Worship

The Problem is the Answer

By J.C. Mitchell

I grew up in the Roman Catholic tradition, which for my family was more of an ethnic identifier than a faith community.  The church was there for special rituals in life, but it wasn’t until I lived in Ireland that I discovered a more intense relationship and thus I began my search for church in my adult years. 

I will never forget the great performances done by my peers in Connecticut through the Walter Shock School of Dance.  I had only participated in ballroom dancing, as everyone in my town of affluence did, but I simply enjoyed the larger theatric performances.  I can recall the time break dancers came to our school, and when we went to see a Soviet dance company share mostly traditional dances.  This started my love of dance that brought me to love ballet.

So both of these important parts of my life now were not part of my formative years.  Most people that love dance as an adult danced as a child, and constantly in the church I hear about youth church camp experiences and/or how one was raised in the church.  Neither of these is true for me, but that doesn’t make me any less of a fan, and the best fans are actually critics.  I think there is a unique perspective from those who discover church as an adult rather than those who have grown up with it. There is an outside appreciation that may be overlooked. The same may be said of fans of dance who were not dancers in their youth—there is something unique that draws them in.

Recently I was reading Jennifer Homans’ Appollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet, and when I read these words about ballet, I could not help but also think of the church:

Today’s artists [PASTORS]—their students and heirs—have been curiously unable to rise to the challenge of their legacy. They seem crushed and confused by its iconoclasm and grandeur, unable to build on its foundation yet unwilling to throw it off in favor of a vision of their own. Contemporary choreography [WORSHIP] veers aimlessly from unimaginative imitation to strident innovation—usually in the form of gymnastic or melodramatic excess, accentuated by overzealous lighting and special effects. This taste for unthinking athleticism and dense thickets of steps, for spectacle and sentiment, is not the final cry of a dying artistic era; it represents a collapse of confidence and a generation ill at ease with itself and uncertain of its relationship to the past.[i]

I read this over and over, and I could not help but change the word artists with pastors and choreography with worship.  And I must say this applies equally to ballet as it does to the church.

Is this a pure coincidence? 

 Is this a problem of post-modernity? 

Is this a problem of consumerism? 

Is it a problem at all? 

Honestly I think there is more hope for ballet, for it is an artistic form that can explore the divine and humanism equally with no dogma, while the church has found itself stuck in a battle of dogma rather than following the one that preached against organized religion: that Rabbi Jesus.  But maybe we can take the forms and discipline of church, as with ballet, to new and very different ways we cannot even imagine.

Perhaps we can remember in both dance and church, but more importantly in life, what George Balachine asks, “Why are you stingy with yourselves? Why are you holding back? What are you saving for—for another time? There are no other times. There is only now. Right now.”

 

 

 

 

 

[i]Homans, Jennifer (2010-11-02). Apollo's Angels: A History of Ballet (Kindle Locations 10507-10512). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

 

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.

 

The Idea of a Creative Worship Space

By John O'Keefe

A Brief Memory of Childhood:

The only real memory I have of church from when I was a child was going one day with my Grandmother, she needed to talk with the Priest and I was stuck going with her. As we walked into the church I was surprised with how big it was, how dark it was, how cold it was, and how weird it smelled (weird, and not in a good way weird). I can remember it being a place where I did not want to be at that moment in time – and mostly because it was dark, cold and smelly. As we passed into the front of the church my Grandmother looked at me and said, “Go sit in the pews,” as she walked into the side rooms to talk with the guy in black. To be honest with you, for the longest time after that when people talked about “pews” I thought they were talking about how bad church smelled.

A Short (I used the term brief before and I do not desire to be redundant) History of the Pew:

Ever wonder why the church has pews? For just about 1,500 years the church had nothing for those gathered to sit on – the pew (probably both the furniture and the stink) came into the church during the reformation. I guess the idea of having to stand for hours while some long-winded minister rattled on about something or another was just too much for people to take – so, sitting became an issue.

