injustice

The Creatively Maladjusted

Given the fact that it is Martin Luther King, Jr. day and injustice toward vulnerable people persists, I thought I might offer a few thoughts about what it means to remain silent in the face of that injustice—and about what it means not to, what it means to be creatively maladjusted.  Disclaimer: My analogy with the Civil Rights movement is only meant to be suggestive, not to establish easy equivalences

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 whowere selling the doves, “Take these things out of here!  Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”  His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”  The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?”  Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:1319).

Following the first miracle at the wedding in Cana, Jesus and his new disciples take a few days off, then head into Jerusalem.

Where do they go?  Straight to the temple.

What happens?  Jesus makes a whip of cords and starts turning over the tables of the money changers.  He’s ranting and raving about how they’re turning God’s house into a marketplace.  The folks in charge don’t much care for his attitude and say, “Who are you?  What sign can you show us for doing this?”  Then, Jesus commits the ultimate Jewish faux pas by saying, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

What Jesus has done, in effect, after making such a grand splash at the wedding at Cana, is to guarantee that the very people who might have helped promote his ministry are the ones whom he has alienated by his little foray into temple finances.  He’s made some pretty influential enemies in his first trip to Jerusalem.

So what?  What’s the significance?

Well, think about it.  When Jesus cleanses the temple in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, it occurs at the very end of Jesus’ ministry—after entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and just before being snatched up and crucified on Good Friday—which, if you think about it, makes more sense.  You can see why Jesus would be upset with the religious establishment in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  They’ve hounded him for three years, and are plotting to kill him.  A little righteous indignation seems appropriate.

But in John, the cleansing of the temple comes right at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  He’s had nothing but smooth sailing up to this point.  Why upset the temple bigwigs right off the bat?  It makes much less sense, from a narrative standpoint, to have Jesus challenge the money changers in the temple just as his ministry is taking off.  Why does John set up the story this way?

John puts the story of the cleansing of the temple right next to the wedding at Cana on purpose.  He’s making some rhetorical hay about the shape and trajectory of Jesus ministry.

What do I mean?

Well, how must the disciples be feeling after seeing Jesus pull a Bobby Knight in the temple? They have to be terribly confused.  They thought they were getting a pretty engaging guru, fun to have around at parties, somebody to keep the open bar open—but what they got instead was a loose cannon, an unpredictable guy who knows his way around the business end of a whip.  Jesus' impatience with the way things are calls to mind what Martin Luther King wrote in Strength to Love:

 “Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.”

Well, Jesus is nothing if not creatively maladjusted.

Jesus explodes our tame, self-aggrandizing expectations about how joining up with him will be the end of our problems.  John wants to show us that just because you follow Jesus doesn’t mean everything magically becomes sweetness and light.  In fact, joining up with Jesus may cause you a whole new set of problems you might otherwise have avoided if you’d just stayed home and watched Jeopardy.  Sometimes we have to follow Jesus into the temple, where only hostility awaits us.

And that bothers us, doesn’t it?  If not, we haven’t been paying attention to what happens to people willing to walk into the teeth of the storm.

In April of 1963, a group of well-meaning (I think) white clergy in Alabama got together and issued a statement calling for the end of demonstrations they considered “unwise and untimely,” by “some of our Negro citizens, directed and led in part by outsiders,” even though this group of white clergy recognized “the natural impatience of people who feel their hopes are slow in being realized.”  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birthday we celebrate today, responded to these clergy in his, now famous, Letter from a Birmingham Jail.  Not surprisingly, Dr. King’s anger at the unjust social systems made bolder through their embodiment in law is present throughout his letter, raising again the Augustinian question about whether unjust laws—laws that degrade “human personality” and “distort the soul”—ought rightfully to be considered laws at all.

