Live, Move, & Be. by Josh Pinkston

Acts 17.28, “It is in God that we live and move and have our being.”

I love the enormity of this statement. It is not talking about a religion we can opt in and out of. Nor is it projecting on what things look like after we die. It is also not referencing a specific moment in our history or future. It is a definitive description of the ever-present moment; in which, we are all living and all moving and all being, right at this very moment.

It is so hard to fully realize how we see our world, ourselves, and our neighbors very imperfectly. We thoughtlessly and blindly trust our sight and opinions. I realize that culturally the term “born again” has been reduced to meaning fundamentalist or conservative evangelist, but this understanding of our imperfect sight leads us to Jesus’ definition of being “born again”: Completely start over with how we’ve learned to live and move and be.

We’ve shaped our lives around our unquestioned ability to see (the sight I’m addressing is not merely with our eyes, but with our minds and hearts). Everything we do and perceive is filtered through this imperfect or uncultivated "sense" for Reality around us. We've never stopped to question, exercise, and mature in our ability to see. Then our lives our formed, built-up, and complicated on this shaky foundation.

The distractedness of our living, speed of our movement, and state of our being can create an insensitivity to the level of gentleness with which Jesus moves in our lives. God is so kind and humble that He can easily be overlooked and ignored. Zephaniah 3.17 describes this well, “In his love, he will be silent.”

This is why Jesus instructs us to withdraw from life to be with Our Father. “When you pray, enter into your room, and having shut the door, pray to your Father in secret, and your Father, who sees in secret, will repay you,” he says. When we slow down regularly enough, we become increasingly familiar with the greater reality in which we are all living, moving, and having our being. We need to intentionally and consciously make room in our minds and lives to grow in sensitivity to God’s gentle humility and love.

God's Nature by Josh Pinkston

On January 23-25, 2015 we made room in our schedules, minds, hearts, and conversations for intimacy with God while on retreat at Camp Koinonia. A few of us took the time to share our experience.

Last weekend, some wonderful folks and I made room in our schedules, minds, and hearts to retreat in the Santa Cruz mountains. It was a time of reprieve and refocus. I’ve led contemplative retreats in the past, but none like this. We had such an incredible time. It was especially meaningful to me for some reasons that will take months, if not longer, to process.

Being in nature is a real catalyst for spiritual intimacy. The surroundings of trees, shrubs, dirt, and a constantly varying sky is disarming. It helps Jesus’ emphasis on giving nature our attention make so much sense.

Have you ever noticed how often Jesus called people’s attention to the nature around them? I’ve heard it explained away as just being the result of him talking with farmers and fishermen, but I can’t help thinking that there’s more to Jesus’ communication. When Jesus says, “Consider the lilies of the field and the birds of the air,” I think he actually means, “Consider the lilies of the field and birds of the air.” It is so easy to take the things we regularly see for granted. People overlook their spouses all the time, let alone lilies and birds.

When was the last time you looked at nature as a depiction of God Himself?

From the beginning, creation in its magnificence enlightens us to His nature. Creation itself makes His undying power and divine identity clear, even though they are invisible.
– Romans 1.20

I don’t want to overlook God’s nature being magnificently and continuously depicted to me. If I'm numb to It in nature, I'll be numb to It in my neighbors, home, and own heart. I need eyes that see.

Ask the animals, now, and they shall teach you;
    the birds of the sky, and they shall tell you. 
Or speak to the earth, and it shall teach you.
    The fish of the sea shall declare to you. 
Who doesn’t know that in all these,
    Yahweh’s hand has done this,
in whose hand is the life of every living thing,
    and the breath of all mankind?
– Job 12:7-10

Churchianity – Worshipping Worship by Josh Pinkston

When I take my posts about what being a pastor means to me and churchianity  and look at them together, I’m motivated to look toward what it is that I’d hope to see. So much of what Jesus brought into the world has been hijacked or dumbed down for the sake of what happens for an hour or two on Sunday mornings. I’m not saying Sunday mornings are dumb. But I am saying that Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection had little, if anything, to do with a Divine desire for groups of people to come together for a few hours on Sunday mornings.

