What I Shared at Stetson in Deland

What a gracious time at Stetson University this week! Here are slides from my talks.

all bivocation (one way or another) 1

 

all bivocational now 2

 

all bivocational now 3

 

(Sorry for the delay - I had a tech issue.)

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What I’ll Be Up to in 2020

Hi, friends ... I've been looking over my calendar and started getting really excited about 2020. Yes, I know it's going to be a difficult and dangerous year, and in many ways, I dread the vitriolic tweets and negative political ads (not to mention the outright lies and propaganda and hateful rhetoric) that 2020 will surely bring ...

Yet on a deeper level, I'm feeling super motivated about the year ahead. Here are six reasons why.

First, I get to start the year co-leading a tour of the Galapagos Islands. This opportunity came up because of my new book on the Islands - which you can read about here. Look for our merry band of eco-adventurers on Instagram and Twitter, and learn more about the host organization, Tumbuh, here. Our January odyssey is full (and underway), but you might want to join them for another adventure this year. They do amazing work.

Second, you may have heard that there's going to be an election this year (!). I am thrilled to be working with Vote Common Good, focusing on training candidates to reach out to religious voters, and inspiring religious voters to transcend conventional partisan thinking and learn to see politics from a common-good perspective. You can learn more about VCG here. The Vote Common Good Bus Tour will be in your state, too - don't miss it! Everywhere I go, people tell me they want to get constructively involved in the national debate this year - here's a great place to start.

Third, I'm honored to say that I've been invited to be part of the faculty of Center for Action and Contemplation and the Living School.  For about 20 years, Richard Rohr and I have been friends, and this invitation means I'll be spending six or seven weeks in Albuquerque this year ... with Richard, the other amazing faculty and staff, and so many other wonderful people with a wonderful mission and vision.

Fourth, I'll continue my involvement in 2020 with the Auburn Senior Fellows Program, which you can learn about here. This group of multi-faith leaders has become a source or great inspiration and support in my life.

Fifth, I'll continue on the board with Wild Goose Festival, which  flocks together each July in North Carolina. Maybe you should come this year!

Sixth, because of my other commitments, I'll be doing much less speaking this year, but the speaking I'll be doing will be especially worthwhile. Here's a sampling - again, you might want to be involved!

January

April

June

July

August

October

November

 

Finally, I'll be adding finishing touches to my next book, Faith After Doubt: Why Your Beliefs Stopped Working and What to Do About It, It will come out in early 2021. I'll also begin writing my following book (actually, I've already started), which will come out in 2022: Do I Stay Christian? You can keep up with all my writing here ... and if you're interested in a short (and inexpensive) e-book or music or lectures, here.

So that's what I'm excited about as I look forward to 2020.

 

Of course, none of us can predict what the future holds ... and so we plan and pray and prepare, and then adapt to all the surprises and unexpected challenges that come our way. We plan long term, but live in the moment, and enjoy each breath and heartbeat as a gracious gift from God.

I hope I'll see many of you in the year ahead, and I hope you'll seize each moment and live it to the full ... work, play, rest, worship, silence, laughter, companionship, solitude, struggle, celebration. As my friend Ryan Meeks says, "Life is a gift, and love is the point."

 

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3 New Year’s Resolutions for Pastors in 2020

Having been a pastor for 24 years, and having befriended and coached pastors for forty years, I know how hard the job is. Really, there's nothing I've ever done that comes close to the difficulty, complexity, demands, dangers, temptations, and drains (or the joys, rewards, value, impact, and intensity) of being a good pastor in these times.

I remember drifting towards discouragement whenever I defined success as meeting everyone's expectations, and I remember feeling I was in my zone when I accepted my calling to set wholesome expectations ... inspiring people to become more Christ-like, to join God in the healing of the world, starting with yourself.

I remember the constant pressure to keep everyone happy ... even though happy people normally don't change. (In other words, the better job I did keeping everyone happy or comfortable, the worse job I did in leading them into growth.)

When the job is this tough, it's tempting to give up "playing to win" and settle for "playing not to lose."

It's also tempting to lose your grip on your original calling and vision, and settle for trying to get through another year (or week, or day) without too many angry emails.

But here's the thing: 2020 will probably be the most significant year in your whole ministry.

If you play it safe this year, if you avoid all risks, if you keep your head down (and your neck "in"), if you're focused on saving your skin over anything else ... think of the moment you'll miss: the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to speak up, show up, and stand up tall in a time of global danger and opportunity.

