The Gift of Inclusion

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It is interesting to think that our Savior’s life began in the midst of exclusion; that the one who was sent to bring God’s Kingdom together had to fight from the beginning just to open doors.

Joseph remained with Mary in an effort to keep her from being excluded. The young couple found themselves in a stable after they had been turned away by an innkeeper. The young family fled as the ruler sought to exclude every baby boy to hone in on the One. Until the day that he died, Christ fought against exclusion.

As a youth pastor, one of the biggest things I watch for in every gathering is that every youth member is able to take part in the activities. I look for the youth who is sitting alone or stepping to the outside of the group. I look for the group of teenagers who have formed a circle with backs to others. I urge our youth leaders to reach out to their peers as I see cliques forming. This can be difficult to do at times when there are 50 bodies moving around at the speed of light, but it is something that I think we all need to be sensitive to.

It seems that youth today spend almost all of their energy on seeking acceptance. Maybe they try to find this acceptance through their appearance or interests; I remember a spell in my own adolescence when I sought it by getting poor grades (my parents didn’t let that last long!).  With all of the differences among them, however, this desire for acceptance is one of the few things they have 100% in common.

Several weeks ago as I rode the bus to take some of our children home, I remember asking them what their favorite part of the night was. Very quietly, almost lost in the chorus of “the games and crafts!”, one young boy said “my favorite part was being included.”

My heart stopped as I looked at the eyes of this sweet child. I asked him if he wasn’t usually included, “not all of the time” he whispered back. My heart ached and leapt for joy all at once. He was included! But why hasn’t he been before?

Matching interests and finding “perfect friends” for every youth that walks through our doors is incredibly difficult. As I continue to reflect on this young child’s comment, I wonder if I am going about inclusion the wrong way.

When we read the accounts of Christ’s ministry, despite the exclusion that he suffered himself, we don’t read about surveys he handed out to ensure that each disciple was compatible or that each person was worthy of his company. Instead, we read about the no-questions-asked sacrificial Love and inclusion of all. Christ didn’t look at appearance or interests, he didn’t ask qualifying questions before eating with the outcasts. Why do we spend so much time focusing on these little details?

In a broken and divided world waiting for that star of hope to shine once again, each one of us are seeking acceptance in some way – it isn’t just the kids. We all long to say that our favorite part was being included, yet we all struggle including.

I keep thinking about the incredible Love we celebrate during this season of Advent. I think about the words of hope that the young child offered that night on the bus. I think of the common joy shared among my youth each week, regardless of qualifiers. I think of God’s grace for all of us, sending us our Savior in the midst of exclusion and struggle, as we each find our way in this crazy journey. I pray that we might begin to live with one another the way that Christ lived- with little worry about qualifiers and reasons to walk with one another in our shared journeys.

How do you seek inclusion in your own life?
How do you help to ensure inclusion in your congregation?

Rev. Jordan B. Davis (M. Div. ’14)
Transitional Associate Pastor, Youth & Young Adults
Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian (Cary, NC)

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Because God First Loved Us

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As we begin this Advent season, I find myself thinking quite a bit about love. This is the time of year when we intentionally focus on the greatest of all forms of love, the physical embodiment of God’s Love in Christ. We find ourselves both anxiously awaiting Love’s arrival while celebrating Love in our midst.

I have been encouraged by Love quite a bit recently. I have found Love in places that I did not necessarily expect.

Just over a month after beginning my current Call, I found myself telling a group of middle school youth “Behave! I love y’all.”. I didn’t know all of their names yet, but as I sent them off to their cabins for bed at the presbytery-wide retreat, the words just spilled out. The next day a youth asked me why I said that and I wasn’t sure how to answer other than, “It was what needed to be said.” For some, that might have been the only time that day someone said those words. For others, those words might have been the encouragement needed to face a scary first weekend away from home. For all, I hope it was encouragement that even though I didn’t yet know their names, they held a special place in my heart already.

