Beneath the Surface: Going Deeper with the Words of Dr. King

Following are my opening and closing blessing from the learning experience at the 2020 MLK Day of Service planned by Inspiritus

Opening Remarks

Every year in January, when the nation commemorates the legacy of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., his words from some of his most popular speeches and writings can be found in quotes shared across social media.

In his 1963 Letter from the Birmingham Jail, King wrote: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

In his most popular speech, from the 1963 March on Washington, King, in describing his dream, said: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.”

At commencement at Oberlin College in 1965, King encouraged: “The time is always right to do what is right.”

In 1967, in“Where Do We Go From Here,” King said, “I have decided to stick with love, for I know that love is ultimately the only answer to mankind’s problems.”

And, in his final speech the night before he was assassinated, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”, King spoke the prophetic words, “I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

Frequently, quotes like these are shared as sound bites and memes. Perhaps you have seen some of them on social media today or heard them this weekend. They even surround the Martin Luther King Monument in Washington, DC. I was there last week and there were people from all over the world of varying ages and races walking the path and reading his words.

King Memorial

Beautiful words, indeed; but, without the context of the full sermon or speech from which they come, as Dr. King’s children have noted, his words are often watered down.

In a tweet last week, on King’s 91st birthday, Dr. Bernice King said, “Many wish Happy Birthday to a man they would have hated then. The authentic, comprehensive King makes power uneasy and privilege unhinged.”

Bernice King - Happy Birthday

In 2018, Martin Luther King, III said:

“I think individuals certainly perceive his work, but I really believe that even the masses of people have yet to really understand Martin Luther King, Jr. and his real mission. Mainstream media promotes the vision of a dreamer. Dreams do come true, but sometimes they don’t. He is actually watered down. The revolutionary that he really was is not yet appreciated by the total population. We have a lot of work to do.”

In many ways, I feel like the memory of Dr. King has been crafted into a false narrative, molded into a comfortable place that suits white fragility, shaped into a lukewarm toe dip in the shallow waters of justice without stepping knee deep into the muck of mud still weighing Black people down in this country.

This hand-holding, candle-lighting, song-singing, reshaping of history stands to miss that the same non-violent, freedom-calling dreamer, also understood civil disobedience, tension, and disruption as intentional methods of goal achievement. It misses that every single day King and those who stood with him were willing to put not just their reputations on the lines but their bodies in the face of harm to stand for someone else. It misses that the beloved man we celebrate today was viewed unfavorably by most of America on the day he was murdered. Misses that our present day martyr was seen as a radical resistor.

The same King who talked about an inescapable network of mutuality in his 1963 Letter from the Birmingham jail, wrote in the same letter: “My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.”

In the “I Have A Dream” speech, in addition to describing children judged by the content of their character, King also said: “It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. 1963 is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges..”

In his Commencement Address to Oberlin College, in addition to saying the time is right to do what is right, King also said, “we are challenged to work passionately and unrelentingly to get rid of racial injustice in all its dimensions. Anyone who feels that our nation can survive half segregated and half integrated is sleeping through a revolution. The challenge before us today is to develop a coalition of conscience and get rid of this problem that has been one of the nagging and agonizing ills of our nation over the years. Racial injustice is still the Negro’s burden and America’s shame.”

In “Where Do We Go From Here,” in addition to talking about sticking with love, King also said, “What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and that love without power is sentimental and anemic.”

And, in his final speech the night before he was assassinated, “I’ve been to the Mountaintop”, in addition to talking about the promised land, King proclaimed: “We don’t have to argue with anybody. We don’t have to curse and go around acting bad with our words. We don’t need any bricks and bottles, we don’t need any Molotov cocktails, we just need to go around to these stores, and to these massive industries in our country, and say, “God sent us by here, to say to you that you’re not treating his children right. And we’ve come by here to ask you to make the first item on your agenda fair treatment, where God’s children are concerned. Now, if you are not prepared to do that, we do have an agenda that we must follow. And our agenda calls for withdrawing economic support from you.”

At the time of his death, King had a 75% disapproval rating according to a 1968 Harris poll. His courageous stand for justice struck a cord of disapproval for those he made uncomfortable. In a 2019 poll, his approval rating was at 90%. Have people become comfortable with his call for justice? Or, have they just ignored the pieces with which they are uncomfortable?

To continue unfolding the true mission of Dr. King, we must understand:

This King…

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Source: Time

…is this King.

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Source: Time

This King…

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Source: Time

…is this King.

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Source: Time

This King…

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Source: Time

…is this King.

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Source: Instagram

All, a part of achieving the dream.


Closing Blessing

MLK Blessing

In the Struggle Together,

Rev. Tiffany C. Chaney

“I Wills”

Morning Devotion

Back to the Mountain Retreat

November 17, 2019

Hear the word of God found in Genesis Chapter 12, verses 1-4a:

“Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”[a]

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him.”

The word of the Lord.

