Thursday, December 24, 2009

celebrate safely

Friday, November 27, 2009


the art of pastoring by david hansen is the first book that introduced me to the narrative shape of the pastoral life. in one of the many passages that i have read and re-read pastor hansen talks about a moment in his early ministry when he took a moment to reflect on his predecessor's books, which were left behind when the latter man resigned both his charge and the pastoral life.

since a large portion of the shelf was filled with church growth manuals, hansen wryly observes that christian covers of "how to win friends and influence people" were not enough to sustain this man's calling. the author then goes on to remind young pastors that only a serious, sustained reflections on scripture, rigorous engagement with theology and clearly defined christian practices can sustain a pastor throughout a journey on which, as uncle freddy reminds us, "we will witness many horrible things and many beautiful things too."

maybe i've just been hanging around too many budding theologians lately, but, after six years of relative indifference, i've felt a strong pull back to the rigorous reading of biblical and theological texts. although there are elements of my pastoral life that i will not be able to determine, i am going to try my damndest not to follow in the foosteps of pastor hansen's predecessor by drowning in a sea of pop theology and gimmicky ecclesiology.

in light of my lackluster resolve, i'm hesitant to even talk about this. but i think that a return to rigorous reading is as important for my community as it is for me and i will need the accountability of the young theologians who read this to hold my monkey ass feet to the fire.

to those who want to hold me accountable: since i don't really know where to start with this new initiative i am going to start with nt wright's new testament and the people of God. i have a flicker of interest in christian origins and that seems as good a place as any.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

everything in its place

since i am preaching about the spiritual discipline of worship this sunday, i spent part of my (blessedly free!) morning reading richard foster's thoughts on worship in celebration of discipline. early on in the chapter he reminds us that worship is a context in which we await the kol YHWH - the voice of God - to speak to us.

for some reason, that image of the community waiting to hear the voice of God really unsettled me. in that moment, i realized that my preaching is more likely to focus on the real and apparent paradoxes that arise in the life of faith than it is to inspire the body to listen and respond to the revelation of God.

after some reflection and conversation, it seems to me that preaching should be focused on inviting the presence of God and attending to his revelation and direction. the people that i worship with probably do not need to identify one more paradox on sunday morning nor do they likely need to be re-immersed in the conflict/resolution pattern that characterizes so much of daily life.

i repent of the times i have ignorantly tuned people into one more tension instead of turning with them towards the rushing water emanating from sinai.

of course, i'm not suggesting that we refuse to wrestle complexity or start ignoring the nagging dark. for me the emergent cohort is a perfect context in which to consider such matters and, moving forward, i'm going to try to keep these conversations in their proper place.
i can't wait until i work for a real newspaper

season 5 of the wire wasn't my favorite either, but in the midst of all their bitching and complaining the reporters clearly stated one of the show's compelling themes: "i can wait until i work for a real newspaper."

mentally flick back through the seasons and you can hear the characters sharing the same sentiment about the police department, stevedore union, city government and public schools.

quickly review the conversations you've had with moi and you'll recall the same theme. if you met me eight years ago, i would have said "i can't wait until i work for a real church." if you touched base three years ago i would eagerly awaited the moment when i would 'work for a real fairy selling gift company.'"

last night, when i was talking about this theme with my Friends' friends callid and kristina, callid pointed out that "at the heart of your denunciation of the existing fairly selling gift company is the hope that there is a real fairy selling gift company that is worth pursuing."

though it probably sounds simple, callid's assertion that my brand of cynicism is trace evidence of the hope that will not let me go really touched me at that time and this morning still brings tears to my eyes.

on a number of occasions over the past couple of years several people have asked me why i am still a part emergent and what role the conversation plays in my ministry and personal mission.

the answer to their question is wrapped in conversations with friends like callid and kristina, who i never would have met, much less served beside, without emergent.

*spoiler alert*

Sunday, November 22, 2009


this month's issue of the atlantic has two intriguing articles on conservative christianity. the first is megan mcardle's entertaining account of becoming a dave ramsey disciple.

in the second article hanna rosin asks did christianity cause the crash? rosin's article specifically focuses on the influence that prosperity gospel churches have had upon first generation latino immigrants. her narrative points out that the largest concentration of new "prosperity gospel churches were build along the Sun Belt...all areas that were hard hit by the mortgage crisis." she goes on to note that "40 percent of all loans going to Latinos nationwide were subprime loans" and, perhaps more egregiously, "Latinos and African Americans were 28 percent and 37 percent more likely, respectively, to receive a higher-rate subprime loan than whites." based on those statistics alone, it is not surprising that "'hyper-segregated' urban communities were the worst off" when it came to home foreclosure crisis.

rosin's research is respectable and her portraits of the prosperity preachers - some of whom acted like absolute wolves throughout the crisis by taking cash kickbacks from mortgage officers for parishoner referrals or cutting out the middle man becoming bi-vocational a mortgage officer themselves - and their often earnest, God fearing parishoners were compelling. however, by the article's own note, only "50 of the largest 260 churches in the U.S." proclaim the prosperity gospel and i find it difficult to believe that these churches had an equal or greater influence on the crisis than the standard evangelical mega-churches which are often filled with aspirational middle-class congregants, conducted in highly leveraged buildings and hesitant to question our culture's economic mores.

i have no doubt that prosperity churches helped inflate the housing bubble, converted the few into nouveau riche and given false hope to many more. however, the evangelical church - of which i am a part" accounts for a far larger segment of our society (by some accounts 33 to 35% of the total population) and, i suspect, deserves a much larger portion of the blame for the economic downfall.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Join the North Shore Emergent Cohort

Hi All,

The North Shore Emergent Cohort is having our first meeting on Tuesday, December 1st at The Vault (217 Essex Street) in Salem. Please mark the date on your calendar and plan to join us around 7 pm.

