An Obituary for Sabbeardical

Sabbeardical, nine weeks, went to the great beard-yond on September 7, 2016.

He was born on the Fourth of July, 2016, “beard” of Rev. Ryan Motter. Caught with wanton abandon and hipster desire, Ryan thought, “How can my face say, ‘I am resting in the goodness of the Lord?’” Thus, Sabbeardical grew, much like Athena from the head of Zeus.

Sabbeardical was a patchwork of grace, a tapestry woven of unusually fast-growing strands and sadly puberty-forgotten stubs. He loved long walks with his dog sister, Jeff Louise, with the wind whipping about his three or four long spots. Although the neck beard was so strong with him that once considered donning a Straw Hat and running away to live with the Amish, his life was destined to be as brief as every other rumspringa.

His least favorite activities included being pulled during 4 AM cuddle sessions with his sister Lydia Grace, and eating toast with jam.

One of the most rewarding relationships of his life was with Rev. Suzanne Kerr Motter. Recognizing that he was the most major facial accomplishment of Ryan, Suzanne said of her deep love for Sabbeardical, “I love that Ryan followed his dream of having a beard. I didn’t love the dream itself, but I loved Ryan following his dream.” Sabbeardical cherished those words, almost as much as Suzanne’s other deeply loving words “Your mustache gets in my mouth when I kiss you.”

Sabbeardical is survived by the Reverends Motter, Lydia Grace, and Jeff Louise, as well as Chest Hair, Back Hair, and Old Whitey, the long white hair that grows reckless and free out of Rev. Ryan’s right ear.

In lieu of burial, Sabbeardical will be donated to science, so that others might gain wisdom from his majesty, his threadbare wantonness, and his unnatural growing patterns.

Donations of razors and shaving cream can be made in his memory to Rev. Ryan Motter and other men incapable of growing majestic beards: Travis Smith McKee, Josh Patty, Andy Beck, Ryan Arnold, Jonathan Chandler, Ryan Steitz, Justin Steitz, David Borrowman and Jeff Becker. 

And it seems to me you lived your life

Like a candle in the wind

Never knowing who to cling to

When the rain set in

And I would liked to have known you

But I was just a kid

Your candle burned out long before

Your legend ever did

Rest in Peace, Sweet Prince.

Rest in Peace.

*This obituary is best read while listening to “Ashokan Farewell,” which you can listen to, after a fifteen- second commercial for Eggo waffles, by clicking here. If you didn’t see this notice before you read the obituary the first time, then go back and read it again with the music on in the background. Because…Sabbeardical deserves it.

When Grace Comes

I was going to take off the first week and spend it at Taizé. If not there, definitely Iona. If neither of those, then I was definitely going to walk the Camino. After that, I was going to spend a week at the Abbey in Gethsemani, get in touch with Thomas Merton and the Holy Spirit. And then, time to relax on a beach somewhere, with some awesome alcoholic drink made in a pineapple, served with three umbrellas on top and a bunch of maraschino cherries.

But…on the first morning, I woke up in my parents’ basement…where I live until we find a house for ourselves. It was 5:30 AM, and Lydia was awake, just like she had been three times in the night. Suzanne woke up, got ready and went to work. My mom usually takes care of Lydia on Mondays, but that day she had a morning appointment. Dad had an early job and left around 7:30. So, at 9 AM, on the floor in the basement of my parent’s house, with my infant daughter incessantly trying to stick her fingers in every electrical plug in sight as the “Baby Einstein” Pandora station played in the background…I thought,

“This is not the sabbatical I imagined.”

Over the course of the last five weeks, every person curious about this time has immediately asked, “Ooooo…what are you doing for your Sabbatical?” The first thought comes quickly: Mention the three trips – a week with friends in Illinois, a week at the Academy for Spiritual Formation in Nebraska, and a week studying the Enneagram in Dallas. With rare exception, the person asking is disappointed with “just three trips?” That’s even before mentioning that most of my mornings are taken up with Lydia, trying to teach her for the five-hundredth time that the red cup will only stack on top of the blue cup.

