A Note From Josh – College & Center Newsletters, August 2019

My barber’s name is Joe. Joe can give a mean haircut. Joe also works on cars. Well, to be more specific, he works on car. Each time I get my haircut I ask him how the car is coming along. He has been working on it for years, and definitely has years ahead of him. He talks about how the car has parts that no other car in the world has. Some of the parts are made specifically for his car, and don’t exist anywhere else. He has collected parts for years from all over the world. The car is one of a kind. I asked him if he was going to race it when it was finished, and he responded, “Probably not, it’ll probably just sit in my garage, and I’ll tow it to some car shows.” I couldn’t believe it! How could you not race this thing?! No other car in the world is capable of what this car is capable of!

Lately, I’ve been wondering if my faith isn’t like Joe’s car. I have traveled on mission trips all over the world. I have read books and sat through classes that only a fraction of Christians have access to. I have profound spiritual experiences that are unique to me. I wonder, “Am I putting all this to good use? Am I going to race this thing?” I’ll pose the same question to you. Are you putting everything you have learned, experienced, and have access to in your faith to good use?

I’m not trying to condemn anyone here. I don’t care to offer condemnation. But I wonder, what would it look like if we saw our faith more like, well, a car? What would it look like if we considered all of the worship services, bible studies, and mission trips an opportunity to build our car and then take it on step further and race these things?! What would lit look like for someone like you, in all of your God formed uniqueness to put your faith to practice in every way possible? Who could be clothed, fed, and cared for that isn’t currently? Who might believe, repent, and trust who isn’t currently? What person or situation needs your understanding of God, your take on the text, and your view of the Kingdom of God?

What if for the next season you committed to as many opportunities to put your faith to task you did to forming your faith? To be clear, I don’t think faith formation is near as sexy as living out your faith, but a lot of us settle for formation in the name of living out our faith. It’s easier. You can plan it and check off the box. However, we are meant for more than liturgy and exegesis. Let’s get our faith out of the garage, get it off the tow truck, and take the cover off. Let’s see what these things can do! Amen? Amen.

Josh

A Note From Jessie – Covenant Newsletter, August 2019

Not too many moons ago, I felt myself sliding into a season of grumpiness. Of ugliness. Of bitter, discontented, petty complaining-ness. I think I was tired. 🙂

Who can relate? 

Many of us know all too well that over-extended feeling when we are so spent– yet altogether unwilling or unable to seek refuge — that our emotions get tangled upside down and everything seems entirely and unsalvagably irksome. Well, one evening as I was washing dishes after wrangling my two little ones into their beds, I thought to myself, “Now, why exactly am I feeling so annoyed in this very moment? Is it that I have two lively young souls under my roof who are not as interested in bedtime as I am? That there are dishes in my sink that once held healthy meals and now need washing?” Ugh, I was suddenly annoyed with myself, too.

Thanks be to God that at this seemingly dead-end moment of utter frustration a question bubbled up out of the sink suds and into my weary brain. 

What do you have in this life that is not a gift? 

As I flipped through my mental rolodex, I could not name one single thing that I have in my life that has not been gifted to me in some form or fashion…

My children? My home? My marriage? My dishes? My working brain and body? Even my struggles and losses? All gifts. All among the greatest gifts I have ever received. I needed a major attitude adjustment, so right then and there I grabbed a piece of scrap paper. I cut the paper into several smaller pieces, and on each one I wrote a single word: 

“gratitude” 

I then hunted for spaces throughout my house where I noticed I was feeling grumpiest lately, and I taped the word in those places. Over the kitchen sink, on the landing that leads to my children’s rooms, near the laundry piles for sure… I think Steele thought I was losing my mind.