Since this is our first meeting, we are going to start by sharing snippets of our own stories and discussing our hopes & intentions for this conversation.

Then we are going to discuss Patrol Magazine's provocative editorial on the potential death of evangelicalism. Please take the time to read this short article - - before the meeting.

Although the cohort has facilitators, the shape and the content of the emergent conversation is determined by the people who choose to attend. Thus, we will all be poorer without your presence and hope you can make plans to join us.

Much Love,

Cyndi Bauer, Jesse Browning and Jeff Gentry

If you have questions about the cohort or would just like to shout, email Jeff at

Monday, November 16, 2009

know thyself (you muddled son of a bitch)

i don't know how to write about this, but i'll try.

oftentimes my life feels like a screen that is stretched between apparent opposites. for instance, i am a contrarian by nature. as most of you know i am a passionate fan of a storied midwestern team, but i take great pride in being much meaner than my compatriots. however, while i will immediately move towards the margins in almost any social grouping i am also a fiercely loyal to those i both love and live to contradict. this is the reason i have remained faithful to the christian churches, churches of christ (ccoc) and sought my ordination in this tradition, even though i've never been a recognized leader of a ccoc church and have serious doubts whether that will change, or whether i even want that to change, in the future.

in my more charitable moments, i suspect that the lives of others are displayed on similar screens and i long to view those projections through a much softer lens. unfortunately those moments are few and far between. something to pray about, i suppose.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

being graceful about the switch

if you hang around me at all, it won't be long before you hear me talk about the importance of subversion and being a virus to the system. i think the reversals that Jesus talks about - the poor inheriting the kingdom, the last being first, the Messiah coming for the sick instead of the healthy - point towards the holy, hidden heart of the gospel

because of this belief one would think that i would be gracious when my short sighted expectations are upset or when i am confronted with an annoying experience of injustice in a rather ordinary situation. unfortunately, that is far from the case.

when i listened to last week's sublime bait and switch episode of this american life, i was blindsided by my own lack of grace. act one, "neighborhood watch," features a story of an unsuspecting suburban couple who repeatedly report an abandoned car to the local police and are repeatedly rebuffed by the boys in blue. when, persuaded by signs of struggle within the car, they finally dig into the glove box and trunk in an attempt to identify the owner, they are immediately arrested by the same police who ignored their earlier appeals. i don't want to kill the story altogether, but it turns out that the car was bait and the couple was immediately caught on the line.

as the story unfolds, i was overwhelmed by the graciousness of the couple as they were treated like criminals, forced to hire lawyers and compelled to cop to something they did not do. at no point did they refer to the police as farm animals, fully exercise their first amendment rights or, shortly after the belated resolution of these matters, personally call the police to taunt and insult them. i'm not proud to admit this, but these are the type of things i have done in the past and will be tempted to do in the future.

when i subvert others intentions or attempt to change the system, i am stunned when they refuse to respond in a gracious or at least an "adult" manner. yet, when i am the subject of such reversals, i am an insufferable twit. this fundamental hypocrisy blights my character and calls me to repentance.

if we were all at soybean bible college, i would say that this episode will really "preach." i've heard the message and will try to go forth and live out the graciousness that i expect from others.

one final note, the second act includes an interview with jim henderson, who runs the doable evangelism site and is a friend of the gathering. it also has an interesting aside about how evangelicals have sometimes used the expectation of sex and other questionable bait to finagle an audience for the gospel.

Friday, November 13, 2009

rehashing halloween

so i'm way behind on the halloween rehash and i'm disinclined to write at the moment that i have had to bribe myself with the king of kong in order to push this puppy out. so please forgive my errors, failure to praise everyone and any other unintentional offense.

first, it was a remarkable halloween season. on the first saturday i served (10/16) i had my requisite, "oh God, i really don't want to do this!" moment, but thanks to the steady presence of rennie and old practice, i quickly got in groove and enjoyed the season thoroughly.

for the first time, this year a number of our friends and family invested in our efforts. dozens of our friends partnered with us to raise $800 so that we could match equal exchange's gift and make our hot cocoa slave free. that was excellent (and expect the ask will be repeated next year so that we can take our cups down the bio-degradable route)! my own family and close friends donated $1100 in operating support to our little adventure. those dollars came in quite handy during a year when The Gathering has found it difficult to keep our heads above water, much less purchase supplies for the outreach. we were seriously humbled by the generosity of our friends and family. thank you for honoring God by setting us free to serve!

we also had a wonderful, diverse group of friends serve beside us throughout the season. for the first time in six years of serving at haunted happenings several friends from our christian churches, churches of Christ tradition came out to serve beside us. i hope that tim and the sojourn crew as well as jessica from manchester know that their presence meant the world to me. deep down in the part that i don't like to talk about at parties, i think i wrestle with rejection issues, so the distance that has developed between me and the ccoc has often pained me. so the presence of these friends was nothing short of sacramental.

jessie and libby browning and the good folks from their home church in beverly monked up on halloween and spent six hours in the street laying hands on and blessing people they had never met. i didn't have the courage to do anything more than serve hot cocoa during my first experience in 2003, so i was amazed by their boldness! i am also thankful to my hetero-life partner james for reprising his rector* role and accompanying this group for the first couple of hours. james, you are the only one i want wearing my habit.

