Self-Care Is a Requirement for Ministry

My friend Steve Austin, not of the Stone Cold variety, has one of the most compelling stories. We’ve shared his comeback from addiction and depression on Crackers and Grape Juice. Steve has convinced me that as a husband, father, and pastor putting myself first isn’t necessary a bad thing. Steve has convinced me that self-care matters.

I met Steve in a Facebook group for Christian bloggers and authors.  Steve posted a link to his latest book, From Pastor to Psych Ward: Recovery from a Suicide Attempt is Possible, and I knew from the title I needed to read it. Steve doesn’t hold much back as he looks back on what led him from the pulpit to the psych ward.  Steve burned the candle at both ends: working full-time, being a father & husband, and also serving a church.  On top of that he had been abused as a child (to which he openly deals with what that meant for him as a teenager and also as an adult).

Steve is launching a new opportunity for all of us concerned with our own self-care as well as those around us.

The Self Care Challenge

How Does the Self Care Challenge Work?

  • Each day, you’ll receive an email with a self-care challenge, including follow-up questions and a “Messy Grace Mantra”.
  • You’ll also have access to a closed Facebook group where you can connect with and encourage others who are doing the self-care challenge, too. This is a great way to build community!
  • In short, you’ll have all the tools you need to make this challenge a success!

What’s in it for me?

  • Are you tired of feeling overwhelmed?
  • Are you drowning in a sea of shame?
  • Does it seem impossible to tell others “no”?
  • Are you struggling with addiction?
  • Does anyone actually know the “real” you?
  • Does anxiety whisper white noise in your ear?
  • Is the black dog of depression nipping at your heels?

 

If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, the 7-day Self-Care Challenge will give you tips and trick to take better care and control of your life. If you don’t take good care of yourself, nobody else will!

Ready to start the challenge? Just click here!

Connecting Communities With Rabbi Hayim Herring 

A few weeks ago I had a chance to interview Rabbi Hayim Herring for an episode of Crackers & Grape Juice. At a time when our communities are more connected than ever, why is it that faith communities feel disconnected from one another and their larger community? Rabbi Hayim Herring, co-author of Leading Congregations and Non-Profits in a Connected World, tells us why this is happening and offers ways faith communities can reconnect.

We talked about a wide range of topics tying back to our connected communities, or unconnected communities, both in the church and synagogue context.

Being a youth pastor, one of my chief complaints about the church is that youth groups are often a separate congregation within the church. It is not uncommon for churches to have separate worship services just for teenagers, separate from the larger congregation.

Last year, I presented a workshop on this topic at the Progressive Youth Ministry Conference.

‘Youth Ministry Beyond the Bubble’ explored how we can move beyond the traditional models of ministry and begin the practice of risk taking as a faith community. What we are presenting is the collective efforts of what we’ve learned during our time in seminary (part of my focus has been on youth ministry) and in our local ministry setting.  

It should be no surprise that youth ministry is struggling like the rest of the church and it’s been my experience that most of the struggles we have are because we are focusing on the wrong thing: numbers. Numbers of weekly participants, number of “salvations” (yes this is a real thing), number of parent volunteers, number of retreats, mission trip numbers. Number. Numbers. Numbers.
I’ve noticed lately in online youth ministry groups that people are being fired (or forced to resign) for a lack of numbers in there programs all the while the rest of the church is declining. Youth pastors more and more frequently are being asked to grow a ministry that is engaged in the church all the while being forced into a corner of the church very few people go visit – The Youth Wing.
What’s really at play here, in some way, is that while churches are struggling to grow student ministry seems like it should be growing fast, right? I mean, we just bought $5000 worth of video games and TV’s, renovated the youth area, and then hired a young(er) good looking guy to lead this band of teens. And yet, churches still are not seeing the growth they desire, or that the community needs when it comes to ministering to students. Why is this?

I think Rabbi Hayim’s book is of great value to anyone seeking to connect communities; both in the youth ministry world and beyond.

Are You Strangely Warmed?