These three and a half verses from Genesis zoom in on Abram’s call. I’m used to continuing to read and consider far beyond these verses, to get into the details of who Sarah and Abram were, how old they were, what happened when they got started on the journey. But by focusing in on these verses, it centers our attention squarely on the promises of God.

“I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Abram and Sarai were being called to a new beginning, sent for something great. Sure, it was going to require them to leave some things and some people behind. It was going to require them to step out of their comfort zone. They didn’t even know where they were going yet.

Can you imagine God telling you, “Go to the place I will show you”? “God, what do you mean go to the place you will show me. I’m in the car with my stuff packed up. I need you give me the address to put in my GPS.”

Then, God saying: “Don’t worry about that. Right now, I just need to you open the garage door.” Then when you get out the door, God says, “OK, now I need you to back out of the driveway.” Then, you get on the street and God says, “OK, go to the stop sign.” And, it’s not until you are there that God tells you whether to go left, right, or keep straight.

Abram certainly faced some uncertainty. But, God did not give them a command without also giving them a promise.

I will make of you a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great…

I wonder…what are the “I wills” God is trying to produce in your life right now? What has the Lord promised you?

Where might you be saying “I can’t” and God is saying “I will”?

How often is this us? It’s difficult to walk away when God has not fully told us where we’re going.

God hadn’t told Abram and Sarai where to go. God said go to the place I WILL show you. I cannot imagine packing up my car backing out of the driveway, getting to the stop sign waiting anxiously to hear from God about whether to go forward, left, or right.

But, one thing I know for sure…the “I will” of God will lead you to more reliable places than anywhere Google Map, or Garmin, or Siri, or the Amazon Echo, or Mapquest can take you.

But, here’s the thing. The enemy will constantly try to get you off course. While God is declaring “I will.” The enemy will be whispering “you can’t”

Maybe you struggle with consistency and follow-through, self-confidence, or fear. In the very place you struggle, the enemy will try to wear you down. Try to convince you the promises of God aren’t real, at least not for you. That they are unattainable or not worth the effort.

It’s our natural inclination to return to our own power. That’s a trick of the enemy. If we focus on what we can or cannot do, we miss what God can and what God is already doing in our lives.

To this temptation that tries to break us down, we are called to respond, this is not about what I can or cannot do, this is about what God WILL do!

Because, let’s face it, we can’t do it – at least not by our own power.

But, by the grace of God, all of our “I can’ts” turn into God’s “I wills”.

This call from God to Abram is far more about God’s faithfulness than it is about Abram’s. In our lives, we aren’t reliant on our faithfulness, we are assured of God’s faithfulness.

Here’s the thing, we know the journey won’t be without challenges. Abraham makes several mistakes along his journey. Just in these three and a half verses, we have a hint at a challenge to come.

God told Abram to leave his family and go but who does he have tagging along – Lot! Before God can even get them out of the door good, there is already something happening that’s going to be trouble on the journey.

Not only will there be trouble and bad decisions along the way, it will be a long, long time before they begin to see some results. Reason to begin to wonder if this thing is ever going to happen. So, God continues to remind them of the promise along the way. God reviews the “I wills” with Abram many different times.

They hear the “I wills” in Chapter 12, go a little ways, experience a little trouble, then in Chapter 13, God reviews the “I wills”, they go even further, start to have some doubts, Chapter 15, “I wills”, they are closer to the promise of God but still not there yet, Chapter 17, “I wills”. Over and over, God reminded them of the promises.

Likewise for us, just when we start to lose hope, the Lord, will offer a little reminder of the plan.

As we enter our last day of this journey together, our theme for today is “Sent.” As we prepare to move towards reentry and the return home, I wonder what “I wills” God has for us. What are the places the Lord is telling us to go?

I wonder…are we ready to go?

One last thing from our text and then I’m done. Immediately after hearing from the Lord, verse 4 says…”So Abram went.”

Not, and so Abram procrastinated.

Not, and so Abram discussed it with everybody he knows.

Not, and so Abram posted it on Facebook to see how many people clicked like, love, laugh, cry, or frown.

And so Abram went.

As we hear the “I wills” of God to us, are we ready to go?

If our story was chronicled, would it reflect us hearing the “I wills” of God and then say…and so they went. Or would it say we heard the “I wills” of God and then we met about it and talked about who should do it and then went and worked on something else and then met about it again and talked about it some more.

Have we packed our bags? Do we have the right people along for the journey? Do we believe God will do what God promised? Do we have a mindset limited only to our faith in ourselves or are we trusting in the faithfulness of God? DO we hear the call from the Lord today? Are we ready to go? Do we believe the Lord will bless our path?

Whatever the Lord is sending you too likely won’t be easy. But we would be hard pressed to find a time in scripture where God called someone to something comfortable. Just asked Sarai and Abram. But, we are reminded, the one who calls us is faithful and God WILL do it. So, let’s go.

Amen.