on hallows eve and halloween the incomparable anita coco and her not for sale crew offered people an opportunity to experience "death by chocolate" for a second year. this was the second year to host this event, we had over 300 guests attend and many, many more folks than last year were interested in discussing fair trade and acting upon what they had learned. extra props to the guy whose name i'm forgetting who made the kickin' sign for this event. it really made a difference.

did i mention how amazing carrie erwin was throughout the whole halloween season? i had no idea how she would take to it, but within minutes of starting she was barking at guests in the street, anchoring the cocoa booth, dancing with strangers dressed as gasoline. seriously, she was amazing.

paul, joyce, jeff c and other first time volunteers were amazing as well. did i mention how impressed i was with carrie erwin?

ben corey, the independent baptist from maine carved an unexpected niche by becoming the master of the Jesus deck and a spot on dream interpreter as well. i wasn't sure how much time he could commit, but he consistently under-promised and over-delivered and we were all so blessed by his presence.

joe riffe, who i think is mortified by the picture above, led a prayer room for us, stepped out of his comfort zone to bless strangers and talk to reporters and provided some of the vital, Spirit-filled energy we needed to make it through the last two days of the season. thankful for him.

my remarkable Friends' friends callid (like "salad) and kristina worked beside us on the big day. kristina works for an organic farmers cooperative in upstate new york so she was a perfect facilitator for death by chocolate. callid has treasures of past experience that i was unaware of - such as performing street magic - so he was a wizard on the streets. for instance, callid composed my favorite bark of the season: "come to death by chocolate. a terrifying experience that will completely change your life! or not." there were a number of small moments, such as kristina's discussion of the almost paramilitary training that activists from the civil rights movement had to go through in order to be assigned to a lunch counter, that i treasure from their visit. they also left us with a bottle of amazing upstate new york wine. please come back soon.

this season i realized, much like i have been realizing at work lately, that my days as a non-stop, hands-on street minister or service deliverer are on the wane and i am being led into more of an administrative role. this transition is bitter-sweet for me - right now it's much more of the former than the latter - since i have grown to love laying hands on strangers**, helping young adults find jobs, finding the perfect h1 n1 pitch that simultaneously repel and attract people to our cocoa booth. however, it is clear that my role is more about training and deploying than about being front line all the time. a friend named tim hawkins recently quoted another friend who said that discipleship, or training up people in the way they should go, is 99% encouragement. if that is the case, and i suspect it is, and administration has any part to play in discipleship, and i think it does, then i have a lot of growing to do.

i could go on, by explaining in great detail what an honor it is to serve beside pastor phil wyman or outlining the many, many unexpected lessons i have learned from my benediction laden brethren from the bridge church and streams ministries, but that is enough for now.

i hope that gives you a little taste of what the season was like. now that we're a couple of weeks beyond it and i've had a chance to rest, i cannot think about october without cribbing little preston: "again, daddy. again!"

* you thought i was going to say rectal, didn't you? admit it.
** that doesn't sound quite right.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

slightly off-center veterans day salute!

ht: bunny suicides; clint eastwood; ryan chandler

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Monday, October 26, 2009

want to party 300,000 new friends?

Hi All,

It's the Final Countdown to Halloween and we want YOU to serve beside us this weekend!

Seriously, thanks to one and all who have supported The Gathering's mission this Halloween. My friends and family have invested over $2,000 and innumerable hours of prayer and service in this initiative to bless the 500,000 people who visit Salem during Halloween. Both Kellie and I are blessed and overwhelmed by people's generosity.

If you're interested in joining us in the streets this weekend, here are some ways that you can serve!

1. Hot Chocolate

The following shifts are still available. Number of people needed are indicated in (parentheses).

Friday: 6 to 9 pm (1 - preferably someone strong enough to carry water)
Saturday: Noon to 3 pm (2); 3 to 6 (3); 6 to 9 (3)
Sunday: Noon to 3 pm (3); 3 to 6 (3)

Everyone has done a fantastic job with Hot Chocolate so far! As you prepare for this weekend, please note that the crowds are likely to double or triple and we'll probably need to operate both burners at once. Translation: get ready to rock!

2. Death By Chocolate (DBC)

Death By Chocolate provides guests with a dramatic introduction to the reality of slavery and the impact our consumer choices have on slavery. This event is an excellent pairing with our hot cocoa mission and people really responded to it favorably last year (About 940 people attended Death by Chocolate in the 14 short hours that we ran it in 2008. Pretty Awesome, eh?).

In order for DBC to run smoothly we need a presenter, a host that runs the line and a barker or two. Anita Coco will be anchoring DBC, but we will need hosts, barkers and a second presenter to help. Opportunities are as follows:

Friday: 6 to 9 pm (Barker, Host and Presenter needed)
Saturday: Noon to 3 pm (Barker, Host and Presenter needed); 3 to 6 (Barker Host and Presenter needed)

3. 24 Hours of Prayer

Joe Riffe from 24/7 Prayer will be joining us to help facilitate a 24 hour (10 to 10 on Friday; 10 to 10 on Saturday) prayer vigil.

We would like to have at least one person present in the prayer room (location to be determined) at all times. At this moment all slots are available!

