Friday, January 23, 2015

On Not Being a Pretentious Shepherd


"The next session covered briefly the three types of relationships we need, if we are to be people growing. We need those who are further along the way, who give us hints of where we are and raise the question of where we are going--what the next step might be. They may be teachers or counselors, or, when we are without these, books. Then we need those who are our peers--fellow pilgrims with whom we share the day-by-day events of our life in Christ, the discoveries we make, the places where we are challenged, our discouragement, our hope; brothers who hold us accountable, who remind us of our covenant relationship; brothers who mediate forgiveness. And thirdly, we need those who are not so advanced as we--a little flock which is ours to tend and nourish. 'All these relationships,' said Gordon [Cosby], 'are utterly necessary to our spiritual development, but the one I want us to look at in this class is the one of being shepherds, because it is at this point most of us will feel the most hesitancy or timidity. We will feel that it is pretentious for us to be guides to others at the point of their life in Christ.'" (110).
-Elizabeth O'Connor, Journey Inward, Journey Outward

So I've been reading this book about a group of folks in D.C. who started a coffee house church before it was "cool," and am fascinated by this quote. According to O'Connor and her peers, there are three essential types of relationships that every believer needs. I'm going to rename them into my own vernacular:
  1. Titans
  2. Sisters
  3. Little Sisters.
I had a bit of a contentious discussion the other day with a colleague of mine who was reluctant to consider anyone in his life to fit into category #3: "Little Sisters" (or "Brothers" in this case, whatever). In O'Connor's words, "We feel that it is pretentious..." I hear that. I feel that. I understand that there are hierarchical overtones to the notion of shepherds and the "little flock." Yes, the shepherd/flock "construction" creates a dichotomy that has implications of power and influence. Yet somewhere along the way, in our postmodern culture, hierarchy has become nearly synonymous with evil! I don't necessarily believe that to be true. I'm not saying that it's unwarranted. It seems that aversion to hierarchy is a reaction to countless misuses of power in the form of paternalism and dogmatism in the church. I mean, that and the fact that this country was founded on supposedly "egalitarian values." So it's in the American bones and psyche to defy hierarchy, so to say.

This being said, I am coming to a pretty strong conviction that there are varying stages of spiritual maturity (in the Greek it'd be nepios, teknon, paidion, and huios--see Cooke, Prophecy and Responsibility), and that any any point in time, any believer has people "ahead" of them (titans), "beside" them (sisters) and "behind" them (little sisters). I have also come to the strong conviction that it's high time that I start giving some attention to my lil' sis cohort and stop being a greedy asshole!

Titans

If you know me to any degree, you'll probably hear me at one point and time rant and rave about the 'titans' in my life. These are the folks that I just 'want to get in the room with' to soak up their words of wisdom, receive their prayers, encouragement and teaching for the journey. I also often describe these people as "nuts" (in the best way, duh). In the spirit of the now far outdated meme, here are my titans in somewhat chronological order:

Grandpa &
Susan &
Ann &
Ruby &
Joyce &
Celia &
Debbie.

These are people that have walked beside me, shared of their lives with me and listened to me. I pretty much just draft off of them. They are my coaches and consultants. I love them and thank God for them VERY frequently.

Sisters

My peers are also folks that I cherish deeply and love and want to hug constantly. They're the ones that I talk to on a regular basis, who are usually grappling with similar questions. They're less intimidating than my titans but they go hard spiritually:

Hillary &
Faith &
Laura &
Lisa &
Courtney &
Naomi &
Kim.

These are my peeps! They're the ones I can pray with throughout the week and who keep me accountable. I love them so much, too!

Little Sisters

Okay, so now I hit the dreaded "growing edge." It was a sobering realization that while I love to receive oodles of instruction and encouragement from my titans and my peers (who wouldn't?), I'm making little to no concerted effort to "pay it forward" by seeking out and staying loyal to any "little sisters." Do I actually have little sisters in my life? HAHAHA, maybe two, perhaps three, and those being very informal mentorship-esque relationships. My best friend has an older woman at her church to prays for her literally every day. I am not that dedicated.

It has recently emerged in prayer that the Lord is calling me to step into a new role of discipling some of the people he's brought into my life. Is it "pretentious" of me to start moving in obedience to that call? I'd like to believe not. Did I think it was pretentious of my grandpa to disciple me while I was in high school? Hell no! "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers" (1 John 3:16). My grandpa would have laid down his life for me, so I could all the way trust him to be my shepherd. "The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" (John 10:11b). I believe God is inviting me to shepherd others with this same heart of love. I mean, literally in prayer I heard, "Are you willing to lay down your life for these people?" My first thought was "Fuck," but, after some crying and stuff, I said, "Yes."

