Jason C. Stanley

ponderings of a dad walking humbly & seeking justice

Tag: central america

Follow Friday: Andrew Taylor-Troutman

I first met Andrew Taylor-Troutman in a seminary classroom. We were both students at Union-PSCE, now Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia. I have this image of Andrew sitting in the chapel in Watts as I preached (if you want to call it that) during a chapel service. The Central America travel seminar group was leading worship one week, sharing about the experiences from the trip. I was sharing about our week in Costa Rica and how we experienced God.

That image of Andrew sitting in the old pew listening intently to what was being said and shared, pondering in his heart these things, has stuck with me through the years. Andrew ponders. And his pondering has led to writing beyond a blog. Andrew has two books published sharing his ponderings, Take My Hand, and most recently Parables of Parenthood. Andrew’s published works are both connected to his vocation as a pastor.

Writing Beginnings

Andrew started journaling while in college, but started writing five to six days a week while in seminary as a spiritual discipline. He says:

I used to wake up early just to write! I found that there was a great convergence between my classes, which I wanted to articulate but wasn’t really appropriate for assigned papers. So I needed to carver out some extra time.

Andrew attended a travel seminar in 2008 to Ghana. One of the requirements of the seminar was to submit a journal. While he thought what he turned in was the typical, customary musings of a seminary student, the reaction from Andrew’s professors was extraordinary. “They were extremely impressed,” he recalls, “I wasn’t really thinking about publishing then, but their support did leave an impression on me.”

After seminary, Andrew entered a graduate program at the University of Virginia. After that, he felt a call to parish ministry. During this time, serving a local church, he resumed his journaling. He was no longer writing papers for professors and it served as an outlet to process all the experiences his ministry was providing him. “Which,” Andrew says, “I might term a collision between my head and heart, my graduate study and new found relationships with laity.”

On Being Published

He goes on to say:
Re-reading my journals, I began to notice that my musings were connected with my Sunday sermons. In other words, my reflections on the events of Monday through Saturday were informing my work on Sunday in conversation with the biblical texts. This is the idea behind Take My Hand. I was fortunate that the publisher, Wipf & Stock, happened to be looking for practical theology.

Parables of Parenthood

Andrew has a new book out titled Parables of Parenthood. This began when the Wednesday morning
Bible study group at New Dublin Presbyterian asked him to teach the parables.
Andrew agreed, and he was soon intrigued by the parables contained in more than one Gospel. “In certain cases,” he states, “Matthew, Mark, and Luke received a teaching of Jesus that had been transmitted from mouth-to-mouth and recorded it in such a way as to directly address their current audience.” Because the Gospel writers were writing to different audiences, this accounts for the differences we may see in the Gospels. And in some cases, the slighter the difference, the more profound it can be.
Armed with this analysis, Andrew began to think about how the lessons he would be teaching impact his own life as a first-time father.
Parables of Parenthood is really a Bible study, written in accessible language for a wide audience, that is explained in part by anecdotes from my family life, kind of like sermon illustrations.
Andrew has shared excerpts from his new book on his blog.

On Writing

Andrew still tries to write every day, even if it is just a little. He recalls how his seminary professor Carson Brisson told hims about his older son, a collegiate swimmer, who would swim what appeared to be lazy laps over his Christmas break. When questioned by his father, the son responded that he was trying to get a “feel for the water.” “I try to do that with words,” Andrew says.
This getting a “feel for the words,” includes editing, going over and over a piece until it “sounds” or “feels” right to him. Andrew tends to write by intuition. In other words, he doesn’t know that something is inside of him until he gets it out.
The American poet Wallace Stevens is known for saying that everyone is waiting for the lightning to fall, but while you wait, wait writing. These words speak to Andrew. “Writing is a mysterious process to me,” he says, “but I am crystal-clear that it takes hard work and daily commitment.”
Andrew will be the Peakland Academy guest speaker, presenting on Parables of Parenthood at Peakland United Methodist on Monday, March 10, 2014 starting at 6pm. 

The Doorbell

When I was growing up, it was rare that doors were locked. I can remember as a kid roaming around and randomly going into my grandparents’ home next door. No knocking, and certainly no ringing of a doorbell. We would just walk in. But now that I think about, we haven’t asked my grandparents how they felt about any of us randomly walking in their house.

Then, at some point, the world changed. And doors were locked. It was strange. In order to go into someone’s house, we had to use the doorbell.

