I’ve just finished listening to “Pastrix” by Nadia Bolz-Weber for the second time today. Just days before her beautiful, cranky theological memoir released, my husband and I watched her interview at Wild Goose. This woman pastor covered in tattoos intrigued me. I appreciated her honesty and humor and I LOVED that she wasn’t afraid to accurately describe the jolting revelation from the Holy Spirit when we’ve been sorely wrong as a bitch slap! I knew I would love her book. And I did. Twice. She’s a gifted storyteller and incredibly accessible. While I expected her story to be a glorious example of God’s grace and faithfulness. I DID NOT expect encouragement from “Pastirx” as a church planter’s wife in the urban core.
As I listened to her book, I found myself bookmarking and writing quick little prayers for our church, New City Covenant. In lieu of a review, I’d like to share with you a compilation of some of the prayers I prayed while listening to “Pastrix”. There’s language for those of you who are sensitive (both in my prayer and the book), but if you’ve been with me for a while, you know I tend to cuss when I pray, especially about the church plant. The thoughts that inspired me from the book are in bold will take you to the Amazon page to buy the book.
When you made it possible for us to take a three week road trip in 2010, we like to call, “Moore Tour 2010”, where we revisited New Orleans five years after Hurricane Katrina and reconnected with our friends who like us, were scattered like as a diaspora all across the country, I had no idea you’d ask us to consider church planting. You know this. Yet, you put your crazy on display and called us to plant, New City Covenant Church. On the long legs between cities and sitting on decks drinking condensation slick lemonades with our past mentors, you gave us a vision of gathering people across racial, socioeconomic, sexual orientation, and generational divides to become a city on the hill—an alternative Boston that reflects your selfless, boundary destroying, unforgettable love as displayed on Calvary. You called us to become a Champions for shalom for our city.
So here we are and your crazy is feeling crazier and crazier, Lord. It’s maddening, really. We’re in this launch team gathering and developing phase where we have to gather a specific number of people before we invite the community into preview services, and we’re coming up against some of the beautiful challenges that you promised when you said, “in this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.”
And I’m trying to hold onto this Jesus, but it’s so hard and lately I’ve been succumbing to “cotton candy” frustrations. I’m ugly crying and doubting like crazy.
Because you know me Jesus, I FEEL THE FEEINGS. Big time. Live and in Technicolor! Brilliantly and at times, self-indulgently.
I’m if honest here, Lord. It feels like you’ve called us out from our fairly average life of seminary student and stay at home mom to follow you in this mission when you opened our eyes to people in need, hungry for authenticity and thirsty for community in the city.
Then you said to us like you said to the disciples before you feed the four thousand, “T.C., Osheta, I have compassion for these people they have been crying out for comfort for years, they are gaunt and sickly in their attempts to satisfy their hunger in anything but me. If they continue this way, hope will die. And I resurrected from the grave so that they may have a living hope.”
And like the disciples, Lord I say.
“Riiiight, Jesus. But how do you suppose we reach all these hurting people in the South End/Lower Roxbury with a fledgling launch team?”
Because clearly, I’ve been reading more church planting strategy articles than my Bible…
And you’re all, “ yeah, it’s not like I didn’t feed thousands with seven loaves of bread and a few fish. I’m kinda resourceful like that.”
And I’m sufficiently rebuked.
I keep forgetting. You dig “nothing”. You rock out nearly enough. Your strength is made perfect in my weakness.
But seriously, Lord. Where’s the rest of our tribe? Where’s the group that’s going to deliver Thanksgiving lunches to working people in Roxbury and serve on Sunday mornings? Where’s my soul sisters who’ll take care of pregnant teens with me and coupon clip to stock up a food pantry? Where are the little children with deep cocoa eyes staring up at me, asking for graham crackers and watered-down Kool-aid, who want to know they’re loved and cared for in my Sunday school class? Where’s our worship team that will play Fred Hammond and Starfield and “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing” in the same set?
