Hospitality

Worship: Making Space for Everyone

By Audrey Connor

It was the fourth and final day of the Gay-Christian Network Conference.  I was there, thanks to an invitation from a friend, to share in the leadership of the Women’s Retreat portion of the conference. I have never been around so many gay people in my life. Nor have I worshiped with so many evangelical Christians. There were many surprises in store for me through the weekend, but the biggest surprise for me was the final worship. They shared that this last worship would be “liturgical”.  I discovered that this meant worship closer to my tradition. As soon as it began, I was amazed by how much that worship allowed me to breathe in God.  For the first time during the conference, I felt myself let go of my surroundings and sink into the presence of God. The liturgy spoke to me in ways that I suspect the liturgy was speaking to the evangelical people the previous nights and mornings.  

Thank you God for this space, I heard myself murmuring to God through my personal prayer. I accessed parts of myself that are normally difficult to bring to my own consciousness, and I worshiped God with my brothers and sisters in Christ.

    This is worship, I said to myself.

I am home from the conference and trying to make sense of those four days. As a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) minister, I am grateful for the ability to say to LGBTQI people with authority that God Loves You, No Exception.  (This became an unofficial motto at the last congregation I served as Family Life Minister.)  I am also grateful as a lesbian Christian for a mom who inculcated me with this theology from a young age.  I shared with the women at the conference that for me, coming out was difficult enough without a spiritual landscape that condemned me as sinful.  The spiritual maturity to claim my identity as a beloved child of God and as a gay person would have been much more difficult.

At the same time, I feel incredibly disappointed by my denomination.  So often my beloved mainline denominational saints both clergy and lay will say things like:

 “We don’t want to be the gay church.” 

Or 

“If a person needs a church like that [meaning LGBTIQ affirming], then he or she should go to _______ congregation in our community that is Open and Affirming (or More Light or Reconciling or Welcoming or Whatever-language is being used for that place).”

    Or

“We are not ready for telling people that it is okay to be gay – maybe in time…  The older generation would not be pleased.”

And I want to believe they are right.  

I want to believe that the Spirit is greater than our resistance.

I want to believe that God will help us figure it out.  

I want to give permission for people to discern at their own speed.  

And I want to give thanks for those churches that have figured out how to minister to the gay niche, and to believe that it is enough.

        But it gnaws at me.  I know it isn’t true.

I knew it wasn’t true when I ministered at one-of-the-only open and affirming churches in Lynchburg, Virginia.  People often came to me as the minister of the open and affirming church wanting help.  They needed help learning how to read scripture and accept themselves as gay and Christian.  This was the pattern: such said person would come to church, find people to be in conversation about this topic, find books to read, discern with other Christians on the journey, and then – they would leave.  

    Worship just does not feed me, I heard once from a person.

    There is no one my age, another person said.

And ultimately, they would dissolve somewhere into the body of Christ – but not my congregation.  I ran into one of these people who later confessed to me that she really preferred a more evangelical worship.  She said there was no place in town she felt comfortable worship in her style so she stays home Sunday mornings.  There is no doubt, worshiping with a Hymnal is not the same as with a Stephen Curtis Chapman song.

    And here is the thing – as a minister, I knew it did not necessarily mean my congregation needed to change its worship.  In fact, there is nothing I wanted to change in our worship per se. I knew that the church I served agreed upon the worship that fed them.  I could tell you the people who loved the organ.  I knew the members who loved the choir, and I knew how many people loved the ritual (including me).  I knew that making ourselves more “free” in worship would not serve our needs.  This is how I made sense of those people and their comments: I decided that ministering to people with questions about sexuality and faith was simply part of our church’s mission in the world.  And like serving people at the soup kitchen, the point was not to put people in pews; instead, it was to share God’s love and exercise our faith.  I gave thanks for the ones who found their way into our community and our pews, but I refused to measure the mission of reaching out to that population by counting their membership.

*****

    It was on that Sunday morning of the GCN Conference that I finally got it. I always feel like a bonehead when I hear God speak; God’s message is usually so very obvious.  Here is what I heard God saying:

 If the church is really going to minister to LGBTQI people who are wounded by the church itself, then all the church must make public welcome for LGBTQI brothers and sisters in all congregations.  We can’t confine Christian welcome to the handful or one church in town that we know is welcoming to our LGBTQI brothers and sisters.  We must extend the welcome to everyone.  Otherwise we are missing the boat.  

Here is why: Worship is the place congregations are uniquely called to practice the living relationship with God and God’s community.  When our worshiping communities do not extend welcome to LGBTQI people, they will be absent.  And that is sad for them as well as the church.  They need to come face to face with themselves and God, and their church families need their growth to grow too.  The lone Open and affirming churches cannot be all things to all LGBTQI people.  There must be as many churches as there are as many kinds of LGBTQI believers.  Because here is the thing – sexuality is not a Disciple of Christ thing, it is not a Presbyterian thing, a United Church of Christ thing, a Unitarian-Universalist thing, a Methodist thing, an Evangelical thing, or a Catholic thing… Sexuality is part of all of us.   We all have non-heterosexual members struggling with how to live in a homophobic world. And most of us have non-heterosexual members wishing we had a church community with which to share that struggle.  While O&A Disciples can minister to evangelicals, it doesn’t mean they can make them Disciples.  While some Presbyterians can find a safe space at an Metropolitan Community Church, it does mean that those Presbyterians will ever really feel fed in that MCC worship.  And while I wished to God I could get into the evangelical worships the first three days of the conference, it was the last day that I finally felt at home with my Christian brothers and sisters (no doubt a lot of those people hated it!).  It made me both thankful for a local congregation I can worship, and ever-aware of the loss so many LGTBQI brothers and sisters experience who have none.

So this is my plea to all ministers and lay-leaders in every denomination and each congregation – please remember that this struggle for inclusion in the church for LGBTQI brothers and sisters is yours.  It is not just something that can be passed off to the progressive United Church of Christ church in your town, or the progressive Episcopal church in your city.  I guarantee there are many whose hearts will only be yours and depend on your openness to the Spirit.  And if your congregation does not have the courage to confront the resistance of fear and the misreading of the Bible, those LGBTQI members’ hearts will ache and most probably not find a home in another church family.  I write to you to ask you to consider if you were banished to worship with Christians that you do not jive with – would you show up Sunday morning?  And if you wouldn’t, how would that affect your life?  Your family?

Just imagine if we, who love the church, found the courage not only to love God out-loud, but to love all of our neighbors out-loud.  I believe our church would be changed, and our brothers and sisters who need to hear the love of God would find the space to journey with a real relationship with God in community.

 

We Need Each Other: Acting for Justice in a Fragmented World

By Erin Miller Cash

If you search the NIV for the word “justice,” you’ll find 134 references.

Some of them are helpful, and some are not.  Some say things like “the tribe of Dan will provide justice.”

I read each one of those 134 verses.  A few resonate with me more than others.

Micah 6:8

[God] has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.

Deuteronomy 16:20

Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the LORD your God is giving you.

Psalm 103:6 

The LORD works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed.

Psalm 106:3 

Blessed are they who maintain justice, who constantly do what is right.

