spirituality

Home-made Food

By Colton Lott

 

Writing these articles for [D]mergent, and namely you, is a process. The idea for an article usually pops into my head a week to ten days before you read about it on Friday. I write it up a few days later, revise it, send it for review, and then the electrons push it out for you to enjoy over morning coffee.

What I’ve just listed is the ideal process, and I think in the course of this summer I’ve had the sequence of events flow that perfectly and that smoothly once. I have an irrational faith in process, though, and despite my best efforts, I secretly believe that if I could just follow the process more carefully, I would churn out blue ribbon articles every single week.

Last week was a struggle to get “Incarnational Connections” to come together. I don’t think it was my best work, even after considerable editing. I was moaning to my editor (my significant other) that I was disappointed in the piece.[i] I wasn’t sure if I had a good idea behind all the clutter of the words or if my problem stemmed from attempting to polish a mundane experience into a holy lesson.

As I wailed on, she listened and finally said, “Colton, I think you’re trying too hard to be your professor. People don’t expect you to be smart all the time. Sometimes, people just want something that’s simple and good.”

Besides writing, one of my other passions is cooking. When I was a little kid, I borrowed a mortar and pestle to make new spice blends like Emeril Lagasse. Every Thanksgiving, my favorite memories were helping Dad with the pumpkin pies (we have a secret family recipe, which is mostly contained on the back of Libby’s Canned Pumpkin). I’ve always loved the interactive art of cooking much like I enjoy writing. You throw some things here, a dash of this, a little of that, and out pops an article/three course dinner.

Creating, and subsequently enjoying, fine dining and ideas are incredibly important. One stretches their palate and their mind. A form of beauty or goodness is often understood in a deeper or new way. To put it bluntly, we grow.

But when we over-emphasize haute cuisine or delectable writing, we can forget the importance of their sustentative qualities.

A few years ago, the leaders of the church I was interning with wanted to start being more spiritual leaders. As such, they were going to start by using the same daily devotional book. I hated their choice of devotional. I didn’t want to say anything, but I knew that I would be asked my opinion. Despite my earnest attempts to be delicate, I nevertheless spilled out that it bored me due to its exceptionally simplicity.

After the meeting, my minister pulled me aside. He told me that he loved to dive into a juicy article on theology and enjoyed the heady stuff. I quickly assured him that I had no doubt that he enjoyed reading such things, and I hoped he knew that I wasn’t trying to say that he was overly sim—

“But,” he continued on, “it’s important to find something that is nourishing on a daily basis, too.”

In our search for the perfect dish, made with obscure ingredients and the garnishes positioned so carefully that a magnifying glass is required, do we stop and thank mom for the meatloaf and mashed potatoes? Is there an understanding that the mac-and-cheese can come out of a box sometimes? I can only imagine what pressures pulpit ministers feel to provide fresh bread to their congregations.

At heart, I think I’m asking about whether a middle space exists. Is there a place where both exquisite and home-styled ideas can be enjoyed and seen as valuable? Can we nosh on “God loves you” and challenges to Anselm-ian theologies of substitutionary atonement?

After writing about vulnerability all summer, I’m sharing one of mine with you: I want you to think that I am intelligent, that I have something to say, and that you’ll read my articles and share them because they’re good, not just because you’re my grandmother/college friend/church elder/impressionable youth. But when I boil it down in the stock pot, my calling in this time and place is to be cooking up good food for my family, friends, and church. Optimistically I can put a flair on my work, but most importantly I hope we can all commit to being both sustained and stretched as we continually search and experience the Kingdom of God.

So with that being said… pass the biscuits!

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[i] It should be noted that my grandmother also proofs my articles for grammar and content. I am much loved. 

 

Vulnerable Worship

 

By J.C. Mitchell

                Growing up in the Roman Catholic tradition we would gather at special times for our Christening, First Communions, and Confirmation Worship Celebrations.  I was intrigued by the inclusion of these rites in the United Methodist Church that enticed me toward the Protestant expression of the church.  The baptisms were quite similar to what I knew, but the whole congregation and visitors were included, and at Confirmation the faith stories where shared with everyone.  Of course communion was always open to be the first on the first Sunday of the Month. 

