remember

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My friend Will takes his shoes off whenever he finds himself in sacred, holy spaces.

Every time I see him do this, I am reminded of the time God spoke audibly to Moses so that he could lead the Hebrew people out of slavery and into covenant relationship with their Creator and Redeemer.

The recognition that he is standing on holy ground affords Will the opportunity to listen intently to what the Spirit is saying in that particular space and time. He stands, anticipating the very real possibility that God will make God-self known. And he stands as an acknowledgement of his own humble state as a created being.

The Hebrew and Christian scriptures are full of triumphant stories where God shows up and does something to set people free. But they are also filled with stories of failure, loss, evil, violence, corruption and oppression.

Why is this important?

Because it’s honest.

History is most often written by the victor. And when the victor writes history, you might say they like to convince the reader that they were good, and their (defeated) enemy was bad.

But we read something very different in the Bible.

The scriptures do not pretend that we are somehow “good”. Truth is, the people of God messed up from the very beginning. The Law was good, but they had very little capability of following it to the fullest extent. The scriptures, our sacred text, keep us grounded, aware of our connection to the fragile and imperfect people who’ve gone before us, and challenge us to become more and more like our Messiah.

The flaws within our sacred text help us to remember and move forward.

In fact, the Jewish people (authors of scripture) are constantly being told to remember where they’ve been; to retell the story about how God had set them free to be good news in a world of domination, conquest and oppression.

A few days ago, I was at a family fun day (Tower Fest) in Brockton at DW Fields Park. There were pony rides, balloon animals, face painting and hot dogs. They also opened up the tower for us all to climb (the tower is normally locked shut). Within the tower, there is a plaque that reads, “On March 23, 1649 for 7 coats, 9 hatchets, 2 hoes, 20 knives, 4 moose skins, and 104 yards of cotton cloth, Myles Standish, Samuel Nash, Constance Southworth, purchased from the Massasoit Indians, the town of Bridgewater….”.

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Essentially, indigenous people were given a few things they could have acquired on their own in exchange for a gigantic piece of land that we know today as Brockton and the Bridgewaters (East & West included). Basically, people from Europe arrived on their land, gave them a few trinkets and took over.

I didn’t need the reminder, especially with “Columbus Day” on the horizon, but it stood out as a stark reality in the midst of a day designated for family and fun.

Today, there are many folks determined to preserve a sanitized version of American history. They want to believe and convince others that we were founded as a “Christian” nation and that our founders were good and godly men.

Truth is, we are standing on blood-stained ground.

We live in a country that looks more like Cain’s than Christ’s. The blood of righteous Abel cries out against us and we are doing our very best to ignore it. We seek Christ’s sacrificial outpouring of blood to redeem us, but all we are doing is crucifying him over and over again, mingling his blood with the blood of indigenous people, slaves and heretics.

As people of faith, we are compelled to remember the truth of our past so we can move beyond it.

Until we are honest, until we remember our history, we will continue to try to make this place “great again”. Unless we recognize that it was never actually great, but mortally flawed from its very beginning, we will not be open (as Moses and my friend Will seek to be) to hear from the God who calls us to stand against the oppressive forces that have caused this world to be overrun by blood-stained ground.

So when we remember, let’s be honest. Let’s remember our intentions (which are frequently good), but let’s also remember our follow through (not always as good). Let’s remember the ground we stand on. Let’s remember that it is soaked in blood. And let’s move forward with the redemptive power of the blood that sets us free to be honest about our transgressions because they no longer have power over us.

 

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white folks: let’s talk. for real.

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I understand what it’s like to feel like you’re being blamed for things you don’t believe you’ve done. It happens with my wife and I sometimes. In fact, it happened last night. She pointed out that I’ve been distant and distracted.

She was right. But it took a sleepless night for me to embrace that truth.

My generation grew up reading about MLK, the Jim Crow South, slavery and the Holocaust in our history books. We were unified in our condemnation of the ways in which previous generations acted our their prejudices or remained silent in the face of racist laws and systems.

We were all convinced that we would have spoken out against genocide, slavery, lynching and the like.

Because we weren’t there. We weren’t buying, selling or mistreating slaves. It wasn’t me drinking from a white only water fountain. It wasn’t me participating in vigilante justice by lynching black folks. It wasn’t me ignoring the plight of Jewish folks during the Holocaust.

But here we are today, being told that injustice is still rampant in communities of color. Yet we find ourselves responding with offense rather than remorse. And when white supremacist rallies pop up around the country, we find ourselves agreeing with a president who claims that both sides are at fault. We find ourselves defending the confederacy, even slavery. We find ourselves rationalizing and talking about free speech. As if that’s what this conversation is about.

Friends and family, believe me, I get it. I understand why it’s difficult to embrace the idea that we have, in some way, participated in and benefited from a racist system…especially when we find ourselves struggling in our daily lives.

