bring salvation to all of creation. God became human, became flesh and bone- the word became incarnate. This being, fully God, yet fully human, lived a life amongst other humans and then died like other humans.

What this means is that God entered into our world, fully embracing all of its faults and weaknesses. He was born in poverty and died a criminal. But because he entered our life, entered our joys and hopes, all of creation has changed. The birth and the death are linked together, the two events helped bring our salvation our healing.

But I still didn't get to that U2 lyric, did I? Midnight is when the day begins.

Midnight, the darkest of night, is also when the day-any day officially begins. Yes, there is darkness, but light is breaking forth.

Christ is our light that shines in the darkness. No matter what the darkness is: whether it's losing a job, or dealing with an ailing parent, or living under an oppressive regime, it can't last against the growing light of Christ. And even if you kill that light, it will only grow stronger, because not even death can stop this light.

Hope is what brings birth and death together. The hope that we are saved, and being saved from the darkness that fills our lives all the time.

Midnight is when the day begins. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Sunday Sermon-December 23, 2007

I preached yesterday and today at Lutheran Church of Christ the Redeemer in Minneapolis (Erik of Tuesday Prayer fame goes to this church with his partner, Scott). It's a wonderful small congregation on the southside of town. I filled in for my colleague, Mary who is recovering from surgery.

“What's the Good News?”
Matthew 1:18-25
December 23, 2007
Lutheran Church of Christ the Redeemer
Minneapolis, MN

“What's the Good News?”

That's a question that Tammy Rottschaeffer, the Associate Pastor at Lake Harriet Christian asked a group of pastors one day. She recounted this story at our prayer meeting recently and no, I wasn't there when she asked that question initially. She said that the pastors sat there in an embarrased silence. She responded in a righteous anger that only Tammy could, saying that if these pastors couldn't answer that question, they couldn't expect their churches to be vibrant places.

But Tammy wasn't done. She decided to pose the question to those gathered at the prayer meeting. This time it wasn't in anger, as more as it was in curiosity. So, we responded. One elderly couple said they were happy to find fellow member of the congregation who was a shut in was doing well after calling her several times to check in on her. Another responded in being saved and so forth. I started thinking about what was the good news. Nothing particularly outstanding was happening in my life. There was something I was thinking about, though. My partner, Daniel lost his father suddenly in October. Eight years earlier, he lost his mother unexpectedly. As Daniel has said, this is the year of “firsts:”the first Thanksgiving, first Christmas, first birthday and so forth. I knew that Daniel and I would be heading to North Dakota this weekend to celebrate Christmas with his family as we did last year. Only difference is that his father would not be there this year. There was nothing good about that, but in doing some study for this sermon, I was reminded that Jesus is called Emmanuel, God with us, and that was good news. God would be with us in our time of mourning.

If you asked what was the good news to Joseph, he would probably look at you if you are crazy. He was in a pickle. He found out that the woman he was pledged to marry, was with child and he knew for sure, he was not the father. All the dreams he had of a good life had seemingly dissappeared. He didn't know what to do. You have to think Joseph might have been a bit angry that Mary had been with another man and it might make sense to want to hurt her. But the Bible says Joseph was a righteous man and didn't want to expose Mary. He had a plan to end the marriage quietly, so that Mary would be spared the disgrace. But one evening, he is visited by an angel who tells him to not be afraid to take Mary as his wife, because the child growing inside of her was from God and would be the Savior of creation. He would be called Jesus, the Greek name for Joshua which means “God Saves.”

The verse also says that prophecy would be fulfilled and the child will be called Emmanuel or God with us.

Joseph's response to his amazing technicolor dream was to take Mary as his wife, which had to be a bit uncomfortable since it meant having to endure the stares of the townsfolk along with Mary, the pregnant single mom.

What is the good news here? I mean, great, Jesus is gonna be “a star”, but in the meantime, poor Joe has to deal with a pregnant wife to be and people will talk.

But the fact is, there is a good news here. I am not talking about some kind of Pollyanish happiness, but some honest to goodness hope. Something good was happening, and it was growing inside of Mary: the Son of Man is coming and will his save humanity from their sins.

On this fourth Sunday in Advent, we can almost feel the birth of Christ. Hope is literally on the way. And we have a Savior that is named, God Saves and God With Us.

Do we know what that means?

We have a God that saves us. I come from a background, where one becomes “saved.” Salvation was an event that took place when you asked Jesus to be Lord of your life. Before that, you were damned. I prayed that prayer when I was growing up. But the true fact is, I was “saved” long before I was ever born. And so were you. God, in the form of Christ, lived among us, and died to give us life, so save all of humanity, indeed, all of creation. Christ rose from the dead to show that not even death can destroy us.
God With Us. What does that mean? It means a God that sticks with us through all the rough places in life. When we get the diagnosis of cancer, when we get that call in the middle of the night telling us a loved one has died, when your troubled child breaks your heart time and time again and when you get that pinkslip as the Christmas season is beginning. God doesn't promise that nothing bad will happen to us, but that God will remain with us in those dark times, a safe harbor in the midst of storms.

I remember a few years ago, when I found out my mother had breast cancer. I shared that with the members of a Presbyterian church in town. I was surprised to find in my inbox the next morning, several emails from members of that church telling me they were praying for my mother. Looking back, it was a powerful reminder that God is with us.

What made Joseph heed the angel's words? I have to believe it was the fact that he believed God would be with him and his wife. Maybe he could endure the hard, cold stares of the townsfolk because he knew God would be there and wouldn't leave when times grew rough. That was good news to his soul.

What's the Good News? The good news for me is that God saved me a long time ago and I am child of God. The good news for me is that God is with me, all of us, as we go through our life, through the good and bad times.

But it doesn't end there. The fact is, there are many that don't know what is the good news. There are those dealing with loneliness, or mental illness, those who are trying to find a place to eat or stay the night. As Christ followers, we are called to be Christ to them to let them know the good news: that God is with them even during these dark times.

So, what is the good news for you? I can't answer that question, but I do hope you have an answer. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Thursday, December 20, 2007


A few weeks ago, I met up with Deb Stehlin, pastor of Light of the World Lutheran Church, a new church start in the southern suburbs of the Twin Cities. I wanted to get her insights on church planting and she told us it was all about faith. Her talk was summed up in this blog entry:

The people who are helping to start Light of the World are teaching me some valuable things about planting new churches. Here's the most important one:

Trust how God works.

My shelf is full of books on how to start a new church. They are thick and full of good information, mostly. But I think I've learned the most from our people. They have taught me to concentrate on what's at the center. To trust how God works. Our church teaches that God's love and presence come to us in lots of ways, but God ALWAYS shows up in three ways:

1. When we hear God's word in the Bible.
2. When we receive Holy Communion.
3. When we gather in Jesus' name to listen to each other and support each other. (Martin Luther called that the mutual conversation and consolation of the saints.)

Our life together has focused on those three things. And you know what? God shows up!

The cynical part of me wonders if it's that easy, but the thing is, maybe it is. Maybe church planting doesn't have to be about going to myriad conferences and reading tons of books. Maybe it's just this: trusting that God is at work.

And yet, that is so hard for me because I feel so often that it's all up to me. I've been hesitant this time around because I don't want to just jump in and get hurt. Maybe this time, it's not about how to bring people in, but about being where God already is and trusting God will work things out.


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

More on Emergent and Left Turns

I can remember the date very clearly: January 19, 2001. I was sitting in a church attending the monthly Lutherans Concerned worship service (I have a lot of friends that are Lutheran-this being Minnesota should not surprise anyone-so I went to these meetings for enrichment and solidarity). The preacher for the service started to "preach." I use scare quotes because it was hard to distinguish this sermon from a political speech. This was just after the fiasco that was the 2000 Presidential election concluded . The pastor was an unabashed liberal (no problem there) and he used the time for the sermon to basically denounce then President-elect Bush and lift up the outgoing President Clinton. I sat there somewhat flabbergasted. I came expecting a sermon-what I got was political rally.

Being a Republican, I wasn't much pleased with this, but then I wouldn't be pleased had the sermon gone the other way, either. I have a big problem with pastors using their pulpits for political gain and don't tolerate it from either side.