–Rev. Tiffany C. Chaney 

 

 

A Blessing for Youth Leaders…

 

This weekend, I had the privilege to serve as Chaplain for the ELCA’s Youth Leadership Summit. Youth from 46 synods across the country came together for a time of learning, prayer, fellowship, and fun with the theme, “Equip to Gift” from Ephesians 4:11-13. Our youth are filled with passion, compassion, joy, hope, and desire for diversity, welcome, and inclusion. I am excited to see how God will continue to use them in the world!

I wrote and shared the following blessing throughout this weekend and was asked to share:

And now, may the Spirit of the Lord stir within you.

May the Spirit of the Lord help you recognize the gifts with which you have been equipped.

May the Spirit of the Lord direct you to the particular places and spaces where you have been called to use your gifts.

May the Spirit of the Lord surround you with people to accompany you on the journey to live out your call.

May the Spirit of the Lord fire you up to live into all you are called to be.

May the Spirit of the Lord give you courage to be authentically you, just as you have been created, by the grace of God, for the sake of the world.

Amen.

–Rev. Tiffany C. Chaney

Faith Reflection: Love Until Freedom Comes

I was asked to share the manuscript of the faith reflection I shared at the August 2019 Faith in Action Alabama Montgomery Hub Meeting. The following reflection contains excerpts from the sermon I preached at the African Descent Lutheran Association – Atlanta Chapter 2019 Summer Festival and includes my perspective on why I participate in justice work, including that of Faith in Action.


I am Tiffany.

I am a 39-year old Black woman.

I am a Lutheran pastor.

A lifelong Lutheran.

My grandparents are among the founding families who started the Lutheran church I grew up in.

From a student in primary Sunday School class to a preacher in the pulpit, faith stories have shaped me.

In the Christian tradition, a popular story from our faith text is that of the Good Samaritan. In the story, an unlikely candidate is the one who shows love to a man who needs it. After the faith leaders, people like you and me, pass the hurting man by on the side of the road, the Samaritan loved him…and he loved him more than just enough to get by. When he left the man with the innkeeper, he told the innkeeper to take care of him. He said, whatever you spend, I’ll repay you. He loved him without measure. There was no limit to his love. There was no quota – no rule that says once you have loved “this much” you can stop. No. He loved him extravagantly.

This is how I believe we are called to love – love the one who is hurting, love the one who is alone, love the one who is passed over, love the one who is not yet free, and love them extravagantly. We are called not just to go be nice; but, to break down the stereotypes, break down the walls that have been built.

I believe we are called to an out of the box kind of love, not just loving the people we are comfortable loving but even more than that. Love the one outside our family, love the one outside our church, love the one from a different faith tradition, love the one who is from a different country, love the one who speaks a different language, love the one who has failed to love us. Love the one who is beat up, bloody, lying on the side of the road. Love them too.

And, it is this belief about love that brings me to the work of justice, as a person and as a faith leader.

I realize there is still so much more love to give. We have to love until we are all free. And, we’re sure not there yet.

I cannot fully celebrate my freedom while living in a state where the prisons are so oppressive, that they have been deemed illegal, unconstitutional. And that’s in a state where the death penalty is legal, so as one Alabama legislator put it, it’s more legal to be put to death in Alabama than to be in our state’s prisons.

I must keep loving until freedom comes.

I cannot fully celebrate my freedom while living in a time where a person can work 40 hours a week at a job and still not earn a wage that will allow them to be able to afford food and housing.

I must keep loving until freedom comes.

I cannot fully celebrate my freedom while some people’s lives are stifled by fines they cannot afford to pay – they are being punished simply for being poor.

I got a speeding ticket back in the Fall. Because I had a clear driving record and because I had a disposable $40 or $50 dollars to pay for a driving class and because I had the availability to go to a class on a Monday night for 4 or 5 hours, I was able to avoid the much larger ticket cost and avoid having the ticket on my car insurance, preserving my lower car insurance rates.

Because I had money, I saved money. Yet, someone else who could not afford $40 or who worked at night and couldn’t take off for the class, would have had to then pay more money for the ticket and potentially higher insurance. And, if they didn’t have the ticket money available, then, of course, we know the spiral that comes from not paying fines – suspended license, losing vehicles, not being able to get to work, missed income, and so on. Disposable income is a privilege. Flexible time is a privilege.

I must keep loving until freedom comes.

I don’t believe we can settle for a world where anything less than love and compassion is accepted as the standard. We have to keep calling for our leaders to see us, to see our children, lying on the side of the road, bleeding. We have to keep calling for justice in our legal system, demanding policy change until it comes. We have to hold our leaders and public officials accountable, hold those we elect accountable, not settle for silent voices.

And, this isn’t about politics, it is about love. In all of our faith traditions, we are called to love.