When Crackers & Grape Juice first started, Tony Jones argued the best option for a the title was, “Strangely Warmed.” Jason being Jason went against the better advice, withholding Tony’s suggesting to us, and we went with “Crackers & Grape Juice.” The past is in the past, and there is nothing we can do about it now.

Since Crackers & Grape Juice began 11 months ago, we have quickly developed a great base of listeners. Both clergy and lay listeners have embraced our bi-weekly conversations, bearing through some awful sound quality problems (but hey, you’re getting it for free right?). A few months ago we threw around the idea for a new podcast. This podcast would be a weekly focus on the Lectionary. Since 2/4 of the team preaches regularly it made sense. They were already preparing sermons, why not throw in our 2 cents to the Lectionary passage for that week.

Strangely Warmed will be the new addition to the Crackers & Grape Juice family. And rather than forcing more of our own opinions on you, we are enlisting the voices of some of our favorite Crackers & Grape Juice guests and theologians.

We are kicking the new podcast off with the lections for Ash Wednesday, Year A. Fleming Rutledge will provide her commentary on Ash Wednesday services, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21, and even prophetic preaching.

You won’t want to miss a single episode of this weekly podcast. Lined up after Ash Wednesday we have three weeks of Lent with Stanley Hauerwas, a few weeks with Eric Hall (our resident Catholic-heathen), and Tony Jones will walk us through Holy Week.

Head over to iTunes, Spreaker, Stitcher, or wherever you download podcasts and subscribe today. If you have a pastor/preacher friend be sure to pass this post along to them.

So What Should The Church Do About Refugees?

There’s a good chunk of our Bible where refugees are the main character of the story. Israel spent a lot, and I mean a lot of time as refugees. It was during this time that God was first revealed to us when Israel was in a refugee status. Fast forward a few years God takes on human flesh (i.e. Jesus) as a refugee. Fast forward a few more years and God tells us that we are to care for refugees as he is preparing to take on death. I guess you could say that our story, the story of the church, is a story that compels us to care for refugees.

While some borders are closing, or continue to remain closed to those seeking refuge from violence, there are border that are opening and continuing to open daily. This can be taken in two ways. First, there are congregations where refugees and immigrants are being cared for. Rising Hope UMC in Alexandria, VA is one of those communities. Those seeking refuge from the cold weather find a safe place to rest at Rising Hope. These people, seeking refuge and safety, are in many cases forgotten and cast aside by our communities. Our church buildings can literally become the place where refuge is found (isn’t it supposed to be like that anyways?).

Since the ICE roundup across the street from Rising Hope UMC last week, there has been a renewed call for churches to be places of sanctuary. ICE overstepped by waiting for the men they detained to leave a church. Yes, I acknowledge the legal arguments many will make, however, waiting outside a church for someone to walk away will force many refugees and immigrants into hiding.

The second way borders are opening and continuing to open is through other nations where xenophobia and Islamophobia have not yet taken hold. What then are we, Christians feeling compelled to act, to do? Support these nations and organizations/faith communities where refugees are being cared for.

The faithful witness for the church includes protesting while at the same time calling us to support congregations in nation where refugees are being welcomed. We have not mandate from God to tell our nation and our leaders how to secure our borders. The only thing we’ve been mandated by God is to care for those who come to us. This can get us in trouble because at what point has someone come to us? Is it when they step foot on our side of the border or when they step foot inside our home or church?

So, what is the nature and role of the church in this time where refugees and immigrants are unable to find refuge? We tackled this topic and more in a recent episode of Crackers & Grape Juice. I’d love to know what you think.

Trump is Our Nero

Donald Trump is the Emperor Nero for 2017.  Some of you who skipped the first week of church history are saying, “Nero-what?”

So to begin with, who was Nero?

Nero was the the Emperor of the Roman Empire from 54 AD until 68 AD. He was the last of the “Julian Emperors”. For our purposes we need to focus on what is known as the Great Fire of Rome. The long and short of it is as follows: the majority of Rome burned to the ground. The vast majority of building during this time period was wooden. 