Now, when I shared my concerns with a friend, he gave me a look that said he basically didn't understand my frustrations. I didn't find it welcoming to me as a Republican and I just basically destested infusing politics in pulpit. My friend, who does is liberal, didn't see a problem with it. I suspect had been a right wing preacher talking of the virtues of George W. Bush, he would have been upset.

Church and politics is a big issue these days. There are scads of stories about how the joining of Evangelical Christianity and the Republican Party and many of my liberal friends denounce the partnership. On that point, I totally agree with them. The alliance between the two is not good. I was disturbed when the GOP leadership got involved in the Terry Schiavo case because some right-wing Christians refused to support her going off life-support. Likewise, I really did not like how the party has got behind "defending marriage" again because some on the religious right think it goes against the Bible.

In 2006, then majority leader Bill Frist, a Republican senator from Tennessee, took part in "Justice Sunday" an event that included several religious right leaders urging Congress to pass several conservative judicial nominees. Again, this melding of the GOP with such a narrow brand of Chirstianity was something I wholeheartedly condemned.

The Emergent conversation, which has some of its roots in conservative evangelicalism, has pushed away from such partisan politics. I am totally in agreement with that.

What's bothering me is that as I read more and more Emergent books and blogs, I've started noticing that as many Emergents have left the GOP-Religious Right mind meld behind, they have either unwittingly or intentionally fallen headlong into progressive or leftward politics. It seems as if the Church has left one master, only to become the slave to a new, progressive master.

I am not saying that Christians should not have conservative or liberal views. I think we are free to believe whatever we want to believe when it comes to how our society should be run. What I do have a problem with is that Jesus stops become Lord, the one we seek to follow and more of a cheerleader for whatever political philosophy we adhere to. When being a good Christian starts to coincide with being a good conservative or liberal, then we need to start taking a good look at ourselves.

The Emergent conversation gets points for seek to really live as Jesus lived. Where it falls down at times is that at times, some of its leaders seem to stress that to live as Jesus did means being a political liberal.

I am sorry, but the Bible I read doesn't say Jesus was a liberal any more than he was a card carrying Republican.

I'm not about to give up totally on the Emergent discussion, but I feel like the odd man out. What I had hoped was that the Emergent conversation would get beyond the whole liberal-conservative divide that has been a part of the modern church. Sadly, it doesn't look that way.

Too often, Jesus has become a cheerleader for whatever ideology that is out there. We all know that the religious right has made Jesus the perfect Republican, but liberals have done something similar. Part of me would like to see a movement of those that are really interested in putting Jesus above politics instead of making Jesus a mascot.

Listen, I do believe in social justice, but not always in the same way that some emergent people do. I believe in trying to do things nonviolently, but then there are times when you might have to use violence to overcome a greater evil. I believe in helping the poor and lifting up their cause, but I don't always think government is the best or only way to do it.

I have to believe, or at least want to believe that there is room for me at the Emergent table. I guess time will prove me right or wrong.

Tuesday Prayer

Another Tuesday prayer from Erik. Again, if you are interested in using these prayers, please email him.

Tuesday Prayer based on texts for the Fourth Sunday in Advent:

Isaiah 7:10-16
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19 (7)
Romans 1:1-7
Matthew 1:18-25

Time is short, Lord;
we are busy people
looking back at the year past
looking ahead into the new year
regretting and planning
getting ready and worrying about
all of our schedules and stuff

Yet here, now, is the moment
where you are God With Us.
Ground us in your presence
gift us with faith
so that we approach you
and all life
with grace, without fear

© 2007 Erik Doughty. Permission to reproduce this work is granted only when the author is credited.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Wanted: Fire of Holy Spirit

The community of Springport in northern Henry County did not get underway until a railroad extension was built in 1869. By 1880, the village still numbered only 118 residents. Yet, the fire of the Holy Spirit burned to start a church in the small hamlet. A few faithful disciples had longed for a church, but there were not enough members to make a beginning.

A dedicated preacher arrived in 1879 from Frankton, Indiana, Rev Cornelius Quick, age 81. He came for the purpose of starting a church, but his efforts were cut short by his sudden death. Still, Rev. Quick's efforts were not without fruit. Another area minister, A.M. Weston, came to continue the effort. Sixteen people, believing that the church was an essential part of every community, met to charter the Springport Christian Church.
-From "Birth Stories," Christian Church in Indiana.

I remember when I was still in seminary and I had a passion to plant a church. Someone who attended a local Disciple congregation responded, that we (Disciples in Minnesota) were so weak that it seemed impossible to start a church.

I found that same spirit when I finally did start a church. While we did get a some help, not many from the other congregations helped us. There hasn't really be a fire from the Holy Spirit to get people moving. Hell, there hasn't even been any heartburn.

While I love and cherish the Disciples I meet in this Region, we are just so damn defeated. My former cantor would tell me how some people would complain that none of the new churches would survive and I know of many that seemed to talk about whatever existing church here in Minnesota as not long for this world.

The fact is, many of the churches here are not living in the Spirit. It's interesting that in the book of Acts there is a lot of talk of the Spirit sending people here and there. Somewhere along the way, I wonder if some us just stopped listening and even believing in the Spirit.

And now I want to try this again.

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come
among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins,
let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver
us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and
the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.
-Book of Common Prayer

Update: I found this from an email I received from my alma mater. I think I need to use it some time:

Sisters and brothers, we are not dismissed.
We are not just free to go.
Christ sends us!
Go [forth] in the power of the Spirit
To love and serve the Lord.
Go to help and heal in all you do.
Thanks be to God!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Be Careful What You Preach...

I had just finished my sermon this morning at church when all hell broke loose. First, Tom, one of our elderly members who has been playing the prophet Isaiah reading the texts with his rich baritone, dislocated his hip at the beginning of worship. He basically remained on the floor not moving until someone noticed. Other than the hip, he was okay. Someone called 911 and he was taken to the hospital as service concluded.

Then a woman walked in. Her name was Letty and she said that she and her three kids were homeless though she was staying with friends in the interim. She needed some help with food and gas for the car. What's interesting is that she didn't ask for direct cash. So, Tammy our Associate went with another church member to a nearby grocery store to get the food she needed, I went to the gas station and got a gift card for gas, and some other people just stayed with her and kept her company. It was interesting, because I had just preached a sermon about having faith and using what you have and letting God do the rest. I didn't know how soon the sermon would be put to the test.

Sunday Sermon-December 16, 2007

You know, for a pastor that is looking for a call, sure am busy with supply preaching. Here is the sermon I gave today:

“Religious Interruptus”
Luke 1:5-20; Isaiah 35:8-10
December 16, 2007
Lake Harriet Christian Church
Minneapolis, MN

I hate surprises.

Okay, now that I've got that out the way, we can continue. No, I really am not crazy about surprises, especially surprise parties. I remember a few years ago, my dear friend Erik tried to put together a little event when we both worked at the same place. I wasn't having any of it. Looking back, I was kind of mean towards Erik who trying to be a good friend and was showing care for his best friend.

But the fact remains, I don't really like surprises. If I could gather why, I guess it's a sense of not being in control, of letting something slip past me. I tend to like to have my life planned out, and when something doesn't happen according to plan, well I get a bit testy. My illusion of being in control falls down and I am left with the reality that I am not in control of this situtation, or anything else for that matter. Life is not logical and sequencial, but very random.

It's funny how my not liking surprises, my desire to be in control can have an impact on my faith life. Faith is not an easy thing for me, since there is no rational way to quantify it. I mean, having faith in God is hard, because what about all the times that people's prayers were not answered? I think God is working on me (I can be a stubborn fool) to learn what faith is about and not think I have to rely on myself all the time. It's a slow lesson, but I think God is getting into this thick skull of mine.

In the gospel lesson for today, we meet Zechariah. Now, Zeke is a priest and it was his turn go into the most sacred part of the Temple to offer incense to God. The Bible describes Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth as living blamelessly before God. They also say they are getting along in years and were childless.

