When “safe” no longer is…and possibly never was

Sunday, my family and I worshipped at an A.M.E. church in our new home city of Greenville, South Carolina. We’d been intrigued and slightly annoyed at the lack of diversity in all the congregations we’d been too. So we decided we wanted to try an A.M.E. church.

It wasn’t until I entered the sanctuary that I realized how much white privilege affects me.

Crossing the threshold to worship, I remembered that it was a white guy who shot A.M.E. members, after praying with them. In their own church. In the same state I was in.

And with all I’d thought about prior to attending a black church, I had not in the least considered that my presence may have set them on edge. I desperately wanted to reach out and let people know we weren’t like the white guy who’d traveled to Charleston. But bringing up the shooting seemed even dumber than not being aware that my presence might be scary for some.

I remembered the lessons my dad taught me about how to behave if pulled over by a policeman. So to help set people at ease, I intentionally tried to keep my empty hands visible during the service. Fortunately, that’s not hard to do an an A.M.E. church! But it was a conscious choice to keep my hands on the empty pew in front of me when I wasn’t clapping or taking notes during the sermon.

And I wondered how it must be for the pastor to see one white family in the sea of his congregation. Just three months after nine people he may well have known were shot in their own sanctuary. Nothing can be the same. There must be a new awareness. A new wariness.

And today, I pray for the teachers and professors around the nation that are approaching their classrooms. Rooms that were once unquestionably their sanctuary. Their domain. Where they taught students. But today are now potentially unsafe places full not of students but of possible threats.

Church on Sunday turned out to be a wonderful worship service with a gracious group of fellow believers. We received only hospitality, welcome, and hugs. It was great.

But I end this week realizing how random acts of violence affect all of us. And I mourn the increasing loss of “safe” spaces. That mourning almost seems silly when I realize the violence people around the world suffer on a daily basis and even those of differing races and backgrounds have suffered in my own country.

So I enter the prayers of those around the world and across millenia in saying:

Kyrie eleison
Christe eleison
Kyrie eleison

Would you help me build a 2014 “over the top” love playlist?

Frederick Beuchner on God's astounding loveThis quote from Frederick Buechner was on one of my Facebook friends streams around Christmas. (Sorry I don’t remember who’s!)

The full quote is:

“Once we have seen Him in a stable, we can never be sure where He will appear or to what lengths He will go or to what ludicrous depths of self-humiliation He will descend in His wild pursuit of men.” – Frederick Buechner

I love the phrase “ludicrous depths of self-humiliation.” I too often forget this about God. This Hosea-like seeking and giving second chances over and over again. This love that makes you look totally foolish.

That’s our God. And I want to remember that in 2014.

Crazy love playlist

Honestly, it’s an aspect of God that makes me a bit uncomfortable. I’m reminded of the line in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, about Aslan being good but not being tame. But I think David tapped into it when he danced his clothes off.

How would I live my life if I was firmly convinced that God is crazy in love with me? That he delights in my quirks and individuality? That, like Zepheniah says, He will rejoice over me with singing?

To help me remember this in 2014, I’d love to build a Spotify playlist. Would you help me? I’m looking for songs that celebrate this aspect of God’s love for us.

I immediately think of songs like John Mark McMillan’s “How He Loves” with lines like “He is jealous for me” and “Heaven meets Earth like a sloppy wet kiss.” Especially: “I don’t have time to maintain these regrets when I think about the way that He loves us.” Kim Walker and David Crowder have also done versions of this.

I also think of songs like Alanis Morissette’s “Everything.” I can’t help but think of God when she sings about how human she is and then sings, “…you’re still here.”

What other songs should be on the playlist?

If you were building a playlist about over-the-top love, what other songs would you add? Worship music, pop music, I’m not really particular where the songs come from.

Leave them as a comment here, tell me on Twitter @marcapitman, or send me an email marc@fundraisingcoach.com. I’d love to know the song, the artist you prefer, and the reason you think it fits.

After it hits 5 or 6 songs, I’ll share my list on Spotify. I plan on continuing to add to it throughout the year.

(If you’re on Spotify, check out my “Kingdom in Unexpected Places” playlist. It’s a list of songs that remind me, unexpectedly, of God.)

What if this Easter celebration is real?

Easter sunrise service

Easter. The day that splits people.

Many appreciate Jesus. His life. His teaching.

And feel sorry that “the man” or “the machine” killed him.

But ressurection? For so many, that’s going too far.

If that’s you, this Easter try something different. Rather than scoff, mock, or feel sorry for those of us otherwise sensible people that believe in this raised-to-new-life thing. Rather than chuckling at this notion of Jesus not becoming zombified but actually becoming a new, more real creation.

