A Note from Josh – College & Center Newsletter, April 2018

“What is it like to be transgender and follow Jesus?” That is the question that I was asking myself as I walked into the lecture last month at the Why Christian conference hosted at Duke University. Admittedly, I know very little about the Transgender community. I grew up in the heart of  the middle west, small town Indiana, where there are males, females, some tomboys, and some “dudes who act like girls,” but rarely did a word like, “Transgender” get tossed around. So I decided this lecture would require the most of me, so I went hear Austen Hartke’s lecture on the subject of the Transgender community and Biblical exegesis.

The room was nearly full by the time I entered. There were a few seats front and center, the perfect seat for a curious pastor in a foreign setting. I began people watching almost immediately. I couldn’t help but wonder how many people came to this lecture, like me, out of curiosity, or because they identified as Transgender. My estimate is about 50/50.

After a few minutes of attempting to play it cool, like I was familiar in any way with the content about to be discussed, the lecture began, and I found myself on the edge of my seat obviously impressed by Austen’s care and concern for scripture and the people present. Austen began with an introduction, he provided his name and his preferred pronouns; he, him, and his. Austen seemed young and nervous, but there was an eagerness in his presence. He took time to define transgender and even share part of his story in “transforming” from female to male. Austen was smart, gracious and direct, which was incredibly helpful for an ignorant pastor from the midwest, who was doing his best to track with the conversation. Austen spent his time walking through scripture, specifically those that have been weaponized against the transgender community, and scriptures that the transgender community has strongly identified with. Austen maintained a non-anxious presence as he graciously walked through each slide; offering a glimpse into the topic.

At some point the question occurred to me, “What if God provided a home in scripture for the transgender community to reside?” Every Christian community I have ever existed in has attempted, some better than others, to posture themselves before scripture in an effort to guide their understanding of God and how they ought to live in light of God’s word. Most people make massive strides forward when they begin to see themselves in scripture. Consider, the first time  you realized that you have denied Jesus just like Peter did. Or when you realized, like Jonah, had run from God’s calling in your life. Maybe even when you felt compelled to share the good news of Jesus with a friend, just like Mary Magdelene did. It’s hard to see yourself in scripture when people have told you that God and the bible condemn your very presence. So, what if God provided enough in the creation account, the prophets, and the New Testament, for the transgender community to see themselves in scripture?

By the end of the lecture a sanctified smirk had settled upon my face; a look set aside for moments in this life when God surprises me in the most subtle of ways. I still have all sorts of questions about the transgender community, and scripture for that matter. Of course a one hour lecture didn’t answer everything. I left the lecture wondering, “Would God be so gracious to provide enough in scripture to make a way forward for my transgender brothers and sisters to read his word and walk faithfully in following Jesus?” Perhaps. That certainly seems like something God would do.

Got questions? Me too. Let’s get coffee and ask them together.

A Note From Ashley – Covenant Newsletter, April 2018

Barbara Brown Taylor asks the question, “What is saving your life right now?” What is that thing, that person, that situation, that whatever that is bringing you hope, keeping you sane, calling you back from the edge of whatever ledge you find yourself peering over, back to life? I think about this question often. (Husband has said to me more than once, “People like you are really serious about self-reflection, aren’t they?”) Among the things that have made my list in the past six months are:

  • girl scout cookies
  • people who have taken care of my kid
  • the FPC faith community
  • girl scout cookies (so we bought a lot this year…)
  • birds in our yard that start their glorious days with singing at 4:45am most mornings (“saving my life” is not exactly the first thought I have when woken by them BUT they do remind me to be a little less bitter and a little more grateful for a new day)
  • iron infusions
  • people praying for me and my family

What would you say? What is saving your life right now? Perhaps a co-worker? Time away with your family? A loved one? A conversation with a friend (or stranger)? A book? A sermon? Girl scout cookies?

Conversely, what is just sucking the gosh darn life out of you? I won’t share my list but if you’re like me, I wonder if that list comes to mind quicker. The things that drag us down, that even sometimes feel like death… don’t they often seem to scream a little louder?

