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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Death by Hierarchy

I have a friend (no, seriously, I do!) who, several years ago, worked in an urban ministry organization that went through the change of hiring a new Executive Director (ED). The new ED did what all new heads of organizations get to do: he re-structured the entire organization.

Now, my friend was originally excited for the new boss. She and her colleagues were ready for new ideas. She loved her work – especially the people in the neighborhood that she worked directly with.

She, like many of her colleagues, thought at the time that a re-structuring was in order. However, the ED’s new structure quickly countered her hopes for a fresh beginning. She discovered that new structures do not necessarily bring about new ideas or visions. She learned firsthand that you cannot always restructure yourself into renewal.

Before the arrival of the new ED, the urban ministry seemed to thrive in the midst of chaos. It was exciting, but also tiring. When the ED’s new structure was implemented it benefitted a few in the office, but relegated my friend and her colleagues to the lower rungs of the ladder. Those who were promoted were given new titles and higher salaries, which naturally generated some hurt feelings. What once a community of colleagues took on a corporate culture.

While staff meetings previously had included a time for collective sharing and dreaming, the new staff hierarchy assigned decision-making power solely to the senior staff. Ideas could be submitted, but decisions were owned by senior staff and implemented by the rest of the staff. I never knew the toll it takes on a person when you take away their creative input until I saw it in my friend. Communication no longer ebbed and flowed organically among staff as they sought to discover new and innovative ways to serve their community. The ED’s new structure emphasized more tightly controlled means of communication. Ideas and requests flew up the chain while decisions and responses sailed down.

I remember being shocked when I ran into my friend at a conference a few years ago just a few months after the ED’s new structure had been implemented. I literally could see her depression on her face. Whereas she previously had been fully engaged in the life and vision and direction of the urban ministry, it was painfully obvious that she had become cynical and derisive. She still was passionate about the people in her community, but she felt invalidated, detached and alone in the place she once had felt so a part of.

Hierarchy had brought those who sat at the top greater efficiency and control, but efficiency and control do not always result in faithfulness ad effectiveness. In fact, I believe they rarely do. It is my strong contention that hierarchical structures in the church do not reflect Jesus’ Kingdom as much as “flatter” or more egalitarian structures.

Most of the renewal movements in the Church throughout history have reflected aspects of the New Testament church. It is in the birth of the Church that we see worship at its most vital, missional outreach at its most effective, and communal love at its greatest sense of harmony. That is, until a dispute erupts over the distribution of food.

It is in Acts 6 when the Hellenist Jews complained that their widows were being ignored in favor of the Hebrew Jews. This was, in fact, a cultural divide between Jews who spoke Greek and were acculturated in the wide reaches of the Roman Empire. In contrast, Hebraic Jews spoke Aramaic and came from Israel. This dispute over food was not a minor problem over structure or the need for better organization. It was a clash of cultures.

But the disciples instead saw the problem as one of structure and organization. Look at how they respond: “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables.” (6:2) Of course, in one sense they are right; they cannot do everything. But I cannot help but feel when I read this that they view this problem as less important than their work of preaching and teaching. Their work is viewed as more significant than that of “waiting on tables.” In this early moment in the life of the Church, they have created a hierarchy of responsibility within the Body of Christ. What makes this so problematic is the fact that on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit is poured out and the Church is born, Peter stands up and recites the prophet Joel:

In the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit and they shall prophesy. (Acts 2:17-18)

When the day of Pentecost comes and the Spirit is poured out, the hierarchies of the world are flattened. Valleys become hills and hills become valleys. The last will be first and the first will be last. It turns out that God prefers a more flattened structure where all people, men and women, sons and daughters, old and young, slaves and free, are to speak the words of God to God’s people.

I am saddened by what I see in the local churches and agencies of the United Methodist Church today. We seem bent on making the hills more hilly and the valleys more…valleyer? Instead of reflecting the New Testament church’s emphasis on the prophetic priesthood of all believers, we are a corporation filled with employees seeking upward advancement and the titles and recognition that go along with rising mobility. As we develop new structures and fool ourselves into believing God’s anointing will bless our misguided efforts, we too easily forget that those relegated to the bottoms of our little individual fiefdoms will be lost. Many of our pastors and deacons will leave the ministry and while there will be various reasons that account for their departure, one of the reasons I hear often is that they didn’t feel like their ministry mattered to the life of the institution.