But I think it was divine intervention. I think God knew I needed a reset in that moment and a reminder that when we plant our feet firmly in gratitude and use that humble ground to set our perspective, everything shifts. If in humility we recognize that everything we encounter is a gift in its own right, and if we take a beat to breathe in and out the thanks those gifts deserve, a type of cleansing takes place. Gratitude sweeps out the cobwebs of anxiety and envy and self-pity. It recenters our focus on God from whom all blessings flow. And it helps us realize anew the big picture that we are blessed beyond measure and loved beyond comprehension. I try to remember these truths everytime I see those little hand-written signs that still hang around my house, and I pray that holding on tight to grateful feelings will help us all get through the tumultuous, exciting, exhausting, and unknown school year ahead. Amen.

A Note From Jessie – Covenant Newsletter, July 2019

“Hello darkness, my old friend. I’ve come to talk with you again.”

Sometimes I’ll overhear Vaughan or Poppy singing deep, intense lyrics like these to themselves in their soft, little-kid voices, and it makes me chuckle. They will be lost in thought– drawing pictures or playing with the puppy– and a song will thoughtlessly escape their small mouths. Their unexpected range of musical taste always amuses me. Lately, one of their favorite records to play on the old-fashioned record player Steele gave me years ago is a Simon & Garfunkel album, and one of their favorite songs off the album is “The Sound of Silence.” It reminds them of a funny, campfire scene from the movie Trolls, and the melody is easy for them to mimic.

When I heard them singing the chorus from “The Sound of Silence” last Sunday, however, it struck me for a new reason. We had just arrived home from church, and I was still ruminating over the thought-provoking lesson Chan Sheppard had shared with our Family Fellowship and Cornerstone classes that have combined for the summer. The lesson was based on Rob Bell’s Nooma video series, and the lesson’s title was “Noise.” 

The lesson’s focus, however, was more specifically on the faithful practices of silence and solitude, and how challenging these practices can be in today’s world. Bell’s message included data on noise pollution, on overstimulated brains, and on our culture’s obsession with visual and auditory distraction. I found it fascinating and all too true.

There were several questions Bell posed that struck me as especially profound and convicting:

  1. “When was the last time you spent time in silence?”
  2. “Does your schedule, your time, your life look like that of a person who wants to hear God’s voice?” 
  3. “Have you spent the same amount of time worrying and talking about your difficult, confusing situations as you have spent in silence, listening to what God might have to say?” 

My internal answers to these questions were something like,

  1. Uhhhhhmm…
  2. Nope. 
  3. Shoot. Probably not.

Chan followed up with digging into Scripture, pointing out the numerous times that Jesus removes himself from the group for quiet, personal time with God. The lesson also reminded us of Elijah hearing God’s voice in the silence, of God reminding His people to be still and know, and of Psalm 4:4’s message: Search your hearts and be silent. 

When was the last time I spent prolonged, intentional time in absolute silence?

Am I living a life reflective of someone who is searching for God’s voice in the stillness?

Instead of numbing my emotions in technology, a busy schedule, noisy environments, or even the sound of my own voice, perhaps I can pledge anew to create more space for silence. For prayer. For contemplation. For opening my heart to God’s quiet voice in the stillness.

Yes, silence is a sound. For some, silence is an uncomfortable, disturbing sound. And for parents of young children, opportunities for silence may feel positively unheard of (pun intended). But perhaps prioritizing a prolonged moment of silence at some protected point every day will allow us the restful reset we subconsciously crave so earnestly.

I am going to try this month to turn off the TV at night a little more often, to put down my phone a bit more frequently, to dial down the radio in my car, and yes even to let that record player collect a tad more dust. 

Will you join me? 

For in the silence, who knows what restorative treasures await.

A Note From Josh – College & Center Newsletters, July 2019

Summer is here! And with this season comes new rhythms and a new pace to life, which of course brings about potential. My life gets more hectic in the summer; maybe yours does, too. It is my traveling season. This year I went on the Mystery Trip, will be on the Taize trip when this newsletter goes out, and before the summer season ends, I will return to Cuba for a fifth time to continue our relationship with our sister church in Varadero. But now, I want to talk about the Mystery Trip. This year we went to . . .