For better or for worse, we live lives filled with both life giving and life sucking seasons, relationships, situations, and always will, forever and ever amen. In her book, Everything Happens for a Reason (and other lies I’ve loved), Kate Bowlin says, “What if being people of ‘the gospel’ meant that we are simply people with good news? God is here. We are loved. It is enough.” Because of the things saving your life, in spite of the things sucking the life out of you. God is here. You are loved. It is enough. Sound too pie in the sky for you? Yeah, me too sometimes. But if that isn’t truth I don’t know what is. Feels like enough to stake a life on, don’t you think?

God is here. You are loved. It is enough.

See you at church and around town,

Ashley

A Note from Josh – College & Center Newsletters, March 2018

The other day I was wandering around Youtube, and I noticed a video by Tekashi69. This guy has rainbow colored hair, a matching grill, and several tattoos – a number of them on his face. I am a sucker for a gimmick, a wildly curious individual, and have an enormous capacity for listening to rap music, not even necessarily the tastefully woke kind either, so I clicked . . .

About an hour or so later and a thorough deep dive, I learned that Mr. 9’s real name is Daniel Hernandez. He grew up in Brooklyn. His family was poor. Incredibly poor actually. He often went to bed hungry and in an interview he told a story about his mother bringing him home a pair of shoes that she found in the trash, and upon wearing them to school he found out that they belonged to a fellow classmate who had thrown them out.

Daniel’s father was murdered when he was in eighth grade. He was expelled from school shortly after and never returned. Daniel’s story is filled with a lot of pain. A friend of mine once told me, “Never judge someone, because there are always mountains on the ocean floor.” In Daniel’s story, there are more colors to his life than just the bright happy ones that caught my attention.

The other day as my wife and I were watching This is Us (don’t judge), I told my wife a story about my past that I hadn’t shared with her before. Actually, I had never told anyone about this particular story from my past. Her response to me was, “It is crazy to think about who you used to be.” I often tell my wife, “I was two decisions away from becoming that guy.” Typically I point towards someone that fits a description similar to Daniel. I have a soft spot for people who go through difficult things in life. I sympathize with them, and have a tendency to welcome people’s exterior, whether it be rainbow colored hair or a life straight from Home and Living, because I am certain there is always more to their story, more under the surface of the calm waters, more colors than just the bright ones.

People are always more complicated than we understand at first, second, or even third glance. Democrats are more complicated. Republicans are more complicated. Transgender people are more complicated. Rich white people are more complicated. So on and so forth. Taking the time to listen, ask questions, and just be curious about another person is an absolute blessing. In our society today, we need to be willing to do a deep dive on people. We need to take the time to take multiple glances and get to know who people are, to learn about the mountains on their ocean floor. In Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth he writes, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation…” We have been entrusted with this message. In just over an hour, Mr. Hernandez went from being Tekashi69, a vulgar rap Youtube star, to Daniel, the boy who grew up poor, tragically lost his father, and is making an attempt to succeed in life.

Who could you gift an hour to this week to learn more about their story? Who do you wish would gift you an hour to learn more about your story? Where could you take the call to manifest reconciliation in your life? If you aren’t ready to do this with your mom, brother, or a democrat, try practicing on Youtube.

Blessings,

Josh

A Note from Ashley – Covenant Newsletter, March 2018

Hey, friends. I wanted to share some news with you about this next season of life for my family and me. I’ve recently decided that I am going to stay home after baby #2 is born at the end of April and not return to my job at FPC. I’ve been so grateful for my time on staff at First Pres these past four years. I feel both really sad at the thought of not being a part of the incredible staff here and also really sure about my decision.

This past year and a half in particular has been really great in so many ways in mine and my family’s life, and there have been some real challenges we’ve walked through as well. I know that my Crohn’s has played a significant role in that (as has becoming a mom two years ago) and am really hopeful for a season of healing and intentional work toward becoming healthier. I have felt more and more like I’ve been unable to pour into my job the level of commitment and dedication I’ve so desired and felt necessary for my role, even as we’ve been able to do some really incredible things and grow parts of this ministry that I’m really proud of.