                Serving a UMC church later, I recall having a child visit the time I was bringing a class to observe and partake in communion.  This child had one parent that was Roman Catholic, so she mentioned afterwards it was her first communion.  The parent that brought her confirmed this, but made it clear it was great how she was included, and there were years of relationship with this church afterwards to confirm this sentiment.  I wanted it to be clear we celebrated what she thought as special, so her first correspondence from the church was a first communion card and a small inexpensive cross..

                All of our worship services can be, and perhaps should be, a celebration of life together, neighbors and strangers..  At Hope Church Boston (now Hope Central Church), this became a common occurrence when many people were getting married, especially when Marriage Equality was achieved first in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. There were many couples that had been in committed relationships for years and when they wanted to tie the knot, they decided to do so during the regular worship service.  Mixed among those dressed up were people visiting the first—but not last—time.  What a way to celebrate an important act in the life of not just those two individuals but the whole church!  This is why I believe it became standard practice at that church to ordain those in-care, such as myself, during the regular service.  While similar to a typical service, I was honored not just as the one ordained, but as the church universal celebrating the acceptance of an individual into such service. 

                Now I am serving a congregation that will call you a younger adult if you are 79 or younger. We even sold our building because the reality of the situation and our understanding of the Gospel has made it possible to free up funds for ministries and charities, locally and globally.  They did not stop worshiping together and have found a home in an elementary school’s multi-purpose room, not unlike the cafeteria they worshiped in as younger adults before the building of the complex we sold.  It becomes sacred space conveniently at the sacred time, with good flat access.

                We had a beloved man in this church who was in his mid-nineties who had no children with his wife, who had passed on a few years prior.  When he passed away, there was not a family asking me to find a church to borrow or rent for a memorial service.  I could tell that honoring his life was important for the church family, so I suggested we do a memorial for him during our typical Sunday morning service.  We even sent the invitation to some of his cousins who after the service thanked me greatly, and among those gathered were close friends and even the woman that just starting attending.  It fulfilled our need to memorialize our brother in Christ.

                Now we have done two more like this in the Multi-Purpose room, and others have mentioned how wonderfully apropos it was to incorporate the memorials into our typical services, and that they planned on such services in the future.  Of course, there is certainly some convenience for my congregants where travel is more difficult, and even though the church we borrow is lovely, it is not the space we gather in.  Of course this saves money as well, but I think there is something more to this practice, as Hope Church did with some marriages and most ordinations, including the life of the church within the typical service, which includes death as well.

How does our typical worship reflect the life we know as the church body?  Do we uphold mourning and celebration?  Do we celebrate the diversity of life within the uniqueness of our situations?  Does our typical worship service draw us into deeper vulnerability with not only our known members, but the visitor and even the stranger? 

 


I Wasn't Born This Way

By Colton Lott

 

I was riding in the car with my brother, Chase, a few weeks ago when I asked him, “Does it ever both you that I’m so liberal?”

Before I could even get the words out of my mouth, he replied quickly and decisively, “Yes!”

My heart broke a bit because I never intended to be a polarizing force nor did I ever try to be part of the “fringe.” I’ve become fairly lefty-loosey in my thinking, which is tolerable in the rest of the world but down right heretical in my home-base of rural Oklahoma.

As I thought of how Chase and I became separated by a political cavern, I wanted to retrace my steps. I previously scorned folks who embraced their socio-poli-religious tribe, and now I can be identified with a moniker. How did this happen? Why was it that I developed ways of thinking, speaking, voting, and living that gained me the title of “one of those liberals?” I wasn’t born to think a certain way, and for the most part I wasn’t raised to be this way. Somehow, I developed and evolved into a card-carrying lefty that annoyed my brother, worried my paternal grandmother, and delighted my father, because he now had a sparring partner. Why did I carry reusable shopping bags much to my brother’s annoyance? Why was I giving a theological and biblical explanation of embracing same-sex marriage to his friends over their “man-meal?” Why did I stop using masculine pronouns for God, even though saying “Godself” is clunky, strikingly out of place in the milieu in which I am living, and generally considered overkill here?

Some of this evolution is due to my education. I went to a small, liberal arts college, and even though “liberal arts” refers to the breadth of academic disciplines and not to a political position, there is a good chance one can discover the fine art of being a liberal in such an environment. Some of it was other members of my family, and as I’ve written before, my maternal grandmother had a profound effect on my thinking at a young age. But even though she was left of center, she was one of a few in my family.