God damn us for opting for the life of the institution and the preservation of a hierarchical structure over the gifts and callings of even the “least” of our sisters and brothers in fulfilling their callings and living out their gifts. Hierarchies work for those who are at the top, or those who buy into the ethic of climbing to the top, but hierarchies are not effective when the task is about loving God and loving others. Any structure that relegates large numbers of voices to the bottom and innately values some and invalidates others will never be effective. That is why Paul compares us to a Body with equally important parts, and not just a big head that mandates unthinking, subservient appendages to engage in mostly insignificant tasks for the pleasure and the benefit of the head.

I pray we recover the bottom-up ministry of Jesus and leave the top-down, title-filled, power-hungry hierarchies to the corporations where they belong. If we truly believe in the priesthood of all believers then let’s allow everyone a turn at speaking. Let’s get rid of the titles and the corporate-based salary structure that ignores legitimate need among our pastors and instead rewards institutional ass-kissing. Institutional hierarchies are efficient for those at the top, but they are not effective in helping us love God and love people. Flattened structures may be a little chaotic at times, but it was in those chaotic moments when everything seemed out of control that Pentecost happened once and can happen once again. I say let it come. 

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Danger of Incarnation to National Security

In March of this year Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials conducted an operation called, “Operation Cross Check.” Operation Cross Check detained over 2000 immigrants for the purpose of removing them from the United States. These people were deemed the highest priority for removal by ICE – they were supposedly the worst of the worst. Here is some of what ICE and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials had to say:
  • This nationwide operation led to the apprehension of more than 2,000 convicted criminal aliens who pose the greatest risk to our public safety. Today, communities around the country are safer because of the great work of the men and women of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement - Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas 
  • [Those apprehended in Operation Cross Check] meet our highest priorities to ensure public safety and national security. By focusing on those who pose the greatest risk to our communities, we are marshaling our limited resources in the most responsible manner - ICE Director Sarah SaldaƱa
Boy, do I feel safer since these ICE and DHS officials are out there getting the really horrible people bent on mayhem off of our streets. What they claim might have some veracity except for the fact that they are largely lying.

The Mennonite Central Committee has published a powerful and devastating critique called “Worst of the Worst?” In it, they highlight the blatant falsehoods of the quotes of the officials above. Almost half of those picked up had misdemeanor convictions and of those who had felony convictions, half were immigration-related violations. These are hardly the most dangerous people in our communities.

The Mennonites then highlighted several people who were among the 2000 people swept up by ICE, among them, a Mennonite Pastor named Max Villatoro. Pastor Max had “a records tampering conviction from 1999, related to his trying to obtain a state identification card. He was also convicted of DUI in 1998. Sixteen years later, Villatoro is now pastor of a church, husband and father of four U.S. citizen children, and works to help those struggling with substance abuse and addiction.”

Man, am I glad that ICE has kept this man far away from my community. If they had dared allowed him to stay, many more people might escape the clutches of addiction and might experience the presence of the Kingdom of God anew in their lives.

Yes, I am being sarcastic. But this angers me so much. In the process of “upholding the law” ICE has managed to separate families and weaken our communities, making it that might harder for impacted families and communities to succeed. This is the perfect image of a system that is absolutely broken and in desperate need for repair.

And the ICE officials who issued the above quotes are hoping that you and I will not know the difference. They are counting on us not knowing people directly impacted. Just reading what they said makes it seem like they are watching out for us – that they are genuinely interested in our safety. They are banking on our detachment from the people whose lives Operation Cross Check completely devastated through their sweep. They are counting on the accepted belief – an almost hegemonic belief that is – that law enforcement crackdowns on behavior deemed “illegal” are always a good thing.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I have served in urban and impoverished contexts and I believe that the police can serve as a very positive and powerful resource in those communities. But I also know firsthand, that law enforcement crackdowns or sweeps or operations almost always carry destructive results for the most vulnerable people in impacted communities. And whether it be immigration sweeps, or drug busts in urban neighborhoods, or any kind of enforcement operation; these actions are the least effective at really stopping the illegal behavior. But the actions continue because the officials who run them (who are far more at fault than the ICE agents or local police who have to carry them out), are counting on me and you knowing very few if any of those directly impacted. Because if we knew them, we would not allow them to continue.

