New Direction

November 18, 2012 § Leave a comment

Sometimes the most life-giving decisions I’ve made have been on the spur of the moment. When I started baking bread for sale while I was in Seminary, it took me all of an afternoon to make the decision, create some brochures, and start taking orders. It turned out well, and it was something I looked forward to every week.

The same thinking applies to ‘blogging’. Patnaff has been an eclectic assortment of thoughts, poetry, prose, and the occasional sermon. I’ve really had fun interacting with you all through this medium, and more recently I’ve been wanting to do something more focused on “the blogosphere”.

So, I’ll probably continue posting the occasional rumination or random thing here at patnaff; but I’m also beginning a new venture called “The Mennonite Muse”. I invite you to check it out and let me know what you think. I’m hoping for it to be a space for preachers and seekers (because I believe the best preachers are seekers themselves) to encounter something fresh in the biblical text. I also seek feedback for the thoughts, poetry, and assorted other ‘musings’ I end up posting there.

Again, thanks for your support and friendship, and I look forward to interacting more at http://www.mennonitemuse.wordpress.com. See you there!

Patrick

Well Wishers and the Race of Life

November 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

I’m going to be running 13.1 miles on Saturday, November 24.

That’s a sentence I never thought I’d write, yet it’s true.

I’ve spent since August preparing my body to run what’s known as a half-marathon; the first ever in my neck of the woods. I’ve probably never been more ‘fit’ or ‘athletic’ than I am right now (and those of you who know me know that’s not saying much).

This will be the longest run I have ever completed, and I have to say, I’m pretty excited to run it. Training for the past number of weeks has been a kind of sacred ritual for me; spending Saturday mornings with a few other guys on a ‘long run’ has been a welcome respite from the work week…even though here lately it’s hard to sacrifice the time it takes to cover 10, 11, and 12 mile runs on a precious day off.

You can imagine, going out for a long run like that, gives you plenty of time to think.

Actually, it gives you an agonizingly long time to think (especially when your running partners are sick or injured so there’s no chance at conversation or joke-making).

The nuggets I’ve found most interesting lately, as my training runs have grown into double digits in terms of miles, have to do with things like how running, and training for a race relates to our faith in ways you just don’t understand until you’ve run 9 consecutive miles.

For me, that’s when my body starts to deteriorate to the point of needing water to replenish the fluid lost through sweat.

Starting at about 9 miles, I’d get home after my long run and I’d be completely destroyed for the rest of the day.
I’d sit at the table and I would barely be able to hold a utensil to eat some food. I’d be quivery, weak, and I’d drink water until I was sick. Then I’d lay around a good bit of the rest of the day, recovering my strength. I figured it was just my body “getting in shape”.

But this week (mile 12)…I discovered the enormous benefit of hydrating as you go. I took a water bottle with me for the first time ever. I’d stop for a few seconds every 20 or 30 minutes, and I’d schlepp a gulp or two.

I couldn’t believe the difference it made.

I got home and I was still tired from the effort of running 12 miles…but I felt good tired (not destroyed like I was in previous weeks). I recovered faster and I felt better throughout the run. Also, my hands didn’t swell up like volleyballs like they had in previous weeks.

In short, it was so much more enjoyable that I’m wondering why it took me this long to think of it.

This all has me understanding Paul a little bit differently, when he talks about running in a way to get the prize, or finishing the race, or beating your body. It’s easy to be satisfied with an interpretation that just says Paul means run without being hindered…run as fast as you can…run with your eyes on the goal…and all that is somewhat true.

But when you run distance, your whole mindset changes. The race IS knowing my body. It’s being prepared to go the distance…taking your water with you, knowing when you need to stop and take a drink. Distance running isn’t about getting somewhere fast…it’s about getting there period. The most important part of running 13.1 miles for me isn’t how quickly I can do it…it’s knowing I can do it, and when the race is over, knowing I’ve done it. It takes hard work and determination to finish the race.

It takes learning some unpleasant lessons, just to get to the starting line with a body that’s healthy enough to compete.

See, each runner has their own race. Some mean to place in first, second, or third place. Others (like me) just want to not walk. Maybe still others just want to cross the finish line no matter what it takes.

Can we understand Paul a little more broadly? Can we see that running in such a way as to get the prize looks different from one individual to the next?

We all might be running the same course…but there are as many races as there are people running.

And our job is to run our race. What’s yours?

Jagged Little Something

November 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

Life is like a rainbow.

Or is it more like the thundercloud?
Dark and ominous
and Threatening
to my soul

We’re birthed in pain
And in Pain we must return
the jagged little pieces
to their Master.

For we are more than the sum of our parts.
Or at least that’s what I’ve been told.

And I believe it.
At least that’s what I say.

Life is like a rainbow
or is it more like
shrapnel in this war
we fight
not knowing what against?

Absorption.
Conscription.
Confusion.
Deception.
Even in this election-time.

But then One
Like a Son of God
-or was it Son of Man?-
Soldiered on, but differently.