I've been thinking a bit about what it means to be a part of the "royal priesthood" (1 Peter 2:9). It's part of my priestly duty not to be a spiritual elitist, and to draw near to those who may be (relatively) immature spiritually (believe me, I have plenty of immaturity issues I am praying through). "Every high priest is selected from among men and is appointed to represent them in matters related to God... He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness" (Hebrews 5:1-2). This just makes me think of Pastor Kerry, of Japanese Presbyterian Church, who in my opinion is a shepherd of shepherds and lives this out daily. Rather than disdaining people around me, or getting overly frustrated with them for being fearful, hard-hearted, unbelieving, etc., God is inviting me to intercede on their behalf, love them and in humility consider them to be better than myself (Philippians 2:3). In many ways I sense the Lord reminding me to remember the condition I was in when he first found me, so as not to become blinded by my own self-righteousness and self-importance. I'm just learning loads!

As you go, disciple

All this to say, I'm entering into a new season and stepping into a new role of discipling others. *Scary!* What I am writing about isn't especially revelatory and it isn't profound. It's just that I am discovering new levels of meaning to the words of the Great Commission, which used to make my skin crawl (I save that for another blog post), but now have a whole lot of operational meaning: "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19). A student who was doing Fuller extension once told me (and I never went back to fact-check, just trusted him blindly so... *shrug*) that a more accurate translation of the verse would be as you go, disciple, like it should just be part and parcel of the whole following Jesus thing. It doesn't necessarily feel natural to me now, but I am praying that one day it will.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Living Into My Calling

Earlier this year I mentioned that during a time of prayer I heard from the Lord, "It is time to live into your calling." Recently someone asked me, "So what does that mean, then? How have you been living into your calling?" These are good questions!

The Ever-Elusive "Call" 

It would be an understatement to say that from a pretty young age I've been more or less obsessed with the idea of "calling," that God has a particular *thing* in mind for me to do while I am here on earth. When I was in high school I read an anthology of Christian writings on "call" which ranged from 100 C.E. to 1967. I wanted to know so badly what specific "good works" God had "prepared in advance" for me to do (Ephesians 2:10), but just couldn't seem to figure it out.

I'm not going to lie; it's been a lot of "hit and miss" and "trial and error" when it comes to discerning my call, though I have been in conversation with God about this for awhile now. At first I thought I was going to be a social worker, but that proved to be far too emotionally intense and overwhelming. Then I thought I might try my hand at public administration and policy-making, but that turned out to be a pretty discouraging venture as well. Rather than discovering the one thing that I loved and felt passionate about, it’s been mostly a lot of closed doors, and realizing that there are many things which I simply cannot handle/do. Yes, this process of elimination may have been helpful for a time, but I definitely wondered to myself, “Am I ever going to find something that actually fits?” All the dead ends and red lights made me question if God had something specific in mind for my life after all, or if I was destined to be on an endless chase for a “call” that I would never fully lay ahold of in my lifetime. 

To me, “call” and vocation have been pretty much the same thing. I believed that my job had to be a fundamental way that I express my faith in the world. So no, a job never was "just" a job; I needed to know how it fit into the bigger picture of God's purposes. Imagine my surprise this year finding out that after all that, my job is actually not exactly as crucial I had thought to gauging how deeply I am involved in what God is doing around me and in my community.

Power≠God's Will/Favor (Necessarily)

I've learned a fair amount of things regarding God's call for my life this year. First of all, God has shown me that call doesn't necessarily have to do with professional achievements and status. God has not seemed to be especially concerned about me going to graduate school, or working my way up in a company. This has been a gigantic load off of my shoulders, because for awhile I was really feeling the pressure to "put my potential [read: intelligence] to good use [read: don't waste it]." I'm done feeling guilty about that.

I've also learned that God's call for me does not necessarily involve undue strain and striving. By this I mean, it seems to me that God is inviting me to begin to move deeper in the (spiritual) gifts that are already deeply ingrained in who I am. I don't have to force things and struggle a bunch, but can play to my strengths. I marvel that it's permissible, nay encouraged, to play to my strengths. "Each one should use whatever gifts he has been given to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms" (1 Peter 4:10). This has meant moving deeper in the prophetic gift.

Prophecy-Spooky!

I had an inkling that God had gifted me prophetically somehow, but then heard this year that I definitely had a "prophetic anointing," which got me motivated to start digging deeper into what that meant. It was so mysterious to me because it's not like I grew up around people claiming to be prophetic. Actually, it was kind of implied to me that the gift of prophecy doesn't exist anymore (which is not true). What, then,  does it even mean to be prophetic? Here's what I've discovered.

