Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Remember One Dead

Thus death is the briefest summary of life or life reduced to its briefest form.

What is the benefit of pondering the deaths of those you love? Yes it is painful, yes it is sorrowful, yes it is difficult. And yet much wisdom in life can be gleaned from reflecting upon the deaths of those you love.

Yes, once again go out to the dead in order there to get a look at life.

Our family goes out to visit Ben and Matt's grave each year on their deathday. We've been going to Ben's graveside since 1994. It's hard to put into words why we make the trek. Every couple of years we wonder whether we should still head out to Huntington on this evening. But we do. And Kierkegaard teaches me why we ought to continue the tradition.

In truth, if you really want to make sure about love in yourself or in another person, then note how he relates himself to one who is dead.

In our Western civilization, we turn our backs on our ancestors. Maybe it is the Western Christian aversion to pagan and Eastern veneration of our elders. Either way, we have an uneasy relationship with our dead. It causes angst, confusion, rage, despair, helplessness - but love?

How we express love to our dead reflects our ability to love the ones who live. But, you ask, am I to still love the dead? As Kierkegaard writes in Works of Love: But we do have duties towards the dead. If we are to love the men we see, then we are also to love those whom we have seen but no more because death took them away. No, one must remember the dead; weep softly but grieve long.

In this chapter on the work of love in remembering one dead, Kierkegaard asserts three things: the work of love in remembering one who is dead is a work of the most unselfish love, of the freest love, and the most faithful love.

He comments that for the living, our understanding of love is often based on repayment. Love is strengthened when it is rewarded with a thank you, with a gift, with kindness, with devotion, and so on. But the dead cannot repay you for your love. If, therefore, you wish to test for yourself whether or not you love disinterestedly, note sometimes how you relate yourself to one who is dead. Do you weep softly and grieve long over the dead you love because of what it does for you, or for how you continue to express your love to them. That you give the love is more important then that they acknowledge the love.

Not only is the work of love in remembering one dead the most unselfish love, it is the freest love. The stronger the compulsion, the less free is the love. A baby's piercing cry compels you to come care for it. The dead utter not. Your husband complains, a wife nags, a child whines, a neighbor or coworker comments... and so you adjust your works of love. But the dead you do not hear, they can't compel you to give your time, your attention, your devotion. And so if you give love to the dead, it is the most free. If, therefore, you want to test whether you love freely, observe some time how over a period of time you relate yourself to one who is dead.

The work of love in remembering one dead is unselfish, it is free, and it is the most faithful.
When two living persons are joined in love, each holds on to the other and the relationship holds on to both of them. But no holding together is possible with one who is dead. Immediately after death it perhaps can be said that he holds on to one, a consequence of the relationship together, and therefore it is also the more frequent occurrence, the customary thing, that he is remembered during this time. However, in the course of time he does not hold on to the one living, and the relationship is broken if the one living does not hold on to him. But what is faithfulness? Is it faithfulness that the other holds on to me?

Kierkegaard goes on to say: One who is dead does not change; there is not the slightest possibility of excuse by putting the blame on him; he is faithful. Yes, it is true. But he is nothing actual, and therefore he does nothing, nothing at all, to hold on to you, except that he is unchanged. If, then, a change takes place between one living and one dead, it is very clear that it must be the one living who has changed.

In our fast paced, pleasure-obsessed culture, who has time to love the dead? And who has time to love the living? How does one cultivate unselfish, free, faithful love these days? It was difficult in the 1840's, and it still is today. We honor the dead when we remember them, yes. But Kierkegaard presses us to love the one dead. Love is love is love. Love to God, love to the living, love to the dead.

He concludes: The work of love in remembering one who is dead is thus a work of the most disinterested, the freest, the most faithful love. Therefore go out and practice it; remember one dead and learn in just this way to love the living disinterestedly, freely, faithfully.

If you fail to love the dead, you can't blame the dead. And thus you are given the opportunity to consider why you fail to fully love the living around you. Maybe you should quit blaming them for your failure to fully love them.

Remember one who is dead, and in addition to the blessing which is inseparable from this work of love, you will also have the best guidance to rightly understanding life: that it is one's duty to love the men we do not see, but also those we do see.