When I dig as deeply as I can into myself, the biggest reasons that I grew into who I am is because of my faith and my experiences in churches with thoughtful clergy. I carry those silly bags into the local grocery store because God’s creation is beautiful, and it was God that crafted humanity for the care of that creation. I go to the Local Grocery Store, and avoid Big Box Stores whenever possible, because I believe God calls us to be generous, that we shouldn’t glean our pennies off the backs of producers and workers—that a worker is worthy of their hire and deserves to live a full life for a full day’s work.[i] I speak about communities that have been afflicted by prejudice by those with privilege because that is what I read Jesus doing in the gospels. My faith was taught to me through a church and by ministers that value education, deep reflection, and taking the Biblical narrative serious.

It would be a woeful oversight to say that “Jesus made me liberal,” because there are quite a few that claim “Jesus made me conservative.” But my experience, wrapped in my family, my civic community, my faith community, my educators, and the travels and journeys I have taken along the way color the way I read the Bible, and in turn the holy texts have colored the way that I see each of these influences in my life.

I’m sorry, Chase, that I have grown into that which is aggravating, silly, or in your opinion, wrong. Just please know that I am trying to follow Christ in the way I know best because of who I’ve become. I don’t think, act, vote, preach, or believe this way in spite of Jesus, but because of Jesus. Although we disagree, and we do so frequently, know that at the core of these conversations we both have a heart that so desperately wants to help others…to be and share good news, good news which saved both of us, albeit we understand this in vastly different ways. Even though it can be uncomfortable, we manifest God’s love in our own distinct way. In love much is the same and we don’t have to call it liberal or conservative; we can simply call it love, be thankful for it, and take comfort that it perpetually exists between us.

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[i] Chase, who reviewed this post before I published it, told me that in our hometown the Big Box Store pays more per hour than the Local Grocery Store. While I would still question buying practices and misuse of power, there is something to be said about challenging presuppositions and being forced to live in a world of economic grayscale. 

The Pursuit of Contentment

Rev. Aaron Todd

I did it again; I didn’t mean to, it just happened.  It was an innocent mistake, and it happened so fast.  Yesterday morning I walk into our Sunday school room where I was surprised (and pleased) to see a room full of smiling, happy, and awake(!) teenagers.  As I sat down to begin our conversation for the morning, my attention was drawn not to the kids that had crawled out of bed and meandered their way into our youth room, but instead to the kids who, for whatever reason, where not there.  As I took a mental inventory of our attendance, I couldn’t help but think, “Where is______ and _________?”  

Thankfully it did not take long to snatch my brain away from those questions and bring it back to the present moment, but now I find myself thinking back to that moment during our Sunday morning gathering where I neglected to give thanks for who was present, but instead lamented those who were not.  And what amazed me (in a not-so-good way) was how quickly those thoughts came on and how natural they seemed.  It seemed like second nature to think such thoughts and to find my brain and my heart wandering away from the present moment.  

As I made the return to youth ministry last year I made the commitment to myself and to my congregation that I would, among other things, “pursue contentment.” That is, to give thanks for the present moment and to be fully attentive to who is with me and whatever is currently occupying our time.  I have made this one of what I call my “Ten Commitments for Youth Ministry” and it is the one that proves to be the hardest for me to maintain and uphold with any sort of regularity.  This is something that I have, and continue to struggle with, both in ministry and in my personal life. I often will find my brain wondering to other things and other places, and I will admit to the constant tug-of-war that exists in my head and in my heart between the “now” and the “could be.” I am committed to doing better and I am give thanks for a very high level of grace that exists within my family and within my congregation as I continue this pursuit of contentment.  

I also give thanks for the realization and the understanding that I am not alone in this struggle or in this journey.  The road towards a sense of contentment is one that many, if not all, of us find ourselves desiring to travel and it is the struggles that we encounter along this journey that personifies a very real element of the human condition; the penchant for wondering and dreaming about what “could be” and not focusing on and giving thanks for, “what is.”  This element of our humanity manifests itself in all varieties of ways, both within our professional life as well as our personal one.  For some of us it is the continual dream for a different job, more money, or perhaps greater authority.  For others it is the pursuit of more and more “stuff; “the car, the house, the latest gadget or gizmo.  Even still, for some it is the desire for different people to be in our lives than the ones that are currently present. 

