The People in My Ear

Posted by Tyler Kirkpatrick | 10/7/2019

“As long as we read the Bible or a spiritual book simply to acquire knowledge, our reading does not help us in our spiritual lives. We can become very knowledgeable about spiritual matters without becoming truly spiritual people.” – Henri Nouwen

Over the past few months I’ve had a several different people ask me, “Tyler, you quote a lot of people in your sermons… Could you please create a list of your most-quoted authors?” Well… at the risk of leaving some voices out (or the greater risk of saying too much, because this list is already longer than I intended it to be!)… here’s a shot at some of the authors I frequently quote, or authors who inspire me in pastoral work and in sermon writing. In other words… here are the people who keep jumping off the bookshelves in my office and finding their way into my ears as conversation partners as I seek to prayerfully and thoughtfully engage scripture.

Maya Angelou – Her poetry challenges and stretches me. It deepens and widens my vision of God’s world.

St. Augustine – In many ways considered the father of Christian theology (or at least Western Christian theology), Augustine wrote copious amounts of theology. But the story of his conversion, Confessions, remains one of the greatest all-time works of Christian writing.

Karl Barth – The world of Karl Barth is daunting to enter because he has written so much! I include him on this list because he has perhaps had more of an impact on how I think theologically than any other theologian. A good intro to his theology is Dogmatics in Outline (a commentary on the Apostles’ Creed), and his collection of sermons he gave on regular visits to the local prison, Deliverance to the Captives, is a good devotional read.

Wendell Berry – Berry has an interesting perspective, and has written a voluminous number of essays on the topic of neighboring well in one’s local context. He has also written a number of short stories and novels, but if I were to recommend one Wendell Berry book it would be his collection of poems written on his Sabbaths titled This Day. I find Berry to be in the tradition of John Steinbeck (Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden), and I try to think like these two writers whenever I’m reading and exegeting the Old Testament.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer – Perhaps led a more interesting life than anyone on this list (German pastor who opposed Hitler and was part of a plot to assassinate him, eventually put to death by the Nazis in a death camp), so Renate Wind’s biography A Spoke in the Wheel is well worth reading. Life Together is short and a helpful look at what it means for Christians to do… life together. Cost of Discipleship is also a great read.

Ta-Nehisi Coates – The only book of his that I have is Between the World and Me, but I find myself going back to this short little book, as well as many of the pieces he has written for The Atlantic quite often.

Annie Dillard – Dillard helps me cultivate a sense of wonder about the world God created, and the vastness of the living, holy God. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is maybe her best work but may be utterly strange to someone who has never read anything by a mystic. Holy the Firm is a short, remarkable work that is actually set on an island in Puget Sound. And The Writing Life is, I think, the best book I’ve ever read about preaching (it’s not really about preaching, and it applies to vocation in general).

Fyodor Dostoevsky and Leo Tolstoy – I’m grouping these two Russian novelists together though I probably shouldn’t. If the size of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov or Crime and Punishment or Tolstoy’s War and Peace or Anna Karenina are daunting, try reading the “Grand Inquisitor” by Dostoevsky (which is actually part of The Brothers Karamazov) or the wonderful short story by Tolstoy, “The Death of Ivan Illych.”

Anne Lamott – One reviewer said Lamott “is walking proof that a person can be both reverent and irreverent in the same lifetime. Sometimes even in the same breath.” Yep, that’s Anne Lamott. I’d probably recommend Traveling Mercies as a first jump into her writing.

Madeleine L’Engle and Denise Levertov – I’m grouping these two together only because I’m listing them here for their poetry (though, as many of you know, L’Engle of course has remarkable works of fiction). Both have small collections of poetry that explore the complexities of faith, and I’ve quoted both a number of times (and/or used their phrasing for sermon titles!): L’Engle’s The Weather of the Heart and Levertov’s The Stream and the Sapphire are absolutely fantastic.

C.S. Lewis – Lay theologian? Scholar? Essayist? Fiction writer? Children’s author? All of the above. I’ve read plenty of C.S. Lewis, and I keep going back to works of his that I’ve read multiple times, always finding fresh insights. For an intro into his world, I’d recommend: Mere Christianity, Screwtape Letters, The Great Divorce and of course, The Chronicles of Narnia.