I understand how it can be maddening to hear people from the opposite end of our ideological/political spectrum telling us anything, never mind having them call us racists!

Of course that’s gonna cause you to shut down or become defensive and angry.

But please, don’t let that cause you to be silent when white supremacy rears its ugly head in such an overt display of ignorance and bigotry. Don’t let your annoyance with liberals cause you to blame black folks for the problems our society has imposed upon them. Don’t close your eyes and cover your ears when your neighbor tells you they have been discriminated against since they were a child.

And if it causes you to feel guilty or ashamed, don’t run away from those feelings. Search them out. Talk to real, live human beings rather than listening to the talking heads on TV or scrolling down your news feed and arguing with folks from the opposite side of the isle.

Let’s be clear about this. German nationalists believed Jews were the cause of their struggling economy. And today, just as it has been for many years, lots of white Americans believe black folks in urban settings to be a huge part of the moral and economic decline of our “christian” nation.

But it’s time to listen. Racism cannot be a partisan issue!

There’s common ground to be found here. But first, we have to face the facts. We have to face the truth about ourselves and the role we play in a society that upholds and fuels white supremacist attitudes.

Just like I had to come to my senses when my wife pointed out something I couldn’t see, it might be time to swallow that pill. It’s painful going down, but it will set you free. And it will deepen your capacity for love.

Friends, let’s have that conversation. I want my capacity for love to be expanded. I know you do too.

 

 

 

 

movements

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Christian faith is as much revolution as it is religion, and movement as much as it is sacrament. I cannot get beyond this truth. Sure, we live in a culture that would like to believe there is a real and distinct line that separates our faith from the politics we embrace, but reality disproves this impossible ideal.

See, not only is everything in this life spiritual, everything is political.

If you embrace the Christian faith, you embrace a movement that begins with a God that liberates a wayward creation. This God is, and has always been, long-suffering, compassionate, slow to anger, constantly willing to forgive and desiring that all should return to their rightful place as children of the Creator.

If you embrace the Christian faith, you embrace a movement that fundamentally shifted the way we think about societal division.

And if you embrace the Christian faith, you have at least heard of the revolutionary teaching that has called us away from judgment and towards love for everyone, including our enemies.

But if this past few years has taught us anything, it is that so many of us would prefer to go back to the “good old days”.  You know, the days when people knew where they stood. The days when Africans were ripped from their homes and families in order provide free labor in the New World. The days when a black man couldn’t look at a white woman without the threat of being lynched. The days when we had separate water fountains, bathrooms and schools. You know, back when America was a “Christian” nation.

Just this week, many of us saw a picture of a crowd of white nationalists that was reminiscent of KKK and lynch mob photos from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century. You might feel the urge to dismiss this image as a fringe group of people that are out of their minds. But you would be wrong to do that. This is a movement my friends. It is a religion that embraces racial and ethnic identity as a prerequisite for participation. It is revolution that seeks to pull us back towards jealousy, envy, strife, hatred and division. Image-1-1

Is it a reactionary movement? Sure it is. But it’s also not reactionary in the very real sense that the spirit of this movement already existed in the hearts of many. It has simply been ignited in response to a movement that asks us to acknowledge that Black Lives Matter.

One movement is crying out to be noticed and affirmed as human beings. The other screams out, “I see you, but get back in your place!”

One movement has felt the sting of constant scapegoating. The other believes those who have been scapegoated in the past to be the source of all our problems today.

One movement is being told that their pain and suffering is imagined. The other is worried about upholding statues and flags that are a symbol of slavery and oppression. 

I ask you, in all sincerity…where do Christians find themselves in the midst of all this?

Truth is, most of us are just trying to get through this life. We’re trying to work hard, take care of our families and have some time left over to enjoy ourselves. Believe me, I understand. I’d love to turn down the volume on all the noise out there. But that’s not gonna happen. This has been going on for a very long time, and trying to avoid it or yelling at our friends/social media feeds isn’t going to make it go away.

You know, there was a movement that opposed the full inclusion of Gentile believers in Jesus. This is one of the main reasons we have Paul’s letters in the New Testament. Paul actually spends more time on this topic than anything else.

I suggest we evangelicals go back to our Scriptures in order to remember from where we’ve come. Let’s take a fresh look at letters like Galatians and Romans. Let’s read the Gospels in a way that compels us to listen and understand the struggle of those that have found themselves pushed to the margins over and over again.

May we put an end to beginning our sentences with “I’m not racist, but…”. May we be as loud, if not louder, in our condemnation of racism and bigotry as we are against riots that have been associated with Black Lives Matter protests. And pray that God would have mercy on us for refusing to have ears that hear and eyes that see.

I want to be part of the Jesus movement. In him, there is a New Creation that we actually get to experience here an now. It’s time, once again, that we believed in the Spirit’s power to lead us in the Way of our Messiah.