Think about it. If we really were interested in stopping illegal behavior and preventing those in positions to commit illegal behavior from doing so again, then why, after the economic collapse in 2008, didn’t a bunch of police vans and trucks pull up to Wall Street and then pile in a couple thousand of the hedge fund managers and CEOs and CFOs of the stock-trading corporations that devastated our economy? Talk about amnesty! The hedge fund managers are still in those same jobs (and are back lobbying Congress to let them do what they did before again!) precisely because those of us in the predominant culture know those people. We are those people.

And in this lies the promise and danger of incarnational relationships among those directly impacted by broken systems. The story of Pastor Max is out – it can’t be hidden among the statistics that ICE and DHS officials want to throw at us and pacify us with. The actions of ICE and DHS are not entirely for the benefit of society and now we know that this is true. The good Mennonites who put this important study together have refused to allow his story and others like his to be swept away under the guise of “national security interests.”

There are literally millions of other stories of people whose lives have been crushed by the false claims of “public safety” or “national security.” These are peoples’ lives at stake. These are people from our communities with families who are devastated by dysfunctional and unjust systems; systems that are innately racist and classist. It is those systems that will not stop until people incarnated among those directly impacted stand up and ensure that those stories do not remain hidden. The Mennonites have shown us the way. Shall we follow?

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Justice System that Mo'ne and Jesus Would Love

When Mo’ne Davis starred last summer as a pitcher with an 80 mile-an-hour fastball in the Little League World series, I was, like everyone else, impressed. As impressive as her play on the field has been the grace and ease with which she has handled her fame off the field. She is poised in her interviews and genuinely low key. And now we can credit her with one more attribute: graciousness.

After it was announced that Disney was planning on making a film about her, a baseball player from Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania sent out an offensive tweet that was followed by an apology and the deletion of his Twitter account. The university responded by immediately removing him from the team.

What Mo’ne did next should serve as an example to those of us in the church. She sent an email to the president of the university and asked that the player be reinstated on the team. When asked about it in an interview she said, "Everyone makes mistakes and everyone deserves a second chance. I know he didn't mean it in that type of way, and I know a lot of people get tired of like seeing me on TV but just think about what you're doing before you actually do it. I know right now he's really hurt and I know how hard he worked just to get where he is right now."

She not only advocated for his reinstatement, she empathized with him and humanized him to the many people who were angered and offended by his tweet. Because of Mo’ne, the baseball player is no longer a sexist jerk who cruelly mocked a teenage girl. He is a young man who has worked hard to become one of the leading hitters on his college team. He is someone who made a mistake and has paid dearly for it for, as she claims, he is hurt even more than she is. And he is a young man who deserves a second chance because, as we all should be reminded, everyone makes mistakes. 

When I read Mo’ne’s comments I am reminded of how I wish our approach to crime could reflect more of Mo’ne’s comments that our current insatiable thirst for retribution. Fortunately, more and more people are seeing the length of some of the sentences that are being handed down, particularly for nonviolent drug offenses, as unnecessary and unduly punitive. And it may even surprise a few folks who share this view: Senator Ted Cruz, Senator Rand Paul and former Speaker Newt Gingrich to name a few.

But we still have the problem of demonizing certain people and claiming that they are beyond redemption or restoration. I see death row inmates in this class as well as people who have committed sexual crimes. We rightly find these crimes repugnant and devastating to the victims and their families. Approaching criminal justice from a restorative justice lens means first and foremost working for healing for the victims of crime.

At the same time, I think we have a tendency to define a person by the worst thing they have done. We see the detestable actions they have committed and they become those actions incarnate. Yet, Jesus, throughout the Gospels, repeatedly reaches out and makes an example of faith those deemed deviant by the rest of society, particularly those within the confines of his faith. Jesus humanizes them and makes it impossible for his followers to combine faith in him with demonization of those on the margins.

Our criminal justice system would be radically different – and far more effective, if we manifested this same kind of emphasis on restoration, even and perhaps especially on those who have committed the most heinous of crimes. All people are made in the image of God. All of us have sinned and fallen short. Those are truths whose ethical impact could very well transform our criminal justice system if we took them seriously.