 Tragically, often we see these desires and dreams acted upon in not so healthy ways.  Perhaps we read the story last week about the girl who was preparing to begin a job at a pizzeria, was not all that pleased with her new working conditions, and decided to share her displeasure on social media.  The result predictably was that she found herself out of a job.  Instead of perhaps working to clean up and/or modernize her new gig, or to just be thankful she had a source of income, she chose a different, unhealthy path, and paid the price for it. Perhaps we know someone (or are that someone) who has dedicated themselves to the relentless pursuit of the newest “stuff.” This is certainly a temptation that I have to combat regularly as I remind myself that what I have is perfectly good and useable and because I am lucky enough to possess a phone, TV, and a laptop computer, I am in a decidedly more secure place than an overwhelmingly large percentage of the population.  

How difficult it can be to remain content with what is. 

While this is true in many elements of our life, so it is true in the Church as well.  How ironic it is that we who have dedicated our lives to following in the footsteps of the one who told Martha that Mary had chosen the “better thing” and who implored his disciples to stay awake and pray so that they would not fall into temptation often find ourselves looking ahead or elsewhere, thinking about would could (or should) be.  How often do we find ourselves comparing our worship attendance, youth groups, or outreach ministries alongside the congregation down the street?  How often do we feel the temptation to either embellish (ever so slightly) what it is we are doing in order to save face or “keep up with the (insert any other denomination here)” or to speak about our own worship settings in some sort of depreciating manner?  How often do we catch ourselves, like I did yesterday morning, lamenting those who are not present in worship or in youth group or the ministry that has not borne fruit, often doing so at the great expense of paying full attention to who has come to our events and the ministries that are in fact changing lives? 

And now perhaps I am the only one that is tempted by such things, maybe it is just me that struggles with remaining completely present and content in the moment, but I doubt it.  And the truth is that when we do such things, when we fail to immerse ourselves fully into the present moment, we are doing a great disservice to the people with whom we find ourselves and to the One who desires to work through the opportunity that has presented itself.  

And now, that is not to say that we are not called to continue to seek ways in which we may improve, grow, and nurture new opportunities.  The failure to do such things is just as unfaithful to the call that God has placed upon us. A crucial element of a life of ministry is to seek out those who were not present, to be mindful of the bigger picture, and to be participating with God in the dreaming of a bigger dream.  There is a vast difference between contentment and complacency.  Contentment is good for the mind, body, and soul and is the mark of a healthy life and a healthy ministry, but complacency? Not so much.  When we become complacent, we become passive, and we lose the drive and the desire to help others around us improve their situation just as we cease seeking to improve our own.  When we become complacent, our perception changes from, “this is what is,” to “this is all there is” and we stop asking questions and challenging assumptions, resigning ourselves to our current state.  

It is the state of complacency that plagues so many of our churches and it is this resignation to our “fate” that is, more than any other factor, leading to the decline of so many of our congregations.  So we see that it is a fine line between that sense of contentment, and the scourge of complacency.  How we walk that line with go a long way into determining the health of our churches and of our own spirit.

The Peace that Passeth My Understanding

By Rev. Tabitha Isner

As a person of faith, I’d like to believe that I am filled with the Holy Spirit. Not in a speaking-in-tongues way, but in the sense that God’s Spirit impacts all aspects of my life, that God is present in each of my moments, helping me to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world. But to be honest with you, it just isn’t true. When I am caring for a distressed friend, it’s usually true.  When I’m mentoring my “little sis,” it’s mostly true. But for the largest chunk of my time–the time I spend at work – it’s just not true. I am NOT Spirit-filled. 

Sometimes I think the problem is my job, the environment in which I work. It’s a bureaucracy, filled with excessive paperwork and excessive meetings, and it requires excessive patience to wait for anything actually to get doneSo, day after day goes by, and I rarely feel a sense of accomplishment or appreciation.  But it’s not just me, and it’s not just my workplace. We’re all frustrated. Resentful. Impatient. Defensive.

At work, I am often NOT Spirit-filled. And yet, it’s not never. When it does happenwhen a spirit of grace and peace and gentleness fills my heart and mind, when I speak to my colleagues with patience and empathy as my sisters and brothers on this journey - I find myself completely caught off guard by my own actions and words. It’s not that they feel wrong or inappropriate. Quite the opposite. They feel wonderful.  Like a cool breeze sweeping unexpectedly through a stuffy room. They feel right and obvious. Like the muscle memory of climbing into bed in the dark. Of course I am filled with the Spirit! Of course I am responding to a stressful situation with grace and peace and gentleness! It’s the most natural thing in the world.