Anyway, Zechariah is in the Temple doing his priestly duties, when an angel of the Lord appears. The angel says God has answered his prayers and that Elizabeth will give birth to a son that will be named John. This kid will do great things. The angel said, “He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

Zechariah hears all this and is probably a bit stunned. After all, here he is doing his the thing that religious leaders do and an angel comes down and interrupts him. What's even more odd is this angel tells him that he and his wife, who are probably members of what passes for AARP in those days were going to have a child. Being a logical guy, he expresses his doubts. How in the world could his elderly wife give birth to a child? The angel responds by saying he is Gabriel, and has been in the presence of God. He adds that because Zechariah didn't believe Gabriel, he would not be able to speak until John is born.

Now, I sympathize with Zechariah. I mean, if an angel visited me and told me what he told old Zeke, I would have the same problem trusting what I heard. I doubt I'm alone. In fact, I will go farther and say that we have a lot of Zechariahs sitting in pews acrross the land. Many of us are at best functional atheists; we say we believe in God, but we live a life as if God didn't exist.

Advent is a time of expectation and hope. Advent can be like the day before you go on vacation, especially when that vacation is to an amusement park with the big bad rollercoasters. Advent should be a time when we hope for things to be different, when God will break through the mundane and do something unimaginable.

But more often than not, we are like Zechariah. He wasn't a bad man, as the writer said, he was blameless before God. But he couldn't believe that God could defy reality, that God could shatter how we think life is, and create something miraculous.

I sometimes think many of us in the church are very much like Zechariah. We are busy with the work of the church, but we have stopped believing in an unpredicatble God that can do great things. We worry about our dwindling budgets the leaky roof and other things that tend to bog us down. We stop praying and hopeing for God to work the impossible and start to believe that it is all up to us. We stop doing mission, because we have bigger things to worry about.

Every so often though, God does break into our lives and tells us that God is about to do something big. However, like Zechariah, we tend to doubt these words because they don't make sense

What would have happened had Zechariah had a different response? What if instead of doubt, he responded in faith? What if started telling others of God's wonderful gift? Of course, we don't know since Zechariah chose to answer in the way the Bible said he did. But I have to wonder if sharing this miracle with others would have caused others to believe in God's mighty deeds. Instead, Zechariah was made mute, unable to tell the good news, but then the muteness was only mirroring what was already in his heart.

In our world today, God is telling his followers that God is about to do a new thing. Some will listen and tell others. Many will believe because of the faith of those who heard the message. But others will not believe and they will become mute. God doesn't necessarily strike them mute, but because they refuse to follow God in faith, others won't hear the gospel.

There are a lot of churches out there that have closed because they became mute, unable to express what God was doing in the world. Of course churches close for many reasons, but sometimes I do wonder if on some occasions it's because the churches became inward focused and unable to speak to the world around them.

Trusting God is hard, because it means having someone else steer the ship. And no, the doubts don't go away just because you have faith in God. But it can also be exciting, because we are trying to see how God is working in the world, we are looking for the ways that God is already busy at work and we find ways to join in.

I don't think trusting in God means everything will be okay and smooth sailing, but I do think they will interesting and not in a Minnesota way. Faith becomes less duty and more of an adventure.

What would happen if we trusted God? What if we stopped looking at our small budgets and small memberships and trusted that God can do a great thing despite the evidence?

As most of you know, I was involved with a new church start. What I learned from that experience is that when I was trusting in God, things happened. When I didn't church planting went from excitement to drudgery.

Advent is a time of expectation. Do you expect God? Do you wish to see what new things God is up to? I pray that you and I take that step of faith and be able to shout out loud the wonderous things God is doing. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Proper Care and Feeding of Pastors

In the short time I have been a pastor, I've encountered a good number of people who are wondering why they are in ministry, myself included. Danny Bradfield, a fellow blogger over at Field of Dandelions wrote a post about his own struggles with his call. He is leaving his current pastorate to...well he doesn't know. He is moving his family to Southern California, where he is from and looking for a job. Listen to what he says:

Nearly every pastor I know can relate. There are times when we've said, "I wish I'd never become a pastor at all." Some of my friends have seen their wish come true, as they are no longer in the ministry.

When I heard the call to ministry, I remember all my family and friends being happy for me. These days, I sometimes wonder if some of them were secretly thinking, "better you than me." As I prepare to move my family despite the fact that I have no job waiting for me, taking my kids to a new community and new school, faced with the possibility of not having enough money to pay the bills (not to mention health insurance), and with little support from the congregation I am leaving, I'm increasingly finding myself wishing that I'd never entered the ministry.

Another blogger is dealing with the stress of finding a call and wondering if his sexual orientation has something to do with it. He wonders if he needs to go back to school and get his Masters in Social work.

Being a pastor is frickin' hard. You are called to do this job, a calling where people are never satisfied with you, where you have to deal with senior pastors who are bigger divas than Diana Ross, where you are paid next to nothing and where you expected to marry and bury, but God forbid if ask people to take their faith seriously.

In the Disciples, ordination is not a guarantee that one will find a call at a congregation they way it is in other denominations. You can be ordained and never called to a congregation. It kinda sucks at times, but then that's what happens in a denomination that is congregationally based.

But the larger question here is how does the church help and encourage pastors? I think more often than not, we are left on our own after we ordained and have to figure things out on ourselves. I don't think our Regions have to guarantee us a job, but at times I wonder if there were a way that they could be better in helping us along the way. The sad fact is that there are many pastors out there who end up leaving the ministry because they are burned out or just gave up trying to find where they fit. And yet denominations keep trying to find young people who might be interested in ministry.

What to do about this? I don't know. But it seems that if denominations are so keen in getting new ministers, they need to do more on the backend, after ordination than on the frontend. It's great to try to get people interested, but you need to keep it up afterwards.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Only Left Turns?

I didn't want to admit this for a long time, but I have finally come to grips with something:

I am a Liberal Protestant.

I grew up as an Evangelical and still respect that part of Christianity, but as I was sitting in a group recently that was predominantly Evangelical, I realized that the terminology that I heard is no longer in tune with my way of thinking. After 15 years in Mainline Churches, I've become a Liberal Protestant.

That said, I am probably on the conservative end of Liberal Protestantism. While I am comfortable in mainline churches, politically I lean Republican. I've been involved with Republican groups like Log Cabin Republicans and Republicans for Environmental Protection for years. I've supported and volunteered on GOP camapigns. I'm supporting John McCain for President.

I'm a Liberal Protestant that is also a Moderate Republican. I believe in justice for the poor and care for the earth, but I also believe in low taxes and do not think government is always the solution to every problem. The long march of the GOP to the far right, has made me somewhat a liberal in a conservative party, and the leftward lean to the Mainline has made me a conservative in a liberal denomination. It makes for being one odd duck.

I am the one in church that tends to want the budget have mission giving built into the budget, rather than passthrough. Why? Because if we are serious about justice, then the church has to be living it.

So, I look at the Emergent movement and see people who are concerned about mission and wanting to share God's love in word and deed. All good. I want to sign up. But then I start seeing this joining between progressive politics and Emergent that makes me wonder if there is room for someone like me.

I've been reading "An Emergent Manifesto of Hope." It has it's good points, but for the most part, I've been a tad dissappointed. As I read the book, I kept wondering what in the world is the difference between some of the left theologians I am aware of and the Emergents. There is a lot of talk of the US as "empire" or how we should eat local, or how we are to be nonviolent and so on. I'm not saying any of this is bad, but the thing is, I have heard this in my own denomination from people who have no idea what Emergent is. The missional focus and the desire to do justice is great; but I keep feeling that I have to start voting Democratic and adopting the prevailing views of the Left to be a good Christian. Having been in Evangelical circles where one is a good Christian by voting GOP, it sounds like the same song, only a different tune.

If being Emergent means adopting progressive politics, then this movement is too damn small. God calls for justice, but doesn't tell us how to get there. There are some of us who think it comes not soley from large government programs, but through many sources, such as charities, churches, individuals and the government.

Maybe it's me, but I think there is too little diversity within the Emergent scene. It is too white, too straight, and too left. That leaves a lot of people out of the conversation, that might want to be a part of it. I wish "Manifesto" had more voices than those of a narrow focus.

Please understand: I am not saying we need to adhere to what is the prevailing mood in the GOP, which is grossly anti-gay and now anti-immigrant. I listen to my liberal friends because there is truth in their words. I may not always agree, but they do make some good points.

