Thursday, March 27, 2008

From a holiness ghetto into community life and service

Recently, I was asked to respond to a questionnaire regarding turning points in my spiritual life. Here's an excerpt of my response:

LOVE IT, WARTS AND ALL. I grew up as a “preacher’s kid” in a Wesleyan/holiness parsonage and church. I sought God early and often; I felt and knew the love of God in my heart. I loved the church and readily conformed to its many stipulations. By the time I was an adolescent, however, I wanted nothing to do with patten-leather shoes, beehive hair-dos, racist jokes, legalistic rules, or easily-offended authority. My critical eye, however, could not dismiss the depth of religious experience and personal integrity in many of the people of our congregation. Unlike most of my teenage church friends, I could not walk away from the church. Warts and all, misguided and imperfect as it appeared to be, this faith and the experiences of faith of many in the church was real. I determined to follow Jesus and be a part of the church—even to be a part of redeeming it and delineating essentials from nonessentials, authentic from the inauthentic.

CALLING WITH AN URBAN FOCUS. During my freshman year of college I had an existential crisis that opened me up to a calling to full-time ministry. Based on my reactions to most pastors that I observed, I could not envision myself being a “typical” pastor. I was, however, drawn to a few ministers who spoke in our college chapel about their work in inner-city areas of Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. These people were engaging in ministry beyond the walls of the church in places that were being left behind in fear and devastation. They drew clear Biblical connections in the Old Testament prophets and in Jesus’ call to serve the poor. They pointed to the ministry of John Wesley and the holiness movement as taking root and flourishing among the poor and in the cities. They called for a renaissance of such ministry today. My heart resonated with this arena of ministry and this is the track I followed in college and seminary. Since seminary, I’ve been privileged to share urban ministry, in one way or another, in the city of Indianapolis. I have had an open door of leadership both in congregations and in community-based organizations. But even this creative service and leadership has seemed preparatory to something that lies ahead.

SPIRITUAL JOURNALING. I have found spiritual journaling to be an important aspect of my journey of faith to this point. I learned this practice during a spiritual formation course in seminary and have practiced it ever since. Journaling has helped me through several personal and spiritual crises, guiding me to discern difficult choices, overcome deep disappointments, and work through complicated relationship challenges. I’m grateful for this avenue as a means of grace. In addition to helping me form, express, reflect on and grow in my faith, it has sharpened my speaking ministry and developed into a ministry of writing. In addition to published articles and stories, I weekly glean and share insights and reflections on a couple of websites and blogs (this being one!). An e-journal called “Grace Between the Lines” is accessed by over a 1,000 readers each week. I find joy in exploring and articulating what I learn and observe of God’s incredible grace.

Photo: me and Abby, our 22-year-old daughter who will graduate from the university in a month and marry later this summer

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