Amos 5:24 

But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!

Matthew 12:18 

"Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations.

From the earliest texts of our tradition to Jesus himself, we find God at work pursuing justice for the oppressed.  Often justice and love or justice and righteousness go hand-in-hand in the Biblical texts.

We are called to be a people of justice.

We are to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, who ate with the outcast, touched the unclean, stood up to the Religious Leadership.  Jesus was killed because he wanted radical inclusion of everyone in the kingdom of God.  Everyone.

The filthy.

The sinner.

The broken.

The abused.

The powerless.

The betrayer.

Our Denomination strives to be “a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world.”  We believe valiantly in our causes: for some that is an issue of homosexuality (sin or nature), for some it is an issue of immigration reform (needed or not), for some it is pastoral education (required or optional), for others it is worship style (contemporary or traditional).  We are a people who are passionate about many things.

One of the things I love about being a Disciple is the fact that we hope to live into the words “in essentials unity; in non-essentials liberty; in all things charity.”  The quote can be traced back as early as Augustine; the church has been trying to do this for centuries.

As Disciples, we tend to let one another speak about our particular passions, but we rarely come together to work.  Someone may believe that LGBT persons need to have full inclusion in the ministries of the church, but she doesn’t see that this matter of justice is similar to the matter of justice surrounding immigration.  In both cases a minority population is being subjected to the will of the ruling majority population (even if that population’s opinion on the matter is divided).  Justice is justice.  And justice is righteousness.

Can we be the model?

Can we be the generation that begins to show our unity to the world?

Can we be a movement for wholeness?

If we would stop bickering with one another over which issue is most important and start acting in love, we might be able to accomplish some incredible things for the neglected in our midst.  What if we agreed that justice is justice and we worked together to enact change on several fronts?  What if we embraced one another in charity where we disagree on a non-essential?  What if we were able to come together around the table instead of storming out of the room?

A pastor I respect very much once said to me, “I fear for who is next.”  As a government and as a religion (I’m speaking here generally about the church as a whole, not as individual denominations or local congregations.), we have notoriously excluded someone from power.

African-Americans.

Native Americans.

Asians.

Women.

Criminals.

Irish.

Hispanics.

Catholics.

Protestants.

LGBT persons.

Immigrants.

The Handicapped.

Children.

The list can go on if we want to dig deeper into our history.  The more we look, the more we find the truth: someone has always been an outsider in our nation and in our religion.  We don’t like to admit that, but it’s the truth.  We largely define ourselves by who we are not.

The Scriptures I cited above don’t say to enact justice for those who deserve it.  The scriptures say to act in kindness, love, righteousness, and justice.  It doesn’t say to condone every behavior, despite your personal convictions.  It says to work for justice.  It says to love kindness.

Someday I may find out that I was wrong.  I may come to find that the justice we chose to pursue was a tragic mistake.  I may put people in situations where the tradition we’ve known is compromised.  I don’t think that will happen, but I could be wrong.

I’m ok with being wrong.

I’m not ok with being unfair.

I would rather work to make sure every person who wants to work alongside me is able to live into their calling than to exclude someone for my personal beliefs.  I would rather embrace “the sinner” in love than insulate myself from her.  I will always choose kindness.  I will always choose love.

I cannot control the actions of another person.

Keeping someone out of the fellowship will not change their behaviors.

It will only change me.

It will harden me and my community of faith to the outsider.

It will allow prejudices to form.

It will make space for judgment in our midst.

I don’t want to be that kind of minister.

I don’t want my denomination to be that kind of place.

I want us to come together.

I want us to work together.

I want us to love together.

I believe we have the power to make transformative change in our churches, our government, and our lives.  I believe that as we champion our respective causes we can support one another.  I believe that if you are passionate about welcoming immigrants and I am passionate about LGBT rights, we need one another.  I believe justice is justice and love is love.

I will choose to love those who believe I am wrong.

I will choose to love those who refuse to engage me in conversation.

I will choose to love those who others will not.

I will choose love.

Always love.

Will you?

Will you join me in working for justice for all people?

Will you come alongside me to proclaim that all anyone really wants is to feel accepted and valued for who they are?

Will you allow yourself to make space for everyone?

Will you find your voice in the midst of a group?

Will you help someone else find theirs?

The kingdom is a place where God leaves no one out.

I need your perspective, and you need mine.

We need one another if we’re going to make changes.

We need to put aside our judgments and welcome one another.

How will we ever welcome the outsider if we can’t embrace each other?

Let’s talk.

What kept me (a young adult) in the church

By Rev. Mindi

There have been a number of discussions, tweets, chats, blogs and other articles on why young adults are leaving the church.  The most recent was Christian Piatt’s blog post here.  He lists seven reasons to think about, but there’s another that has been nagging me for a while: authenticity. I grew up in a small startup church in Alaska, a church that I still have my name on as a member.  It’s a church that from the beginning did not imagine itself as a large, growing church, drawing in several families and youth.  It’s a church that set out to meet needs, starting as four families meeting together.  When my family joined a couple of years after it started, the church created its first Sunday School class for children.  Over the years, if kids came, there was a class, if there were no kids, there was not a class.  People didn’t panic when families moved or stopped coming.  The church simply molded into whoever we were at the time.

When I was in high school, we had a youth group for about a year, but then we didn’t for a while.  There were plenty of other churches offering youth activities and some families drifted there, and sometimes I just went along with my friends to other churches.  But the church recognized a need: there were few summer programs for kids in our area except for camps.  There was a camp our congregation supported, and the church decided that any kid who wanted to go to camp would go for free.  One year we sent 13 kids to camp—from a church of about 25 members!  But part of the reason we didn’t need a youth group, in my view, was that from an early age, we were part of the church.  We were encouraged to remain in the church service (the church actually stopped offering childcare during worship after my first few years there).  We were invited to participate in ways we were comfortable—lighting candles or reading Scripture or even preaching on occasion as we got older.  When I was baptized at the age of thirteen, a week later I was welcomed into the church and asked to serve on the Deacon board, the only board in the church.  There was no such thing as “Junior Deacon” in our church.  We were all part of the church together.

What I have learned from my small startup church over the years is to be authentic.  Too many churches try to be all things to all people.  They start up programs and ministries hoping to attract the kind of people they want, such as young adults, rather than just being themselves and embracing the community that they are.  As a young adult, I went off to college and attended a wonderful church where I felt the same kind of authenticity from the pastor and leaders.  They were glad some college students were attending, but recognized that we weren’t going to come every Sunday and that they weren’t going to be a big draw as the campus population was more evangelical and conservative.  But I do remember the finals week care packages they sent to each of us who came as we studied for exams.  I remember being given the opportunity to preach, both there and in my home church, recognizing my gifts for ministry.  I remember other friends preaching, leading music and book studies, working with children, or just attending worship and Easter brunch, because they were accepted as they were, and the church did not try to be anything but who they were.

My home church never became a big church, but there were young adults, older adults, and ages in between that have come over the years and call it their church home because it was an authentic church, and they were welcomed and affirmed as who they were, their authentic selves.

