Sometimes we just suck.

I’ve been struggling with this post for some time now. I have a seed of an idea but so far I haven’t been able to articulate things right. The basic premise is this: Sometimes I just suck.

Sometimes I just suck at my job, at my life, at my marriage, at being a parent…at everything. Some days and even weeks I don’t make the important phone calls I know I need to make. Some days I don’t make the deadlines I need to make. Some days I can’t find the words that my spouse needs to hear or I can’t overcome my ego in the ways in which my children need me. There are plenty of excuses I could offer. We’ve all had things get crazy-busy at work at the same time the kids came home from school sick and the dog threw up on the carpet and the car needed emissions testing but the tire was flat…and on and on and on…so we didn’t make the phone call we were supposed to. It happens. Even valid excises are just excuses, though. The fact is, I failed. Sometimes the bad days turn into bad weeks and suddenly I’m afraid to make the call because my notes now tell me its been 12 days since I said I’d make the call. Not going to lie – it happens.

I think this is an almost universal, human condition. We all try our best and we are all so busy. We are all so distracted. Life just keeps crashing down around us like an avalanche. We all suck a fair amount of the time. For years, I’ve let it beat me down and allowed the guilt serve to further alienate me from the people I wronged. My guilt hurt so I flipped it on its head and got defensive, instead. The guilt and my poor handling of that guilt contributed to a depression that made it that much harder to rise strong and do better the next day. I wonder how many others out there have had that experience, as well?

My church is currently celebrating a year of Whole Hearted Faith, based on the work of Brene Brown on whole hearted living. I wish I could say that her work in the book, The Gifts of Imperfection, completely transformed my life. (In my experience, nothing works that easy!) Rather, Brown’s work set me on a path of transformation that I’m still walking today. In that work, she talks about worthiness a great deal and she reminds the reader that, even on days when we fail miserably at being a human, we are enough. Miss that deadline? We are enough in the eyes of God. Lost our temper with our kids? We are still enough to be worthy of love, respect, kindness and belonging. Got fired, had an affair, failed in a huge way? We are still enough. We have an intrinsic worth that cannot be diminished by any amount of failure or flaws. There are days when I am a failure as a pastor but yet Greg, the person, is still ok, still worthy, still a beloved child of God. In philosophical circles they talk about the intrinsic value of something. The intrinsic value is said to be the value that that thing has “in itself,” or “for its own sake,” or “as such,” or “in its own right.” In Christianity, we just call it grace and thank God that it exists!

For all of those I’ve failed in the last few weeks…for all of those who didn’t didn’t get that phone call or whose deadline I missed or whose need I failed to notice…I apologize. I’m sorry. I’ll try harder. I’ll work smarter. I’ll try to reset. What I won’t do any longer is to beat myself up about those failures. I believe in grace and I believe that I am enough and I hope you do, too.

Sneak Peek at February Chimes Article

Dear Friends,

Unbelievably, we are just about into February already! As happens about this time every year, I have found myself thinking longingly of my time in New Orleans. In particular, I’ve been thinking of the magic and the mystery of the season of Carnival.

To many in the Protestant world, Carnival is synonymous with vice, sin and debauchery. However, for millions around the world, including Catholics throughout the US, Carnival is a time of life-affirming revelry, Holy in many of the same ways as Lent and Advent.

I read a complaint once that Protestants lived a six month liturgical calendar. We wait with bated breath for the return of Christ through Advent. This is a holy time of preparation and discipline and restraint that then bursts into the joy of Christmas. Twelve days later, however, we enter this strange time called “Ordinary Time,” until we begin another holy time of preparation, solemnity and discipline called Lent. After the release and joy we find in the resurrection, we enter that Ordinary Time once again. We often don’t know what to make of those times between waiting and solemnity.   Our calendars are filled with huge holes. For millions around the world, Carnival is the time that spans between Christmas and Lent. As Lent and Advent are about preparation and discipline, Carnival is about celebrating our embodiment and the gift of creation. If Lent and Advent look ahead and behind, celebrating events long past and looking towards events still to come, Carnival is about living in the moment and being fully present to the joy of life. Carnival is about dancing, about eating, about singing, about being embodied.   Presbyterians are sometimes referred to as “the frozen chosen,” so perhaps we need to learn something from our ecumenical friends.