And I’m 100% baffled about how it happened. 

The thing is, I’ve been praying for peace. I’ve been praying that the Spirit might grant me the “peace that passeth understanding,” that standard Christian notion from Phillipians 4:7.  I imagine it as the Zen calmness of one who knows her place as God’s beloved child and therefore is unruffled by the stress of deadlines and unscathed by the rough edges of inconsiderate coworkers. It’s a good prayer, I think, the kind that, if granted, would bring me closer to God and also to my neighbors. I’ve been praying it for months now and simultaneously reading books and blogs about how to make it so. But to no avail. I still don’t get it. I haven’t found an effective trick for staying in that Spirit-place throughout the day or for ordering up an injection of Spirit when the need arises. 

Sure, I have those unexpected moments when it just happens, but I want more. I want to be the expert on the peace that passeth understanding. I want to be able to do it consistently, on command. I want to be a master of Spirit-channeling. I want to control it. The Spirit. The chaos-ordering, death-defying, church-birthing, millennia-crossing Spirit of God. If I’m being honest with you, I have to admit that I don’t want the peace that passeth my understanding. I want the peace which I completely understand, and can predict – but that others are impressed by, saying, “I just don’t understand how she does it!” And having put it that way, I have a sudden clarity that I’m not going to get it.

So back to the drawing board.  No, not the drawing board. The prayer mat. It’s time to give up my self-conception as the expert designer and instead assume the position of baffled gift-receiver. It’s time to pray this prayer again, this time asking for the ability to blindly accept the Spirit’s incomprehensible gift of peace; to lean in to the fact that I can’t control when the Spirit shows up in me, I can only welcome it when it arrives. It’s time to pray for the peace that passeth right over understanding and skips straight to my heart.  I pray it comes to you too.


Tabitha Isner is a government bureaucrat by day and a church consultant when she can talk someone into it.  She confesses to a long-standing habit of practicing theology, feminism, and statistical analyses.

Does God Still Speak?

By Daniel Adams

When we read through the Bible today it seems as though way back then God was always speaking with somebody.  God walked and talked with Adam; God spoke to Cain; God liked Enoch so much he took him; God gave Noah instructions; God gave a promise to Abram, and so on, and so on.  And that’s just the first twelve chapters.  

It seems like God speaks to everybody except me.  It becomes easy to feel left out of the conversation.  For me, it’s reminiscent of every party I went to while I was in high school; and, there weren't many.  There was a group of jocks in one corner, talking about practice; there were musicians in another, prattling on about the halftime show; there were shop guys, cheerleaders and nerds. There were conversations going on all around me; and, I wasn’t a part of any of them. There I stood in the middle of it all, trying to edge into the conversation. 

“Hey guys, the homecoming game sure was exciting, huh?”

(Awkward pause.)

It's easy to feel the same way when we read the Word.  

"Hey God, that Exodus sure was exciting, huh?”

If you, like me, sometimes feel left out, there are some things to remember concerning revelation, enlightenment, and God speaking to the individual, that help me feel better:

1.) Keep in mind the vast expanse of time that actually passed biblically between messages from God. For example, Ten years passed between the time God spoke to Moses about giving him an heir and when God spoke to Hagar about returning to Sarai (Genesis 16). Thirteen more years passed before God spoke to Abram again (chapter 17).  We read the Bible as though those things happened rapid-fire; but, they did not.  Abraham went twenty-three years between messages from God.

2.) Consider the extremely small percentage of the total population of the earth that ever heard God speak, ever. Even if there are hundreds of examples in the Word, there are billions of people who have lived and died since the dawn of time.

3.) Exclude all messages prior to the flood. God changed the rules at that juncture.

4.) God now has the Bible through which to speak to us, a luxury that was not afforded prior to Moses, and was not readily available to the bulk of humankind until the early 20th century.

 

Does God still speak to people individually?  

The answer is a resounding "Yes."  And this is not a new question, it's one we humans have been asking over and over again throughout the ages.  Isn't there a story somewhere about a prophet hiding out under the crag of a stone waiting for God to speak?   

Part of the problem is that we try to place God in a box.  In other words, we want to hear God how we want to hear God.  We want God to peer down through a gap in the clouds and shout with a big booming voice.  But if there's anything to be gleaned from the scripture it is that God is unpredictable.  We can never know how God will chose to speak from one moment to the next.  