It is true (OK, it is debatable) the Reformation brought about two major evil changes to our church life, long-winded ministers and pews (I guess the pews were added so people did not fall on the floor when they fell asleep listening to those long-winded saints.) Let me rephrase that, the first pews where not for everyone; the reformation (even though we like to think it did) never said that equality would enter the church – oh, no – only those with the big bucks and the ability to buy a pew could have a pew, the rich (after all, we can’t have the rich sleeping on the floor – they need a place to sit and sleep). You see, throughout Christendom those with the big bucks got to sit while the long-winded minister rambled (shouted may be a better word) on and on about who was going to hell and how big the hand-basket needed to be to get them there. But the regular people (the “you and me”), those who worked for a living, needed to stand in the back. Never mind, if on the off chance someone would desire to visit the church, visitors needed to stand as well. The idea was, “no cash, no ass” (if I am not mistaken there was something about grass and gas too – never mind, that was much later) But have no fear, change was on the way, and by “change” I mean another way for greed to enter the church.

Soon, many stuffy old church boards and long-winded preachers figured they could bring in some extra cash if they purchased some pews and rented them out – there we have it, the creation of “the cheap seats.” That’s right, many churches in America got the idea of “renting” the pews to help fund the church – I guess the idea of “giving cheerfully” was not something church people did at the time.

SIDE NOTE: I wonder, did the term “nose bleed section” come from people sitting in the cheap-seats falling asleep and hitting their noses on the pew in front of them?

Through the work of somewhat lesser great men, for example Richard Yates, in his pamphlet The Church in Danger (1815) estimated that over 950,000 people could not worship in a parish church. (I tend to think that those 950,000 people had no desire to be in church to hear some long-winded preacher tell them they were on their way to hell.) So, people soon realized that everyone, not just the rich, had the right to be forever uncomfortable in church – so, pews were added for all (they might not have been the best, or padded – but they were there); well, OK, when I say “all” I don’t really mean “everyone.”  In the Edinburgh Review (1853)[1] a man named William James Conybeare wrote an article entitled “Church Parties” where he mentioned that the Anglicans had adopted the slogan "Equality within the House of God.” It seems that they (those pesky Anglicans) decided that each church was only required to offer 20% free seating (no more, no less). That’s right; the Anglicans ran the first church special, “20% off your salvation seat.” In fact, the idea of “renting” pews became such an issue that some new churches, mostly in the USA, started to let people know that they were "free and open churches" where everyone could sit – keep in mind, when they said “anyone” they don’t really mean “anyone” – please, this was still the mid-1850s. By 1866, Samuel Ralph Townshend Mayer founded The Free and Open Church Association[2] (again, it was 1866, so it was not truly “free” and not even close to being “equal.”).

Generally speaking, pews have a mighty, soughed, weird, greed-filled past within the church. Yet, it took forever to get them into the church, and in some cases it will take hell freezing over to get them out.

Moving Past Pews and Into Fresh Air

Not too long ago I had a very nice conversation with a pastor from the New England area who asked, "Why would you remove the pews from the church and replace them with couches, tables and chairs?" I thought for a moment, and replied, "Well, have you ever noticed how a courtroom and a church look the same? Since one is for judgment and the other is for forgiveness, maybe we should not look like a courtroom."

The idea in creating a worship space that is comfortable for all, not just those who hold to the old tradition of pews, or even folding chairs, seems foreign to the staunch followers. For many, church should not be a comfortable place. I remember once talking with a church leader in Pennsylvania and mentioned that we should get rid of the pews and put in couches. You would have thought I suggested we kill that Jesus guy. He said, “No way. If people want to sit on couches they can stay home.” I said, “They are.”

 If the worship space is where we gather, and God lives, I think it should look more like God’s house, and less like God’s courtroom (I have a feeling God does not have pews in the living room – I see couches, chairs, tables and a killer big screen plasma TV). For this to happen we have to realize that creative people do not do their best work in large, cold, dark smelly places. Here are some thing’s I think we need to do:

First, make the space intimate. Large caverness spaces are not the best places to have an intimate moment with the Divine, or with others. I am pretty sure there is less intimacy in the football stadium church, than in the coffee house church. I do realize that this goes against everything we think of when we think of church. For many, if not most, the idea is that “the only good church is a large church.” I’m not sure that is the case. I have Pastored both, and I can tell you that intimacy is better achieved in a smaller setting. What is important to know is that intimacy also breeds creativity.

Creativity requires that people connect, people share, people talk, people listen, people touch. Without it, without intimacy you will never have the foundations of creativity.