I have seen too many churches try new programs—if we move Bible study to a different time, they will come.  If we have a praise band play every 4th Sunday, they will come.  It’s like a Field of Dreams for mainline churches—and I distinctly remember the moderator of the first church I served saying, “If we just open the doors, they will come.”  But it doesn’t work that way.  This is reality, not fantasy.  And the best thing we can do in the church is to be authentic.

Stop pretending to be something you are not.  Stop trying to cling to a dream of the past when every pew was filled and you had multiple Bible studies occurring at the same time.  And please, stop targeting young people in the hopes that young people mean young families which means more children who can grow up and carry on the legacy you remember from your own childhood.  We can all see right through that.  Instead, remember that church does not start at the doors, but that we as the church must go outside.  We are the church in the pew or in the coffee shop, in Bible study or in the office, in the beauty salon and in the seat on the plane.  We are the church wherever we are.  If we start remembering that and start being ourselves, we can grow the body of Christ.  And we can definitely reach out to young adults, and to all sorts of people, if we are authentic in the world and inside the walls.

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

Speak Christian to a “T”

This London Olympic coverage of course includes some joking about how the English language across the pond does not match what Americans call English.  Having lived in Northern Ireland, I can attest to these differences.  I remember on my first or second day going into a restaurant to eat.  I was confused about the layout and went and talked to a waitress.  I could not understand a word she said to me, so frustrated, I just left.  Not my usual way of dealing with someone speaking a different language, but we were both speaking English. I acclimated quite quickly and fully, as most people thought I was from south of the border, The Republic of Ireland.  There were certainly other instances of miscommunications. My flat mate was from Newcastle, and honestly many of the Irish had a hard time understanding her accent as well.  I remember one night about 6 pm she asked, “Would you like some tea?” and I said “no” thinking to myself I want something to eat.  About 15 minutes later I went into the kitchen to see she was preparing dinner.  I asked if I could have some, and she said, “I asked you if you wanted some.”  See, at that time of day, asking if you want tea referred to a meal, for I should have known that generally when someone was offering the beverage tea, you would be asked, “Do you want a cuppa?”

I am sure you know stories of miscommunications, which would have made the writers of “Three’s Company” consider them, but these miscommunications within the same language are frustrating.  This is what happens in Christianity often, and we assume we are speaking the same language.

Let me remind you that English on both sides of the pond works well, even if their petrol pedal is on the opposite side of the vehicle.  So why do some Christians that I know shy away from certain words in our tradition?  Evangelism, salvation, righteousness, sacrifice, etc. are example words that I sense have been dropped from many pastors’ lexicon.  I understand there are strong connotations, for some of these words do require careful use out of the Body of Christ, the church.  For instance, I will not go and greet someone by saying, “Hi I am from my Church’s evangelism team, and I want to make sure you understand the sacrifice Jesus made for the world’s salvation from violence, and we try to live a righteous life, so I hope you join us for worship.”  There is way too much baggage in those terms, and I am very aware of that.

You may say we need to reclaim the terms--I know I have said that myself.  Upon reflection, that attitude demonstrates defining my Christianity against another.  I just need to use the terms as I have learned from Biblical and theological study, while being aware when I am talking to those that know only the fundamentalists or media’s language of Christianity.  Let us be comfortable with our own speech.

If we are comfortable with our language, we are able to answer the questions and hang in there in dialogue with other Christians who are using a language that seems “foreign.” I know there are people filled with hate using that language, and I do not recommend anything but a smile and prayer for those individuals, but I have seen time and again Christians that explored the deeper and complex meaning of our traditional key words--they may talk the talk, but they also certainly walk the walk.

The best way to be comfortable is to use these terms without apology, while knowing these same words will have different meanings to other Christians.  Hopefully, we will find each other at the same table drinking from the same chalice or cup.

Saying Goodbye, and Hello

We are saying goodbye to our church, community and state that we have lived in and been a part of for the past 2 ½ years. Goodbyes are never easy, among colleagues and friends, and also among church members. Church relationships are tricky. The old-old school of thought was that the pastor was part of the church family. If a pastor came to the church single, many in the church would work to set up the single pastor with a suitable partner for the future. Pastor’s families were expected to be in attendance and involved in the church thoroughly. My mother, a PK (Pastor’s Kid) herself, tells me of how she was expected to babysit children of the church when needed and for free. My grandmother had a china set with settings for 12 and coffee service for 16. My step-grandmother shared that in one church she was expected to serve the punch at every church meal. Ministers were part of the social clubs in town, often invited by church members, and ministers went golfing with their members on Saturday mornings. There were no days off in that school of thought—the minister and “his” family were always on.

The old-old school of thought was replaced by the old (modern) school of thought, which is that the pastor should keep strict limits with their congregation. Friendships were strongly discouraged. Professional boundaries needed to be set and maintained. Ministers were encouraged to seek friendships outside of the church, to attempt to not overwork their hours (though the hours of work were still estimated to be 50-55 hours a week) and to protect their family from the burdens of church life outside of Sundays.

I was taught in the old school, modern way of pastoral boundaries. In my last congregation I served, I was strict with my boundaries. I rarely spent time outside of meetings, worship, visitations and educational events with congregants. I protected my family’s time. When I felt a connection to church members in terms of hobbies or interests, I did not pursue beyond the church walls very often. As a result, when I left that congregation, I received a note that expressed disappointment that some felt they never got to know me as well as I knew them.

That note has stuck with me as I transitioned from pastor to pastor’s wife. While the role is different, this time around I did allow for friendships within the church. Having moved to a location where we had no family or friends in the surrounding area, friendships were a necessity. And try as I may to make friends outside of the congregation, my first friendships were within the church. And now, as we prepare to leave, I think about saying goodbye, and the ups and downs of these relationships.

As the culture has shifted, with the advent of Facebook and other social media in the last ten years, so has the dynamic of pastor/congregation boundaries. Many ministers are “friends” on Facebook with their members. Some still try to keep a professional page but many share pictures and events from family life. Our personal and professional lives are more integrated.

While this certainly can be abused, it can also lead to great connection. I think we still need to set some boundaries. I know I have made mistakes, both in being too concerned about holding boundaries and the reverse, of being too involved at the level of friendship. We need to strike a healthy balance.

My previous congregation’s previous pastor had been more integrated in the church community. Members were over at the parsonage much more often and the previous pastor spent more personal time with members at birthday parties, cookouts, dinners out and other celebrations. When I came, I set stricter boundaries for myself and for the congregation, and as a result, I received that note, which made me aware that perhaps I had been a bit too strict with the “rules” of professional boundaries.

As we move into newer ministries that are based more on relationships between people than on traditional commitments to institutions, we need to shift our thinking on how we relate to our congregations, in ways that are safe and healthy, but not restrictive to genuine interrelationship with Christ and the community.

As my husband and I say our goodbyes, and both of us prepare for new pastoral ministries, I hope to shift safely into the newness of both relationship-building and ministry, letting go of old “rules” that were so strict as to stifle genuine relationships, and embracing new ways of fostering relationships that are healthy and generate authentic connections in new ministry.

