I haven’t posted on this blog in quite a while, but this post is more than a simple tweet or fb status update, so it seemed fitting for me to revisit this blog-o-mine.
As many of you know, I have been the associate pastor at Community Covenant Church (CCC) in East Bridgewater, MA for a little over two years now. Becoming a pastor came as a surprise not only to many of my friends, it was a bit of shock to the system for me as well. It came about at a time when my father was near the end of his life, and I was struggling to understand or find the hope that I once embraced so tightly. Somehow, it was during this time of uncertainty the Spirit saw fit to invite me into something new.
When I received an invitation to consider the position at CCC, I was in no way hoping to pursue pastoral work. In fact, I had dropped out of seminary 4 years prior due to internal belief conflicts. As you can imagine, I thought I had left the potential for church work in the rear view mirror. But when I spoke to an acquaintance at CCC about considering the position, a peace came over me that I can only describe as overwhelming. I knew it was right.
To be honest, it made no sense to me. I had become totally and completely compelled by city life, fully dismissing life in the suburbs. Working with the homeless communities in Brockton and Quincy overtook and consumed me in a way that I was convinced I would never be able to do any other kind of work. I’d certainly never become a pastor in the burbs. Or so I thought.
But this rural/suburban community awoke something within me that I didn’t realize I had lost: compassion for folks in the suburbs. I needed healing from my own pain and judgments, and this Christian community gave me just that. In that way, they gave me far more than I could have ever offered them.
It is with great sadness that I am nearing the end of my time at CCC, but I am headed toward something I had once dismissed with even more intensity than being a pastor in an established church; I am planting a church in Brockton, MA.
Through a lengthy period of discernment, assessments and affirmations, Jen and I have agreed to pursue this uncertain venture. We have longed for an opportunity to share life with folks in a place like Brockton for many years now, and it appears that seeking the Kingdom has led us to this place at this time.
Why Brockton? Well, that’s a much longer conversation…but I will say this: whether we are successful in establishing a sustainable Christian community in this city or not (and I hope we are), we will, without a doubt, experience the grace of God in new and profound ways; we will form new relationships with folks from all sorts of ethnic, racial and socio-economic backgrounds; and in so doing, we will get a taste of what the Kingdom will be like when people from every nation, tribe and tongue comes together to worship our Creator together.
I will post updates as time goes on. Thank you all for your prayers and support!
you’ve practiced with your section
you’ve practiced alone
you’ve practiced some more
you eat, sleep, dream this piece of music
and the time has come to put it all into practice
you come together with all the other parts
tune your instrument
and anticipate the direction of the conductor
horns usher us into a triumphant beginning
strings draw us towards the beauty of their tethered artistry
cymbals, timpanis and bells heighten our awareness of something still to come
harps make aware their angelic pathway
and flutes deliver their soft, sweet melodies
all of the hours, mistakes and “aha!” moments come together to form
one remarkably unified piece of art,
held together by the swift, fluid direction of the conductor,
who knows each part as intimately as the next
and calls upon every individual player to wait, listen, blend, accent, rise, fall, breathe.
we’ve learned our parts
and read the music
but it is at the conductors feet we sit,
waiting for direction
when to slow down. speed up. get loud. be quiet. wait our turn.
it is the conductor who brings us together
to put into practice all that we’ve learned
and to move forward together
One of the exciting parts of my new job is that I was given the privilege of offering a meditation during our town’s ecumenical service tonight in order to celebrate the beginning of Advent. In the middle of pain, disillusionment and public outcry against injustice expressed across our country, I think it’s a good time for us to remember the God who decided to embrace our frailty and suffering in order to set us free. Here is the text from my meditation this evening:
We come together this evening to reflect, experience and anticipate the coming of the Word of God made Flesh. In doing this, I would like to suggest that we will meet the God of Creation in a way that will change not only what we believe about God, but also who we become.
We first meet God in the flesh as the most vulnerable of all creatures, an infant. If, for just a moment, we stop to consider the obscene notion that not only would God choose to dwell among us AS one of us, but that God would relinquish control over God’s own self to a teenage mother and reluctant father on the run from home. A teenage mother and faithful husband-to-be who were insignificant even among their own people (and had become even more so due to the scandal of a pregnancy outside the bonds of marriage). Two insignificant humans, in an insignificant shelter meant for animals, placed within an insignificant corner of the Roman Empire…
When God visits Creation, it happens where and with whom we would least expect.