Martin Luther King, Jr. – Federally-mandated curriculum requirements ensured I learned about MLK every year in school, but it wasn’t until after college that I really discovered MLK the pastor. All of the social activism of his life was rooted in a robust theological foundation. MLK was quite the theologian, and I’d heartily recommend Strength to Love as a devotional read.

Henri Nouwen – An excellent perspective on spirituality. He has written a lot of books; Life of the Beloved is a fantastic look at his thought (and would work as a small group study). As a pastor I was helped greatly by the books Creative Ministry and Wounded Healer. I’ve also gifted his devotional collection Bread for the Journey on more than one occasion.

Flannery O’Connor – I’m always cautious about recommending O’Connor because she has a strange perspective on the world (actually, if you read enough of her, you might start to see that we have a distorted perspective and she has a lot of truth that initially strikes us as strange, “You shall know the  truth, and the truth shall make you odd,” she once quipped). Mystery and Manners is a good introduction to how she thinks and what she’s looking to accomplish in her stories, and A Good Man is Hard to Find is a good first step into her fiction.

Eugene Peterson –The moments when I am most faithfully fulfilling my vocation as a pastor are probably the moments when I am paying closest attention to Peterson’s words on pastoral ministry. I’ve personally been helped/challenged/encouraged by his memoir The Pastor, as well as Working the Angles, and The Contemplative Pastor. He also has some great stuff on spiritual theology, like Christ Plays in 10,000 Places. And his Biblical commentaries would be a great aid for small groups: Under the Unpredictable Plant (Jonah), Run with the Horses (Jeremiah), and Reversed Thunder (Revelation).

NT Wright – Wright has, in my opinion, helped reshape the landscape of New Testament scholarship in a positive (and challenging!) way. He is a prolific writer, but I found Surprised by Hope and How God Became King helpful. Whenever I’m preaching from a New Testament text, I always make sure to check what he has to say in his New Testament for Everyone commentary series.

Lastly, two books I’d strongly recommend: Tattoos on the Heart by Father Greg Boyle, and Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson (I didn’t recommend them as authors because Stevenson has only published the one book, and Boyle recently published his second, but I’ve not read it and heard mixed reviews).

Humble Rest

Posted by Tyler Kirkpatrick | 9/2/2019

I am currently reading Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton. It’s a short little book, but I’m reading it slowly because it is filled with rich insights and, well, because it’s about contemplation. I came across this little insight this morning that gave me pause: “Give me humility in which alone is rest…”[1]

Obviously humility is a Biblical virtue, and obviously the God who commanded Sabbath is a God who gives rest, but humility and rest aren’t necessarily two concepts that I would immediately think to connect. After further “contemplation,” however, I’m amazed at how connected they are. Madeleine L’Engle called pride “a fatness of spirit, an overindulgence in self… Pride is heavy.”[2] Pride is a weighty burden to carry around. Humility, then, is a sort of fasting from oneself, or at least from overindulging and overanalyzing and overfixating on oneself. In humility is a tremendous freedom and tremendous… rest:

In humility I can rest from needing to be right, knowing God alone holds all truth.

In humility I can rest from needing to build or protect my own reputation or my legacy (as someone who is successful or hard-working or intelligent or… you fill in the blank for what you are craving to be recognized for in your life), knowing that I exist not to garner recognition for myself, but to bring glory to God.

In humility I can rest from perfectionism, knowing that perfection will not come from inside of me by my own efforts, but from outside of me as the One who is perfect makes me more like himself.

In humility I can rest from fear and anxiety, realizing that simply knowing all the scary possibilities doesn’t give me any more power over them, and that I can find refuge in our Mighty Fortress God.

In humility I can rest from needing to get my own way, knowing that not getting my way might actually be the best thing for me, and that my best bet is following the one who is the Way.

In humility I can rest even amidst tension and uncertainty, remembering that I am finite and limited in my vantage point, but trusting the One who is able to hold all things and reconcile all things.

In humility I can rest from the shame of failures in my past or fear of failure in the future, knowing that “to err is human,” and to love us and sacrifice himself for us and offer himself to us in spite of those errors is Christ.

[1] Thomas Merton, Seeds of Contemplation (New York: Dell Publishing, 1949), 30.

[2] Madeleine L’Engle, The Weather of the Heart: Selected Poems (Colorado Springs: WaterBrook Press, 2001), 92.