Last week at the close of our Advent Fair, a mother from one of our ministries came up to me as we prepared to leave. She embraced me in a hug, thanked me for eating dinner with her and her children, and told me she loved me. I knew only her name and her children’s Christmas wish list, but those words built a bridge that will forever connect us. I pray I see her again, but there is no guarantee. In that moment, however, we were family and an incredible love was shared.

I think on these and so many other moments in my ministry and I find myself sitting in awe at the power of God’s Love. I find myself craving that Love and anxiously awaiting another moment to share that Love. I find myself gazing at my nativity set pondering that powerful Love that sent Christ to us; the powerful Love that embraced our needs, desires, and faults all at once and answered our every prayer with the ultimate Love.

This season, we await so much more than a baby boy. We long for so much more than a day of celebrations. We await a beautiful, sacrificial, forgiving, life-altering Love that can only come from God. We celebrate a Love that has already been shared with us despite our misgivings and has been taught to us despite our hard-headedness. We strive to share a Love that we can barely begin to comprehend, yet we crave so deeply in the midst of a darkened and struggling world. We long for a Love embodied that will change our world, bringing Light and Peace with it once again.

20171206_191308Looking at my decorations, I let my gaze settle on a figurine of Santa kneeling at the manger and I am reminded of the many forms this Love can take. I am reminded of our call to share that Love with all who we meet. I see that Love embodied in two different ways and wonder where my place is in this scene… and it seems to me that it just might be shouting through that screened-in cabin porch to a group of youth who I don’t yet know or embracing the woman who I might never see again. I linger on that figurine and I know the answer to that youth’s question…

I told you I love you because God loves you. I told you I love you because God loves me. I told you I love you because that is what I heard Christ say. I told you I love you because that is exactly what I am called to do.

In this season of Advent, I pray that we can find these precious moments to see and celebrate the Love that we both find ourselves waiting for and the Love that we see all around us. I pray that we will embrace that Love and shout that Love so that we no longer find ourselves waiting for Christ and instead see and celebrate Christ among us.

In this season of Advent, where in your congregations do you find God’s Love embodied as you await the birth of our Savior?

Rev. Jordan B. Davis (M. Div. ’14)
Transitional Associate Pastor, Youth & Young Adults
Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian (Cary, NC)

Lonely & Waiting: Walking Through Advent With Those Who Are Grieving

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Three years ago, I approached Advent with a feeling of dread. As the world awaited our Savior, my family was preparing to lose a loved one. My grandfather’s health was steadily declining at the age of 89, and I remember visiting him the day after Christmas with a bit of hesitation. I knew this would likely be the last time that I saw him and my whole body ached with grief. All season, I wondered how we could celebrate Christmas knowing what was on the horizon. Less than a month later, he passed away.

The first year following his death, my mother encouraged my siblings and I to each write notes for our grandmother that would be included in an Advent basket. Each note was a memory we shared with our grandparents and was sometimes accompanied by a small gift. That year, our grandmother opened one card or gift a day and even though we couldn’t be there with her, we were still together through these memories and special gifts. We have done this every year that has followed.

In the shadow of a very difficult pastoral month with multiple deaths and hospitalizations, I think back to that year and the few that have followed. I think about the loss that my family prepared for in the midst of Advent celebrations, and I think of the empty space in the years that have followed. I think of my grandmother and the empty chair beside her.

I think about all of those in our lives, all of those in our congregations who have lost someone this year. I think about the emptiness that is only accentuated by the holiday festivities. How as friends and pastors, as the one Body of Christ who we await, can we be with them and help to make that hole a bit smaller this year?

Our Advent basket has become a tradition now, and I think I might gain as much from putting together my pieces as my grandmother does as she opens them. The memories with my grandparents come flooding back and my prayers for my grandmother guide my every step as I consider books and treats to include with my cards. I have found my own healing and my prayer is that the rest of my family has as well.

This holiday season, I encourage each one of us to consider what we can do to be a representation of the One who we await, for those who feel as if they have little to wait for. If the time allows, maybe it is through this Advent calendar of memories and prayers or maybe it is through visits and conversations. Even a phone call to let our friends and family know we are praying for them will help to fill the emptiness just a bit.