Sabbaticals are meant to be about rest for spirit, body and mind. But the truth is, sabbaticals are often yoked with great expectations of major travels, significant projects and ministry-changing revelations. Not only that, we pastor-folk are built to feel guilty if we are not “producing something” or “doing what we think some of our church members might be wanting us to do,” which is another way of saying, producing something.

That’s not my sabbatical.

My sabbatical is spending time watching two tiny teeth come in on Lydia’s bottom row.

It’s waiting for my sister’s bump to become a baby niece (seven days left!).

It’s about going to see summer blockbuster movies at matinee times, alone, and reading books by poolside, alone.

It’s about house hunting, one house after another, after another, after another, after another.

It’s about trying to get back to running after losing my momentum three years ago, beating myself up on the days I’m too lazy to go and feeling like my legs are cement on the days I do.

It’s about about early mornings spent with a cup of coffee, a journal, and my bible, and evenings watching the Olympics with my arm around my wife.

Sabbatical is about learning the meaning of Grace…you know, that thing that breaks in when our greatest expectations are frustrated and best intentions thwarted. When God breaks into our lives in such a disruptive way, its best that we take the space and time to pay attention.  The practice of sabbatical rest (and it does take some practice, because resting comes anything but natural in this world) is good because it gives us the distance we need to let our Creator enter our lives and say, “Woah…you got kind of worked up there for a bit. Let’s slow down, take a deep breath, and start fresh.”

Our expectations will continually be thwarted if they’re set without grace. Our identities shape our holy needs. If we don’t know who we are, if we’re not in touch with the person God is breathing us into being, we will constantly set impossible expectations for ourselves, our lives, the lives of our family and friends, not to mention the lives of the beloved churches we serve.  If we are too busy to remember whose we are, we will set priorities that only further separate us from the One who is at the center of our world.

To keep the deep rich goodness of life with the Holy Spirit, God calls us to breathe. Breathing is a holy task. Creation came from God’s breath speaking forth words of weaving onto the waters of chaos. How can we expect to re-create ourselves during Sabbath seasons (or any other seasons, really) if we don’t give ourselves the space and grace necessary to truly breathe in this holy truth apart from the chaos of our regular lives?

Taking a deep breath, I’m embracing some new identities for myself, things that I dreamed might be part of my calling as a pastor and things that are reshaping that vocation in ways I never imagined: pastor’s husband, father, uncle, writer, poet, mystic. Many of those words still feel totally foreign to who I am, and that’s good: few identities worthwhile ever come easy.

Grace will give all of us a chance to let go of the expectations that we might already have for those new identities and the expectations I might make for them, so that the breath of God might be enough to sustain this resting body for a moment of reframing and reimagining.

To keep the deep rich goodness of life with the holy spirit, god calls us to breath-2

Thoughts from Convocation: #Sabbatical2016

It’s been a week since I spent a lot of time with our African-American family from across the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  The National Convocation came to Kansas City for its biennial session, drawing nearly a thousand representatives from South Carolina to California, from Ferguson to Baltimore, from Washington, D.C. to Nairobi.

The National Convocation is a gathering “for the discussion of pertinent issues related to black church life in the context of total church life, for fellowship, program promotion, leadership training, and such other general purposes as shall support and strengthen the congregations involved in the total mission of the church.”

I’ll confess that I wasn’t really familiar with the Convocation when I signed up to attend, and that I mainly did because I felt the call of hospitality with the Biennial Session being held in my city.  I am grateful that I went and for the warm inclusion of this part of our Disciples family.  The Convocation’s voices are leading our denomination in paths of gospel witness and social justice that must be heard, understood, and followed.

So, here are a few key reflections for me on this time.  Even as I write them, I realize they’re inadequate glances at deep wells for conversation.  My thoughts are just starting places:

Convocation gives voice to names and faces you may never hear at General Assembly

Shortly after the conclusion of the Convocation, the list of preachers for the 2017 Indianapolis General Assembly was released, and it includes an African-American woman, a Latino-american man, and a White woman, plus the as-yet-to-be-named(-or-categorized) General Minister and President candidate.

