A Pilgrim’s Hymn Chord Chart #PYT13

I am truly touched and grateful for all the responses to my song A Pilgrim’s Hymn (free download here) after my friend Jorge introduced it at Presbyterian Youth Triennium this past week. I’m not lying when I say that your feedback has been every artist’s dream.

Several folks have asked for the chord chart, so I put one together. It is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical-ShareAlike, so you can remix and share to your heart’s delight.

If anyone wants to transcribe it as sheet music, send me a digital copy and I’ll happily post it here.

Here you go!

A Pilgrim’s Hymn Chord Chart

I’m doing a little blog shuffling

Recently, I have had a wonderful thing happen: My work life and my passions have begun to align. It’s a reality that I have been after for a while now, and I’m thrilled that it’s finally coming to fruition.  Over at the Synod of Mid-America, I am privileged to get to work everyday on things that matter most to me. I get to spend every day figuring out how to work with others to help religious professionals be the best leaders they can be.

Around Christmas of last year, I started noticing that supporting leaders in the church was where I was naturally gravitating in my thinking. “A Good Word,” the compilation of sermons in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting was the first time that it came clear to me. I walked several pastors through that weekend, encouraging them  and reminding them that they were truly called and gifted for moments like that. It was an honor to be their cheerleader, and I wanted more of it.

Soon, it started happening that the work my Commissioners at the Synod wanted be to be about lined up with my own personal goals. It took me a while to realize it, but when I did it was remarkable.

So, to honor that shift, I’m going to take my blog over to the website of the Synod of Mid-America, and I’d like you to join me and my colleague, James, as we work to offer helpful resources and encouragement to those of you serving in the leadership of the Body of Christ. Even though we’re talking specifically to Presbyterians, I hope that we’ll do it in a way that allows all of you to join in and see the benefit for your church context.

You can find the blog here: http://www.synodma.org/blog

If you want to add it to your feedreader, cut and paste this link: http://www.synodma.org/blog/?format=rss

We also have a weekly podcast, that you can find here: https://www.synodma.org/somacast/ (iTunes link)

I’ll post here occasionally, but it’ll be mostly personal stuff.


Are you a cult leader?

John 1:35-42

“He brought Simon to Jesus…”

As John the Baptist was standing around with two of his disciples, Jesus walked by and John identified him as the one they should be following. The two disciples followed Jesus and spent time with him, after which Andrew (one of the two) left to find his brother. “Simon, we found him. We found the Messiah.” And he took his brother to meet this Jesus. Every time we read of Andrew, he is bringing someone to Jesus. He must have learned it from his first Teacher, John, but Andrew never deviated from his task of getting the saving presence of Jesus in front of those who needed it.

The great thing is that Andrew knew what he was talking about. Andrew had spent time with Jesus. He learned from Jesus. He knew Jesus. Andrew was not speaking from conjecture. He was not theorizing, he was testifying. As John did, Andrew brought people to Jesus because he, himself, had had an encounter with this Christ. His own life must have been changed by this man. His evangelism is true.

Just as his first Teacher did, Andrew made sure to always be clear what he was working for, who he was working for. I think it is a safe bet to assume that Andrew made it a priority to have all that he did point to Jesus. Knowing even the little we know about him, Andrew would have been mortified if people started to follow him rather than Jesus.

Often, we pastors are subject to a cult of adoration. Either people treat us as something to be admired, or we are fighting so hard for respect that we over-inflate our own worth. Whatever the reason, the situation prevents us from focusing on the call we have been created for: bringing people to Jesus.

And it has to be real. It has to be true. It has to be born of experience. When we say “Jesus,” people have to know that we mean it. How can we proclaim a Savior that has not saved us? This is not about butts in the pew or cash in the offering plate. This is about changed lives. If our lives have not been changed, I’m not sure we are qualified to do this work.

How has Jesus Christ has made you whole?

Get down off your pedestal

John 1:29-34

“And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

One of the most powerful things I learned in my training for the ministry is to remember that, whether I like it or not, I was going to be viewed as a “representative of the sacred.” Regardless of my comfort level with being “God’s spokesman,” in many cases, that’s exactly how I would be viewed. As such, I developed a habit of reading myself in the character of Jesus in all of the Gospel stories. Whatever Jesus did, I thought I also had to do. If I was going to represent God to a particular community, then I had better bone up on what, exactly, I was supposed to be representing. And, truly, when one sends another in their place, don’t they expect to be well represented?

It is like when my parents used to say to me, “You are a Whitsitt.” I always had to remember that I was carrying that name into public. Whatever I did was going to reflect – well or poorly – upon my family.

But as pastors, I think this has gotten us in trouble. We have confused ourselves for Christ, when we should instead be playing the role of John the Baptist.

In this text, John is standing at the banks of the Jordan, calling people to repent and prepare for the Messiah, and then the Messiah shows up. John wants everyone to know it, and so he shouts to all who would hear everything that is important about this man, culminating with “This is the Son of God!”

Just prior to this scene, John has said point blank, “I am not the Christ.” John is clear with the people who are showing up that he is not the one that they are waiting for – the one who will take away the sins of the world. That job belongs to someone else.

As pastors, we are guilty of allowing our ministry to be about us and what we do. We are not strident enough in our protest that we are “not the Christ.” To be sure, there are people in our congregations who love to remind us that we are nowhere near being the Christ, but they are sure happy to ask us to perform miracles, aren’t they?