Where’s our launch team, Lord? Where’s the tribe you’ve called to beat back the darkness of lies and identity theft from the enemy with the Gospel of your Kingdom on earth, as it is heaven?
Maybe I’m not listening well enough. Maybe me eyes not open for the unlikely awesome additions to our team. Maybe there’s a few Rick Strandlofs out there, I’m not seeing because of my fear of entrusting this vision to “needy”. Maybe there are a few surgeons and stockbrokers I’m hesitant to approach or invite into the dreaming process of New City, because I have an unchecked prejudice of the privileged.
Maybe I’m being a bit cynical. I probably am. I’m cynical and bitter, and totally neurotic because I can’t seem to separate my identity from this church plant.
It’s like my life is wrapped around New City. Like this plant is a baby my own body is cocooning. I’m pregnant with hopes, dreams, vision, and strategies. I can smell the coffee brewing for our after service brunches. I can taste the salt in the air when people shuffle in on a snowy Sunday morning to help set up in the gym of a community center. I can hear the worship team hashing out the harmonies that will quiet our hearts so we can tune into the reality that you are and always have been with us. I can see the corners filled with small groups praying together. And like the Roman soldier at the foot of the cross, I can sense that truly you are the Son of God when I watch how our model of dialogue in service tears down barriers in the same way the veil was torn when you gave up your last breath.
There must be a reason you’ve activated every sense and neuron for this community. You are not cruel. Completely unpredictable and more interested in my heart than my output—but not cruel. Never that.
Lord, I’ve wanted to induce labor for this baby church plant for weeks. But maybe…. just maybe…all of this groaning, whiny, bitching, and complaining about how hard this process is…is part of my excruciating labor. Maybe the “nos” and “not yets” are the contractions that ebb and flow and tear down my pride until I’m whimpering before you in the aftermath of rejection pain asking you to satisfy my thirst to be known. Lord, feed me ice chips of identity and unconditional love and hold my hand until the next “no” comes! And maybe, like the earth that groans for you to “come, Lord Jesus, come” I groan in expectation that this baby, New City…YOUR baby, New City… will be born.
I once told my friend whose baby was past due to not grow weary in doing good. To rest in this advent season before her baby, her gift, comes into the world. I passed your peace to her. “The peace of Christ to you, sister”, I said. Good advice, huh? Maybe I should eavesdrop when you use me to encourage others, you might just be attempting to encourage me too.
So Jesus. I’m still a little anxious. But, you already know I’m a hot mess around control and structure. We’re working on that. I think might be wrestling with you on my death bed for a few more days on this side of eternity to get everything in order and perfect…we’ll see.
But, for now, I’ll ask you for three things:
1: When the demonic pop songs comes to play in my mind, when I’m replaying all the “nos,” “not good enough”, and the cautions that “urban church plants are not viable”, help me not stand for that shit! Let me remember that I am beloved! I am baptized! You have set me apart from all that crazy drama of “not good enough”. I am the girl who dances and I’ll dance to my own tune. A tune that proclaims that you, Lord takes nothing and feed thousands—with enough leftover to spare. You are faithful and that you will never forsake us.
2: When I’m writhing in rejection pain, help me not turn into myself with, but turn to you. Remembering your grace is sufficient for me. You grace doesn’t rely on my sales pitch or charm, but on the fact that you are and have always been enough. Your grace wins.
3: And Lord, please, if you don’t do anything else. Please, Lord. Pretty please…. give me a Stuart. Give me a Minister of Fabulousness. Someone who’ll one up my quirky sense of humor, advise me on the right boots to buy this fall, and will rub his big drag queen hands on my back as he prays for me to release my anxiety and fears to you.
Given that we’re planting in one of the largest LGBT areas of Boston, Lord…I think that one’s low hanging fruit for you.
But, I could be surprised. You may bring a well-spoken African-American lawyer to become my Minister of Fabulousness. You tend to do exactly the opposite of what I expect.
Like when you called a young, idealistic couple on a family road-trip to plant a church in Boston.
Thanks for entertaining my crazy Lord. I love you. Let’s do this thing together.