Archive for the ‘ The Christian Life ’ Category

A Sermon for the Occasion of the Tenth Anniversary of September 11th, 2001

[I preached this sermon at Brooklyn Baptist Church in Kinston, Alabama. It was certainly an adventure getting to the church (leaving at 4:45) and the delivery was equally adventurous. I hope you receive it as my honest reflection on the life and teachings of Jesus and their relevance for the modern era, even in situations as baffling and devastating as 9/11/01.] Continue reading


FTE Day 4: A Call to Excellence

[[Sadly, this post is more than a day late in terms of FTE’s actual chronology. I hope it won’t be more than a dollar short]]

I struggled a lot with writing about day four here at FTE’s leadership in ministry conference. It’s not that the conference hasn’t provided me with plenty of ideas to write about, it’s simply been difficult to pick one strong idea, distill it down to the important core, and then engage that topic humbly and authentically. But after an extra day of reflection, I think I’ve finally settled on a topic, and it involves one of the key components of FTE’s mission: excellence. Continue reading

FTE Day 3: Writing as Vocation

Today I had the opportunity to engage in a profound and deeply challenging workshop called “Writing as a Faithful Witness to the Community.” The workshop was lead by Enuma Okoro, herself a published author, cultural critic, and engager of the arts (Okoro also co-wrote Common Prayer: a Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, with Shaine Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove). We spent two hours discussing writing as a vocation and dissecting how writing serves as a witness to the community of faith. We talked about telling and listening to different stories, and we even got to do a bit of our own writing, which I’d like to share with you now (and in the future). Continue reading

FTE Day 2: Learning to Let Go

I’m one of like five Baptists here at FTE’s Leadership in Ministry Conference. This is not a bad thing, and I think that most of the denominations here only have about five or six representatives among the various fellows anyway. It’s a beautifully ecumenical environment. But being one Baptist among many non-Baptists at a conference that places so much emphasis on story-telling means telling some painful stories. Today I had to recount for a Mennonite friend the story of the Takeover.

I hate living that narrative. I hate that that story (effectively narrated here, by Wes Spears) forms a part of my own story. I hate that battle scars earned before I was even born continue to effect the way I explore my ministry and my calling. I hate that I cannot attend a denominational school for fear of being rejected as a heretic. I hate all the hate that still exists.

But tonight, as we reflected on our busy days exploring ministry in a post-Katrina New Orleans, Juan asked us to share a story from our days wherein we imagined our future ministry taking a dramatically new direction. And for the first time in my life, I was able to tell a new story. It went like this:

We had a traditional New Orleans meal at All Saints Episcopal Church (a beautiful and inspiring community that has positioned itself in an old Walgreens in the heart of the Lower Ninth Ward), and as we were eating, we talked. I asked Ben (the Mennonite friend from above) what it was like growing up as a Mennonite and being part of a community that so powerfully includes a commitment to peace as a part of its identity. As I listened to his stories of the intentionality of the Mennonite peace witness, my pacifist heart was gladdened, but immediately challenged by Nell Bolton, Executive Director of the Episcopal Community Services of Louisiana . Nell asked me if, taking into account the historic Baptist commitment to peace, I felt free to explore and express my pacifism within my own tradition.

I had to tell her no. While I identify myself as a member of the Co-operative Baptist Fellowship, I had to admit to Nell that the SBC still has a mysterious dominion over Baptist life in the Deep South, and especially on the campus of a Baptist school. I had to explain that many of the people I interact with – and many of the people I react to – have managed to enmesh their faith and their patriotism, that to challenge the ideas of war and death were to almost challenge the existence of Christ. I had to explain that I live in a culture dominated by a Convention that supports capital punishment and has no official problems with prosecuting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a Convention that spends more time worrying about the literal nature of hell than the literal suffering of people. I had to explain that this vision still captures the imaginations of so many Baptists, that this was my context, and that in such a world I felt that my prophetic voice of peace was drowned out.

But in that moment, as I was preparing to say what I almost always say (that there’s room for reform in the SBC, that we can change these things, that it won’t always be that way) I had one of the clearest moments of my young life. I could see myself turning around and walking away from the SBC.

In that moment, I envisioned a new future for myself, one where my theology and my ministry is defined by whom I am and what I feel God calling me to, rather than as a reaction to the madcap antics of the Convention. I saw a future where the long shadow of the Takeover did not dominate me or define me or shape my ministry. I saw a life, possibly even a life in the Deep South, which was not defined by the monolithic and magisterial Southern Baptist Convention. And for the first time in my Baptist life, I breathed easy. In that moment, I took a step away and began letting go.

Does this mean that the Takeover is no longer a part of my story? Certainly not. It is enmeshed in my narrative in ways that many other stories never can be. Does this mean that those wounds will not affect my ministry? Hardly. There are still scarred veterans out there who need healing. What this does mean is that I will refuse to let the Southern Baptist Convention execute a stranglehold on my identity and my ministry. It means that I refuse to identify myself as something over and against something else. It means that I am committed to my own Baptist identity, not the identity Paige Patterson and Al Mohler and Paul Pressler and Adrian Rogers think I should possess. It means that in the future I will embrace the freedom inherent in Baptist life. It means that I will focus my pastoral life on meeting the very real needs of congregations, not trying to undo the damage done simply to prove a point. It means that I’m letting go of the hatred and the bitterness that has so heavily defined my Baptist relationships. It means that I’m moving forward.