Second, get warm. Now, I am not talking about setting the thermostat at a certain level (though that helps) I am talking about opening up to others. At some level this is related to the idea of having an intimate space, because in that space you are able to connect with others. When I walked into that church when I was a kid, it was cold. Yes, it was physically cold, but it was “cold” – it lacked a human dimension. You see, warmth comes from human contact and seeing that there is human life in the building. We have to get past this idea that everything needs to be spotless, and everything needs to be in its place. When humans enter a space, chaos ensues. Humans bring with them “stuff” (crap, if you will – physical crap, emotional crap, and spiritual crap). Let that “stuff” be, let it form, let it birth the creativity in others.

Third, turn on some lights. I like darkness, and yes it is easy on the eyes, but I have no desire to live in darkness. Let the light shine in; let the light disinfect the space. For many, it is creepy to walk into a dark place, find a spot on a wooden bench and try to connect with others. When I sat waiting for my Grandmother, I keep looking under the seat because I just knew there was some freak monster under the seat – and it was going to grab me and eat me alive.

Lastly, air it out. Now, when I talk about “smells” I am not talking about incense, or candles – those are cool (and let’s be honest, they can hide the smell of the crap that comes in) I’m talking about that musty, rank smell of old. I’m talking about that smell everyone knows about but has no desire to talk about. That weird smell; the one when you ask “what is that smell” everyone says “We have no idea, but it’s always been here.” By letting the light in, by airing out the place, by making it more intimate that smell will go away – that smell could be old books, the ones published long before the oldest member of the church was born and no one reads (dump them – even if you think they are classics – trust me, they’re not) – that smell could be old theology, the kind that hides in the small cracks in the wall only to show itself at the worse time ever (dump it – it has no value and all it does is crowd the room and make it smell). That smell could be old traditions, old memories, old furniture or so many other things. But for the church to truly air out and invite creativity to move in, you have to air out the smell.

Closing

Don’t “think outside the box,” think as if there is no box to begin with. Do not fear change, embrace it and move the church forward.

[1] Sydney Smith (1853). Edinburgh Review, Or Critical Journal. A. and C. Black. p. 309. Retrieved 27 February 2013.

[2]  "Mayer, Samuel Ralph Townshend". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.

 

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

REFORMATION II

REFORMATION II

The Second Reformation Sunday, October 31, 2010 on the 493rd anniversary of the posting of the Thesis of Martin Luther

Reclaiming the Fundamentals of The Way

by Douglas C. Sloan

The Way is to...

* live the sacred life - here and now - of the one universal Good News message as the Kingdom of God.

* worship God, who has never been, at any time for any reason, a capricious God of death, war, murder, destruction, violence, abuse, vengeance, hate, fear, lies, slavery, systemic injustice, oppression, conditional acceptance, exclusion, segregation, discrimination, shunning, ostracism, eternal condemnation, eternal punishment, retribution, sacrifices, patriarchy, matriarchy, empire, nationalism, only one culture, only one race or portion of the population, parochialism, sectarianism, dogma, creeds, pledges, oaths or censorship – and who has never behaved as a Greco-Roman or narcissistic deity.

* worship God, who is singular, solitary, nonmaterial, immanent, transcendent – the sacred and ultimate reality, the divine mystery, the more – and who has always been a consistent God of life, peace, creation, truth, healing, rehabilitation, restoration, forgiveness, reconciliation, inclusion, participation, diversity, liberation, justice, resurrection, transformation, love and grace. There are neither multiple nor opposing divine forces or entities or identities or personalities. There is only God.

* know the grace of God to be unconditional and boundless – my acceptance by God requires nothing of me.

* know the love of God... .........to be unrelenting and unlimited; .........makes no exceptions and has no qualifications; .........to be the constant inviting presence of God; and .........to be the unconditional acceptance by God of me in my entirety as a gift.

* worship God, whose will is and who has always yearned 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 generous; .........be hospitable; .........be compassionate; .........do no harm; .........heal and rehabilitate and restore; .........forgive and reconcile and include all and have all participate; .........be good stewards of all resources; .........live here and now as one family; .........live in a loving intimate relationship with God; .........be transformed through resurrection; and .........be the kingdom of God.