But if you seize this critical moment, this could be the most important and fruitful year of your ministry, and perhaps your life. (I didn't say easiest and most comfortable; I said most important and fruitful.)

That's why I'd like to propose these 3 resolutions or goals for 2020.

  1. Smoke What You're Selling. In other words, be sure that you actually enjoy the abundant life you are proclaiming to others. Enjoy God. Enjoy life. Enjoy your family. Enjoy the simple things. Enjoy human things. If you work so hard at helping others experience abundant life that you don't ... neither will they. This means building your schedule around - not what's most urgent, not who complains loudest, not who is most demanding, but rather, around what matters. Time to be alone, time for silence and contemplation, time for prayer and meditation, time with mentors and friends who encourage you, time reading or listening to podcasts or going to seminars and conferences for your own personal development, time with your hobbies (if you don't have them - start this year, because they are your unique way of enjoying the gift of life). Don't leave your leftovers for your spouse and children and siblings and other family members (as I too often have done). Block out time for them, which will require planning and forethought. If you and they don't have fun this year ... if you as a family don't plan some adventures and celebrative experiences ... it will be because you don't start the year setting aside some time. Do that now, right at the year's start -- please!
  2. Clarify your job description. If you don't have a written job description, change that, and if you do, see if it needs updating and improvement. Look at problems you're having, and see if they can be improved by clarifying your roles in your congregation. If you need a coach to help you with this, find one. (Center for Progressive Renewal is a great place to look.) For you to lead well in 2020, you need to have a clear mandate to lead, and clarity among your fellow leaders about what that looks like.
  3. Get political. This is an inescapably political year. It's a year we as individuals, neighbors, parties, states, and a nation have a massive discussion (often in the form of arguments) about how we will use our wealth and power. If you opt out, you're missing a chance to add a voice of moral insight, pastoral wisdom, biblical understanding, theological depth, and spiritual discernment to the national and local debate, and you're leaving your flock to the influence of cable news pundits and radio talk shows ... and THAT would be spiritual malpractice. Remember, to avoid political subjects is itself a political act. It means that you're choosing silence in the face of injustice, which is another word for complicity.

I know that third one is challenging for many pastors. You may be wondering, "How do I get political in a constructive way as opposed to a destructive way?" I'd recommend you speak frequently about the biggest problems we face as a species - the 5 P's if you will:

The Planet. God told us to care for it as good stewards. We're trashing it as greedy, heartless dictators. Climate change is the most urgent of our problems, but it's the tip of the melting iceberg. Look at the extinction and loss of insects (including pollinators, who are essential for 30% of our calories), birds, mammals, fish ... Think about loss of soil, fresh water, coral reefs, fisheries ... Think about how many paradises are being paved for parking lots or fossil fuel extraction.

Poverty. In 2015, 80 rich individuals owned as much wealth as half of the earth's people. In 2016, the number went down to 61. In 2017, it was 42. In 2018, it was 26 (And some people think it was 8, because we're undercounting how poor the poorest people are.) Think about that for a while, not just in terms of money, but also in terms of power. Think of how much power those 26 people have over the lives of the rest of humanity. That's a problem.

Peace. When the planet is being exploited, and so are the poor, the results are predictable: drought, flood, famine, hunger, mass migration, petty crime, organized crime, political corruption, civil war, world war, nuclear war. Dr. King was right: our choice is no longer between violence and nonviolence: it is between nonviolence and nonexistence. In times of stress, we are more likely to lash out at others, to blame others, to choose fight and flight over love and curiosity, to put winning battles over winning friends.

Political corruption. We're in the midst of a constitutional crisis and what some call a cold civil war. At the root of our political problems are racism (America's original sin) and greed (its other original sin), both of which fuel abuses of power at all levels of government. And sadly, many religious leaders are chaplains to the corruption, for which they are handsomely rewarded, if not in terms of money, then in terms of access, status, prestige, and power. Behind the scenes, national governments are becoming puppets of a global oligarchy ... what has been called an iron triangle in which corrupt presidents, congressmen, and other officials make deals with organized criminals and oligarchs. If you haven't seen this unfolding, I don't know what to say ...