Dr. King reserves his biggest disappointment, however, for the church.  He rightly criticizes white moderates, whom he considered to be “more devoted to ‘order’ than to ‘justice’; who prefer a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”   He speaks candidly in his letter about weeping because of the laxity the church, about how “blemished and scarred” is the body of Christ “through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformist.”

At one point, Dr. King recalls with a certain wistfulness “a time when the church was very powerful.”  It’s interesting to note, though, just how he sees the church’s relationship to that power.  The church was at its most transformative, he argues,

when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.  Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being ‘disturbers of the peace’ and ‘outside agitators.’  But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were a ‘colony of heaven,’ called to obey God rather than humans.  Small in number, they were big in commitment.  They were too God-intoxicated to be ‘astronomically intimidated.’  By their efforts and their example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide, and gladiatorial contests.

It occurs to me that we who have committed ourselves and our communities of faith to seeking justice are the inheritors of that legacy—a legacy that hears the cries of inequity and injustice, and remains incapable of turning a deaf ear.

We are the spiritual offspring of the creatively maladjusted.  We cannot stand by and do nothing.  We join together across the diversity of theological and denominational lines to take our place in the procession—a procession that, just in this country alone, stretches back through the Civil Rights movement, through women’s suffrage, and through the abolition of slavery.

We are people who cannot abide and will not stomach the excuses offered up by unjust systems that somehow “now is not the time,” or that raising a ruckus only contributes to the problem.  We draw together because we’ve been called to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God—not because there is anything necessarily heroic in us, but because we’ve been passed a torch by heroes and saints who’ve gone before us, and who have called us to bear witness that God is not satisfied with either an unjust society or a lazy church “more devoted to ‘order’ than to ‘peace.’”

There's a constituency within the church today urging caution, who think it "unwise and untimely" to press the issue of justice for young African American men who suffer disproportionately at the hands of the legal system, for the full inclusion of LGBTQ people within the church, for a beloved community that includes our Muslim sisters and brothers—even though this constituency recognizes “the natural impatience of people who feel their hopes are slow in being realized.”  They believe that taking any kind of a stand will be heavy-handed and disruptive, while failing to realize that, if Jesus is our model, heavy-handed disruption of the existing unjust order is sometimes not the thing we wait for the right time to pursue, but the very thing with which we lead, the thing that sets the shape and trajectory of our ministry.

If we are indeed the offspring of the creatively maladjusted, we will never have a better time than the celebration of the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to start living like it.

Peace vs. Justice

By Rev. Mindi

Recognizing that I am a white pastor and writer on this blog, and guessing that the audience of this blog is predominantly white, my question is this: do our prayers for peace mean silence?

Often, sadly, I think they do.

In the aftermath of Freddie Gray’s violent death while being in police custody, protestors took to the streets of Baltimore. It wasn’t long before more police were called in, then stones were thrown, then hundreds of police in riot gear, then fires started, then the National Guard was called in. What I hear and see from my white colleagues is “pray for peace in Baltimore.” What I hear and see from my colleagues of color is “work for justice in Baltimore.” Sometimes, I think white Christians think that peace and justice are the same thing. They are not.

True peace comes after the work of justice, not vice versa. I think all too often white Christians quote Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others about nonviolent protests and do not quote them about anger and the work of justice. We quote Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, but not “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” in which King clearly calls out white clergy who have tried to silence him in the name of peace. We think that if people who are oppressed would just sit down and talk calmly and rationally about their feelings, the oppressors will then listen.

Imagine if Jesus had walked calmly into the temple and sat down at the moneychanger’s tables and said, “Listen, I want to talk to you about how you are cheating the poor by selling them doves that are not acceptable for sacrifice and are not giving a fair exchange rate for the temple currency.” Do you think they would have listened? Or would they have ignored him, or even had him removed?