Pastors On The Move--5 Tips to help your new pastor in their transition

My family is preparing to move again, for the third time since my son was born, and he’s not even four.  We have moved from Massachusetts to Oklahoma, moved in town, and now are moving to the Seattle area.  These are big, traumatic changes for one so little, even more so as he has autism. Clergy families have an undo amount of pressure placed upon them from many angles.  There are expectations placed not only upon the pastor who is called to a church, but upon their spouse and their child.  Family life is more public than other families.  Relationships outside of the church, while vital, are hard to maintain, and relationships within the church can be complicated.

As we are preparing to move again, I have been thinking about ways that a church community can help welcome a new pastor and their family who have gone through such a transition, especially if they are moving to a location where they do not have family or friends in the area.

1. Welcome them, but don’t overdo it.  Don’t show up on the day they have arrived.  They may be tired or even exhausted from their travels. If they have young children, they may be weary of strangers. Often how churches like to welcome people is with food.  Ask ahead of time what they would like—if you want to bring them dinner, ask first if they would like this now or another day, or if they would prefer a gift certificate for a restaurant as they may not even have their dishes unpacked.  If you are going to provide food, ask if they have any dietary restrictions (and ask what their children would prefer—some children are picky eaters and no matter how wonderful your casserole may be, a child may not be up for trying something new after arriving to a brand new place).  Give them space and time to move in and adjust.

2. If they have children, ask if they would like help connecting with the local school district. For our family, as we have a child with special needs, this is extremely helpful and can help ease some of the transition challenges.   If your pastor has pets, create a list of local veterinarians and/or dog parks.  Pets are family, too.

3. Also if they have children, ask if after they arrive if the family would like some free child care provided so the parents can unpack or run errands.  This is a big help when trying to set up a household within the first few days of arriving.

4. Don’t assume the pastor is going to start work the very day after they arrive.  Give them some time to help their family adjust and unpack.  This is a way you can minister to your new pastor.  And if your pastor is single, also give them space and time to unpack.  This goes beyond moving—never assume that a single pastor doesn’t have other things they need to do because they don’t have an immediate family.  I know in my first church, I often resented the assumption that I was free to stay longer on Sundays because I didn’t have children or a husband.

5. Related to #1 and 2, create a list of local favorites—restaurants that deliver, local parks for children, museums and art galleries, and other local places of interest.  Encourage your pastor to take some time in the first few weeks to visit these local favorites (and count that as part of their work time, getting to know the community).

The most important thing you can do for your pastor and/or their family before they arrive is to ask before making assumptions of what their needs are.  I know for myself and my family, in the times we have moved, before and after having our son, there were times assumptions were made that ended up complicating the moving in process rather than helping.  There were also wonderful people who asked what we needed ahead of time and eased our transition.  But it is always best to ask first.

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!

Shaping Authentic Ministers

A few weeks ago I wrote about why I as a young adult stayed in the church—because my small hometown church was authentic.  They knew who they were and didn’t pretend to be something they weren’t.  They didn’t go all out in trying new programs and investing in recruiting young people—they simply tried to meet the needs of the people already within the church, as well as recognizing the needs of the larger community they were part of.  I also reflected on the church I attended in college, how while I was there they recognized the best way to reach out to the college students was to be authentic—to welcome the students and their gifts and abilities, to not pressure students to come every Sunday, but to welcome and invite students to participate in ministry with their gifts and time as they could, and to care for the students in their needs.  For me, I remember not feeling guilty about skipping church during finals—instead I remember a wonderful gift basket during final exams week with snacks and a note of encouragement.  I have never forgotten the care and compassion. I was asked in response to that article what role authenticity in those congregations played in shaping my call to ministry.  As I think back to my home church that included me from an early age and to the church I attended in college, here are some ways being in a church that valued authenticity helped shape me in my call to ministry:

1. My home church recognized and valued my call to ministry.  I felt God’s call to ministry when I was thirteen, sitting in my grandfather’s church in Pennsylvania, and felt something inside me say “That will be you someday” as I listened to my grandfather preach.  When I shared this with my pastor a few months later, he was delighted, and made a point of including me in the worship leadership throughout my youth, in varied ways.  I was invited to preach on occasion, and not just on a special Youth Sunday or when we came back from summer camp (although I was asked to preach then).  In the church I attended in college, I was not only invited to preach, but asked back after my initial sermon which I know was terrible.  I was given another chance, and I remember my religion professor who attended that church telling me how much I had improved.  My first sermon there really was that bad, but this church loved me, encouraged me, and kept inviting me back.  They truly were authentic in who they were, and they were loving, forgiving, encouraging people.  Maybe my first sermon wasn’t as bad as I remember, but I know I was anxious and nervous, and this church continued to see a call from God in me and nurtured that call.

2. I learned first-hand about the challenges facing small churches and the reality that many mainline churches face today.  I was asked to serve on the Deacon board in my home church when I was thirteen years old, and I already understood how many who serve in the church as laity become overworked and burned out.  But I also learned how to become refreshed and that sometimes we take church life way too seriously and need to step away for a breather.  We do have a life outside of church, laity and clergy.

3. Church does not have to happen in an old building that has been in the same spot for 200 years.  Church can take place in a rented church space, in the basement of a house, in the back booth of a coffee shop, in the bowling alley, in the kitchen of the pastor’s house (where we made excellent homemade pizzas as youth).  Church happens where two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name.   My home church changed locations a few times before settling in their current location (a house that they purchased and converted into a Meetinghouse; several AA groups and other organizations also use the building as part of the church’s ministry now).

4. Vision is something to be embraced, and vision can be renewed.  In my home congregation we went from trying to be a church in the traditional sense, of looking for land to buy and a building to construct, to renting space in another church and deciding that maintaining a building was not part of our ministry, to a future where in a nearby town we did decide to own a building and give space to other ministries.  But the vision continues to grow and change.  It made me less afraid of the major changes a church may go through in deciding to sell a building or move or changing its vision of pastoral ministry.  It’s just part of the vision process, part of change that all churches must go through and it is not necessarily negative and can be quite positive when the congregation embraces the process of co-creating vision with Christ.

5. Bending/breaking “the rules” and taking risks are necessary parts of the journey of ministry.  Chucking the sermon and having a genuine conversation.  Suspending/ignoring the bylaws because they don’t work anymore and no one remembers anyway.  Having church at the home of your eldest member because they can’t drive in the snow to get to your place of worship.  Being spontaneous and moving worship outdoors because the day is just too beautiful to spend inside.    Letting go of an idea for youth ministry and instead supporting another church’s youth outreach because it is effectively meeting the needs of the youth in the community.  Abandoning plans to buy property and build a church because you recognize the needs of mission and ministry are done beyond the walls of any one building, and yet are often done within the walls of the homes of the members of the church community.

These are just a few of the ways growing up in authentic community helped shape me.  To sum it up, I learned that by being authentic, there is little to be afraid or ashamed of.  Instead, all moments can reform vision, create new opportunities, and encourage spiritual growth.  It may sound cliché or even too enthusiastic to say that, but when people, a congregation, a church, is authentic, they are not afraid to voice both their concerns and their hopes and dreams, both their worries and their prayers and new ideas.  Authentic vision is created and something new is given root.  Even if that authentic vision leads to a church closing, resurrection is always possible—something new can be born.