Believe me, the time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem [places religiously designated for worship]. … The time is coming—and is here!—when true worshippers will worship in spirit and truth. The Father looks for those who worship him this way. God is spirit, and it is necessary to worship God in spirit and truth.
– Jesus, John 4.21,23/24

I’ve talked with so many Christians who have such a hard time centering on Christ without the aid of music and I can’t help but question; if we can’t do it without music, what makes you think it’s what we’re doing with music? Could you really just be centering on emotion? I am not saying you are or are not, but I am asking the question.

My criticism is birthed out of having been a “worship leader” for many years. It is a very personal criticism of myself. When that personal criticism reached a breaking point, I locked myself in a tiny unmarked room in a basement and turned off the lights. What I found in there was silence and presence. I found a greater fulfillment, which Jesus points to when he said, “When you pray, go to your room, shut the door, and pray to your Father who is present in that secret place. Your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you.” Churchianity taught me to worship as a statement to others, but Christ teaches me to have a secret.

This is why taking personal retreats has become such a value for me. These are times when I remove so many things that make me comfortable and outwardly focused so that I might focus simply on Christ’s presence within and without me. My goal is always to find the edges of my comfort-zone with awareness of Christ and push it as far as I’m able. That’s what the retreat near Santa Cruz next weekend (January 23-25) is all about and you’re invited to join. For more information, click here.

Jesus describes and models such a personal, secret, intimate, and dependent relationship with God first. And then a public expression that follows. But Churchianity has reversed this. My hope is that we will individually correct it and then find churches following. I hope we will literally shut doors, be silent, in secret, and throw down the crutches of music and programs to begin more fully walking with Christ individually and then collectively.

Churchianity – What being a church means to me. by Josh Pinkston

A few weeks back I had written about what being a pastor means to me and I was moved by the responses I received. Folks seemed relieved to read a description so simple and “authoritiless.” It was especially moving to be approached by other pastors who felt freed by the description. That was so significant to me because I realize how weighty the typical pastoral expectations and labels can be, and to help alleviate that in any way is the greatest affirmation I could ever seek. I also know that it felt good for me to write it out.

Since having written that article, the role of “Sunday church” has come up a lot in conversation. The community we’re now a part of in Santa Clara is unlike any other formal Christian community I’ve encountered. There is an incredible lack of pretentiousness and demand on people to “serve the service.” I can’t begin to describe how being in this environment has freed me to really believe and see the things that were only ever trapped in thought and opinion in the past.

What “serve the service” means is, most of Christianity centers around an hour and a half partly-musical production we call “a church service” that happens (usually) on Sundays. We tell people to invite their friends to these “services.” We pour a ton of energy and money into these “services.” Once people show up consistently enough, we ask them to volunteer at the “service”: greet people, sing, pass out communion, receive tithe, watch the kids, or brew the coffee. The more that someone is involved with “serving the service” we (usually) consider them a more devoted Christian and think we’re doing our Christian duty well.

Have you ever realized that Jesus, the one whom we’re all gathering around on Sundays, never once invited anyone to church? He also never once told anyone to invite their friends to church. Yet this is how we’ve come to define how it looks to follow Jesus. Doesn’t that strike you as odd?

It’s always my fear that when I write honestly I may be hurting or angering someone. That’s really not my intention and I hope I’m not. My hope is to help propel a moment of reflection and refocus, for what it’s worth.

What centering on “serving the service” has done is created a faith that is dependent on a church, rather than a church that is dependent on a faith in Christ. So we puff up our churches! We celebrate big numbers and revere the pastors who gather them! We adopt whatever culture and media are doing to rally people and say it is for Christ, even though Jesus never once modeled this behavior.

The true Church is dependent on our relationship with God. The moment we get that turned around, by making our relationship with God dependent on the church, we step out of Christianity and into an idolatrous relationship with an organization rather than an eternal relationship with an abiding and loving God.