The Doorbell - dog rings bellIt was a little creepy at first. You didn’t know what was going to happen. The doorbell was a strange object. “We’re just suppose to push it?” we wondered. “That’s all?” We would push the button and wait to hear if anything happened. In some cases, the “bell” would be so loud it would freak us out a little bit. Others we wouldn’t be able to hear it ourselves, which meant we had to push the button again, right? Because if we couldn’t hear it, how could the people inside hear it?

It also seemed so formal. Like we had to wear our Sunday best to visit someone. We were not formal people. We were country, where everyone knew everyone. Honestly, though, everyone was related to everyone – which is a whole other blog post.

Doors were no longer open. Being invited in was no longer taken for granted. We had to ask to be invited in.

When the doorbell rings, we have been trained to go to the door. We may peek through the window first to see who is out there. Maybe we are expecting guests or a delivery, and we wait with anticipation for the doorbell to ring. The power of who comes in is on us, we who are inside the house. If it is a salesperson, we do not have to let them in. If it is some annoying grandchildren, we do not have to let them in.

When I lived in an apartment in the West End of Richmond, a group of Mormons from Central America were making the rounds in the apartment building. I knew when my doorbell rang that it was this group of people. I knew what they were selling, and decided that I needed to bury my  head into my textbooks instead. I figured after they rang the bell and no one came to the door, they would move on to the next door.

However, the bell kept ringing. After awhile I finally got up from the table where I was studying, and answered the door. The elder member began chatting me up in a quick pace of Spanish that I did not understand. I finally realized that they had the wrong apartment. They were looking for my neighbor, who was a relative they were looking for.

About the same time that Dad got sick with prostate cancer, I brought home  a black lab. Dad named her Lady. She had been left on the side of the road near the church I worked at at the time. She was malnourished, to the say the least. And as a result, she spent the first few months inside the house.

As we got better, she would spend most of her days outside. At some point Lady learned that if she jumped up and pushed the doorbell, one of us would come and answer the door. And I don’t mean a neat little trick where she uses her nose to push the bell. No, she would jump up and lean on the door. Once “standing,” she would use her paw to ring the bell. It looked a little bit like this:

www.catster.com

www.catster.com

And because we had been trained to response to the doorbell, we would always check to see who it was. Imagine our surprise the first time we realized it was not a person, but the dog!

Lady was not surprised. And once we started answering when she rang, she would continue this habit. Especially when she sensed a storm coming. Lady was deathly afraid of storms. On these evenings, she would ring the doorbell at the front door, and if no one came soon enough, she would run and ring the bell on the back door. This would continue for awhile until my Mom would wait patiently for her at one of the doors to let her in.

One evening while Dad was in the hospital, I was home with my two younger brothers. Lady had gone outside. Not long afterwards, the doorbell started ringing. I – the older brother – told my brothers, “Don’t answer the door. It’s just Lady, and she needs to learn to stop doing that.”

The doorbell did not stop ringing.

Finally I got up, annoyed with the lab, to let her in. Only, there was no black lab waiting at the back door. Instead, it was one of our neighbors bringing us a casserole. I was only slightly embarrassed.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “I thought you were the dog.”

Repost: The Greatest Gift of All

Linus recites Luke 2:

Linus recites Luke 2:

This post was first posted on December 24, 2012. 

 

Sometimes, we can feel like Charlie Brown. We get caught up in the hustle and bustle of Christmas and wonder, “Is there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” Linus, much like the angels on that first Christmas, remind us what Christmas is all about.

“Peace and goodwill toward men.”

Peace and goodwill is hard to come by these days, as it was that first Christmas.  Charles Campbell reminds us, “The political powers, in both Jesus’ day and our own, play on fear to get their way – whether it be the fear of the emperor, the fear of terrorists, the fear of the ‘other’ (the immigrant), or the fear of death.”

Government mandated oppression.

Discrimination against those were different than them.

The poor were kept poor.

People suffered from hunger.

Violence was evident on the streets daily.

But, that was in “those days.”

“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7, NRSV).

The arrival of Jesus brought with it a “new day.” There is no longer need for fear, only joy. There is no longer need for corruption, only freedom. There is no longer need for hunger, only feasting. There is no longer need for occupation, only liberation. There is no longer need for war, only peace.

And yet, we struggle to see this “new day.”

Political parties inspire fear of the other party.

Hatred and bullying of someone, anyone, who is different from us is rampant.

The great divide between the have’s and the have-not’s gets wider and wider.

People suffer from hunger.

Violence is evident on our streets and in our schools.