All too often, churches put on blinders.  For churches that have existed for many years, a decline in attendance or membership can lead to panic or anxiety that leads to creation or adaption of programs without vision.  Often this manifests itself in creating programs to attract young adults or young families in hopes of recruiting the next generation to take the place of the declining generation.  It is a true bait and switch—the church puts out the message that they are welcoming of families and young adults but then wants them to conform to the ways they have always been.  It’s not always conscious it does this, but I have seen many churches attempt to grow by just trying to reproduce what they have always had.

The other most popular way I have experienced this is in churches that have tried to take on contemporary worship when it obviously does not fit.  If your church has primarily used the organ for the past one hundred years and within a few months you want to switch to guitars, I can tell you most likely it will not work.  Mainly because you are fooling yourselves.  Now if your congregation has been experimenting with different kinds of music over the past few years, it might not be such a jump.  But more importantly, if you have young families attending your worship already, it is not so much of a stretch to assume that they might actually like the traditional music.  And even if they don’t, they obviously don’t mind it so much as to leave and find another congregation—they have come to your congregation for a reason.  Find out why.  I can guess that it is probably because they have established relationships there—authentic relationships with others.

As a pastor, I have done my best to be authentic in my ministry, to not pretend to be something I am not and to not portray a church as something it is not.  But one thing I have consistently done is sought out young people who have gifts for ministry and encouraged them in using those gifts, both within and beyond the congregation.  I have encouraged preaching and worship leading among my youth and not just on Youth Sunday.  I have invited youth to attend pastoral visitations with me.  But more importantly, I have encouraged the congregation to embrace these young ministers as ministers—not just youth who are dressed up cute and have a nice message to give—but as called by God to be ministers.

I was one of three straight-from-college young seminarians during my first year.  Over my three years of seminary there grew to be more of us, but I found from talking with my peers that few of them were nurtured in a call from their home church.  They may have felt the call as a teen or even as a young child, but their home church did not give them opportunities for ministry.  They were taken out of the service to be with the other children because they weren’t old enough.  They were invited to participate in worship as a teen but only on Youth Sunday.  Their pastor rarely talked to them except to ask them what college they were going to.  So many felt called by God, were inspired by their churches, but then were not given the opportunity—and so they assumed maybe they weren’t called.   Went to college and tried something else.  Fortunately, a lot of them made their way back to seminary and ministry, and some of them made their way back to church.

We need more authentic churches, not only for the sake of Christian ministry in the future, but for the sake of nurturing authentic pastors and ministers.  Kids see right through us when we aren’t authentic.  When we say “Jesus welcomed all the children” and then shuffle them off to another program, we aren’t authentic.  We have blinders on.  We are baiting and switching.

Look to your children and youth.  Where do you see ministers?  Where are they ministering?  Open up the opportunities for them.  Encourage them.  Invite them to grow on the journey.  Remind children when they dream of what they want to be when they grow up that ministry is a great and wonderful calling, and that chances are, one of them is called to be a minister.  Be real, and real ministers will blossom.

RECLAIMING EDUCATION

an expanded and updated version of an article that first appeared inEncounter: Education for Meaning and Social Justice

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. ......................................................................RECLAIMING CHURCH - REDUX

The Good News is about being the Kingdom of God here and now. The Good News does not oppose the Empire. The Good News is constantly engaged in non-violently replacing the Empire with the Kingdom of God. To that end, having only a well-defined theology of love, grace, compassion, justice, hospitality, generosity, and service is not enough. The true measure is how that theology is lived and shared and how it imbues and informs the life of the disciple. The Good News is not about yearning for or being promised a future and distant post-mortal eternal reward as payment for a temporary existence marked by guilt-ridden culturally-acceptable behavior and tightly-held xenophobic beliefs. The Good News is about being and proclaiming and provoking the Kingdom of God here and now in all aspects of our lives. One such aspect is education, especially public K-12 education.

THE PURPOSE OF EDUCATION

What Is Not Education? Education is not for the betterment of the local economy, the gross national product, or the global society. Education is not about transforming, unifying, or homogenizing society. Education is not a solution for the problems of society – neither problems that are persistent and universal nor problems that are uniquely contemporary. Education is not about providing competent trained workers for future employment. Education does not transform students into either an intellectual natural resource or a pool of human capital – these concepts have no basis or existence in reality. Education is not the means by which we can gain a national economic competitive edge over other nations. Education is not about preparing students for college. It is not an event in some imaginary ongoing international academic competition. Acquiring an education from a public school system is not an act of consumerism (Bracey 2008) because public education is not a product, not a business, not a manufacturing process, and not an industry. Neither competence in passing a specific test nor receiving narrowly focused training qualifies as an education (Houston 2007).

Such purposes and goals are wrong. Such purposes and goals cause a destructive mutation of the education process. Such purposes and goals subject children to treatment that must be labeled and rejected for what it is – criminally coercive and abusive.

The Six Purposes and Obligations of Education First, the most important obligation of any education system is to recognize that each child is a unique individual – there is no such thing as a standard child (Rakow 2008). Any system that has any other primary obligation is neither about nor providing education. The uniqueness of each child requires unique accommodations. Instead of forcing a child into a predetermined or standardized schedule and set of expectations, we have an obligation to adapt to each child’s unique set of capabilities, boundaries, and rate of development. To do otherwise is counter-productive, if not harmful. Children are who they uniquely are. Children are not who we want them to be or who we think they are. Children are not indistinguishable widgets on an education assembly line (Johnson 2006).

The quality of an industrial product can be measured. An industrial process begins with specified and consistent raw materials that meet the requirements of the process. Then, in accordance with a pre-designed detailed plan, the raw materials are incrementally transformed into a finished product. At each step of the transformation process, there are standards that must be met for the process to continue and, eventually, successfully produce the expected final product. The continuous process is constantly producing identical finished products. Each finished product, within very tight tolerances, must meet specifications or be rejected. A specific quantifiable result is expected and each finished product must meet all predetermined expectations with a high degree of measurable precision. The metrics and processes used in industry and business to measure and achieve and control quality cannot and must not be applied to education. Students are not a raw material. There are no rejects. There cannot be a pre-specified final product. Education is not an industrial process.

A successful education can not be measured collectively. It can be measured only individually and only independent of the results and achievements of others. The education process is not a series of assembly-line increments occurring at fixed intervals at controllable rates with repeated predictable results. Education does not yield a predetermined finished product. The success of an education is not measured by how well it matches blueprint specifications. The success of an education is not measured by how well an individual can recall and repeat what has been learned. The success of an education is measured by how well an individual extends and expands and enriches what has been learned and uses what has been learned to solve problems and create solutions, to create new knowledge and new art. The end result of education cannot be designed or mapped. Education cannot use an unchanging collective blueprint expecting to manufacture identical results. Indeed, the end results of education must not be identical or even uniform. The end result of education is controlled by the unique internal, changing and maturing qualities of the individual student and not by any external expectations, designs, or controls. Education is a process of assisting individual intellectual growth, the discovery of personal strengths and talents, and the maturation of the person as an individual and a social being – a process that does not end with graduation from high school or college. Education has no end result - there is no final product, there is no finished inventory.