Northern Ireland! Ashleigh O’Sullivan was a year long intern in the youth ministry, and if you could tell by the name, she calls Northern Ireland home. It was a no brainer when she suggested the destination for our trip this year, and I couldn’t be happier that we let her run with the planning. She set up opportunities for us to learn about the government, which is much different than ours and is currently shutdown, but I was told “collapsed” is probably a better word, and has been for about two and a half years. We got to partner with different ministries of reconciliation in the country – everything from Habitat for Humanity to Project Surf, yes that is right, we surfed in Northern Ireland! Who knew that was a thing? We also learned about “the troubles”.

“The troubles” are what Northern Irish call the years from around 1970 or so until the early 2000s . . . ish. (I sense that depends on who you ask as to how they would date them.) those decades were plagued with violence from different paramilitary groups – everything from car bombings and mass shootings to an RPG attack on an inmate from the road that overlooked his jail cell. It’s hard to know exactly what has created “the troubles” entirely, certainly a week is not long enough to say anything too definitive on the matter, but one dynamic that was most difficult to learn about was the one between Protestants and Catholics.

In Belfast, there are “Peace Walls” or “Peace Lines” that divide communities between Catholic and Protestant. They were originally built up to about 20 feet or so, but were extended once officials learned that people from both sides would throw rocks or even flaming bottles of gasoline over at random, the last of which was thrown about four years ago. Most everyone in our group at some point expressed confusion and disbelief as to how something like that could happen. A few questions that were asked were, “How are there still walls like this standing?”, “Why would people do that to one another?” and “How can someone claim to be a Christian and do such a thing?”. Of course, it didn’t take long for the conversation to come up that, though our context is quite different, and we do not have the same physical walls as our Northern Irish brothers and sisters, there are certainly divides in our nation, city, and personal lives that testify to the same division.

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of his reconciliation to us. Se we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

I couldn’t help but think, our nation is just as divided as the Northern Irish. Our hate for others runs just as deep. We attack at random and accept violence as a means to an end in all sorts of ways in our country. We are different, but we are the same, too. Despite this harsh reality, it is not what we are called to. Paul was convinced that in Christ we are new, and in him we have been reconciled, and we have been entrusted with the message of reconciliation. Can you imagine if Paul could see the walls we have created in this world? What might he say?

As you go through the summer season, a season of different rhythm and pace, with all sorts of potential, consider where you might be an ambassador for reconciliation. Consider, where does there need to be reconciliation? I’d guess it won’t take long for each of us to answer the question. It may take longer to know what to do, but, brothers and sisters, that is our task. May we risk being disturbed and changed, that we may experience Kingdom come through ministries of reconciliation. Amen? Amen.

A Note from Jessie – Covenant Newsletter June 2019

“Do you ever feel as though you are being chased by tigers?”

Several years ago, I was dining at a new, hip restaurant in East Nashville with an even hipper friend who posed this question to me over a plate of farm fresh eggs.

She continued to describe a self-inflicted, stressed-to-the-max condition of life she had been noticing among the patients she saw in her alternative medical practice:

It seems that the urgency with which people approach something as simple as a to-do list has ramped up to an all time high. The frantic intensity many of my patients feel inside their hearts, brains, and bodies– whether they are heading into a meeting or helping their children get ready for school in the morning– is actually mimicking the anatomical response to a life or death situation. It is that extreme! I watch people enter my office doors, and I can see it in their eyes: they feel so inwardly tense that they might as well be bracing for a tiger’s attack!” She paused for a moment and then continued, “And I think I can recognize that look so well because I sometimes feel the same way, too.”

Chased by tigers? Hmm.

I remember in that moment shamefully reflecting on the scene that had unfolded in our driveway an hour before as I handed over our two tired, hungry children to my husband. Steele’s case at work had taken longer than expected, and he was rushing home to relieve me so I could drive all the way over to East Nashville. Stress was written all over his face upon arrival, and as I tried to extract four small arms from my weary neck so that I wouldn’t keep my new friend waiting, exasperation constricted my whole body. I remember driving the entire 25 minute commute with a white-knuckled grasp on the steering wheel, weaving through traffic. The friend I was meeting was an understanding sort, and our plans were friendly and casual, yet I was inexplicably hurrying toward my destination as if my life depended on it!