* worship God, who has always been the same and whose character does not change and who is not capricious or abusive or narcissistic. God performs neither miracles nor acts of retribution. God neither saves nor condemns. God has never required and never accepted a sacrifice by anyone for any reason. God desires worship as relationship, not praise or euphoria. God does not preplan or predestine or interfere with the course or end of my life.

* reject as components or identifying characteristics or requirements of faith and worship and church and Christianity and life and God and Jesus and the Good News message and the Kingdom of God: death, war, murder, destruction, violence, abuse, vengeance, hate, fear, lies, slavery, systemic injustice, oppression, conditional acceptance, exclusion, segregation, discrimination, shunning, ostracism, eternal condemnation, eternal punishment, retribution, sacrifices, patriarchy, matriarchy, empire, nationalism, the superiority of one culture or one race or some portion of the population, parochialism, sectarianism, dogma, creeds, pledges, oaths, censorship, the valuation of thoughts or beliefs or praise or euphoria over justice and service and relationships, and any consideration of post-mortal existence.

* read scripture... .........as a sacrament for the experience and presence of God; .........for inspiration and motivation and contemplation and meditation and .........spiritual truth and insight and illumination about .........how God is a presence and influence in my life and .........to better understand the love and grace of God and .........to discern how God is calling me forward and .........beyond my previous understanding of God .........to a better and more complete and more mature understanding of God and .........how God is calling me forward .........to a more loving relationship with others and with God.

* know the best understanding of scripture requires... .........a scholarly knowledge of the original languages of the scripture and .........the linguistic devices used in the scripture .........(cultural assumptions, coded language, humor, sarcasm, hyperbole, .........poetic metaphor, etc.), .........of the cultural and historical environment in which the scripture was written, .........and .........of the people of that time by whom and for whom the scripture was written.

* know scripture as the metaphorical and narrative and thoughtful writings by the ancestors of my faith, who recorded their contemporary and historical, personal and cultural perception and understanding of the presence and influence of God in their lives and in the life of their community. While, at most, it can be persuasive or instructional, the scripture is not controlling.

* know the community of followers of The Way and worship and living the Good News message as the Kingdom of God to be more important than dogma and creeds and land and structures and debt and continuing expenses and material abundance and wealth accumulation and to be more important than pledges and oaths and empire and nationalism and patriotism and citizenship and civic religion and patriarchy and matriarchy and parochialism and sectarianism and political influence and social standing and financial clout.

* know largess to be more important than largeness and to hold that generosity and hospitality to all is a fundamental element of the Good News message and a defining characteristic of the Kingdom of God.

* know compassionate service to those who are hurt or lost or oppressed as a fundamental element of the Good News message and a defining characteristic of the Kingdom of God. Service requires partnership between the server and the served. Holy and wholesome service requires that the server be competent and healthy. Service is not slavery, not some form of enforceable servitude, and not an opportunity or a justification for the server to be oppressed or abused.

* know that as the children of God, we are one family in one place. There are no races, no tribes, no indigenous peoples, no ethnic groups, no castes, no nations, no royalty, no aristocracy, no social classes, no economic classes, no genders, no sexual orientations, no geography, no religions, no denominations, no sects, no churches, no elite, no privileged, no saved, no unsaved, no slaves, no outcasts, no untouchables – none of these are a consideration or a barrier or a limitation to the possession and development and utilization of time and effort and gifts and talents for service to others or participation in the Kingdom of God – there is no “us” and no “them”, no “here” and no “there”, no families other than the one family of all people together in one place as the children of God.

* know Jesus as: an intelligent compassionate Jewish mystic who had a strong persistent connection to and participation in and understanding of God; who could explain the reality of God to others and introduce them to a personal experience of God and a personal relationship with God; a messenger of the Good News and an example of the Kingdom of God. Because Jesus was effective as a messenger and successful as an example, he was killed. Both in message and self-understanding, Jesus was non-messianic and non-eschatological.

* know an experience of “the resurrected Jesus” or any other positive divine experience as an experience of the immediate and tangible presence of God, to know with confidence the reality of being and being in and of the Kingdom of God.

* not regard Jesus as divine or as a sacrifice or atonement or ransom or a substitute for me. The Good News message and the Kingdom of God and the presence and experience of God are what are divine in mortal life. Because of the love and grace of God, sacrifice and atonement and ransom and substitution on my behalf are not required for me to be accepted by God and to participate fully in and as the Kingdom of God.