I do anticipate a sweet season of life at home with little ones. I’ve been reminded that it’s such a short few precious years and that I won’t regret it. It’s funny how we often wrestle with different calls in life. On the one hand I feel so strongly called to vocational ministry, and on the other hand, I feel so strongly called to the covenant I’ve made with the people under the roof of my home. With the challenges of this past year and a half, I’ve eaten what feels to me like a huge slice of humble pie and realized I just can’t do both in a way that honors each. And so I’m sad and sure and a bit surprised. And also really grateful.

Anyone else know the feeling of challenging decisions you’ve made for yourself and/or your family in the last few years? I doubt I’m alone – tis the way life goes, no??

It is not lost on me that First Pres is the first place I’ve been called to do ministry that wholeheartedly supports women in ministry. I will forever be grateful for the ways I’ve been nurtured, challenged, and encouraged to grow into my calling in this season of life in the First Pres community. It is such a gift, and so many of you have been a large part of that gift.

We aren’t going anywhere once I am no longer on staff, and I am so curious about being a regular ol’ congregant in the community! Thank you for the ways you’ve loved my family these past four years. I am so excited to see what is in store, hopeful for some healing, and even anticipating some spiritual growth that feels exciting.

From a staffing perspective, Josh and I are working together with Todd and Stuart to decide next steps. I am so confident that FPC will continue to see the value of this ministry and that my role will be filled with someone who will do more and more for the YA community here in partnership with Josh and Sabrina. I’d love to hear questions or thoughts you may have.

Grateful for each of you and excited to continue to do life with you. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if any part of this leaves you with questions. And if you want to get coffee, we can even get it on the church between now and April 23 😉

A Note from Josh – Center Newsletter, February 2018

If you can tell me who Lilith is from the bible without looking it up or reading the rest of this blog post I will buy you a cup of coffee at any Nashville coffee shop… The other day I was at trivia with a couple of friends and there was a literature question about Lilith. My friend said, “Isn’t she from the bible.” I responded, “I don’t think so.” Turns out, she is. There I was, a pastor, seminary graduate, follower of Jesus, and I didn’t even know a character from our sacred, divinely inspired, God breathed, scriptures. It was embarrassing. I didn’t grow up going to Sunday school every week. Most of my knowledge of the bible has come from the past decade of life. I learned very few bible stories during my childhood. I could tell you all about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers, and Beast Wars, but had little to offer about Abraham, Isaac, or Miriam. My childhood was filled with characters from early morning cartoons, not the bible.

As a freshman in college I was required to take a New Testament Survey course. During one lecture the professor referenced that a man had died from touching the Ark of the Covenant as he tried to save it from falling when the oxen who carried it stumbled. He reached out to save it and was struck dead for touching the thing. (1 Chronicles 13:9-12) Upon hearing this story quickly referenced, as if everyone was familiar, I raised my hand and before I was given permission to speak I blurted out, “Excuse me, what did you just say?” Immediately, I looked it up in my bible. After reading it, I sat there confused about who God was, and why that man had to die for touching the VERY holy God box from hitting the ground.

I went to visit a few college students last week in Texas. At the end of one of my coffee dates I asked how I could be praying for the student I was meeting with. He responded, “Pray I am more disciplined.” He then asked if I had any daily devotional recommendations. If you have ever struggled with being disciplined in the faith, and purchased a devotional as a remedy, you know that typically the effort, though well intentioned, ends up birthing a few days of consistency, followed by a couple weeks of inconsistency, ending in another devotional sitting on your bookshelf, most every page unread, collecting dust. I suggested he read What is the bible? How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters, and Stories Can Transform the Way You Think and Feel About Everything by Rob Bell. I chose this book because I believe it can be read daily as a devotional, but also because I believe it will inspire people. Most people need to be inspired to be disciplined, more than just mustering up an extra portion of self-will. Bell does a phenomenal job of summarizing much what I learned about how to think about, read, and live in light of the bible throughout my undergraduate and seminary experience.

