Boundary Breaking Stories from Union, #1

I've had Reality, Grief, Hope by Walter Brueggemann on my reading list for several months now.  I've had the copy out numerous time, even highlighting a few things in the first chapter.  It's been in my work bag for the last three weeks, in hopes that during some down time I'd be able to give it a shot.

It's ironic that the subtitle for the book is "Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks", because when I get the book out to read, reading it becomes anything but urgent.

There's this thing about working at Union Coffee that's unique compared to most United Methodist churches, outside of perhaps Wesley Foundations.  It's open to the public, 7am to 9pm (or 10) every day.  And my office is the shop itself.  There are quiet corners, sure, yet, every time I pick one of those corners, a couch or comfy chair, and get Bruggemann out, a neighbor asks me something.

And it's awesome.

Two of the major core values of Union Coffee are story telling and boundary breaking (the others are sanctuary, sustainability, quality, and generosity).  The picture above is of our most recent worship series ... Two short weeks to unpack the topic of privilege ... What we can do about it and what we can do with it.  This picture was out in the form of display cards on the tables of the shop.  Let me tell you, if you advertise a conversation on privilege, people are going to have things to say and stories to tell.

So, a story from last week that called me to check my privilege and marvel at the work God is doing in bringing this remarkable community together.

Last Sunday I got my book out an hour before it was time to flip the shop for worship.  I approached one of the corners near our stage with a couple of big couches.  I asked the man who would be sitting across from me if the seat was taken, and we proceeded to chat for an hour.  As I sat down, he asked me what the place was about, noticing our privilege cards on the table.  Things went on from there.

It was the first time he had ventured into Union.  His wife's nonprofit was meeting in one of our conference rooms and he was just hanging out.  Let's call him C, and his wife S.

I learned a lot about C during our conversation.  He's in the National Guard and just finished his history degree at UNT and is planning on shifting to a career in the army.  He'll be attending officers training school shortly.

He's also African American.  As is his wife.  He has a three-year-old daughter and another on the way this September.  He'll likely miss the birth of his second child due to a training deployment that he's being called to lead.

We talked a bit about the series on privilege that we were in.  We talked about the two weeks prior that Union spent sharing in a conversation on race and faith in the wake of the shootings of Philando Castille and Alton Sterling, and the shootings of the DPD officers.

As we got deeper into things he shared with me a new truth in his life: he's afraid for his family, as a black American.

He said that he'd never, ever, felt this way.  This is an articulate, educated, soldier, mind you.  But, he's afraid for his family, when he looks at the current cultural divide in our country.

A couple of weeks prior to our meeting at Union, he and his wife had gone shopping at a nice little shop in Dallas.  He tried on a many things, putting back what he didn’t want (which is a gift to any sales associate).  He ended up purchasing over $200 in clothes by the end of things.  He was polite and respectful to the staff and had a great experience.  But, as he was leaving, he noticed a police officer pulling around the store.  C took note of it, but he and his wife got into their car and began to head home.  A few minutes later not one, but three, police cars pull him over.

Three police cars to pull over he and his wife.

The officer tells him that his turn signal is out and asks for his license and registration.  After running everything, the officer returns and C politely asks, “Why was I really pulled over?”

It turns out that the store accused C and S of shoplifting.  After a minute more, C and S were let off with a warning, the officer(s) knowing that it was a racially motivated report.  C didn't complain about the officers.  He said that they were respectful because he was respectful.  But ...

This would never happen to me, a white man.  It just wouldn’t.  If I had behaved and purchased as he had at any given store, there is no way the police would be called on me.

I thanked him for sharing his story.  I met his sweet wife just a few minutes later.  I’ve never heard a story like theirs told within the walls of another church.

I'm in a place, though, where I don't just hear those stories.  I am told them.  I'm checking my privilege. 

Grace Like Fireworks

Sunday night we took our kids to see fireworks for the very first time.  In fact, it was the first time that my wife and I had been to see fireworks since before the birth of our son ... Some four-and-a-half years ago.

We set out, three hours before the show, ready to see the awe and wonder on our children's faces as they observed exploding showers of sparks and light.  After the wait, with tense moments, but also dancing, snow cones, and pretending our stroller was a rocket ship, the lights in the field went out and the show began.

I put my arm around my boy whose jaw dropped open at the first flare, while my wife held our girl who insisted over and over again that it was scary.

Neither kid took their eyes off  of the explosions in the night sky.

Fireworks like supernovas.  Fireworks like dandelions.
Vivid colors of magenta, blue, violet, red, green, white, and yellow.

We had no idea when we picked our spot in the ballpark complex that we would be mere yards from the launching pad.  I can't understate the nearness of the fireworks - they were literally just over our heads.

Yet, even then, even though we felt we might be able to stretch out our hands and feel the heat of the flames in the sky, there was something noticeable in the proceedings:

No matter the closeness, as each firework went off there was a clear delay from the explosion to the sound.

Whether it was the sound of dynamite.
Or the sound of a drizzle on pavement.
Or popcorn in a microwave.
There was a delay between the light and the noise.

Sometimes for nearly a second ... Astonishing.  The spreed of light and the speed of sound in stark, colorful, contrast.

And as I spent that hour huddled down with my family enjoying the festivities, I felt that I was learning something about grace.  There's something to be said about how God is moving to us, all around us, before we hear God's voice in our lives.  That God is within us, drawing us near to God, before we acknowledge God's presents.