Someone I respect recently wrote, “The church exists because there is a mission.” That person is unfortunately incorrect. Wherever you find someone dependent on God, you find the Church. Not because it has been labeled that, because of what anyone does, or because of any service that has been put together, but because that’s how Jesus defined it. The Church is not defined by responsibility, but by unity with Christ and one another. This is why you can feel the Church is so often absent at churches.

The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.
– Jesus, Luke 17.20/21

NOTE: I am not saying Sunday Church has no significance, but I am saying that it has to refocus, from serving the service to serving the servants.

Want to go on a retreat? by Josh Pinkston

It’s 2015 and I’m feeling optimistic. It’s like there’s something stirring under the surface that’s going to reshape the way we see things. Engaging with that subtle presence beneath it all is what my faith is all about. 

Over 5 years ago now, I embarked on a two day retreat that would ultimately redirect the trajectory of my life. Sounds a bit overdramatic doesn’t it? But I swear that it is the truth.

It was a two night, three day personal retreat at San Damiano. I had a room with a bed, desk, and bathroom. There was no computer, iPhone, iPod, guitar, radio, and not even a clock. Books, a journal, hiking boots, and silence were the only things I had with me to help fill the time. I think one of the the things that stood out to me the most was the shock this brought to my consciousness.

January 23-25
Make Room: A Contemplative Retreat
at Koinonia Camp Grounds near Santa Cruz
You're invited. Email me at josh@valleylife.org.

I slept when I was tired and got up when I was awake. Without any electronics, my day had little going for it once the sun had gone down and so would go to sleep early and wake up early. How natural and “right” this felt to my body has never left my memory. It’s how I hope to live someday. Come to think of it, it’s exactly how our son Ellis lives now as a three month old. Hmmmm...

This retreat (and every retreat since) was all about being present. I saw how the crowded nature of my thinking leaves little room for being present to myself and others, let alone Christ in all and through all. Being alone in this kind of setting is one of the most spiritually intimate experiences I ever had. I feel like I can understand St Augustine’s words when he wrote:

There are many going afar to marvel at the heights of mountains, the mighty waves of the sea, the long courses of great rivers, the vastness of the ocean, the movements of the stars, yet they leave themselves unnoticed!

Having these moments of reprieve and refocus make my heart so much stronger! And I don’t think it’s just a rare characteristic of mine:

Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
– Luke 5:16

If this is true about the one we call “Lord”, why is it so rarely seen in the Christian community? Let’s not waste too much time answering that question when we could just start being the answer. I want to help be a part of this change too. In a few weeks I’ll be guiding a retreat at Camp Koinonia near Santa Cruz with our church in Santa Clara. I am inviting you.

Interrupt your daily life with me and make room for presence. “Be still and know.” Take a bold step toward making a possibly uncomfortable but indispensable spiritual plunge into greater depths. If you’re interested, email me as soon as you can at josh@valleylife.org. We’re headed there January 23-25.

When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
– Matthew 6:6

What Being a Pastor Means to Me. by Josh Pinkston

Taken while I was hiking on Easter Sunday in 2013

Taken while I was hiking on Easter Sunday in 2013

It can feel a little silly of me to write an opinion of what it means to be a pastor considering a couple of factors:

  1. My age (especially in a denomination consisting mostly of people far older than me) 
  2. My experience (especially in a denomination that prizes the “senior” or “lead” pastor role)

So, I want to start by clarifying that I am writing about what being a pastor means to me, not what’s been handed or taught to me.

These are observations, lessons, thoughts, and opinions I’ve formed intimately after years of being a licensed pastor, serving in numerous different roles, and a lifetime of growing up among literally hundreds of pastors. I’ve experienced some of the greatest heights and most tragic lows of spiritual leadership due to mere proximity (and I know many of my fellow PK sisters and brothers can say the same). You know those “lows” your mind goes to when I make that reference? Yes, I mean those. What is also tragic is how difficult it is for us to recall the heights as quickly as the lows, because they are there and a dominant part of the reality.

My Role as a Pastor

There is an impulse I feel to now write a whole bunch of things, but it really is simple. If I were to try putting it into one sentence, it wouldn’t be that hard:

My role as a pastor is to seek, discover, uncover, and participate with the abiding love and presence of God in all and through all while also being available to others to help them do the same in their own life, context, and heart.