Why do we care about this? Well, Nero mismanaged the situation. Like any good leader, Nero redirects the blame to a vulnerable group to avoid the pressure and accountability that was due to him. The minority group to absorb the blame due Nero was the Christians.

The result of Nero’s blame for the fear and destruction resulting from his fire mis-management was Christians being attacked with torches and by animals.

Fast forward almost 2000 years.

Christians are not being torched or attacked by lions in the streets, but Trump is still utilizing the Christians as deflector for his mismanagement of the Muslim ban rollout.

Trump is not reinstating Christendom in The United States, but instead is acting against Christians, (intentionally or unintentionally) without most Christians realizing it. Even while the ban is debated and blocked by the courts, Trump continues to use tactics similar to persecutors we’ve learned about in church history to isolate and deflect blame from himself towards those who seek to care for the immigrant and refugee.

How is Trump persecuting the church? He is persecuting the church in three ways: division and antagonizing, patronizing, and puppetry.

Division & Antagonization

You have to give him credit, the Donald is great at dividing and antagonizing us.

Fear is the best way to divide and isolate. While many Christians oppose this ban, Trump’s use of fear mongering towards Muslim immigrants and refugees has turned many Christians away from our Biblical mandate to care for these groups towards isolationism and nationalism. Many people who are regularly supporting the care of refugees around the world are having a change of heart as Trump uses fear of the other to wedge a divide within the church.

Now the wedge in the church may be an unforeseen bi-product, but nonetheless it exists.

Patronization

Patronization is a big part of any political agenda. I get it. But playing to a certain political base, and in our case Christians who cannot see how we could ever live with any other religion on the planet, is not creating policies or agendas that seek security. These actions are playing to the lowest common denominator in a way that keeps us divided amongst ourselves for longer periods of time. All the while, we forget that the church and Christians are called to live out a life that looks different from what the world is telling us to live.

Puppetry


Finally, like Nero, Trump is turning our communities against one another. Rally and counter rallies are being organized in cities across the country. Churches are being divided into Red and Blue churches, focused on refuting or defending a ban based solely on a person’s religion.

With us now fighting among one another, either in person or via social media, we run the risk of becoming tired, and then unwilling or able to have meaningful dialogue around this divisive and complex issue.

What do you think? Have you noticed any of these three 21st century-first world persecutions happening in your community?



So to begin with, who was Nero?

Are Christians Bringing Sharia Law to America?

On the latest episode of Crackers and Grape Juice we talked travel bans, Islam, xenophobia, and Sharia law.


Our guest, Mona, discusses the consequences President Trump’s Muslim travel ban has had and will have on her and our fellow Muslim American brothers and sisters. With all the talk of travel and immigration bans there have been real consequences. American citizens who are Muslim have been forced to have tough conversations with their neighbors and children. Xenophobia is creating fear throughout our nation rather than embracing the diversity we have in our country. And while we are forcing what we’ve deemed as “the other” to have these conversations, it seems that we have neglected to have the same conversations.

Consider Mona’s words from a week or so ago:

We are getting so mixed up with everything thrown at us I think that perhaps one thing we all agree on doesn’t seem to be clear.

We would like our country to be safe and we would like to see ISIS eradicated. What we disagree on is how this is going to happen. What is alarming is the attempt to couch any disagreement with how it is done as a failure to care about the safety of Americans. That’s ridiculous.

You know why I oppose waterboarding? Not because it’s cruel or unconstitutional, but because experts say that it does not work. If one of my daughters disappeared tomorrow and you told me that you had a suspect that you wanted to waterboard I’d say I’ll do it myself if that means we’ll get answers. The reason I wouldn’t do that is that there are better ways to get the answers we need.