The invitation is ours to extend to the most hardened of criminals, the most unreachable of people. Jesus is already there and bids us to join him to humanize those who would be demonized by the rest of society and locked away forever or even put to death. Whether it is a baseball player in Pennsylvania or someone who has committed an unspeakable crime, may we follow first the example of Jesus and even that of Mo’ne Davis and may we recognize the imago dei within them beyond the deed or deeds they have committed and then may we seek to restore them to a place of contribution once again. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

When Justice Isn't Justice At All

I can’t help but wonder sometimes if the very passion that drives us to work on justice issues is the same passion that hinders movement on related justice issues as we achieve the narrow agenda we are so focused on.

This came home to me in December 2010 when we came within a couple of votes in the Senate of passing the DREAM Act. I kept hearing DC advocates (though not from the DREAMers themselves) speak in favor of passage of the DREAM Act by referring to the students as “people who came to America though no fault of their own.” While this was believed, at the time, to appeal to moderates and maybe even a few of the hardliners who usually denounced undocumented immigration, in the end, statements like this have been hurtful to the larger goal of gaining citizenship for all immigrants. In validating the myth that some immigrants deserve protection of their rights while others do not, non-student immigrants have often been further marginalized from the goal of gaining citizenship because they are deemed to be at “fault” or less worthy than DREAMers. I believe we could have effectively advocated for passage of the DREAM Act while refusing to cast aspersions on non-DREAMers if we had simply been more mindful of unintended messages we were conveying.

For those of us committed to specific issues of justice – or with groups of people directly impacted by injustices – we would do well to ask how our work and especially our messages are impacting other connected issues to the one we are so passionate about.

Case in point, watch this video by Everytown for Gun Safety focused on state legislation in Nevada.

Of course, I sympathize with the need for more responsible gun ownership and the need to stand against far too many states that are being driven by the gun manufacturers-lobby that wants guns to be openly carried in every public space, including houses of worship. But in pushing back against this reckless agenda, I must ask, aren’t there better ways to make our point for public safety and responsible gun ownership other than demonizing returning citizens and those who suffer from mental illness?

I shudder to think how this 30 second ad will continue to perpetuate negative and quite frankly, false myths about the “dangerously” mentally ill and “criminals.” Why, in this ad, is “dangerous” not applied to the weapons and instead, attached to the person? And why can’t we talk about making our societies safer as a part of an over-arching call for all of us to live into a vision that addresses justice for everyone – including those suffering from mental illness and returning citizens?

If we want to talk about creating a vision that people can live into rather creating fear that people must flee from, then I think the best model I know of is in Micah 4:1-4. Micah gives a stunning description of the final days when nations will stream to the “mountain of the Lord” to have their conflicts settled peacefully. A beautiful picture of what conflict resolution looks like appears as nations then will be given the responsibility to “beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.” (v. 3) And as nations transform their weapons into instruments that provide for the well-being of all people, the deeper attitudes, behaviors, perspectives, and values – their worldviews – will be transformed as well: “neither shall they learn war any more.”

Once the violence of their hands and their hearts are washed clean and transformed, their hopes for security and abundance will be realized.

                But they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees,
                And no one shall make them afraid.

While Micah’s vision ends in peace and enough resources for all people – and I stress all – to live securely in abundance, I was saddened to see this ad by Everytown because it ends in fear and the demonization of people already on society’s margins. Micah’s vision calls us to work not only for safer communities, but safety is directly linked to world peace, poverty, hunger, the sanctity of work, and so many other issues.

While ads like these make us want to take action out of fear, Micah and many of the other prophets, including Jesus, have a more powerful and more effective motivation for change: a vision of love and justice for all people. Those of us with passion for specific issues would do well to learn that our issue will advance only as far as we advance all causes for justice, for if we can only do justice for one group at the expense of another then perhaps what we are doing isn’t justice at all. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

Lent is a Time to Set the Captives Free

As we are now in a time of Lent leading us to Easter Sunday it is right for us to reflect not only on Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, but his life and ministry as well. As we do, we recall that Jesus’ ministry began with the powerful words of the prophet Isaiah quoted in part, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me…to proclaim release to the captives and…to let the oppressed go free.” (Luke 4:18-19)

Freedom from captivity was a vital part of Jesus’ ministry and for those of us who claim to be recipients of Jesus’ grace we would do well to make this a vital part of our ministry as well. We too are called to proclaim release to the captives and to set free the oppressed. This call has never been timelier as we live in the most incarcerated nation on the face of the earth.