Jesus said, “Those who live by the sword die by the sword.” Jesus also turned over the moneychanger’s tables, scattering the coins, and stopped the carrying of merchandise through the temple. If that doesn’t sound like the beginning of a riot, an act of vandalism, an outpouring of righteous anger, I don’t know what does. Jesus didn’t call for the harming of others. But it’s clear that Jesus didn’t care about property, either. He cared about people. And after he threw the tables around, the leaders looked for a way to kill him because they were afraid of him (Mark 11:15-18).

We claim to follow Jesus to the cross, but I bet we never got past the temple doors. We never got to where the message became uncomfortable. We want peace, not the sword of division. But calling out injustice may cause division, uncomfortableness, and anger.

I call myself out in this. I was all set to preach last November as we were waiting for news of any indictment of Officer Wilson in the death of Michael Brown. But I never got that far. Even in praying for Michael Brown’s family, I was asked to not be so divisive. I was asked to pray for the police officers and to pray for peace. And in my own fear of being seen as divisive, of causing controversy, I consented. I still was active in public conversation and social media, but within the hour of worship, I went silent after that. I didn’t want to cause trouble. I failed the church, and I failed the children of color that are part of my church family.

We cannot pray for peace without justice. Psalm 34:14 says “seek peace, and pursue it.” The pursuit of peace is the path of justice. Justice demands that the violence of murder be accounted for. Justice demands that the systemic subjugation and killing of black persons in America be stopped. Justice demands that the cries of the oppressed, through chants and signs to rocks and flames be heard. Be listened to. Be understood. Not simply condemned without accountability for the death and violence that has already taken place.

If you are like me, wanting to speak for justice but afraid to do so, please do one thing: stop simply “praying for peace.” If you want peace, as everyone knows, work for justice. Look to the prophets and preach on justice. Look to your community and find ways of working for justice. Amplify the voices of the oppressed in your community and share their stories (with their permission, of course—or better yet, invite others to come share their stories) with your congregation.  

We can pray for peace, but only if we first have truly worked for justice. Otherwise, our attempts at peace are just to make ourselves, often white Christians, feel better and safer, instead of lifting up the oppressed and seeking justice, as Christ called us to do.

Racism, Ferguson, and the Mainline Liberal Church

By Rev. Mindi

At the time I am writing this, a state of emergency has been declared in Ferguson, Missouri, as the results of a grand jury investigating the death of Michael Brown on August 9th, 2014 are soon to be released. Officer Darren Wilson has been on paid administrative leave since the shooting of the unarmed teenager.

If you haven’t been paying attention, there have been protests every day since Michael’s death. Peaceful protests. In the first week, much attention was paid to the “riots” which were, in fact, twelve businesses that were vandalized, mainly by out-of-town people according to reports. There have been no officers harmed in any of the protests, but plenty of protestors have been shot at with rubber bullets, assaulted, and arrested. Yet the protests have continued on, and they haven’t been in the media’s eye because they have been peaceful. Because they have continued on, day after day, demanding justice for Michael Brown and for other young black people who have been killed by police violence.

The state of emergency declaration means the National Guard has arrived. Police have been militarized. They are ready for war, against a people who are crying out for the right to live, the right to exist. I hear people say “It is the 1960’s all over again,” but in reality, this has been the daily life of Black Americans. When I speak to my black friends, this is the fear they live: that they will be pulled over, that they will be assaulted, that they will be presumed guilty when they walk into a store or walk down the street, that they will be hurt or killed without question. This is not a fear I live with as a white person, but it is a fear made real to me as I hear stories from the black members of my church, from the black children who have been kicked out of stores for fear of shoplifting when they were just talking loud.

Racism is rooted in the heart of America. It is rooted in our Constitution that only saw black people as 3/5ths of a person. It is rooted in our forefathers and foremothers owning of slaves. It is rooted in our economy, our history, our social construction and our community planning. It is rooted in the heart of the American church, too.