Characteristics of the Prophetic Gift

  1. Deep sensitivity to justice-see and perceive injustice and feel compelled to act. Anger is often a bi-product.
  2. Deep sensitivity to the supernatural (good and evil)-can sense when things are "wrong," gut feelings may usually indicate an ability to discern between spirits.
  3. Knowledge and revelation regarding the will of God-sense God's movements and what he would like to do in situations/individuals' lives. Connection with the mind/heart of God.
  4. Hear from God-via dreams, audible words, visions in prayer, etc. These can be future or present-oriented.
  5. Deliver truthful messages at the right time-may have extemporaneous words to share (from scripture or other revealed things) which speak specifically to what God is doing in a person/community. Often packs a powerful punch; may be received with long reflective silences.
  6. Intercession-many with the prophetic gifting feel acutely the discrepancy between the way things are and the way that God intends things to be, and so may spend a significant amount of time praying for his kingdom to come on earth.
(If any of these are hitting home for you, first of all, I am so excited! Please contact me if you want to explore your giftings further. Meeting prophetically gifted people makes me really, really happy. For further reading I highly suggest Primal Fire by Neil Cole.)

I believe that calling is deeply tied to spiritual gifting, and that as I am moving more in my spiritual gifts, I am also moving into my calling! By moving in my spiritual gifts I mean: praying for others, sharing visions I get with people (WHEN APPROPRIATE), sharing words of encouragement, praying in the Spirit ("Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." Matthew 18:18). I've got to tell you, it's been really, really good, and I'm only just starting! I make mistakes, of course, and at times find myself out of my depth, but life is making so much more sense now that I am doing what God has created me to do. It's awesome! I am still learning so much. 

Did I answer the question?

Okay, now it's time to tie everything together! This year, "living into my calling" has meant letting go of my own guesses to where the Lord was going to take me, and focusing more on being who he's already made me to be! Does that make sense? I'm not so preoccupied anymore with the specifics of what I do (vocation). I believe that God will bring the right thing for me at the right time, like he did with my current job and new community in Greenwood. When it's time for me to move onto the next thing, he'll let me know and will bring that new job/place before me. I am confident in his provision. Calling, what is it? It's being responsive to God and letting him do his work in me. Everything else will be taken care of.
You're gonna be IMPORTANT and you're gonna do a LOT, but it's not about what you do.
You, you're awesome. You're made that way! You're made from love to be love to SPREAD love!
For now, remember this: You're awake; you're awesome. Live like it.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Rise up; it's time.

Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while,
'He who is coming will come and will not delay.
But my righteous one will live by faith.
And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.'
But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.

Hebrews 10:32-39

Up until now I haven't felt it was appropriate to write about Ferguson and the subsequent deaths of other black males at the hands of white police officers, because it was much more important to make space for black voices to be heard (some articles here: 1, 2, 3). However, as a person who is not black, I think it's time for me to write to speak to my fellow Christians who are also not black, but wondering what to do. What does it mean to stand "side by side" with our black brothers and sisters as they endure such aggravated trials and tribulation?

Before we begin to build a straw man, talking about whether Michael Brown or other men who have been killed were "innocent," I have to say up front that it's not about that. Michael Brown is dead. Eric Garner is dead. This notwithstanding at the hands of another fellow human being. This is not a time to be discussing the ethics and "necessity" of corporal punishment, and trying to "justify" police officers using physical violence against "criminals." These men are dead, and it's a big fucking deal. I'm not sure how I can emphasize this enough.

A week and a half ago I participated in a march organized by several local black pastors in partnership with the NAACP and Garfield High School. This was one day after the ruling on Darren Wilson (not to indict him for the shooting of Michael Brown). As we headed west along Union, a group of 200 people or so, I was ultra-aware of the fact that when we would chant "Hands up, Don't shoot," for the black males walking alongside me, this was a lived reality. And I started to cry. For these men, being in public, unarmed and vulnerable (literally with their hands raised in surrender) knowing their peers have been gunned down and choked to death by men wearing uniforms very similar to the ones donned by SPD officers 'escorting' and observing us along the way, was quite honestly, eerie.

When we arrived at the U.S. District Court, we stood on and around the steps of the building listening to several speakers from the black community who expressed extreme frustration, anger and at times, despondency. At one point, a pastor assumed the mic, saying, "I just want to first of all thank those of you who are not a part of the black community for showing up today and being a part of this." By this time our group had grown to probably 400 or more people, and I had noticed (with great relief) during the march that yes, there were indeed white hipsters and white older adults and mixed kids and male Latinos and young Asian Americans throughout the crowd. This is good, though I don't think the black community should necessarily have to thank us for being there.

It has been written of the Body of Christ: "If one part suffers, every part suffers with it" (1 Corinthians 12:26a). What does it mean to stand "side by side with those who were so treated"? Listen. Care. Pray. Show up. 

For it has also been written:
"Justice will dwell in the desert and righteousness live in the fertile field.
The fruit of righteousness will be peace;
     the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever. 
My people will live in peaceful dwelling places,
     in secure homes,
          in undisturbed places of rest" (Isaiah 32:16-17).
 May we cry out to God until this is fulfilled on earth for all his people.

Followers