missiology

Let's Go Dutch

By JC Mitchell

So being a parent of a child with special needs is hard to explain to a parent with a child that is typical (that is physically, neurologically, mentally, typical).   I will be the first to admit at times I have no idea how you deal with the demands of a four year old typical child, for my four year old with autism never talks back and never asks for the newest toy.  Emily Perl Kingley wrote in 1987 this piece that is shared with parents with children with special needs as well as those trying to understand. It is called “Welcome to Holland,”

I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability - to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It's like this......
When you're going to have a baby, it's like planning a fabulous vacation trip - to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It's all very exciting.
After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, "Welcome to Holland."
"Holland?!?" you say. "What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I'm supposed to be in Italy. All my life I've dreamed of going to Italy."
But there's been a change in the flight plan. They've landed in Holland and there you must stay.
The important thing is that they haven't taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It's just a different place.
So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.
It's just a different place. It's slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you've been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around.... and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills....and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.
But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy... and they're all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say "Yes, that's where I was supposed to go. That's what I had planned."
And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away... because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.
But... if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn't get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things ... about Holland.

This is powerful, and I hope eye-opening, and the second to last line is just as important as the last.  That is the tension.  You can imagine if you did actually end up in the Netherlands and not on the Apennine Peninsula, you would be angry at your travel agent.  For me, the closest thing to a travel agent would be God, so I would express my angry to God at times.  Yes, I would not want to miss the tulips or the windmills, but I express my frustration about the situation to God.

It is however, not going to Holland that I am angry about any more.  I have mourned that and I enjoy the very lovely things of my landscape.  The difficulty is everyone that has been to Italy only wants to see the pictures of the windmills, and not hear about the frustration to the travel agent.  They want to compare Rembrandt with Michelangelo and not hear how many therapies, extra time, money, tears, prayers, and hard work it took to get a Rembrandt.  I have learned Italian (only metaphorically) but none have bothered to learn Dutch, or even Frisian.  That is actually where my anger lies even more, because that is why I am reminded of the pain and difficulty of raising a child with special needs, when those with typically developing children think nothing of our adventure in Holland.

A great example of this insensitivity is within the current school district we live in.  We had a listening session on Monday night, and one group that admitted to be parents of gifted children stood up and spoke Italian and claimed Holland.  That is one step too far. I am angry.  They said their children also have special needs and held up a bell curve.[i]  They inferred that children with special needs are taking resources from their children and thus claimed Holland: Special Needs.  Because I have been forced to speak their language as well as my new Dutch, I realize what they are saying, that their children have special necessities, but to say they have special needs is to steal our language without understanding what we go through.

To cut any more programs and help to children with special needs means a difference between independence and/or reaching full potential for people, while cutting programs for the gifted, means they need to do independent study or create new group situations.  Having been a member of the National Honors Society, (teacher made me join, go teachers!) I recall that I and other truly gifted students studied and did projects on our own, or through civic organizations.  They all made it to college; and yes, some made bad decisions, but that’s life.  My anger is that the superintendent of schools, or anyone else, did not politely tell these people that utilizing another’s label to take resources from them who desperately need it was insensitive and infringing on civil rights.  That’s correct--civil rights.  The population with various disabilities deserve education and yes it costs more, but trust me, the parents take on a lot of the bill themselves.  To me, it is not unlike white families that say the same thing about an immigrant population.

So in my best Italian, I encourage you to read the piece above again, but go forth trying to learn some Dutch.  

Jesus tells us the neighbor is the one who shows mercy, the Samaritan, a person considered lowly and not of the neighborhood.  The language of the Samaritan was that of mercy and compassion, without boundaries.  We need the gifted to be challenged, but more importantly, we need to have compassion for those with Special Needs and at least provide the basic assistance to bring every child up to their potential.  We are not quite there yet, even with great teachers, parents, allies, and SPECIAL children.

special needs kids of all races and needs.jpg

[i] The bell curve is irrelevant for those with disabilities range on both sides of the curve.  I myself was tested for gifted and special education. While gifted programs are simply for a small amount at the top, some of may even require special needs education be it for a physical, learning, mental, or developmental disability.  I footnoted this for this is absolutely ironic that the parents of gifted children did not understand this, or they are just very clever.  Either way, does not look good.

RECLAIMING THE FAMILY OF GOD

Us, not ThemHere, not There Now, not Later

A Sermon by Doug Sloan, Elder Terre Haute Central Christian Church Sunday, May 6, 2012

I want to begin by thanking Dianne Mansfield and Phil Ewoldsen for their participation in a very important and successful meeting that took place yesterday, Saturday, May 5, 2012 at Central Christian Church in Indianapolis. This congregation [Terre Haute Central Christian Church], through its board and elders, is one of four congregations [now five] sponsoring a resolution to change the ordination policy of the Indiana Region. Elders and representatives of those four congregations met with the pastor and an elder of the Oaktown congregation, which has deep reservations and sincere concerns about the resolution. The meeting was serious – most of the time, we are talking about a gathering of Disciples – and spiritual. I came away from the meeting feeling hopeful. New ground was broken and a path was cleared for similar conversations elsewhere in the region that involve congregations with the same reservations and concerns as Oaktown.

Also, I want to thank my wife, Carol, for “encouraging” me to stop and think and – in this case – step back ten yards and punt. I can’t help wondering how much better off the history of the church and how much easier Christian theology would be if Paul had been married. Imagine the difference there would be in all of Christianity if Paul had been married to a woman who had looked at him with equal amounts of disdain and concern and said, “Paul, honey – KISS.*”

Being family is not always easy.

My father was quiet and laid back. My mother was gregarious and active. My younger brother, Dennis, was a jock. I was not. In high school, I was in choir, plays, and on the speech team. Dennis ran cross country and played trombone in the band – with band, especially marching band, being more for social enjoyment than satisfying any musical ambition.

Dennis also liked to ride his 12-speed bicycle. Dennis and his riding buddies thought nothing about jumping on their bikes and pedaling from New Castle to Muncie and back between lunch and supper. Muncie is approximately 25 miles north of New Castle – a round trip of a good 50 miles. You have to understand, they would return from these little jaunts with no signs of having exerted themselves.

One day, a trip was planned to our Uncle’s house on the southwest edge of Muncie – and I decided to join them. How hard could it be? The trip to my Uncle’s house was a great ride – we took county roads and stayed off the state highways. We had a nice visit with our Aunt Marjorie and Uncle Kenneth and our cousin Joy Ann and her boyfriend, Phil – and the girl who lived next door to Phil.

Well, the time came to return home. We jumped on our bikes and started pedaling home. A few miles south of Muncie, it happened – my lack of experience with long-distance bicycle rides caught up with me and hammered me with the great-granddaddy of all leg cramps. Every muscle in both legs, above and below the knees, tightened into an unbreakable searing knot. Whatever fantasies I ever had about being “the man of steel” – this wasn’t it. The ride came to a screeching stop in front of someone’s house – to this day, I don’t know who those poor people were. Dennis knocked on the door to ask to use the phone to call our parents. Meanwhile, I had hobbled to the porch to get out of the sun where I promptly collapsed in excruciating pain which I expressed without restraint at the top of my lungs. Eventually, my father arrived and took me and my bicycle home. I never took another bicycle trip with my brother – and my brother has never harassed me about it or held it against me.

Being family is not always easy.

I hear that it has been this way for a long time.

When King David died, the crown went to his son, Solomon. When Solomon died, the crown went to his son, Rehoboam.

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin is the author of an encyclopedic book titled, “Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People, and Its History.”

Rabbi Telushkin has this to say about King David’s grandson: "Rehoboam has three bad traits; he is greedy arrogant, and a fool." (p. 84)

From I Kings 12, here is a summary of what happened after the death of King Solomon. King Solomon had imposed high taxes and forced labor to build the temple. After the death of Solomon, the people approached Rehoboam and asked, “Your father made our yoke heavy. Now, therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke that he placed on us, and we will serve you.” Rehoboam told them he would have an answer for them in three days. His father’s advisors, who are older, suggest kindness and moderation and thus gain the eternal allegiance of the people. The younger advisors, who had grown up with Rehoboam, suggest a ruthless denial of the request. Rehoboam listens to his younger advisors. When the people return in three days, Rehoboam informs them that he will be even tougher than his father. And the people said, “We’re outta here.” [Hoosier translation of the original Hebrew] Ten of the twelve tribes form their own kingdom and Rehoboam is left with the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. The ten tribes name their kingdom, “Israel.”

208 years later, Israel is destroyed by Assyria. 136 years after the destruction of Israel, most of Judah is exiled to Babylon.

Here is the rest of the story. When the Assyrians destroyed Israel, some of the people escaped to Judah, formed their own province in the north of Judah and called it Samaria.

Take a breath and change gears – we are jumping to the United States in the 1860s. Think about the animosity between the North and South just before the Civil War. Now, think about that animosity between the North and South and no Civil War. Instead of Civil War, there is only the constant animosity. That is the relationship between Judah and Samaria in the first century during the ministry of Jesus. Back to the United States; what kind of stories do people in the north like to tell about southerners? What kind of stories do people in the south like to tell about those damn yankees? It was the same way between Judah and Samaria. Remember the animosity and the stereotyped jokes that had to have existed the next time you hear the story of the Good Samaritan or the story of the Samaritan woman at the well.

NRSV John 4:7-21 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, .....and Jesus said to her, ..........Give me a drink. (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, ..........How is it that you, a Jew, ...............ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria? (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)

Jesus answered her, ..........If you knew the gift of God, and ...............who it is that is saying to you, ....................‘Give me a drink,’ ...............you would have asked him, ...............and he would have given you living water.

The woman said to him, ..........Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. ..........Where do you get that living water? ..........Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, ...............who gave us the well, ...............and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?

Jesus said to her, ..........Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, ...............but those who drink of the water that I will give them ...............will never be thirsty. ..........The water that I will give ...............will become in them a spring of water ...............gushing up to eternal life.

The woman said to him, ..........Sir, give me this water, ...............so that I may never be thirsty or ...............have to keep coming here to draw water.

Jesus said to her, ..........Go, call your husband, and come back.

The woman answered him, ..........I have no husband.

Jesus said to her, ..........You are right in saying, ....................‘I have no husband’; ...............for you have had five husbands, ...............and the one you have now is not your husband. ..........What you have said is true!

The woman said to him, ..........Sir, I see that you are a prophet. ..........Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, ...............but you say that the place where people must worship ...............is in Jerusalem.

Jesus said to her, ..........Woman, believe me, ...............the hour is coming when you will worship the Father ...............neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. [END OF SCRIPTURE]

Two interesting observations about this story.

The first observation is this: Jesus would go the synagogue of whatever village he was visiting. The custom of the day was to invite such a visitor to participate in the worship service. This gave Jesus the opportunity to share his message. Yet, only a couple of stories exist about his synagogue visits. All of the other stories about his ministry – about the teachings and interactions of Jesus – take place outside the synagogue.

The second observation is a question and a challenge: With whom did Jesus interact? Go home and explore the four Gospels; start with Mark, then Matthew and Luke, and finally John. With whom did Jesus interact? Here is a hint: anyone. The early church heard this message and followed it.

NRSV Acts of the Apostles 8:26-40 Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ..........Get up and go toward the south ...............to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza. (This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went.

Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, .....a court official of the Candace, .....queen of the Ethiopians, .....in charge of her entire treasury.

He had come to Jerusalem to worship .....and was returning home; .....seated in his chariot, .....he was reading the prophet Isaiah.

Then the Spirit said to Philip, ..........Go over to this chariot and join it. So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, ..........Do you understand what you are reading? He replied, ..........How can I, unless someone guides me? And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him.

Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:

Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.

The eunuch asked Philip, ..........About whom, may I ask you, ..........does the prophet say this, ..........about himself or about someone else?

Then Philip began to speak, and .....starting with this scripture, .....he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus.

As they were going along the road, .....they came to some water; .....and the eunuch said, ..........Look, here is water! ..........What is to prevent me from being baptized?