Pastors in Cars Getting Coffee

Posted by Tyler Kirkpatrick | 7/1/2019 The premise of Jerry Seinfeld’s Netflix show Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee is, well, a couple of comedians… going for a car ride together… to get a cup of coffee. Couldn’t have figured that out based on the title… Fortunately for the world, nobody every pitched the idea of a show called Pastors in Cars Getting Coffee, but last week myself, my wife Brittany and our new Ministry Associate/Youth Director Ty Whitman climbed into our Ford Escape to drive to Spokane for the Whitworth Ministry Summit (we actually didn’t get any coffee—but we did grab Burger King in Moses Lake, if that counts). Both Brittany and I attended Whitworth (and Ty, for that matter, but he a bit more recently than we!), so we’ve made that five-hour trans-state drive on I-90 many times. I’ve shared that car ride with many different people: from family members (or people who would become family members through marriage), friends, and just acquaintances who were looking for a ride back to the west side after finals, and I was always struck by the range and depth of conversations that emerge in that drive, and the connection that develops or deepens with someone in that time. There’s a strange intimacy to five-hours of passing through miles of wheat fields together, apparently. I wonder why that is. Certainly, there’s the simple factor of time. It’s been said that if you want quality time with someone, it’s best to build in lots of quantity time. And not necessarily always intentional one-on-one activities, but just tons of time spent in proximity together. You can rarely plan on a deep conversations with someone. This is especially true, I think, with kids. In youth ministry, I found deep conversations with students happened far less in the “planned” times for that—small groups, one-on-one coffee, etc.—and far more often in the unexpected (and, admittedly, sometimes inconvenient!) moments of setting up for an event or game, or finishing writing up notes for a talk. But it’s not the factor of time alone, it’s the safety of knowing that time is protected. On a five-hour car ride, you’re not worried about impinging on someone’s valuable time (“oh, sorry, you probably have to get back to work!”); you are both, essentially a captive audience. You can safely “open that can of worms” if you’re passing the exit to Ellensburg, knowing you have ample time to unpack it, because you still have a few hours to go until you get to Spokane. So, short of road-tripping together across the state regularly, how can we as Christians foster spaces and places in our lives that facilitate deeper conversations and connections than Sunday morning coffee hour enables us? How can we be the sort of alternative community where people really know one another and are known by one another? One ancient practice that scripture gives us is Sabbath. It’s not something Western Christians take particularly seriously—and I’m often a chief offender. But if we truly set aside a day to God, a day for rest and a day for the community of faith, maybe we won’t be as impatient or bothered by someone imposing on “our” precious time to get things done. Brittany and I had the privilege to attend a Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner at a Rabbi’s house a few years ago. Throughout the evening, there was no underlying feeling that we were somehow imposing on their time because they didn’t have anything they “needed to get done.” By virtue of their convictions they were forbidden from getting anything done! We showed up at their house at 6:30pm… and left… close to midnight, but without the thought of “our” precious time being imposed upon, it really didn’t feel that long at all. It was just over five hours. Sort of like a car ride to Spokane.

This Place

Posted by Tyler Kirkpatrick | 5/16/2019

Some of you have asked for a copy of what I wrote for the Annual Congregational Meeting on Monday night. Here it is:

I’ve never been bashful about stealing a good idea. A mentor of mine wrote something called “This Place” for the congregational meeting at his church in Hollywood, and I figured I’d try something similar for our church.

This place. 9300 Nels Nelson Rd. People go past this place on their way to the county fair and to Olympic High School, to their neighborhoods and to Bucklin Hill road. People go through this place on their way to prayer and new lives and newfound friendships and redemption from painful pasts. People go out from this place on their way to be witnesses to the resurrection in their cubicles and classrooms, dining room tables and hospital hallways; as bold colonizers of the Kingdom of Heaven offering hope and love in the territories of death and deadness and despair.

This place is the sound of a man who can walk again drumming on Christmas Eve and the warm murmurs of continued conversation in the Narthex even though the worship service has already begun. It’s the clank of mugs and silverware as selfless workers wash dishes in the kitchen because the dishwasher is only a dish-sanitizer. It’s the lingering smell of bacon on late Saturday mornings and of Italian soup dinners on weekday evenings and of coffee on… every morning. This place is the sight of the neon blurs of glowsticked-teenagers racing through the darkness on balmy summer nights and it’s the tantrumed tears and delighted smiles of little ones in preschool and Sunday school and on Thursday morning playdates. This place is the stories of the past and the visions of the future, and the stories and visions in this place are always the stories of God’s faithfulness and the visions of God’s new creation.