This year, my house has continued our advent devotions through the season of Epiphany, taking the time to mark this season as intentionally as we did Advent. We plan to continue to mark this space in between, that New Orleans would call Carnival, with poetry and scripture and celebrations of our embodiment. I hope that we can capture some of that spirit here, at the church, as well. Particularly as Chicagoland remains locked in the frozen clutches of winter, the idea of celebrating life and maybe even working up a sweat on the dance floor seems a most needed escape from the realities of winter.

May this time of Carnival be a time of joy and affirmation for you and yours! God Bless,

Gregory

Well, that was fast…

…Less than an hour up and I’m already getting pushback that this wasn’t very pastoral. Let me say a few things about that.

  • Religion is political. Jesus wouldn’t have conceived of a world where faith didn’t critique the political. The two overlapped in a way that even I am uncomfortable with these days. To say that Jesus is King is already to make a political statement, though. I would argue that critiquing our earthly rulers words and deeds through a lens of faith is uniquely part of my job description as a pastor.
  • This was an emotional reaction to a big change in our political landscape and even pastors are entitled to have emotional reactions
  • I live in a world that has tremendous room for competing ideas. We grow in our faith and in our values by testing our own ideas against competing claims. My problem with Mr. Trump has less to do with conservative values or ideas (though I would and do vigorously debate those ideas in my daily life) and more to do with the level of meanness and dishonesty I see in Mr. Trump. Look again at my critiques. You won’t see my slamming Mr. Trump for abandoning Keynesian economics or even for questioning our NATO alliance. I believe in both of those things and think he’s wrong for opposing them but that’s not what I’m angry about. I’m pissed at the racism and meanness he has unleashed on this country. There is a difference.

I try to hold myself to the same standard that I hold others. I expect pushback when I say something that offends or challenges. Today, I’m getting that push back – thank you. I expect my ideas to be challenged and debated. I expect to earn the respect of my peers. I expect that I will be held accountable if I slip into petty meanness or if I am unkind to others. I appreciate the feedback I’m getting – it means you trust me enough to tell me that I made you uncomfortable and I’m really grateful for that. I’m grateful that you’re even reading my stuff…really, as the title stated, it was a pretty half-assed manifesto. It does capture some essence of my deeply held faith, though. Its true to who I am and who I believe God is. I will fight for that vision of God’s kingdom and I hope that I can convince you that its worth you fighting for it, as well.

Thank you,

Gregory

For all of my friends who are broken-hearted – a rough draft manifesto

As I perused Facebook this morning, anticipating a day of political posts about the inauguration, I saw many of my friends and associates proclaiming themselves broken hearted. I don’t know why but it stirred something up inside me. I couldn’t relate and I immediately felt a little repelled, so I’ve been sitting here thinking about it for a while. Broken-hearted. Hmm. Broken-hearted? I don’t think so. Angry. I feel angry. So angry, there is no room for broken-heartedness – and I think it’s important that people understand the difference.
Now, those that know me know that anger is probably my most accessible feeling – its where I feel the most comfortable, it’s the most familiar ground on which I work. I think this is pretty common for men, to default to anger in the face of an emotional situation. For me, more than ten years of depression blunted my emotional responses and my social conditioning as a child (with a father who channeled all other emotions through anger first) has gifted me with an over developed and functioning anger response. So, when I say that something pissed me off, people aren’t real surprised! This is a little different, though. This isn’t my normal default emotional response to a difference in political position; this isn’t just me being a crank. This is something that even emotionally healthy people should be triggered by.