He commanded the chariot to stop, .....and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, .....went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.

When they came up out of the water, .....the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; .....the eunuch saw him no more, .....and went on his way rejoicing.

But Philip found himself at Azotus, .....and as he was passing through the region, .....he proclaimed the good news to all the towns .....until he came to Caesarea. [END OF SCRIPTURE]

The eunuch, because of his incompleteness, would not have been allowed to participate in certain acts of worship at the temple in Jerusalem and there were parts of the temple where he would not have been allowed to enter.

Both of these stories were clear messages of inclusiveness to and by the early church. Additionally, a very clear attribute of the ministry and message of Jesus and the conduct of the early church was that ministry and message occur out there, not in the synagogue. While ministry and message are public, they are not to be overtly offensive, not in-your-face abuse, and they do not demand change as a requirement to hear the message or to receive ministry. Change can occur and it happens through the resurrection and transformation that is experienced when the ministry and message of Jesus is embraced and internalized.

We speak of being children of God, of being in the family of God. We speak of how this includes everyone, that it is a global perspective. We gladly talk about having an open table where all are invited. Really?

We are open and affirming – we welcome anyone regardless of sexual orientation. What about the homophobic? They, too, are children of God.

We happily talk about welcoming all regardless of race, color, or ethnicity. What about the racist, the Neo-Nazi, the KKK? They, too, are children of God.

We would welcome attorneys, judges, police officers, prison guards – anyone involved with law enforcement. What about the car thief, the burglar, the robber, the home invader, the child molester, the rapist, the murderer? They, too, are children of God.

Would we welcome the invisible people? The illegal immigrant, the homeless, the people who have chronic mental illness and are receiving little or no mental health service? They, too, are children of God.

Being family is not easy. There are 4 terrible prices to be paid if we truly accept and embrace this radical ridiculous notion that there are over 7 billion of God’s children on this planet.

1) If we accept each other as real brothers and sisters, then we are going to have to overlook a lot – and that includes stupid disastrous bicycle rides. For example, just in this room, it means affirming that in our worship service, there are no mistakes. [I have lost count of how many times this act of grace in worship has saved my butt.] When applied globally, the price to be paid is: There is no “them”, only us.

2) If we accept that we have 7 billion brothers and sisters, then we lose “there.” The Republic of Congo is not there, it is here. Syria and Iran and Pakistan are not there, they are here. Mexico and Venezuela are not there, they are here. They are as much here as we are in this room.

3) If we accept that we have 7 billion sisters and brothers, then we lose “later.” If Dennis phones from his home in Churubusco saying that he has an emergency that requires me to be there, I’m outta here. I know – We know – that the same is true between many of us in this room. It should be true for all of us who are here – all 7 billion of us. How do we respond “now” [?] – because “later” doesn’t exist.

4) The most terrible price to be paid is that in the presence of evil, we cannot be silent and still. In the presence of evil, we are called to shout, “This is wrong!” and we called to move against it. Evil exists. Evil is when a person is murdered, abandoned, or excluded from their rightful place in life because of prejudice or ignorance. Evil is when people are treated as “them” “there” and we decide that their need for justice or compassion can be dealt with “later.”

Consequently, if we accept that we have 7 billion siblings – and if we accept that “we” are “here” “now” – then we are going to settle our differences in vastly different ways. We are going to settle our differences as family. We are not going to settle our differences as winner-take-all antagonists and not as an act of conquest. We are going to change the way we intervene in conflicts and feuds – and we are going to intervene. We are going to change the way we intervene in harmful practices such as genocide and slavery and exclusion based on prejudice and ignorance – and we are going to intervene. We are going to change the way we intervene in the oppressive practice of living in empire instead of community – and we are going to intervene.

Being family is not easy.

My apologies to those who have already heard this story. I am telling it again because it is the only one I have to end this message.

At one point during his short troubled life, my son, Chad, was arrested and incarcerated in the Greene County jail. Having neither the emotional nor financial resources to pay his bail, I rationalized it as an example of “tough love.”

At 4 o’clock in the morning there was a knock on the front door. There stood my brother, Dennis, with Chad. Chad had phoned Dennis, who at the time lived in Muncie. Dennis had made the 3-hour drive in the middle of the night, from Muncie to Bloomfield, and bailed Chad out of jail and brought Chad home, and then Dennis made the 3-hour drive back to Muncie.

My question to Dennis was something along the line of “What were you thinking?” My brother’s response to me was “What else was I to do? He’s family.”

Being family is not easy. The Good News is that there is no other way than – all of us here and now – be the family of God living in the Kingdom of God – and respond to each other one-to-one with generosity and hospitality and healthy service – and as a community provide justice and compassion – and that we be and live and share the Kingdom of God by embracing and exuding the unrestrained love and unconditional grace of God.

Amen. _________________________________

* In this case, KISS = Keep It Short and Simple

Mermaids, Squids, and Christian Reality

Recently a friend of mine mentioned that a counselor had concerns about her daughter because she believed that mermaids existed.  The questioning included why she believed in their existence, and the child responded because she had read about them and had seen a documentary on the Animal Planet, yet admitted to not have seen one in person.  The “professional” was concerned.  The child did ask the interviewer if she believed if giant squids existed and if she had seen one, and as you probably have guessed the answer was, the counselor had read about them and saw a documentary.  This would be funny if the person was not a “professional” analyzing the youth. I had seen most of the mermaid documentary one late night with my brother-in-law, and I must admit I truly understand one believing that mermaids might exist on earth, after viewing the documentary.  I honestly had to choose not to believe this reality when watching the show, and I have to admit the choice is mostly because it may “freak me out” if I saw something while on a boat and that it may open me up to the reality of Bigfoot.  I did just move to the Seattle area, where there are more boats and Northwestern woods in my future, so I have decided on a reality where there are no mermaids and Yetis.

As Christians, are we simply asking people to believe in an historical reality--Jesus’ birth, teachings, death, and resurrection?  Even our Gospel accounts do not match up neatly.  This sets up a reality in which those that believe are in, and those that do not are out.  It is ok to believe in giant squids, but not mermaids.  This is not my Christianity.  My religion is reality, which I find in Christianity.

Humanity did not create God, but humans did create religion.  We must look at our rituals and beliefs with anthropologic and sociological lenses and not simply as a litmus test, such as do you believe….?  And this can be true of the progressive churches as well.  We cannot kid ourselves to think we don’t have litmus tests.  Often we stand there like the professional above, judging other’s beliefs.

“Reality:” that word is itself a question, perhaps even a riddle.  I have been enlightened by the theory of Mimesis, put forth by René Girard.  A one sentence explanation might be that we desire based from the desires of others, and this changes the dialogue immensely.  I would argue it is pre-historical, and cognitive scientists have even confirmed this as desire based off the desire (and actions) of others within our brain function.  As a confessing Christian, this theory has opened me up to Christianity that dare I say, seems “natural” and “scientific.” No longer am I claiming something that others choose not to believe, nor am I stating what I believe they will know exactly like I know.  Rather, I see the reality of religion within Christianity, which I knew before, but now worry only about divine love as an action against our human reality of rivalry from mimetic desire.

Our purpose is to help the Divine we call love be the reality we know.  Violence and rivalry are part of our human condition, and as Christians we know the realization of love by Jesus empting himself without rivalry or retaliation on the cross.  This love is the reality we all aspire to, yet we are tied together not by our individual transgressions, but our universal sin of rivalry and violence.  Thus we don’t need everyone to believe exactly the same way, but to live, what we confessing Christians call the compassion of Jesus, as our reality.  The reality is, who cares if one believes in giant squids and/or mermaids, but rather, are we teaching love--that is, nonviolence, and compassion?

That is the religion for me, religion of revealing forgiveness, compassion, and love without rivalry and violence, as the reality and culture of earth as it is in heaven. That is a transformed world reality here on this globe, not simply an eternal heaven of gold streets, where some are in and others out.

The Beauty of the Church

Sometimes I get disillusioned with “the church.”  I hear stories of people who were run out, who were gossiped about, who were hurt by the very people who were supposed to love them.  I hear of pastors who were treated like the sole employee with their boss being a board of 15 who criticized every decision the pastor made, every minute of the pastor’s time and every breath or sigh taken during the sermon.  I hear stories of bully pulpits and sanctuaries where children were definitely not welcome. There have been times when I have been down about “the church.”  I become very critical of an organization that can perpetuate myth in tradition, that runs on models outdated and yet expects the pastor to be a miracle worker.  I have been hurt by people in my churches in the past.  I have been hurt as a guest by a pastor using their pulpit to instill fear and justify their own narrow beliefs.  I have been hurt by the things said casually about other people, even in general terms, that were degrading to certain groups of people that happen to be who my family is made up of.

It’s easy to walk away from the church.  I see people do it all the time, I have had people visit me as a pastor and now speak to me as a chaplain about why they will never set foot in a church again.  They are done with organized religion.  They are done with the institution called “the church.”

It breaks my heart.  But rarely do I try to encourage them to go back.  Sometimes the damage is too great.  Instead, I always encourage them to continue on the spiritual journey.  And my hope and prayer is that perhaps they will find their way back to the church.  But me, as clergy, as a direct representative of the institution that has harmed them, I don’t feel it is my place to tell them to come back.  I wouldn’t tell the victim of domestic abuse to go back to the person who has abused them.  But I would tell them they can love again, that in time, perhaps they can trust again.  The same I would say to those abused by “the church.”  I would encourage them to continue on their spiritual journey, and my hope is that they would find a loving, supportive, embracing community.

I love the Church, the Body of Christ described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12.  I don’t love all manifestations of the church.  But I love what it is supposed to be.

The church is supposed to be the place where you feel you are a part of the Body of Christ.  You are valuable.  You are significant.  Your gifts are useful and necessary.  You have an important part to play in the whole body’s function.  You are part of the family.  You are loved, exactly as you are, exactly as you were made by God.  You can come with your wounds and hurts and find comfort and strength.  You can come with your worries and fears and find courage.  You can come with your grief and find some ease.  You come and find your burdens are born by others, your joys are shared by others.

Thankfully, I have experienced the church as this: the body of Christ.  I realize it is hard for me to say this as clergy and have any clout beyond that, but before I was a minister, I loved the church.  As a teen, the church was where I was welcomed and embraced and encouraged in my call to ministry.  As a child, the church was where I was included and loved just as I was.

It saddens me when people throw the baby out with the bathwater.  Whereas I understand completely how individuals, even groups of people have been hurt by the church and have left, I am grieved that there are people calling for the end of the church.  I do believe the church is changing, dying even, but with death there is always the hope of resurrection—something new.  It may look completely different than it is now.  But my hope and prayer is that the church—whatever it is—will be the Body of Christ.

All too often I have friends who claim to be spiritual but not religious—who want nothing to do with church.  Fine.   I actually have no problem with that because the “church” they are rejecting I would reject as well, a place where people are harmed rather than healed.  But it is when my friends go to nothing—there is no faith community, no gathering of people to talk about spirituality or God or whatever—when there is just an absence, this is where I grieve.

I’m not talking about those who have rejected those things and have gone to atheism (that is a different kind of grieving for me, I will admit), but for those friends who rejected the church of their childhood and are raising children, and they tell me they want their children to have the values they were taught but not in the church, and don’t know where to turn—I grieve for them.  I grieve for the ones who want to talk about spirituality and faith but feel they have no place to go.  And I grieve for the ones who simply ridicule those of us who stayed in the church.  I have friends among them all.

But I know one person, who once described his return to church after a twenty-year absence as a “homecoming.”  He walked in the doors and was immediately greeted.  Someone came to his seat and welcomed him.  The people shook his hands and shared their names and made him feel comfortable.  The preacher shared a message of hope.  The songs were uplifting.  And communion was shared with all as a welcome to Christ’s table.

