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The following is a reaction paper I wrote in response to our Prolog reading of Difficult Conversations: taking risks, acting with integrityby LTSP Faculty member Katie Day. I think it is important because we all deal with difficult conversations and we should look and how we can be positive instruments of change.

It’s the giant elephant in the room that everyone is talking around. It happens all the time in the church and what are we doing about it? Nine times out of ten we ignore the problem because it was because difficult conversations, stress and pain would be introduced into our perfect little church system and people would get upset. None the less difficult conversations need to happen all the time in the life of the church. Difficult conversations lead to the development of healthy change in the congregation and are an important part of developing healthy congregations.

 

Difficult conversations push us to the edge of our comfort zone and make us enter into areas of our faith that can make us viscerally react. I know in my own experience that dealing with difficult issues and having those dialogues is not something that I look forward to, but none the less is something that is very important in the life and ministry of the church and I as a developing church leader need to become comfortable with talking about them. It is important that I learn how to structure difficult conversations because they will lead to effect means of dialog about topics and situations in the life of my congregation. We all bring something different to the conversation table and I need to be keenly aware of what items I bring to the table that may color my perception in dealing with an effective dialogue. When you meet everyone around the table of discussion it is important to also note that when the conversation is framed within the church or about faith issues that the individual may be bringing intense personal faith items to the table as well. When you discuss people’s faith systems you may just be pushing them to the brink of their comfort zones.

 

So the question then becomes how we structure these conversations so that we can affect change in healthy ways. It will be our job as future church leaders to instill in our congregations a culture that encompasses change. So why is change so important? Change is important because it develops a healthy congregational system; if a congregation is able to manage change then it can deal with issues that come up with reason instead of handling items in “crisis management” mode so to speak. Developing a culture for change also allows the congregation to respond to new ideas and develop appropriate action plans. These are all critical skills that are needed in order for congregations to respond faithfully to situations and thoughts that may come up that challenge the bedrock of their particular faith background.

 

I know for myself the past year has been one long difficult conversation, my home church recently entered into an ecumenical partnership with the Presbyterian Church across the street and we began worshiping as one congregation about a year ago.  We have had the difficult conversations about worship space, building maintenance, faith and theological issues, mission differences, and what our future together is going to look like. Change is always a difficult conversation to have and often times it leaves us feeling like the chair is being pulled from under us. We as church leaders need to make sure that we structure that conversation about change to make sure that we don’t let them fall too far before we help them back up on the chair. Change is healthy, cultures of change are progressive, and difficult conversations will inevitably surround it all.

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I have arrived @LTSP!!!

www.ltsp.edu

I still can’t believe that I am here and in typical graduate school format my feet have been moving ever since I got out of the car. I have to admit that to some degree it feels like I am finally home while at the same time it makes me miss my home and friends that I have left even more. I have to keep remember what Drew keeps saying that what I am about to do is bigger then me. It is an awesome humbling task to be discerning a call. To sit quietly and reflect on the sheer awesomeness of a call to word and sacrament brings me to the greatest joy and at the same time completely scares the living be-jesus out of me.

This week us “juniors” as we are called or first year seminary students are conducting what we call Prolog. A two week course intended to equip us with an introduction to seminary life that will allow us to transition into the first week of classes “smoother”. I am glad however that i am not cramming Greek or Hebrew down my throat like many of my other fellow seminary students. We are however getting a rich introduction to the diversity of the people God calls into ministry. Diversity is something that this school prides itself on. For being a Lutheran School you would almost not guess it by looking at the make up of the student body. Most of us “traditional” day students (by the way there is no “traditional way” to go through seminary – God calls us all in various forms and down different paths) are predominately from the Lutheran tradition, but our evening and part time students come from all walks of life all over the Philadelphia area to take advantage of the rich academic experience this seminary has provided to the campus for decades. This school is so much more then being Lutheran, it so much more then being a student, it’s committed to equipping the people of God to serve in the Kingdom of God. As one lady said in my small group today “we are the church, right here in this room, with all of our different backgrounds, we ARE the CHURCH, and we are being called to be leaders not in a future church down the road, but right here right now, WE ARE THE CHURCH.” I did have to step outside of my Lutheran heritage and give a little AMEN to that.