I am still surprised by the bible. A new character or story gets brought up and, along with my anxiety, my curiosity about the book is peaked and I begin to search the pages looking for information, inspiration, and peace. Within my ignorance and anxiety there is a lot of potential. I hope the bible isn’t boring to you. I hope you find yourself curious about the bible’s content. I hope you are still surprised by the bible. If not, check out this book and let’s chat.

 

Lilith is a night demon that the prophet Isaiah references in Isaiah 34:14.

A Note From Josh – Center Newsletter, January 2018

You do not have to be the same person you were in 2017. You can change. For instance; this year I made a resolution to eat more salad. Okay, that is kind of a joke. But to be more thoughtful, consider the gospel. One of the most provocative claims of the gospel is the promise for transformation. Two Christian doctrines that capture this truth are the doctrines of sanctification and justification. Sanctification is based on the Latin word sanctus, which means holy, this term has been used traditionally to describe the process in which new life is imparted to the believer by the Holy Spirit, and he is released from the compulsive power of sin and guilt and is enabled to love God and to serve his neighbor. Justification comes from the Latin justificatio, and was used by Paul in his N.T. letters to signify that act by which God brings man back into proper relationship with him. Both of these doctrines capture God’s agency and empower creation to become more of who God has made us to be. God has done everything necessary for us to be faithful. We have everything we need to be the people God is calling us to be. You do not have to be the same person this year as you were last year. By the power of God in Jesus, our Christ, you can change. Have you made a resolution yet? If so, share that with me. I’d love to hear about how you intend to change in 2018. If some of this is confusing, simply put, I guess you could say, new year, new you 🙂 Amen? Amen.

A Note From Josh – College Newsletter, January 2018

You do not have to be the same person you were in 2017. You can change. For instance; this year I made a resolution to eat more salad. Okay, that is kind of a joke, but to be more thoughtful, consider the gospel. One of the most provocative claims of the gospel is the promise for transformation. Two Christian doctrines that capture this truth are the doctrines of sanctification and justification. Sanctification is based on the Latin word sanctus, which means holy. This term has traditionally been used to describe the process in which new life is imparted to the believer by the Holy Spirit, and he is released from the compulsive power of sin and guilt and is enabled to love God and to serve his neighbor. Justification comes from the Latin justificatio, and was used by Paul in his N.T. letters to signify that act by which God brings man back into proper relationship with him. Both of these doctrines capture God’s agency and empower creation to become more of who God has made us to be. God has done everything necessary for us to be faithful. We have everything we need to be the people God is calling us to be. You do not have to be the same student you were last semester as you will be this semester. By the power of God in Jesus, our Christ, you can change. Have you made a resolution yet? If so, share that with me. I’d love to hear about how you intend to change in 2018. If some of this is confusing, simply put, I guess you could say, new year, new you 🙂 Amen? Amen.

A Note From Ashley – Covenant Newsletter, January 2018

Whether you’re engaged, have been married for ten days, or ten years, you should join us at this year’s marriage retreat. Why? I’m so glad you asked. Read in on just a few conversations I’ve had with people in the last four months about marriage:

  • we are a year in and are feeling really grateful for our marriage;
  • we think counseling, even during the healthy times, is really great for our marriage;
  • we just don’t do well with conversations about marriage;
  • hey, we really appreciate you asking, our marriage is going well;
  • we don’t handle conflict well;
  • we thought for the first 19 years of our marriage that we were doing marriage the best of anyone we knew, and then I had an affair this summer.

And then there was the conversation I had with a friend who, via text, told me she and her husband had just gotten a divorce and I had no.idea.they.were.even.struggling. Marriage is one of the best and most challenging covenants anyone could commit to. If you think you and your spouse can do marriage alone, I would graciously and humbly submit to you that, well, you’re very wrong. And anyway, it’s way more fun to have people you love and trust cheering for you in the stands, and to be those people for others’ marriages as well.