This is the beauty of the church, that for all the shortcomings of the earthly “church” (and as I used to say, the problem with churches is that they are full of people!), there are some who will find their way home again, and find the love, grace, peace and joy that we expect to be there.

RECLAIMING EASTER

Easter is about resurrection and transformation - today. Easter is not about the torture and execution and resurrection of Jesus. Easter is not about an event that happened one time to one person a long time ago. Easter is not about an 11th-century feudal theology .....of "penal substitution" or "substitutionary sacrifice." Easter is not about a 4th-century theology of "original sin." Easter is not about a sadistic abusive murderous blood-thirsty God. Easter is not about a narcissistic mercenary God .....whose love and grace are so shallow and tenuous and inadequate .....that the favor or forgiveness of God can only be earned or purchased. Easter is not about useless promises of an eternal post-mortal utopian etherial existence. Easter is not about using the sharing the Good News as a form of conquest. Easter is not about hate.

Easter is about the life and message and path of Jesus. Easter is about us living the life and message and path of Jesus. Easter is about the resurrection of the disciples - all of us who follow Jesus. Easter is about disciples living and being - here and now - the Kingdom of God. Easter is about disciples working together as the living body of Christ. Easter is about the Good News.

What difference would it make if an ossuary was found that undeniably contained the bones of Jesus?

To the message of Jesus – that God is personal and present and immediate and available and is characterized by love and grace, whose passion for us is to provide justice and compassion and generosity and hospitality and service, and who invites us and welcomes us and includes us and embraces us without exception or conditions – that message would not in any way be changed or diminished.

Something happened on Easter morning. Until that morning, the disciples still saw the message of Jesus as an unassembled upside-down puzzle with no idea as to what image would be revealed by the completed puzzle.

What happened on Easter was a transformative epiphany. The women had it first - a profound comprehensive epiphany. It was the best of epiphanies. When the women shared their insight with the others, the others had the same epiphany, the same transformation.

It was as if every piece of the puzzle had been turned upside-right and sufficiently assembled that the picture could be easily discerned. After all the questions that had only received Jesus’ annoying and unsatisfying answers and after repeatedly hearing the puzzling parables and confounding aphorisms of Jesus, compounded by the grief and depression and repressive fear of the preceding weekend, the impact of this epiphany had to have been earth shaking. It was such a powerful experience that it felt like an earthquake strong enough to roll away massive tombstones. It was so revealing, it was as if the curtain covering the Holy of Holies had been ripped asunder and the presence of God could be plainly seen by anyone who had the courage to look. It was so personal that it was as if Jesus was alive - speaking to them and sharing meals with them - a tangible presence. The life and message and path of Jesus did not die on the cross. The life and message and path of Jesus lives like a fire that hovers over us and smolders within us and breathes as powerfully and disturbingly as a noisy rampaging wind storm. The life and message and path of Jesus can be heard by anyone at any time and regardless of where they were born or what language they speak.

In those first few years, this same epiphany happened to Paul and hundreds of others. Repeatedly, it was such a powerful experience that people were transformed. The isolation and desperation and fatalism of day-to-day living in an oppressive empire supported and legitimized by imperial dominionist theology was replaced by the dual realization that the character of the one true God is: .....* unrestrained love and unconditional grace - .....* always present and immediately available to anyone anywhere anytime, and .....* that life does not require participation in the empire - .....* not its political activities, not its cultural domination practices, .....* not its imperial civic theology, not its military conquests, and .....* not its greedy and isolating economics.

This same profound epiphany, this same earth-shaking resurrection, this same life-as-if-from-death transformation is still happening today.

The Good News has 3 inseparable messages: 1) The universal accessibility of the personal and persistent 1) unrestrained love and unconditional grace of God; and 2) The feeding quenching clothing healing visiting welcoming compassion and 2) the reparative rehabilitating restorative justice of the Community; and 3) The inclusive hospitality and joyous generosity and healthy service of the Individual ............................................................RECLAIMING CHURCH - REDUX

This is resurrection and transformation! This is the Good News! This is Easter! Alleluia!

Welcoming Gay People: Why It’s a Conversation You Need to Have (Redux)

The Conversation (Part 2)

Pastor of Christ’s Church, Anywhere, USA: "Hey, Derek! How'€™s it going? I'€™ve seen what you guys are doing at your church. I want you to know how much I appreciate the work y'€™all are doing with the LGBT community. The church needs to wake up on this issue."

Me: "€œThanks. I really appreciate that."

Pastor: "€œYeah. It's good stuff. Of course, in the church I'€™m in we aren'€™t there yet . . . €“I mean, "€˜Open and Affirming.'"€

Me: "Why's that?"

Pastor: "Well, I don’t think it’s the right time for us. Unfortunately, having that conversation now is liable to call down a firestorm."

Me: “I guess it could.”

Pastor: “Look, I’m with you on where the church needs to be on this issue. If it were up to me, we’d already be Open and Affirming. The problem, though, is I’ve got two constituencies I’m responsible for.”

Me: “Which two constituencies would those be?”

Pastor: “Aw, come on, you know … the liberals and the conservatives.”

Me: “What do you take being ‘responsible’ for them both to mean?”

Pastor: “As a pastor, I can’t be seen to be too partisan on this issue.”

Me: “I’m not quite sure ‘partisan’ is the word I would have chosen. I guess I would’ve preferred ‘prophetic,’ but I think I know what you mean.”

Pastor: “Ok. I see the dig. But the truth of the matter is that I have to take the whole congregation into consideration ... not just those folks who agree with me.”

Me: “Sorry about the sarcasm. Look, I understand, but if you’ll forgive me, taking them ‘into consideration’ sounds less like pastoral responsibility and more like conflict avoidance.”

Pastor: “Maybe so, but I don’t want to be the person who caused the split I fear would be inevitable.”

Me: “I know it’s tough. But there’s another constituency you haven’t named that also has a stake in this.”

Pastor: “Who’s that?”

Me: “All those people interested in finding Jesus, but who won’t ever walk through the doors of a church that talks about justice and equality, but then offers a long list of qualifications about who can receive it, and who’s not eligible for one reason or another—starting with LGBTQ people.”

Pastor: "€œLike I said. We'€™re really not there yet. Maybe one of these days."€

Me: "Yeah, maybe one of these days."

The Post-mortem on the Conversation

You will perhaps, dear reader, recognize the format from a previous article. It seems to me, though, that this a good way to begin an analysis of that conversation.

I can'€™t tell you how many times I have had that conversation. These are pastors who, on an individual level, believe that LGBTQ people ought to be welcomed into the life of the church without any qualification of the kinds of ministry or service in which they might engage. That is to say, these pastors are sympathetic to the idea of Open and Affirming as a move the church needs to make … some day down the road. They'€™re "€œjust not there yet." If "€œwe'€™re just not there yet"€ describes your congregation, this post is for you.[1]

Let me preface what I'€™m about to say with a nod toward the difficulty of negotiating the pastoral waters. All churches are different, but they share enough in common that I know what I’m about to say is a difficult word to hear. Pastors have to take into consideration a number of factors, not least of which is their livelihoods. As someone who very nearly lost his first job out of seminary over this very issue, and who had to leave another job over some principles on which I thought it necessary to take a stand, I'€™m well aware of the treacherous waters in which pastors swim.

Having offered that disclaimer, let me once again jump in with both feet.

"I have to take the whole congregation into consideration ... €”not just those folks who agree with me."

On a theoretical level, I think I know what this means. Talking about taking the whole congregation into consideration, it is believed, is an attempt at fairness—€”sort of like the conversation every parent of multiple children eventually has:

“Dad, who’s your favorite? Am I your favorite?”

“I’m a parent. You’re all my favorites.”

Whether or not it’s possible for parents to avoid having favorites, the analogy falls apart when it comes to one very crucial issue: This issue isn’t about liking one group of parishioners more than another—or even the appearance of liking one group more than another. This is an issue about faithfulness to what you understand to be the direction of God’s reign in this world, and your responsibility to point toward it.

“Meaning what, exactly? That sounds an awful lot like stacking the rhetorical deck in your favor.”

Ah, yes. Ok. Let me come at it a different way. If one of my children were to begin living in a way my wife and I were convinced was destructive, would the fact that another of my children pointed it out mean that I should ignore the destructive behavior—€”just so it didn’t appear as though I favored one child over the other? Isn’t there a sense in which keeping silent so as to avoid sibling rivalry ceases to be loving and becomes enabling? That is to say, isn’t speaking truthfully a prerequisite to true love even being a possibility?

“But that’s exceptionally patronizing, don’t you think? It sounds like you’re the parent and your parishioners are the children—that you have all the answers, and that they can only hope to grow up spiritually with the benefit of your wise guidance.”

Point taken. However, I’m not sure it shakes out quite so easily as that. For one thing, pastors get paid to speak the truth … they don’t get paid to keep the peace, if by peace one means the maintenance of a theological DMZ. True peace, as I’ve stated before, is only possible where speaking the truth in love is a higher priority than preserving some mutually beneficial cease-fire.

Second, as a pastor, while I must retain a certain amount of humility about my capacity to have all the right answers, that doesn’t mean that I should just shut up until we stumble across an issue upon which everybody already agrees. If the primary virtue of pastoral ministry centers on articulating non-controversial platitudes, there’s really no need for pastors; all that’s necessary is a “well-lubricated weather vane.”

Being prophetic, though it can function as an altogether too difficult to decline invitation to self-righteousness, is part of the job. I’m not saying it’s easy; I’m just saying it’s necessary.

“Once again. All that’s easy for you to say. You don’t face the same kind of pressures I face.”

Perhaps not. I suspect I do work in a different environment than many pastors. But please don’t be tempted to think that I operate in some blissful pastoral idyll. I still have to figure out which vocational hills are worth dying on—just like everybody else.

“What about this third constituency you were talking about?”

Right. Conversations on whether or not a church should officially take on the identity, “Open and Affirming,” often seem to assume that only two groups have much interest in the fight—€”liberals and conservatives. Whatever decision you come to is guaranteed to make one side or another mad.

As a result, what savvy pastors do is the utilitarian calculation about maximizing pleasure (in this case pleasure can be defined as the absence of pain). Making decisions based on what will anger the fewest number of people seems to keep the waters calmer. Unfortunately, one group that gets left out of the calculation are those people who might be interested in church, but who are scared away because of the perceived hostility to LGBTQ people.

“Why is that?”

For whatever reason, it’s harder to take into consideration people who aren’t seated around the decision-making table. From the church’s standpoint, it’s difficult to consider the impact of decision-making that excludes people who don’t come anyway. You can’t lose what you don’t have, right?

I want to suggest, though, that this failure to factor into decision-making people who love the idea of Jesus—whom they understand to offer an expansive welcome to everyone, but whose followers often cultivate the perception that purity ranks infinitely higher on the list of priorities than hospitality—is one of the reasons young people are staying away from the church … in droves.

According to research done a few years back by the Barna Group, an evangelical research firm, 91% of non-Christians age 16–29 believe that “anti-homosexual” is the term that best describes the church. Among church-going young people of the same age group, the number is only slightly better at 80%.

“Well, of course. The church has traditionally taken a position opposing homosexuality. So, that number may just be describing what everyone already considers the church’s historic position on the issue, not the church’s attitude toward gay people.”

That might be an important objection, except that the Barna Group probed the perception and found that “non-Christians and Christians explained that beyond their recognition that Christians oppose homosexuality, they believe that Christians show excessive contempt and unloving attitudes towards gays and lesbians.” The very group churches say they want to attract—declining mainline denominations in particular—have already formed strong opinions about the church’s moral authority. That’s increasingly problematic.

“Why?”

According to Gallup, the truth of the matter is that “there is a gradual cultural shift under way in Americans’ views toward gay individuals and gay rights.” That shift is toward acceptance. Gallup indicates that “this year [2010], the shift is apparent in a record-high level of the public seeing gay and lesbian relations as morally acceptable.”

And the younger you are, the more likely it is that you believe that “gay and lesbian relations” are “morally acceptable.”