We don’t want to give ISIS propaganda tools not because we are catering to them, but because research has shown that this is what they want. We need to play the game in a way that we are going to win. It’s fun to say we’re going to “knock the hell out of ISIS” but it only matters if your tactics work. Republicans are not the only people who don’t want another terror attack. Don’t you think the children of liberals go to malls and zoos and movies? Not one sane person in this country is willing to risk another terrorist attack if we can prevent it. The discussion is, how do we prevent it.

I posit that American Muslims would like everything possible to be done to stop a terror attack, perhaps more than the rest of you because God help us we get it from both ends. On the one hand we are the victims of the terrorist on the other hand we get the backlash. It is absolutely disheartening that after the shooting in the Canadian mosque last night by a pro-Trump white nationalist most people lost interest in the shooting completely, particularly our new administration that is so laser focused on terrorism. It was only interesting when the perpetrator may have been a Moroccan immigrant. Both ends. We get shot while praying and we are accused of not caring about terrorism if we say please don’t assume I’m the shooter.

The only silver lining I’ve seen in the last ten days is people moving beyond their own personal interest. Call it intersectionalism or whatever, it’s something I have shared with my friends for years. God is the same no matter what language you use to pray or faith tradition you follow, black lives have always mattered, who you love is your business, and reproductive rights are personal. Whether you’ve been pushed into this way of thinking by current events or you have always felt human first and that God gave each of us free will for a reason, your support now is so welcome and I will continue supporting you. And to the white women (and men, but as always women get the worst of it) out there who don’t always have a dog in this race but march, and post, and protest, and many times lead the fight? Thank you. The implication that you should feel that it is not your right to do so irritates me no end. Many of you have been my best allies for years now, not just when it impacted you directly.

The events of this weekend have shaken me up. Again, not because I want unvetted refugees to enter the country or visas given out like candy to foreign nationals (I don’t) but because the broader implications of an administration that disregards checks and balances and acts without counsel and refuses to concede valid points of criticism is pointing us down a dangerous road. We are moving there at breakneck speed.

My conservative friends have (mostly) stayed quiet and I will tell you it hurts. After the election an article was sent to me by a friend who worked in the Reagan administration to assuage my fears. In relevant part it stated “Born or naturalized Americans, working or studying on a proper visa and abiding by American laws, whether Muslim, Mandarin, or Martian, should understand that they have nothing to fear.” I haven’t asked him (yet) if he still feels that way.

Your silence hurts me because I am at an anxiety level where I panic at the grocery store not sure how much longer I’ll be able to buy produce outside of an internment camp (or worse). I try focusing on work but I feel like I should be planning an “out” for my family for WHEN this administration chooses to attempt to suspend the rights of Muslim Americans allegedly in the name of national security. The only thing that gives me comfort is all of the friends and family who have stood up for our rights and I believe will continue to do so. If you asked me last year if that included you my conservative friends, I would say absolutely. We grew up together, went to college or graduate school together, we raised children together and sit on the bleachers and complain together. There is no way you think that what is happening right now is o.k. I tell myself. But you know what? I’d like to hear that from you. I’d like to hear you call out crazy when you see it, because unfortunately the only voices this President hears is those of his supporters.

There are real consequences to our actions or lack of action. We are now being forced into conversations we’ve been avoiding for the past 15 years. Conversations and discussions we avoided because we weren’t the problem because we had a friend who happened to be Muslim. Discussions over the Trump travel ban have ranged from protestors taking to the streets to This American Life devoting an entire episode to the botched roll out of the highly suspect and questionable “security measure.”

In today’s episode we have the discussion we’ve been avoiding.


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Everyone Doesn’t Believe What You Believe

A few weeks ago while at the Theology Beer Camp, otherwise known as vacation Bible school for adults I was part of a conversation focused on the current political. There was a lot of what you could call “Trump-bashing” leading up to and during this conversation. This conversation was the day of the inauguration. President Trump had not been in office for 4 hours and already his presidency was being critiqued. You could say he had given us enough to critique leading up to his inauguration.