Friday: 10 to 10 pm (12 one hour slots are available - you can fill more than one slot if you wish!)
Saturday: 10 to 10 pm (second verse, same as the first)

4. Blessing, Confessing, Jesus Decking Monks

Monks will be deployed to bless, confess 2 x 2 and read from the Jesus deck whenever they are available. If you are interested in monking, let me know what you would like to do and when you would like to do it and I will add you to the schedule. Roving monks need to go out 2 x 2, so if you plan to do that, try to find a partner. After being trained by our head monk (Pastor Phil), Jesus decking can be done by a solitary monk.

5. Brimstone Chronicles

Various and sundry help is needed transporting people to hell and back again. Contact Pastor Phil if you are interested (

Thanks for all of your help and support! Everyone at The Gathering as well as our local and far away friends invest a lot of time, resources and passion in our Halloween mission. With God's help, let's bless the hell out of a couple of hundred thousand guests!

Much Love,


Thursday, October 15, 2009

my fundamental hypocrisy

compelling change in others while rejecting such compulsion from others.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

shameless plug

Hi Friends,

Starting this weekend 100,000 people will be visiting Salem in hopes of having a spiritual experience and a little fun. This year The Gathering gang will be out there again to bless the city and embody the gospel and we hope you can join us.

How can you help? Glad you asked!

1. Serve Free Fair Trade Hot Chocolate

Our guests get gigged for parking, potable water at the Professor McGonagall hat they've always wanted. So we add a little levity to their day by offering a cup of hot, fair trade, completely swine-flu free hot chocolate.

On Friday, October 16, 23 and 30th, we will be running the hot chocolate booth from 6-9 pm. If you'd like to serve a shift, just let us know.

On Saturday and Sunday October 17-18, 24-25 and 31-11/1 we will be running the hot chocolate booth from noon-9pm. If you would like to serve a three hour shift, let us know and we will set your name right down on that there spreadsheet.

2. Pray

We are partnering with our friends at 24/7 prayer to pray for our city as well as our guests for 12 hours on Friday, October 30 and 12 hours on Saturday, October 31. One hour slots are available from 10 am to 10 pm on those days.

3. Speak Out for the Speechless

Not for Sale will be running the Death by Chocolate experience on Friday, October 30 from 6-9 pm and Saturday, October 31 from noon-6 pm. Want to help? Let me know and I'll put you in touch with the ladies in charge.

4. Read the Jesus deck for spiritual seekers, wander the streets offering free blessings, interpret dreams and/or experiment with that one street preaching/ministry/holy provocation idea you've always had, but have never rolled out.

If you're interested in these engaging forms of ministry, we invite you to attend a basic training on Saturday, October 24th at 2 pm. The teaching will be run by Pastor Phil Wyman, who has tons of experience listening to and loving practitioners of new religious movements. After the training you'll be sent forth into the streets to embody Abraham's blessing to the nation. The suggested donation for this 2 hour training session is $10, but don't let cost hold you back if you simply don't have it.

Thank you for supporting the mission of The Gathering and the ministry of my family. We hope to serve beside you this Halloween season!

Much Love,


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

returning to the ark

last weekend i had the privilege of returning to l'arche daybreak for a contemplative retreat at the cedars. after three days of silence, reading, prayer and rest i was reminded once again that prayer is the source of communion, collaboration and competence.

before the retreat began i wondered if it would serve a parenthetical purpose insofar as it would close the vocational wilderness that i have been wandering in since my first visit in 2000. although i did not receive the resolution i hoped for, i was reminded that the core members, leaders and mission of l'arche can serve as a constant reminders of Christ's call to contemplative action and the path of descent.

now if only i can find the grace to listen.

many thanks to simkins for accompanying me on this journey and windham for having the wisdom not to.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

boston's emergent cohort is meeting tonight at 7 p.m.

the cohort is convening at uno's in porter square (820 somerville ave, cambridge. adjacent to the porter square stop) to discuss the nature of evangelism in a postmodern context.

if you read books like mclaren's more ready than you realize or a new kind of christian you'll quickly realize that re-contextualizing evangelism* was one of the original impetuses of the conversation's development. in the last few years evangelism has continued to be a vital issue as friends-cum-critics such as mark driscoll have accused emergent folk of failing to produce evangelistic fruit and others such as dan kimball and scot mcknight have started new conversations such as the origins project that are more focused on proclamation and evangelism.

so the form and function of evangelism in a pluralistic context has and continues to play and important role in the emergent conversation. i hope you can join us tonight to dig into these matters a bit.

as an added bonus, unos at porter square is so cool that occasionally jungle jim is there twisting balloons for family night. so, if you come out for the conversation, you might go home with a special surprise!

* along with, let's face it, a shared loathing of the mega-church

Monday, October 05, 2009

celebrate halloween by serving beside the gathering

this october over 500,000 people will visit salem, massachusetts to party with friends, trample in and out of tourist traps and revel in the festival. for the past 10 years the gathering has crashed the party by blessing the city in any number of ways.

although the gathering is a small church with a big mission, we are fortunate to have a hundred or so volunteers who help us greet our guests and share the beauty, truth and goodness of the gospel of Jesus Christ in a number of simple, and sometimes unexpected, ways. we would love to have you serve beside us this october.

since you asked, here's how you can help!

