Archive for the ‘Presbyterian Church in America’ Category

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I’m all about that GROWTH

In art,Bible,blogging,Books,business,journal,PCA,Presbyterian Church in America,prophet,sermon,writing on February 12, 2015 by mstevensrev

As I’ve reflected on my life as a whole trying to find a unified theme that connects all the seemingly random events and achievements, that one piece of yarn that is the thread through the entire story, providing some sense of unity, I have often come to the theme of relationships. In addition to being an extreme extravert, I also find the deepest joy (and pain) while looking into the face of others. The principles I use to guide my life contains one principle dedicated to this, “Relationships are what matter in life, so value them.” So for years this I thought that this was my theme and my motivating factor.

Then I was writing this week in an attempt to help me focus with my work, and something kept popping up. Then this morning I realized that I had stumbled onto something significant to understanding myself. I value relationships, yet I clearly have let many fade away or have had to break relationship with people. Why? Because (for the most part) these were not healthy growing relationships, not moving toward life. Therefore relationships are part of what brings my life meaning, yet only from the perspective of growth.

Note: For anyone reading this that believes I am only referring to positive growth in a constant directions for good at every moment, that is not what I mean. Often the hardest circumstances and relationships provide the opportunity for the most growth. Growing a baby is an incredibly positive thing in pregnacy but any mother would say that it is not all “positive”, “easy” or in a “constant direction”.

So hear are a few items broadly where I have identified this GROWTH in my life:

Professionally: My career has taken the eclectic experiences I have had and put me in a place to use my talents and continue to evolve to be more of a person then I ever imagine. Throughout life I have sold, but now I am growing in international business, technology, management, and client delivery.

Relationally: Growing up in Baltimore it was common to see neighbors in the front lawn fighting to settle a disagreement, my instinct toward aggression has lessen and a world of non-violent communication has opened up to me. Thankfully this is the case because the most important relationship in the world to me, my wife, would not tolerate the primal dualistic ape that roamed my psyche.

Spiritually: God reached out to me very young. Most of my spiritual development took place in a fundamentalist power driven women hating sect of Christian spirituality, and I was a professional with them. This is the place where I can see how much growth has been the theme in my life. Thankfully as the feminist father of three daughters I can know stand open minded filled with love as I engage the world.

All of this reminds me of a passage from The Books of Bebb, by Frederick Buechner. Bebb a wild evangelist has a man in his office who points to a Bible and essential asks how can this thing make my life Bebb.  And Bebb knowing that there is no magic answer that he can provide by pulling out this book then goes on to share with him. (please mind this is my paraphrase, not a direct quote)

growth-chart1-handmade-charlotte-notonthehighstreetSo Bebb asks, “Do you know the passage John 3:16?” The guy nods as just about everyone does. “For God so love the world that he gave his only Son..” pausing “you know the rest. The thing is that passage talks about sin and most people these days don’t even know what sin is. So instead of sin I like to talk about shit. For God so love the world that He sent His only Son down here into the shit with us. You see people can understand that, it something that we all relate to. And God did this, sent his Son into this because shit can be deadly. If it piles up too much in one place it will kill everything. And yet if you take it and spread it out something happens. You see God sent his Son down here with us, so maybe a little green can GROW.”

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The Lessons, rapid prototyping (Part V)

In Bible,Books,business,culture,devotional,Evangelist,faith,family,Fun,Grace Seattle,movies,PCA,Presbyterian Church in America,principles,Spiritual,Technology,Theology,Uncategorized on April 27, 2014 by mstevensrev

the-lean-startup-book-400x376-300x282 (1)A few years ago the book Lean Startup, by Eric Ries took off, at the time I was working for a offshore software development company and it was unthinkable to not have read this holy text for innovation. There are major take aways from this book: Do not be afraid to fail and be willing to fail often.  One thing that is unique I have learned since reading this book is that American culture stands out worldwide because of the position that failure does not define you as a business leader.  You have very famous examples of this including Steve Jobs with his first go around at Apple, and this is even reflected within our legal system a it relates to bankruptcy (America has some of the least punitive laws for bankruptcy in the world).  In an area like Silicon Valley it is likely to meet an entrepreneur who among a success has a string of failed companies that did not work out, this is accepted and according to The Lean Startup even encouraged.