During our conversation Jason made the observation that the majority gathered group had made a huge assumption: that everyone in the room had in fact voted for Donald Trump. While I struggled to pass statistics at West Virginia Wesleyan I can tell you for certain that statistically speaking there was at least 1 person in the room that rainy Friday afternoon who voted for the Donald. You could even argue that at the Women’s March on Washington, along with the local marches, there were women and men present who voted for Trump as well.

This was a huge assumption for us to make. While it is easy for us to critique Trump for his terrible foreign policy decision so far it was unfair for us to assume that no one in the room disagreed with us, especially when we did not provide them with the space to voice their difference of opinion.

The same is true of our local congregations. Is it not?

There was a time when I made this assumption in youth ministry. Why would a kid show up to church for youth group if they didn’t believe in God?

Oh I don’t know, maybe the opposite sex?

Once I realized not every student in the room agreed with or believed the same time, the assumptions I was made changed dramatically. My teaching changed and I changed. I was able to minister to the atheist or the student whose faith was rocky. I was more approachable by students who had questions and I was able to better respond to their questions. I was able to invite conversation to our group rather than a monologue from myself or the over-zealous student.

The same is true of those of you preaching every Sunday. Not everyone in the pews believes what you’re preaching. 

There are times in preaching and teaching when what we say matters. Whether it is firm Christian doctrine of positions of the local church, I am fine with those being strongly held. But to have the overarching assumption that everyone in your church on Sunday mornings, every baptized person in the building, or every Sunday school teacher believes is just dangerous.

It is dangerous because of the reasons I outlined from my youth ministry experience: we fail to make space for doubt, push back, disagreement, and conversation.

Our lack of space for doubt, push back, disagreement, and conversation is what has lead to the political divide we have in our country. If we fail to make space for doubt, push back, disagreement, and conversation we only threaten to aid the divide to grow further.

In the UMC we laud our “open hearts, open minds, open doors” slogan. If this were truly realized the assumption that everyone in the room believe what we are preaching would not exist. We would make the assumption then, if we believe our own catch phrase, that in fact there are many in the room who do not believe. And that is what the body of Christ is supposed to do, be a place where all are welcome.

Maybe our slogan and catch phrase should sound more like this:

Come, “you who have much faith and you who would like to have more; you who have been here often and you who have not been for a long time; you who have tried to follow Jesus, and you who have failed; come.” – Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals

The Story of God

James Younger, executive producer of National Geographic’s The Story of God with Morgan Freeman, joins the podcast to discuss faith, religion, and all things Story of God. The Story of God was a sponsor of Theology Beer Camp in sunny rain-soaked SoCal.

To make this event even better Chapman Crafted brewed two special beers in honor of Morgan Freeman. There was the IPA called “The Voice of God” and the dIPA called “The Rumble of God” in honor of Morgan’s most luscious pipes. I can tell you both did justice to the beauty that is Morgan Freeman’s voice.

Other great podcasts were present at Theology Beer Camp and they too interviewed James. Take sometime today to check out the work of Nathan Gilmour of the Christian Humanist podcast HERE and he Newsworthy with (Luke) Norsworthy podcast HERE.

Better yet, check out the companion podcast to the The Story of God With Morgan FreemanThe Story of God-cast, hosted by Tripp Fuller and Barry Taylor.

You can watch The Story of God with Morgan Freeman on Monday evenings at 9 PM EST on the National Geographic Channel.


If you like this post and want to follow my blog, all you have to do is subscribe using the ‘Subscribe Here’ box above in the top right corner.

Click the images below and subscribe to the Crackers & Grape Juice Podcast. We promise to provide you with theological conversations without stained glass language. For the love of all that is holy: Give us a review there in the iTunes store, Stitcher, or on Spreaker. It’ll make it more likely more strangers and pilgrims will happen upon our meager podcast.

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Liturgy Is a Show

WARNING: I must warn you that this episode contains language that might upset some of you.