Does your congregation or family do anything for those who have lost a loved one during the year?
If you have experienced loss this year, how would you like to hear from your church and family during the holiday season?

Rev. Jordan B. Davis (’14)
Transitional Associate Pastor
Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian (Cary, NC)

A Time to Give Thanks

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This past Sunday, I had a conversation with excited elementary aged children about what makes a house a home just before our congregation dedicated their pledges in our stewardship campaign, “Let Us Build A House.”

Later that afternoon, I gathered with a family who recently lost their loved one way too soon and although I did not know him, I mourned with them as I read the words of the Psalmist and prayed the Lord’s Prayer.

Only moments after settling back at my desk to prepare for youth group, I read of the shooting in Texas and my heart ached as I prayed for the community and wondered what I could do.

Sunday evening, my high school youth gathered for Bible Study and discussed the scriptural phrase “Here I Am” and what it means when we respond to God in the same way as Moses, Samuel, and Mary. We looked at the world where we are, who we are as 20171107_113508individuals, and whose we are in relation to God. At the close of the study, I listened to these high schoolers name problems and heartaches that they see in this world and describe how they will use their talents and passions to respond to them. They were challenged to consider what this response says about their relationship with God and who they believe God to be; to answer the question of whose they are, who they are telling “Here I am.”

 

On Monday, I lay in bed looking out the window at the changing trees and reflected on the day before. It was full of beauty and heartache, excitement and dread. There were moments when I wondered how anyone could question if there is a God, and there were moments that I wondered where God was. In the end, my youth showed me exactly where God is – in each one of them, and in all of us as we try to cry out “Here I am!” with Moses, Samuel, and Mary.

As the holiday season ramps up, a tradition for many is beginning once again. Facebook is being flooded with individuals listing what they are grateful for. In a world that seems so broken, these brief moments of prayer bring a light that is so desperately needed. These prayers of thanksgiving help me to personally find a focus and be able to say “Here I am.”

On Sunday I was painfully reminded that in this season of family gatherings and joyful songs, there are also those who will sit alone singing songs of lament. I pray that as we each find ourselves at different points in this journey, we will continue to find those brief moments of Thanksgiving and carry them forward both with and for one another into the dark winter nights and bright spring mornings.

As I talked with those children on the steps of our sanctuary on Sunday, I told them that the best way to thank God for all we have been given is to help to make our house a home for everyone. We talked about needing love, forgiveness, grace, and family to make this transition. It is through this love and grace shared with those around us that we are able to respond to God, saying “Here I am.”

As the days get shorter and nights get longer, as we watch the news and wonder what we can do – let us join the voices on Facebook as we give thanks. Let us join the voices of those who have gone before us as we tell God, “Here I am” and live with one another in a way that share this thanksgiving and praise, in a way that share God’s love and grace.

How are you responding with “Here I am” in your own life and ministry?
How do you encourage your congregation to join you in this thanksgiving to God?

 Rev. Jordan B. Davis (M.Div. ’14)
Transitional Associate Pastor
Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian (Cary, NC)

But I Don’t Know HOW to Pray!

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My confirmation students pause to say a prayer at our Nation’s Capital

I have the privilege of teaching and learning with an incredible group of teenagers who are taking part in our confirmation class this year. Some have been coming to church almost weekly since they were infants, others have only been in worship one or two times. Some seem to be fairly confident in their current place in their faith journey while others still aren’t quite sure what “faith journey” means. It is truly an incredible group of young people!

Each week, my students are expected to write in a prayer journal a minimum of three times. We have had a conversation about different ways to pray and the many different forms this journal can take. A few weeks into class, after they had time to begin the journal, I asked one of my students to pray out loud. They quietly responded “but I don’t know how to pray.”

How many of us feel that way? We are fine on our own as we pray silently or in a journal, but when it comes time to pray in front of others it is as if we have no idea what to do. I remember feeling that way several years ago. I remember being frustrated that the prayer before our Thanksgiving dinner was handed to me once I started seminary because, as one relative said, “You know how to pray now!” I was terrified and frustrated, I feared that I would say something wrong or stumble over my words. What if my prayer wasn’t as eloquent as my Grandfather’s prayer was each year?