This fits well within my spirituality as God’s grace is central to my view of what is happening in the world.  A minimal definition of grace would be a continuous second chance. (As a side note I have an illustration about ice cream and grace being you get rewarded even though you deserved to be punished, but I’ll save that for  a later post.) Christ came to offer second chances to us, that is the point.  Failure does not have the last word, just as the cross was not the end of Christ work rather he rose from the dead.  There are beautiful examples of this throughout the scriptures: Joshua and the people of God attacking Ai just after the victory at Jericho and losing (Joshua 7:1-26) and Peter’s denial of Jesus where he didn’t just lie once but three times claiming he did not know Jesus (John 18).  These are examples of great leaders from history in the church that were not defined by horrible failure, but rather defined by God’s transformation of their failure.

There is an opposing force to what I have mentioned so far, that failure does not define you and that is the concept of shame.  Just a few weeks ago I was in a presentation at work talking about what happens when teams make mistakes.  I was already at the white board so I added this diagram for our discussion:

fears_and_tears

ToiletBowlFlushThe lower path I would describe as a pathway of shame and perhaps the best image would not be arrows but rather a swirling spiral like in a toilet bowl. Shame is a powerful force that instead of saying, “You made a mistake.” says “You are a mistake.” Instead of saying, “Let’s not cry over spilled milk, grab the rag.” It tells you that your life is an abortion.  For a person controlled by shame there is no place for failure or mistakes and therefore significant work has to be done to face this horrible virus of the soul.  Needless to say if you are a person controlled by shame this idea that you are free to fail will be very difficult if not impossible for you.

For those of you with children right now you know that the movie Frozen is all about this.  The scene creating the ice castle is about Elsa coming to terms with who she has been created to be and understanding that she is not like everyone else, but the storm of shame is still a part of her life as she lives in isolation and suffering under the weight that she is created ‘wrong’.  In my minds eye this is a modern feminist picture of Martin Luther’s great speech at the Diet of Worms, “Here I stand, I can do no other.” Only when Elsa’s sister Anna is able to love her unconditionally even given her life for her, is the curse of shame broke.  Though Elsa is still different this difference is used for the good of everyone around her rather then being a curse.

 

So if you buy into this idea the fear is destructive, or a positive was of saying it being failure does not define you then a natural fruit in your life is to not be afraid of failure! Lean Start up pushes this idea with the concept of Rapid Prototyping. This idea of create, create quickly, create well, but get it out there so you can find out what is wrong with it as soon as possible.  Take feedback and grow, or my preferred verb is EVOLVE.

A major evolution in my spirituality was letting go of having to be right. The denomination that I was ordained in, the PCA, was right.  They were well educated and studied theologians that had put in the hours of dedication to create a theological framework and church governance that was Biblical and therefore right.  Once you walk away from a group like that you cannot help but be wrong, because they are the only ones that are right.  This devastated me for a significant period of time, I was lost and certainly I was on the wrong side of right.  Shame played havoc with my soul and my spirituality.

lesmis2Then I became convinced that my spirituality was not about being right and it never should have been.  I can be completely wrong and still loved fully by God!  WOW, what freedom!  One of my professors from seminary, Steve Brown, used to say “I’m wrong at least 50% of the time, I just wish I knew what 50%.” Another way to put is, my faith is not about my sin rather what it means for me to live fully human before God who has saved me.  I have been redeemed from my sin and am being redeemed from my sin.

So does this mean we just run off not caring? Roman 6, is helpful here.  Also I remember Steve Brown using this great illustration.  The discussion of grace and obedience is like a dog chasing his own tail, and the good news if the dog follow the master everything lines up. Let’s live with complete affection and focus on the master and trust that others have been created to do the same!

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The Lessons, big things and little things, Part III

In Bible,church,Community,faith,family,Friends,Grace Seattle,Japan,leadership,mission,PCA,Prayer,Presbyterian Church in America,principles,prophet,Spiritual,Theology,Uncategorized on April 12, 2014 by mstevensrev


sacred-heart-of-jesus with a pair of flame within it
At this post I want to make shift from the previous two I shared regarding the last few years of my spiritual journey.  In the previous posts the mid-faith crisis I experienced was manageable because of a few light posts that were available to me over the four year period.  These were far from mountain top experiences with God but rather as 2 Corinthians 12:9 encourages us, ““My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” From these few cold glasses of water I was kept from throwing myself off a bridge literally, and I with this post I want to transition into sharing a few things that I have learning in the experience.