Diversity is something that extends even to the academic crucible though, we experience our own particular faith through the lens of cultural relativism. We look and interpret and re-act to things in our life that may, or may not be “normal” in someone else’s life. We need to take time to be quiet, listen, adjust our glasses and see that we may need to take our own glasses off to put on the lenses of Christ, to see more clearly, to see more perfectly, to see the reality that surpasses all understanding…

This community is amazing and i can’t wait to share it with you… please continue to keep us in your prayers and thoughts… as Earnie the bus driver said in Harry Potter “hold on tight man… it’s going to be a bumpy ride”

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it’s almost here

……………

 

will never be the same…. in t-minus 7 days and counting….

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It’s getting closer…. The end of my real estate career and the beginning of a new adventure with the church is looming very close on the horizon. My co-workers threw me a surprise party this week – and let’s just say i was sufficiently surprised, a little deceived, but surprised none the less. It was a good party though and i have amazing friends that would think highly enough of me to do something like that. While i will miss each and everyone of them in dealing with them on a daily basis i still have this overwhelming feeling that what I am about to do is something that I can’t put off any longer. I got a little caught up during the Eucharist today with the thought that in just a few short years that could be me presiding over the sacraments and how awesome and humbling that call really is – I am about to go out and work in the field.

Today’s gospel is a parable from Matthew that Jesus tells the disciples about the world as it is now and how God in his perfect time will bring about righteousness. The parable starts with Jesus describing a field of wheat and how during the night a thief comes and plants weeds to grow up in the field as well.  When the servants realize what has happened they ask the farmer if they should go and pull out the weeds from the field. The farmer replies that they should not disrupt the weeds because it will kill the wheat with the weeds. Instead let the weeds grow up with the wheat when it comes harvest time you will realize what is wheat and what is weed and be able to separate the weeds from the wheat.

 

While on the surface it seems pretty straight forward as to what this parable is saying about the kingdom of God, but i think there are some interesting points that beg some further clarification. So what is this saying about us? While i think it is easy to just say that we are either wheat or weeds growing in the field i don’t think it is really great to stop there. I know in my own life sometimes i am a weed (well sometimes more often then not) and sometimes I am wheat bearing good yield. I think that we can sometimes flop back and forth between being wheat and weeds. Instead i would rather look at the wheat and weeds in the totality of creation. God makes everything to grow in the field and he puts things in the field for a reason. Dad had a great point this morning that said, “besides who is it that identifies things as a weed? I don’t remember going to the feed store and buying a bag of weed seed…” and i think that is great, we out of our own election identify things that aren’t supposed to be in certain places as weeds. Weeds are still living breathing plants, still created perfectly by God, and still part of the great creation – they just sometimes get in our way of making things perfect.

Weeds are also interesting because although they grow up and are alive they also don’t produce the fruit that a crop of wheat would produce. Wheat that has been nurtured and cultivated grows up healthy and strong and produces good yield. At harvest time it becomes so laden with it’s bounty that the plant bends over – almost in a reverent action of humbling it’s self before the farmer.

So i guess my question for you is how do you see yourself? Where in the crop cycle are you? Are you a seedling trying to make it growing up in a bunch of weeds? Are you wheat ready to be harvest bent over in reverent adoration? Are you preparing yourself for the harvest?  God is among us everyday planting the seeds through the work of the Holy Spirit, growing the crop for the eventual harvest. So it isn’t our job to look for the weeds that are growing up around us, pulling them out would only hurt our own wheat growing, instead we should be about preparing ourselves for the harvest and providing for God a good and bountiful harvest.

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So i was straightening my hair this morning reflecting, like i usually do in the morning when i realized something….

Looming in my head is the question I have to answer for my CPE (Clinical Pastoral Experience) Internship Application – “describe a moment when you provided pastoral care for someone”. While that all seems well and good, it is a daunting task to think about times when you provided pastoral care to someone. First of all I am not even really clear what Pastoral Care really is yet, further more I don’t think I would know how to do it at all, would probably flub it up and send someone screaming from the church. Can you tell i am a little apprehensive about the Pastoral Care Counseling stuff?