All People, no exceptions. This past week, we've seen another wave of vile antisemitic attacks. Whether it's Jews, Muslims, LGBTQ persons, refugees, immigrants, Mexicans, Sikhs, Hindus, liberals, conservatives, the media, or whoever ... we have a growing number of religious and political demagogues who build their base by scapegoating some vulnerable group and blaming them for all of our problems. Suddenly, Jesus' teachings about loving our neighbor as ourselves (no exceptions, including our Jewish, Buddhist, Christian, atheist, Mexican, or any other kind of neighbor) seems positively revolutionary, and the same goes for Paul's words about how when we're in Christ, we no longer see people in terms of ethnicity, gender, religion, socioeconomic status, etc.

Almost every Bible story addresses these issues. Once you start noticing these themes in the biblical text, you'll wonder how so many people miss them, or avoid them. I'm recommending that you join the growing number of leaders who are seeing the political dimension of genuine spirituality and the revolutionary nature of divine love ... and who are speaking up about it.

You could take those five words and put them on a 3 X 5 card and paste them on your desk or mirror or dashboard ... just to remind you to preach about them, pray about them, sing about them, make plans to act to address them, etc.

You could set up a meeting with your worship team and ask them to find songs about them every single week (Convergence Music Project is a great place to start.) You could ask your kids and youth ministry leaders to include them in your work with the rising generation.

You could plan one or more conferences or retreats or book study groups to address them.

But one thing is for sure: if you care about them enough to speak and pray about them, you'll inspire others to do so too ... and if you don't, you won't.

If you'd like some other ways to get involved constructively in this political year, Vote Common Good is a great place to start. I'm working part time with VCG this year, and we're developing lots of additional resources to help you. Stay tuned.

A year from now, when 2021 begins, I hope you can look back on 2020 and feel that you "smoked what you were selling," that you got clarity on your job description, and that you were political in the best possible way.

(If you know a pastor who would benefit from this post, please share it.)

 

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Three Christmas Meditations, 2019: #3, Contemplative

As a man, I ponder pregnancy with a sense of wonder and incomprehensibility.

As a father of four who had the privilege of witnessing pregnancy and birth at close range, the wonder and incomprehensibility of motherhood are only magnified.

Of course, even us men have experienced pregnancy in one dimension -- from the inside. Before conscious memory, we were beneficiaries of a mother's generosity, giving us life by giving us our first home in her womb. Male or female or other, each of us have felt a mother's love, and even if we can never fully empathize, we can try to enter imaginatively into a mother's experience of letting her body become the host for a new life to begin, grow, be given freedom, yet always remain connected by the most primal of all human bonds.

For me this year, personal and political meditations on Christmas lead me to a contemplative exercise: not simply pondering Mary and her beautiful story, but in a sense, becoming Mary ... joining her in presenting my body as a locus for the coming of the Christ, the messianic, the new generation of humanity, the presence of God in human embodiment.

Like Mary, we live in troubled times, dark times in so many ways. I don't need to enumerate, because nearly all of us know and feel it. In these dark times, we receive a visitation, a message ...

You, yes, you, can present your body to be a host, a womb, an embodiment of God's presence.

To do so will complicate your life.

It will expose you to pain, inconvenience, misunderstanding, suffering, grief, loss, self-giving.

It will also infuse your life with wonder, meaning, purpose, intensity, generosity, courage, and deep joy.

You will be stretched.

Your identity will forever be bound with something beyond you.

You will surrender the option of not caring, of being complacent, uninvolved, removed.

You will have skin in the game, as they say ... solidarity with all the vulnerable, all the threatened, all the endangered, all the orphaned and afraid.

Your life will be yours, and not yours.

You will discover the ecstatic agony of self-giving.

Your life will no longer simply be about your life.

Your life will be about Life.

 

My spiritual practice these days includes simply holding the image of pregnant Mary, and seeing myself in her -- as her, joining her in bearing the messianic, the hoped-for, the dreamed-of, into the world, this world, this world with all its turbulence, division, and pain.

 

"Let it be with me according to your will," I say. "What seems impossible can still be possible ... with God," I say.

 

Through my body -- and yours -- with all our particularity, all our strengths and weaknesses, our privileges and problems, what is needed most can come into the world.

I invite you to join me today for a few moments ... sitting quietly in your home amidst the joyful chaos of wrapping paper and holiday excitement, bundling up and taking a walk outdoors, wherever ... not simply thinking about Mary, but in some way, becoming Mary, joining her in bringing tender, new, transformative life into the world.

God knows how much that new life is needed.

Incarnation happens, whenever we join Mary in making ourselves available to divine, revolutionary love.

Let it be.

 

 

 

 

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