Why?! And… do you ever feel that way, too?

Sure, being punctual is important, as is being respectful of others’ plans, meeting deadlines, and finishing our daily chores. And sure, each day holds its own share of stressors and burdens. But why do we allow even the small moments of uncertainty or strain to penetrate our psyche in such big, powerful ways? Why do so many of us tend to overemphasize the burning exigency of menial tasks, all while inflating our delusions of control and self-importance?

Sometimes God speaks to us in the most unexpected ways, doesn’t He? For me, it was during that meal and through the wise words of my friend. It was necessary for me to pause and realize the weight I was lugging around from a false narrative that I am in this world alone and that meeting every need from others is a matter of life or death. That’s quite a pagan view of the world, afterall, isn’t it? It is an entirely unfaithful mindset to run my routes through a maze each day, thinking that every small wall or obstacle I encounter is of the utmost importance and also the difference between success and failure. When I start to feel like this, I know that I have lost perspective and need to refocus on the bigger picture.

God invites us to step away from our self-made traps. He invites us to look up. To pause, and look up to Him.

In the book of Daniel, after Nebuchadnezzar sees the grave errors of his ways and resurfaces from the throes of madness, he exclaims,

I raised my eyes toward heaven and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever; For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom endures from generation to generation (Daniel 4:34).

These verses beautifully echo Psalm 121, a passage that always soothes my soul at the very moment I begin reading it:

I lift up my eyes to the hills– where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip– he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD watches over you– the LORD is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all harm– he will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore (Psalm 121:1-8).

Perhaps it is time to ask ourselves, “when was the last time I raised my eyes toward heaven?” Perhaps we could also start pausing throughout the day to ask, “How am I feeling today? Is there tightness in my chest? Knots in my stomach? An agitated buzzing in my head? Are my shoulders or jawline bracing for some sort of unseen impact?” And then we can take a deep breath and ask the more important question: “What worries or anxieties can I hand over to God today, to my omnipotent Lord who loves me so very much?”

Let’s allow this gift of summertime to be a period of new breath and restored perspective. And all the imaginary beasts we unknowingly empower to chase us through the grocery store aisles or down our office corridors or in our email inboxes or through traffic jams or during our morning and evening routines– let’s give them a summer break, too.

Dear Lord, help us look up. Please help us look to You. Help us remember that we are not in control as we run around in our self-importance. You have invited us into something so much more peaceful and fulfilling. Help us to accept your invitation gratefully.

And may we all take more time this summer to pause, breathe, and look up to the heavens. God is everywhere. And there is not one tiger in sight.

A Note from Josh – College & Center Newsletters May 2019

When I was about thirteen years old, I remember seeing someone on a skateboard. They were riding around a group of people, but they weren’t pushing; their momentum seemed to propel them. I didn’t understand how that was possible. Then I saw someone jump off of a curb. They didn’t just ride the curb, they jumped into the air. I later learned the term for this is an “ollie”. I didn’t understand how the board stayed on their feet. I was captivated by the whole scene. From that day on, I began to play in this world on a skateboard. How do you play?

Summer is the season of play. We play on boats, at the beach, or online. The season is changing, the weather is warming, and I am sure, like me, we are all starting to plan how we want to play this year. How do you play in this world?

Sometimes it’s hard to play. After all the work is done, the obligations are fulfilled, and the adulting is handled, there is hardly any time or capacity to include something like play into our regular rhythms. Maybe, if you are like me, you settle for a Netflix show or just a drink. I’m not down on things of that sort necessarily, but they aren’t play. They are more vice than play. Some may think vices are all bad. I don’t. I think vices have their role. However, someone once told me, “Things like television and beer simply don’t have the capacity to re-create you, and in this world we need that kind of re-creation. We need to be re-created on a regular basis.” I think they are right. What re-creates you?