* know the reemergence and revitalization of the disciples after the death of Jesus: ......–– as the first followers of The Way; ......–– as the first Good News resurrection and transformation; ......–– as the first example and witness that ......–– resurrection and transformation do exist and ......–– do not require death as a precedent; ......–– as example and witness that ......–– resurrection and transformation are available to all; and ......–– as example and witness that ......–– the Kingdom of God is here and now and active.

* know baptism, regardless of the method used, as a public act of private intent – to commit to living as a follower of the Good News message by being the Kingdom of God. Other followers are to provide the new follower with tolerance (ideally, acceptance) and the safety of time in a place devoid of condemnation and retribution which is necessary for the new follower to put behind and to put away a past life, to let the previous life die and in its place resurrect a new transformed life and person.

* know communion, regardless of the frequency it is shared or what elements are used, as a public act of universal unity. We gather at an open table where, without exception and without qualification, all are invited. At an open table, we celebrate and affirm the ever-present life of the Good News message and the ever-present all-inclusive unifying love of the Kingdom of God.

* proclaim “Jesus is Lord” and mean that I have no other Lord, that no person of any social or political or religious position has dominion over my life. To proclaim “Jesus is Lord” is to take a moral and spiritual stance and to commit an act of radical counter-cultural non-violent defiance of the oppression and systemic injustice committed by empire and civic religion and by individuals who are more interested in power over others than in service to others. My faith is personal. My faith is not a matter of proxy or the authority of others.

* know that the Good News message is not a loss of my freedom or independence, indeed, it is a much fuller realization of my freedom and independence; is not a forsaking of intelligence or wisdom or knowledge or the search for new knowledge or learning or finding new ways to see reality, or new insights into the workings and purposes of reality, or discovering or creating new visions of what reality could be; is not to forsake seeking or questioning or doubting or examination or reexamination or analysis or reanalysis. The Good News is dynamic, not static; is life, not death, not after death; is growth, not stunted development; is moving forward and moving beyond my current existence and is moving forward and moving beyond my current understanding of my existence and of God.

* be guided and instructed by the Good News message, which is: ......–– God is unconditional boundless grace and unlimited unrestrained love ......–– and always has been;

......–– God wants to have a loving intimate relationship with each of us ......–– without exception and without qualification;

......–– seek justice as healing and rehabilitation and restoration;

......–– seek universal reconciliation and inclusion and participation;

......–– in healthy partnership, ......–– compassionately serve all who are hurt or lost or oppressed;

......–– be generous and hospitable to all;

......–– live non-violently without vengeance and ......–– with a cheerful fearlessness of death and worldly powers; and

......–– be – here and now – the Kingdom of God.

Whatever we do – Whatever we are – Wherever we are – – can never separate us from the love and grace and the surrounding and inviting and welcoming and inclusive presence of God.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - PDF FILES - to download and print REFORMATION II - poster size --- 11" x 17", 1 page (appropriate size for posting on the doors of churches and other institutions)

REFORMATION II - letter size --- 8.5" x 11", 6 pages (appropriate size for copying and sharing)

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BIOGRAPHY Doug is a member of Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), 4950 East Wabash Avenue, P.O. Box 3125, Terre Haute, IN 47803-0125 (812-877-9959). Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is an open and affirming congregation where Doug has served as Elder and Treasurer and enjoys his continuing membership in the choir as the lowest voiced bass. He graduated in 2009 with a M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from Indiana State University and a BS in Management Information Systems from Ball State University in 1997. Since August 2005, he has been a member of the CIS Adjunct Faculty at the Terre Haute campus of Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana. He has been published in DisciplesWorld and Encounter: Education for Meaning and Social Justice. In the summer of 2010, Doug became a contributor to [D]mergent. Of the 7 articles he wrote, 5 are in the top 10 most-viewed articles at [D]mergent. Doug is married to Carol, a First Grade teacher, and is the father of two sons.

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STUDY RESOURCES To better understand the theology of Reformation II, please read the previous seven [D]mergent articles by Doug Sloan, listed here in order of publication: ..........RECLAIMING CHURCH ..........GOD IS... ..........RECLAIMING GOD ..........RECLAIMING MIRACLES ..........RECLAIMING NOT ..........RECLAIMING the GOOD NEWS - an epistle ..........RECLAIMING FORGIVENESS - it's personal

THESIS OF MARTIN LUTHER - in English

Emerging from, as, and into Church

I think every church, especially every Disciples church, should host one or more services featuring the kind of music "we don't like." Those that no longer match the demographics of their neighborhood should conduct a service that does. Encourage your youth to conduct their own service. Then, encourage cross-service attendance and talent sharing, so everyone can discover what we have in common.