Sometimes, the story of the Good Samaritan is read as a warm and fuzzy story. But it is anything but warm and fuzzy. It is about loving beyond our comfort zone. It’s “helping the bleeding person in the ditch kind of love,” which sure ain’t warm and fuzzy.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. talked about the Good Samaritan in his last sermon, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” the day before he was assassinated. He compelled those to whom he preached to employ a dangerous unselfishness. He talked about how risky it was for the Good Samaritan to stop when he did. He talked about the Jericho Road, the setting for this text, and what it was like when he and Mrs. King drove it themselves. Dr. King said this of the Jericho Road:

“It’s a winding, meandering road. It’s really conducive for ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem, which is about twelve hundred miles, or rather, twelve hundred feet above sea level. And by the time you get down to Jericho fifteen or twenty minutes later, you’re about twenty-two feet below sea level. That’s a dangerous road.”

He said of those faith leaders who passed the hurting man by, it’s possible they did so because they looked over at that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around or they thought the man on the ground might be faking in order to attack them.

Dr. King suggested that the question the people who passed by the hurting man may have asked of themselves was: “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?”

But, he said, then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?” To his congregation, Dr. King said: “That’s the question before you tonight.”

That was the question before the people present with Dr. King on April 3, 1968 and that is the question before us today. “If we do not stop to help our neighbor, what will happen to them?”

In a way, I’m preaching to the choir, as the saying goes. I believe the people in this room are here because we desire to help. Tonight, as we lean even more into the work of determining how we help, I pose the following questions to us:

  1. Who are the people by the side of the road you are most passionate about in this season and what risks are associated with accompanying them to freedom?
  2. As you engage in justice work and know the associated risks, how do you flip the question from “what will happen to me if I help” to “what will happen to them if I don’t help?”

Rev. Tiffany C. Chaney

August 19, 2019

On Being Bi-vocational and Saying “No”…

I’ve had to say “No” a lot this week…which reminds me of my commitment to not only share publicly about the great joys of being a bi-vocational, part-time pastor; but, also the challenges.

I’ve had to say no this week to several great opportunities in other cities to preach, participate in trainings, facilitate trainings, etc. Why? Because I will end this month with 4.83 hours of accrued PTO at my health system job; and, with the things already on my calendar for the rest of the year, I am scheduled to end the year with 4.87 hours of PTO – I use it as quickly as I accrue it.

The reality is I use about 70% of my time off from my health system job for ministry. Participating in the ADLA Assembly and Churchwide Assembly meant being away from Montgomery for 10 consecutive days – that’s a huge chunk of time! I have to be very intentional about how I plan out my time off and often plan it out months in advance. (There’s a complicated spreadsheet with color-coding and hyperlinks involved.) I say “yes” to opportunities as often as I can and as is appropriate; but, there are also times I have to say “no” and really wish I didn’t.

As someone reminded me this week, I am really tri-vocational – my mission development work at Gathered by Grace, my business development work at Baptist Health, and the synodical and churchwide work I engage in that is not directly a part of the other two. I delicately try to maintain that tri-vocational balance (sometimes missing the point of balance!)

The purpose of this post is not to garner your vacation sympathy. I make intentional choices about how to spend my time; I knew what I was getting myself in to when I began this bi-vocational call; and I have already taken an actual vacation this year and will do so again for my birthday in October. I will also spend time with my family at Thanksgiving and Christmas. There are plenty of people in this country who work multiple jobs and who can only dream of taking a vacation, let alone two vacations in the same year. I am abundantly blessed.

The purpose of this post is to continue to bring awareness to what it means to be a bi-vocational, part-time pastor. As financial dynamics of churches continue to change, the conversation of more pastors being bi-vocational continues to increase. I think it’s important for pastors and congregations to understand the realities of the bi-vocational experience and that being bi-vocational often means saying “no” more times than desired.

I consider it an honor every time I am invited to engage in ministry in any way. I never take for granted that people do not have to invite me anywhere to do anything. I say “yes” as often as I can and as is appropriate, so if I tell you “no,” please know it is not without sincere consideration. It means I have considered the delicate balance of all I’m called to do, honoring my calls to Gathered by Grace and Baptist Health, and consulted my color-coded, hyperlinked vacation spreadsheet. And, it means, I’m going to try my very best to say “yes” next time, if asked again.

If you missed the LSTC blog in the Spring sharing my experience as a bi-vocational, part-time pastor and the values I find important to this type of ministry, you are welcome to read it here: https://wetalkwelisten.wordpress.com/2019/05/13/living-bi-vocationally-rev-tiffany-c-chaney/

As I say in the blog on being bi-vocational, “It’s hard every day. But, for me, it is also rewarding every day (well, maybe not every day, but certainly most days.)”

 

On Coming in Second…

Today, I came in second in the bishop’s election in the ELCA’s Southeastern Synod, losing by 6% of the vote. And, the response from people has been beyond what I anticipated and really fascinating in several ways.

First, I’m having a hard time convincing people that I really am okay. When I decided to leave my name on the ballot, I did so genuinely open to the move of the Holy Spirit, a move that could have resulted in me serving as bishop or a move that could not. Of course, it’s disappointing to have had vision for serving the church in a synod I love, in a particular way that I was passionate and excited about, that will now not happen in this season. But, because I was genuinely open to the Spirit, I really am sincerely okay. We elected a great bishop and I am proud of this synod.