So then it happened…. two in one night… I couldn’t believe it. My best friend Steve has been talking to someone on line for some time now, and while i get to play fairy-godmother to his latest ramblings of relationships, this one seems pretty well centered. While they are still in the early stages of talking to each other, Steve’s on line friend, Chris, kind of confided in Steve the other night something that isn’t the easiest of all topics to deal with: the death of a father. Chris hadn’t spoken to his father in 20 years and for that matter had not spent any kind of real amount of time talking to any of his family. So he was perplexed by what to do in the light of possibly going to the funeral for his father. Steve didn’t really know what to do with all of this, and while trying to figure out the dynamics of his on line relationship with Chris was both excited for the confidence but I think a little freaked out at the gravity of the situation.

Death is something we all deal with you could say it is the great unifier of us all – it is fitting that the family is the unit that is primary in dealing with death. Family dynamics are not always easy though, they are difficult and get bogged down in relational conflict. Emotions and ideologies stress and strain family relationships. I see that first hand in my friends families because coming out as gay isn’t the easiest thing for families to handle.

So what about Chris, he doesn’t want to go to the funeral – his family isn’t going to be supportive of him being there, he doesn’t have a relationship to speak of with his father that would give him closure at the funeral. He has closed that part of his life, why on earth would he want to go back to it? Well death is a funny thing, we hold up at funeral’s the celebration of the individual who died, but it doesn’t do anything for the person who’s life we come to celebrate, instead it is a way to bring closure for the living, one last chance to say goodbye. So why would someone who has already said goodbye want to go to a funeral. Well it is for two reasons. One it is a way for him to support the family, our selfish desires should not cloud our thoughts when it comes to family matter like this, and that this might be God’s way of bringing closure to the whole family both with Chris’ gayness and the strained family dynamics of the past 20 years.

It felt natural, like i was just talking, but for me the spirit was moving because in the back of my head i was thinking that I had no idea what i was going to say. In hindsight i think i said some pretty incredible things. It’s amazing what happens when you stop speaking and listen and allow God to use you as an instrument for his peace.

Later on in the evening, Amy, looked over at me and said, “Well Pastor Bryan, what I am I going to do about my crack head mother in law.” At first I thought she was half joking, and so i replied with, “well that is why we call them in-law’s my dear.” Of course after clarification we learned that she really does deal with drug addictions. To which i replied, “you love them”. Having a brother who deals with addictions has taught me that: there is nothing more to do then to love them. I could tell that the subject was something that Amy was thinking about for some time and that clearly it was a cause of concern for her as she prepared to be married into this family. So here comes the great leveler statement….”where do you see God in that?” Well we see God in that Amy because you were put in Ryan’s life for a reason, maybe Ryan’s family is no longer strong enough to deal with it, or that they haven’t been given the right tools to deal with a family situation like that. You Amy are strong enough to deal with it, and maybe that is why God has put you in Ryan’s life. Let’s celebrate that, let’s lift that up as being part of God’s wonderful plan that God gives strength to those around us when we need it.

So again this morning i was doing my hair when i had the revelation that in a moment when i didn’t think that i was doing anything, i had in fact been there for people, provided care for people when they needed it. I can do this…..

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Dependance Day

 

With Meghan’s rounds of “Happy Burfday America” (insert Bushism here) still ringing in my ear I turn to thoughts of preparation for church tomorrow and how I plan on honoring my particular religious freedoms I receive by living in this great country of America.

This week’s scripture comes to us again from Matthew 11 (16-19 & 25-30) and Roman’s 7 (15-25a) {if I am so bold to think that you are going to follow along}. We hear Paul’s voice telling of his all be it, complicated view of sin.  ”7:15 I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Paul is talking about his relation to sin and how it is something born within him that he hates to do but realizes that it is something he is inescapably caught in. Sin burden’s us down, it mires us in the mud, it places weights upon on shoulders.  So, Paul asks “7:24 Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” Well we all know the answer to that, and it is the life death and resurrection – the freedom we receive in Christ Jesus.

OK Bryan, freedom, Independence day, we get it so what’s up with the Dependence Day theme? Well I will admit that it wasn’t my idea, but it seemed so incredibly fitting that i had to borrow it. The Gospel for this week contains many ideas that I thought i would write about this week, but the largest principle that seems to keep coming to the surface is the idea of the yoke bearer. And i wonder how may times in our lives do we get bogged down with burdens and sins that we forget to cast our burden’s unto the one who relieves all of them.