Frankly, the first part of that statement is just the definition of what being a Christian looks like, but the post-“while” half defines what a pastor is.

I feel the need to note that this, by and large, excludes being an “expert" or advice-giver of any sort. I am not a money expert, marriage expert, parenting expert, political expert, health expert, psychology expert, science expert, sexuality expert, occupational expert, international relations expert, or even in some cases, a morality expert. If I should be an “expert” in anything, it would be discovering, uncovering, and participating with the abiding love and presence of God in all and through all. That’s it. Knowledge of Scripture is important, but for this purpose, not the purpose of simple knowledge or opinion (that’s being an expert in Scripture, which is not the equivalent of being a pastor).

Taken while on a personal retreat at Sky Farm Hermitage in Sonoma, CA.

Taken while on a personal retreat at Sky Farm Hermitage in Sonoma, CA.

Could you imagine sitting down with your tax person and them telling you how you should parent or what you should believe about God? You would immediately walk out or at least tell them to stay on the topic of your taxes. As a pastor, it's my responsibility to stay on task as well.

Culturally, for one reason or another, it seems the role of “pastor” has turned into the responsibility of having to be an expert on just about everything. The “transcendent-expert-style-pastor” runs the danger of diluting the Gospel and completely burning out from idolizing their self. We attempt to fill churches on Sundays by attracting people to an expert rather than maintaining a focus of attention and practice on seeking the Abiding Expert.

Advice is not what I want to draw attention to as a pastor. Christ is. I am not about pointing to a way of doing things when our faith is that Christ is the way. And any advice that I might give should be only for the explicit purpose of assisting someone in their discovering, uncovering, and participating with what God is already doing in their lives. I am not what creates, conjures, or imparts that. I am available to partner in it though, and that is my role as a pastor.

Now, I know that there are pastors who really are experts in finances, marriage, parenting, etc. But that is not the conclusion I should draw when I hear the title “pastor.” This title is not one of authority, like being an “expert” might be, but it is one of service. What does that “service” look like? God is already active and moving in every dimension of life. As a pastor I am giving my life up to discover, uncover, and participate in that infinite mystery and am available to partner with others to do the same. It’s that simple. Anything else should be labeled something else.

He gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers. His purpose was to equip God’s people for the work of serving and building up the body of Christ until we all reach the unity of faith and knowledge of God’s Son. God’s goal is for us to become mature adults—to be fully grown, measured by the standard of the fullness of Christ.
– Ephesians 4.11-13

In Conversation with a Jesuit Priest by Josh Pinkston

Something I have very much enjoyed doing is to sit and have a conversation with someone whose path of life normally wouldn't converge with mine. Our distinctions may be glaringly obvious, but then we consciously create room in order to find our similarities.

This is something that can be practiced with anyone from any background. It is an experience I have shared with Catholics, Friars, Monks, Hermits, Atheists, Hindus, Buddhists, Wiccans, Homosexuals, Christians who differ greatly from me, old people, young people, and folks from foreign countries. I hope to share more posts like this which document these kinds of conversations, as well. It’s such a wonderful, life-giving encounter to have, but also admittedly rare. It requires two people whose optimistic curiosity outweighs their fears and insecurities.

This week I had a chance to sit with Fr Kevin, a priest and Jesuit Monk of 44 years who joined El Retiro San Inigo, a Jesuit Retreat Center of Los Altos, last August. He’s been a teacher at Jesuit high schools for most of his life and all I could think while talking with him is, “I hope my son goes to a school like his!” The understanding and sensitivity in the Jesuit Order for each person’s individuality and the intimate presence of God is wonderfully profound and refreshing.

We sat and talked in Fr Kevin’s office for nearly an hour and a half. I had hoped we could have a more personal conversation and connection, like I’ve shared with my close Franciscan friend Fr Dan Riley, but it was hard getting Fr Kevin to come out of the bigger picture of Ignatian Spirituality. I’ve come to realize it is not uncommon for people living truly spiritual lives of devotion to find discussing themselves to be difficult when one of their main focuses in life is becoming as less self-centered as possible. They’re used to talking about God, their spiritual heroes, and those they live to serve. When someone in this lifestyle finally does open up, it is such an intimate gift.