Now, I have, surely, cried a river of tears since this morning; but, none of them are tears of sadness. I am not sad about this outcome – disappointed, but not sad. The tears were a result of two things – first, sheer exhaustion! According to my Fitbit, I slept 5 1/2 hours over the course of the last two days combined! My body had nothing left! But, mostly the tears were a result of overwhelming gratitude for the next thing I did not anticipate – the incredible support from the whole church.

I really cannot count the number of messages I have received across multiple platforms over the last couple of days – messages of prayer, support, and affirmation from people across the whole church – from seminary classmates I haven’t seen since graduation, colleagues and lay people from my current and previous synods,  my brothers and sisters in the African descent Lutheran community, people I have served on Churchwide committees with, people I have met in passing, and some people I’ve never met. It’s really odd to come in second for something, yet receive such strong support and affirmation of gifts from such a wide range of people.

The next thing that has been fascinating about coming in second is the kinds of responses I have received. There have been a ton of, “Well, it’s okay, God has something great for you coming” and “Your time to rise in this church is coming.” I found these comments fascinating for different reasons.

Regarding God having something great for me coming, that may be so; but, God also has something great for me now. I am already blessed to serve the church and community in amazing ways and those ways continue tomorrow – actually, not tomorrow, I am not doing ANYTHING tomorrow…it can continue on Tuesday! I digress…

Coming back home to serve in the wonderful bivocational  ministry I am blessed to do with Gathered by Grace and Baptist Health is not a consolation prize or a holding pattern – it is the wonderful way God has called me to serve the church and community in this season and I do so joyfully! At some point, sooner or later, God will call me to serve differently. We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. But, today, the great thing God has in store for me is in Montgomery, AL with a wonderful community of young adults and a leading health system committed to its patients and I’m glad about it! 

Regarding my time to rise in the church, these comments caught me most off guard. They caught me off guard because, in leaving my name in to be considered to serve as bishop, my reason for doing so was never to “rise in the church.” I left my name in because I discerned that I had gifts, interest, and vision to be able to serve the synod in a way that moves us in the direction I believe God would have us go and to have a voice at a leadership table in the church where I felt I could be impactful and add more diversity of voice. But, I never thought about it as “rising” because there’s not a particular ladder I feel I need to climb.

Someday, I would love to talk to some other #2s, especially those who had the joy (read “joy”  very sarcastically) of going the full 5 rounds like I did and coming in second. I’d love to hear what the experience was like for them. It’s an unexpected, fascinating club to be in!

 

Living Bi-vocationally – Rev. Tiffany C. Chaney

I appreciate the opportunity to share my experience serving as a bi-vocational pastor. It is an experience that continues to form me as a leader.

We Talk. We Listen.

As the church in the United States has undergone significant changes in its finances, so too have the ways that pastors pay their bills. The Rev. Tiffany Chaney – of Gathered byGrace in Montgomery, Alabama – speaks candidly of what it means to juggle the needs of ordained ministry with work for the Montgomery hospital cooperative, Baptist Health. She doesn’t mince words – it isn’t easy. But in this piece she both speaks honestly of the blessings and the challenges she faces, as well as presents sound advice for anyone thinking to follow a similar path in word and sacrament ministry. Read, comment, and share!

Francisco Herrera, PhD student and Interim Editor


dinner.jpg Pastor Chaney – center, in purple – with “Dinner and Dialogue” participants.

“You sure do make it look easy!”

About six months after beginning a call as mission developer of Gathered by Grace in Montgomery, AL…

View original post 1,766 more words

Reformation 500…Now What?

I was asked to share my sermon preached at the 2018 ELCA Southeastern Synod Assembly. The assembly met with the theme, Reformation 500…Now What? Following is the sermon I shared with the community.

Our text today is from Acts Chapter 2, versus 1-21. In it, we find the community of believers from all over the world gathered on the day of Pentecost.

The disciples there, who have walked with Jesus, have been through a time…

They had experienced the awe of Jesus’ earthly ministry, the hope of the gospel, the betrayal by one of their own, the joy of the resurrection, and the fear that those who crucified Jesus might be coming for them next.

And so they gathered, all together in one place…now what?

Since the Protestant Reformation, the Church has been through a time over the last 500 ½ years. There has been awe and hope, betrayal, joy, and fear.

Today, we gather, here, together in one place, pondering…now what?

Listen, I know “Now What?” moments can bring a wide range of emotions – some people are excited about the possibilities, others are rolling their eyes – but, I also know that from the beginning of time, God has shown up in “Now What?” moments.

When Adam and Eve were hiding there in that garden, naked, ashamed, and alone, wondering “Now What?,” God showed up and loved them enough to make them some clothes.

When Sarah and Abram got to a place where they could not see a way forward, when they had tried their own way and failed, wondering “Now What?,” God continued to show up, reminding them of the promise, exceeding their every expectation.