The United States is first in the world in mass incarceration and one of the main drivers of this systemic sin is the disastrous War on Drugs, 40 years of failed policies that have done little to nothing to curb drug dependence and have instead broken up families, destroyed communities and cost billions of dollars.

Fortunately, just as we receive hope on Easter Sunday with Jesus’ resurrection, there are hopeful steps that we as a nation can take to extricate ourselves from our own captivity to mass incarceration. Even in the current state of polarization that our Congress seems trapped in, there are numerous bills that have brought Democrats and Republicans together. One crucial bill introduced last week by Senators Durbin (D-IL) and Lee (R-UT) is the Smarter Sentencing Act. The legislation is an incremental step towards justice reform that would address the costly overcrowding crisis in the Bureau of Prisons by cutting in half the mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offenses and by authorizing judicial review of cases sentenced under the old 100 to 1 crack cocaine sentencing disparity for possible resentencing.

I chair the Interfaith Criminal Justice Coalition, working to end mass incarceration on Capitol Hill. Our coalition is made up over 40 faith organizations representing millions of people from across the theological and political spectrum and one of our primary goals this year is to see sentencing reforms like those found in the Smarter Sentencing Act enacted. We are meeting with numerous House and Senate offices and we have activated our grassroots folks. The time for dramatically reducing the size of our prison population has come.

Throughout the U.S. congregations dedicate countless hours to aiding, ministering alongside, and advocating for people negatively impacted by the criminal justice system. We are gravely concerned that overly punitive mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, passed by Congress nearly 30 years ago, have disproportionately and unfairly incarcerated people of color for low-level and nonviolent offenses.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission has previously testified before the Judiciary Committee that Black and Hispanic defendants constitute the majority of people subject to mandatory minimum sentences and existing opportunities for relief from them are less often available to African American defendants. Passage of sentencing reform measures like those found in the Smarter Sentencing Act would help restore fairness in our justice system by limiting this existing racial disparity. Therefore, my prayer this Easter is for the hearts of Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley, Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker John Boehner to soften and to make the passage of sending reform a priority for this year. Could the Holy Spirit even anoint Congressional leaders, “to proclaim release to the captives and…to let the oppressed go free”? What an amazing Easter this could be.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Blessing of Sarcasm (No, Seriously!)

Like so many people I was particularly shocked by the massacre last week at the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo. The idea that people would be so enraged by cartoons that they would kill someone, much less go on a mass murder spree, is stunning to me.

Obviously, murder does not reflect anything about God in any religious expression. But to kill in the name of God for the purpose of stamping out free expression is particularly revolting to me. As I have reflected on the repulsive nature of the event, I thought about how many times historically creativity has been stamped out in the name of religion, under the pretext of disrespect. Now, I want to be careful and not make any comparison – there is no comparison whatsoever between people who would murder large numbers of people and people who are just Debbie Downers.

But it does seem like we have a lot of Debbie Downers in the Church, doesn’t it? And it doesn’t matter from which side of the aisle you stand. I grew up spiritually rooted in conservative evangelicalism and man, if I had a dollar for every time someone was offended by a joke or comment I made I could build a new Crystal Cathedral! I used to beat myself up for it, promising I would rein myself in next time, get control of my mouth; not be so damned offensive. I was given lots (and I mean LOTS) of verses from offended fellow Christians about my need for self-control, my need to consider the “weaker” sisters and brothers who might be hurt in their faith by something I did or said, and my need to only say those things that are edifying to the Body of Christ. I tried to be speak only encouragement, but it only lasted as long as I didn’t see the blatant, hypocrisy so present in the church. In other words, it never lasted long. Now, I want to give my evangelical friends the benefit of the doubt and say that most meant well – they didn’t mean to stifle me, only to mature me. But no matter how they tried to “encourage” me, it always felt like a straightjacket; just too stifling.

And so when my job changed and I was hanging out with a whole lot more liberals and progressives I thought, “Hey, now it’s time for me to let it all hang out!” Boy was I wrong. And I am not talking about political correctness – I don’t feel the need to make racist statements. But I have felt, at times, as shut down by liberals as I ever was by conservatives. I am told quite a bit that there are just things that cannot be joked about and that list seems to be quite long. There are some folks – change that, there are a lot of folks, I just don’t joke with. And I know you are thinking, “lucky them!”

And let’s be serious. In the end, who really cares if I make some stupid jokes or not? No one. But I bring this up now because I am concerned for a church that is always so serious, that is always so offended at sarcasm or humor. A church that cannot laugh is a church that cannot breathe and a church that cannot breathe is certainly a church that will die.