But as much as I detest how faith has become hostage to conservative politics, I am also wary of how faith is also hostage to liberal politics. Instead of critiquing both movements, we end up getting compromised by both.

It's good to know that I am not the only one concerned about this.
But I do wonder if there is room for this odd Liberal Protestant/Moderate Republican duck in Emergent. I've having my doubts.

I Want Your Blood

I just finished putting together a proposal for a planned new church. I've sent it out to a few people for their opinions. So far I haven't heard anything. I assume people are busy, so I will give people time.

In talking with a few people, I've noticed that some are interested and some are upset that more isn't being done. One person that I don't know that well ranted and raved about how Disciple churches weren't doing anything mission wise, but when I asked him if he could help out, he just went back to ranting and raving.

I don't know if this is exclusive to Disciples, but we are damn good a bitching about things. We whine about everything that is wrong with the church, but most don't do a damn thing to change things.

That's what scares me with this new church thing. Yeah, there are a lot of people that say they think new churches are a good idea, but when it comes to putting some skin in the game, they hem and haw or just don't say anything. That was what I faced last time.

That fear is enough for me not to want to jump into this again-I just don't want to get hurt like I did last time.

Sometimes what I want to say to these people is that I don't want their money or rants, I want their blood.

Before people start thinking that I am a vampire, let me explain.

Remember that story where there are several people saying they want to follow Jesus, but they have to do something before they can follow? Remember how Jesus gives them the brush off? I think that story is saying that to follow Christ is costly; it is as Dietrich Bonehoeffer said: Christ bids us to come and die. I've met people that are like those people who had other things to before following Jesus. What I would like are people that are willing to give of themselves and work for the kingdom.

I guess, I would love to find people who feel led by God to support this crazy idea. Not simply say it's a good idea, but do something to help further God's kingdom. Having been burned once, I am skeptical that I will find that one person who is willing to give of themselves. But I guess I have to have some faith about that, huh?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

What am I Bringing to the Table?

A few years ago, I caught the video for "World on Fire" by Sarah McLachlan. It's a pretty unique video and teaches you something along the way. I decided tonight to actually read the lyrics and saw that what was going on in the video and the song had the same message: to live a life for others.

There is a part of the chorus that has captivated me. She talk about bringing it to the table. Now, as a Disciple, when I hear the word "table" I of course think of communion. Now, we don't have to do anything to recieve communion, in fact this meal is all about sinners. But communion reminds us of God's sacrificial love for all of creation. So, when we come to the Table every Sunday, as Christ followers, what are we bringing to the Table? Are we trying to live like Christ and live for others?

It's something to think about this season, when we are so busy thinking about ourselves.

World On Fire

The worlds on fire its more then I can handle
Ill tap into the water try and bring my share
Try to bring more, more then I can handle
Bring it to the table
Bring what I am able

Hearts are worn in these dark ages
Youre not alone in these stories pages
The light has fallen amongst the living and the dying
And Ill try to hold it in
Yeah Ill try to hold it in


I watch the heavens but I find no calling
Something I can do to change whats coming
Stay close to me while the skys falling
I dont wanna be left alone dont wanna be alone


Hearts break hearts mend love still hurts
Visions clash planes crash still theres talk of
saving souls still colds closing in on us

We part the veil on our killer sun
Stray from the straight line on this short run
The more we take the less we become
The fortune of one man means less for some


Now It Is Evening

From 2007-12-11
Last night, Daniel started tickling his new set of ivories (he bought a new piano last weekend). He was playing several hymns and started to play one of my favorite: Now It Is Evening. There are a few versions of the hymn. The Chalice Hymnal has one by David Haas that is so-so. Don't get me wrong, I love much the music of David Haas, but the version I heard on iTunes come accross as saccharine (It's Called At Evening in iTunes).

However the new Lutheran hymnal has a different tune that is more jazzy and somewhat sad, which goes with the lyrics. The lyrics talk about those who are lonely and hungry and how we can be Christ to them.

Anyway, enough gabbing. Here's the lyrics.

1. Now it is evening: Lights of the city
Bid us remember Christ is our Light.
Many are lonely, Who will be neighbor?
Where there is caring Christ is our Light.

2. Now it is evening: Little ones sleeping
Bid us remember Christ is our Peace.
Some are neglected, Who will be neighbor?
Where there is caring Christ is our Peace.

3. Now it is evening: Food on the table
Bid us remember Christ is our Life.
Many are hungry, Who will be neighbor?
Where there is sharing Christ is our Life.

4. Now it is evening: Here in our meeting
May us remember Christ is our Friend.
Some may be strangers, Who will be neighbor?
Where there's a welcome Christ is our Friend.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Tuesday Prayer

Another Tuesday prayer from Erik. Again, if you are interested in using these prayers, please email him.

Tuesday prayer based on texts for the third Sunday in Advent:

Isaiah 35:1-10
Psalm 146:5-10 (8) or Luke 1:46b-55 (47)
James 5:7-10
Matthew 11:2-11

We are a people of faint hearts and feeble knees, Lord--
discouraged and saddened by reminders of mortality.
But you are near,
maker of heaven and earth,
watching over all those hungry or oppressed, sick or in need.
Your coming is our hope-- streams of new life in the desert of our dry hearts,
peace to calm our warring desires and fears,
new life out of a tortured death --
all of this begins in Bethlehem's smelly stable
when you, too, become weak, poor, hungry, fearful.
You know we need you, Lord. Come soon, and stay.

© 2007 Erik Doughty. Permission to reproduce this work is granted only when the author is credited.

Friday, December 07, 2007

More on Gays and the Emergent Church, or Where the Boys Are

My friend Tim (aka: Feral Pastor) responded to my post about welcoming gays into the church:

I think you're right on. My sense is that the church has an enormous amount of work to do to etsablish trust and credibility (which I doubt it ever had) with the gay community, and no amount of "you'll be welcome... if you happen to come to our place where we are" sentiment is going to accomplish that. The church has to go to where the gay folks are and demonstrate acceptance - not to mention love - before it will have earned a hearing for the gospel. The people I read/listen to refer to that as the difference between attractional and incarnational ministry.

I think he is correct. Now, I happen to know a lot of Lutherans and of course, a lot of gay Lutherans. I know many who are fighting for inclusion of gays and lesbians, especially those who feel called to preach, or who are already ordained and fear falling off the roster. When the ELCA has fallen short of allowing gays in relationships to freely serve as pastors, I have heard the call that this will keep people away from the church. I think this line is partly true: if a church shows it isn't welcoming to all, then you can't expect that many are going to stay or come to a church. But the corralary is not necessarily true; if we become more gay friendly; then gay people will start showing up at our doors. This isn't going to happen for a two main reasons: one, the church has done such a craptasitic job in welcoming people like me that many gays don't want to come near a church, even if the church would offer a drag show before the Sunday service. The second reason, is that the church doesn't have the same power in American society that it once did. America is a religious society, but the role of religion is not the same as it once was. Once, America had a civic religion that was basically bland Protestantism. Today, we are a multi-religious society where there is no civic religion at all. People can and do share their faith, but the Christian faith is not as prevelent in the major media as it once was. Years ago, people could sing religious songs in public schools. You can't do that now.

I have many gay friends for whom Sunday is just a day to sleep in. They may have been religious at one time, but now, they tend to be non religious. Jesus, God and the church don't mean a lot to them. For them, it might not matter that a church welcomes gays.

Unless...the church goes into the world.

Tim is correct: The church has to earn the respect of the gay community before it will consider Christ. That's why we need to be more incarnational than attractional, more willing to go into the places where gays and lesbians live: sometimes that means the gay bars, and other social groups, but it could also be the coffeeshop down the street or some other place. The short of it is, we need to go "where the Boys are." The church can't expect people to just walk up to its doors anymore, no matter how "progressive" one might appear. It's time to put up, or shut up.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Gay, Emergent and Missional?