  • We have a president to openly mocked a disabled reporter on live tv and we all saw it
  • We have a president who refused to release tax forms but admitted he hasn’t paid taxes in over a decade
  • We have a president who has called for banning all Muslims, for rounding up Muslims, for creating a registry of Muslims all at various times.
  • We have a president who wants to build a trillion dollar wall (that won’t work) between us and Mexico
  • We have a president who suggested deporting millions regardless of context and situation
  • We have a president who lied every 4 minutes during his campaign and famously lied about President Obama being from Kenya for years
  • We have a president who believes his celebrity allows him to do anything up to and including sexual assault. Who thinks grabbing a woman by the pussy is just locker room talk.
  • We have a president who paid 25 million dollars to the men and women he swindled with his phony university
  • We have a president who was sued by the justice department for refusing to rent apartments to blacks
  • We have a president who may well have knowingly colluded with the Russians to smear his political opponent.
  • We have a president who has openly embraced white nationalist, white supremacist ideology in his campaign speeches and in his operations.
  • We have a president who is petty (witness his twitter feed), mean, vulgar and grossly incompetent to be the president

I’m not broken-hearted about this. I was broken- hearted when my dad died. I’ve had moments in love wherein I’ve found myself broken-hearted. The first time my son told me he didn’t want me to sing him songs at bedtime I was broken-hearted. This is a whole different category. I’m not broken-hearted: I’m pissed. Being broken-hearted implies, for me, that one is a victim. I refuse to be a victim in this case. Instead, I’ll be pissed off and fight.

I’m angry at our political system, which is obviously broken. I’m angry at the sheer amount of money in politics that keeps good people from running and makes other good people spend all of their time fund raising rather than governing. I’m mad that money equals voice in this society, so voices like Trump will always be the loudest. I’m angry at the gerrymandering that makes correcting the money problem practically impossible.

I’m angry at my fellow white people. Literally, we are the worst. For hundreds of years we have enforced apartheid, oppression, slavery and worse in the United States and abroad. Now that society is beginning to even move towards (much less approach equality), White people want to shout about all the things they are losing. I remember during Obama’s first term, that old women telling a town hall, “I want my country back.” For those that once possessed everything, equality feels like a loss. That is short-sighted on our part and frankly is sinful. It exposes a hole in our souls that needs be examined and treated, not indulged.

I’m angry that Trump actually lost the popular vote by 3 million votes but will still claim a mandate.

I’m angry that my neighbors now live in terror of deportation: That my Muslim friends feel singled out and under threat: That millions will lose their insurance and that the safety net that protects the poorest will now be rolled back: that we no longer value accountability or transparency from our representatives: that racism and supremacy now feel free to creep out of the shadows: that a spirit of meanness now defines our highest office…I could go on.

I’m angry but I’m not helpless. I can organize. Millions already are. I can participate. I can speak up. I can say that this isn’t normal or acceptable. I can put my money where my mouth is. I can even run for office. So I’m not a victim. I have resources and privilege on my side.

I can afford to be angry but I can’t afford to be broken hearted.

Luke 4: 14-30

Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land;yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

 

Let’s Read Together!

As part of our Year of Whole-Hearted Faith, I’m proud to be offering two new educational offerings:

The first is a year long small group focusing on Discipleship. Our group will use Greg Ogden’s Discipleship Essentials as our framework for exploring Discipleship and our personal faith journey.

The second offering is a book group, looking at Brene Brown’s, The Gifts of Imperfection. The foundation of strong faith is a whole-hearted self and Rene’s work on shame, courage, accountability and vulnerability has so much to say to the church today. The book is only 138 pages, so we’ll deal with it in three sessions – the posters have dates and times.

I really hope some of you will consider joining me in this exploration of self and faith.

whole-hearted-poster

The January Chimes – Big Things for the New Year

Dear Friends,

A group of church leaders from Chicago Heights and the surrounding areas got together earlier this year and asked a question: If our church burned down tomorrow, what we do next? The basic premise of the conversation was that, given a big insurance check, none of us would rebuild exactly the same big, energy inefficient buildings we are currently in. Some of the churches would probably close and others would rebuild very small, hyper efficient buildings to match their smaller congregation size. Still others would build modern, multipurpose buildings that looked more like theaters than churches and others said they would form house churches and spend the money on new ministries. It was an interesting question. The one thing all of the answers had in common was the insightful recognition that the church is not the building.