And there is something deep inside of us that wants to cry out like Charlie Brown, “Is there anyone who knows what Christmas is about?” Sure, we get all these warm fuzzies at this time of year that make us feel so good. It’s great giving and receiving gifts. It’s great going to parties. It’s great having family and friends around.

But, at least for me, there is something hard to swallow about Christmas. That is with all the joy, there is grieving and hopelessness. And I don’t mean to put a damper on things. From Central America and back, I have seen suffering at the hands of poverty, addictions, and violence. And while we try to not think about these things at Christmas, we have to remember this is why the baby boy was born. This poverty, these addictions, and this violence is the reason God became man. This suffering is the reason that Jesus was born.

Jesus is not just the reason for the season. Jesus is the greatest gift of all. In that lowly manger sits hands of grace that bring healing and hope into our hopelessness.

John’s gospel talks about Jesus’ birth as a great Light that penetrates  the darkness of the world. Matthew quotes Jesus telling the disciples that “You are the Light of the World.” This is just one of the many commissioning sayings of Jesus. God sent Jesus as the Light, we are the light-bearers. It is now our responsibility to carry that Light into the dark crevices of the world. Because we claim Jesus Christ, we now become a gift to the word.

Taking the Light to the oppressed.

Taking the Light to the poor and the hungry.

Taking the Light to the bullied and the bullies.

Taking the Light into the violent streets.

It is us who must act. It is us who must bring peace and goodwill to all. It is our gift to give.

Young Leaders in the Church(*)

“Be the change you wanna see!” the Newsboys rocked out at a Christian Rock Festival one summer.  The church youth groups were spread out through the stadium seating around the green lawn, and yelled and cheered with excitement.  This is how they felt.  This band understood how they think about the church.  Their energy was around being the change, not talking about the change.

Of course, Newsboys wasn’t the first to say we should “be the change.”  Gandhi is most often quoted saying, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”  And we’ve done with that what we do with most quotes we think are truly awesome: we plaster it everywhere imaginable.  Bumper stickers: check.  T-shirts: check.  Mugs: check.  Magnets: check.

But are we really being the change?

One of the greatest complaints that young people have about the church is that the church does not walk its talk.  The church, through the eyes of many young people, is not faithfully being the change.  The reality is that the church is situated on prime real estate for not just being the change, but for nurturing young people to be leaders of change in the world.

Nurturing young people to be leaders of change involves empowering them to be themselves. Whether is it adolescents or college students, they are on a journey of self-discovery developmentally.  They are doing the same spiritually, and the church needs to be a safe place for them to be who they are, when they are, because they are.  This means that we in the church need to receive each young person with open hearts and open minds.  We need to accept them for who they are.  We need to look pass the flip-flops in church, holey jeans, and random pop culture t-shirts, and hear their voices.

By hearing their voices, I mean listening deeply to what young people have to say, because they have a lot to say about a lot of things they see around them.  Dori Baker and Joyce Ann Mercer remind us in their book Lives to Offer that “young people today are concerned about the deep wounds of the world” (page 25).  Young people have insights and opinions that are worth listening to and worth taking the risk of putting these opinions into action.  It means being flexible with our own ideas, giving up some of the decision-making that we in the church tend to hold on to, and giving it over to the young people.

There is a saying that the young people are the church of tomorrow.  Friends, young people are the church of right now.  Leadership development of young people is not for the church to exist in the future.  Rather, developing young leaders is a partnership for the church today; a partnership that nurtures change in the world. The church learns just as much from young people as young people learn from the church.  This kind of partnership opens the door for intentional intergenerational opportunities, where mentoring happens.

About fifteen years ago, while working in children’s ministry, the third to fifth graders were pen pals with older adults in the congregation.  One of the third grade boys and one of the older men formed a close mentoring relationship that resulted in them working together in leading others in the children’s ministry to plant a community garden.  The harvest from that small garden was used to make a difference to the hungry families in the community.  This act of mission succeeded all because a third grader saw a need.

A high school student returned from a mission trip to Central America with a heavy heart as she remembered the children she had met who had so little to eat.  As she transitioned back into normal high school life of school, dance practices, exams, and lunch tables, she could not shake the image of children sitting alone in dusty shacks waiting for a few pieces of rice and bread at the end of the day.  She pulled a number of people from the mission trip together and she spear-headed a project called Feed Diques.  Now over fifty children get at least one hot, nurtritious meal a week because this high schooler saw a need.

Why is this kind of partnership so important to the church?  Because the way in which young people vision the church is a new and hopeful vision compared to the way we have always done church.

(*) Originally published in the Virginia United Methodist Advocate, June 2013 issue.

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