The Disciples have spent the vast majority of their last one-hundred years in Assemblies listening to White male voices.  While perhaps there are White male voices with words worth all of us hearing today, the voices of the Convocation have many more things left to say that most of us still need to hear (and rehear, and rehear, and rehear.)

The stories and names of the Convocation bring so much to our shared history.  Voices like Jesse Jackson, Jr., Dietra Wise Baker,  and J. Lawrence Turner are shaping our life together.  Listen for and hear the ministry being done by Chris Dorsey, Derrick Perkins, Ayanna Johnson Watkins, and Angela Whitenhill, Christian Smith, Rhonda Aldridge, Milton Bowers.

Not only that, but take a moment to recognize the historical sculpting done by our African-American Disciples, as we have benefited so greatly from the contributions of Preston Taylor, Jacob Kenoly, and Thomas Buchanan Frost, just to name a few.  Look them up.

 

White Church needs to learn A LOT from the Black Church about Music in Worship

As I came into worship on the second night, I noticed a father, mother, and two young daughters sit down in the seats behind me.  As worship began to get into the swing of things, we were all on our feet, moving with the rhythm and feeling the Spirit alive in the songs.  As a new song began, the man behind me let out the loudest groan, caught in ecstasy, from deep within him.  He clutched his daughter close and said, in a voice loud enough for his daughter and everyone around him to hear, “Oh, I LOVE THIS SONG.”

Perhaps I have missed this in the worship services at my church, but I rarely hear the first refrains of “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” followed by guttural exclamations and shouts of “Oh, I LOVE THIS SONG.”  Maybe our folks do this while they listen to K-LOVE in the car?

If most White churches require music meant primarily to evoke comfortable nostalgia instead of spiritual engagement, is it time to reload the iPod and pitch some of the hymns?  How will the children of our churches learn to love worship if their parents don’t hold them close and say, “Oh, I LOVE THIS SONG?”  I know I sing one hymn to our daughter each night to get her to sleep, mainly because I want her to know the words to it in her bones.

The Black Church knows music in its bones.

 

Black Lives Matter.  Period.

Michael Brown.  If there was one name mentioned more than any other, his was it.  

On Friday afternoon, a panel viewed and discussed the movie Injustice Anywhere- The Movement.  Take the 51 minutes to watch the movie by clicking here.  Do it if you’re a Disciple.  Do it if you’re a human being.  The collection of stories of those who were involved in Ferguson will give you a great deal for which you can pray, and a great deal that causes you to consider the call you have to fight racial injustice.

The Christian Church must confront the overwhelming evidence of unjust African-American deaths at the hands of law enforcement, mass incarceration of African-Americans, and systemic poverty that disproportionately afflicts people of color.

There are at least two obvious “on-the-nose” reasons for our support.  First, our 2020 Vision Mission Imperative calls us to be anti-Racist and pro-Reconciling, “that recognizes the systemic and symptomatic pathologies present in the United States since slavery.”

Second, at our recent 2015 General Assembly, Sense-of-the-Assembly Resolution GA-1518, “Black Lives Matter: A Movement for All,” was adopted.  Its language is clear: “the General Assembly…will support Black Lives Matter: A Movement for All by joining the cause; sharing awareness; supporting and encouraging our congregations to be safe spaces and sanctuary for peaceful protestors, participate in and host sacred conversations and dialogue on race relations and inclusion, and be spiritual allies in prayer…”.

Sense-of-the-Assembly resolutions are only as serious as our congregations allow them to be and I can tell you this: our African-American congregations take this one deadly serious.

 

The Convocation Feels Way More Hopeful Than General Assembly

“Hindsight.  Insight.  Foresight.”  These three words were the theme for our time together, and each day centered around a word, all drawn from a core scriptural focus:

And the Lord answered me, and said, Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it.

For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.

Habakkuk 2: 2-3, KJV

The Convocation evoked an important contrast to many of our Disciple Assemblies: it asked us to look backwards and inwards as well as forwards, to celebrate history, embrace current opportunities and challenges, and imagine a mission and vision of what could be.