As Christians, sometimes it can be hard to figure out how to play faithfully. There is no bible verse that says “be sure to play a bit while you are making disciples and feeding the hungry”. That would have been a nice one from Jesus. However, if we notice our natural tendencies and the makeup of this world, there is something about the image we bear and the creation itself that beckens play. There are trails that invite us to hike, winds that call for a kite, and streams that demand we splash. We don’t have a verse, but we know play is supposed to be part of life. How is play part of your life?

I hope this summer season is filled with more than task lists, obligations, and studies. I hope you take the time to do the thing that re-creates you. Participate in the makeup of yourself and this world by playing a bit. Trust that you are made for more than work and duty. And in the midst of all the ways you play, wonder at the creator who wired you to be more. Amen? Amen.

Josh

A Note from Jessie – Covenant Newsletter May 2019

Nature’s first green is gold,

Her hardest hue to hold.

Her early leaf’s a flower;

But only so an hour.

Then leaf subsides to leaf.

So Eden sank to grief,

So dawn goes down to day.

Nothing gold can stay.

I sat down to write my blog post, and instead I started typing out one of my favorite Robert Frost poems, “Nothing Gold Can Stay.” These words are as familiar and comforting to me as the lyrics of a childhood hymn. And they feel nearly as holy.

These are the words that awaken in my heart every spring as I watch the neon promises of new life bud from each tree’s branch.

These are the words that I used to spend full class periods dissecting and marveling over with my beloved English students.

And these are the words I spoke in spontaneous unity the other week as I hiked through Percy Warner with a dear friend who recently lost her mother. My friend (another former-English-teacher and permanent-poetry-lover) and I were deep in conversation that morning about the surprising elements of mourning … the undulating waves of grief, the physical toll of longing, the unexpected moments of laughter… when we simultaneously experienced the unmistakable sense that something was watching us. Without another word, we stopped in our muddy tracks and silently surveyed the woods. There, perched on a low-slung limb of a Sugar Maple, not twenty feet from us, was a large Barred Owl.

Her round brown eyes stared benignly at ours, unblinking. Why was she awake at this midday hour? Why was she not afraid as trespassers tread so closely by? We must have held our collective breath in intuitive solidarity for an extended moment because not one sound interrupted that awe-inspiring scene. Slowly, wordlessly, we looked at each other in amazement then cautiously crept forward. When we were within ten feet of the majestic bird, she unfurled her soft brown and white wings to an impressive span, and quietly flew deeper into the woods on a whisper of feathers.

What a gift.

With the arrival of Easter, of spring, of new life abounding in every direction, our weary, wintered souls are hushed by the wonder of God’s beauty. And in those golden moments, as fleeting as they may be, we are restored and reconnected to His loving promise.

Of course this side of Heaven, nothing can last– not a treasured parent, not the innocent magic of childhood, not even a fleeting moment of true personal connection. The impermanence is part of what makes each gift so achingly dear. Yes, there is surely pain as “leaf subsides to leaf” and as we enter into new phases of our lives, of our relationships, even of our parenting journeys for which we may feel utterly unprepared. And yes, sorrow wells up in the notion that “nothing gold can stay.”

But look more closely at the poem’s words. It is deceptively simple, full of puzzling paradoxes that can be interpreted in varying ways. How can green be gold? Because it is precious in signifying spring’s impending arrival? A leaf is not a flower, though it may be as beautiful as one when finally spotted with sore eyes. And how can dawn “go down” to day? The sun rises up in to day. Is it that nothing gold can stay… or that nothing gold must stay, for what is coming is infinitely better? If we believe our Creator is all knowing and all powerful, then Eden was never meant to last here on Earth. Our loving Father has something better than we can even begin to comprehend waiting ahead for us. As the psalmist writes, God’s promise is more desirable than gold, “even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey drippings of the honeycomb” (Psalm 19:10).

Sometimes the hardest moments in our lives crack open our capacity for gratitude wider than ever before and heighten our awareness of God’s majesty. And sometimes that transformation hurts. Yet perhaps those surprising moments of golden joy, found in the midst of the pain, are small glimpses of an eternal love that nothing can break, that nothing will fade.