In starting to make my way around the Emergent and Missional circles, I've started to notice two things especially about the Emergent movement:

  1. It tends to be really, really white.
  2. There is not a lot of talk on being gay.
I will get back to topic number one another time, but I wanted to focus on topic number two. In doing some reading of books and blogs the whole topic of homosexuality seems marginal at best. I wonder why that is. Maybe I'm wrong on this. Any response from the peanut gallery?

pre-wedding photo1Of course I have a reason to think about this since I happen to be gay in a relationship and I'm a pastor to boot. But as much as I am thinking about that, I am also thinking about how many religious gays tend not be so interested in being church to others.

Let me explain. One of the driving forces behind creating Community of Grace was to become an Open and Affirming congregation. We thought then (as I do now)that this was important in our Christian witness. I still think it is good for churches to publicly declare they are welcoming of all who pass through their doors. What we did wrong was to leave it at that. We thought if we hung a sign that basically in effect said, "Queers are welcome" that folks would be chomping at the bit to come. That didn't happen. We placed ads in the local gay weekly and in the resource section of the state gay rights group and again, nothing happened. Very few of my fellow gay friends came to our services. Many had bad experiences with church for obvious reasons and nothing was getting them back to a church.

What I did notice is that at the same time we were having worship services on Sunday evenings, one of the local gay bars was hosting Showtunes. (I know, how sterotypical.) The thing was, people came there and had a beer and chummed around with friends. I had been to a few of these events and could see that people were having a good time.

Something interesting was happening here. Community was taking place. People would meet new friends, people would reconnect with old friends and so on.

I sometime think that gay Christians who are involved in advocacy groups within various denominations are doing a good job working for justice for gays. But while they are doing a good work, I worry that they miss something. Time and time again, I have heard some activists say that this decision will in effect, bring gays back into the church. But the fact is, even if there are gay clergy who can freely serve God, or a place where gay members are accepted, many mainline churches still lose members. I tend to think that part of the reason is that many of us are still stuck in the old view of church as some kind of holy Lion's club. But the fact is, many gay men and lesbians are still passing us by.

I think those of us who work for inclusion in the church only have it half right. Yes, we have to work for justice, but the God we serve also wants to share the Gospel with others in the local setting. I think we need to do more to go into the places where our gay brothers and sisters live and be church to them. It means sharing the Good News in word as well as in deed.

Community of Grace was right in trying to be Open and Affirming. But that alone is nothing more than getting Mohammed to the mountain. The thing is, a culture where the church doesn't have the same cultural pull it once did, you need to bring the mountain to Mohammed.

I wonder what would have happened if we had Bible Studies at some of the local bars. I don't know if we will ever know, but I do think that any new church has to be different. We have to be in mission to and with the local community and not simply think that we can attract gays by saying we like them.

Just some thoughts before bed...

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Tuesday Prayer

Another Tuesday prayer from Erik. Again, if you are interested in using these prayers, please email him.

Tuesday prayer based on texts for the Second Sunday in Advent:

Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19 (7)
Romans 15:4-13
Matthew 3:1-12

God of hope,
It's been one heck of an Advent so far
loved ones diagnosed with cancer
expectations built high for sharing and time,
finances stretched.

Work your Word to us past our busy-ness,
through familiar friends
or through the wild and weird like your servant John.

Turn us around to remember, prepare, and focus--
not for the expectations others have
or on lists of things to buy and do,
but for your coming presence, frightening in its pure justice,
hopeful in your wide welcome.

Help us prepare for you
by practicing love and justice
here and now
with the gifts you have given us already.

© 2007 Erik Doughty. Permission to reproduce this work is granted only when the author is credited.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Love, Justice, Vengence and Grace

‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters,* what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
-Matthew 5:43-48

I decided to call my parents back home in Michigan tonight to find out how they were doing. Mom answered first, like she always does and we started chatting. At some point, she talked about a horrific crime just outside of Detroit. My mother expressed rage at the sheer savagery of the crime and saw this man as the perfect candidate for the death penalty.

Now, you have to know something about Mom: she is dead set against the death penalty. She doesn't approve of it on biblical grounds. So, for her to suggest this is somewhat shocking. Of course, she calmed down, but she explained the crime was terrible, that it was impossible to not simply react in this way towards one who would commit such an evil.

Later this evening, I ran into another blog where a pastor hoped the wrongdoer would get an ass-pounding in prison. He later regretted those remarks, somewhat.

The two incidents have me thinking about Jesus' message to love everyone, including our enemies and how that smacks up against real life and real evil. Pastors and lay people hang on to the fact that Jesus seemed to love those that weren't considered the proper people in society. On paper that seems wonderful. But how to does it hold up to child molesters? What about war criminals? Rapists? Not so easy to love them, huh?

My tamed cynical self tends to look at those who preach this easy love as fools somewhat-blind to the real evil that takes place in the world. The sad fact is that no matter how loving we are to our enemies, the enemies still rape and kill.

I think we are called to love everybody in the world. But I also know we live in the real world. We are also called to work for justice and part of my mother's anger was the injustice of it all. We live in a world where there is evil and part of us wants to respond not in love, with vengence: to make them pay for their crimes. No forgiveness, no second chance, just blow the motherfucker away.

Psalm 137 is called the Cursing Psalm. It was written in a time of stress, probably as the Israelites were ripped from all they knew to a foreign land.

Read along:

By the rivers of Babylon—
there we sat down and there we wept
when we remembered Zion.
2On the willows* there
we hung up our harps.
3For there our captors
asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’

4How could we sing the Lord’s song
in a foreign land?
5If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand wither!
6Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth,
if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
above my highest joy.

7Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites
the day of Jerusalem’s fall,
how they said, ‘Tear it down! Tear it down!
Down to its foundations!’
8O daughter Babylon, you devastator!*
Happy shall they be who pay you back
what you have done to us!
9Happy shall they be who take your little ones
and dash them against the rock!

Hmmm, somehow I don't think you hear this Psalm much in Sunday worship services.

The fact is, the psalmist was sad at all the destruction. His town was destroyed by vandals. He wasn't interested in seeking understanding- he wanted his pound of flesh. He wanted to hurt them as much he was hurt. This passage reminds me of how many felt after September 11. In the devastation of the World Trade Center towers, there was a rage to strike back and kick some ass. Some chastised this feeling, but the fact is, it is natural-it is human.

We are called to love, but as Christians we have to also be aware of our own feelings . Yes, we can love evil people, but we are also called to do justice, so seeing the injustice of innocents dying in buildings, or a young child not being able to live out a full life gets us angry.

And yet we have to move beyond our anger and love these people anyway. We are called to love them and pray for them.

The thing is, when we think these thoughts of vengance, we also know that God understands and gives us grace. We are loved even when we find it hard to love.

Advent reminds us that the world is not okay, but that God has a plan. Please, Lord God, come to our aid.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Advent Songs

Growing up, I remember singing lots of Christmas hymns now at this time of year. It was fun.

As I got into seminary and thereafter, I met people who really didn't believe in singing Christmas hymns until Christmas. Okay, I thought, but what the hell are you gonna sing? I knew one of my favorite hymns -O Come, O Come, Emmanuel- was an Advent song, but there were few others that I knew. In time, I have found that there are a good number of songs to sing during Advent, which I think is a good thing for anyone dealing with depression or a death of a loved one or just not being very interested in trying to be all cheery. We sang two in church this morning:

  • Awake, Awake and Greet the New Morn, by my favorite hymnwriter, Marty Haugen;
  • Creator of the Stars of Night.

There are others that I have found out as great hymns like Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence and a few others. I'm not opposed to singing a few Christmas hymns before Christmas, but it is good that these hymns take precedence over the usual Christmas hymns. Why? Look at the lyrics to Awake, Awake:

Awake! awake, and greet the new morn,
an angel heralds its dawning,
sing out your joy, for Christ will be born,
God's gift, this Child of our longing.
Christ comes as a baby weak and poor,
to bring all hearts together,
to open wide the heavenly door,
and live here inside us forever.

To everyone who sorrows or fears,
Emmanuel comes asinging;
the humble song is quiet and clear,
but fills the earth with its ringing.
Music to heal the broken soul
and hymns of loving kindness,
the thunder of the anthems roll
to shatter all hate and injustice.

In deepest night Christ's coming shall be,
when all the world is despairing.
Where people long to love and be free,
Christ comes to speak of God's caring.
A soul without voice breaks forth in song,
a lame one leaps in wonder,
the weak are raised above the strong,
and weapons are broken asunder.