So often it seems Assemblies are generalized responses to the overwhelming statistical depression afflicting the so-called Mainline.  Themes like, “Teach Us to Pray,” “Soar,” and even the 2017 theme of “One,” give the sense of disembodied hopes and dreams we pray for instead of imperatives and missions we share.  They are amorphous rallying cries that speak more to our fear of dying than to our common identity, and thus they don’t give us as much hope as I think they’re likely meant to.

The Convocation teaches us that Hope must be embodied to be emboldened.  The Black church knows a shared narrative of God’s grace being shared with us, and it knows it potently.  Jesse Jackson, Jr. lifted up these words from Frederick Douglass, “I prayed for freedom for twenty years, but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.”

Perhaps we Disciples can learn to awaken in ourselves this impulse to move in shared mission together.  Perhaps this is where our hope lies, in taking the inspiration of the Convocation and making it our own, working for justice and praying for God’s hindsight, insight, and foresight to build a better, more sustainable church.

Prayers for Our Daughter

On the day that you were born,

the world stopped for five seconds,

dust paused in the hospital lights like

small ice crystals glittering the world,

and the blue scrubs, caught in the wander,

slowed to stop and wonder,

“How will this one be different than the others?”

 

And then, like a sudden ice age that

caught Mastadons so off-guard they were frozen whole with their eyes open,

you have stood our lives stock still and

are changing us glacially,

carving new valleys and peaks in our souls,

every time you drag up onto your butt,

and pull forward, looking at us eagerly for confirmation.

 

The thaw is already coming,

heat building, every time your legs like

pistons powering a building internal combustion,

plant, root, shoot you up with a shout of accomplishment,

proclaiming, “HERE I COME, READY OR NOT.”

 

Grow up.

We beg you.

Explode out into this world.

Start with its foundations.

Rattle them.

Let us just be the voices in this wilderness who cry,

“The one who is more powerful than us is coming after us. Prepare her way.”

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Last weekend, Lydia was dedicated at Lee’s Summit Christian Church.  Suzanne has been part of the church family there for nearly ten years, serving loyally and loving steadfastly.  As we prepared for Lydia’s dedication, Suzanne told me that the church’s practice is to print a small bulletin insert with a scripture, the details of the kid’s birth, and then something of the parent’s choosing on the back.

“You should write something,” she said.

I’m not much of a poet, but as feelings poured out onto paper this poem came.  After some small consideration between the two of us, we decided that the poem probably wasn’t the best fit for this service.  Suzanne’s comment, I think, was, “I don’t think anyone’s ever said the word ‘Mastadon’ during a child dedication.”

So, I went back to the page, and wrote a prayer for our daughter.  The prayer that came out is printed below, the poem above.  I like them both, but what does this mastodon father really know?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When You knit this Beloved girl together,

we dreamt You had so many hopes for her,

 

Because we have so, so, so many hopes in her,

A hope for her growth, strong yet healthy,

A hope for her spirit, free yet compassionate,

A hope for her curiosity, wild yet ready,

A hope for her love, boundless yet wise,

A hope for her life, vibrant yet intentional.

 

We’d be lying if we told You that, with all our hope, comes no fear.

Save her from the idea that she is anything less than Enough.

Protect her from any who might take her spirit,

Keep her from disillusionment and cynicism,

Shelter her from those who would take advantage of her grace,

Comfort her when the world breaks her heart.

 

If we can ask You one more thing,

give her parents the strength

to do all these things with You,

and with the village that You

are weaving together around our daughter.

 

Thank You, God. For everything.

 

Especially her.

 

Amen.

Let It Rise: #Sabbatical2016

I almost forgot theIMG_2929 recipe. A few years ago, I baked the honey whole-wheat bread almost every other day. I knew that in these first days of Sabbatical, I wanted to make the bread again. But, I couldn’t remember the recipe.

A third-cup of wild honey, two scoops of yeast to start, and three cups of very warm water. Mix in five cups of bread flour, and let it rise, at least half-an-hour.