“So, are you saying that the church should just follow the culture?”

No. I’m saying that if you already believe in the acceptance and celebration of folks who are LGBTQ, but resist taking a public position on the issue for fear of alienating people, you need to realize that you’re alienating more and more people every day by not taking that stance. As I said before, if you think the whole LGBTQ issue is wrong tout court, you probably stopped reading a long time ago—since my reflections are aimed at that already-convinced-but-not-ready-to-go-public segment of the church.

“Then, you’re saying that the church should make theological decisions based on pragmatic considerations about church growth.”

Again, no. If you’ve already made the theological determination that LGBTQ people deserve to be received with hospitality in the church but haven’t made the decision to go public, all I’m saying is that refraining from taking a public position on the issue for fear that people will be alienated if you have the discussion, fails to take into account the fact that you’re already alienating another group of people by not having the discussion.

Why not be just as afraid of losing people who aren’t part of the church yet as of the people who might decide to leave? At least in the case of the latter, chances are extremely high that people who leave because you’ve decided to make this decision publicly will find a new church home. In the case of the former, however, chances are they’ll never find a church home.

It’s not easy.

Once again, I'€™ll stipulate that it'€™s difficult. It'€™s hard, potentially-lose-your-job-and-your-friends kind of hard. I know.

But you'€™re a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ; hard is what you do ... €“or, at least, it'€™s what he did.

I didn'€™t make the map; I'm just telling you where I think it leads.


  1. If, however, you happen to be someone who is not convinced that LGBTQ folks should be welcomed into the life of the church, you probably ought to stop now, and go find another article to read, because the rest of this post is only going to irritate you. I don'€™t mean go away for ever, just for the rest of this post.

Phony Theologies and Terminologies

Today, I was kicked out of a Christian ministry. I was asked about my views on homosexuality and the bible.

So I told them.

And they were not happy.

I have been part of this collective ministry for nearly half of a year; it is a valuable ministry in our community. The elements that bind this ministry together include a focus on five things (bible, prayer, God, Jesus, Spirit). Of the many different faith communities that come together to serve, we have all agreed that we would focus on the five main ideas and not get caught up in other areas where we may disagree. But apparently, it is not permissible to believe that some of the words in the bible (i.e. "God is Love" or "For God so Loved the world...") apply to all people because of other words in the bible. I have learned that, for this organization, it is more important to acknowledge the "Truth" of the bible as opposed to the meaning of the gospel.

To me, this whole sad experience has been representative of a broader "conversation" going on in our world.

Throughout our political campaign season (which is the best metaphor I can think of to describe "eternity"), we have heard about "phony theologies" that "aren't based on the bible." We have heard about the policies that each politician has voted on and how close that lines up with "biblical principles." And when we're not referring to the bible as one monolithic voice shouting policy prescriptions for our modern time, we succumb to the tired and easy terminologies of "liberal" and "conservative" Christians - as if all "liberal Christians" were those who took a more metaphorical approach to scripture and all "conservative Christians" took a more literalist approach to scripture (unless this terminology is suggesting that all "liberal Christians" are vegans and all "conservative Christians" have concealed permits).

The way that we've come to be referred to and/or the way that we have often chosen to identify ourselves is not "Christo-centric" but "biblio-centric."

So the questions that are asked are not the meaningful questions like:

How has God's Love transformed you?

Will you commit to Loving God and Loving neighbor with all of your heart, soul, and mind?

But instead we hear questions like, "What are your thoughts on homosexuality?" and "Do you think the bible is true?"

We are in need of new ways to speak about ourselves - new terms that get to the heart of the matter, as it were. So today, I am proposing that we drop all of these biblo-centric terms and adopt some constructive vocabulary that reveals what we in the Church are all about. It's time that we stop referring to ourselves in terms such as "liberal", "conservative", or even "bible-believing" and start identifying ourselves by how much and who we Love (or at least Strive to Love).

We could have "universal Christians" that Loved everyone.

We could have "universal Christians minus enemies" that were almost there.

And we could allow folks who weren't comfortable with the whole GLBT thing to identify themselves as "straight Christians."

Just think of how helpful this could be! Not only could it help avoid awkward conversations like the one I had today, but it would remind everyone (ourselves included) what our faith is all about.

Because, I don't recall Jesus picking up a canonized bible from the future and calling all of his disciples to pick up their cross and swear allegiance to it. I don't recall Jesus welcoming in everyone except "those people." I remember a Christ that said, "Love (even) your enemies", that proclaimed liberation to the enslaved, and brought Good News to the poor.

The first thing we often say about Christ is how much he Loved; perhaps that's how we should be known as well.

Perhaps.

But, then again, what do I know?

I was kicked out of a Christian ministry today.

RECLAIMING CHURCH - REDUX

(Blue Text is an internet link)

(The first version of RECLAIMING CHURCH was published June 3, 2010) (It was the first [D]mergent article by Doug Sloan)

(all scripture references are NRSV)

Have you seen or used the following sermon illustration?

Firmly, I place my hand on the wall of the sanctuary. Loudly, I proclaim, ......"This is not the church!" ......"The building is not the church." ......"It is the people who are the church." ......"Amen."

Do we have any idea what was really just said?

Do we have any idea what it really means?

If the building is not the church, then why do we spend so much time and effort dealing with this physical structure? If the building is not the church, then why is the building so important to us? After our hand-on-the-wall proclamation, have we ever taken a far look in the direction we just pointed? What happens when we extend that thought even further?

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, ......where moth and rust consume and ......where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, ......where neither moth nor rust consumes and ......where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, ......there your heart will be also. ........................Matthew 6:19-21

No one can serve two masters; ......for a slave will either ......hate the one and love the other, or ......be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. ........................Matthew 6:24

As he was setting out on a journey, ......a man ran up and knelt before him, ......and asked him, ............Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?

Jesus said to him, ......Why do you call me good? ......No one is good but God alone. ......You know the commandments: ............You shall not murder; ............You shall not commit adultery; ............You shall not steal; ............You shall not bear false witness; ............You shall not defraud; ............Honor your father and mother.

He said to him, ......Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.

Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ......You lack one thing; ............go, sell what you own, and ............give the money to the poor, and ............you will have treasure in heaven; ............then come, follow me.

When he heard this, ......he was shocked and went away grieving, ......for he had many possessions. ........................Mark 10:17-22 ........................Matthew 19:16-22 ........................Luke 18:18-23

What do capital campaigns and 6- or 7- or 8-digit mortgages (or any mortgage amount) and sanctuaries with high vaulted ceilings and proper acoustic resonance and stained glass windows and basketball courts and dining halls and fully equipped kitchens and sculpted altars and carved pulpits and custom-built communion tables and decorative carpet and imported floor tiles and comfortable color-coordinated congregational seating and vast paved parking lots and meticulously manicured lawns and lavish landscaping have to do with living and sharing the Good News? – Nothing.

What do multiple annual fund-raisers and all the accompanying effort and bother and stress and time and finding workers and managing schedules and obtaining gaming licenses and liquor permits and additional liability insurance have to do with living and sharing the Good News? – Nothing.

What do praise bands and church orchestras and bell choirs and octaves of tuned bells and multi-rank pipe organs and grand pianos and synthesizers and drum sets and adult choirs and children choirs and choir auditions and choir robes and music folders and the search and review and selection analysis and purchase of new music and multi-line PA systems and multi-screen video systems and live broadcasts and recorded broadcasts and hours of rehearsal time and church bulletins and church bulletin art work and church bulletin paper and designer fonts and newsletters and mailing lists and advertising and advertising placement and multi-media web sites and visits by unique IP addresses and the use of and the presence on new media and follow-spots and theatrical lighting and entertainment values and spectacular presentations have to do with living and sharing the Good News? – Nothing.

What do membership drives and attendance numbers and baptism numbers and tithing pledge totals and expected bequests and sustaining endowments and liturgical employees and non-liturgical employees and salaries and benefits and committees and committee meetings and committee responsibilities and church boards and church board agendas and church board votes and the consequential and unavoidable church politics have to do with living and sharing the Good News? – Nothing.

Much of what we call successful church and successful worship and being a successful congregation has nothing to do with living and sharing the Good News.

Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and ......began to drive out those who were selling and ......those who were buying in the temple, and ......he overturned the tables of the money-changers and ......the seats of those who sold doves; and ......he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple.

He was teaching and saying, ......Is it not written, ............My house shall be called ............a house of prayer for all the nations? ......But you have made it a den of robbers. ........................Mark 11:15-17 ........................Matthew 21:12-13 ........................Luke 19:45-46

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and ......the money-changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, ......he drove all of them out of the temple, ......both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and ......overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, ......Take these things out of here! ......Stop making my Father’s house a market-place! ........................John 2:13-16

Once we begin to think of our faith in terms of largeness instead of largess; once we begin to think of our faith in terms of measurable success or significant achievements or community stature or statistically significant gains or business models or congregational models or appropriate budget processes or cash flow direction or generally accepted accounting practices or independent audits or administrative requirements or procedural transparency or proper leadership roles or managerial responsibilities and boundaries or membership trends or effective organizational structures or current and accurate and relevant identity/purpose/vision/mission statements or strategic and tactical plans or valid and useful performance metrics – at that point, we have become money changers and temple authorities, we have deformed from a community into an industry that requires exclusionary individualism. At that point, we have lost our faith and our spiritual direction and we have wandered off the narrow path. At that point, we are colluding with and siding with the Empire instead of the Kingdom of God and we deserve to be rebelled against and driven away for we are neither living nor sharing the Good News. We have become that which the Good News opposes and seeks to replace.

But if it is by grace, ......it is no longer on the basis of works, ......otherwise grace would no longer be grace. ........................Romans 11:6

Yet we know that a person is justified ......not by the works of the law ......but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, ......so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, ......and not by doing the works of the law, ......because no one will be justified by the works of the law. ........................Galatians 2:16

But God, ......who is rich in compassion, ......out of the great love with which he loved us ......even when we were dead through our trespasses, ......made us alive together with Christ – ......by grace you have been saved – ......and raised us up with him ......and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, ......so that in the ages to come he might show ......the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness ......toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, ......and this is not your own doing; ......it is the gift of God – ......not the result of works, ......so that no one may boast. ........................Ephesians 2:4-9

Just because I work incredible good out of unspeakable tragedies doesn’t mean I orchestrate the tragedies. Don’t ever assume that my using something means I caused it or that I needed it to accomplish my purposes. That will only lead you to false notions about me. Grace doesn’t depend on suffering to exist, but where there is suffering you will find grace in many facets and colors. ........................The Shack”, William P. Young, pp. 188-189

The Good News has 3 inseparable messages: 1) The universal accessibility of 1)..the personal and persistent unrestrained love and unconditional grace of God; and 2) The feeding quenching clothing healing visiting welcoming compassion and 2)..the reparative rehabilitating restorative justice of the Community; and 3) The inclusive hospitality and joyous generosity and healthy service of the Individual.

By living the Good News: We promote and provoke the unrestrained love and unconditional grace of God. We search for and find the .....hungry .....thirsty .....naked .....ill and hurting .....lost .....oppressed and enslaved .....excluded .....imprisoned and, both immediately and permanently, they are .....fed .....quenched .....clothed .....healed .....found and rescued and restored to participatory liberty .....freed .....invited and welcomed and included .....provided justice with a life repaired through rehabilitation and restoration ..........and, it is critically important that this is always included, .....all who are served are treated as members of the Community. We define ourselves as Individuals with .....inclusive hospitality .....joyous generosity .....healthy service to others "healthy service" means we understand and engage in .....healthy rest .....healthy nourishment .....healthy education .....healthy solitude .....healthy worship .....healthy relationship with those we serve ..........which does not include suffering or participating in or enabling ...............war ...............murder ...............abuse of others ...............self-destructive behavior ...............enslavement ...............the satisfaction of useless whimsical requests. In this way, we choose, join, become, live, share, and exude the Kingdom of God here and now.