When the prophets had tried over and over again to lead the people in a different direction yet all of humanity failed, and they wondered “Now What?,” after some silence, God showed up, and Jesus came to redeem us all.

Now, on the Day of Pentecost, as this community of believers stood in the room from all over the place, speaking different languages, having different lived experiences, wondering “Now What?,” God showed up, and the Holy Spirit changed the lives of the people in that room forever.

The winds of change stirred the people, opening their mouths to speak, and ears to hear and understand each other unlike ever before, inspiring, and empowering them for ministry, to go share and live the gospel.

They came into the room one way and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, they could not leave the same. They were stirred beyond stagnation. They proclaimed God’s mighty acts in different ways. They walked out among the people and the people were amazed that the believers were speaking their language for the very first time.

I wonder…in what way is the Spirit blowing among us now, opening our ears, hearts, minds, and mouths to speak the language of the people around us, because for what’s next, we’re going to have to understand each other, and not just understand the language of our native land but understand the language of our faith?

See, what I have experienced in my time as a Mission Developer, walking around neighborhoods and having coffee and talking with people who are unchurched, is the reason most people are unchurched is not because they have never, ever, ever heard of Jesus before. So many are unchurched because they have not found a place in the institution of church that seeks to speak about Jesus in the same language that feels natural for them.

They come into church, craving a language of acceptance but finding a language of judgment. They come into church longing for a language of inclusion, but finding a language of racism, sexism, and ageism. They come into church, sure they will hear a language of justice but instead they hear silence that is deafening.

Church, I wonder what do people hear when they gather with your faith communities? What don’t they hear? Can they hear the grace, love, and mercy of Jesus Christ reaching to the margins, reaching to them?

My prayer today is the answer to this question is yes, unequivocally yes. In each and everyone of our congregations and ministry settings, I hope that the love of Jesus is proclaimed in such a way that anyone who walks through the doors or encounters you on the streets would know that Jesus loves and welcomes them and so do you.

I’ll never forget very early on in my first new start in Boston, we were having Advent Camp and I had placed a sign out front that said, “Advent Camp, All Kids Welcome.” A woman, her 6-year-old daughter, and 3 year-old son walked in, hesitantly. They were greeted at the door, invited over to participate with the other kids, they had a great time.

Afterwards, mom told me how happy she was they had a good experiece. She said the only reason they came in was because her daughter begged her to come. Originally, she told her no, that it wasn’t for them; but, her daughter said, “The sign says ‘All Are Welcome’, so that includes us.” Mom said she wouldn’t let up so they came in. And, she was relieved that they were actually welcomed.

See, turns out this family, up until two days prior had been homeless for two years. They had been living in their car, while they still had it, and then a shelter. They had just that week been placed in temporary housing by the city, across the street from the church. And, this opportunity at Advent Camp was so special because her kids didn’t often get opportunities to do things with other kids.

What struck me about this experience was that it never occurred to the 6-year-old that she wasn’t welcomed; and, it never occurred to her mom that she was. Mom’s experiences with church over time were such that a 20-something Latina with two kids and no job, who were all homeless up until just the other day could not just walk in a church and be welcomed just because the sign said so.

The Holy Spirit is burning today, a hot flame and a blowing wind opening our ears to hear and understand the people around us, calling us to be the voice of grace, hope, love, and justice our communities need, calling us to extend real welcome to people, so we might share the story of Jesus.

What would happen if even more than ever before, we started really hearing and understanding our neighbor?

Now What?

Now, the Holy Spirit is blowing among us, sending us out into Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and Tennessee, opening our ears to hear the voices that go unheard among us in our neighborhood.

Now, the Holy Spirit is sparking a fire within us to look at our church, to see the people still sitting on the margins of our congregations, synod, and national church.

Now, the Holy Spirit is calling us to move beyond hearing and understanding to action – to be the hands and feet and voice of God in the church and community.

Now what?

Now, we have to shift our language and understanding about the Reformation. See, I often experience us as a church talking about the Reformation as a particular event or period in history; but, I believe the future of our church is critically dependent upon us moving from celebrating and relishing in the event of the Reformation and moving forward to living into the spirit of the Reformation. We have to move from the proper noun of the Reformation to the regular ol’ noun of reformation – the act or process of reforming an institution or practice.

Reforming – to make changes in something in order to improve it. The very definition itself suggests continuing action. It implies a relevant response to the current context. It suggests we continue to reform, over and over, and over; we do not remain the same.

Church, we are standing in a Now What moment and I believe the Spirit of the Living God is saying the time for the Reformation was not just 500 ½ years ago, the time for reformation is now!

Now what in Alabama? Now what in Georgia? Now what in Mississippi? Now what in Tennessee? Now what with declining church attendance? Now what with competing priorities for time and money? Now what with the culture around us shifting?

Beloved, I know you have a lot going on. I understand people are busy. I understand money is short. The mere idea of more change may make you shudder. But, the commission remains to go, from the day the first disciples stood on that mountain with the risen Christ and received the Great Commission to this very day. We have not been called to remain stagnant. So, in the face of our current context, we have to become even more creative than ever before.