As i start this journey to seminary I am reminded constantly about my “un-godly” like actions in my life. “Well a pastor wouldn’t do that” or “Is that anyway a pastor should be doing” – which is not to say that i relish in my sinful ways, it just is a constant struggle for me to live up to societal expectations of what “is” a pastor. I take great comfort though in knowing that Jesus didn’t really live up to his societal expectations either, he ate and dined with the sinners, cast out demons, and still offers to us all the greatest gift imaginable. We all struggle with living up to a “good” and “perfect” life, we have times when we slip up and need to be forgiven, we struggle on with trying to do the right thing – and when we feel we have no strength left, Jesus is there at the table, in the waters to give us new life, to take our burdens. How liberating… how freeing…. how independent of us….

Christ becomes what idealistically America was at the turn of the century. Inscribed on the Statue of Liberty are what I think are the most idealic of the American people…”Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” This great country is also ready to take on the burden’s of the world’s sins. In our great American spirit we band together to take on the wrongs in the world. We seek out those who can not fight for themselves, we honor those individuals who through self giving service have given their lives to this calling for America. We are in great debt to those individuals who take up the yoke for other people – who go without question. We are truely dependant on the actions of these individuals.

We are also dependant on Christ. We all fall short of the Glory of God. We constantly mess up, “get dirty” like little kids and from time to time need to be cleaned up.  We are DEPENDANT on Christ – we need him to lighten our loads, help us to become clean again, and walk with us in our daily struggles.

So happy “burfday America” and Happy Dependence Day.

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This post comes as a much delayed thoughts on this past weeks lectionary. I am guilty of having not posted in a while and really want to get in the habit of transitioning into regular writing as I start to prepare for seminary.

This week JoAnna has arrived. Which marks yet another step towards seminary. I am caught in the excitement of going to school, moving to a “big city”, and starting what I believe is the most worthwhile calling in my life. But it scares me, a little because I know how hard a call to word and sacrament really is, but also because it means that i am complicating ties that i have in my life.

I was conversing with my dad earlier in the week and realized how truly difficult this weeks scripture was going to be to preach. The story of pitting father against son and Jesus wielding a sword like Braveheart is not really the image of Christ I readily choose as my favorite image. Faith is extremely divisive though, it pushes us to the edge of where we are comfortable and causes us to look at our life and really examine what is important to us.

I think that Jesus in these verses though was probably preparing us for how far the love of Christ really does push us. The message and hope that Christ brings to us in our lives is one of pure love. Love that compels us to be called to go find those who are the un-wanted, un-loved, and un-clean. It pushes us outside of our status quo to go out into the world and be the arms that comfort, the ear that hears, the love of God manifest on earth.

While that sounds good and simple how easy is it really? Homeless people smell, same sex couples challenge our conception of marriage, drug addicts can’t be trusted, illegal aliens don’t belong in this country…. I mean right? So maybe we should just stick to our status quo and let other people do it, after all we are saved by grace and not by actions. BY NO MEANS “Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised form the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in the newness of life.”  Paul’s letter to the Roman’s tells us exactly how we are supposed to act. We are compelled by grace through faith to go out into the world and be a part of building up the body of Christ.

It is in this process of being devoted to building up the body of Christ that we get lost sometimes and need help. Just like Hagar in Old Testament reading this week we hear how Hagar, one of Abraham’s slaves, bore him a son, is sent out into the wilderness away from the community. She leaves her son to die and God hears her desperate cries in the wilderness and has her lift up her son in the midst of the dessert and says that He will make a great nation out of him. God gives strength to Hagar even in the midst of seemingly overwhelming odds.

God gives us the tools for his ministry we just need to trust that he will bestow them on us. Just like i need to trust that God will provide in my life as i begin to surmount this incredibly expensive school with no salary to receive income from (can you tell i am freaking out just a little bit). I also need to trust that God will provide for my family. I also need to trust that God does love me even more then the sparrows in the field (or the one that apparently has made a nest in the potted plants in my deck). God’s message is important and if i want to be an instrument for him I need to be ready, so it’s off to blacksmith my sword, are you ready?

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