What would happen if church universal assets – every congregational and regional and national property, every seminary, every camp – was sold and the net proceeds were consolidated with church investments and church cash to establish a trust fund endowment to support the services we provide to those whom we are called to serve?

When you want a new status quo – a new status quo so different that the current status quo will be relabeled as "old" – you are asking for revolution. When you desire radical counter-cultural transformation – you are asking for revolution. When you want to end the oppressive Empire ethos of piety, war, victory, peace - you are asking for the Empire to be dismantled and replaced with the Good News, you are asking for revolution. When the church is consumed and possessed by mortgages, capital campaigns, membership numbers, qualifications for membership or deacon or elder, the variety and format of financial reports, redecorating, ordination policies, the proper delineation of committee responsibilities, the aggregation and strengthening and protection of church hierarchical authority, the preference for political associations and prominence instead of being a voice and influence for justice and compassion, seasonal vestment colors, the abandonment and refusal to acknowledge congregations who dare to be excited by their proclaiming and provoking and living and sharing the Good News, the continual choosing and preoccupation with better organization over better outreach, or what styles of worship are to be offered – then it is time for an earth-shaking, stone-rolling, curtain ripping, hurricane-strength, fiery and noisy transformational revolution that will resurrect the Good News in the body and spirit of communities and individuals.

"Doing" has to be the new sole definition of faith. A "new definition of faith" will not be statements of identity/purpose/mission/vision or offering a variety of worship styles at various times and days or hosting church fund raisers that have achieved the status of popular civic events. "Doing" our faith will not promote isolation from people in need or from the present time or from planetary stewardship by valuing hope for an escape into a future post-mortal existence instead of being the response to the divine call to be justly and compassionately involved in the present reality of life. "Doing" our faith will not be glossy advertising campaigns; bigger capital campaigns; better communication and contacts between congregations and local, regional, and national governing boards; on-line seminaries and colleges; common language licensing/ordination policies; new carpet; or more affordable baptistery maintenance contracts. It will be specific activities; specific ways of gracious and grace-full living that are the new definition. Participating in CODA or LifeLine or Habitat for Humanity or Meals on Wheels or the Mental Health Association will not be an outreach activity; it will be what we do and it will be definitive of who we are. Supporting a free health clinic or a food pantry or a shelter for the homeless or hosting a community garden will not be the focus of an annual fund-raising event; it will be part of our continuously active and visible theological and spiritual DNA. Taking a publicly visible and vocal stance of opposition against and non-participation in institutional or legislated injustice will not be an exceptional or cautious action; it will be a bold and expected response arising from a communal personality that yearns for and demands justice and compassion from all public institutions. Worship will be whenever and wherever 2 or 3 (not 200 or 300, not 2,000 or 3,000, not 20,000 or 30,000) are gathered to live, study, and contemplate the Good News - and it will be no less true and no less sacred because there are only 2 or 3 - and it will be no more true and no more sacred because there are more than 2 or 3. Indeed, "doing" will be about living and being the Good News. Worship can be and should be less of a scheduled repetitive activity and more of a community gathering to share and become better acquainted with the presence of God and to mutually seek a better understanding of the Good News.

"Doing" our faith has to be seen as a radical, counter-cultural, defiant, fearless way of living. Our faith is not to be institutionalized. Our faith is not to be measured by or expressed as largeness, cultural pervasiveness, political influence, authoritarianism, or a social or managerial hierarchy. Our faith is not to treat people with: conditional inclusion, tolerance, shame, scorn, ridicule, shunning, rejection, exclusion, or condemnation. Our faith is not to hate people. Our faith is not to ignore people or God. Instead, our faith is to value the presence of God and to value all people and to value God and people together as one community or, better yet, as one family. Our faith is to value knowledge over ignorance and value compassion over knowledge. The way we embrace and treasure and grow our faith is personal and intelligent and loving and divine. The way we "do" our faith is to be personally and intelligently and lovingly and divinely humane. Our faith is to be constantly centered in the love and grace that is the persistent presence of God. The ancient writings of our ancient faith ancestors are to be regarded as human expressions arising out of human experiences with the divine and the profane and the ordinary. Those ancient writings are to be neither considered worthless and ignored nor considered controlling and obligatory. Those ancient writings can be considered instructive and inspirational; providing examples of living either to emulate faithfully or to avoid strenuously; a foundational starting point upon which we build, reach out, move on, and grow beyond the original ancient understanding. Our faithful "doing" is to be rendered and delivered person-to-person, face-to-face, one-to-one – not by an invisible faceless remote committees or collectives. “Doing” our faith can be accomplished only with more personal involvement and presence and not with more communication technology that is newer, faster, more pervasive, more invasive, environmentally expensive, and is used to increase personal remoteness and detachment and decrease personal involvement and presence.

As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; ......and he had compassion for them, ......because they were like sheep without a shepherd; ......and he began to teach them many things. When it grew late, ......his disciples came to him and said, ............This is a deserted place, ............and the hour is now very late; ............send them away so that they may go ............into the surrounding country and villages ............and buy something for themselves to eat.

But he answered them, ......You give them something to eat.

They said to him, ......Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, ............and give it to them to eat?

And he said to them, ......How many loaves have you? ......Go and see.

When they had found out, they said, ......Five, and two fish.

Then he ordered them to get all the people ......to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, ......he looked up to heaven, ......and blessed and broke the loaves, ......and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; ......and he divided the two fish among them all. And all ate and were filled; ......and they took up twelve baskets ......full of broken pieces and of the fish. Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men. ........................Mark 6:34-44 ........................Matthew 14:14-21 ........................Luke 9:12-17 ........................John 6:4-13

In those days ......when there was again a great crowd without anything to eat, ......he called his disciples and said to them, ...........I have compassion for the crowd, .................because they have been with me now for three days .................and have nothing to eat. ...........If I send them away hungry to their homes, .................they will faint on the way— .................and some of them have come from a great distance.

His disciples replied, ......How can one feed these people with bread ............here in the desert?

He asked them, ......How many loaves do you have?

They said, ......Seven.

Then he ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground; ......and he took the seven loaves, ......and after giving thanks ......he broke them ......and gave them to his disciples to distribute; ......and they distributed them to the crowd. They had also a few small fish; ......and after blessing them, ......he ordered that these too should be distributed. They ate and were filled; ......and they took up the broken pieces left over, ......seven baskets full. Now there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away. ........................Mark 8:1-9 ........................Matthew 15:32-39

They devoted themselves ......to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, ......to the breaking of bread and the prayers. All who believed were together and had all things in common; ......they would sell their possessions and goods and ......distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, ......they broke bread at home and ......ate their food with glad and generous hearts, ......praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. ........................Acts 2:42, 44-47

Now the whole group of those who believed ......were of one heart and soul, and ......no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, ......but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony ......to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and ......great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, ......for as many as owned lands or houses ......sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, ......and it was distributed to each as any had need. ........................Acts 4:32-36

This way of living as a community of mutual sufficiency and support did not originate with the early church. It was a very old idea - first described in the written Torah.

There shall be one law for the native and for the alien who resides among you. ........................Exodus 12:49

You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. You shall not abuse any widow or orphan. If you do abuse them, when they cry out to me, I will surely heed their cry; ........................Exodus 22:21-23

If you lend money to my people, to the poor among you, you shall not deal with them as a creditor; you shall not exact interest from them. If you take your neighbor’s cloak in pawn, you shall restore it before the sun goes down; for it may be your neighbor’s only clothing to use as cover; in what else shall that person sleep? And if your neighbor cries out to me, I will listen, for I am compassionate. ........................Exodus 22:25-27

You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with the wicked to act as a malicious witness. You shall not follow a majority in wrongdoing; when you bear witness in a lawsuit, you shall not side with the majority so as to pervert justice; nor shall you be partial to the poor in a lawsuit. When you come upon your enemy’s ox or donkey going astray, you shall bring it back. When you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden and you would hold back from setting it free, you must help to set it free. You shall not pervert the justice due to your poor in their lawsuits. Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent and those in the right, for I will not acquit the guilty. You shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the officials, and subverts the cause of those who are in the right. You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield; but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the wild animals may eat. You shall do the same with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard. ........................Exodus 23:1-11

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God. You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the Lord. You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning. You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the Lord. You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord. You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. ........................Leviticus 19:9-18

The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants. Throughout the land that you hold, you shall provide for the redemption of the land. If anyone of your kin falls into difficulty and sells a piece of property, then the next of kin shall come and redeem what the relative has sold. If the person has no one to redeem it, but then prospers and finds sufficient means to do so, the years since its sale shall be computed and the difference shall be refunded to the person to whom it was sold, and the property shall be returned. But if there is not sufficient means to recover it, what was sold shall remain with the purchaser until the year of jubilee; in the jubilee it shall be released, and the property shall be returned. If anyone sells a dwelling house in a walled city, it may be redeemed until a year has elapsed since its sale; the right of redemption shall be one year. If it is not redeemed before a full year has elapsed, a house that is in a walled city shall pass in perpetuity to the purchaser, throughout the generations; it shall not be released in the jubilee. But houses in villages that have no walls around them shall be classed as open country; they may be redeemed, and they shall be released in the jubilee. As for the cities of the Levites, the Levites shall forever have the right of redemption of the houses in the cities belonging to them. Such property as may be redeemed from the Levites—houses sold in a city belonging to them—shall be released in the jubilee; because the houses in the cities of the Levites are their possession among the people of Israel. But the open land around their cities may not be sold; for that is their possession for all time. If any of your kin fall into difficulty and become dependent on you, you shall support them; they shall live with you as though resident aliens. Do not take interest in advance or otherwise make a profit from them, but fear your God; let them live with you. You shall not lend them your money at interest taken in advance, or provide them food at a profit. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan, to be your God. ........................Leviticus 25:23-38

Speak to the Israelites, and say to them: When you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall select cities to be cities of refuge for you, so that a slayer who kills a person without intent may flee there. The cities shall be for you a refuge from the avenger, so that the slayer may not die until there is a trial before the congregation. The cities that you designate shall be six cities of refuge for you: you shall designate three cities beyond the Jordan, and three cities in the land of Canaan, to be cities of refuge. These six cities shall serve as refuge for the Israelites, for the resident or transient alien among them, so that anyone who kills a person without intent may flee there. ........................Numbers 35:10-15

“I charged your judges at that time: “Give the members of your community a fair hearing, and judge rightly between one person and another, whether citizen or resident alien. You must not be partial in judging: hear out the small and the great alike; you shall not be intimidated by anyone, for the judgment is God’s. Any case that is too hard for you, bring to me, and I will hear it.” ........................Deuteronomy 1:16-17

For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. ........................Deuteronomy 10:17-19

As for the Levites resident in your towns, do not neglect them, because they have no allotment or inheritance with you. Every third year you shall bring out the full tithe of your produce for that year, and store it within your towns; the Levites, because they have no allotment or inheritance with you, as well as the resident aliens, the orphans, and the widows in your towns, may come and eat their fill so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work that you undertake. Every seventh year you shall grant a remission of debts. And this is the manner of the remission: every creditor shall remit the claim that is held against a neighbor, not exacting it of a neighbor who is a member of the community, because the Lord’s remission has been proclaimed. Of a foreigner you may exact it, but you must remit your claim on whatever any member of your community owes you. There will, however, be no one in need among you, because the Lord is sure to bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a possession to occupy, if only you will obey the Lord your God by diligently observing this entire commandment that I command you today. When the Lord your God has blessed you, as he promised you, you will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow; you will rule over many nations, but they will not rule over you. If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be. Be careful that you do not entertain a mean thought, thinking, “The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,” and therefore view your needy neighbor with hostility and give nothing; your neighbor might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt. Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.” ........................Deuteronomy 14:27-29, 15:1-11

If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be. Be careful that you do not entertain a mean thought, thinking, “The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,” and therefore view your needy neighbor with hostility and give nothing; your neighbor might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt. Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.” ........................Deuteronomy 15:7-11

You shall appoint judges and officials throughout your tribes, in all your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, and they shall render just decisions for the people. You must not distort justice; you must not show partiality; and you must not accept bribes, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of those who are in the right. Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, so that you may live and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you. ........................Deuteronomy 16:18-20

When you make your neighbor a loan of any kind, you shall not go into the house to take the pledge. You shall wait outside, while the person to whom you are making the loan brings the pledge out to you. If the person is poor, you shall not sleep in the garment given you as the pledge. You shall give the pledge back by sunset, so that your neighbor may sleep in the cloak and bless you; and it will be to your credit before the Lord your God. You shall not withhold the wages of poor and needy laborers, whether other Israelites or aliens who reside in your land in one of your towns. You shall pay them their wages daily before sunset, because they are poor and their livelihood depends on them; otherwise they might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt. Parents shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall children be put to death for their parents; only for their own crimes may persons be put to death. You shall not deprive a resident alien or an orphan of justice; you shall not take a widow’s garment in pledge. Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this. When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all your undertakings. When you beat your olive trees, do not strip what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not glean what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I am commanding you to do this. ........................Deuteronomy 24:10-22

These are only some of the verses from the written Torah that are concerned with and advocate and demand and require inclusion, justice, forgiveness, and compassion. These are not the only verses – the entire scriptural collection, the Jewish Bible and the Christian Testament, repeatedly speaks of the same concerns, avocations, demands, and requirements. In this light, the scriptures are constantly calling us forward to a better and enlarging and more inclusive and maturing understanding of the will of God for us and for this world. God is always calling us from Exodus to the Promised Land. God is always calling us from Exile to return home.