The Walk and the The Wall were completely necessary for me as they each provided insight into the God I have known since a young child, the God who I had studied about in Seminary, and yet the God who I had shaped so clearly in my image I hardly knew anything about at all.  I love the Annie Lamott quote, “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” This quote is also a very good starting point for my first lesson, Big Things and Little Things.  As we all know most profound lessons that we incorporate into our lives actually come from kindergarten. This one is no exception but it came from my daughter’s kindergarten.

My second daughter began kindergarten this year, and having been the first of our kids that went through Montessori preschool we were unsure how she would adjust to Seattle public school. Thankfully our concerns were without merit and she is thriving, most of the credit goes to her teacher, Ms. Pattsy Burgess of Broadview Thompson.  One of the major lessons that Pattsy has taught my daughter, me and our entire family.  The simple lesson is “Big Things and Little Things”.

go dog go 2

The assessment is fair that our family is a sensitive family that often has emotional responses to the situations life throws at us, this can often lead to a blowing out of perspective small situations because of our emotions.  Early in this academic year my daughter explained to me that, “Daddy, your house burning down is a big deal. Losing your pencil is a small deal.”  Of course I had to ask more and she went on to explain that Ms. Burgess began to ask her when she was frustrated or emotional in a situation, “Is this a big thing or little thing?” Often the big thing would be your house burning down, so pretty much anything in comparison is a little thing.  A part of me was concerned that having a child consider her house burning down may have risk associated with it, but in my continued discussions with this wise six year old this never seemed a big deal, thankfully. So what was shared as a framework to help my daughter identify if her emotional response is in line with the situation has become a reminder for me as well.  This is not to eliminate emotional responses or even call them wrong, rather it is an opportunity to calibrate to keep them in line with what is actually going on rather then spiraling into a world that is out of touch with the actual situation.  Often it provides a good conversation with the younger two girls in our family when they are fighting, it just takes some of the spit and fire out of the situation.

Every human being on the planet has had their share of both Big Things and Little Things.  In my life the Big Things include suffering sexual abuse as a child, severe cycles of depression since middle school age, the deposition of pastor and dear friend during seminary at Grace Seattle (the church where my wife and I met), working over three years for a hypocritical conservative pastor who was unfaithful to his wife and family for more than fifteen years, and counseling a serial murderer as a first year pastor.  Each one of these Big Things in my life takes years of counseling and meditation to properly understand and remain human after suffering, part of my recent spiritual journey is recognizing that these are Big Things and to not live in denial of the impact that just one could have on a single human life much less a marriage or family.

Another point to share is the event that caused me to lose my ordination and ultimately leave the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) was actually a small thing.  In the past few years sharing it I almost felt embarrassed.  My family was almost broken apart and we left the church because  Grace Seattle, where I was serving as a ruling elder, did a terrible job of firing the worship pastor.  Churches and business hire and fire all the time, to someone outside that church or outside the church at large it would be confusing as to why it caused such an impact on me and my family.

The first point I had to reflect on was, did we overreact?  I have come to peace that we did not.  Admittedly I am an sensitive emotional person and as I stated before this can lead me to making Big Things out of Little Things.  This is the reason for a time I would be embarrassed talking about the situation with people, I was still exploring the option that I had overreacted.  Unfortunately, I did not overreact to a Little Thing rather this Little Thing exposed a Big Thing far worse then simply firing a worship pastor.

The worship pastor and his family had been serving Grace Seattle for thirteen years when the firing went down.  They had served the church during the first major crisis where the pastor was deposed, and the original music created by this pastor was the only stability during the crisis.  The Big Thing that happened in the firing was he was no longer a member of the church or even a human deserving to be treated with dignity, rather this pastor  was a limiting factor on the future growth of the church and threat to the senior pastor and needed to be dismissed regardless of the impact on his family or his spiritual health.  This act was cruel and abusive, and I write openly on this because I was on the side of the perpetrator as an elder before I left the church. This was a Little Thing for the church that resulted in a Big Thing for a family, and as a leader who failed I need to publicly repent of these decisions I supported.