I'm thankful my family makes the yearly trip to the cemetery. And now I more fully appreciate this work of love. I am more aware of how selfish, unfree, and faithless is my love to God, the living, and the dead. Yet with this confession comes the opportunity to learn to love in a new way. While I am alive, I will always have more to learn about the work of love. And when I am dead and join Ben, and Matt, may those I loved weep softly and mourn long.

[Soren Kierkegaard, Works of Love, pgs 317-329]

Monday, August 08, 2011

15 Years

It's a small milestone. It was this month 15 years ago that I joined North Summit Church as their Associate Pastor. In those years as a pastor I've learned much - including that I have much, much, much more to learn. 15 years in a profession, in a job, in a calling lends itself to some observations about people, life, ministry, God, the world and the church. My Dad reminded me a few months ago that I'm still really young and in the beginning of my ministry. I was really relieved to hear his reflections. The learning curve for me has been so high! Knowing that I'm still in the beginning stages helps with perspective and confidence and wisdom.

Serving North Summit Church was a real gift. Tara and I had helped Pastor Brooks Fetters and Ed Souers (and lots of others) start the church in a movie theatre. Fun times for sure! There was risk involved, lots of hard work, and plenty to learn. The finances took a hit though, and after a year there with NSC, I was able to join Emmanuel Community Church as part of an internship. I was in my final year of my Master's at the Huntington College Graduate School of Christian Ministries, so it seemed to work out well to serve at ECC. It was supposed to be a two year internship, but about six months into it, an opportunity to restart a church in downtownish Fort Wayne opened up. Six months after that, Tara and I and about fifty others from ECC started up Anchor Community Church. I owe much to North Summit and Emmanuel Community Church, to Pastor Brooks and to Pastor Dennis Miller.

Reflecting back on that first bunch of years, I wish that I could have spent a few more years as an Associate or Intern. I was too eager to get out there and do ministry my way. It's too late now to go back, but I think I would have benefitted from more training, mentoring and experience from being an associate or with the internship. However, I've learned that I've got to make the best of my decisions, even when I regret those decisions later. With my Dad being a pastor, I was familiar with church, and had lots of my own ideas of how I would run MY church. Well now I had MY church and it was a lot harder then I imagined.

Only in the last few years have I been able to let go of Anchor. It's not MY church. It's OUR church - Jesus and whoever wants to be part of it. I've had to learn that it's more important to grow people then grow a church. My vision for MY church was all about me, sadly enough. God's clever enough to still use MY church for lots of good, but I think more good has happened since I let go. Pastoring people is way more fun then running a church. Helping people know God, learn the Scriptures, live in the way of Jesus, love their neighbor, become good news, listen to the Spirit, serve their community - all of this has been a joy. Difficult, but good.

Most of the pain of ministry has come from within, my expectations, my immaturity, my strategies. Of course others have disappointed me, and learning to handle that well has been a great source of wisdom. I am my biggest obstacle to fruitful ministry. My ego. My fears. My ideas. My pride. I'm surprised how much fear plays into my decisions, my energy, my humility. I'm more fearful then I want to admit or let on. The antidote to this is trust, and it seems that every year of ministry requires me to trust God more and more and more. This makes for more beautiful ministry, more letting go, more fearlessness, and more good news. As I gain wisdom about myself and in serving others, I am able to relax in ministry and enjoy it.

In serving others, I've met and worshipped with and ministered to a wide variety of individuals and families. Some of those relationships I've bungle, some of those I've had to let go of, and others have been a real test. But most of them have been a learning experience to me about how to love, how to respect, how to add dignity, how to see Christ in each person. I try to listen and learn from others more. Instead of having all the ideas, I want to hear what others think. In caring for those in need, I've learned to let them affect me. In meeting people not like me, I've been learning how to empathize. Being part of Anchor all these years has been an unsurpassed education in learning how to trust and love, in gaining wisdom and growing in maturity.