1. if you love hot dogs, costumes, carnivals and kids* join us for children's day on saturday, october 10th.

for the past seven years we have partnered with dominos pizza to run children's day on salem common. since the day offers a variety of free entertainment, $1 hot dogs and a massive costume contest, 3-5,000 families will join us on the common between 9 and 5 p.m. since children's day is one of the most affordable city-wide events many low-income families join us every year. since the costume contest is kickin' and the event corresponds with columbus day weekend** and the chamber of commerce's huge bizarre bizaar*** extravaganza, this is an event you should not miss. we need volunteers to help from 8 am to 5 pm. (virtually) any amount of time you can give will help. indicate interest by emailing pastor phil at

2. got hot chocolate? we do and we're going to serve up 10,000 fair-trade certified cups of it during the last three weekends of halloween.

we've been welcoming guests to our city with free hot chocolate for years,**** but this is the first year that our hot chocolate will be completely slave-free. if you want to volunteer to run the kerosene burner and serve up our completely h1 n1 free hot chocolate during the following weekend days 17-18, 24-25 or 30-31, please email jeff gentry at if you would like to help us off-set the cost of the fair trade cocoa and cut a year off your stay in purgatory you can donate on the paypal site at just be sure to mention that your $ are for hot chocolate.

3. harboring a secret monk fetish? monk up and bless people throughout the city of Salem!

we've been ripping off don miller for years by offering reverse confessions and walking through the city streets 2 x 2 offering free blessings to strangers. you would not believe how ready people are to let you lay hands upon them***** or listen to the failures of the church. times are flexible, robes****** are provided, times are flexible and training will be provided. contact for more info.

4. love music and have some skillz? please help run our soundboard!

we run the largest stage in salem during the 17-18, 25-25 and 30-31 weekends and we need able hands to assist with the board. email for more info.

5. hate slavery? help not for sale run their death by chocolate experience.

on friday the 30 and saturday the 31st not for sale are going to invite people into the gathering's historic lower vault for a free fair trade chocolate tasting. after being locked in the vault the not for sale folks will introduce guests to the reality of the modern slave trade and challenge them to take a stand by buying fair trade and speaking on behalf of those who have no voice. email for more info.

6. like to pray? 24/7 prayer is helping us host 24 hours of prayer on oct. 30 and 31st.

if you would like to lay claim to an hour-long slot on either of those days, please email

7. want to interpret dreams, offer readings from the Jesus deck, give spiritual readings or participate in another form of subversive spiritual counseling? attend pastor phil's haunted happening training on saturday october 24th from 12 - 2 p.m.

for $10******* you'll get an introduction to alternative spiritualities, a detailed ministry in salem survival guide and the tools you'll need to be a blessing (instead of a curse) to people who are earnestly searching for some good in the world. after you're training you'll be ready to dive in to the busiest two weekends of the halloween season and hopefully serve beside us for many years to come.

i've been serving beside the gathering for five halloweens now. during that time, serving on the streets has gone from an idea i could hardly fathom******** to an yearly experience i cannot miss. i hope that a few of you choose to join us this year. if you have questions, comments or a couple of c-notes you would like to donate to the gathering, please let me know.

* though not necessarily in that order.
** every year i suggest that we should introduce a moment of silence to remember the introduction of syphilis to the new world. every year the church council votes my idea down.
*** no longer called that for copyright reasons i could care less about.
**** though this practice sometimes p.o.s the vendors, the guests love it.
***** not like that, single seminarians!
****** except for my robe, which was consecrated commando.
******* which i've heard is short money in the education world.
******** since, although i'm from the street, i've never been the street ministry kind of guy.

when i was growing up, i didn't want to be a preacher, i wanted to be a politician. for that reason, i took latin, paged in the state senate, read the contract with america, refrained from excessive use of psychotropic drugs, set my sites on law school and tried to seduce women.

even after a challenging day - like yesterday was on many levels - in ministry, i cannot comprehend the ambitions of my youth. last time i checked, i am one of the most impolitic people on the planet, abhor party lines and do not own a stars and stripes lapel pin.

for these reasons among many others i would have made a horrible politician. cheers to the Lord who determines the steps.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

being mindful of reverse mission

thanks to the wisdom of my wife,* i have started dedicating my mandatory furlough days to sermon preparation instead of betting on the ponies at suffolk downs.

since i was studying in the bowels of s.h.i.t. yesterday i decided to attend a free forum on re-seeding the mainline denominations in new england town centers by strategically placing evangelical pastors in u.c.c., a.b.c. and other alphabet soup pulpits.

i think that this approach is shrewd in that it aims to revitalize local churches that already have deep connections to the community and an established footprint in the public square. in addition, since several of these churches - such as the disciples of christ and the u.c.c. - have congregational government systems a candidate could conceivably pursue this strategy without getting too entangled in denominational politics.

however, while i think the strategy has merit and i respect the missional intentions of the gentlement who started overseed in order to support evangelical pastors who pursue this path, i was a little put off by the oversimplifications and apparent judgments of our mainline brothers and sisters that were sprinkled throughout the presentation, such as:

* these churches have not grown because the pastors have not preached Jesus
* the mainline parishoners are committed to loving the people in their community, but their love has no redemptive intention
* many mainline pastors are lazy and undedicated to their ministry. for this reason they have set the expectations quite low for evangelicals who are interested in their pulpits

in his book gracias henri nouwen talks about the idea of reverse mission. in it's simplest form, reverse mission suggests that a christian who pours herself/himself out in service to others will usually end up being more of a beneficiary than she/he will be a benefactor. because of that idea, i wanted to ask the overseed leaders - "what do evangelicals have to learn from the mainline pastors and churches?" - but for once i chose to set my contrarian hat aside.

i think that the reality of reverse mission raises some interesting questions about the missiology of evangelicals who have entered mainline denominations such as the episcopal church, u.s.a., but that's another post for another day.

* which i could write books about.