I have become…picky…when it comes to the bread that we use for Communion in church. This is what we do when we are the ones who handle and break the bread each week. The very best bread is homemade, fresh and warm, with that aroma of comfort emanating from it. The absolute very best Communion bread is the kind that some creative liturgist bakes in the church oven before service starts, filling the church with the smell of the Wonder Bread plant and making everyone anticipate eucharist because they are literally salivating for it. When you lift the loaf, bless it, and break it, a small puff of steam rises like the Holy Spirit itself. That’s good bread.

Mix in another third-cup of honey, a tablespoon of salt, and three tablespoons of melted butter. Add in two cups whole-wheat flour and mix well. Flour a flat surface and knead with whole-wheat flour until not real sticky. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to coat the dough. Cover with a dishtowel, put it in a warm place, and let it rise.

The problem comes when the best isn’t available. Take the best loaf from the over-flowing Panera donation that the church’s food pantry receives. If there are two best loaves, freeze one and save it for later. That is the third, *last ditch* loaf (used only if necessary), but only if there’s no freezer burn. Only in cases where there is no suitable bread left in the church should the bread be “store bought.”

On those days, I want to buy it because I want to make sure it’s the best loaf. Plus, I don’t want it to be just an “el cheapo” loaf of French Bread, a generic loaf with nothing special about it. If it can’t be fresh and homemade, the loaf has to look nice, asthetically pleasing, artisanal. You know, in case someone ever chooses this particular communion moment as the subject of their still-life painting.

Punch the dough down. Divide into three loaves. Place in oiled loaf pans, and let it rise.

On Monday, after Suzanne had gotten ready to go to work and Lydia was squared away in Grammy’s care, the reality of sabbatical began to set in. I have heard that the first one to three weeks of Sabbatical feel a bit like vacation. For this Enneagram 8, that vacation lasted about two hours.

I needed something, something to create, someone to care for, something to challenge. So much of my identity in the last five years has come to be bound up in my identity as a pastor who tries to be everything to everyone. I told Suzanne, “I’m a do-er, I need something to DO.” The next morning, Suzanne went to see her spiritual director and apparently told her about what I’d said. On the phone after her session, Suzanne said, “Mary Kay says that there’s a reason we’re Human Beings and not Human Doings.” I said, “Mary Kay is not my spiritual director.”

When dough has topped loaf pans by one inch, bake at 350 degrees for thirty minutes. Do not overbake.

So, bread was made. Measuring honey, leveling cups of flour, putting muscle behind mixing and then letting it rise. Mixing more, kneading with dusted knuckles and open hands, and then letting it rise. Punching it down, cutting it and letting it rise.

There is a time for us to break bread and a time for the Bread to break us open. So this is my confession at the beginning of sabbatical. I have become terrible at least two things: letting things rise, and noticing them when they do. Silence is something I recommend to others regularly and too often fail to practice myself. Reading has become something “I need the right time for,” and writing has become a chore.

Sabbatical isn’t vacation; it is time to let God’s spirit rise and a time to notice that Spirit as it whispers, “Remember my recipe for you. You are enough.”

Lightly brush the tops of loaves with two tablespoons of butter to prevent crust from getting hard. Cool completely.

Five Months: How Soon?

There was a funeral in September for a middle-aged mom I had never known, a random phone call from a local funeral home to help a family shocked by a sudden heart problem. October was a service for a longtime church member, a man whose legacy is the love he shared with his wife even after she forgot who he was. In November, Lydia was born. December was another longtime church member, a woman over ninety, whose last years were spent at home under the close care of her children. And then there was Kathleen, in January.

Kathleen was exactly two months shy of her 100th birthday on the day we buried her. In the small lakeside chapel, the few remaining people who remembered her gathered. It was snowing that morning, lightly but enough to cover the roadways and make everyone a little more cautious, so in all there were eleven of us sitting in the quiet chapel looking out over the snow-covered lakes and the graveside.

There was immense silence in that moment and, in its presence, there was a palpable, vacuous sadness. Usually, when someone who is nearly a century old passes away, it is an amazing celebration of how their life was filled with the paradigmatic shifting of time. We talk about how they lived from the party line to the cell phone, from the pen and paper to the age of email and instant messaging. We talk of the many relationships they shared.