As my student sat there with a terrified look on their face, I encouraged them to repeat after me as I followed a model of teachers I had a young child. “Dear God, thank you for being with us in Scripture. Please be with us in the rest of class. Amen.” Simple, anything but eloquent, and honest.

Since that morning, I have been wondering the best way to help my students feel comfortable with their prayers – however short or long, simple or eloquent they might be. While on a trip to Washington D.C. this past weekend, I had each student pray for a variety things. They prayed before meals, they prayed before travel, they even prayed at a variety of sites (including at our Capital building and the White House) and for a variety of people ranging from those experiencing homelessness to our government leaders. Some struggled, asking how they can pray for someone they don’t agree with or understand. Some excitedly raised their hands to pray for things they were finding an understanding for.

As I reflect on the prayers I have heard all weekend and the prayers that I imagine were said silently, I wonder how we can encourage our parishioners to continue to pray? How can we encourage them to pray if they “don’t know how”? How can we help them pray when they don’t want to, because they disagree or do not understand? A confirmation class provides a beautiful and sensible situation to learn to pray, however not everyone is in a class which caters to this type of thing.

I encourage each of you to take a moment with those you are with during meetings, in worship, or even in the car and encourage someone to say a prayer. Maybe the prayer will be an echo prayer as someone prays out loud for the first time or maybe just a simple, “Lord, be with them.” Maybe the prayers will be eloquent or lengthy.

I am a firm believer that communal, audible prayer offers something unlike anything else. To hear another person’s plea and to add our own voices brings us together in unity of the Spirit, in a way that nothing can break. As I tell my kids each time I see or hear hesitation, “No prayer is wrong, just say what is on your heart.”

In a time of division and frustration, I pray through shouts on the mountaintop that we might one day join all of our voices in a prayer heard around the world and that can easily begin with a simple, “Thank you, God”.

How do you teach and encourage your congregation to pray?
How do you empower individuals to pray on behalf of the community?

 

Rev. Jordan B. Davis (M.Div. ’14)
Transitional Associate Pastor
Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian (Cary, NC)

Finding Our Genuine Voice

GenuineI recently helped lead a series of discussions as members of my presbytery gathered to read the book “Waking up White” (Debby Irving). I by no means felt qualified to lead these discussions on my own and am eternally grateful for those who walked this path with me. I feared how I would be received as a leader of these discussions as we discussed our presbyteries current and hoped for response to racial inequalities in our area. As discussions progressed, I began to notice that I was not alone in my self-conscious fear. I did my best to make the space safe to share stories and prayers, however I know that did not always succeed and I struggled a great deal with that.

As I continue to think about these discussions and many others, I begin to wonder what has happened in our society? It seems there is a widespread fear, or at least hesitance, to speak what we believe to be our real truth. We live in a world of constant likes and dislikes as we receive the immediate critiques of almost every person we encounter. We sit wondering what certain individuals might say or do in response to what we say and do. Our genuine selves are buried as we both amp up and tone down our responses based on our desired and feared responses from others.

I have struggled with this in my own life as I discern the best way to respond to events in our world and in my community. Should I write a Facebook post, or not post at all? Should I address it directly or indirectly in my lessons and sermons? Should I say anything at all or just keep quiet and listen? Surrounded by many loved ones and friends who I both agree and disagree with, I know that my choice or response is typically based on who I know will or will not see or hear my response.

As I think about my own life and as I read the varied responses that fill my social media feeds by colleagues in ministry, I am left with one very simple and very complicated question –

Are we, as congregational leaders, being our genuine selves and modeling that for our parishioners?

Do we allow our context to control our words, or do we allow the Spirit to guide our words?

Do we open space for others to be genuine, or do we close doors to protect each person’s ego?

What I fear today, almost more than anything else, is that our loss of genuine conversation and compassion for others as they show their own genuine selves, is building more walls than any person or group in the world can begin to propose. The façade that is created when we both amp up our response to grab the attention of others and when we silence ourselves out of fear of others just might be one of the most dangerous things of all.