Education is only a part of an ongoing life-long process. Training and regimentation and indoctrination are used to make people more nearly identical in some skill or behavior or response or thought. Education is about enriching the natural uniqueness of each person (Houston 2007). Education increases diversity, differentiation, and variability among individuals and decreases uniformity and conformity (Eisner 2001). The sole focus of an education system is the individual child – not parents, not colleges, not corporations, not government, not society, not the economy, and not the future of any other single or group entity. The future is always and inescapably unpredictable, indiscernible, and unknowable - the future does not yet exist. It is irresponsibly presumptuous for any adult to choose a future for a child or to preemptively limit the future of a child. The whole spectrum of future possibilities of each child belongs only and entirely to that child.

Second, an education system has an obligation to discover the talents and strengths of each child, then nurture each child’s confidence in and mastery of those talents and strengths, and provide the opportunities and resources necessary for each child to concentrate and focus on their talents and strengths, explore them in-depth (Eisner 2001) and nurture them to their fullest potential - as chosen and desired by the child.

Third, an education system has an obligation to allow, encourage, and protect generous amounts of unstructured time for a child to engage in child-initiated child-organized freely-chosen play, to explore, and to be creative in serious thought and fanciful imagination – both in solitude and in cooperation with other children. (Bergen & Frombert 2009) (Chmelynski 2006) (Elkind 2001 p. xvii) (Ginsburg 2007) (Jacobson 2008) (Satcher 2005) “Play is essential to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth.” “Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. Play is important to healthy brain development.” “Play is integral to the academic environment. It ensures that the school setting attends to the social and emotional development of children as well as their cognitive development.” (Ginsburg 2007 p. 183)

Fourth, an education system has an obligation to promote within each child a constant self-awareness and self-knowledge and an independent personality, intellect, voice, and initiative. Education encourages a questioning spirit and stifles blind acceptance. The goal of education is to facilitate the acquisition by each child the capability for logical reasoning and evaluation, and the skills for: locating and gathering information, problem-solving, making plans and setting priorities, cooperating with a group without being subservient to the group, sharing knowledge and skills, and being able to earn respect in other cultures while being respectful toward those other cultures (Berliner & Biddle 1995 p. 301).

Fifth, the purpose of an education is to provide each child with the widest exposure to the best of human knowledge in all disciplines; and the widest variety of the best artistic descriptions and expressions of humanity and the human experience; and to provide ample opportunity to experience, understand, and appreciate the natural environment and learn good stewardship of natural resources.

Sixth, a successful education assists each child in acquiring the intellectual and social tools to traverse the world, retaining at least a cautious, if not enthusiastic, curiosity and become a person who is open to, and even desires, continuous life-long learning. Education enables learning. At its best, education inspires a joy for learning (Rakow 2008). Education does not subvert learning to a test score, a hurdle, an obstacle to be conquered, or just another difficult life passage that just has to be endured (Eisner 2001).

What is an Educator? There is no such thing as “teaching” or a “teacher.” There is no way any “teacher” can force knowledge into the mind of a student who is not present, willing, and engaged. There is no research that demonstrates a humane teaching method that is so universally efficient, effective, and largely and continuously successful that the teacher using the method can be held accountable for the results regardless of the participation and attitude of the student (Ediger 2007). In the way the word is commonly used, there is no such thing as “teaching.” There is only learning – a life-long, complex and multi-dimensional, internal individual process unique to each person (Crain 2008)(Driscoll 2005 p. 2)(Johnson 2006). No matter the education or years of experience, the hours of lesson preparation, the quality and intensity and creativity of the lesson presentation – nothing is learned until the student “gets it” (Driscoll 2005 p. 22) – a task and process over which the educator has no control and for which no educator and no school can be held accountable. There is no such thing as teaching that forcibly, controllably, and measurably inserts knowledge or skills into a student. There is only learning.

Well documented are the many ways in which children, starting at birth or earlier, learn on their own (Crain 2005, pp. 143-145) – for example: object permanence (even though mother is out of sight, mother still exists) (Crain 2005 pp. 120-121, 310-312), eye-hand coordination, vocabulary and grammar (Crain 2005 pp. 69-70, 349-359), walking – to name a few. There is no evidence that this internal ability to learn solitarily is ever replaced or largely supplanted by an external process. A normal healthy person never releases or loses the ability to learn. Learning is solely a capability and responsibility of the individual student. Learning is only in the internal cognitive domain of the individual student. It is the student who has to acquire, retain, and integrate new knowledge. It is the student who either assimilates the new knowledge within his or her existing knowledge set or it is the student who must accommodate the new knowledge by redefining or reorganizing his or her existing knowledge set (Crain 2005 p. 115)(Berliner & Biddle 1995 p. 303). Regardless of how the new knowledge is integrated, all of it happens only within the mind of the student – and only if the student is capable – and only if the student makes it happen.

Educators who are well-qualified, caring, and dedicated are critically important and absolutely necessary to the fulfillment of the purposes and obligations of education. Educators are knowledge experts and instructional presenters and trainers and facilitators and guides and mentors and motivators (Bartholomew 2007). An educator is the catalyst that makes learning easier (Merkle 2008) and “more intense and lasting” (Smyth 2005). The traditional concept that an educator can – somehow or in any way – shove knowledge into the mind of a student is false and invalid to the point of being knee-slapping gut-busting laughing-out-loud ludicrous. The true role of the educator is to be an astute observer of each student’s level of mastery, make note of what specific difficulties a student had in obtaining that level of mastery, assess the student’s preparedness and receptiveness for new knowledge, and choose the appropriate methodology for either reenforcement of knowledge currently being learned or progressing to learning new knowledge (Crain 2005 pp. 239-240)(Ediger 2007). A good educator is: a responsive coach, an enthusiastic cheerleader for student efforts and achievements, a servant-leader (Greenleaf 2008), an efficient and effective manager and provider of classroom assets, subject-knowledgeable, available, accessible, affirming, supportive, a gentle guide for the first learning step and for each transition to the next level of learning (Crain 2005 pp. 239-240), manages an age-appropriate richly-stimulating learning environment, and provides an atmosphere of joy (McReynolds 2008). It is not about teaching, it is about reaching.

Educators cannot be held accountable for what students learn. Educators can be held accountable for their professional behavior and use of best practices – just like any other licensed professional. Education is not a technical trade. As a profession, education is built upon personal expertise in concepts and rules and expertise in observing and analyzing how those concepts and rules can best be applied to each student. As a profession, education cannot be constrained to predefined sequences and timelines or inescapably bound by externally chosen tasks. As a professional, an educator must have the liberty to take advantage of new tools, new methods, spontaneous opportunities for object lessons or meaningful tangents, or to initiate a new activity – even on the spur of the moment. Professional accountability sets high standards for personal conduct and for the quality of the service delivered. As long as those standards are met, it is the personal expertise of the individual professional that determines which methods are to be used to fulfill their professional obligations. Implicit within professional accountability is trust and freedom, not blame and control. “While you can beat people into submission, you can’t beat them into greatness” (Houston, 2007, p. 747).