Not this day. At Kathleen’s funeral, there were only eleven of us, two of whom were the hospice nurses who took care of her and one who was the funeral director. Now, maybe, Kathleen diligently instructed everyone in her life to stay home that day and to not mourn her for her life was already so full. But, from the two hours I spent with her family, one thing became mournfully obvious: Kathleen lived her life for the immediate moment, reacting to everything as it came, and she refused to believe that death would come for her. When it did, it wasn’t welcomed.  At all.

Yesterday, I was relating the story of Kathleen’s funeral to a group of clergy colleagues. One of the colleagues there said something to the effect of, “You know, as I get more into this calling, I’m more and more convinced that it is deeply sinful for us to refuse to contemplate our own mortality.”

Since our earliest days, baptism has been the symbol that says that Christians are dying to the world and being born to Jesus.  The apostle Paul said, “We have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4)

We want the focal point of what Paul says to be the newness of life that we get to walk in. We want to rush to the Easter brunch…man, I love Easter brunch. But we do that at the cost of missing the focal point of what he says: we have to die first to get there. This is one of the reasons we become baptized: we have to die in order to live.

This is a weird reflection for me as a new dad who happens to be a minister married to a minister. From the moment she was born, Lydia was doomed to have two parents whose calls are to preach the promise and the difficulty of living the way of the cross.

A few weeks ago, we dedicated Lydia at my church. When we dedicate all of our children at the church, we say to each of them the words of Deuteronomy, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words…recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-7)

And Suzanne and I are supposed to recite these words to our daughter and to other peoples’ daughter? “From dust you were made and to dust you will return?”

I don’t know that it’s any easier to say those words to the old folks. Today Lyle asked me to come and give him the ashes at the nursing home where he’s on hospice. As I made the mark of the cross on his forehead, I said, “From dust you were made, Lyle, and to dust you will return.” He looked into my face with heavy lived eyes and said, “How soon?”

The reality of Ash Wednesday is that true life comes only out of acknowledging that, from Lydia to Lyle, our lives are finite. If we want to live into authentic and honest Christian community together, we need to look into each other’s eyes and ask that question: How soon?

Make little mistake about it. This isn’t a mournful question. This question is filled with the depth and meaning of God’s goodness and love. It begs of us lives of gratitude and mercy. The day eleven of us gathered to celebrate the life of a woman whose life was so long, the question we had wasn’t “isn’t it sad there are so few of us?” but rather “why didn’t she share her life in the vulnerability and gratitude that invited others to live more fully with and through her?”

Maybe this is what Eugene Peterson was thinking when he translated that Psalm we always read for Ash Wednesday, Psalm 51, as, “Going through the motions doesn’t please you, a flawless performance is nothing to you. I learned God-worship when my pride was shattered. Heart-shattered lives ready for love don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.”   (51:16-17)

I don’t know what this first heart-shattered Lent will look like for us as a new small family together. Tonight I came home from Ash Wednesday and Suzanne came home from her service, and together we held Lydia, rocked her, sang to her, and laid her down to sleep.

After I laid her down, I took out of my pocket a small stone that I had taken from our service, a reminder we had given to all who were present tonight of their baptism and the call to live and die with Jesus. The stone went on a shelf with her other items of love and significance, perhaps as a reminder to her that from dust she was made and to dust she’ll return.

Or maybe it was a reminder that it’ll be one of my responsibilities to help her to know that. To help her to know the power of vulnerability and gratitude. To live that way for her.

Five Months: Ugh…Vulnerability…

It’s been five months since anything appeared here. A lot has happened in that time and this isn’t a “catch-up” post, at least in the sense that this is not a laundry list of things that have kept me away. Instead, and perhaps stubbornly, this is the first of five posts that will be coming one week after the other in the next five weeks. It may seem a little stupid to make that commitment after so much time away, but I’d like to think of it as an ambitiously stupid attempt at intentionality. The posts will explain themselves, and they’ll be a kind of catch-up.   It is helpful to note, though, that the inciting events for these posts came before, on, and after November 15, 2015, when our daughter Lydia Grace gave us totally new identities.  

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

At beginning of last year, I betrayed my gut and emailed a spiritual director.