That THE God, before we were knitted together in our mother's wombs, knew us - and still knows us.

What if it's the mission of us who follow the Son of God to call others to listen to the lightshow booming all around them?  And sit with them as they listen to the sound?

Grace like fireworks.
Every second.
Of every day.

Worship Series: The Hospitality of Jesus

This worship series is one of a set written from mid-Summer to the end of RCL Year C in November. Notes are sparse, but I'm hopeful that it's helpful to pastors during a season of the year that can be ... Dry.  Ordinary time, which we are in the midst of, can be a time of rich teaching and following specific narratives in the Bible.

This series follows the Gospel of Luke stream in the Revised Common Lectionary for six weeks, beginning on July10.  In each of the readings given, Jesus is answering questions, telling stories, demonstrating what the Kingdom of God is like and offering the welcome to that Kingdom that only Jesus can give.

Ask the question: what is the hospitality of Jesus like?

It should lead to another: do I (pastor and church) offer hospitality like Jesus in my life?

The Hospitality of Jesus

July 10  (Eighth Sunday After Pentecost) 

Sermon Title:  What must we do?

Scripture Lessons

    Primary: Luke 10:25-37

    Secondary: Col 1:1-14

Themes

    The Good Samaritan ... Jesus expects us to welcome the 'other.'

July 17  (Ninth Sunday After Pentecost) 

Sermon Title:  Listen and Learn

Scripture Lessons

    Primary: Luke 10:38-42

    Secondary:  Col 1:15-20

Themes

   Mary and Martha - are we just preparing to meet Jesus?  Or do we expect a visit to actually happen?

July 24  (Tenth Sunday After Pentecost) 

Sermon Title:  What are you asking for?

Scripture Lessons

    Primary:  Luke 11:1-13

    Secondary:  Col 2:6-9

Themes

    Jesus, himself teaches us to pray!  And reminds us that God is always available.

July 31  (Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost) 

Sermon Title:  True Abundance

Scripture Lessons

    Primary:  Luke 12:13-21

    Secondary: Psalm 107:1-9

Themes

   On building bigger barns ... Now, where do I store my treasure?

August 7  (Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost)

Sermon Title:  Always Ready

Scripture Lessons

   Primary:  Luke 12:32-40

   Secondary: Psalm 50:1-8, 22-23

Themes

   Are you ready to greet the Messiah?  Or do you cower in fear?

   Who does your heart belong to?

August 14  (Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost)

Sermon Title:  What Christ Offers

Scripture Lessons

   Primary:  Luke 12:49-56

   Secondary:  Psalm 80:1-2, 8-19

Themes

What does it actually mean for us to follow Christ?  It may not be pretty, but it’s worth it.

The Next Adventure

For the last three years, I have served as an associate pastor at an unbelievably gracious church - FUMC of Arlington, TX.  The church took a risk on me.  While I had a great resume in worship ministry and leadership, I hadn't preached a whole lot yet.  I was a young adult, passionate about young adult ministry, but I hadn't built a lot of small groups.  I loved Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, but had no proven expertise in using them to reach new people for the kingdom.

So, why not make me a Pastor of Young Adults, Communications, and Modern Worship?

And, let's help me get my Master of Divinity at Perkins while we're at it.

This church has helped me to learn.  It's pushed me to grow.  It's critiqued me in life-giving ways.  It's helped me to fulfill God's calling on my life to be a pastor in the United Methodist Church.

Yet, and this is the definition of bittersweet, it's time for the next adventure in my ministry journey.  Two months or so ago, an opportunity to apply for a church planting residency fell into my lap.  Or, appeared in my Facebook feed, as things are wont to do these days.  I filed it away as something that would be awesome to do, but sounded hard to pull off.

But, then I get a text from my wife ... "Did you see that?"

And, as a person who often hears the Holy Spirit nudge me through my spouse, I messaged the pastor of the church sponsoring the residency, wondering if they'd take an application from somebody outside of their conference.  The response was that as long as I got the OK from my District Superintendent, absolutely.

I'm paraphrasing all of this, of course.

Well, one thing lead to another, and I'm now free to share some rather large news in the world of my family:



Beginning July 1, I will be a Path 1 Church Planting Resident at Union Coffee, an amazing UMC church plant across I-75 from SMU.  Union is indeed a coffee shop, called to reach the young people in the area, the unchurched, the dechurched, a generation that the church earnestly wants to reach, but often doesn't know how.  The coffee is delicious, the worship is quirky, the community is amazing.

I'll be pastoring at Union with the hope of aiding in their efforts to go multi-site and bring a branch to the Central Texas Conference the following year.  There aren't any promises in this; it's yet another risky ministry move.  But, in the Kingdom of God, as in many things, where there's no risk, there's no reward.

I'm beyond excited to accept a new role in ministry.  FUMCA has been family to me, but it's time to strain forward to the next step.  Thankfully, my wife, Leanne, will be able to keep going in her own ministry at another church in our current area.  My kids go to preschool there and we often worship there as a family.  In a way, we'll be building ourselves a new/old home church and keeping our home in Central Texas, where we're so looking forward to continuing our ministry.

Trusting in the providence of God has taken my family and I in so many amazing directions and we know that God will be with us, and our faith communities, through this next step and beyond.