SUMMARY Education has an obligation to recognize at all times the unique state of developmental readiness of each individual child, the universal necessity for play, and to protect and enable the right of each child to have a life and future of their own choosing that aligns with their unique strengths, talents, and interests. The purpose of education is to enable the widest and most diverse possibilities for the future of each child. It is only the unique strengths, talents, and interests of the individual child that should limit possibilities or choose a specific path.

References Bartholomew, B. (2007 April). Why we can’t always get what we want. Phi Delta Kappan, 88(8), 593-598.

Bergen, D. & Frombert, D. P. (2009 February). Play and social interaction in middle childhood. Phi Delta Kappan, 426-430.

Berlinger, D. C., & Biddle, B. J. (1995). The Manufactured Crisis. New York: Basic Books.

Bracey, G. W. (2008 June). Research: Assessing NCLB. Phi Delta Kappan, 89(10),781-782.

Chmelynski, C. (2006 November). Play teaches what testing can’t touch: Humanity. The Education Digest, 10-13

Crain, W. (2005). Theories of Development: Concepts and Applications, 5th Ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall.

Crain, W. (2008). Personal email, July 3, 2008.

Driscoll, M. P. (2005). Psychology of Learning for Instruction, 3rd. Ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Ediger, M. (2007 September). Teacher observation to assess student achievement. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 34(3), 137-139.

Eisner, E. W. (2001 January). What does it mean to say a school is doing well? Phi Delta Kappan, 82(5), 367-372.

Elkind, D. (2001). The hurried child: growing up too fast too soon, 3rd Ed. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.

Ginsburg, K. R. and the Committee on Communications and the Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health. (2007 January). The importance of play in promoting healthy child development and maintaining strong parent-child bonds. Pediatrics, 119(1), 182-191. Retrieved April 25, 2009 from www.pediatrics.org

Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership (2008). http://www.greenleaf.org/index.html

Houston, P. D. (2007 June). The seven deadly sins of no child left behind. Phi Delta Kappan, 88(10), 744-748.

Jacobson, L. (2008, December 3). Children’s lack of playtime seen as troubling health, school issue. Education Week, 28(14) 1-15. Retrieved April 25, 2009 from Academic Search Premier database.

Johnson, A. P. (2006 Sept/Oct). No Child Left Behind: Factory models and business paradigms. Clearing House, 80(1), 34-36.

Merkle, L. D. (2008) personal email, July 21, 2008.

McReynolds, K. (2008 Spring). Children’s happiness. Encounter: education for meaning and social justice, 21(1), 43-48.

Rakow, S. R. (2008 Winter). Standards based v. standards-embedded curriculum: Not just semantics! Gifted Child Today, 31(1), 43-49.

Satcher, D. (2005 September). Healthy and ready to learn. Educational Leadership, 26-30

Smyth, T. S. (2005 Fall). Respect, reciprocity, and reflection in the classroom. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 42(1), 38-41.

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

OCCUPY ROME

The great crime against the Roman Empire by the early churchwas neither political opposition nor armed insurrection – it was much worse.

The great crime of the early church was to ignore and sidestep the Empire proving that The Way of the Empire was not absolute making The Way of the Empire irrelevant.

The Way of the Empire is piety, war, victory, peace the Emperor is Lord relational complexity relations as conquests and politics.

The Way of the Empire is, for the individual, success or failure failure as poverty, hunger, nakedness, powerlessness, servitude, slavery, early death success as wealth, well-fed, fine clothing, political influence, military command, long life.

The Way of the Empire is inevitable, inescapable, singular, myopic – there is no other way.

The Way of the Good News is the personal and persistent unrestrained love and unconditional grace of God and the feeding quenching clothing healing visiting welcoming compassion and the reparative rehabilitating restorative justice of the Community and the inclusive hospitality and joyous generosity and healthy service of the Individual.

The Way of the Good News is an earthly life of divine wisdom centered in the perpetual presence of God requiring no piety, no war, no conquests requiring no militant victories, no war-won war-worn peace requiring no Empire ignoring Empire responses, dismissing Empire demands making Empire expectations, attitudes, values, requirements irrelevant negating Empire culture, dismantling Empire government displacing The Way of the Empire with The Way of the Good News living fearlessly and simply and together as a sharing Community and a loving Family and a grace-full Kingdom of God.

I am invited to commit the same great crime. The Way I choose is...?

Invisible Scars

Here is the last post in our series of “best of” articles for 2011, which first appeared on September 1.  It was written by J.C. Mitchell.  Enjoy!

I was walking my 3 year old boy, Anselm John “AJ,” into Headstart the second week of his program.  Another family was just paces ahead of us and I overheard the young boy say to his mother, “that boy is in my class,” and he turned back to say “Hi AJ”  and we kept walking. I knew that the young boy knew AJ would not respond.  I then heard the mom say, “I don’t think he is in your class” and the boy said “he is” and then she said sternly, “then why did he not respond?”  I came to that little boy’s rescue, “AJ does not communicate, that is why he is in this program.”  She responded, “oh.”

AJ is well loved by children.  There are those in church who always try to engage him and my favorite are those on the playground who met him for the first time and follow him around.  Often, they ask why he doesn’t talk and I would respond “he is two” (all the way up to his last birthday) and I should add AJ is quite tall for his age.  I feel the children understand that he is a very loving and fun boy.  He is bright as well, but he does not use words to communicate.  He is not great at eye contact or pretend play.  If you want to know a letter, he’s your boy.  There are also a growing number of words he can spell and he will count up and down, and ignore everyone in the room.  Nap time is a chore for the aides for he would rather recite letters and spell words and not do so quietly.

Many tell us not to worry, and I am pretty sure we the parents are not worrying, beyond the normal worry parents do, right down to checking on them before going to sleep ourselves.  A lot of people, who don’t know him well, tell us he will grow out of it, and I am sure he will, but it may take some special help.  I had special help for my dyslexia.  This week he is being tested by numerous professionals to determine if he is autistic.  I assume he will be “on the spectrum.”  I am fine with that, and I know he is fine with it, especially if he has a book with letters in it.

Church needs to be a place where we understand differences, especially differences that make us uncomfortable.  I realize from the numerous conversations I have people either want to ignore and deny it, or they want me to be confident it is going to be fine.  Both make me feel angst.  I want to scream, but I don’t--I am the preacher.  I would scream that we the parents mourn the loss of the idealized child and every parent will eventually have that experience (or at least should) let us have that experience.  It’s normal.  Or we know there is something different--we live with him, he has had some tests, let us have our new normal--yes it is fine, and he is himself.  The children are the ones who get it; AJ is different, but he is their friend.  The children see him as part of their group, even if he doesn’t talk to them, or play with them.  They are happy even if he only engages for a moment.  I remember one older child who never heard AJ say something, come running to my wife to tell how he said something, and they know to celebrate his progress and encourage it.  They are his best teachers.