No doubt, there are indeed somber moments in life. But the key word there is “moments.” Not years, not decades, not generations. Moments. There are times to be silent, times to be in awe of God’s beauty or wonder. And there are times to cut up, times to question the stupidity and mindlessness of the traditions we are handed down, times to mock the most serious of moments and ideas, times for sarcasm to remind us that what we believe is most holy might be only the most sacred of cows. Sarcasm can expose false gods and bring about much needed perspective. We need more sarcasm, more humor in the church, not less.

There is something particularly Pharisaical about shushing sarcasm and humor. There is something ungodly about drowning out laughter for the false sense of self-designed holiness. So I thank God for the souls at Charlie Hebdo. I Thank God that the idiots who hoped to crush satire have pushed a magazine that sells 60,000 copies to now sell 3 million. Let the laughter be lifted up to Heaven because I am sure in hell they are too busy telling everyone to shut up.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

My Final Update on my Sabbatical

I have come to the end of my time of sabbatical and as I wrote at the midway point in October, I have LOVED my sabbatical time. It has been a gift and I am deeply grateful to my office and especially the wonderful people who covered for me while I was away.

Sabbath is often characterized as a time to step away and gain new perspective as well as much-needed rest. I don’t see my Sabbath as a step back as much as it was a step forward into a direction I hadn’t experienced in a while; a step toward greater presence and creativity.

As I wrote in October, I have been able to be present for my two wonderful boys, Eli and Isaiah, as well as for my beautiful partner in life, Marti. I take my boys to school, I am home when they get home from school and I run everyone on endless errands, but I have loved every minute of it. I felt like I knew my sons fairly well before, and I won’t embarrass them and say everything that I learned and never knew here, but one of the things that I was surprised at was how much they genuinely love one another. I didn’t grow up in a close family so it has been one of the greatest blessings of my life to see my two boys really love each other. They share things, they encourage one another and they can make each other laugh like no one else. I have been able to be present when school stories become side-splitting, laugh-til-you-cry episodes. I love to make people laugh, but I have never laughed so much myself until this time of Sabbath – thanks to my two amazing boys.

Presence has also been something I have been able to give to my church. In the almost nine years I have been at GBCS my family has attended Culmore UMC and we love it. It is a multi-cultural, multi-socioeconomic  Body that truly loves and serves Jesus. But throughout my time at Culmore I have always felt like I am half there, if even that. I travel a lot with my work and so one of the things I am pulled away from is being present at my church. It has been during my Sabbath that I have been able to step into greater presence in my local church and in leadership as we, like so many other churches, struggle with knowing exactly how we are called to serve. I love my church more than I did before and it is a commitment I plan on continuing to live out.

And that is what Sabbath is all about isn’t it? Having a time of rest not to simply pick up where we once left off and continue to do the same thing we did prior to our Sabbath. God forbid! Sabbath is meant to gain wisdom so that we can be even more effective in the work we are called to. The one thing that I haven’t learned as much as it has been even more deeply embedded in me is that THE locus of mission and transformation is the local church. No other place can match the local church for where personal transformation can occur. No other place can match even the political impact that is felt when local churches opt for incarnation among people who are marginalized and abused through systems of injustice. In short, the local church is where the action is and nothing else comes close.

Though those and good and faithful souls at the general church level can mistakenly fool ourselves through endless meetings and thousands of emails into believing that we are the source of change and missional movement, it is actually the local church where it all begins and ends. Therefore, all we do should be focused on supporting, empowering, and unleashing the work of our local churches.

And while I return to work with renewed determination to no longer work 12-15 hour days, to no longer allow work to crowd me out of being present for my family and my church, I also return with a passion to see that all I am doing is to support the life-changing, society-changing, politically-impactful work that is happening in so many United Methodist churches.

I will remain present and engaged in my church as well. I will cut down on my travel – especially on trips that have nothing to do with supporting the work of local churches and on trips that carry into Sundays. I will continue to pour myself into reconnecting the general church with the local church in ways that are meaningful and helpful to those doing the amazing incarnational work among those being crushed by injustice. And I will continue to pour myself into my family and my church for nothing can match the power that is found when a vision for mission is collective and life is shared. I am blessed beyond measure and I am so grateful for it.