So… it may seem like a series of far and improbable leaps that my friend and I made that morning– from the depths of grief to the stunned pause after a close encounter to a jubilant, joint recitation of a favored poem– but perhaps it comes close to mirroring the fickle and wild nature of the human experience. Sorrow and wonder and joy: all of the feelings that Frost’s poem evokes.

Nothing gold can stay. But God’s love is forever, and indeed it is far finer than gold.

A Note from Jessie, Covenant Newsletters – April 2019

Have you ever engaged in Spiritual Direction with Anne Dobbs? Nashville people, you should. She leads something called People at Rest here at First Pres, which ironically I have never attended because my schedule has always felt “too packed for rest.” In fact, the very notion that I am too busy to carve out intentional time for repose is a cyclical challenge so many of us face. How can we justify blocking off time… to do nothing? What about kids, sporting events, family outings, birthday parties, work, errands, social gatherings, you name it? We desperately crave a break from being busy, but we are utterly unwilling to prioritize or commit to it.

It was not until Josh Rodriguez suggested I book an individual appointment with Anne Dobbs for Spiritual Direction that I followed through with this endeavor. And wow, I am so glad I did.

If you do not know Anne, she has bright blue eyes that look as serene as a spring morning and a warm, welcoming presence. As we sat on her sun porch with natural light pouring in from her garden, I felt myself relax. She explained to me that part of her passion is helping people slow down, open their hearts, and move closer in relationship to God. She invited me to imagine sitting down to tea with Jesus to spend moments of connection with him. My first thought was, why have I never done this before?

Have you ever imagined such a moment? Humbly sitting down, taking a breath, and drinking some warm tea in fellowship with Jesus? What thoughts and emotions does that image conjure up for you? What would you want to ask or say or hear?

As we continued talking, Anne asked me another poignant question that called big tears immediately to the rims of my eyes. “Jessie,” she said, “imagine that your little girl self is sitting on your knee right now. What if you could look into her small face…What would you say to her? What would you want that little girl to hear?”

Whoa. Emotional City.

Her probing questions in harmony with each other shot straight to a nerve that has clearly been latent inside me for far too long. In essence, her simple yet profound questions helped me powerfully connect with my inner self as well as my faith. And the tears came rolling down.

What am I longing to hear from Jesus, and what would I love to tell my child self? It is ultimately one and the same: You are enough, and you are loved.

Lord, help me be still in the midst of life’s chaos to hear those comforting words. Help me slow down enough to spend quality time with you each day. Help me look to you for grace and affirmation and redemption instead of foolishly seeking it anywhere else. And Lord, help any tired eyes or over-scheduled minds that  read these meager words feel called into your calming respite and feel invited toward your deep, life-giving well of love and peace. Amen.

A Note from Josh – College & Center Newsletters, April 2019

How much do you talk about Jesus? A lot? Not at all? Who do you talk to Jesus about? Why do you talk about Jesus? Why do you not talk about Jesus? Jesus can be a tenuous topic to discuss, probably because Jesus isn’t meant to just be a topic of discussion.

We studied John 3 a couple weeks ago in our mid-week Bible study. The chapter has a chiastic structure, making verse 11 the major theme of the chapter. “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony.” We ask a lot of questions during our time together, but we always end with the question, “If we took this text seriously, how would we live differently tomorrow?” The group agreed, if we took these words seriously, we’d talk about Jesus more. Then, almost immediately, we began to preface that with how sensitive we need to be when we talk about Jesus, and how much we should have a relationship with someone before we talk about Jesus, and how we need to avoid being overbearing, and how really we just need to live like Jesus lived. Someone even cited St. Francis of Assisi saying, “Preach the gospel. If necessary, use words.”