We are so excited to welcome James and Ashley Wilson to Nashville as this year’s marriage retreat facilitators. James and Ashley have been leading marriage retreats for the past four years around the country, and we can’t wait for them to join us. We hope you will, too. Friday evening, February 2, and Saturday morning, February 3, promise to be a time filled with friends new and old, laughter, sweet conversation, and words that move us deeper into relationship with one another– as spouses and as friends. Invite another couple you know and join us. If last year’s retreat was an indication, we promise you won’t regret this one.

See you at church and around town,

Ashley

A Note from Josh – College & Center Newsletter December Newsletter 2017

I have a daughter! (See picture.) Everly Kay was born on November 11th at 4:30am. Baby girl is healthy as can be. She loves eating, being held, and sleeping. The typical baby stuff. My wife and I are so glad that we get to be this little girl’s mother and father.

One of the first days we had Everly home, my toddler son, Jameson, was running around our living room yelling, rather loudly, nothing in particular, it certainly wasn’t coherent. Typical toddler stuff. His passion for life is a great source of joy for me. Whether he is banging on his toy drum set, watching Moana, or reciting Little Blue Truck from memory, he does so with gusto. On this day, watching him live his best life, untamed and unapologetic, I thought, “I love him so much.” Then, I looked down in my arms at Everly. She was sleeping quietly on my chest. Her presence in the room offered only the occasional baby coo and the warmth of her cuddles. As I looked at her, I thought, “I love her so much.” Then the question occurred to me, “How can I possibly love these two so much?” and “What kind of life is this?”

A friend of mine from Philadelphia once told me after having his second child, “Your heart will grow and you will love beyond what you know yourself capable of being.” I never understood his words until that day sitting on my couch, watching my daughter and son. I could be wrong, but I don’t think my friends words are true only at childbirth. I believe God has woven moments into our world that grow our capacity to love into the fabric of our world. A prayer I have for the First Presbyterian Nashville community is that during this holiday season, we would learn to love beyond what we know ourselves capable. Likely, it won’t come through the birth of your child, perhaps through the celebration of the birth of a child though… Regardless, may you be open to and looking for the person, place, or thing God may bring into your life that will cause you to love beyond your greatest imagination. If you would like to come meet my Everly, or Jameson, please don’t hesitate!  Jameson loves new friends to play with and Everly is always up for someone to hold her 🙂

 

Blessings,

 

Josh

A Note from Ashley – December Covenant Newsletter

I love advent. Or well, perhaps I should more honestly say, I’m learning to love advent. Growing up I just loved Christmas. My dad, a pastor for over 30 years, LOVED to shop on Black Friday. This was years ago when Black Friday wasn’t quite as wild- sinful, even?!- as it is now (read: stores opened at 6am on *gasp* Friday, none of this Thursday nonsense). He’d be gone long before we were out of bed and back around lunch time. A full day’s work. We learned later that after he shopped, my dad would take all of our gifts to my grandmother’s house, hide them in the attic, and spend some quality time with her before coming home as if nothing had happened. Dad/Santa, please. We knew better.

My dad passed away almost seven years ago. Since then, Christmas has been a little more bittersweet. That’s the thing about getting older. People we love change, even pass away. Christmas switches from the most magical morning of the year into something perhaps a little less special. Old traditions don’t quite seem the same as we and our families change and grow. And yet.

Maybe the changes and growing a little older somehow turn us a degree or two closer to the manger. In the season of advent, we are invited to sit with God and wait with anticipation for what God might do in and through us in the coming year–all because of the baby born that one crazy night.
Perhaps this season you find yourself a little more sad than in years past,a little more caught up in the busy-ness of all our culture desires to suck us into this season, or even a little more anxious about all that’s going on in the world. May we remember the message of advent: in advent, we wait. Why? Because once again we might be reminded that “God is not dead nor does He sleep.” God is very active in this world. One Christmas long ago God even put on human flesh to come show us what it looks like to love without limits, to challenge the status quo, to turn the world as we knew it completely upside down. And the world has never been the same.  Emmanuel. God with us. Hallelujah for that. Happy Advent. And Merry Christmas. See you at church and around town.

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