God speaks through nature, humanity, the Word and even through media.  One has only to seek the divine to find the divine.  How can we be sure it's God we're hearing?  It is a matter of faith.  There is no acid test.  There's no litmus paper for the voice of God.  And we may never know from which direction the word will come, or in what vehicle it may arrive.  God speaks through friends and foes, on mountaintops and in valleys, especially in valleys.

We must listen for God's voice and learn what it sounds like.  Often, for me, it comes down to picking up on the internal voice, the prompting of a thought that rarely sounds like something I would naturally think.

A couple of years ago I lived in a small apartment above a working garage.  It was inexpensive; but, the upside ended there.  It was noisy, homely, smelled of motor oil and was a half hour drive from my children.  After my divorce, however, it was the best I could afford.  I had been praying for an improvement, but saw no options on my budget.  

In late March I pruned apple trees for a local orchard, as I had done for several years running.  As we worked in the field that contained the bunkhouse, where the migrant workers stayed for a couple months out of the year, the owner grilled me with questions about my living situation, what it cost, how I liked it, whether or not I had a lease, etc.  I didn't understand why he was asking; but, he's a great guy, and seemed genuinely concerned, so I answered honestly.

"How would you like to pay me a hundred dollars less and stay right there in that bunkhouse?" He said.

Within two weeks I was living in the bunkhouse, a rustic cabin with a million dollar view.  It was quiet, spacious, smelled like apple blossoms and from my living room I could see much of the Presidential Mountain Range, and it was two minutes away from my kids.  As I prepared for bed in my new home on the first night I had one of those thoughts... you know, the kind that don't sound like something I would think.

It said, I want you to bless the orchard.

Elated, and grinning ear to ear, as I had been since I started unpacking, I agreed.  I knew the voice, and understood what it meant.  Each day as I drove through the field of trees I pronounced a blessing for a good heavy crop of fine looking fruit, right out the window of my car.  No altar, no sacrifice, no religious mantra; I didn't stop and kneel. I didn't even turn down the radio.  

As the season progressed I learned that the orchard wasn't doing so well financially.  They had lost their contract with a food chain in Florida which purchased most of their apples; and things were looking poorly for the picking season.  They thought they may not even bring the migrant workers to the field.  And then the frost hit.

It was late, the blossoms were already on the trees and all of New England experienced what they call a "Killer Frost."  All the orchards were hit, from up-state New York to Maine.  Blossoms fell to the ground everywhere, un-pollinated.  Many orchards lost their entire crop.  The owner of the orchard I lived in was particularly worried. 

I just kept blessing the trees. 

By harvest, the field I lived in had a beautiful crop, all the apples were sold, and I shared the bunkhouse with thirteen Jamaican apple pickers, instead of the three they had planned on having.  A field boss who had been in New England apple business for thirty years told me he had never seen such a wonderful crop of apples in one orchard.  This, he thought, was peculiar in a year that had seen so many orchards with poor or no crops.

Did God speak to me that day in the spring when I was moving in?  Yes.  It would be impossible for me to deny.  Have I ever heard the audible voice of God?  No.  But I find that God speaks to me plenty; although, it typically means I am being humbled in some way. 

What is really at question, as with anyone seeking enlightenment through any religion, is, how committed to being enlightened are you? How open are you to receiving enlightenment through various sources? Do you keep questions to which you seek answers in the conscious part of your brain?  And most importantly, do you make time to listen?

We are a people who, in an effort to conserve time, have become slaves to time. Everything is moving faster and faster. We have quickened our pace, but not in a healthy way.  I’ll give you  an example.

Before vacuums existed people used to take carpets outside and beat the dust and dirt out of them.  Carpets were scantly placed in key areas of the house, in front of the entry, beside the bed, under the kitchen table, etc.  Vacuums made cleaning  them easier.  In the new age of ease, wall to wall carpeting became possible.  First we carpeted our living rooms, then our bedrooms, then our hallways.  Then we put a small carpet beside the shower, in front of the toilet, in front of each sink, and kept the one in front of the entry.  Because we have vacuums, the pets can live indoors.  We can vacuum their hair.  So, beating the rugs, which was a ten minute chore once a week, became a two hour project three times a week.  How is that easier?

We created a small block of time and squeezed a large block into the gap.  In doing so we have closed off portions of our mind simply because we do not have time to use them.  Our ability t hear God is greatly dependent on our willingness to listen.  God always likes, and often speaks to those who seek God daily.  God will speak to you, and when you realize that has happened, you will have to decide whether or not to believe.