In reflecting on this situation and my experience in the PCA as a whole I realized there is another Big Thing.  As a denomination, organization or business the PCA has a fundamentally broken model in that they fail to value people. In my experience in and outside the church this is not unique.  Very few embody the words of C.S. Lewis,

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.

During my brief experience as an Elder in the PCA, this failure has lead to regular acts of corporate abuse and deceptive harmful group think. Under the guise of being “balanced on Scripture” or “true to Scripture” the PCA abuses people if they are out of line with conservative reformed theology. It is assumed by the PCA that you are not even elect if you think differently then their narrow misogynistic modern view. Orthodoxy is dogmatic and completely violates the Biblical requirements for being part of the community of God as described in both the Early and Late Testaments.  For those ready to battle me on this point, feel free but at least take a moment to read Scott McKnight’s recent post (by guest blogger Michael Pahl) that relates to what it means to seek “Biblical Christianity”. Scott’s guest blogger Michael Pahl writes in regarding the current WorldVision Situation but the depth of the divide described in the article I believe applies to my point, here.

At this moment I think it is important for me to share a part of my first post in this series, “I am on a new path where my thoughts will be appropriate to share with the world.  There are some who know me that may read this post with concern or possible feel threatened that I am making a case against beliefs they hold close, if that is the case for you do not feel obligated to continue reading.  Your friendship from afar is appreciated, yet I am not interested in arguing or persuading anyone of making this same journey if they are not open to it.  So in short if you found this via Facebook instead of leaving nasty comments feel free just to unfriend me now, no hard feelings and I wish you many blessings.”  So in short you can attempt to argue with me all you would like but I feel no obligation to fight anyone on any of the content of this post.  If your goal is to correct me or start a fight my advice would be to unfriend me now, rather if you are open to discussion I long for that.  Any defensiveness to protect a theological view is a Little Thing for me and I am focusing on Big Things. May God have the glory.

Also I think it is important to mention that I did ask the family of the worship pastor permission to use their situation as an example, they suffered through enough already related to Grace Seattle, and they said yes without names named.  In regards to the leadership of Grace Seattle or the PCA I did not ask their permission or allow them to review this post.  Since leaving Grace Seattle and nearly being excommunicated I have had no contact with the leadership of the church, I am essential dead to them.  The PCA on a denominational level perpetrated lies on why I left my ministry role in Oakland, CA at All Nations Church and have not contacted me since ripping my ordination during the last crisis at Grace Seattle. In the face of all the sin that both of these organization are perpetrating, I think their actions toward me are Little Things. My hope is through these prophetic words and the work of the Holy Ghost, repentance will come to all who have been involved in these horrible destructive actions and bring them closer to God. That would be a wonderful Big Thing.

Related to this kindergartener I am trying to raise with her two sisters in the church, it is really challenging yet our family has never left the church and God has not abandoned us.  As a parent I long to keep telling a story to my kids about a Big Thing, with all that has shifted and changed in my spirituality Jesus is the Big Thing.  Also I long to tell a spiritual journey story that allows them to see the beauty and pain of their spiritual legacy.  Only my oldest daughter was alive when I was a full time vocational pastor, the other girls have only known their daddy as a sales monkey, I long to tell all three a redemptive story that is a Big Thing.  But the legacy goes back further on both sides of their families, faithful Catholics and fundamentalist with cult like loyalty in their blood, a strange but sweet mix. All this is only a part of the wonderful lesson the God of the Universe has for this little tribe known as the Stevens, may the God of the universe give us the imagination for the big things that have been prepared in love for the world as well.

 

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A follow up to a snarky post regarding Mark Driscoll

In Bible,church,Community,Evangelist,Friends,Grace Seattle,leadership,PCA,Prayer,Presbyterian Church in America,prophet,Spiritual,Theology on April 6, 2014 by mstevensrev

So in a previous silly post I made a statement about Mark Driscoll’s confusion.  To his credit there has been a statement of repentance from the man: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/church/mark-driscoll-posts-open-letter-apology

His letter has been covered in a number of blogs and such, I have not read much but must say that I am hopeful that these are first fruits of some very good movement for Mark, Mars Hill and Acts 29.  I long for a world where public repentance is not a major story by Christian leaders, but rather these ‘leaders’ live as publicly in their repentance as they do their celebritism.  Praise be to God.