There is Strength in the Resting Place

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It’s day twenty-one of my sabbatical. Twenty-one days of Sabbath rest. Three sets of seven. On day twenty, I was wondering how I would continue doing what I do because, after twenty days, I still had no desire to preach. I had eleven more days to lean into this place of rest, but would it be enough.

Three Sundays before my sabbatical began, I woke up and the feeling of weight came upon me. The weight of carrying a message from God to the people was upon me. And it was heavy. It was difficult to physically stand up under its spiritual weight. At the end of the message, every ounce of oxygen seemed to leave my body and I was limp with exhaustion. I experienced this each Sunday for the last three weeks before I said my last Amen and gave my last benediction on July 29th. I slept for the first three days of sabbatical.

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For the last twenty-one days, I have created a new rhythm. Each day I walk and then I journal and meditate. I have no agenda except to lean into this rest. I am not asking God to speak and I am not looking for answers. Instead, I am resting in order for my soul to reveal who it’s supposed to be.

In Genesis 1, God created. He created space and time. He created matter large and small. He created all we can see and not see. He created humankind in His image. And then He rested.

Jesus said, “My father is always at work.”

Jesus said, “My father is always at work.” So which is it? Did God rest or not?

Yes. He rested. On the seventh day, God rested by taking His hands off of creation. He let go of control and allowed creation to be what it was going to be. God knew that in the resting place creation could become even more.

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It’s construction season here in Michigan. There are orange traffic cones aplenty in every direction. In some places, they have poured cement and moved on to the next project even though the road is still sectioned off. The reason? It takes twenty-eight days for the cement to reach 75% of its potential strength. It’s in the resting that cement becomes stronger and reaches its full potential.

In our own lives, we often fail at resting. And we fail at taking our hands off that which we’ve been creating for the last six days. We never allow it to reach its full potential because we keep messing with it. We have to touch it and poke it and manipulate it “just a little more”. And we wonder why it is stagnant, stale, and slowly eroding.

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In the words of Bob Newhart, “Stop it!”

Stop talking. Stop writing. Stop the business. Stop the planning. Stop the hype. Every day is not Easter Sunday. You must lean into the negative space and let it all rise up. Let the tension go. Feel the feelings. Observe the thoughts that skip across your mind without judgment. And just be. Let what you have been creating be what it is going to be.

On this sabbatical, I have done some “stuff”. I did research and worked on a few projects I’ve been wanting to begin. I’ve done some writing and reading. But most of the things I have done have been personal and private. They are no ones’ business but mine.

So why did the Church give me a sabbatical? What’s in it for them? Nothing. It’s not about them. The Church gave me a sabbatical because it’s the right thing to do. As I lean into this rest, I will become more authentic and healthy. And, eventually, it will make me a more authentic and healthier leader.

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Today is day twenty-one of my sabbatical. It was raining so I didn’t walk in the morning. Instead, I took my mom to breakfast for her birthday. Then I ran some errands, walked, and journaled. In the middle of the day, I started writing a sermon in my head and planning a communion service. Then I stopped and realized that I was writing a sermon and planning communion. In the resting, it rose to the surface without any coaxing. A  compulsion to share good news and space with a faith community rose up within me…because I rested.

Dear reader, you are cheating yourself every time you fail to keep the Sabbath rest. You are cheating your family and your creativity. Your unceasing work ethic is not admirable. It’s idolatry and you are worshipping yourself. Take a page of wisdom from the ancient mystics and learn the art of resting.

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Hybels, Weinstein, and Me, Too

When a man becomes a Christian, he becomes industrious, trustworthy and prosperous. Now, if that man, when he gets all he can and saves all he can, does not give all he can, I have more hope for Judas Iscariot than for that man! – John Wesley

The mainstream media is reporting that the former pastor, Bill Hybels, has been accused of sexual misconduct. They report there have been numerous accounts over the course of his ministry. I am baffled, saddened, and sit in disbelief along with thousands of other Christians. According to the article, he has not been legally charged in any way. But we know we will all make some sort of judgment over the next several days.

My first thought is that I find it hard to believe Hybels is the Harvey Weinstein of the church world.  And my second thought was that I want to believe the women because (one) I am one and (two) the church has been guilty of such things in the past. Did you just let out a loud sigh? Me too!

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I recently heard a podcast by Malcomb Gladwell about the reliability of our memories. It will totally mess with your head, especially when he starts talking about the science. Sometimes our memories get jumbled together. Sometimes we misinterpret a gesture of compassion for flirtation. We all know someone who has been falsely accused of something, anything. It may not be sexually related, but you know someone. I know someone. A few someones. Even a few someones who were falsely accused of sexual misconduct. But, in the case of Weinstein and Hybels, that’s a lot of accusations. Too many to be dismissed. Too many to not ask more questions.

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We are all vulnerable. Even you. Even me. Even Hybels. Fatigue, stress, the pressure to succeed and perform and excel all make us vulnerable. I was there. If you are human, then you have been there, too. I could have and would have given in to temptation had the circumstances been right. And the same is true for you, so let’s stop lying to ourselves. It’s why we need accountability.