Friday, October 02, 2009

trying real hard

yesterday i felt like i had my shit together. late in the afternoon i met with a senior research fellow at a major university and we talked about how we can help transform the lives of others through workforce development and considered how we can successfully navigate the system so that those whose primary accomplishment is "completing their sentences" won't wreck havoc on our industry and ideas. i felt like hot shit as we grabbed for our emblazoned wallets at a sidewalk cafe and kept our cold guns fixed on the ringos of the world.

near the end of the conversation the research fellow/leadership expert asked me what my five year plan was and i stumbled a bit as my mouth spewed ideas about mission-driven non-profit leadership and i desperately sought to to re-orient the compass i cannot shake.

today, as my legally blind ass is readjusting to the light i've been given, i realize that much like jules, my ambitions and plans are the tyranny of evil men, yet my reluctant heart is calling me to be a shepherd.

and yet, as i sit at an adolescent desk in the basement of s.h.i.t., i cannot think of a role i am less prepared to play. today i have prayed, searched the introduction of mark's gospel and sandbagged tears every step of the way as i wrestle the vulnerability, surrendered agency and servility that mark the path of pastoral ministry.

today i am shit served cold as i return to the task wherein my strength is insufficient and altogether not the point. i can't fathom why God has called me to lead when i can barely walk the earth and i can only find comfort in the stories of forerunners who were unfit to remove sandals and stump preachers who were scarcely literate.

i am terrified and clearly out-of-season. but for God's grace, i can't continue.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

mark thy calendar

The Boston Cohort is connecting once again on Tuesday, September 8.

Come out to the Porter Square Unos (820 Somerville Ave; across from Porter Square stop; look for us upstairs) around 7 pm to hear noted blogger, BU grad student and postmodern commentator Blake Huggins - who has promised to share his secret knowledge of theology, emergent and all things Methodist.

Summer attendance lagged a bit, so I hope we can get this semester off to a good start. Mark your calendar and make plans to join us.

Be Well,


P.S. - There has been quite a bit of discussion about starting a North Shore Cohort this Spring. If you are interested in joining a North Shore cohort, please let me know so that we can get things going.

Friday, August 14, 2009

happy haiku friday

children screaming
at head start behind the house
must not be nut free

Wednesday, August 05, 2009


in soong-chan rah's excellent the next evangelicalism he suggests that second generation american immigrants often live in a dialectical manner insofar as they are concurrently insiders and outsiders to their ethnic culture and insiders and outsiders to american culture.

i'm intrigued by this concept of dialectical living insofar as i seek to openly engage the complexities of our world while still embodying and being shaped by my evangelical faith.

i suspect that this dialectical approach is often as frustrating to my family, friends and colleagues as it is to me. however, i have yet to find a better way to move forward.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

brief notes about my sabbatical journey

the good folks at the gathering have given me six weeks off to read, think and pray. i greatly appreciate the space because lately, due more to work than anything else, i have really been running on empty.

my sabbatical started on sunday and my experience of what God is doing in beverly has already expanded markedly.

on sunday i worshiped with the good folks at the harbor church in beverly. this vibrant church plant is filled with college students and a few older, wiser folks who are not only passionate about worshipping God, but also incarnating the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ in very practical ways throughout the city of beverly. although the liturgy at the harbor had a little youth group aftertaste, i was inspired by their activism and their passion to grow.

tonight the boston cohort met at unos in porter square and the only folks to show up - for the first 1:45 anyway, i'm not forgetting you kieran! - were six members of a new intentional community from beverly. i knew kirk, suzanne and a couple of members of this community already, but i had no idea that 13 inspired, confused, missional and intentional christians were setting up shop in my backyard. we had an engaging conversation at cohort, but i was really enthused by my later visit to their triple decker. if i had closed my eyes and lit a camel light, i would have sworn i was at the red house in columbus ohio, circa 2002 and i'll be damned if the vibe of the house didn't remind me a little of l'arche.

so yeah, i've really enjoyed my sabbatical thus far and am mostly looking forward too, but also a little nervous about, my upcoming ordination on sunday, august 9th. i should say more about the latter commitment, but, in my enthusiasm, i've totally neglected the cards' score and need to get to it.

much peace, much love.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Rock Stars for Jesus Preach Masturbation
by: slowfo

"Are you ready to preach about masturbation?" This was the question I was presented with recently while on a job interview at a large, up and coming, highly successful church.....and it wasn't a joke. Before I begin with the rest of the story and my coinciding rant/critique, let me first of all say that these "successful" churches led by Daugherty and Ryan Seacrest wanna-be's are actually doing some good things. There are a number of people out there that have been so numbed by the lifeless, judgmental churches of their past that they previously wouldn't have ever darkened the door of a Jesus-following church until the Celebri-Church came and wowed them back to their childhood faith. So the bottom line is that lives are being turned back to the Bible and a faith in Jesus Christ. I get that and am glad for it. It's just not for me like it used to be.

See, I used to work in the mega-church atmosphere and even was a major proponent of Celebri-Church style until I started to realize that it all seemed so people-centered more than God-centered. There's just a lot of ego behind all of the flash that is used to share the message of Christ with this culturally-relevant language that we use now.

Ok, back to the matter at hand - masturbation (and no, that probably won't be the last inappropriate innuendo/pun that I use in this post because frankly, they're too funny to ignore and I'm way too sophomoric not to use I hope it won't rub you the wrong way). The way the interviews work at this church, they fly you in and you check out their worship services over the weekend while getting to know some of their staff. Then on Monday morning, you go through a series of tests (personality, giftedness, even a mini-ACT test). You break for a quick lunch and then it's getting grilled by the panel of staff all afternoon long.