His life, like shrapnel,
tearing through the Human Heart.

Altering forever
this beast and burden of selfish regret.

After all, they say,
Love conquers all.

But do they know what they’re saying?

Love conquers all.
But it has to start
somewhere.

Can it be
within me?

As For You

November 4, 2012 § Leave a comment

Sermon thoughts on 2 Timothy 3:14-17

We’re two days away from a presidential election that many people are saying is the single most pivotal event in American history…possibly even in global history.

We’ve been told, time and time again, that our very way of life hangs in the balance as this particular election draws near.

The rhetoric doesn’t just suggest that this race is bigger than politics.
It screams that you and I are on the hook.
That we are responsible for the health and well-being of our nation.
And it goes on to scream
-even more loudly-
that choosing sides is the only option we have to control the outcome.
One Guy is Good
And the other is Bad.
Not just Bad…
But rather, Evil.

And so, the campaigns scream and yell and holler and thump their chests.
They tend not to tell us how good their guy is.
They rather tend to tell us how evil the other guy is.
And we might almost start to believe them.

We might almost start to believe
that we’re on the hook for the health and the well-being of this nation.
We might start to believe
that the measure of a church is how willing the leadership is to choose a side.

We might want to be told which choice is good, and Christian, and Proper.
And which choice is bad, or evil, or Pagan.

And if you’ve been coming here on Sundays,
and if you’ve been looking for those kinds of statements from this church,
then hopefully you’ve noticed that we haven’t endorsed anyone.
We haven’t passed out voting guides.
We haven’t talked about “Taking Back America”.
We haven’t posted anybody’s political agenda on the bulletin boards.

Indeed, the most we’ve done is plan a communion service.
Along with close to 800 other churches
in all 50 States
representing more than 25 denominations.

Not because we’re interested in baptizing the political process
or the outcome of this election.

But rather, because we in the church are more than a vote.

We are the body of Christ.

And this election is literally making the body turn against itself.
It’s literally making us sick.

Do you want to hear from the pulpit, which side is Pagan, and which side is Christian?
I’ll tell you.

The State is Pagan.

The church is Christian.

The only Christian nation in the world…is the church.
It’s been like that since the time of Jesus.

And if you want to know what the Christian response should be to the Pagan government
-even when the Pagan government wants your vote-
Then you should look to the cross.

Or you could look to the Roman Jail
Where Paul was writing this letter,
Saying “All Scripture points back to Christ.”
Proclaim the message
Be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable
Convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.

The Christian way is the way of suffering for your enemies,
and loving them even as they drive the nails through your hands.
Even as they imprison you.

I’m not saying don’t vote.

I’m saying don’t –ever- call it “the” Christian vote.

Rome will always be Rome. Don’t expect otherwise.
But as for you…
Continue in what you have learned, knowing from whom you have learned it.

Are You the Pastor?

November 3, 2012 § 4 Comments

In my last post, I talked about a man who walked into the church office with a packet of agenda tucked under his arm.

It’s not a common occurrence, but it does happen often enough that I’ve come to expect these visits, especially when there’s an election underfoot.

I talked about how he came in the office, looked me in the eye and said “Are you the Pastor?”.

I talked about how I’ve come to hate that question, but I didn’t really say why.

I’ve seen other blogs that do an occasional ‘top ten’ list or something similar. So here’s my own “Top Five Reasons I’ve Come To Hate The Question” (or at least how I’d like to answer it).

“Are you the Pastor?”

5. “Nope, our congregation just takes turns sitting here in the church office because it’s so relaxing.”

4. “Did the sign on the door give it away?”

3. “Yes I am, but so is she (point to Christine, who also pastors with me).

2. “Why’s it matter?”

1. “I have a feeling if you would have seen Christine first, your question would have been “Is the Pastor in?”…am I right?”

I know they’re snarky come-backs, and I know people don’t mean anything by asking the question.

But there is something I genuinely don’t like about being ‘set apart’ in the way many people want to set me apart as a pastor.

Usually, when someone asks that question, it’s attached to a whole way of ‘being Christian’ that doesn’t fit me, or Christine, or (thankfully sometimes, not so thankfully other times) our Church.

From telemarketers to emails we receive, to the people who come with agenda tucked under their arm…”Are you the Pastor” is a way of making sure they’ve got the right power broker.

Because there’s a way of doing church where the Pastor is like the CEO…where what the Pastor says, goes. Period.

And there’s all kinds of history wrapped up in that way of doing church. There’s all kinds of history connected to race, gender, economic status, and even marriage related to this title of “Pastor” in many Christian circles.

I will try to respect that, but I’ll try just as hard to respectfully disagree with much of it.

Because I don’t fit there.

That’s why I am where I am.

That’s why WE are where WE are…a husband and a wife who share this calling and this job, who are pretty sure neither one of us would want to do it without the other.

That’s why I hate the question…because I know there are assumptions behind it that make it hard to answer Truthfully.
I know that had you seen my wife, the other pastor who works here, those assumptions would work against her, against both of us.