Rejoice, rejoice, take heart in the night,
though winds blow wildly and cheerless,
the rising sun shall crown you with light,
be strong and loving and fearless.
Love be our song and love our prayer,
and love, our endless story,
may God fill every day we share,
and bring us at last into glory.

Music: Rejoice, Rejoice Marty Haugen (20th C)
Words: Marty Haugen (20th C)
Sequence: Cathouse Pandemonium, Ltd.

This song speaks to those struggling with life. It tells people that hope is on the way, in the most unexpected form. I don't know if this is an American thing, but we tend to skip some important parts of the Christian life. We skip Holy Week and Good Friday and go straight to Easter. We skip Advent and go the little baby born in a stable. But that's only part of the story. Soley focusing on Easter when Jesus is raised from the dead or when Christ is born is to forget the pain that we are faced with and what God entered in. Advent reminds us that things are not okay, which is why God came in the form of a little baby.

So, I will look forward to these hymns. They give me hope and remind me that the God I worship entered into human pain and knows what I feel. I am reminded God is my hope. Amen.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

You Gotta Have Hope

When we first began dating, my husband Daniel gave me polished stone with the word "peace" on it. I decided to go to the same store and give him another polished stone with the word "hope" on it.

There was meaning behind the stone I have to Daniel because hope is such an important word for me, such a needed word.

I've dealt with what I would call a low-grade depression for years. Medication has helped lessen the effects, but every so often something will happen that pushes me into a bleak valley. My closest friends and loved ones have seen how I can act- I become quiet. Deep down inside, I can tell you how I feel-despair. Utter despair.

Despair is of course the exact opposite of hope. It's when you think things will never change and when things will always be dark and bleak.

It has only been because of the sweet love of others that I have been able to come out of the valley of despair.

So, when I gave Daniel the stone, it meant a lot. Hope is something I have to hang on to.

Tomorrow begins Advent. Being the grouch that I am, I really don't like the whole consumerization of Christmas, so I focus on Advent. Advent isn't a time to "happy" as those whole "Christmas Spirit" demands, but it ask us to be hopeful, which on a good day, I can muster.

In Christ we have hope. What does that mean? For me, I think it means that we have someone to look forward to; someone that is with us when times are bad and helps us see God's kingdom in the here and now. In Christ we have the future hope when there will be a day when all of God's creation will be healed and as the old song goes, there will be no more cryin', no more dyin'.

This is year has been hard emotionally on me. Seeing a church close is a lot like a death in the family. It makes you wonder what hope there is. I sit here in the great unknown, wondering if I will ever get back into parish ministry.

But I have to have hope. Not hope that I will get what I want, but that God is with me seeing me through. While I no longer have a church to do ministry at, I have been doing more supply preaching than ever before and I do wonder where that will lead. It might lead to something I had never thought of or considered. Maybe all this dreaming to start a church again will lead to something, who knows.

My four year old nephew Issac told us all after the death of his grandfather that "everything will be alright." A cynic like myself could dismiss that, but I can't-he's right. Everything will be alright- not in some sort of fairy tale happy ending, but it will be alright because God is with us in the form of Christ.

Danny Bradfield,
a fellow Disciples minister, says that Advent reminds us that hope wins out over fear. He notes:

Every year, I give thanks for Advent, which comes at the darkest time of the year (at least here in the northern hemisphere). There is a lot of darkness in our world and in our lives, and a lot of fear. But Advent brings with it hope. It brings with it the angel's message: "Fear not! I bring you good news of great joy!" And as I begin getting ready for Christmas (we're getting our tree today!), hope grows strong, and fear ... well, fear remains, but as long as I hold on to hope, I know that fear will not triumph. With hope, fear is tamed -- the tiger is tamed -- and, though the journey is long and difficult, I will make it to that distant shore.

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Dreaming of a Church, Part Two

Okay, time to start dreaming again.

In a previous post, I talked about what kind of church I am interested in. I wanted to do some more thinking about this, so here it goes.

  • It would be a place where church is not a place, but a people on the move. I know this sounds incredibly cliche, but I want to do things like have theological chats in coffee shops. But I want to go farther than that. I know some emerging churches do things like "theology pubs" which are cool, and I want to do one: in a gay bar.

    Before you consider me daft, remember this: I am gay and I have met a lot of people in the bars. Community of Grace was Open and Affirming and few went to our services. I learned the hard way that many people have been hurt by church, so asking them to come to church ain't gonna work. So, why not bring it to them? I've been thinking about asking one of local bars to allow me to host something where people can talk and chat about Jesus, God or whatever else.

    Would people wonder what this crazy pastor is doing? Yes, but they think that way already. Next.
More to come...

Belay That Post

You know, I could say that my last post was written by my evil twin, Dwight. The thing is, I'm an only child so I don't think could make that stick.

I don't think racism has anything to do with my predicament. It took 24 hours and the haze of depression to tell me otherwise.

That said, that doesn't mean I'm feeling better about my predicament. I just know that the reason behind it was wrong.

I'm not going to go into my thoughts here at this point. Actually, I think it might be time to seek some wiser counsel. Just keep me in your prayers.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Race, Mainline and Emergent, Part One

Growing up as a young black man in the seventies and eighties, my parents always reminded me that it was a rough world out there for African Americans. My especially, grew up in the Jim Crow South, so he knew racism upfront in the form of segregated schools, restaurants and hotels. My mom, who grew up in Puerto Rico, didn't face as much racism back home, but did get noticed for her accent once she hit the mainland.

As a kid growing up in the aftermath of the civil rights movement, I didn't always take heed to my parents warnings. Outright segregation had been outlawed and blacks and whites were getting along for the most part. Racism was something of the past, or so I thought.

These days, I am not so sure. Oh, I still believe that outright racism is dead and buried, but the ghosts still linger on, and I think I've found a place where those ghosts reside:

The church.

I don't make this assumption lightly, but I've wondered at times that as I move about in a largely white denomination, if race gets in the way of my advancing. I have seen some of my colleagues find positions with little ease, while at times I feel that I have to jump several hoops to even be considered. For example, I've known a few people who have found interim positions without having interim training, and yet when I ask about positions, I am told more often than not that I need training. Now, in most cases my colleagues are in different denominations, but the fact is, they tend to have an easier entry into pastoral positions than I do.

A few weeks ago, I was having a conversation with a Lutheran pastor friend of mine. She was surprised that I haven't been "snapped up" because I am African American and because I preach well. I couldn't answer why that hasn't been the case. I know that I am not perfect and have things to work on, but I also know that I have skills and have been ignored when opportunities come calling.

I then start to think about the wider church. Look around, especially in mainline bodies and you will find that persons of color seldom pastor churches that are majority white. It just doesn't happen that much.

I don't think that there is some conspiracy against me. I don't think there are people sitting in some denominational office saying "We've got to keep this black man away from our white Christians." What I think is happening is more unintentional and based on assumptions more than anything else. I think a lot of people from those sitting in the pews to those in middle judicatories think they know black people and think they know their congregation. I tend to think some people see a black guy like me and think I will want to be among my own kind in some inner city church, instead of out in the burbs. They also think that congregations are not so welcoming to people like me, so they steer me away from such churches. They assume the parishioners will be racist and make my life a living hell. I also think some people in those churches are afraid that they will say something that will be construed as racist and that I will get mad...yada, yada, yada.

The thing is, I just want to be a pastor. I like urban churches, but I would settle for a suburban church. I just want to frickn' preach the gospel. I just want to do ministry with people. I wish people would stop looking at my skin and just see Dennis frickin' Sanders.

I think one the problems with living in Minnesota is that white people are really scared of dealing with race. They think they are so "progressive" that they don't want to admit they might have some issues to work on. At least in the South people are honest. The thing is, I don't really care about all the hangups. I mean, none of us are perfect and yes, even black people have racial and ethnic issues to deal with. Maybe we should just deal with them as the broken people that we are and stop trying being so perfect.

I don't know if the people who have to deal with calling a pastor can ever get over themselves. And I don't know how long I can wait. I would love to do ministry here in Minnesota, but if I keep hitting the same locked doors, then maybe it's time to "shake the dust off my feet" and move on to greener pastures.