We are living in a time where we have to learn to pivot while we juggle. We are juggling competing priorities but we have to stay relevant and pivot when necessary to engage our current context. We cannot fully live into vital ministry if we are a 1958 church serving in a 2018 world.

Where is the Spirit blowing us in our communities today?

Now what?

We have had potlucks with AME colleagues and watched the movie Selma…and maybe even 13th…But, Black people are still being arrested at Starbucks and Waffle House; shot at when asking for directions; and having police called for having BBQs, taking naps in their dorms, pushing their baby in their baby stroller in the park, playing golf, checking out of the AirBnB house, showing a real estate client’s house, and arriving at their own house.

Now what?

We have approved the AMMPARO strategy as a church for protecting migrant minors; but, parents and children are being separated at the border and there are children sleeping in cages like animals.

Now what?

We have offered our thoughts and prayers, we have marched with signs held high, we bought the t-shirt, and we hashtagged Never Again and Enough is Enough on Facebook, Twitter AND Instagram; but, our babies are still dying in their classrooms, so Enough is clearly not Enough.

Now what?

The mission field is fertile and God still has plenty of work for us to do, Church. The Spirit of the living God fires us up even more fiercely to continue to reach towards the margins and declare the love of Christ in the hurting world around us.

What if we heard the voices around us even more clearly, the ones that typically go unheard? When we understand the stories of those around us, we are able to receive even more of the full glory of God because without these voices, we are missing a part of what God is doing.

The Spirit came at Pentecost regardless of gender, education, sexual orientation, income, ethnicity, or social status. The story of Jesus is intertwined in all of our stories and in the stories of every person we meet. If we ignore any of those stories, we are stifling a part of the witness.

And, the Holy Spirit is not a fan of being stifled, quenched, or silenced. You can try to control the Spirit but She will still have her way. We have to be open and prepared for what may come next. It won’t always be a gentle breeze.

Sometimes – oftentimes, even – we will be called to hear and understand the story of someone very different from us. Though they may be different, their story is a part of God’s story just like ours and we are called to embrace that story. We are all created in the image of God and the image is only truly reflected if all are included.

And, wouldn’t onlookers look upon the church in a fresh new way if rich people were talking about God together with poor people and adults were talking about God together with children – not like “awe that’s cute, baby” – but really taking them seriously. Wouldn’t onlookers look at the church differently if the college-educated were talking about God together with those who did not finish high school. And, if transgender people were talking about God together with cisgender people. And people who had never been to prison were talking about God together with those who had – without judgment or pity. All calling on the name of the Lord, together!

Oh, wouldn’t that change the way some of the people who just aren’t sure about Jesus, who aren’t sure about this church thing felt about coming to church? This vision isn’t something I randomly dreamed up. I believe it is the vision of the kingdom of God, and I believe it is the answer to Now What?!

I wonder: What passion is ignited in you today for hearing and sharing the story of Jesus in a whole new way? Who do you need to open your ears to hear in your neighborhoods? Whose story do you need to understand? I encourage you this day to be fired up about sharing your story and hearing the story of those around you.

But, here’s the thing…we can’t go just one little place, to those neighbors just like us who make us comfortable, and decide we’re done. No. The Holy Spirit is blowing us out to go to our neighbors over there to the left and share stories with them and engage them. Then say, well, “Now what?!”

Then go to those neighbors over there to the right, share stories, serve together. Then, say, “Now what?!”

And head over especially to that place you never thought you would go and love the people there like never before. We leave there encouraged because that was a tough one, but we’re not done yet. The question remains, “Now what?!”

What about the people around the corner, you know, the ones we might drive by on the way to our beautiful sanctuaries, ignoring their need for sanctuary.

They are whats now.

The Spirit keeps calling us to say…”Now what?”…over and over and over and over and over and over again until Jesus comes.

Beloved, what’s next won’t be easy. But, you would be hard-pressed to find a time in scripture when God called somebody to something easy.

Just ask Noah who had to build an ark before it ever rained before. Just ask Moses who had to lead some whiny people in the wilderness for 40 years. Just ask Joshua who had to take the whiny children and whiny grandchildren of those whiny people into the promised land. Just ask Esther who had to stand up to the king to save her people who were exiles in a foreign land. Just ask young Mary who birthed a savior. Just ask that savior, Jesus, who had to die on a cross for the sins of the world.

What’s next may not be comfortable. But, we are reminded, the One who calls us is faithful and God WILL do it.

So, let us finish our work here this weekend and walk out of this place, fired up for what’s next.

And, now, may the winds of Holy Spirit blow you into new places and new spaces to engage new people who the church has never engaged before. May you be ignited with new ways to serve to bring about the mission of God in your community. May the winds of the Holy Spirit lead you to break down boundaries that divide.

May the passion of peace ignite a fire in you. May the winds of joy lift you off your feet. May the fervor for unity light you into action. May the winds of love blow through your communities. May the fire of the Holy Spirit ignite you to speak life to a broken world.