-dave-

 

church and money

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I am 23 days from signing an agreement with the Evangelical Covenant Church. This agreement will essentially mean that Brockton Covenant Church is no longer some rogue group of people with big hopes and dreams, but a legitimate entity backed by an international Christian denomination.

I’ve got to admit, it feels a bit strange.

For those of you who know me well, you’d likely not expect to find me actively advancing the cause of any institution, never mind a religious one. But alas, here I am…and to be honest, there’s nowhere I’d rather be.

I’m excited to be surrounded by around 35 people that are driven to figure out what it means to be a peacemaker in the way of Jesus in our world today. Being around people that are seeking solutions, rather than just pointing out division, has made the divisiveness that is going on in our country and around the world seem much further away than it once did.

That’s all well and good, and it’s the very reason I signed up for this whole church planting business in the first place. But there is one thing I signed up for that I wasn’t excited about…fundraising. See, money and I have a complicated relationship. I don’t have the time or space to go into all of that, but let’s just say we haven’t always been friends.

I don’t want you to feel bad for me (well, maybe I do). I knew this day would come all along; the day when I would go from building a diverse team of people who care about being peacemakers in our city, to asking people that are not directly involved to support this endeavor.

That day is here.

The strange thing is, it doesn’t bother me nearly as much as I thought it would.

Maybe it’s because it is no longer just Jen and I along with a group of friends that have come to embrace this vision…but a whole community of people that is growing in number and depth. Maybe it’s because I have spoken to so many who have experienced the same kind of frustrations with the way things are and are hopeful that something better is possible.

Maybe I’m actually convinced that God is calling us to this. I know…shocking!

Whatever the case may be, I’m asking for money to sustain our church. If you feel compelled to give, shoot me a message and I’ll let you know how. If you aren’t in a position to give, and/or just want to learn more about what we’re doing, please feel free to message me.

grace and peace my friends.

-dave-

I Must Confess…

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I haven’t always been this way.

There was a time in my life when I believed everything I was told. I listened, obeyed and followed all the “rules”.

There was a time when I believed that your problems were just that, YOUR problems…and to think that they were somehow the result of corrupt systems was just an exercise in scapegoating. There was a time when I believed having one black kid in my high school (not 20 miles from Boston) was normal. There was a time when I believed that color-blindness was the best approach to take when talking about people who are not white.

There was a time when I believed in the power of violence to achieve and preserve freedom.

There was a time when I thought Jesus came to forgive me for lying and swearing, leaving me paralyzed in fear of God’s wrath….at the same time never losing sleep over someone else’s suffering.

…..That was a time when I did not know anyone living in third-world poverty. That was a time when I had not listened to or been in relationship with people from the “inner city.” That was a time when I did not have friends who sleep in the woods.

But that time has come and gone.

At some point, I was confronted with a Messiah who suffered. I was confronted with a Messiah who called me to follow his Way, not just “accept him into my heart”. I was confronted with a Messiah who never gave me an excuse for holding onto power.

I have met Jesus in the faces of lonely, poor and oppressed people. They have helped me understand my privilege, yet have not cast me aside. The have caused the Scriptures come alive for me.

I know I’ve been written off by some who once called me “friend”. I’ve been called a heretic, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and a prophet for the “social gospel”.

But I know who I am. And I know the One who is forming me in this way.

I lament friendships lost, but I do not lament comfort lost.

I am  who I am today because I have faith in a God who chose suffering over comfort.

No, I haven’t always been this way…but I don’t ever want to go back.

 

 

R.I.P 2016

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2016 was…interesting.
 
I don’t know a lot of folks that would like to relive this one. The stories and events that mark this past year have left so many feeling dejected, even hopeless.
 
war. racial tensions. natural disasters. political upheaval. broken relationships. personal loss.
 
For better or worse, we have access to more information (true and false) than any point in history. On the newsfeed you are scrolling right now, in a manner of seconds, you can see the face of a child devastated by the carnage of war in Syria, while at the same time viewing a picture of a friend’s beautiful newborn baby.
 
We can watch a LIVE video of a man being shot in his own car and then move on to “heart” pictures from someone’s wedding day.
 
I can engage in a war of words with a friend who supports the political candidate I oppose, and then immediately offer a kind/funny/loving comment on another friend’s photo or video.
 
How are we supposed to deal with these conflicting images?
How can any of us remain emotionally stable in the midst of all this?
 
I don’t know if 2017 is going to be anymore uplifting or hope inducing than 2016. If we are allow our hope to be determined by our social media news feed, then I am not optimistic.
 
But, I believe there is a better way forward. I believe there is a better, more beautiful world available right here in our midst. The pain, war, racism, and all the rest isn’t going away. But I have a choice. I can let it depress and define me, or I can be part of making it better.
 
I want to be part of that better, more beautiful way. I want to be part of the Kingdom that brings healing, moves mountains, confronts injustice and offers hope.
 
Your Kingdom come
Your Way be made known
On earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

life update

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img_1737I 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!

 

dave