Unbox Church

By Rev. Mindi

As she poured me a drink, she asked me, “Are you really a pastor?” I smiled and nodded to the bartender. Only two of us regulars made it for our Pub Theology at a new location tonight, but along with the bartender and a few others who happened to frequent here, we had a great discussion about what it means to live out one’s faith. We didn’t talk specifics about church, and it wasn’t until I brought up Matthew 25 as a discussion point that we even got into the Bible or Jesus, but we had church tonight.

I lift this up as an example of church unboxed. I think that in church talk, we are quick to make assumptions about the “unchurched.” We make assumptions about those who have no church or religious affiliation. We assume we haven’t done a good job of selling the church message, or haven’t done a good job of raising our kids, or that we aren’t preaching the Gospel.  Our assumptions also lead us to call people who have no affiliation “unchurched,” which is an unfortunate term based on the assumption that “churched” is the preferred category over “unchurched” (and I wrote about this last spring in “Becoming Unchurched”).

Sure, lots of churches are doing Pub Theology and having Bible studies in coffee shops. But rather than trying to use these as avenues to get people into the church building, what if we were to already recognize the community that exists and meet them where they are at? What if pastors started to see themselves more as freelance ministers sent out from the church to be pastors to those who need spiritual support? What if our churches understood that an important part of our ministry was not to work to get people in on Sunday morning but to minister to people in their own communities?

As I left tonight, a woman asked me to pray for her. I was happy to do so. I also tipped the bartender very well because I wanted her to know I appreciated and valued the service she gave as well as her interest in what I do.

What can you do to unbox church? This isn’t to say to stop having worship on Sunday mornings and go into the coffee shops and bars, but what can you do to minister to those outside of your box? What can you do to meet people where they are at and be the presence of Jesus among others? Can we unbox our assumptions that people do not have community or are in need of specific church community?

Speaking the Language

By Rev. Mindi

“Does she know the Word?” the salesperson asked me. I blinked for a moment again. “Does she read the Bible?”

I understood her the first time, I was just taken back for a moment, remembering another time. Stepping into a commercial Christian bookstore is a timewarp for me, reminders of getting saved at Friday night youth rallies (and more than once), high school Bible study groups and college campus prayer gatherings.  I was also reminded of my brief ministry in the South.

“No,” I replied, “but she wants to start.”  The salesperson put back the awkward bulky study Bible she had pulled down for me when I said I wanted a study Bible, and went instead to a more devotional easy-to-read NIV Bible with softbound cover. Not something I would ever have picked for myself, but this would work for the person I had in mind. “This is perfect. Thank you.”

Sometimes I forget that I ever spoke that language. I grew up in a mainline, progressive church start. In junior high I was already questioning the idea of a male God. I was given a copy of the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible as a baptism present in 1991, with great study notes. I was already pouring over liberal commentaries in my pastor’s office in high school.

But my church was small, and though we had a youth group that met occasionally, I ended up wandering in and out of the youth group gatherings of my friends. These gatherings were high-energy, had great music, fun games, and a lot of bad theology. At one church we were told if we didn’t have a believer’s baptism it didn’t count; at another if we didn’t receive the Holy Spirit we couldn’t go to heaven; at still another, we were once yelled at and lectured for forty-five minutes about the sin of lust.  Still, despite the bad theology and messages that gave me chills, there was a language I learned that I began to use and incorporate into my faith life.  This language included phrases such as “God is opening a door,” or “the Spirit is moving,” “walking with Jesus," and "Getting right with God."

I’ve lost this language over the years. It was language that was familiar to me and what I used in writing my seminary application essays, but after my first year of seminary it dropped away. I suppose I felt silly thinking of God opening doors for me in an academic setting, where I needed to be rational.  My daily devotional reading that I began when I was thirteen fell away along with my evening prayers. I delved into books and became a scholar. Even my ordination paper, in which I described my faith journey, was empty of this language as I focused on the more heavy topics of eschatology and ecclesiology using wordy theological terms to share what I believed.

But language is woven into my spiritual life and is part of who I am. The language that I learned in those evangelical circles became part of my blood and was waiting to come back to the surface again. But it needed to be authentic. Sometimes, when we lived in the South, those phrases came out so I could fit in.  They weren’t heartfelt and they made me feel like a fraud.