If I have learned anything in ministry is that we are each seeking permission to be genuine – we are seeking affirmation that our uniquely imperfect selves truly are created in God’s beautiful image; we are seeking affirmation that our shaking voice is valued in the choruses of both praise and lament hear around the world. As a leader, I sought permission to share my story, the good and the bad, and I sought forgiveness as I mis-stepped along the way.

And so here is your permission. I urge and implore each of you, congregational leaders and lay-people alike, church-goers and church avoiders – lift up your beautifully unique and genuine voice and don’t forget to listen to those around you. Hear God’s love and grace lifted up as it drowns out the hatred and tears down the walls. Speak up and speak out in a way that grants permission for others to join the song that so desperately needs to be heard around the world, made beautiful by both the harmony and the dissonance. Speak in a way that offers forgiveness and grace as others find their own genuine voice.

Our voice doesn’t have to be the loudest, it doesn’t have to be silent; our words don’t have to be completely accurate, they don’t have to be eloquent. Our voices do need to be genuine though, filled with the unique imperfection that God has so beautifully woven in and through each and every one of us.

Do not amp up, do not tone down. Do not bury or push to the front. Instead speak the genuine, seek the genuine, hear the genuine, BE GENUINE.  It is through our genuine selves that God’s grace and love will continue to pour out and reach corner of creation.

Rev. Jordan B. Davis (M. Div. ’14)
Transitional Associate Pastor
Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian (Cary, NC)

Fight Club?

what-is-silent-birth-lips-2160x1200“Money is like fight club, we don’t talk about it.”

This was a statement made by a colleague during a stewardship seminar at Union Presbyterian Seminary this past spring. With my thoughts on the upcoming stewardship season, this thought rings loud and true in my memory.

If someone had asked me what my thoughts were about money and the Church four years ago, I likely would have proudly stated that individuals will give as they feel called, but we shouldn’t put our focus on money and instead focus on volunteers and other gifts within our congregations. After working as part of a rather large capital campaign for three years, however, I have a bit of a different outlook.

In the South, generally speaking, it is not proper to speak of money. We don’t talk about how much we make or how much we spend (unless it was a great sale at Belk!) and we definitely don’t talk about how much we give to our churches. That type of thing is between us and God, right?

What if we do talk about it though? What if we explain our spending and investing to our children so that they better understand why they can’t have that toy or the family can’t go on that vacation? What if we talk about money in a way that prepares our children for real life, for when they have to make a life changing financial decision? What if we explained why we give what we do to the church and other organizations and taught out children to think critically about their future investments in similar organizations?

Thinking outside of our front door, what if we share more about why we give to certain organizations?  Or why we don’t give? What if we post about our excitement to invest in an organization as much as we post about our displeasure in current events?

More than numbers, I believe people are interested in stories. More than ‘yes’ and `no`, our children need explanations. We avoid money talk and favor time and talents; we avoid money talk in search for easy answers.

This isn’t to say that we should only focus on money, but we shouldn’t make it out to be an evil which we can function without.

I wish our time and talents could completely repair the broken HVac or feed the crowded fellowship hall. I wish our prayers could fill the food pantry and repair the church van. The fact of the matter though is that we do need money to function, even if it is to simply buy materials so that time and talents can be put to work.

This stewardship season, don’t be afraid to talk about money directly. Church is not fight club. Share why you give, encourage parents to talk about it with their children. Hear stories and seek to answer questions. Take in all time and talents cards that you can, but don’t gloss over the fact that more is needed.

Very few people will give if they are not asked. I don’t know many who will give if they have no reason to. Where we invest our money is important and sets an example for others, the problem is that one cannot understand the example until it is explained.

We claim that money is personal, yet we show it in so many ways – how we dress, where we eat, what we drive, and even the phones we talk on. Isn’t it about time that we speak openly so that we can both  learn from and encourage others in the ways that we invest our money?

How do you encourage your congregation to speak openly about their financial investments in the Church?

How do you teach and encourage these open discussions in your home?

Rev. Jordan B. davis, ’14

Transitional Associate Pastor

Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian (Cary, NC)