What if?

Why not ask “What if it’s real?”

What if the pagan rituals of spring were just echoes, pantomimes, hints of a much deeper truth? Like the deeper magic Aslan releases?

Happy Easter!

However you choose to commemorate today, I wish you a happy Easter!

Jesus isn’t a misogynist; neither should we be

Happy International Women’s Day!

21 years ago today, I remember exhorting an audience at my prep school that the Bible advocates for treating men and women equally. That the rampant paternalistic misogyny in the world is one of the boldest proofs of the Fall talked about in Genesis. (Eve wasn’t to blame; Adam was. He stayed silent.)

As I see it, women are such a threat to the evil one, he keeps up an incessant attack on them in a vain attempt to keep them under his thumb. But they keep overcoming!

Jesus isn’t misogynistic

Jesus didn’t attack women, demean them, or try to keep them down. Despite His culture, he treated women with as much respect as men. He had a habit of lifting them up. He was a Jewish rabbi that had women disciples.

The first apostles were even women. (Matthew 28) An apostle is defined as one who has seen the risen Jesus and tells others about Him. Peter and the boys quickly took credit, but it was women who were the first “sent ones.”

Jesus still isn’t misogynistic. I want to be a man like Jesus.

Oddly, just last week I got an irate review on one of my books because I almost exclusively used “she” and “her” in talking about a donor prospect. The guy was really ticked. “Your book is way out of wack (sic) with reality…it’s poorly written with your constant referral to She (sic) as if Men (sic) don’t do this. I guess your secretary must be handling things while you promote your special skills.”

Shocking. Even with the bad grammar, we see this attitude all over. I figure we’ve used “he,” “his,” and “men” to describe all people for enough millennia, it’s now time to use “she” and “her.”

Equality is biblical; misogyny is evil

For those of us who follow Jesus, it has to go. Check out Galatians 3:25-28.

Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law. So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Can’t get much clearer than that.

Raise a glass

So today, I raise a glass to all of you with the two X chromosomes. Thank you for making our world a much better place. We’ve come along way in equality. Let’s celebrate that.

But we still have a long way to go. For those of us in the USA, let’s recommit to the ideal that “all [people] are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…” (modification mine).

JW vs the mailman

AMERICAN CYANAMIDSome Jehovah’s Witnesses are canvassing our neighborhood. And if I had a drawbridge, I’d pull it up. So I’ll just have to settle for being glad our doorbell is broken.

Our neighborhood is on some sort of list. We regularly get Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons knocking on our doors. While I can appreciate their discipline and commitment, it still bugs the tar out of me.

As I was just pondering this, the mailman came. My knee jerk reaction? I wanted to rush to the door to meet him.

What does the mailman have that the Jehovah’s witnesses don’t?

My reaction shocked me. I know most of what the mailman is junk mail. So why do I want to greet him at the door when I shrink from the others?

Here are some thoughts:

  1. The mail man is bringing me something I’m interested in
    I’m willing to forgive the junk mail for the potential of some hope of something I’m interested in. More than willing, I’m eager. It’s the same eagerness and expectation when the UPS truck or FedEx truck drives up to our house. The promise of something new and exciting.

  2. I know the mail man
    Sort of. Ok, I don’t know his name but we do talk from time to time. And I definitely try to say “thank you” when I see him. And he never pitches me on anything, we just are pleasant with each other.
  3. He’s welcome and expected
    My time with my family is limited. But I have a tacit arrangement with the mailman: he comes every day except Sunday. In fact, when we didn’t get mail we called the post office the very next day! It’s not just the mailman. Yesterday, three neighbors dropped by while I was working on the front porch. All those visits were enjoyable. They were people I knew. They were welcome. These other door-to-door people aren’t expected nor are they welcome.

I don’t personally have anything against the Jehovah’s Witnesses or the Mormons. I have friends in both. There are plenty of Protestants that go door to door too. And political campaign folks. I feel the same irritation with them all.

Personally, when it comes to matters of faith (or most anything else) I’d prefer to be the mailman.

Hilarious! The FedEx truck just drove up while I was typing. My son’s new scooter is here. Gotta go!

An update on my church planting journey

In the past couple weeks, I’ve realized that I haven’t let everyone know “where I’m at” with the Vineyard Church of Waterville. So I’m long overdue with an update! In the words of the great Inigo Montoya: “Let me ‘splain…No, there is too much. Let me sum up.”

(Although this journey is very much a shared partnership with my wife, I’m going to only speak for my experience, not ours. It’s safer that way. Emily and I are very much in agreement with where we are but I’m incredibly poor at speaking for her! She does a much better job speaking for herself! Our kids have been a very active part of this processing too. But again, I’ll speak for myself!)