This place sometimes lacks the grandeur of a high-steepled downtown church in the heart of a booming metropolis or the polish of a megachurch on podcasts and livestreams, but this place continues to be this place because the Lord of the Church called us—these particular people to be the Body of Christ in this particular time and this particular place at 9300 Nels Nelson Rd.

This place is always a place on the way for people going past, and for people going through, and for people going out. And this place itself is always on the way—on the way from the grand traditions of what it has been to the new thing God is calling it to do and to be. The words of the Lord of this place are carved into an old brown wooden sign hanging behind the bell in the arched entryway to the doors of this place. And so the people of this place are on the way not simply for the sake of going somewhere or doing something, they are on the way because each Sunday they pass under and read those carved, ancient words and they find themselves in ever greater pursuit of the One who is himself the Way.

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The Sacrament of the Present Moment

Posted by Tyler Kirkpatrick | 5/8/2019

“Even as I draw the freshly laundered clothes

from the basin, may the sight and the scent

of a new cleanness remind me

of the righteousness that is now mine,

of the ongoing forgiveness that you extend,

of your work on my behalf

which is both finished, and forever

ongoing and necessary in this life.”[1]

-A Liturgy for Laundering

I recently came across the book Every Moment Holy by Douglas Kaine McKelvey, which is filled with liturgies and prayers for all sorts of ordinary and mundane tasks we do day in and day out. Besides the prayer above for doing laundry, McKelvey has a liturgy for: planting flowers, beginning a book, consuming media, changing diapers (two actually, because “there are many diapers that must be changed”), the morning of a yard sale, for those who cannot sleep, and even for those experiencing road rage, among many others.

That may strike some of us as odd, but McKelvey is actually drawing on a Christian practice with ancient roots: to pay attention to the presence of God in every moment and every task, and as a result, to begin to see every moment and task as sacred. The French priest Jean-Pierre de Caussade called it the “Sacrament of the Present Moment.” Brother Lawrence instructed others to “train yourself to dwell in God’s presence all day long.”[2] Or, more recently, Tish Harrison Warren wrote a book called The Liturgy of the Ordinary about precisely this discipline.

It’s easy to dismiss this kind of practice as something only for the “super spiritual”—monks, nuns, priests and saints, but the point is actually quite the opposite. It’s an invitation for those of us who are rushing about, frantic and frenetic, anxious and exhausted, to begin to see the sanctity of each moment, to see how we are invited to reflect God’s glory, even in something so mundane as doing laundry. It won’t come naturally or even easily, which is precisely why it’s called a “discipline” or “practice.”

This discipline does not bring God closer to us. Rather, it enables us to become more fully aware of God’s ever-steadfast presence in our lives. It will inevitably begin to reshape how we view certain relationships and people. It will reform our priorities, and it will change how we approach certain tasks—tasks we too quickly dismiss as insignificant or as mere drudgery.

“Why doesn’t God feel closer?”

That’s never a simple question to answer, but perhaps we would be well-suited to stop expecting God to show up only in the extraordinary, earth-shatteringly miraculous moments. Maybe we need to practice the discipline of paying closer to attention to where God is showing up in the really, really ordinary ones. Maybe that’s what Paul meant when he encouraged the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing.”

[1] McKelvey, Douglas Kaine. Every Moment Holy. Nashville, TN: Rabbit Room Press, 2017. 22.

[2] Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God. New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 1982. 47.

Good Dirt.