I majored in journalism when I was in college. One day a friend of mine said there were jobs available as copy editors at the college newspaper. I was excitied and went to the newspaper where the editor told me there were no openings. My friend was amazed since she had heard her boss say they needed more people.

It's been nearly twenty years since that happened and I can still remember it. I hope that this isn't history repeating itself.

All I want to be is be a pastor. That's all.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

It's All About Relationships or Jesus and Java

Sometimes the best teachers are not the ones that have PhDs.

For the last few years, I have been blessed to know Tammy. She is the Associate at Lake Harriet Christian and is truly a woman that is deeply connected to God. She is a licensed minister in the Disciples, which means that sometimes she gets looked down on because she wasn't seminary trained like most of us. She might have not been trained at a seminary, but she has learned from life, which sadly is sometimes more than what some of us ordained folks have.

We tend to spend a lot of time talking about things, especially church. One thing that has stayed with me is her belief that church is all about relationships, or at least it should be. A friend and pillar in the church remarked a few months back that when her father died a few years ago, the pastor she called was not the Senior Minister, but Tammy-because Tammy was in relationship with her.

I have to admit, when I was with Community of Grace, I wasn't really interested in relationships. I was trained to do good sermons, to learn how to do exegesis, to do good pastoral care, and all the rest, but I wasn't taught how to be a good friend to people. The result is that more often than not I was interested in bringing people to church than I was in simply being Christ to them.

As I look at the Disciple churches here in Minnesota, I worry that we tend to be more concerned about getting members than we are about being like Jesus. Jesus seemed to create followers not by offering some cool program, but by simply reaching out to people. He seemed to connect with people and care for them.

I'm beginning to wonder if some of the best ways to be church is to have a conversation with a friend over coffee than it is about trying to get them to come to church. (Which is good, since I love coffee.)

What I like about the whole emergent conversation is that in many ways, it is trying to bring back the sense of incarnation, the Word made flesh. I remember thinking how wonderful it was that God became flesh, became one of us. And the thing is, God continues to enflesh God's self in God's creation all the time. The Holy can come while sipping a latte with a friend or stranger.

Something to think about...

Tuesday Prayer

Another Tuesday prayer from Erik. Again, if you are interested in using these prayers, please email him.

Tuesday prayer based on texts for the First Sunday of Advent:

Isaiah 2:1-5
Psalm 122 (1)
Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24:36-44

Start us on a journey to wholeness, Lord;
root us in your Word;
nourish us with living water.

We doze in the ways we've always done things--
Rouse us, Lord, in preparation for your arrival.
Help us to dress light-ly, to work for just peace,
to live in ways that honor you, your creation, and our neighbors.

We need you, and we are waiting.

© 2007 Erik Doughty. Permission to reproduce this work is granted only when the author is credited.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Married Black Male seeks Community...

Hi, my name is Dennis Sanders and I'm a Disciples of Christ pastor living in Minnesota. I am also seeking standing in the UCC.

I've been kind of in limbo doing some supply preaching as I figure out where God might be leading me next. One place I feel led is church planting, but more than simply planting a church and seeing if people come. I'm looking at really bringing community in some shape or form (that seems to be what the church is all about according to Acts 2). I'm looking at gathering folks to come together for prayer, worship and mission and to do as our General Minister and President Sharon Watkins has said, bring the church to the world and not the world to the church.

I'm really interested in doing things like fostering relationships with people and sharing my faith in ways that aren't basically a way of recruitment, having time for prayer gatherings with others in the community, offering contemplative worship and space for silence and mission into the wider world through our offerings and ourselves.

I guess I'm trying to see if there are any other fellow travelers in the DOC and UCC who would be interested in journeying together and being a church plant. I have to believe there are people in the Cities who hunger for want to make churches a true community and not a club.

If you live the Twin Cities (or know someone who lives in the Twin Cities) and are interested, please let me know.

Prayerfully waiting...

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

Last night, I helped a dear friend of mine by being an fill-in ringer in his bell choir at a Methodist Church in town. We played "Come Ye Thankful People Come." I wanted to leave you with that hymn on this Thanksgiving. Thanks be to God!

Come, ye thankful people, come,
Raise the song of harvest home;
All is safely gathered in,
Ere the winter storms begin.
God our Maker doth provide
For our wants to be supplied;
Come to God's own temple, come,
Raise the song of harvest home.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Get to Planning

"A dream is a goal without a plan."

Someone on a social networking site I frequent said that today regarding something not related to church. It made me think about my own goals of being a minister in a church and especially my interest in planting a new church...again. I've been talking about dreams recently on this blog, but I think I need to stop dreaming and start doing.

When I started Community of Grace, I did it without any planning. I just asked people if they were interested to do this thing I was interested in and it started. That's classic ADHD me, but that's really not the way I should have done things. I should have taken time to meet with people who have started churches, talked extensively with the Regional staff and local churches and find a group of people who would commit to being a part of this community for a period of time. But before all of that, I needed to spell out what kind of church God was calling me to plant.

Dreams are nice, but they are just that...dreams. They don't really have a plan to them. Visions are more thought out...and tend to be more God centered than human centered dreams.

So, I will be chatting sometime in the future with the pastors at Mercy Seat in Minneapolis and maybe chatting with some members of the Twin Cities Emergent Cohort. Gather the information and develop a plan. The sticky is chatting with the local congregations who are are in a state of change (several of them are without or soon going to be without pastors) and might not be receptive to some upstart church that they fear would take away members. But maybe talking to them will help, and I truly believe it takes a village to plant a church.

To heck with dreaming...I'm going to vision!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Tuesday Prayer

My best friend Erik is a confirmed liturgy geek. We met in seminary and he was my first love. He is trying to be patient as the ELCA tries work on the whole "practicing gay clergy" issue so that he can finish his seminary training and be a pastor. In the meantime, this good Lutheran is writing weekly prayers. I asked him if I could share these prayers and he said "yes" provided people ask permission first. You can do that by emailing him.

Here is his prayer for Christ the King Sunday.
Tuesday prayer based on texts for Christ the King Sunday:

Jeremiah 23:1-6
Psalm 46 (Ps. 46:10)
Colossians 1:11-20
Luke 23:33-43

The cross became your throne, Christ Jesus;
in those moments your life became our life
and the power of death died with you.
We live, though, now and not-yet;
your people, yet still pulled by powers and vices;
old habits, bitter grudges, illness and grief.
We strike out on our own
and find ourselves overwhelmed, discouraged.

Hold us together, Lord, when we are scattered.
Drive away our fear, even as the earth changes before us.
Make our wars, of bullets and ideas, end.
Silence the chatter pervading our lives
if it distracts us from you.
Direct us; remind us; entice us again to love you,
to love one another,
to listen for the Holy Spirit's guidance,
to care for the earth, and
to serve our neighbors.

© 2007 Erik Doughty. Permission to reproduce this work is granted only when the author is credited.

Dreaming of A Church

So, I've been thinking about what kind of church I want to be a part of and do ministry with. I am leaning towards a church plant since that's what in my heart, but I am open towards an existing church. One of the big problems with Community of Grace is that I didn't do any thinking of what I wanted from a church. This time, I want to really think about this.

So here are some of my thoughts and dreams.

  • A Church that is truly made up of friends. A church that is community. Acts 2:42-47 says:
    42They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

    Church is not a place where we go once a week; it is truly a gathered community who share life together. When I was still with Community of Grace, we didn't do that as much. I had a sense of wanting to pray together more. I would want a place where we gather some time other than Sunday for prayer and/or mission. Lake Harriet Christian Church models this to some extent. The Associate Minister has a prayer ministry that meets every Wednesday for prayer and song. She has helped foster community through this simple act on a weekly basis.

    In the future, when I meet people, I don't want to invite them to church, meaning come once a week to see someone in a "dress." I want to be in relationship with them and help them see Jesus and be Jesus to them.