While hanging out in L.A. for Theology Beer Camp, Jason and I were joined by Todd Littleton of the Patheological Podcast to interview a few of the featured camp speakers. Before this post gets moving I would be remiss if did not invite you to subscribe to Patheological. It is a great podcast covering all areas of theology for both the pastor as well as the person in the pew.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Barry Taylor  is an Episcopal priest, Professor of Faith and Culture at Fuller Theological Seminary, and the author of Entertainment Theology: New-Edge Spirituality in a Digital Democracy.  In addition to being a theology nerd, he also co-hosts the ‘Story of God’ Podcast which is the official after show for the hit National Geographic

We should let pop music do our worship music for us.

We look to our worship music to express how we feel too literally. This is particularly true of contemporary Christian music. Music generates an emotional response and arch.  The problem of contemporary Christian music that Barry points out is the formula often used. Did you say “Jesus” enough? Were there enough invitations of surrender?

Barry talks about this, along with his unique conversion experience.

WARNING: I must warn you that this episode contains language that might upset some of you.

As you are listening to this podcast be sure to show some love to Patheological and ‘Story of God’-Cast podcasts. These guys put a lot of work in, just like we do on Crackers & Grape Juice. So, if you like this podcast or one their podcasts, please let us all know.


If you like this post and want to follow my blog, all you have to do is subscribe using the ‘Subscribe Here’ box above in the top right corner.

Click the images below and subscribe to the Crackers & Grape Juice Podcast. We promise to provide you with theological conversations without stained glass language. For the love of all that is holy: Give us a review there in the iTunes store, Stitcher, or on Spreaker. It’ll make it more likely more strangers and pilgrims will happen upon our meager podcast.

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How to Critique Your Pastor Fairly

Last summer the Washington Post provided a list of ways the press should be covering then candidate Trump. For those wondering, this was satire and in no way was a legitimate suggestion. The mere fact that I felt compelled to explain this proves just how fragmented we are right now.

Here’s a Reader’s Digest summery of the list:

  1. Donald Trump is never wrong.
  2. Style is as important as substance.
  3. Does Donald Trump contradict himself? Very well; he contradicts himself. Donald Trump is large. Donald Trump contains multitudes.
  4. Who among us has not been in the position where what he means to say is something wise and temperate and what actually comes out of his mouth is a garbage fart?
  5. Remember the transitive property of Trump: Whenever Donald Trump loves something, it loves him back.
  6. Donald Trump’s hair is real.
  7. Two words: LARGE HANDS.
  8. Facts are often biased against Donald Trump and should be used sparingly in reporting, if at all. Think of them as a garnish, not an entree.
  9. Donald Trump’s word suffices. Fact-checking is at best gauche and at worst treasonous.
  10. Donald Trump believes that criticism is healthy.

I thought, because pastors are one of the people in the community everyone feels open to criticizing, sometimes without cause, it might be helpful to provide a similar list to critiquing your local pastor. This list is in no way exhaustive and should be used contextually based upon your local church.  Seminaries named, Duke and Princeton, can be exchanged freely for other institutions such as Liberty, Regent, or any institution with the title ‘Bible College’ in it.

How to properly critique your pastor:

  1. Your pastor if he went to Duke is probably wrong
  2. Her illustration may have made no sense but it looked cool, was semi-relevant, and got a half-hearted laugh from the early service.
  3. Your pastor is not contradicting himself. And neither is the Bible. Just believe me.
  4. If what you hear your pastor say is offensive or untemperate it’s probably because you’re just a lay person and not a Duke-trained seminary graduate.
  5. If it seems like your pastor loves you too much during stewardship season don’t worry, in a few weeks he’ll go back to only loving himself (and Princeton).
  6. The only reason they wear robes is because they  don’t want to embarrass you and your poor fashion choices.
  7. Two Words: The Sacraments.
  8. If you say the sermon was over your head you probably weren’t listening (or didn’t go to Duke). Also, please refer to #4.
  9. Fact checking sermons is discouraged and eats up the church’s limited wifi bandwidth.
  10. Your pastor, bless her heart, loves hearing what you have to say about her sermon in the receiving line after worship. Believe me.

What would you add to the list?

For the full article from the Washington Post, click here.