How about you? Is there something in your life you need to let go of? What might God be asking you to walk away from? What will that look like? Will it lead you to a sense of the genuine in yourself? Explore this idea in the next few days. You might be surprised at the results.

FTE Day 1: The Discipline of the Genuine

So I don’t know if many of you know this, but I’m spending the week with the Fund for Theological Education at their conference on leadership in ministry. One of the key components of the conference here in New Orleans is our round-table discussion groups. The undergraduate fellows are split into groups of ten and assigned to a leader who provides a structured and free space to tell stories, explore vocation, and meet with the divine. We had our first round-table meeting tonight, and our leader, Juan Huertas, asked us to focus on the discipline of the genuine. Continue reading

An Open Letter to the Disappointed

To Everyone Who Hoped and Waited for Saturday’s Rapture,

By now, I’m sure you’ve realized that Harold Camping’s prediction of the Rapture and subsequent end of the world was wrong. You, who may have given up everything in support of Camping and his ministry, have experienced what the followers of William Miller eventually came to call “the great disappointment.” Christ did not come back, and for that I’m sorry.

I know that you and those who agree with you have been mocked and ridiculed by nearly every facet of American society. Those of you who had the courage to leave everything and wander the country spreading a message you so fervently believed in were probably ostracized by many. Maybe somebody even had the audacity to text you a quick “I told you so” this morning; that is, of course, if you didn’t already sell your phone.

I have to admit today that I was one of those theologians who laughed hysterically at Mr. Camping and his predictions. I took pot-shots at him in many personal conversations and in various forms of social media. And while I still hold to the eschatological views I held then, I wish to apologize wholeheartedly for my arrogant, smug, dismissive attitude.

This is a day when I have few words. You have been wounded beyond measure. A man whom you fervently trusted and looked to for wisdom has broken that trust by being so incredibly wrong on an issue of such great importance. You have every right to be angry and hurt at such a betrayal. You have every right to hold Harold Camping accountable for his actions. And if you choose to do that, I will be right beside you, demanding justice and restitution for what Mr. Camping has done to those who trusted him.

But when the time comes to move forward, I will also be right beside you. When Sunday, May 22 rolls around, I will be in the pew of my local church, and I invite you to join me. I invite you not out of any smug sense of my own vindication, but because I want you to see that, despite the failure of our human leaders, the Church carries on.

I would invite you to keep the faith because there are many churches out there wherein you can explore a fuller, incarnational eschatology that is so much more than the escapist dualism promised to you by Harold Camping. I would invite you to return to our faith communities sharpened by the events you have witnessed in the past year, perhaps even jaded by them, to help us understand not only the persuasive power of such apocalyptic rhetoric, but to help guard our pulpits against it in the future.

I have to admit that I have not met any of you, but there are many among you who are the bravest people I have ever heard of. While friends and co-workers were hedging their bets, you risked your entire well-being for something you believed in. You sold your possessions and campaigned to tell people about what you believed was their impending doom. I could never do that. Never forget that you are brave people who have simply been taken advantage of.

Harold Camping is going to issue some kind of statement explaining why Saturday was wrong. He predicted the end in 1994, and he was wrong then. I encourage you to use that courage again and not listen this time. Do not fall for the same tricks and mathematical juggling. Do not let him explain away concepts with complicated exegetical squirming. Learn from this, and move forward into a better future.

Come and learn that God does not desires us to be escapists, but to understand that the incarnation of Jesus was the beginning of the end, and that the kingdom ethic is a form of eschatology that is staring you in the face right now. Do not await some kind of escape to the Kingdom of Heaven where everything will be bright and beautiful, for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near to you. The Kingdom of Heaven is among you. You don’t have to go away to experience the goodness of Christ. The end is certainly coming, and the end is certainly now, but in a vastly different and disturbingly beautiful new way than any of us would have ever expected.

You have been so brave. Continue to be brave and keep the faith

With sincerest hope,


…Today we Speak

It’s the day after. I feel as though I’ve let out a huge sigh of relief. I feel as though the world has been broken and remade overnight. I still feel. We all do. But today we’ve got to talk about this. So far, I’ve avoided naming the issue, but today we have to talk about the death of Osama bin Laden.

Someone asked me (indirectly) why this matters. Why am I trying to enforce my religiosity upon their feelings? Why isn’t it enough simply to let them feel? Well, I’ve admitted that everyone needs time to respond to the news in their own way. And if you haven’t finished with that period of time, that’s fine. Stop reading now and continue to feel. But at some point, we need to move on. I do not mean to offend or to hurt, but I need to begin writing about this, perhaps more for myself than for anyone else. Yet I still hope it can help some of us. I hope my writings, and the writings of others, can remind us and guide us as we react to the recent news and to the days to come. Continue reading

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