    I've begun reading the Emergent Manifesto of Hope. Tony Jones starts it off by talking about how the early leaders of the Emerging Church were at basis friends and how that is a model for the church. That's what I want for this church-not to be a country club, but a true fellowship of people.
  • A place where the pastor does mission with the congregation not for them. Recently, I interviewed for a pastoral position at a small congregation. I was very interested in the congregation. More than once, they said they wanted someone that could grow the church. I said that I wanted to be somewhere where I could do minsitry with the congregation. I ended up not getting the position. I don't know why, but I do wonder if how I viewed mission was different from what the search committee wanted. I believe pastors should be involved in mission and evangelism. If they are doing that, they aren't doint their job. But the problem is the pastor becomes the paid evangelist or community organizer that does all the work for the congregation. That's not what we read in the book of Acts or how Jesus schooled his disciples. The problem is that when you get the pastor doing all the heavy lifting, then the pastor gets worn out and bitter at the congregation and the congregation gets mad that the pastor hasn't brought more people to the church. I think that pastors these days need to be more teachers than CEOs who train the congregation to be leaders and provide them with resources. If someone expects to come to a this church and have the pastor do everything, then they have come to the wrong church. I will say it again, church is about community, it isn't a performance.
  • Worship would be vital to the congregation (and sometimes the pastor will preach). The church would be a place where worship is a vital part of the life of the church, but not central. In most churches, all of the energy focuses on one time, the Sunday worship service. Everything else is ancillary. I think in this age, we have to see the church as a web, where worship is one point in the life-not the only one or the main one. Some people will only come to a small group or mission project. Some will only come to a Bible Study that meets in a bar or coffeehouse. We need to respect how people come to meet Christ and not try to shoehorn them into one method.

    That said, worship is an important aspect in the life the church since it is where we come together to give thanks to God. I want to worship that allows God to speak in many ways; through the preaching of the Word, the breaking of the Bread and the singing of the songs. I want to see more music, more times for contemplative worship and so on. Worship can't been the soley way the church expresses itself, but it still needs to do it well. To see how this is done well see Church of the Apostles.

There is more that I want to share, but that's all for now. More later...

Monday, November 19, 2007

Shame and Trust

A friend contacted me on Facebook recently. She and I went to China together back in 1999 when we were both in seminary. She is in her second pastorate in Colorado and seems to be doing well.

I haven't contacted her yet.

I know I should, but something keeps me from wanting to type a few words from my laptop to her. The sad thing, is that I know what that is that is keep me from doing this:


I have a sense of shame about where I am in regards to my calling as a pastor. I mean, I guess I could say, "Oh I haven't been up to much, just had a bad experience as a youth pastor, started a church that went down in flames and now I'm basically just doing supply preaching. How are you?"

A lot of shame comes from expectations or should I say not meeting expectations. I expected to be a hot commodity. Being a black kid in a white denomination that wants to appear diverse, I was kind of expecting to be snapped up. That didn't happen. One day I will go into the whole sorted story, but suffice to say, a lot of the past few years has been me trying to find someway to live out my call.

When things don't turn out as expected, you start to wonder if something is your fault. You start to see yourself as defective and maybe not up to snuff in being a pastor.

But the thing is, while it has been rough and dissapointing, I also have learned things along the way. My disasterous experience as a youth minister (there were actually two experiences) taught me that youth ministry was not my strength, and that you need to work with pastors that play well with others. My failed church start honed my skills in planning worship, preaching and developing a heightened sense of mission.

The thing is, maybe if I had a normal path as a pastor, I would have not developed the skills I have acquired in this odd journey.

My pastor friend Mary noted that you have to have confidence in what you do, because any potential church can smell desparation a mile away. I think she's right. That's the one thing that I need to work on more, my own confidence. That's not easy, but I think I am learning and getting better.

The shame is still there. But maybe I can work to see that God is with me and has called me. And God has given me the gifts to do what I am called to do. Maybe in time the shame will lessen.

I do need to write my pastor friend soon...

Sunday, November 18, 2007

More on the Disciples and the Emerging Church

Well, it seems like someone in my denomination is paying attention to this Emerging Church business. Disciplesworld, ran a story on the Emerging Church and focused on the story of Missiongathering, a DOC church start in San Diego. Still snooping....

Sunday (Half) Sermon- November 18, 2007

Today was the 90th anniversary celebration of Lake Harriet Christian Church, a church that I have attended. I teamed preached this morning with Tammy, the Associate Pastor. Here is my half of the sermon.


James 2:14-26

November 18, 2007

Lake Harriet Christian Church

Minneapolis, MN

When Tammy told me that this was the passage we would focus on this Sunday, I was both looking forward to it, and dreading it. This is kind of the whole thing I have with the book of James: I love it because the writer puts such concern on care for the poor, but un-nerved by its seeming emphasis on works over faith. I truly believe that we are loved by God and there is nothing we can do about that. I am not alone in feeling some ambivalence about James. Martin Luther who talked so much about “faith alone,” said of this book, “I almost feel like throwing Jimmy into the stove.”

So what is this all about? Are we supposed to go to soup kitchens in order to get God's love?

Short answer is no. We are loved by God regardless if we are the most perfect person in all the world or the biggest loser. But we do go to show our love for God, and also to show that are faith is still alive.

In doing some research on this text, I found out that most common mistakes someone does is to try to compare the Apostle Paul's condemnation of works to what James is talking about. However, Paul was talking about religious rituals that some thought had to be done to become part of the family of God. Paul didn't not believe such works were necessary to please God. Paul was talking about the front end, how someone can come into faith. James is talking more about discipleship-how one lives a life as a follower of Christ. James assumes that most of the listeners to his writing are already involved in the life of the church. So for Paul, works was something that could prevent someone from becoming a follower of Christ. For James, works was the evidence of faith in the life of a Christian. Of course, they are loved by God, but how are they responding to that love? That was what James was asking.

James is pretty blunt. Faith without works is dead. No sugar coating that. Works was not what made one a follower of Christ, but it was the proof that one was a follower.

James had no patience with those who saw people without daily food and did nothing but give poor platitudes.

So what does this have to do with this church? Well, lots. Lake Harriet is at an interesting place. Today, we are celebrating 90 years as a church. Ninety years, that is quite an accomplishment. We are also trying to discern our future as a congregation. As this congregation makes its way to the century mark, I'd like to offer some advice if I may. It's pretty short and to the point. Love God, love others, do justice. That's it. There is no doubt that this congregation loves God. I see it in those who come on Wednesday nights for prayer, and from the wonderful words I hear from the elders at the Table as share communion. I hear it in the sermons that come not from pastor-types like myself and Tammy, but from those of you like CJ and Karin and Wanda, who have shared what God is telling them to the wider community.

I also think we love others. We have prayed for people near and far. People we know and people we don't know. I have seen the congregation welcome people regardless of their sexual orientation and make them part of the family. When you get a call from 10 people who pray for you right then and there, you know you are loved.

We do justice. We have been a part of Minnesota Foodshare, bought gifts for persons with HIV/AIDS, walked on a grey day in the CROP Walk and raised money for three pigs to help feed people in other parts of the world.

So my message is this: don't stop. Do more. As a congregation, we need to look more into how we can help the poor and discarded. And again, I say don't stop. A few years ago, I wrote a newsstory about several Baptist churches in the Washington,DC area that chose to open their membership to African Americans. One pastor commented that those churches that decided to extend hospitality to all were still in existence. Those that did not were now only remembered in the historical records. The truth of the matter is, these churches died long before they closed their doors because they did not do works that help others.

Do you want to know how you can be a witness and maybe even help the congregation grow? Do justice. Show your love for God, by caring for the poor, by welcoming everyone who walks into the doors of this church as a child of God. Fail to do this and your faith is empty and dead. People want to be a part of community where faith is vital and alive; a church that is dead tells people that God is not present in this place.

On Thursday, we will all sit down and eat lots of turkey. Thanksgiving is a day we give thanks. Let me throw something to you: do works of justice is way of showing our thanks to God for God has done in our lives. As the theologian, Karl Barth once said:

Grace and gratitude belong together like heaven and earth. Grace evokes gratitude like the voice an echo. Gratitude follows grace like thunder lightning.”

If we believe what God has done through Jesus Christ has saved us, then we will want to express that in giving thanks-not simply in words , but in actions of love towards others.

Happy Anniversary, Lake Harriet. Keep doing what your doing, and do more. Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly with God. Thanks be to God. Amen.