Amen.

Rev. Tiffany C. Chaney

2018 ELCA Southeastern Synod Assembly

June 2, 2018

Building Bridges: Connecting with Neighbors

It was my privilege to spend a couple of days this week at the “Bold Like Jesus: Crossing Borders” conference in Greensboro, NC. This is the third gathering of pastors and lay leaders from across North Carolina and is an ecumenical learning opportunity about evangelism hosted by the AME Zion, Lutheran, Episcopal, and Moravian denominations.

I served as one of three presenters, with the focus of my session on “Building Bridges.” There’s much we can learn from Jesus as we bridge connections with neighbors in our communities and there is much to learn from the actual process of bridge building. It was at this intersection that I focused my comments. I was asked to share the material I presented today for use in congregations. It can be downloaded by clicking here: bold-like-jesus-building-bridges-presentation (Note: some pictures have been removed to reduce file size.)

Connecting with the community can be exciting and invigorating but it also requires being ready to step out of our comfort zone and not being afraid of failure. Here’s what I shared as my “Be-Attitudes of Bridge Building”:

  • Be prayerful
  • Be open to the move of the Holy Spirit
  • Be authentic
  • Be creative
  • Be flexible
  • Be willing to fail
  • Be okay with being rejected
  • Be willing to be uncomfortable
  • Be approachable
  • Be willing to go beyond the surface
  • Be a team player
  • Be relevant to your context
  • Be willing to keep trying
  • Be reminded…you’re not saving your neighbor – Jesus already did
  • Be joy-filled!

Go out and build bridges.

Happy connecting! Pastor Tiffany

(Photo source: http://www.bridgerun.com)

 

What I Learned About the Power of Story

Having over 10,000 people in 67 different countries read your story teaches you some things. At least, it has for me.

Four weeks ago I shared my story of being an African American woman who is Lutheran. I debated about sharing it right down to the last minute before pressing submit. I was very aware that sharing my story came with risk; this is why I noted that I was either wise or foolish for doing so (the jury is still out.) But, the risk was not all that resulted in my hesitation. You see, I am not one that typically chooses to be vulnerable (Brene’ Brown is helping me.) Sharing my experience in the church is by far the most publicly vulnerable thing I have ever done. And, today, I am so very glad I did it.

Over the last four weeks, I have read as many comments about the blog as possible across social media sites and responded where I could. I have had conversations in person and by phone, email, and Facebook messenger.

There are a few things this experience has taught me.

I have learned to never be afraid of my truth. Owning my truth is liberating for me and sharing it allows me to be a vehicle through which others can be liberated.

I learned the power of story. So many of you have shared your story with me. I have heard you say my story is your story. You have shared the particular phrases and quotes from my story you have heard time and time again. You have shared your stories of how you have experienced being on the margins of your own denominations and work places. You have shared your struggles with being a white ally but your commitment to continue doing this work. You have shared how my story empowered you to share your own story with others.

I have heard you say the ways in which you are convicted by and struggle with this work. I have heard some of you courageously admit that a part of you really doesn’t want to change; because, frankly, it is more comfortable being comfortable – but you have committed to not let that part of you win. Some of you admitted you don’t know what to say or what to do; but, you know you cannot be silent. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Thank you for choosing not to be silent.

I have heard you say my story has helped you to be renewed and re-invigorated for this work of racial justice. You have connected your hopes for the church we are becoming with my own hopes.

I have always used story as an interesting teaching and preaching technique; and, those who know me personally know I can always work up on a random story to illustrate a point. But this experience has helped me to really understand the power of story. I believe all of our stories united together, when moving from story to action, has the capacity to radically change the world.

So, today I encourage you to please share your story. The world needs it.

The day after I posted my story, I shared the following on my Facebook page: “Thank you to the very many of you who have taken the time to read my story. I am incredibly humbled that in just over 24 hours more than 3,700 people took the time to read, like, share, retweet, and comment on my blog. I am also incredibly sad. Something about pressing “Submit” on the blog yesterday made it more real. But, more than I am sad, I am hopeful and I am free. Free from living under the veiled cover of the effects of racism on people like me. Beloved, we have been silent for far too long. My colleague Andy Arnold commented, ‘thank you for sharing your story and for your persistent belief that the evil of racism will not have the final word…’ And, that is all this is about for me. I just refuse to let the sin of racism win. I am free to continue using my voice to share the gospel of Jesus Christ in the midst of a broken world. You are free too. To join me on this journey. Thank you for your willingness to do so. Live love.”

Thank you for being a conversation partner with me over the last four weeks. May we continue to be partners as we move from conversation to action. May we go into the places and spaces where we have influence and ask who is not at the table and make sure they are invited. May we listen to people different from us and shape ministry together. May we avail ourselves to experiences other than what is most familiar to us. May we unite to not let the sin of racism win.

I look forward to crossing paths on the journey. God bless you.

Yours in Mission,

Rev. Tiffany C. Chaney