The church is not a building or a program or even a long history, like ours. Church is a collection of people working and praying and dreaming together. Churches, like people, can be compassionate or cold-hearted; authentic or inauthentic; joyful or baleful. The good news is, churches are dynamic and mutable and as the people who make up the church commit to going deeper in their faith and growing in their love of one another, so does a church become deeper and stronger and more loving.

Working with the session on plans for next year, we have decided to use Brene Brown’s guideposts for whole-hearted living as our map for helping our church grow deeper in faith and love. I’ll have much more to say in the months to come but I wanted to share with you now that we are declaring 2017 to be a Year of Whole-Hearted Faith

In the weeks and months to come, we will be talking at length about what it means to cultivate:

  1. Authenticity
  2. (Self) Compassion
  3. A Resilient Spirit
  4. Gratitude & Joy
  5. Intuition & FAITH
  6. Creativity
  7. Play & Rest
  8. Calm & Still
  9. Meaningful Work
  10. Laughter, Song & Dance.

If you want to read ahead and learn more about these guideposts, I would recommend the Gifts of Imperfection, by Brene Brown.

I am so excited about all that this next year holds. I know that the Spirit is truly moving in this place right now and I wait in anxious anticipation to see where we will be lead as we pursue our year of whole-hearted faith. I had a professor tell me once that in Advent, we are invited to listen deeply, to wait attentively, and to embrace one another in the love that Christ has made known to us. By that standard, this was an incredibly successful Advent, indeed!

Speaking of Advent – Advent can and should be a sign of Grace to the world around us. In the midst of the bustling activity and stress of the pre-Christmas season, we can find time and space to pause, to watch and to prepare spiritually for Christ’s birth among us. We can model that life to those around us. How did you do this year? What would you change next year? How has your season of Advent prepared you for the coming New Year?

Amelia and I and the two kids wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year. I am so grateful for this first year with you and I pray this season has left you feeling refreshed and prepared for the adventures to come.

God Bless,

Rev. Gregory

 

I want to be a better disciple

Several years ago my congregation was one many congregations taking part in the Acts 16:5 program through the Presbytery of Chicago. Acts 16:5 is a church revitalization organization that focuses on discipleship and spiritual maturity as a way of growing vibrant churches. At the end of the three year period, we had a number of good ideas and a few small successes under our belt but mostly my church just felt frustrated. The one-on-one coaching promised never materialized. The materials and coaches were largely focused on much bigger congregations which brought a level of human and financial resources to bear that my church couldn’t imagine. The time commitment was substantial and we had a hard time keeping a consistent core of volunteers involved – which sapped our momentum and blunted the programs impact. All in all, it was a mixed bag that largely changed nothing for the congregation.

For me, however, the focus on interpersonal connection, small groups and vulnerability left an indelible impression on me. The work I’ve done in counseling and in my reading of Brene Brown’s work has simply confirmed and strengthened that impact.  The best way to be a relevant organization, to grow your organization, to create disciples of Christ or change the world…is to personally invite others to be with you in that work.

One of the resources the Acts 16:5 program gave me to work with was Greg Ogden’s Discipleship Essentials. Ogden is decidedly more conservative and evangelical than I but he has a heart for God’s work and a track record of growing vibrant and devout churches. His book has 25 chapters, each meant to be taken up one week at a time. The chapters ask a small group to read scripture together and think about their faith together and to pray together – to basically be vulnerable about matters of great importance that society says we shouldn’t talk about in public. Rather than racing through the book, many small groups meet every two weeks and basically dedicate a year to discipleship and their small group. Its a substantial ask, which is why I’ve never worked this book with others before. I think its time I change that.

This new church I’m working with is healthier, more vibrant and has a real hunger to transform. I’m planning to offer two time slots for two groups of 3 or 4. I want to get to know some of these members on a much deeper level and risk being known by them. I plan to start on February first. I hope I can find some takers.