The “will of God” – what God wants for us – is for us to: ......Be Free and Independent ......Think ......Be Curious ......Be Intelligent and Wise ......Value Knowledge over Ignorance and Compassion over Knowledge ......Be Creative ......Grow and Mature ......Live Long Healthy Satisfying Lives ......Live Non-Violently Without Vengeance ......Be Hospitable ......Be Generous ......Do No Harm ......Provide Justice as Healing and Rehabilitation and Restoration ......Be Forgiving ......Promote and Provide and Protect Reconciliation ......Be Good Stewards of all Resources ......Live Here as One Family ......Live in Loving Relationship with Grace-full God ......Be Transformed through Resurrection ......Be the Kingdom of God here and now

So how do we reclaim the Good News as the sole purpose for church? How do we reclaim the church for and as the Good News? How do we reclaim the church as a community and not as a scheduled activity with secondary social consequences? How do we reclaim the church as a community and not as an Empire organization based on and filled with hubris, sloth, and idolatry? How do we reclaim church as a place where people expect to grow and thrive emotionally, intellectually, theologically, and spiritually? How do we reclaim church as a community with a culture of love, grace, justice, compassion, affirmation, and encouragement for each individual?

There was a time when our choir, after singing the anthem, would leave their seats at the front of the sanctuary, move out into the congregation to be with their family, remove their full-length choir vestments, and sit down. A common tongue-in-cheek observation was that we were the only church in town (county? state?) where you could go to a worship service and watch people disrobe in public.

One way that the church can reclaim the Good News is to strip down to the bare necessities (deliberate song cue) - to start again with only God, Community, and Individuals. Remove burdensome structure - both administrative and physical. Remove all ecclesiastical hierarchy and all religious institutions. Remove all authoritarianism. If only for a month or two, meet for worship as a small group in the home of a member - and each week meet in the home of a different member. Collect offerings only for outreach. Eliminate the church governing board and board meetings. As detailed by Derek Penwell in Killing Church Committees and Other Reflections on Church Organization, eliminate committees and committee meetings. It is time to seriously consider eliminating: musical groups and instruments and rehearsals, fund-raisers, capital campaigns, financial systems, buildings, properties, employees, clergy, and membership rolls. This is not a denial of their "practical" benefits - it is an acknowledgement of how they too easily, even inescapably, become worldly consumptive replacements for the fulfilling and regenerative divine Good News - of how they too easily, even inescapably, become fatal distractions to our living and being the Kingdom of God.

Regardless of the physical and organizational implementation of church reformed and redefined...

Always Imagine Church as worship, studying, sharing in word and service to each other and to the world.

Always Imagine Church as always living and being the Good News as individuals and as community.

Always Imagine Church as the Kingdom of God in this world here and now.

Amen

Is it time to re-imagine theological education?

The following is an excerpt from Phil Snider's blog.

If mainline theological education is broken, it's not for lack of interest from prospective students.

In the book The Hyphenateds, which will be released next week, Nadia Bolz-Weber notes that in the seven-year history of Church of the Apostles (an emerging church in Seattle that is deeply rooted in both the Episcopal Church and the ELCA), nearly thirty participants have enrolled in seminary. Thirty participants in seven years.

Nadia is an ELCA pastor at House for All in Denver, Colorado, where in just seventeen months of weekly worship they have sent three young adults to seminary.

In the congregation where I pastor (Brentwood Christian Church in Springfield, MO, a Disciples of Christ congregation), we have sent seven participants to seminary since we started The Awakening in 2005, a worship gathering that combines progressive theology with alternative expressions of liturgical worship. (The number of participants that went to seminary in the previous 45 years of Brentwood's history? One).

The ratio of participants from emerging mainline communities who enroll in seminary is nothing less than astonishing, even as the number of established churches that are available to support traditional full-time ministers rapidly decrease.

What is it, I wonder, that draws so many participants from hyphenated congregations to ministry? What does this mean for the church as a whole? How do established mainline structures cultivate in-depth theological education and training in ways that constructively address the needs of hyphenateds who are likely to lead innovative ministries on the fringes of church life that will (ironically) result in even more seminary students drawn to ministry on the fringes? How do seminaries respond to the questions raised in Deacon Gus's thought provoking post "Does it make sense to go to seminary?"

By drawing on examples from United Methodist practices, Elaine Heath, professor of evangelism at Perkins School of Theology, writes the following in her contribution to The Hyphenateds:

One of the biggest obstacles at this time for United Methodists who participate in what the Holy Spirit is doing through emergence is an ordination system that no longer fits our missional context. That is, every person who is planning to be ordained as an elder and receive full membership in an annual conference (the level of ordination necessary to have full voting privileges and to enable one to rise to significant levels of leadership, including bishop) must also plan to receive his or her full-time income and benefits from the local church. People aspiring to be elders cannot plan to be bivocational, working as a pastor of small, possibly impoverished faith communities while earning a living doing something else. The only exception to this is for people like me who are already ordained as elders who, at some point after having served in local churches, are appointed beyond the local church to an extension ministry such as teaching at a seminary. Cases where persons are ordained as elders and immediately sent to extension ministries are extremely rare.

There is one more piece to this troubling puzzle. We also have qualified, gifted, called, fruitful candidates whose elder ordination is delayed because there is nowhere to send them for the required, guaranteed, full-time appointment, because so many United Methodist churches are shrinking and closing. These candidates are rarely told that the reason for their deferment is that there is no room at the inn, but it seems clear that this is what is going on. Sadly, this is one of the big reasons that young candidates leave the denomination and go elsewhere, and that some young seminarians decide not to pursue ordination in the first place. The great frustration at this time is that the more innovative and socially entrepreneurial the candidate is, the more suited to generativity, the more at home working in the margins of society, the more interested in bivocational ministry, the less likely it is that she or he will ever make it through to ordination. Without ever having planned for this outcome, then, our ordination system and our guaranteed appointment system work hand in hand to actually prohibit some of our most gifted young adults from answering their call to missional, monastic, and generative ministry within the United Methodist Church. Small wonder that we are having a hard time attracting young adults to ordained ministry in the UMC these days, and keeping the ones who are focused on emerging, missional work!

So it is that across the nation our bishops, chairs of boards of ordained ministry, seminary deans, and clergy are wrestling with how to change the systems in order to accommodate necessary movement without compromising the sanctity of ordination to word, sacrament, and order. Meanwhile, under the radar, out on the margins, and right under our collective noses increasing numbers of Methodists are answering God’s call to create new faith communities that use nontraditional leadership structures, in order to go and make disciples. Most of them don’t care if they ever get ordained. What they do care about is living the gospel in the manner of the early Methodists: faithfully, holistically, as good news in a broken world.

How might mainline communities and structures respond to these concerns? This is just one of many subjects explored in The Hyphenateds, and I look forward to the conversations and possibilities that emerge as we reflect on the future of the church together.

Phil Snider is a pastor at Brentwood Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Springfield, MO. His books include Toward a Hopeful Future: Why the Emergent Church is Good News for Mainline Congregations (winner of the 2011 Mayflower Award for best book in church and society) and The Hyphenateds: How Emergence Christianity is Re-Traditioning Mainline Practices.

Home Improvement

(The following appeared in an earlier version on Rev-o-lution.org) Confession: I am an HGTV junky.  It probably stems from my old rainy-day Saturday afternoon habit with my dad of watching “This Old House” with Bob Villa when the weather kept us inside.  I love watching home improvement and design shows, I enjoy reading Better Homes and Gardens and I can go up and down the aisles of any department store in their home decorating section and spend hours thinking about the ways I can change the décor of my living room to match the season (the latest manifestation of this obsession is finding the site Pinterest—if you value your free time and have an addictive personality, do NOT go there!)

However, there are times when I watch a home improvement show or read an article about a house remodel and my stomach will turn in knots, or I will feel the blood rush to my face and my brow furrow in anger: when the owner or buyer complains about their “dream home becoming a nightmare” because their choice of flooring isn’t in, or the wrong sink was installed from what they ordered.  It’s when the couple gets angry and yells at the contractor or storm out of a conversation because the design they had chosen won’t work and they act like it’s the end of the world.

Why should it bother me when it’s their home and their money?  When I hear those complaints, I start thinking of the homeless families we have known.  Back in Massachusetts, I met a family of five whose apartment flooded and they had no place to go and were sleeping in the basement of a church.  Both parents were working, all three kids were in school and doing well, and they were homeless.  I think of the family of three that moved for a new job only to be let go within the first week because the contract spoken over the phone was not the contract given when they arrived, and they could not afford the rent.  I think of the families here that moved in with friends and in Red Cross shelters after the tornadoes this spring.

But I think not only of the homeless, but all those families who have aspired to own their own home over the years but could not do so.  They could not afford the down payment, even though the monthly mortgage is less than the rent they are paying.  I read an article a few years ago about a woman in the Washington, DC area, who had lived in the same apartment for sixty years, and a family member had gone through her finances when she became ill and realized she could have paid the mortgage twice over—if only she had the money for the down payment.  In our part of Southern Oklahoma, we have more families living below the poverty level in rental homes, and few truly “homeless” people, yet these that live in run-down rental homes, in my mind, are still homeless, in that where they live is not a home, especially when the landlord does not care and the tenants have no idea if they can afford to live there one month to the next.

As I’ve shared on my blog at times, I get a little disgusted the greed of some people in trying to create a “dream home.” For many people, the dream is simply to own their own home, and due to the cost of living that is not possible.

But the other concern I have comes from the Home Improvement industry that has increased dramatically over the last twenty years.  I remember as a child going with my dad to the yearly Home Show.  All of the vendors from around the state would be there with their logos on yardsticks and measuring tapes and paint stirrers—fun trinkets to collect as a child!  Now, though, many of those vendors are out of business.  The last time I was home in Alaska, I was talking to my dad about how the small lumberyards and hardware stores have all gone out of business with the advent of Lowes and Home Depot coming to town—even to our small town in Alaska.

My dad started out as a finish carpenter–doing cabinets and countertops, but now he leaves the houses he builds unfinished. He figures every buyer is so picky these days that he won’t choose something and have a potential buyer not like the choice in cabinet or countertop, so he sells the house, without carpet or hardwood or laminate, without countertops or cabinets, without paint or ceiling tile–just unfinished. Thanks to the Home Improvement Industry, the rest can be taken care of by the buyer, because my dad doesn’t want to deal with people like I watch on the TV, changing their minds and complaining that their dream home is a nightmare.