John offers pastors a great model for the posture of ministry: He continually knocks himself off the pedestal people try to put him on.

How have you been placed on a pedestal?

PLGRM Magazine is evolving…

narthex header

It was almost a year ago when I sent my friend Rocky Supinger a text message that read: “I want to start a magazine with you.”

Because of your generosity through subscribing, writing for us, and spreading the word, that desire has become a reality. PLGRM Magazine has published two of it’s first four planned issues by featuring some incredible book excepts, interviews, essays and art helping us to explore the ideas behind what Diana Butler Bass calls the “New Spiritual Awakening.” It’s an exciting project. Indeed, as one subscriber has said, “There’s just nothing like it.”

One of the key ideas fueling the New Spiritual Awakening is that relationships are assuming a place of primacy. Our friends are become the center of our spiritual life. People are, once again, becoming the most important thing about the Christian Faith, as they should be.

PLGRM Magazine has already proven itself to be a capable and exciting forum for exploring the ideas of the New Spiritual Awakening. Now, we’d like to begin exploring the people behind it.

When I first meet other church folk I am certainly interested in hearing what they think about our faith, but I’m just as interested when I meet a pastor from Pittsburgh who geeks out on home brewing and wants to tell me all about it. I’m as inclined to listen to someone wax on about Process Theology as I am to listen to them share about their love of science-fiction. As deeply as they can go into the nooks and crannies of our shared life together, I know that there is a multitude of awesome in there that I know nothing about, but that informs everything they say, do, and believe.

I so badly want to discover those pieces of awesome.

PLGRM Magazine is evolving, and it will no longer simply be a place to think and write about the church. We want it to be a place where we focus on people who love the church and everything that appeals to them. Sort of a lifestyle mag for church geeks. You know, geeks like us?

Beginning February 15 we are going to begin publishing a regular digital edition, called The Narthex. The Narthex will publish four articles, twice a month, straight to your email inbox.

      Writing for The Narthex

The Christian blogosphere has a lot of great writing, and The Narthex does not seek to replace it. Rather, we want to supplement it as another creative outlet. Our writers will retain full rights to their work, and are free to publish their pieces to their own blogs and networks a month after they appear in this collection.

If you think this is the kind of place for you to stretch your wings as a writer, please send us a piece. We’re looking for 1000-1500 word long articles on whatever is of interest to you. No lie. If it matters to you, then it matters to us.

And we’re paying. Not much at first, but we’re paying.

      How’s It Gonna Work?

We’re beginning with a simple email newsletter, but we might evolve the format into something else. We’re not sure. We want to see if this thing flies.

We’re not doing another Kickstarter. We’re not going to raise any more money. We’re going to build this piece from the ground up by asking for subscriptions of $2 per month. Trust me, with the pieces we’ve got coming in, it’ll be worth it.

Our only cost is paying writers, and I’m committing enough to make sure we can publish 6 issues, three months of writing goodness. If we haven’t been able to cover the costs by then, we’ll shut it down. No harm, no foul.

PLGRM will still publish the final two issues we’ve promised. In fact, we’d love to treat PLGRM, in part, as an archive of The Narthex’s best pieces, and we’d love to include you in figuring out which of those qualify. But “going digital” in this way will allow us to make PLGRM an even more substantial publication, committing our energies to interviews, finding brand new long-form writing, and beautiful and inspiring art.

      Please Join Us

If you think this is the kind of thing you would love, head over to our subscription page and sign up. We’d love to have you.

Rend your heart, not your clothing

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17

“…rend your heart and not your clothing…”

At the beginning of Lent, the prophet calls us to repentance. But it is of a particular kind. Joel makes it clear to us three different times in today’s scripture lesson that the evidence of change the Lord seeks is different than the normal practices of penance.

Typically, when confronted with having lived a life that ran counter to God’s intentions, the people would go to the Temple, fast, and pray in torn clothing, It was a public display, but in that day (as in this one) it was easy to allow the display to be nothing more. The movements to this play were something that could be performed without much investment. The prayers are there to be said, so say them. The food is there to be abstained from, so abstain from it. The clothes are there to be torn, so tear them. Don’t make a big deal out of it; it is not a big deal.

But God wants it to be a big deal. Joel quotes the Lord as desiring that the people return with their “whole hearts.” In the ancient Hebrew imagination, the heart was considered the seat of the intellect. To “rend your hearts” is to change your mind. It is the same instruction that Peter gives to the crowd after his sermon in Acts. “Change you minds,” he says. “Metanoia. Rend your hearts.”

As pastors, we are guilty of “rending our clothing” all the time. When asked how we plan to take care of ourselves in the stress of the job, we rattle off pithy little truisms like “take a walk,” or “read.” We present these as Just The Right Thing, and people leave us alone. But as we continue to live a life in which we are stretched and stressed, overworked and under-cared for, taking a walk is not good enough. It is just one of several coping mechanisms, not a solution to the real issue: we have a wrong understanding of the work we have been called to do.

Edwin Friedman is right when he says that the best thing a person can bring to any situation is her own changed self. Now is no longer the time for you to rend your clothing. Now is the time for you to do the hard work of confronting the game you have been playing and begin changing your mind about the work of ministry. You can no longer do it all and expect a quick little walk in the woods to sustain you. The game has to change. You have to change.

How do you give into the game?