Something that was really impressed upon me while spending time with Fr Kevin was his awareness of “Invitation”. He spoke of every moment and every decision carrying with it an invitation. “Each and every decision we face, “ he said, “carries with it an option for greater kindness; greater love; greater sensitivity. And we will find that every time we’ve chosen to love, we’ve chosen God and God is at work through it." 

One of the most remarkable things about having a practice of Silent Prayer is the ability to connect with someone like Fr Kevin in a linguistic manner that we both understand. We may come from very different backgrounds and different generations and have different looking faiths, but we are not foreign to one another. We’ve been to a shared place of vulnerability and trust. Scripture tells us that everyone of us has a shared core of reality in the revelation that Christ is all and is in all. When someone else has encountered that reality, even without having named it Christ, it is so easy to share in our similarities.

I’ve carried my conversation with Fr Kevin with me and am grateful for my time with him. Looking forward to more conversations and hopefully recording them here.

Let Be and Be Still. by Josh Pinkston

Ellis George and Grandpa George.JPG

Since Ellis’ arrival, I can’t think of a single part of life that hasn’t changed. Everything has a new aspect or hue to it. Some things are now long gone, while there is also so much that is brand new. The capacity I had for Love has taken on new dimensions. I think that’s different than just having “grown” or expanded. It can be very overwhelming at times. But I will be honest and say that it hasn’t all been easy.

It’s a huge adjustment. An analogy that comes to mind is how I imagine losing an arm or leg would change everything about life; well, having Ellis has been like growing an entirely new arm or leg! There is just as much adjustment to be made.

A few weeks back I went to visit Dale, a retired Franciscan Priest and Urban Hermit whom I’ve been seeing for Spiritual Direction for over 5 years now, and we talked about all the life changes. It’s been a total change in identity for me. And I’m still working on figuring it out.

One thing that our time together helped me see is how taking pictures has been another gift in this new season and experience. Taking still-frame pictures has helped me to “be still”. With this new responsibility in my life (added to all the others) it is so tempting to be guided by momentum rather than actively and consciously guiding my momentum. That subtly is the difference between getting burned out while getting things done and being energized by Love.

The picture at the top of this article is of Ellis George Ronald Pinkston being held by his great-grandpa George (where he gets that part of his name from). The contrast of him in his great-grandfather’s hands captivates me. It makes me think, one day Ellis will be the one with those hands holding his great grandson and … I’m amazed. He changes so much every week. I can see how every single moment of time is as unique as a finger-print. And this in no way applies only to babies. “Grown-ups” are the exact same way. Moment-to-moment we are transforming. At the pace of trees.

Let be and be still, and know, recognize, and understand that I am God.
– Psalm 46.10 (AMP)

Let be and be still…” the let be part of that instruction can be so challenging. I’ve often found myself “being still” in order change things, not let them be. Be still and let things be?? What about the things I want to change? What about the things I want to change about myself? … Letting BE helps take the emphasis off of me (as well intentioned as it may be). When I allow my attention to be removed from how I wish things would be or what I’m looking forward to and am present, I can see God. Not in the future. Not in the past. But present.

YHWH.

BREATH is a Name. by Josh Pinkston

IMG_1723.JPG

When I think about Ellis being born, I recall hearing a long time ago how the Hebrew name for God ("YHWH") has been understood to be the sound of breathing. God is “To Be” or “I Am”. The Breath of Life. It is such a beautiful revelation and reflection.

The reason this comes to mind when I think about Ellis being born is that it means he came out of the womb saying God’s name. He actually didn’t even come out crying. He looked at Shawna and I with the same surprise as we looked at him with. It was a bit humorous to us, but at that moment, we all just stared at each other, breathing; speaking the name of God. YHWH. Unbeknownst to us. But known by God.

Recalling that moment with this consideration is extremely powerful and mesmerizing for me. But I'd be missing its purpose to not allow it to inform this very moment; the ever-present moment. All people breathing, saying the name of God. Myself included, now, sitting here and typing these words.