Over time, I have met people who grew up in church but haven’t been part of church for a while. Sometimes they describe themselves as having “fallen away.” While I don’t like to use that phrase for its negative implications, I understand where people are coming from and why they may feel that way.  I met someone now who wants to “get back into the Word.” So I went to the commercial Christian bookstore, knowing there I could find people who would speak the same language.

When I first was going to seminary, I used the language of following where God was leading me, and learning that there was more than one right path. Now, no longer believing there is a path set out, a divine plan for everyone, I find myself coming back to that language of following where God leads—but recognizing that God is leading us all, always, in all things.

I remember once in seminary a professor talking about the old hymns that he grew up with, hymns that spoke of being washed in the blood. What a terrible image! But he found he could still sing the songs. And I find myself coming back to the same place. I can still sing the songs (well, most of them), I can still speak the language, it still is within me though I may filter it differently. I still hear Jesus calling me, I still feel God putting words on my heart, and I still know the Spirit is moving me on this journey of faith.

No more Either/Or; Now Both-And

By Rev. Mindi 

“The world has changed.”

I hear this all the time in the church: “The world has changed.” And of course it’s true, and of course it’s the same. Nothing new under the sun. World without end. And we don’t like change.

I think one of the most difficult changes for people, however, has been this shift from Either/Or to Both-And. This is within the church and within society in general. And perhaps the shift has come in waves across generations, through Women’s Rights, Civil Rights and in GLBTQ equality; and this wave of Both-And is just finally smacking the shore and changing the Either/Or landscape forever.

Church doesn’t look like it used to. Church was in a big building with a big committee and the most important thing were two-parent-heterosexual young married couples with children coming through the door.

Churches now have a building and don’t have a building. Churches now have heterosexual and homosexual couples and single people and no children and children and couples not married and older people bringing their grandchildren and animal blessings for pets in October and they meet in traditional buildings and coffee shops and movie theaters and homes and schools.

Even in the SBNR (Spiritual-But-Not-Religious) debate the wave has drawn over the conversation: Church now is full of religious and spiritual people, and so are coffee shops on Sunday mornings and bars on Tuesday nights. The either/or dichotomy is not working.

It’s not working among families where dads stay home and moms go to work or *gasp* both parents share parenting and work roles. Or parents partner with other adults to co-parent and form relationships beyond traditional models. Or among people who are genderqueer and do not claim a traditional male or female identity. Either/Or thinking does not work in families or churches anymore.

And while we have a long, long way to go, many of our churches are starting to look different among the younger generations as multiethnic families grow up. We all have heard the statistics: White-Euro-Americans will no longer be the majority racial/ethnic identity among those under 20 by the year 2020. Everything is changing. Our identities are going to be changing, and this will be huge for traditional White-Euro-American churches. Some of our traditions and cultural practices will change and I don’t think we’ve recognized that yet. But it’s coming.

Either/Or isn’t working anymore.

And in fact, I’m not sure it’s never worked, if we believe in the fully-human-*and*-fully-divine Jesus. Jesus was not Either/Or. Jesus was Both-And.

Jesus ate with the leaders as well as with the poor. Jesus welcomed the children and welcomed the adults. Even when Jesus said, “You cannot be my disciple if you do not hate father and mother,” we know James and John loved their mother and Peter his mother-in-law and we know they were flawed people who still were Jesus’ disciples. Even when Jesus used either/or language with the disciples, we know that Jesus still came to that group who had utterly abandoned him to the cross and said, “Peace be with you.”  Even Jesus cannot be bound to the Either/Or. It’s Both-And.

Both-And gives us room for tradition and innovation.  Both-And gives us room to teach our history and embrace the newness of change. Both-And says all people are welcome, whatever kind of family or no family.  Both-And says traditional pastoral ministry and new community ministry are needed by the church.  Both-And says yes to traditional church at 10am on Sunday and yes to new ways of being spiritual community. Both-And says that our understandings of gender and sexual orientation and race and culture are all being challenged and are more fluid than we had thought. Both-And says we have more than one option when it comes to challenging the human rights abuses in Syria and in other parts of the world. Both-And says there are many options for peace.

We’re moving to a Both-And world. That’s not to say it isn’t scary. The things we once knew we don’t anymore. The world is changing. I don’t have all the answers. And I won’t say it’s always a good thing, but it is what it is.

Everything is changing. Let’s be sure we’re alert, aware, and ready for the wave coming. World without end.