I love home design and improvement—I love that the skills and knowledge I’ve learned from my dad have carried over into confidence of improving our own home that we bought this summer in Oklahoma.  But I’m a little sad that people no longer call up my dad to do new cabinets or renovate rooms in their house, or that he doesn’t have the confidence to even finish a house to a customer’s liking, because they can get a contractor at the mega home improvement store to do most of that for them now.

We may have lost out on the small hardware stores and local lumberyards in most areas, but we have not lost the ability to help others achieve the dream of owning their own home.  I’ve volunteered with Habitat for Humanity in the past, giving families a chance to not only own their own home but also to take responsibility of their own mortgage payments.

I still love watching design and home improvement shows. But I could do without the people complaining, who will still get a beautiful home once it is all said and done even if it is not exactly the way they wanted or imagined it. They still have a home that is theirs. They still get their American Dream. But there are ways we can turn away from the industry of home improvement to really improving the lives of those who desire to live in a home of their own.  There are housing organizations in local communities that work to help families with down payments and closing costs. You don’t have to go on Extreme Makeover to get a hand.  Families still have to make payments and upkeep and take responsibility for their home, but they get that little help needed to move from renting forever to ownership.

Back in May, my husband and I became homeowners for the first time.  For me, as a Christian home ownership goes hand in hand with hospitality: we may have come to a place in our lives where we feel we have “earned” it or “deserve” to own a home; however, we also have earned the right and responsibility to take care of the home we live in and to share the space when we are called by Christ to do so (read my reflections on Hospitality here).

Reflecting on home ownership has drawn me into these three realizations: one, that we are called to the right and responsibility of home ownership, to be part of the community we live in, to offer hospitality when we feel called by Christ to those in need; two, that we are called to speak on the justice issue of homelessness, especially family homelessness, but also to speak to the housing issues of the poor who have the dream of owning their own home but prior credit or the cost of funding a down payment have kept them out of home ownership; and three, I cannot help but think of Jesus, the son of a carpenter.

We don’t know much about Joseph in the Bible—he is there for a few fleeing scenes of Jesus’ birth and the one scene in Luke 2 of Jesus’ childhood.  We know that Jesus is called the “carpenter’s son” in Matthew and Mark.  In the Old Testament, the carpenters are referred to as the skilled workers whose craftsmanship was important to the construction of the temple and of David’s palace.  In Jesus, I see the carpenter becoming the one who builds the reign of God.

How are we working to build the reign of God in light of homelessness and housing for the poor?  The cries of those who didn’t get the right countertops in their dream home can capture the commercials for home improvement shows on TV, but the cries of those children who move from church basement to church basement, or apartment to apartment, who long for a roof over their heads that is more permanent—these are the cries that call us to action.  There are ways for you and your congregation to be involved, through Habitat for Humanity and other organizations working to cover the gap between can’t affording the down payment and home ownership.  Get involved, and follow the Carpenter who is building the reign of God on earth.

Saving the "Saved" language

Language is a complex concept to begin with.  Add in culture, another complex concept—with regional, ethnic and socio-economic facets—and then generational understandings, speaking to another person even in technically the same language may result in garbled nonsense when trying to have a dialogue.  Then throw in theological language with all those understandings and facets and you begin to understand why two Christians of the same denomination, even the same church, can sometimes believe that they believe in two different Gods, or two different Jesus’. Even though I grew up in a liberal mainline small congregation, in my high school and college years I got very concerned with “being saved,” and with others “being saved.”  Now I have to explain: for some “being saved” means being saved from hell and going to heaven.  For me, “being saved” meant being acceptable to God because somehow I believed in my original state—in other words, who I was—was somehow not good enough for God.  I grasped on to this concept of “being saved” through the end-of-the-week altar calls at church camp, summer after summer.  In college, this manifested itself in the Campus Crusade for Christ meetings and other such gatherings where, most of the time, older men told us that the things we were doing as typical teens and young adults were sinful, that we were separated from God and therefore unworthy.  To make matters worse, often young, charismatic adults were recruited in these gatherings to reach out to us to tell us how we needed to “be saved.”

So nevermind the teachings of my church.  Nevermind the feeling I had when I was thirteen of God moving in me that someday I would be a minister.  Nevermind that I had been baptized when I was thirteen.  I still needed to be saved.  And more than once.  It seemed like I was never good enough for God when all these people kept telling me I needed to be saved.  And I felt that I wasn’t doing my part because I wasn’t out trying to save others all the time (actually, I did try, and I strained a few friendships because of it—people who still to this day won’t set foot in a church, and I played my part).

During my junior year of college when I took a course titled “Fundamentals of Sociology” I began to understand the complexity of social structures, culture, and other layers of our communities.  Even though I am quite certain my professor wanted nothing ever to do with Christianity or religion for that matter (except to study it in research), I credit her with my understanding of systemic sin.  Through that course I began to understand the role of power and patriarchy at play in the Christian church tradition in general.  I began to see how the systems and structures in place in our world kept the power out of the hands of the poor and oppressed.  And I began to see how this power play was at work in the very language of my faith.

I abandoned the term “saved” at that time.  I wanted nothing to do with being saved.  I was definitely a follower of Jesus but I was no longer trying to coerce others to think and believe the way I wanted to.  I stopped using much of the language of the Christian youth gatherings I had been a part of.   I stopped singing the praise songs about redemption and sacrifice.  I stopped going to any gathering where crying would be part of the worship experience.  I wanted to get away from anything that was emotionally charged, where power played on the fears of others, where emotions were manipulated to get us to commit to a relationship we already had with God.  I refused to use the word “saved.”

Even in seminary I avoided the term “saved.”  I argued with my field education supervisor who told me that there may be times when I need to “speak the language” that I still could not bring myself to use a word that had been used in such a manipulative, even abusive, way.  I would not ever make someone feel that they were not good enough for God.  I would not ever use a word that had made me feel that I was hopeless, helpless, and unworthy, the way I had perceived others telling me I needed to be “saved.”

Then it happened.  A family started coming to my church, a blended family with unmarried parents.  One of the parents came to me and asked me about what they needed to do to be “saved.”  I was taken aback.  At first I tried to explain that God desires relationship with us and that we can be in relationship with God and others, but as we talked, I realized she was very concerned about wanting to be in heaven.  She needed the reassurance.  She needed the hope.  And I realized I could not have a different conversation about Christ without her having the assurance first that she was “saved.”  So I did something I hadn’t done in years.  We prayed a salvation prayer, similar to the ones I had learned in my conservative youth group days.

But the difference this time was that the journey didn’t end there.  This was the beginning.  We were able to continue to meet, dialogue, and pray together, and her understanding of relationship with God through Jesus developed far beyond just a doorway into heaven.

I’m still not a fan of saying one needs to “be saved” or “get saved” in terms of talking about my own faith journey.  But I recognize that while for me, that language seemed damaging and hurtful, for others, it is familiar and comforting.  And having known people coming out of addiction or out of prison, people who have been able to come out of the darkness of depression—sometimes, people really are “saved” by Christ, in the real sense of the word: without relationship with Christ, they would have been lost, dead.

There is a danger, and I know I am guilty of this, in allowing language to be co-opted by another group, to the point one refuses to use it anymore.  In the liberal/mainline church, we have begun to abandon the language of our tradition and have allowed it to be used and misused by others.  Evangelical basically means “eager to share the Gospel.”  The Good News of Jesus the Christ.  But we have allowed evangelical to mean a particular theological/political slant.  We have abandoned the language of redemption and salvation at times to leave behind blood atonement theologies that don’t work for us, choosing a friendlier language for Jesus (remember “Buddy Jesus” from Dogma?) as if Jesus went smiling to the cross, instead of suffering, and dying.

Language matters.  And sometimes we in the liberal/mainline church have given over the language of our tradition to the point that our language cannot cross social-cultural boundaries.  We cannot reach out to those looking for a more progressive church home who still value their faith in Jesus, who understand their Savior as one who has really saved them from a life of sin, or from a life without meaning, or from hell itself.

As our 21st century church cultures continue to shift and transform, I think we will find many more who have grown up in the evangelical or fundamentalist churches looking for congregations that are welcoming and affirming of GLBTQ folk, congregations committed to social justice, congregations truly trying to make a difference in the world around them, here and now.  But can we learn their language and even have a conversation, or do we assume that they are abandoning their concept of relationship with Jesus as Savior as they abandon the prejudices their old churches may have held?  Can we speak the language of “being saved” by Christ, and understand our own faith journey in a language that we have once shed?  Can we share our language in a way that is not condescending or judgmental of the variety of theological backgrounds we come from?

WikiChurch

http://theprophetisaiah.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/wikipedia-summary1_1384405c.jpg (Originally posted on Isa 61)

Restless and unsettled by the failure of organized religion in its current form to feed our people--both literally and spiritually--I am somewhere between preoccupied and obsessed with the model through which humanity will dismantle the Empire and clear the way for the coming Kin-dom of God.

It's harder than I thought it would be to imagine the future of faith communities. The paradigm of Church as we have known it for centuries is pervasive. I close my eyes and see a blank sheet of paper, but before long, the images of a building with rows of pews or chairs all facing a dude in the pulpit on Sunday morning have weaseled their way onto the blank space. Sure, we can make the building into a high school gym or put jeans on the dude in the chancel or make it Saturday night, but the elements are the same.

When I think about the new church, by reflex, real estate is the first consideration. Raising money is the next.

That just rubs me the wrong way.

What if we started somewhere completely different?

What if we began with the precept that what we are doing is writing a narrative? The history of humanity is the narrative of God's people in and out of faithfulness. The narrative reveals something about humanity, in all it's ugliness and failure, but also in its inherent beauty and redemption. It is a story of love and hope, in spite of pain and struggle. It is also a narrative about God. God revealing something about Godself in all her transcendent power, her boundless love and forgiveness, in all her close, intimate concern for each atom of Creation, even in this very moment. This is a narrative that isn't over. We're writing it still, in collaboration with God and one another.

Now this model, instead of trying to imagine something about an unknown future, acknowledges what we have been doing all along. It simply names a paradigm that is emerging already. This blog is a manifestation of the shift away from the institutional, authoritarian (and consumption-oriented) model of the Church towards the collaborative, relational, subversive attention to the narrative itself. The many disjointed movements sprouting up are evidence of a power shift from the top to the bottom. It looks like Wikipedia. It looks like Occupied Cities. These are movements with no endgame. The movement is the endgame.

So, on the question of the emerging Church: it's already happening. And yet, there is much to be done. The question is not how to unify various movements, but rather how to bring intentionality to the writing, sharing and preservation of this narrative. We don't need to get rid of the preacher, but we would better be served by making her role subservient to the collaborative story model rather than the other way around. We can still use real estate, but if it doesn't serve as a character in this narrative, housing the poor, amplifying the voice of the voiceless, educating our children, giving space for God to speak, and for the love of God -here's the important part- giving space for us to listen, then burn it down. Our buildings must be the pages upon which this story is written, if they are anything at all. Our preachers must become Listeners in Chief first and foremost. They must be facilitators otherwise. Our every step, our every breath must be imbued with mindful intention that our primary function on this planet is to make a (light) imprint on the canvass of Creation, to continue the story of our waxing and waning faithfulness, to reveal how God poured her love into the world to heal it's deep wounds.

And writing this story requires that we nonviolently resist and dismantle the Empire. I hate to break it to you, but this is going to get ugly. We're going to have to say goodbye to our money and power and influence. We're going to have to become poor. We're going to have to become marginalized. The white, straight, American men among us are going to have to stop relegating our surplus compassion to the cause of justice, but give it all away. All of it. Every last bit. And I don't mean that metaphorically. None of us are free until all of us are free. Solidarity with those whom are crushed under the boot of the Empire is the only way this thing works. Not metaphorical solidarity.