Posted by Tyler Kirkpatrick | 3/14/2019 “Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground…” Those of us who are familiar with the creation of Adam in Genesis 2 are probably familiar with that wording above (or something similar), but lately I’ve been drawn to the CEB translation of that verse: “the LORD God formed the human from the topsoil of the fertile land and blew life’s breath into his nostrils. The human came to life.” “From the topsoil of the fertile land.” It has often been pointed out that “Adam” (the Hebrew word often translated in our Bibles as “human” or “humanity”) essentially means something not far from “Dirtball,” and that human life is “from dust to dust” as we said last week on Ash Wednesday. It’s often associated with our sinful, corrupted nature, and there is a lot of truth there. Compared to the holy, eternal God, we are as dust. But it’s also worth noting that humanity is called “Dirt” before the Fall, so maybe there’s more to be gleaned here. I’ve had new light shed on this text recently by two favorite authors of mine: Wendell Berry and Eugene Peterson. Wendell Berry is a farmer… as well as a novelist, poet, essayist and cultural critic to boot, and he provides a unique agricultural perspective on stale words and concepts. We sometimes forget that scripture was written in a world dominated by farmers (note how many of Jesus’ parables are agrarian in nature). Eugene Peterson was a pastor, author, and Bible translator who said he read Wendell Berry’s writing on farming to learn how to be a pastor. Peterson remarked that simply replacing the word “farm” with “church” worked every time. He connected Berry’s observations about dirt as it relates to congregational life: “Wendell Berry has taught me a lot about topsoil. I had never paid attention to it before. I was amazed to find that this dirt under my feet that I treat like dirt is a treasure: millions of organisms constantly interacting, a constant cycle of death and resurrection, the source of most of the world’s food.”[1] “The LORD God formed the human from the topsoil of the fertile land”: we, the people of God are a treasure because we are treasured by our God. Created by God and called “good”; a community of organisms interacting, a constant cycle of death and resurrection, of births, weddings, baptisms, potlucks, joys, sorrows, service, mission, funerals. “The LORD God formed the human from the topsoil of the fertile land”: we are called to be the soil that is the source of the world’s most important food. If people do not discover the Bread of Life or the True Vine growing in the topsoil of the people of God, where will they find it in this world? “The LORD God formed the human from the topsoil of the fertile land”: we are as inconsequential as dirt when compared with the vastness of the eternal, holy God. But that holy God forms us and breathes breath into us, filling us with life abundant. [1] Peterson, Eugene. “Stumbling Across the Supernatural.” Christianity Today, July 1, 1991. Accessed January 9, 2019. https://www.christianitytoday.com/pastors/1991/summer/91l3082.html.

Courageous Vulnerability

Posted by Tyler Kirkpatrick | 2/28/2019 The Saturday of “Snowmageddon” Brittany and I affixed tire chains to our Ford Escape and dawned heavy ski jackets to drop in on the Kitsap Youth Conference at Island Lake (we only came for a few hours; but our group was fearlessly led all weekend by Amanda Warfield and Jake Riley our awesome youth directors, as well as a team of stellar youth leaders; Bryce Anderson, Doug Bacolini, Tristan Hartman and James Kettenring). There were, of course, plenty of snowballs thrown, and the wintry conditions did not deter our students from blasting each other with paintballs, scaling the high ropes course or practicing archery. But of course, these weren’t the real highlights. He is jealous for me, love’s like a hurricane I am a tree, bending beneath the weight of his wind and mercy There were three other churches besides ours present at the conference, so there were considerably more students than we typically have at one of our events, and naturally, a lot of unfamiliar faces. It seems that the newness and unfamiliarity of the situation had a significant impact on our students—and our leaders. After the main sessions with everyone, there was debrief time with just our church group… and our students opened up with each other in some big ways. It’s never easy to be vulnerable with someone else; fears, insecurities, temptations and struggles are not the sorts of things we like to share with others. This is only more true for teenagers, but this is exactly what our teenagers did; sharing with and affirming one another through tearful embraces, pulling down the walls that felt safe, only to discover deeper and truer connections with one another. When all of a sudden, I am unaware Of these afflictions eclipsed by glory And I realize just how beautiful you are And how great your affections are for me That evening, there was no doubt that the Holy Spirit was present as we sang songs of worship together. Some students who have often been resistant to participating in worship on Sundays or Wednesday nights were visibly stirred. One leader who has been facing some tumult in their personal life shared that it was the first time they felt they had really worshipped, as if they were purging all of the wounds they’ve carried from the past few months and were casting them all on God. We sang: We are his portion and he is our prize Drawn to redemption by the grace in his eyes If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking. Afterwards we reflected together that perhaps all of the walls the students had been courageously working hard to tear down over the weekend had something to do with the powerful movement of God they had felt during worship. Maybe the walls they (we) put up that we think will keep us safe not only block out other people, but block out God. It seems counterintuitive that being put in an uncomfortable and unfamiliar situation would lead us to vulnerability, and often it doesn’t. Oftentimes we close up even more. But if we lean into the newness and unknown, surrendering our desire for control, sharing our fears with our friends and fellow believers and trusting God to hold us… we may well discover God moving in a way we’ve never expected or experienced before. So heaven meets earth like an unforeseen kiss And my heart turns violently inside of my chest And I don’t have time to maintain these regrets When I think about the way He loves us