I cannot help but think about how Thomas needed to see the scars to know the resurrected Jesus.  The theologian and sociologist, Nancy Eiesland, who died at 44 on March 10, 2009 was what we often label “disabled” from a congenital bone defect.  She would state that she would hope she would still be disabled in heaven.  "The reason, which seems clear enough to many disabled people, was that her identity and character were formed by the mental, physical and societal challenges of her disability. She felt that without her disability, she would ‘be absolutely unknown to myself and perhaps to God.’”(NYT March 21, 2009)

When Jesus appears in the locked room, He displays his scarred hands and His side to identify Himself. The disciples would have known Jesus' face and voice as this was their teacher, their friend, their Lord, yet Jesus displays his wounds. It must be important. He did not erase those wounds even though He conquered death itself. He comes to the disciples to identify himself as scarred and perfect, and us today as well.  Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit upon the disciples directly.  The church was created and "called-out” with this breath.  Thus Jesus is telling us who we are with His scarred hands. We are the Body of Christ with our own scarred and perfect bodies. We participate in the resurrection with our differently able bodies, though not all of our differences are visible.

For my son is perfect even if he struggles with eye contact and communication, even if he ends up “on the spectrum.”  There may not be a physical scar, but he is differently abled.  How as a church do we recognize that our Lord not only showed His hands to show who He was to Thomas, but who we, the followers, are as well.  Like I said above, I came to the rescue of the little boy, who knew AJ was in his class, who knew that AJ would not respond, who said hello with the hope AJ may engage him, for the boy that will probably, among others, help teach AJ to communicate better.  I rescued this boy who was being questioned by his mother by being blunt: “AJ doesn’t communicate.”  I did not come to the rescue of my son.  He will be perfect, if we as a church and society can understand what children understand.

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.

Bored with Spiritual? Put on your Helmet

(Response to http://www.ucc.org/feed-your-spirit/daily-devotional/spiritual-but-not-religious.html) I was riding my motorcycle just above the speed limit, nothing unsafe or extreme.  I came upon a convertible automobile that was far left in the lane going slow.  It looked like it may be turning left even without a signal.  So I slowed, even if the car was turning I would slow and then it was obvious the car was not going to turn, thus I slowed even greater, even though I could have easily passed on the right with the space and the power of my bike.  However, I have only my leather and helmet and would rather take a minute to insure the rubber side always stays down.  Well, apparently the driver of the car saw me coming and was concerned as well and assumed I would go around on the right unsafely and stopped.  So I stopped.   No big deal, I’d rather everyone be extra safe.   The driver seemed confused and  I waved her to go on, as she did technically have the “right of way.”  I thought nothing about it until the next light for now I was in the left lane to go straight and the convertible was the right lane to turn right.  I came to a safe stop and lifted my visor as I do at most stops, to hear the driver in the convertible screaming at me.  I was pretty sure I did not run over her cat and I know I did nothing dangerous and actually I was extra safe.  I was so confused at this irate barage of words.  I responded with my hand lifted up and saying, “blessings upon you.”   The light turned and I gently resumed my course.

I was upset that I was yelled at.  I even replayed the whole episode in my head a number of times, and I cannot figure out what I had done wrong.  It seems that my only mistake was to be on a motorcycle, a sportbike no less.  There had to be something in the angry driver’s past experience that made her react so vehemently.  I could do nothing correct, and even though I tried by following the rules of the road, I was screamed at, because I was something in her eyes.  She did not see all the other helmets, that is the “hats” I wear, such as husband, father, son, friend, and child of God.

I share this story for all of us Christians who meet people who see us the same as all other Christians, specifically ones that had hurt them previously.  I want to react as I did on the road, but I must admit I was in shock and only had a moment and I believe the Holy Spirit had me bless this hysterical driver.  But I must admit I am not always as good with people who learn I am a preacher.  They project their own past experiences upon me.  Luckily I have not been screamed at, but I have heard the line “I am spiritual, but not religious.”  I used to attempt to convince them that church was important and relevant and some of the conversations were quite interesting.  More than few times I had heard “I would go to your church.”  That alone is not a reason to go to church, but I must admit it would make me feel good.  I have found myself getting bored with these conversations, and honestly annoyed as well, because the assumptions I hear in those conversations is that my vocation is not needed and harmful.  So, yes I agreed with Lillian Daniel’s blog titled, “Spiritual but Not Religious? Please Stop Boring Me.”  I thought it was a well written reflection with good humor and truth, yet the reaction I observed from people who were not clergy and/or active in the church made me reflect further.

Now those who have been abused, ostracized, and harmed by the church, I welcome hysterical screaming and I would be willing not only to offer a blessing but also an apology.  Most (not all) of those that tell me that they are spiritual and not religious were not directly hurt, but had not found the church relevant and they need to share this disappointment and misunderstanding of their lives.  Thus upon reflecting on Lillian’s reflection I have decided not to change seats on the airplane (unless there is a seat with more legroom), but rather put on my helmet and ask the hard question:  How did we, the Body of Christ, not make our church relevant?

As Paul writes, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12:12) So when someone who has found Christianity irrelevant sees I am part of this Body, I must realize that they already see me as wearing a suit of irrelevancy.  To try to convince them to come to church may lead to an interesting dialogue for myself, but it confirms their assumptions; and to simply find them boring confirms the same assumption, the church is irrelevant.  I believe we need to listen, even if it hurts, and leave them feeling blessed and heard.  Hopefully, we will hear through our clergy helmets and learn how to make the Body of Christ more relevant.

The Table Reveals Us

Table talk is common among Disciples. To say that communion is central to our identity would be an understatement of the obvious. By observing how we come around the table you can see who we are and who we want to be. Simply put, table reveals who we are. At our best, Elders preside at the table, symbolic of their role as spiritual leaders in the church. Deacons serve, symbolic of their role as servant leaders in the church. Everyone is welcome to partake, revealing the unity we seek in Christ.

Some churches extend the invitation to children, even before they are baptized. This says something about the way these congregations view children. The table reveals who we are.

Some churches have the same elders praying the same prayer every week. This says something about the life of these congregations. The table reveals who we are.

Some churches have clergy at the table and others won’t let a minister near it. This says something about the dynamics of these congregations. The table reveals who we are.

While much of our church rhetoric includes the table, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about our casual conversation around the table. When people complain that worship is too long, we often point to how long it takes to serve communion. When we plan a Youth Sunday there is concern about how the kids serve, making sure they know the proper way to line up. Deacon and Elder training is often about where to line up and when to move. Unfortunately, much of our conversation on being church follows suit.

We talk about numbers and programs. We talk about what music will attract people to our buildings. We talk about what program will bring people to our church. We talk about how to structure committees to better be the church. We talk more about the institution of church than how to better live out our faith. We worry about numbers and structure more than passion and purpose. Again, the table reveals who we are.

For Disciples, if something new is going to emerge, it will probably come up at the table. Who are we breaking bread with? Who is inviting us to share a meal? Who are we serving with when we set a table?

When have you accepted hospitality from another? When have you reached out beyond your comfort zone? When have you set a table for friends, strangers, enemies?

The table reveals who we are. It can also remind us who we are called to be.