Yes…I am A pastor here.

Now, Which one of us would you like to talk to about your agenda?

I Sent Him Packing

November 1, 2012 § 10 Comments

I don’t like who this election is pushing me to become.
I don’t like the phone calls I’ve been getting.  
I don’t like the mailings I’ve received.
I don’t like the unrequested DVDs I’ve received in the mail.
I don’t like the voter guides “they” wanted me to pass out in my congregation.
I don’t like the fear mongering or the name-calling.

But most of all,
What I like even less than all of that, 
is who it’s making me become.  

What I mean is, earlier today I sent a guy packing from our church office.

We have a door chime that lets us know when someone walks in the front door.  I heard his footsteps in the hall outside, and as I turned to see who it might be, my heart sunk and my stomach rose at the same time.  

Not that I knew him.  But sometimes you just know, intuitively, exactly what to expect.  

He walked in, asking if I was the pastor (a question I’ve come to hate for reasons I’ll leave for a different post).  He carried himself differently than the people who ask for help.  He was dressed professionally, it was the end of the workday, and his question to me combined to tell the story I didn’t want to be true.  

See, in churches, we don’t get too many salespeople.  Neither do we get Jehovah’s witnesses or Mormon missionaries.  

We tend to get Christians with agenda to push.  

I glanced down at the packet of material he had with him…and something inside of me finally snapped.  

I’m just so tired of being told how to steer this flock.  

I’m tired of being thought of as an extension of one party, just because of my position as pastor.  

I’m tired of feeling used.

I’m tired of the hype.

I’m tired of the coercion.  

I’m tired of the same old conversation that pretends like the current election is the most pivotal moment in global history since…since…the last one, I guess.

I’m tired of the demonizing and the billions spent on self-promotion while so many go without so much in our world.  

So I snapped.

And to clarify, me snapping…is like most people speaking their mind.

I gave him the chance to tell me who he was and who he was with, and then I basically sent him packing.  

He asked me if I had received the voter guides his organization had sent to us.

I told him yes, we had.

And then I went on to tell him that we recycled them, that we weren’t passing any political literature out in church, and that we’re not taking a partisan side in the current election cycle.  

He handed me his packet and then he left.  

I don’t think he even said goodbye.  

And now I’m all worked up.  

I’m sure I spoke nicely.  I’m sure I wasn’t as rude as I remember myself being.  

But still, that’s not me.  

There’s no reason I shouldn’t have invited him to have a cup of coffee with me.  After all, that’s one reason we have a pot ‘on’ most of the time.  “Tell me what this is all about,” I should have said over a steaming mug while I put him at ease in our church library.  

Then maybe…just maybe…we could have had a conversation about politics, faith, and the intersection of the two.  

Just maybe both of us could have had our minds opened to ways of thinking we hadn’t considered before.

But instead I sent him packing.  

Instead of both our minds being opened and a conversation beginning…I’m pretty sure both of us are more entrenched in our ways of thinking now than we were before we met.

I saw him through my office window on his way out.  

He wasn’t smiling.  

See, entrenchment is pretty much the only thing elections are good for.  That’s exactly why we all get so much negative crap from so many sources.  

Because if and when a campaign can strike a chord within you…when they can push your buttons enough that you eventually snap…that’s exactly when you’ve played right into their hands.

Just like I did.  

Because when you get to a certain point, you begin to react instead of respond.  

And reactions are what get people elected.  

Can you imagine how the election cycle would look differently if thoughtful, measured, and careful response was a prerequisite for voting?  

Can you imagine how differently campaigning would be done if the candidates appealed to reason rather than reaction?  

Let me put it another way.

After this interaction, I heard somebody come inside the church again.  All kinds of people come and go from our building all week long.  It’s seldom a reason for fear.  

But after my interaction with this guy, the thought crossed my mind “uh-oh…what if he came back with a gun, or a bat, or just wanted to teach me a lesson?”  
(thankfully it was just the chair of our church council)…but such are the times we live in.  

Invoking that kind of fear is what elections are good for.  They turn members of the same Body against each other.  

They focus on reaction, not response.  

So as we inch closer to November 6…may we all remember that our identity, our hope, and our salvation are found only in Jesus, whose response to the political chest-thumping of his own day can be found in the cross he bore…for me, for you, for Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, and even their outspoken supporters and opponents.  

God save us.  Every one.

 

Ode to Sandy

October 31, 2012 § Leave a comment

I remember when
broken hearts were enough
to carry us through
these super-storms
life throws our way

back when it was enough
to simply weep
with God

Who in the beginning
wept.

His broken heart
enough
to carry us
and Him
through these storms

still walkin’
through churning nights
and sleepless days

But there’s more to it now
right?

Broken hearts
are no longer
adequate.

So we bind up
too soon
the hearts that break
and in so doing
bind the hands
that feed us
in the name of our religion

And God wept
and weeps
with us
not against.

Where Am I?

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