Part of the panel grilling goes like this, "So Joe Candidate, do you think God's given you some gifts to speak/teach/preach? How would you rate yourself?...(Joes grades himself on a 1-10 scale)....Really? Well, you're about to prove just how good you are. Joe, pick a number between one and three....(Joe picks '2')....Two, huh? Okay, each number was a different subject. If you'd have picked '1', you would have chosen Homosexuality; if '3', you would have gotten Breast Augmentation. But you picked '2', which is the subject of Masturbation. So Joe, you've got 10 minutes to put together a 10 minute sermon on Masturbation. At the end of the 10 minutes, you'll pull your presentation out and work it in front of a room of 20-25 staff members and spouses. Good luck."

Here's their idea, the job I was applying for wasn't a preaching job; so if I handled myself too well with this Masturbation topic, then my gift mix would be for preaching and not for this job. They wanted to see me under pressure and uncomfortable while I'm trying to massage a hard message in front of a group of people.

So is this where church staffing interviews have come? When I mix this in with the overall atmosphere of this church, which was filled with beautiful people with Hollywood clothes and hair, it just all gave me a very sick feeling. This didn't feel like a church at all. It felt like a well-oiled financial machine where muscled-up guys and curvy girls could have their own mini country-club and not feel so un-cool about following Jesus anymore. I'm all for good music and effective communication but it just seems to me that the Protestant Church may need to take a step back and think about who or what exactly is getting glorified in this ultra culturally-relevant environment that has been created. If it's all about how cool we can be, then it seems like it's not so much about a God-centered group of people as much as it's all about pleasuring ourselves (and that's 8 for those of you counting at home). Sorry this post is so long but I do feel incredibly relieved now that I've worked it all out (okay 9).

Thursday, July 16, 2009


after nine years of (admittedly non-traditional) pastoral ministry in new england i have finally decided to get ordained, or officially set apart, for ministry. since i come from a tradition in which each congregation can choose who to ordain, and, for wholly unmerited reasons, my home church has always supported my ministry, ordination has long been an option for me. however, i have not pursued this sacrament until now.

for that reason, i suppose i shouldn't have been surprised when scott zimmerman, the pastor of christview christian church, and the board of elders at the congregation completely bypassed theological questions in order to ask an imminently practical one: "why are you pursuing ordination now?"

good question.

my first inclination was to tell scott that until now the ordination process really hasn't been all that important to me. i am a strong believer that, as st. peter states, all Christ followers are "chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation" that have been called to "declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light." based upon this passage, i follow luther and the anabaptists (talk about odd bedfellows...) in declaring that Christ has created a priesthood of all believers and commissioned all of his followers to go forth in wholeness and try to wrestle life out of death. thus, i haven't sought to be ordained because i am confident that i already am ordained.

and yet, for utilitarian and sentimental reasons, the ordination path is one that i have decided to take.

since securing ordination in my tradition is relatively simple - in my case it took one vote of the elders and "6 to 8 minutes at the end of the service" on sunday, august 9 - it makes sense to publically confirm my calling to ministry and receive the affirmation of my church so that i can legally marry more than one couple per year in massachusetts and forego the $25 unlicensed officiant (i'm tempted to say untagged dog) fee. as scott also reminded me when we spoke, ordination could potentially produce tax benefits since renumerated ministers are not required to withhold social security from their income if they so choose. but since i score my bread with "secular" wages, i doubt that uncle sam is going to let me off the hook there.

lest i come off as too pragmatic, i am also pursuing ordination because i truly appreciate the mercy and grace my home church has always lavished upon me and want to recognize the instrumental role they have played in my life. moreover, since my papa preston was an elder at our church for over thirty years, and has continued serving in that role, albeit without title, since, i want his hands upon me when the prayers for my ongoing ministry and passionate petitions for the poor souls who have to walk beside me are offered within that 6 to 8 minute slot.

since this process is shaping me in other ways that i'm not quite ready to confess, i'll admit that i'm being a bit glib. for some reason i wanted to share a fragment of what's going on in my heart and mind. i'd also like to invite you, if you live anywhere near, to participate in my ordination, and perhaps wrestle with yours, by attending the 10:30 a.m. sunday morning worship service at christiview christian church in tulsa, ok on sunday, august 9th.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

poor, poor privileged me

tonight the board of elders at my home church is discussing the possibility of my ordination. i have never felt a stronger sense of calling to pastoral ministry and cannot think of a higher honor than being consecrated for ministry by my own church. however, i have no clue what form my ministry will take in five years or where it will lead me.

i can't imagine preaching and presiding over the sacrament less than twice a month, yet i fully acknowledge the wisdom of my colleague at rectangle who sat me down two weeks ago and said: "you have a family, you are a pastor and you are committed to leadership at rectangle. how much longer do you think you can continue doing all three things well?"

well? sometimes i wonder if i can continue doing all three things at all. of course, that is what i think my colleague was getting at.

i cannot help but preach. i have always been healthiest when i am serving beside and being served by people with disabilities. i adore my wife more than words can express, am so proud of my son and realize that family is the sine qua non of my existence. this is the trinitarian tension of my existence. sometimes i dance betwixt other times i am torn apart.

tonight my eyes welled with the beauty and the terror.