Yes, they will kill us, just as surely as they killed us in the chapters before now. But I've peeked ahead to see how this thing ends. And I assure you that none of us who die in the name of compassion will have died in vain.

RECLAIMING FAMILY

.....Here is a simple exercise:

Start with yourself.

You have two (2) biological parents. (Hereafter, the word "biological" will be assumed.) You are directly related to each parent.

You have four (4) grandparents. You are directly related to each grandparent.

You have eight (8) great-grandparents. You are directly related to each great-grandparent.

You have sixteen (16) great-great-grandparents. You are directly related to each great-great-grandparent.

By now, you should have the idea. Every time you step back another ancestral generation, the number of generational ancestors doubles.

Let's run the numbers as a two-column list. In the first column is the sequence number of the ancestral generation. In the second column is the number of people in that generation.

GENERATION - NUMBER OF PEOPLE IN THAT GENERATION 01 - 2 (parents) 02 - 4 (grandparents) 03 - 8 (great-grandparents) 04 - 16 (great-great-grandparents) 05 - 32 ( - simile - ) 06 - 64 07 - 128 08 - 256 09 - 512 10 - 1,024 11 - 2,048 12 - 4,096 13 - 8,192 14 - 16,384 15 - 32,768 16 - 65,536 17 - 131,072 18 - 262,144 19 - 524,288 20 - 1,048,576 21 - 2,097,152 22 - 4,194,304 23 - 8,388,608 24 - 16,777,216 25 - 33,554,432 26 - 67,108,864 27 - 134,217,728 28 - 268,435,456 29 - 536,870,912 30 - 1,073,741,824

Your ancestors 30 generations ago are your grandparents preceded by the word "great" 28 times and, mathematically, there was over a billion of them.

If each generation represents 30 years, then your (great x 28) grandparents lived 900 years ago or (for the year 2011, the year this article was published) the year 1111 CE.

Based on six different studies of historical populations; the number of people in our 30th ancestral generation far exceeds the largest estimate of the global population in the year 1111. According to these six studies, it was not until the time span from the late 1700s to the early 1800s that the global population exceeded one billion. Based on these studies and our ancestral calculations, each of us is directly related to every person who lived in the year 1111 or, if a person was childless, we are directly related to the siblings or parents of that childless person. Furthermore, in the same way, each of us is directly related to every person who lived prior to the year 1111. This means that each of us is directly related to each and every monarch, king, emperor, pharaoh, caesar, caliph, ruler, pope, bishop, cardinal, priest, priestess, prophet, shaman, oracle, knight, soldier, sailor, fisherman, farmer, hunter, herder, carpenter, mason, artist, seamstress, peasant, slave - without exception, every person that lived prior to 1111. Each of us is related to Mohammed, Jesus, Confucius, Buddha, Moses and Abraham.

With this understanding of our universal connectedness to the past, we discover two contemporary humorous ironies:

1) Not only was the Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown a rip-roaring entertaining mystery-adventure novel, its plot dependence on the existence of a line of descendants of Jesus was a joke. If Jesus did have children, then each of us is a direct descendant of Jesus. If Jesus did not have children, then each of us is a direct descandent of the brothers and sisters of Jesus.

2) There is no such thing as a nine-century-long (or longer) line of royal ancestry. Each of us is a direct descendant of every royal family that lived prior to 1111.

The bottom line is this - we are all cousins and we are all mutts. We are one family and we are the only family. In an objective and indisputable way, we make the point of the universal family by moving backwards from today through our own genealogy, by traversing a history that is personal and direct. In doing so, we are forced to confront our universal connection to all people and all events that, previously, we thought either defined us separately and exclusively or divided us along lines of opposition. We have just proven that there are no races, no tribes, no ethnic groups, no castes, no royalty, no aristocracy, no social classes, no families and there has not been for at least 30 generations. Here is the real kicker – this same exercise, this same proof will have the same result for each generation. It was true for our parents. It was true for our grandparents. It was true 1000 years ago and it was true 4000 years ago - it has always been true.

Even though 1st Century CE did not have the same mathematics or even the same numbering system (base 10, a 10-digit numbering system that includes a zero digit and uses positional notation) there was still an understanding of the one universal family.

An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, .....the son of David, .....the son of Abraham.

02) Abraham was the father of Isaac, 03) and Isaac the father of Jacob, 04) and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, 05) and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, 06) and Perez the father of Hezron, 07) and Hezron the father of Aram, 08) and Aram the father of Aminadab, 09) and Aminadab the father of Nahshon, 10) and Nahshon the father of Salmon, 11) and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, 12) and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, 13) and Obed the father of Jesse, 14) and Jesse the father of King David.

01) And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, 02) and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, 03) and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, 04) and Abijah the father of Asaph, 05) and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, 06) and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, 07) and Joram the father of Uzziah, 08) and Uzziah the father of Jotham, 09) and Jotham the father of Ahaz, 10) and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 11) and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, 12) and Manasseh the father of Amos, 13) and Amos the father of Josiah, 14) and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers,

01) at the time of the deportation to Babylon. And after the deportation to Babylon: 02) Jechoniah was the father of Salathiel, 03) and Salathiel the father of Zerubbabel, 04) and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, 05) and Abiud the father of Eliakim, 06) and Eliakim the father of Azor, 07) and Azor the father of Zadok, 08) and Zadok the father of Achim, 09) and Achim the father of Eliud, 10) and Eliud the father of Eleazar, 11) and Eleazar the father of Matthan, 12) and Matthan the father of Jacob, 13) and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, 14) of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.

So all the generations from Abraham to David are .....fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, .....fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, .....fourteen generations. ..........Matthew 1:1-17

This genealogy had at least two purposes: 1) To shockingly illustrate the inclusive nature of their ancestral history by including 4 women (their mention is emphasized in red), all of whom had an eye-brow-raising personal history.

2) By starting with Abraham, every Jew would realize that every Jew has the same history and that every Jew has an ancestry made possible by the inclusion and involvement and contributions of widows and gentiles and foreigners and outcasts and that their ancestors lead lives of questionable virtues and horrible mistakes and truly evil deeds as well as lives of great accomplishment, of questing for God and questioning God and wrestling with God and making peace with God and being in relationship with God.

We are one family We are only one family We are only family We are family There is no "here" and "there" There is no "us" and "them" There is only us There is only here .....and it has always been so.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

The previous [D]mergent articles by Doug Sloan are listed here in order of publication: ..........RECLAIMING CHURCH ..........GOD IS... ..........RECLAIMING GOD ..........RECLAIMING MIRACLES ..........RECLAIMING NOT ..........RECLAIMING the GOOD NEWS - an epistle ..........RECLAIMING FORGIVENESS - it's personal ..........REFORMATION II ..........GOD IS - an update ..........RECLAIMING SCRIPTURE ..........RECLAIMING EXODUS ..........RECLAIMING EDEN ..........RECLAIMING THE ISSUES ..........RECLAIMING QUEERS

Kegger at Jesus'!

When I was in high school, I lived for someone's parents to leave and for the house party to go off. I was part of that group that played the music or threw the parties. I was not musically inclined outside of the random hardcore and punk groups I got to front. I was a really big fella. So, I got to bounce all the parties. When someone's parents were planning that weekend getaway, we were playing that weekend's kegger.

I get butterflies just writing about it now. So and so would inform someone that their parents were going out of town and that they would be left 'home alone!" That someone would call another person and soon the bands were organized, the kegs procured and the buzz spread. This was how our emerging suburban Los Angeles scene flowed.

That Friday after school we would show up to the "abandoned" house with sound equipment. We would set up and do a sort of silent sound check. Folks would arrive with the kegs (The funny part is that we used to buy Near Beer cause it was cheaper and we made more money from it. Nobody knew the difference.) The kegs would be iced and we would set a perimeter for security.

Then as evening approached the car loads of teenage boys and girls would park and walk up to the party. I would collect money from them and mark their hands with a marker. We could make a couple thousand of dollars from the five-buck admission we charged for Near Beer and "decent" angry youth music. Every once and a while I would let a cute girl in, hoping that would better my chance of her thinking I was cool and I could ask her out.

The backyard would fill up. Every nook and cranny would be filled and they all awaited the stage to light up and the band to play. We were kings of our little fiefdom fueled by punk and hardcore, all of us looking for something to be angry about or someone to listen to our anger.

The band would take the stage and unleash a massive wave of shock and awe upon the Near Beer soaked crowd of kissy-faced teens and macho shirtless, mohawked man-boys. We would storm our anger in to the pit and smash each others faces as we fought the changing world around us. Gone was the safety of Big Wheels and comic books. This was the post-Reagan era in an area roughed up by cuts to the Military Industrial Complex. We knew a few of us had a future; we just were not sure of who those few were. Our dream was to graduate high school and maybe get a job at SEARS fixing washer and dryers. We might be considering college as a way to escape the uncertainty but tonight we had the "pit."

Then, just as we really started getting in to it and that cute girl I let in for free was going to give me her number the COPS showed up. A neighbor had called the police and demanded they break up the party. There was a mass exodus from the backyard. Sweaty mohawked teens jumped fences carrying their teenaged angst with them. The "drunken" teen girls sat dazed and confused, only to be pulled up by their friends and make a mad dash to the other door. The police, almost lovingly, flashed their flashlights on the exiting crowds making sure they dumped out the beers and walked home.

The band tried to pack up really quickly so their gear would not get confiscated. The someone whose house it was cried inside as they saw their social life waver. I was gone when we saw the police pull up and shouted out to the others, "POLICE!" We were already a block over before the mohawked kids jumped the fence.

The parents are called and the someone is reprimanded. That someone has the potential to be legend. The parental fears are stoked and they never go on another vacation again.

I fear that the church looks at the younger generations with this kind of dread. "If we leave, they will mess it all up." True, we are excited and do not look at the world with the same kind of eyes. We are uniquely ourselves. We have different values. We have different priorities. We have different dreams and hopes for our lives. We have different pressures and woes. We are different.

Almost 20 years later, if left with an empty house I am more likely to got to bed early than throw a kegger. My youth is fleeting. I am nearer to 40 than I am to 30. In my youthful sunset I hear "We need young families/young adults/youth in the church" a lot. It seems to be all over the church profiles out there.

Every church is looking for a 30-something pastor. He is white, tall with a nice build. He has a beautiful wife that studied music in college and they have three lovely, well behaved children that angelically glide around church without a sound.

He is great with youth, can preach like Craddock, tell stories like Hemingway, is the best counselor, can fundraise blood from a turnip and will get butts in the seats to continue the ministry of the church just as it always has been.

The problem is that that guy no longer exists. No one can do everything.

There are countless folks out there searching for a place to serve. Every year we graduate another class of hopeful ministers in to a system with no room for them to serve. As the church wrestles with what to do many creative, young ministers leave ministry for "a job." They leave the church.

These are folks that our institutions have invested time, money and hope over a three to four year period. We have encouraged them to follow a discernment process towards a vocation that may or may not be able to embrace them. Our system is broken.

The brokenness of our church institutions and the slow moving process towards change has disabled our efforts to be the pioneering voice we once were. We exist primarily for ourselves. If your operating budget exceeds your mission budget you are inward focused. Jesus calls us to go out in to the world and make Disciples.

Have we abandoned this work? I hear "I love your ideas but we don't have any money." as much as I hear "We need to do something." What are we going to do? The angry, punker inside me demands more for this community I have aligned myself with.

You promised to walk with me in community and support when I took my vows of ordination. When I was baptized you as the church promised to raise me in the ways of Christ. I am weary of the inward focus. Who will stand up and be evangelized by the Millennials? Who will answer the call to receive the missionaries from Gen X?

There is a better way to be "church" in this world. The brick and mortar spaces we lovingly tend to may be hedging us in. How do we liberate ourselves from yesterday that we may die and be born again for tomorrow?

Who will join the party? Our parents are out of town and there is a raging party set to go off! Who is going to be there? All are invited. All are welcome. You just have to show up, be willing to rage and clean up afterwards.