My life felt like it was just starting.  Over the course of sixteen months, my wife and I became engaged, married, and pregnant (to be clear, she became pregnant. I did not. I became helpless). Nearly five years into my call to full-time ministry, every day still felt like an education in what seminary didn’t teach me.  On top of all this, my faith was taking some new risks as marriage and parenting opened my understanding of God-as-and-God-in-community in sometimes unwelcome, sometimes unwitting, and totally unexpected ways.

I didn’t want to go to a spiritual director. Somewhere buried in my imagination, there is a vision of spiritual directors, life coaches, and motivational speakers, all standing at some “Spiritual Director, Life Coach, and Motivational Speaker Convention,” in a banquet hall, holding glasses of local wine and standing around a pony keg of craft beer, all wearing the same nametags: “Hello, I’m a Quivering Mass of Vulnerability. How ARE you today?”

Ugh…vulnerability…

So I did the requisite work of covering my tracks. I told no one except my wife. I scheduled the meetings towards the end of the day, making it look as I though I was just going home. The spiritual director, Doug, is Nazarene, a tradition way outside of my own “Isn’t It A Small Disciple World After All?” tradition.  He asked me to meet him at the seminary where he teaches and I knew there would be safety there, outside of the usual circles of acquaintance and inside of the walls of a place of which I had never (and still haven’t) heard any of my colleagues speak.

Doug welcomed me into his office with a handshake and a wide smile. Looking at the bookshelves that lined the walls, I scanned for the books that would assure me that this man whom I only knew through email was not a theological loony. I made a mental inventory: Okay, I see Anne Lamott and Marcus Borg. I’m safe here. Inviting me to sit in a tall green upholstered wing-back chair, Doug sat in a matching chair across from me and folded his long spindly fingers gently, closed his eyes and breathed deeply. You know, real spiritual-like. Or like Mr. Burns from The Simpsons. Take your pick.

We sat in silence together for a few minutes before Doug reached into a drawer in a coffee table between us, pulled out a box of matches, and lit a single liquid paraffin candle on the table, saying, “Let’s make room for God in this moment.” He explained that we’d sit in silence as long as I wanted and, when I was ready, I would break the silence by offering a prayer to start our conversation together.

Perhaps there was panic on my face, because Doug paused before explaining further, with great gentleness: “Really, you might ask yourself: What is God inviting you to in this? In this moment…in this situation…in this life…What is God in inviting you to in this?”

As I said to him just yesterday during our time together, after nearly a year of meeting monthly together in conversation, “I just don’t know.”

Thomas Merton has this prayer that goes like this:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.

I do not see the road ahead of me.

I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.

And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.

I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.

And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore will I trust you always, thought I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.

I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Sometimes the road before us is unclear, and the feelings of our gut or the thoughts from our trusty minds or the compellings of our hearts are rendered unreadable by the shear overload of any given moment. It’s liked we’re standing in the midst of a great path, in which we can see a few feet in front of us and a few feet behind, but beyond that the fog obscures our view and the only way we can see more of the road is by moving further into the fog, letting the road unveil itself a little at a time.

Those in ministry tend to pride themselves on being the ones who offer a hand in the fog, not those who search for it. And yet we’re prone just as much as anyone to be those who buy into the lie of our current world that we are enough by ourselves and on our own. This is only complicated by the congregations we serve, where we become “resident experts” whether in theology or scripture or building and grounds management or counseling or social services or even preaching. One of the symptoms of denominational decline has to be an overdependence upon clergy to be “all that.”

An invitation, though- a true invitation comes from outside of the selves we know, from someone else, from somewhere else, from a God who stands in the Fog with us thinking, “Is this guy thick or what?”  We can invite ourselves to something new, but that invitation should come from an uncomfortable and growing space inside of us unless it is to risk being vapid and trite.

If life invites us to something new, we might walk into the fog and not be ashamed to reach out to the hands we think we might need need. If the invitation comes from a place we don’t know well or even at all, we have to reach out to those hands and take them, even if we feel like we have to cover our tracks in the process.

Because isn’t faith the invitation to risk trusting?

How does that invitation go, “Behold, I am making all things new?”