Monday, June 29, 2009

i just blue myself

Friday, June 26, 2009

is this what awe means?

lately i have been overwhelmed by complexity.

when i try to see the gospel through the clouds of two thousand years of interpretation and four thousand years of judeo-christian history it often feels like i have been struck blind.

when i advocate for the poor and am expected to passionately support failed initiatives alongside services that are desperately needed the haze of hypocrisy covers me like a cloak.

hell, even when i enter an industrial building and glance at the sophisticated masonry, hvac systems and intricate wiring i feel like a neanderthal transported to tokyo.

in this world it often seems that "success" relies upon reductionism and nuance is the precursor of impotence. i am profoundly dissatisfied with the polarities, yet am trapped in the tension between.

Lord Jesus, if you want to these scales, remove them.

if confusion is my thorn teach me to bear it.

i do so believe, help me with my unbelief.

Monday, June 22, 2009

mid-afternoon time waster

if you couldn't live in sunny, luxurious possum kingdom, texas, would you rather live in:

a) rat's nest, louisiana
b) segregation city, mississippi
c) jumping genocide, oklahoma
d) incest, arkansas
e) crystal meth, missouri

Friday, June 19, 2009

on shifting sands

yesterday talked with a former colleague about the shifting role that sertoma plays in the disability community. when sertoma was founded in 1976 many of its participants were transitioning out of state institutions and into group homes and other supportive community settings. organizations like sertoma rose up to provide job training for these individuals so that they could make their way in the marketplace just like they were learning to make their way in the local communities.

from facility to facilitation
sertoma was able to help some individuals transition into the workforce, but a number, perhaps even a preponderance, of others were allowed and/or encouraged to spend their career working in sertoma's packaging, cedar shim production and recycling businesses. transitioning out of separate institutions and into the community is no small matter, so it is not surprising that many individuals were encouraged by family persuasion, state funding and/or personal choice to go for the gold watch at sertoma.

however, now it is 2009 and the sertoma employees who initially transitioned out of the institutions and into the workshop are either retired or on the precipice of retirement and younger individuals with disabilities have never known anything but integrated disability or rehabilitation services. as a result, the government has reaffirmed their commitment to integrating people with disabilities into the workforce and they are restricting or removing long-term subsidies for individuals who work in workshops like sertoma. this transition makes sense for younger individuals with disabilities, but it is understandably threatening for individuals who have logged 30 years cutting cedar shims and are now wondering whether sertoma's businesses will survive the funding shift and, if not, what role they will play in the marketplace and how they will spend their days.

in response to these challenges, organizations like sertoma are shifting their emphasis from being an employer to being a resource that provides health and life development supports for individuals with disabilities. traditionally, sertoma integrated elements of the institution such as case management, nursing supports, etc., with the elements of a business such as the opportunity to participate in real work, earn a paycheck, follow employee guidelines, etc. in a sense one could say that sertoma is transitioning from an institution - that tries to provide comprehensive services for individuals with disabilities - to a network or a hub that will help connect individuals with disabilities with the employment and life development opportunities as well as the personal supports that they need.

my friend reported that some of the staff members are navigating the transition from the institution to the network well, while others are finding the shift difficult. she said that many of the support staff have worked at sertoma for such a long time that they are as unsettled by the shift as the participants with disabilities are. others, especially the younger staff at sertoma, seem to be making the transition well. but, whether people like the transition or not, my friend said that the "writing was on the wall," and change was coming to sertoma whether people liked it or not.

unexpected revelation
somewhere in the midst of the conversation, i think when my friend was talking about the transition from an institution to a network, i felt the shock of revelation and i literally cradled my face in my hands. since sertoma is no longer the quasi-institution that it once was, the staff needs to find out how to network the individuals they serve with the diverse, individualized services they need. sertoma's future is not in building the institution but expanding the network.

in a similar way, my role to play in the church, that community of people who have been called out by God and inclined towards his Kingdom, is not to build the institution but to expand the network.

my role is not to build the institution, although i was trained to do just that by becoming the engaging preacher for a local church that was committed to providing more and better services so that we could build a bigger congregation, expand our real estate and help buttress our brand.

my role is to expand the network, by loving, listening to and collaborating with other Christians and seekers of any stripe so that we can embody the gospel, serve the inheritors of the Kingdom and reflect the awe inspiring unity and delightful diversity of the Three-in-One who was, and is and is to come.

my job is to expand the network. others have noticed this long before now. hell, pastor phil has directly told me on an occasion or two that, whether i realized it or not, one of my great gifts is networking. others, tasked with building up the institution, have noticed it too, and so have parted ways with me and gone off to serve. i'm not going to lie, the separation from the institution builders has been painful for me, since we love the same One and are called to assist, encourage, exhort and accompany the same body. fortunately, this recent, shocking revelation of our divergent roles has served as a bit of a salve for my wounds.

new metaphor, new world
i love those who for almost 40 years have built up sertoma and i can see why they grieve the transition of their beloved institution. but, in all honesty, i resonate more with the individuals that are envisioning sertoma 2.0 and expanding the network of resources that individuals with disabilities will need to live a holistic life in this integrated world.

in a similar way, i love those who have built the Christian Churches, Churches of Christ and i acknowledge that without their dedication to the gospel shaped institution, i probably would not be following Jesus, who is the greatest joy of my life. however, my role is not to buttress the institution, but to build a network of diverse individuals who are seeking, expressing, embodying and exclaiming the Kingdom that is here and somehow is yet to come.

i realize that this metaphor shift is simple and something should have realized long ago. however, though i'm late to the show, i cannot fully explain how surprised and blessed i have been by this revelation.

i'm starting to suspect that if you change the metaphor, you change the world.