When we meet God in the flesh, as it was for his own family, it’s likely we would not recognize him as the savior of all humankind, never mind the Creator of the Universe. Certainly there were predictions and prophecies filled with hope for a Messiah that would come to save Israel. But like this?
When we meet God in the flesh we are hesitant to embrace the God who would choose humility and poverty over power and wealth in order to make us free. Because when we meet God in the flesh, we do so filled with all of our preconceived notions, not only about what God is like, but about holiness and keeping the code of our religion, as did religious folks in Jesus’ day. That God, upon visiting Creation, would not overwhelm us with power and might in order to make his presence known, is something we simply cannot imagine.
Thus we are faced with a moment of loss.
All the walls of law and religion we had built to protect and save ourselves come crashing down. We are no longer safe from the God who would scandalously become frail, weak, human.
Therefore, when we meet God in the flesh, we are forced to change our minds, our hearts and our expectations.
Meeting God in the flesh confronts us with the God who comes to the earth he made, to begin to set things right. In so doing, power is taken away from those who have abused it and is instead given to children. We meet the God who not only promises us that we will gain life by losing it, but the one who exemplifies self-sacrificial love in a human body.
When we meet God in the flesh, we find his heart in the places and faces of people who have been forgotten. We discover him in solidarity with prisoners and on the faces of orphans and widows, even all kinds of dirty rotten sinners…
And we ourselves become enabled to see God’s image resting securely upon each and every person we meet.
When we meet God in the Flesh we discover that our definitions of family cannot compare to the kinship we experience with all those who have come to know and do the will of God. Lines of blood, race, gender and nationality are shattered in the light of our embrace of brothers and sisters across all man-made borders.
Meeting God in the flesh means we can no longer make assumptions about who God would have us associate with or whether it is right to “do good”at all times. The God we meet in Jesus the Christ, calls us to act, and to do so with love in every situation.
When we meet God in the flesh we are surprised to find that doubt becomes far safer than belief. Because when we trust and follow this God in the flesh, we are called to people and places that might just make us a little uncomfortable.
When we come face to face with our suffering Lord and Savior, we are confronted with the darkness that lies within our hearts. But we begin to realize that even though we are dressed in rags, he sees us as beautiful, adorned in the finest clothing, and he calls us to see each other in the same light.
During this season of light, may we reflect the beautiful and piercing light we’ve received in such a way that the darkness from inside and out can have no hiding place.
some astute observers may have noticed that there is a certain someone glaringly absent from my previous post. i’m sure it was obvious that my mom, Ellen (no middle name…i know, it’s weird) Capozzi, didn’t even receive an honorable mention in yesterday’s tribute. i’ve done this because i believe she deserves one all to herself.
to the uninformed onlooker my mother appears meek and mild (which she most certainly is), but to those who know her, Ellen is as strong and determined as they come. life has not been a tiptoe through the tulips for my mom; raising 4 boys, moving often and navigating tough times with my father gave her more than most could handle, yet she remained steadfast. her love stayed strong and her resolve grew with each triumph over life’s many obstacles. never was this resolve more apparent than during the final days of my father’s life.
mom had to watch the man with whom she had recently renewed her marriage vows deteriorate at a pace that was painfully shocking. she was there from the beginning and every single step of the way thereafter: feeding, reading, joking, laughing, praying, crying and singing to him as he lay on his final resting place. as i stated about mike during the final 12 hours, mom stayed by dad’s side until the very end, covering him with love. there isn’t a single human being who knows how to handle themselves amid the torrent of suffering of a loved one, but mom did what she does best, checking in on each one of us even as she sought to meet every one of dad’s comfort needs.
during my father’s memorial service, my mom found the courage and strength to speak in the face of what would appear to be crippling loss. during her short message of thanks to all those who came to show love and support for dad and our family, she spoke plainly and truthfully that folks need not pity her and that she would be fine. ever considering the well-being of those around her, my mom let the crowd of almost 600 know that they need not be concerned about her. she knows where her strength comes from, and that will never be shaken, no matter how painful the situation.
there is no amount of space i could fill up to express the gratitude i feel at this very moment for my amazing parents. they offered us a safe place to grow and covered us with love from the day each one of us was born. dad left 4 men behind (myself being the most manly, of course) to care for his beloved Ellen. it’s our turn to cover her, and we intend to do so.
i know what she said, and i believe without a doubt that she will be alright, but if you know her and have the opportunity, do yourself a favor and reach out. she will certainly appreciate it and you can count on being made to feel special even if you have called intending to offer comfort to her.