“…when they ask me, 'What is His name?' What shall I say to them?”
And God said to Moses, “YHWH.”

– Exodus 3.13/14 

What is so moving about this to me currently is how insignificant breathing is to us. We may not even care that our breathing is divinely significant, but that in no way reduces God’s affection or closeness. I think about how other religions have used a form of meditation that focuses on their breath to still their minds and see that as a remarkable expression of our innate desire for God.

This kind of information could easily be something we are quickly inspired by and then forget or become numb to. That leads me to one of the most challenging disciplines and virtues of Christianity (not to mention, overlooked): sensitivity. God is so much like our breath! Without conscious effort and commitment, this vital and powerful presence in our lives can be completely ignored, but ignorance holds no authority over it. It remains. Vitally important, It remains. But times come when we are gasping for breath and we start paying attention.

I get then why the psalmist would write in the 34th Psalm, "YHWH is near to the brokenhearted," but perhaps that is another way to say that the brokenhearted are near to YHWH. When we realize our need for breath and sit with that knowledge, we live differently.  We notice our fragility. We realize our dependance. It was present to us before we realized it, but our lives are changed when we sit with It. God is so much like our breath.

My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.
– Psalm 51:17

I'm a Dad! And we had a teacher. by Josh Pinkston

A month ago now, Shawna and I welcomed Ellis (aka El Minimanny) into our home, lives, and hearts. Parenthood is no joke. The challenges we’ve experienced while being faced with sleep deprivation makes me look at all parents with awe! Especially single parents. You all have my profound respect!

For the past few months, I’ve been reciting Psalm 23 in my practice of silent prayer. In all honesty, I’ve never liked this Psalm, but for one reason or another, I felt a bit drawn to finding some of its depth. In this short amount of time, it has now become one of my favorite passages of Scripture.

A line I’ve often found myself returning to through many days is, “He leads me beside still waters.”

How rarely does that feel true. In the chaos or confusion of the moment, the last thing I find easily accessible are refreshing still waters. But as I’ve meditated with this passage and learned to give my Shepherd my attention, rather than give it to my circumstances and confusion, I’ve found that, in being still, He has led me beside still waters the entire time. I've also found that there is a thirst in me.

I am thirsty. It is a need, desire, and compulsion within me that is beyond my comprehension, but drives the current of all my actions and way of thinking.

Only 4 weeks ago, we welcomed Ellis into our arms and home. I can’t help but keep thinking that with his birth, we were reborn. (Lord knows we’re all sleep like newborns right now). Everything is new to him and at least something about everything is new to us now too. Things I would have thoughtlessly or selfishly done before he was here are now lit with a new hue. He’s on my mind.

The most challenging part of parenting for me so far has been learning the differences between his cries:

  • hungry
  • dirty diaper
  • tired
  • gassy
  • other

He can’t communicate with words and wouldn’t know what to say even if he could. Ellis doesn’t realize he is actually tired or that he has soiled his diaper, he just feels discomfort and reacts impulsively to it. We’ve all been there. And although we all grow up, learn to talk, and find ways to live life, I don’t think we really learn to sit with and observe what it is we’re really thirsting for. 

The experience reminds me of a Henri Nouwen quote:

Your body needs to be held and to hold, to be touched and to touch. None of these needs is to be despised, denied, or repressed. But you have to keep searching for your body's deeper need, the need for genuine love. Every time you are able to go beyond the body's superficial desires for love, you are bringing your body home and moving toward integration and unity.

Ellis has really been teaching me about my thirst and hunger for love. The need to be cared for as well as to care for. Just because I've learned to walk, talk, interact, and operate in our culture does not mean that I've made any progress in understanding who I am or who others are. And although I may have ideas of things that I want, I'm often still clueless as to what it is I really need.

Who can map out the various forces at play in one soul? I am a great depth, O Lord. The hairs of my head are easier by far to count than my feelings, the movements of my heart.
– Saint Augustine

Thank you Ellis. I am thirsty and learning to find still waters beside me. The Shepherd has my attention.