Back in May, I closed the church plant I’d been pastoring in Waterville, Maine. I thought we were shutting down version 1.0 in order to take a break and then launch VCW 2.0 by Easter 2009. Our board and sending pastor were really gracious. They wanted me to rest over the summer. My only homework was to ponder questions like: What would my perfect life look like? and Where in the last 6 months had I felt truly alive? Great coaching questions like that. (Emily was asked those too.)

It’s humbling being part of a church planting movement that really values people over programs. Usually, I’d hear organizations say they valued people but they wanted to be sure the lights stayed on in the building. But the Vineyard East folks were willing to have the lights go out rather than have a pastoral couple burnout.

Well, resting was hard. I am used to working 2-3 jobs. Plus, there was the institutional life of the church that kept on going: board meetings, processing donations, etc. (Yep, people still tithed even though we weren’t meeting!) And, even though I knew closing the church wasn’t a bad thing, I did go through times of mourning, tears, and second-guessing. Still do even now. One of my games to help me through hardest part of this season was creating an “OH, that’s why the church closed” list of things I did. Like brewing my own beer. Or going to a movie. Or taking the kids to a pub for dinner. Or enjoying quoting The Life of Brian. 🙂

As I prayed about the next steps, and worked on the questions, it became pretty apparent that I didn’t want to be the lead pastor in a VCW 2.0.

I enjoyed the regular group of people that called VCW their home. We’d been through a lot in the last 3-4 years! I loved the teaching and people told me my teaching helped them in their relationship to Jesus. I really got good at organizing servant evangelism outreaches. Over the years, I’ve consistently exhibited a gifting in helping a small group of people produce an extraordinary amount of results. (In about 3 1/2 years, our little group of 25-30 touched over 5,000 individuals in our communities with practical ways of showing God’s love!)

But effectively starting a church really requires a gift-mix that includes an ability to draw a crowd. Close in four years of church planting, and more than 20 years of being a Christian, this is a gift I’ve never exhibited.

So, in September, I resigned as pastor of the Vineyard Church of Waterville. It is incredibly gratifying to know that the Lewiston Vineyard (our sending church) still wants a Vineyard up here and that the Waterville folks still want a Vineyard up here! It’s good to know the church will restart, even though I won’t be part of it.

I really miss the privilege of being an active part in people’s spiritual growth. And it’s sad to know that I won’t be part of that. Having the former pastor in a congregation only works in very special circumstances. People keep looking to the former pastor for cues about how the new one is doing. Most often, it confuses people and undermines the new pastor’s authority and leadership.

Please join me in praying that VCW gets a pastor or pastoral couple with a different gift mix than I had. The folks that live up here really deserve the best!

As for me, I’m trusting God to lead me as my family and I move forward. I still think church planting is in my future at some point. But taking a rest is nice. I’ve actually had more time to enjoy my family and just “be” with them than ever before.

Finding a church was odd. We went to the Lewiston Vineyard and the Portland Vineyard for the summer and fall. But that wasn’t sustainable: we weren’t able to plug into small groups or develop relationships with people in either location. So we’ve recently started attending a United Methodist church 5 minutes from our house. What a treat! They even did a Vineyard song on our first Sunday.

And I’m really grateful for a terrific job and that people continue to buy my fundraising book and invite me to give fundraising seminars.

Waterville, Maine is a neat place to live. If you’re ever in the area, let me know. I’d love share a taste of my latest brew!

God talks through dreams

I firmly believe God talks. And that dreams are one of the ways He talks. But apparently I can’t understand the language yet.

I few weeks ago, I woke from a dream specifically remembering “47:20″…I think it was a time in the dream. But when I woke, I knew it must refer to Scripture.

Do you know how inconvenient it is to find what books have 47 chapters and then of those which ones have 20 or more verses? Oy.

So today, I decided to BibleGateway.com it. Very easy!

Here are the results for the only 2 47:20’s in the Bible:

Genesis: So Joseph bought all the land in Egypt for Pharaoh. The Egyptians, one and all, sold their fields, because the famine was too severe for them. The land became Pharaoh’s,

“On the west side, the Mediterranean Sea will be the boundary to a point opposite Lebo Hamath. This will be the western boundary.

Clear as mud, huh?

Wish I’d checked this earlier. I might have remembered the context of the dream!

(The one from Genesis is, for me, one of the saddest passages in the Bible. The next verse says that Joseph made all of Egypt slaves to Pharoah. How ironic that a few centuries later, the descendants of Joseph become the slaves, isn’t it?)