it has now been 24 days and 6 hours since my father, Joseph Charles Capozzi, passed away after suffering for 7 months from pancreatic cancer. i have no desire to recount the details of his agony, but i am compelled to honor my father, and to do so i can’t get around talking about the last night of his life.
what we, as a family, witnessed from 7 pm on july 11th until 7 am on july 12th was so excruciating that we may never fully realize how we have been affected by the pain. we all caught a glimpse of his suffering, and each did their part ease it. it was through this grief-stricken process that i learned things about my siblings that i had never previously known. consequently, i am forever grateful and honored to call each of them, brother.
that said, one of my brothers has forever changed the way i look at him.
my older brother mike has become my hero. he sat by my father’s side all night long, holding his hand, giving him swabs of water and morphine, playing music and speaking words of comfort until our pops took his final breath at around 7 am. while most of us slept, unable to stomach anymore, mike remained. his perseverance to withstand the pain of watching his own father slowly and painfully fade away, while also shielding each one of us from experiencing dad’s misery, displayed mike’s embrace of the greatest role he will ever play. he took all of the pain on himself because he considered dad and each one of us above his own needs. for this, i will never be able to adequately express my gratitude.
not only did i discover new, incredible traits buried beneath the surface of my 3 brothers, i learned the most important lesson of my life during dad’s final 12 hours. the pops, through his passing, presented his family with many priceless gifts, but the most significant of these is a love that will never die. the love that was put on display through countless friends expressing their admiration for dad, coupled with our collective care for him and each other throughout his journey to the end, is a love that lasts though he is no longer present. it is this same love that will go on long after this generation of capozzi’s occupy space on the earth. thank you pops for sharing this incomparable gift with us all.
we are a family forever changed.
everyone seems to be talking about jesus and his followers right now. it might just be that it’s christmas time, but i think there is a bit more going on here. the culture wars are ramping up, and it seems to me that there is a tsunami of change on the horizon.
once upon a time, in order to be recognized as a full-fledged american christian, you had to look, speak and act in very defined ways. whereas now, depending on what you’re looking for, you can find any and every way to make jesus appealing to each niche people group. jesus for hipsters, yuppies, protestants, catholics, emergents, baby boomers, even duck callers (too soon?).
while jesus spent the last century in a suit and tie, unable to dance, cuss, drink or go to the movies, jesus is now best utilized as a stamp of approval for whatever makes us feel most comfortable and fulfilled. everyone from john stewart to rush limbaugh quote him, making it nearly impossible for outsiders to discern which group jesus really stands with and for.
i must admit, i’m a little confused myself.
was jesus the cool guy who made trendy folks feel at home, confidently knowing that the previous generation screwed up royally or was he the religious zealot who made sure all the sinners knew they were outcasts?
or was he neither of these polarizing options?
the first breath sucked in by the jesus we read about in the gospels was most likely saturated with cow manure. he was surrounded by farm animals, born to a peasant family, in a city that folks believed nothing good could come from. when he grew up, he was an itinerant preacher, healer, friend to large amounts of shady undesirables, who often got in trouble for breaking sabbath and other jewish ordinances. he touched lepers (you just didn’t do that), allowed prostitutes to wash his feet with their tears and hair, spoke to adulterous women (setting them free from the law code that condemned them) and invited fledgeling fishermen and swindling tax collectors to follow him.
he spent the majority of his time putting religious authorities in their place, all the while showering love on society’s losers, thereby giving them the dignity inherent to the image of God they were born with.
it is also believed that jesus was homeless, since he has been quoted as saying, “foxes have holes, birds have nests, but the son of man has no place to lay his head.” he would say these sorts of things indicating to folks that were eager to follow him that if they weren’t also willing to wander about without a place to call home, they were not fit for his kingdom. he probably didn’t smell very good, and he certainly didn’t wear skinny jeans or a three piece suit.
i think we need to remember this rugged, uncool, irreligious prophet, not so that we can simply understand christianity better, but so that we can once again learn what it means to walk in his steps.
this christmas, remember the loser who showed us how to love. not the costless sort of love that pats folks on the back, encouraging them to stay warm and be well fed, but the love that calls us to lay down our own hopes and dreams for people who have no hope whatsoever. remember his call to never forget the people he spent his life around. remember that not one of us is better than the other and that religion will never fulfill the deep longings you have inside you. remember the losers, because they’re the ones jesus is still standing with and for.
***i mean loser in the most affectionate, least judgmental way imaginable***