Read More

Hair Bands + Pipe Organs = A Way Forward?

2000 years ago, I took an undergrad course on critical thinking.  It has caused me far more harm than good over the years; in truth I would be better off for not having taken it at all.  I am no fun at parties (“So why does a gecko know anything about car insurance?”  “Exactly WHO voted baseball America’s game?” “Why should a toilet smell like a pine forest anyway?”).  And my husband and I never feel guilty about not paying for the address labels we receive in the mail that are decorated with small animals. Though we don’t use them, either.

How does this related to [D]mergent?  Beats me.  No, wait – I do have a point.  I am of an age (55) and position (ordained clergy) and geography (parish minister in a small college town in eastern Kentucky) at which I stand at a crossroad of worship style and function.  And though I have friends who speak both liturgy and contemporary, I would like to say a few words about the underlying theological pitfalls that can occur without using the above mentioned critical thinking.

It occurs to me that, with few exceptions, folks label churches based on the style of worship, the genre of music used, and the dress of those on the chancel (or the stage).  Hymnals, diaconate, robe: traditional.   Big screens, ushers, golf shirts: contemporary.  However, and this is a LARGE however, when one looks critically at what is being preached and implemented, where social change and justice issues are pushed and prodded – that’s another story.

More often than not, the dude up front dressed like Charlie Sheen in “Two and a Half Men” is preaching a sermon that is – minus the cool graphics flashing behind him – straight out of Charles Spurgeon.  The audience (never the “congregation”) is made up of a lot of folks who were teens in the ‘80s.  (Which may be why so much contemporary Christian music sounds like stuff from Hair Bands in the ‘80s, but I digress). The outreach is geared toward making the world Americanized, Protestant, and full of soft ice cream and pay toilets.  The music teaches a form of triumphalistic, uber-personal, salvationiness ; “MY God reigns!  Woot!”.

And conversely, the small dusty church with the pipe organ that is played on the one week of the month that the organist is not playing rehearsals for a show choir, with a minister wearing a stole that signifies a calendar that is alien to most, is preaching to a mix of 80 year olds in boiled wool St John suits and teenagers who have wandered in off the streets because the organ music sounded somehow safe and different to them.  The church has most likely started a Moveable Feast for the AIDs victims in town, and their VBS is not packaged nor marketed, and is attended by children whose parents are nowhere to be found.  Their music is often familiar to the point of nausea; but it does speak of theology.  Some of it is quite faulty theology, but there nonetheless.

My point?  I think this is indicative of the odd and shifting sand that is the church.  Right now, contemporary is IN, which means the movers and the shakers are there.  The disenfranchised are moving into the traditional churches, in part because the movers and the shakers ARE heading to other pastures.  Traditional churches no longer have the luxury of turning folks away – they’re in survival mode.

Which is just where sneaky old Jesus wants ‘em. Over and over again, Jesus has told us: “If you want to seek me, I’m not hard to find.  I’m with the folks you don’t want to spend time with over cocktails.”

Before we start judging or categorizing (and whatever happened to ‘unity, diversity, charity’?) we should look beyond the surface to examine the deeper message. Sure, sure, sure – traditional churches have to move into the 21st century, and get websites, play a mixture of music, and at least EXPLAIN why a robe can still matter. But there is one GREAT opportunity for them out there!  There is an opportunity to practice resurrection, and be born again, IF the remnant still attending can be critical thinkers and figure out what Jesus REALLY wants them to do.

But, please, just a request when it comes to marketing:  don’t use a gecko, a coffee cup, or folks looking moody in the rain.  Been done.

By Molly Smothers

Molly Smothers is an ordained minister in the Disciples of Christ denomination. She has pastored congregations in Harrison and Montgomery counties in Kentucky. She lives with her husband Leon on a farm in Rowan County, where she has been the minister of First Christian (DOC) for the last five years.  She enjoys klezmer music, and collecting yak hair.