I shared two thoughts in the moment and have a third after reflecting upon our time together:

  1. I told the person immediately, I disagree with the quote attributed to St. Francis. I do not believe you can preach the gospel with only your actions. The gospel has more to offer than our actions.
  2. I noticed that we all wanted to draw a line in the sand and say, “We need to be careful about crossing that line.” I said, “In the Presbyterian church, and in my experience of most churches, all of us are so far from the line, we could afford to take a step or two closer before we even got close to oversharing our faith in Jesus.
  3. I didn’t think of this one then, but it occurred to me now. When people quote St. Francis of Assisi, they typically describe the sentiment as, “We should be nice and happy until someone notices, and asks us, ‘Why are you so nice and so happy?'” Then we can say, (if we so dare) “because we have faith in Jesus.” But my sense is that St. Francis, a man who started the Franciscan Order and who was known for devoting his life to poverty, was probably thinking more along the lines of Jesus’ sermon on the mount, “love your enemy, pray for those who persecute you.” I don’t think Mr. Assisi just wanted us to be a good bit nicer than everyone else. Jesus was so much more than nice.

My Spanish tutor told me, “When you talk to someone in Spanish, use one or two more words than you are comfortable. Push yourself, and see what it’s like to try to use new words.” I think the same thing can be said about our faith. When talking about Jesus, try using one or two more words than you are comfortable. Push yourself, and see what it’s like to try new words. Amen? Amen.

A Note from Josh – College & Center Newsletters, March 2019

I just read a book about sex. Nadia Bolz-Weber, a Lutheran minister out of Denver wrote the book, Shameless: A Sexual Reformation. In the book she addresses a spectrum of topics from purity and sex ethics, all the way to abortion. The book did not evoke mild emotion.

Nadia summarizes the book with these words, “Here’s what this book is. It is a DNA test of our own harm, picking our arms, drawing blood, and showing us where we came from so that we know how to step toward something new. It offers layers of stories and voices and perspectives and history and poetry and scripture. Like a human body, it has curves.”

Sex is complicated for people. For youth, young adults, and even older adults. It is helpful to have someone take on the audacious task of talking about the different topics openly, because to be honest, the church isn’t the first place people think of to talk about sex. I don’t think Nadia was right about everything she said, but here are a couple points I thought were worth sharing.

The World Health Organization’s definition of sexual health puts forth two defining characteristics for a sexual ethic, consent and mutuality. But Nadia doesn’t stop with only these two characteristics. She goes on to say, “A Christian sexual ethic must offer more than this.” She pushes for not just an ethic that rests upon the absence of bad behavior, but for sexual flourishing. Nadia suggests bringing concern to consent and mutuality, saying, “A sexual ethic that includes concern means seeing someone as a whole person and not just a willing body.”

Nadia goes on to name that in the church’s pursuit of holiness, we settled for purity. She says, “But no matter how much we strive for purity in our minds, bodies, spirits, or ideologies, purity is not the same as holiness. It’s just easier to define what is pure than what is holy, so we pretend they are interchangeable.” She expounds by saying purity is also easier to regulate than holiness. She names the honorable pursuit of desiring to be holy, but acknowledges somewhere in the process the church has stopped short. She says, “the desire to live a holy life that is pleasing to God is understandable, but this desire is also fraught with pitfalls.” She names a necessary distinction, “holiness is about union with, and purity is about separation from.”

Before I came to First Pres Nashville, I had only worked with youth – kids in either middle school or high school. It is pretty easy to tell them to simply not have sex. Some of them didn’t listen, but some did. When I started working with young adults, people from ages 10-30, the conversation got a little more complicated. I remember talking with one young adult when they asked, “Am I supposed to just keep doing what they told me in youth group? I’m in my mid-thirties! It just seems juvenile.” Another young adult brought the conversation up, but without ever really addressing sex. They said, “We didn’t really want to compromise our values, but we really couldn’t afford to live in two separate apartments, so we moved in together.” The conversation is as much about finances and human development as it is about sex.

A friend asked me, “Is this a conversation the church is capable of having?” I’m not sure the answer to that question, but I want to answer yes.

The conversation is complicated and can be awkward, but I don’t want people to believe the church has nothing to offer in contributing to humanity’s sexual flourishing. I can’t promise answers, but I will always have the necessary conversation. Because ultimately, it would seem odd that God created such a wonderful thing, only for us to completely avoid the topic. Amen? Amen.

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