It's easy to feel inferior as a pastor. There's always plenty of bad press out there. Some church somewhere has abused somebody, disappointed somebody, failed somebody, hurt somebody. Most people don't go to church, and half the people who don't go to church used to go to church but got let down by their pastor, so they don't go anymore. There's usually more failure shrouding most pastors than almost any other profession. And if we fail people, we believe people go to hell. Talk about pressure! We preach, but statistics show that those that listened will forget 95% of what we say by the next day. Yet we get evaluated on how good our sermons are! We get evaluated on how many pastoral visits we do, but if we do too much, then we produce lousy sermons. And pastors have to run a church efficiently, be really good at handling conflict, stay up on the finances, keep the programs exciting, and also set a good example for how to be rested and unbusy.

What is success as a pastor? It can't be the numbers. It's not the paycheck. It's not fame or recognition. I've had to learn that love is the greatest measure of success. My willingness to be loved, my willingness to love others, that's what makes pastoring successful. Of course I want to sharpen my skills as a pastor when it comes to leadership and management and counseling and teaching. But without love, it's all nothing. The temptation is to skimp on the love, to exchange it for being nice, or to excuse yourself from it because you're not a "people-person" or don't have the gift of mercy. Love is patience and kindness, and I've found my pastoring has become much more sustainable and fruitful when I focus on those two. There's plenty more to love, but I'd do well to focus on the first two as a pastor. And as a man.

In 15 years of pastoring, I've learned to value of ministering with other churches and pastors. I've benefitted from cultivating relationships with other non-profits that can further improve our church's ministry. I've had to learn how to befriend people despite being a pastor, how to be a neighbor without having an agenda. I've had to learn how to lose my faith and gain a new one while being a pastor. I've had to come to terms with my deep darkness within, to see how we all have addictions that must be healed. I've had to say goodbye to many friends, and start all over again with new ones. I've seen my heart put up walls, and I've had to tear them down. I've let people severely depress me, and I've had to learn to choose joy. I've been humbled many times, and I'm getting better at being okay with it. I've learned more about what drives me, about what controls me, about the ways I want to be free to love and serve and give.

I'm thankful for my wife Tara, who has been with me on this journey of pastoring. It's only been a decade and a half. May the next fifteen be full of adventure and joy! I'm thankful for my best friend Don Gentry, a fellow pastor who inspires me. I'm thankful for my Dad and Mum, who pray for us daily, who serve with us weekly at Anchor, and who pour so much love into my children. And I have more family and more friends to whom I owe much. Anything I accomplish is because of what others have poured into me as a gift. I also owe gratitude to my brothers. Jerm, Matt and I had to say goodbye to Ben way too early. And then Jerm and I said farewell to Matt. I am profoundly shaped by my brothers. They inspire me, they drive me, they are the other parts of me. I always cherish our growing up together. The Happy Hallman Home. It was a good life we had as brothers - and I continue to learn about how it's influenced my first fifteen years of ministry. Thanks, brothers!

What will I have accomplished in the next fifteen years? I'll be 52. Ack! I immediately feel the pressure to perform and strive and measure and go. But I want a sustainable life as well, one where I am able to nurture my marriage, bless my children, care for my family and friends, and become fully human. I don't want my ministry and work to grow a church to hijack my life such that I fail the people closest to me. In the first fifteen years of ministry, I've been learning to absorb the wisdom of Jesus, to trust God, and follow the promptings of the Spirit. I believe that this will be more then enough for the next fifteen years, come what may.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Seek the Truth

~Ayn Rand

All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.
~Galileo Galilei


All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.
~Arthur Schopenhauer

The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.
~Niels Bohr

~Mark Twain

Whenever you have truth, it must be given with love,
or the message and the messenger will be rejected.
~Mahatma Ghandi

Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.
~Sir Winston Churchill

How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?
~Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

If one tells the truth, one is sure sooner or later to be found out.
~Oscar Wilde

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Take the Long View

It helps, now and then, to step back
and take the long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of
the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete,
which is another way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about:
We plant seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything
and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for God’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results,
but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders,
ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.


-A prayer of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was martyred in San Salvador in 1980

This quote was found on the justice blog for Trinity Grace Church in New York City. This church is doing some great work, an inspiration for what could happen in my city of Fort Wayne. These words of Oscar Romero add fuel to the fire for what I feel called to help create and accomplish. May his words add to your calling...