As a new believer in Christ, I had baggage. And I put myself in situations that left me vulnerable; emotionally, physically, mentally. It was God’s incredible grace that rushed in to provide a way out. I took the warning. A few times I didn’t take the warning quickly enough and God’s grace slapped me upside the head. He reminded me that humiliation is often the ultimate form of grace…and mercy. In my current assignment, I have board members who know they can approach me at any time and they have done so. They have asked if I really meant to say or do something because it didn’t seem appropriate; it didn’t seem in line with my values. They gave me an opportunity to explain and/or to apologize.

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I appreciate the #MeToo movement and the stance women are taking now. They are doing their best to overcome fear and intimidation. They are attempting to bring down the patriarchy. I understand. I have experienced harassment in the past as well. In my “former life” (read before becoming a pastor), I was a wedding photographer. One of our bosses used to harass all the women photographers. My (female) co-worker confronted him saying that one day he would “probably be charged with sexual harassment”. His response? He laughed.

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My fear is that this will not bring down the patriarchy. Instead, it will serve to prop it up. Women (in the church) will be sidelined once again and relegated to traditional roles. It will serve our complementarian friends well and our egalitarian friends will remain silent. We (women clergy) will be uninvited to the table. And, in the end, the curtain closes and patriarchy is left intact.

I want justice for all the women and all the men. I want justice for all the girls and all the boys. But in our attempt to bring justice are we actually feeding the beast? There must be a better way. There must be a third way. There must be a Jesus way that doesn’t leave us caught in a snare.

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I believe Jesus did give us a better way; a third way. We need more [women] at the table, not less. When there are more women at the table is levels out the testosterone in the room. The women are free to be themselves and the men are free to be themselves. And when we are free to be ourselves, then we can be about the business of the Kingdom of God rather than the Kingdom of Earth.

For some of us, this Hybels story needs to be a wake-up call. We need to implement some accountability in our lives. And by accountability, I don’t mean the “Billy Graham Rule“. Women are not vices. They are people. They are representatives of God on earth. (see Genesis 1-2). Sin is born of our selfish, unchecked, unsurrendered desires (see James; the entire book). As pastors and Christians, we need mentors and friends who will walk with us in life. Too often we cut ourselves off and keep people at arm’s length. And this only serves sin’s purpose.

Here is a great goal for the last half of 2018: find a friend, preferably two or three. Will they let you down? Probably. Definitely. Absolutely. And that is because they need your accountability just as much as you need theirs. Do it anyway! It’s the only way we will bring down the patriarchy and set up the Kingdom of God in its place.

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I Want to Slow Down

How long have I been trying to earn the approval of others? Only the first 45 years of my life! – Sammy Davis, Jr.

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I was out walking early before any of the other cabins were stirring. The dew was still on the meadow. I heard birds calling and the wind rustling the leaves on the trees. The air was cool, but not crisp. And my boots were covered in dew and grass clippings. I saw the morning sun breaking through the trees and skimming across the field. The rain was still dripping from the tips of the maple leaves left over from the previous night’s shower.

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Inside the chapel, it was warm and dry. It is tempting to try and force an encounter with God. We want to meet with Him in these moments, but we intuitively know special encounters happen organically. God is not “organic”. He is divine. But we are organic. God reached down and formed humankind from the dust of the earth. And then He breathed his divine breath into us. I think we miss opportunities to hear from God because we have neglected to spend time in creation. And we have neglected to use our God-given creativity.

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I am, by nature, a slow person. Not that kind of slow. I’m a restrained introvert. I was slow to roll over as an infant. Slow to walk and slow to talk. And I have never been a morning person! It took me twice as long to eat dinner as everyone else. And it took me an hour to walk home from school. We lived three blocks away! Ironically, I am not typically a tardy person. It simply takes me longer to make it all happen.

The problem with being slow is that it carries the connotation of also being lazy, stupid, or incompetent. Our culture applauds fast people. We pay fast people more money and give them better raises. We promote them over people who are…slow…because they think fast, talk fast, and move faster. Our game shows are centered around speed (Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune). Our sports emphasize speed (Nascar, all things racing). We are even rewarded for how fast we can think. Our academic tests are timed. We are praised if we can think and speak the answer faster than anyone else. We even have a magazine dedicated to the fastest growing churches in America.

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My entire life people have been telling me to “hurry up”. And, subconsciously, every job I have had was an attempt to prove that I am not slow, lazy, stupid, or incompetent. The problem? I am slow. I am reticent. And any attempt to override my natural tendencies leaves me exhausted. In a recent article, the author bragged that he could help me “become a morning person”. If being a “morning person” means stuffing my day with more to-dos, then no thank you. If being a morning person means more time to breathe, then absolutely!

During this week of reflection, I began to wonder if any of us are actually wired for the speed of our culture. The rise of anti-anxiety and anti-depressants tells me that we could all stand to…slow down! Are we really making better decisions? Are we solving more problems? At what cost are we accomplishing more? And perhaps it’s not really “more” or “better”. Do we come home at the end of the day to fall onto the couch and drown out the sound of our depletion with Netflix?

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Dear reader, could it be time to stop? Could it be time to slow down? If you are tired, learn to rest. You will be doing yourself a favor. You will be doing all of us a favor. And you might even have that encounter with God you so desire!

 

 

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