In the mainline liberal church, we have been slow throughout history to take up the cause of justice. We put our hands in our pockets or cover our ears, thinking the church doesn’t have a voice in this. We get involved slowly, reluctantly, whether it be against racism or against misogyny or against homophobia and transphobia or against ableism. And the truth is we have never, ever recovered from our sin of racism, a sin that also caused us to wipe out tribe after tribe in the name of Jesus when the church came to the Americas.

As we raise our rainbow flags, remember that LGBTQ voices of persons of color need to be lifted up and heard. As we work to include people of all abilities, let us remember the persons of color with disabilities. As we work to include more women in church leadership, let us work to include women of color into the pulpit and other leadership positions. White persons end up taking up the space in other marginalized groups. Racism still prevails, even when we think we are working for equality for all.

Pray for Ferguson now. Follow the #Ferguson hashtag on Twitter and social media. Sign up for the daily newsletter at This is the Movement. And pastors, church leaders and others: read the Faith in Ferguson blog and follow #FergusonTheology on Twitter. Preach on injustice and racism, especially this Sunday, as the grand jury decision will probably be out by then. If you follow the lectionary, the Matthew 25 passage preaches Ferguson. Involve your church in anti-racism work. If there are protests planned in your city, perhaps your church can be a safe place for organizers to gather, for protestors to rest. Or think of the protestors needs: water, hats, gloves, prayer. What can you do? What would Jesus have you do?

When Some Isn't Enough

By Brian Carr

If you aren’t willing to stand up for everybody, you can’t stand up for anybody.

I've been thinking about that statement a lot recently. I have been doing a lot of theological reflection lately, trying to flesh out my own theology and convictions, and this statement became a focal point of my thoughts.

If you couldn’t wrap your head around that, or don’t understand what I mean by it, let me explain.

Essentially what I am saying is that if you aren’t willing to stand up for everyone who is oppressed, then you can’t truly stand up for any oppressed person.

Here is an example—if you stand up for African-American rights, but not for the rights of women, then are you truly able to stand up for African Americans? One of the first problems becomes what happens when you encounter an African-American female. Will you stand up against those oppressing her for being black, but not against those who oppress her for being a woman? If that is the case then you are simultaneously trying to stand up for her and oppress her. That can’t work.

The other issue is that if you stand up for one group of oppressed people but not another, then you are an oppressor by definition. To me, there is no gray area in the realm of oppression. You are either standing up for the oppressed or taking part in the system that oppresses them. There is no in between.

By not standing up for an oppressed person you are by default oppressing them. Silence is a form of oppression. Gandhi once said that choosing not to speak is choosing to speak and choosing not to act is choosing to act. If you hear someone make a racist joke and stay silent, you are taking part in that form of oppression. You are just as much of an oppressor as the person making the joke because you are allowing that person to oppress others.

Again, there is no gray area. You either oppress or you stand up for the oppressed. You have to choose a side.

Let’s bring this back to the initial statement—if you aren’t willing to stand up for everyone, you can’t stand up for anyone.

You must be willing to stand up for every oppressed person in order to break the system of oppression. If you stay silent with even one person, you have become a part of systemic oppression and that fact alone limits your ability to truly stand up for anyone.

In a similar vein, what if I said that if you aren’t willing to love everyone, you can’t truly love anyone?

If your love is limited to certain people and not others, if it is conditionally based on the person you are choosing to love or not love, if it is not broad, then is it really, truly love?

I truly believe that our love is meant for everyone, and if we limit this love then we are not using love in the way it was meant to be used. In the same way, I believe that we are meant to stand up for everyone who is oppressed. So if we only choose to stand up for certain people, then we are not using our ability to help people in the way we were meant to do.

That is the problem.

So now I say more confidently—if you aren’t willing to stand up for everyone, you can’t stand up for anyone.

 

Healthcare: Injustice for All

By Rev. Mindi 

A four-year-old classmate of my son’s has cancer, very advanced, and the insurance company has deemed his treatment “experimental” and will not cover it.

A friend is stuck paying thousands out of pocket for a procedure that was not covered by her insurance company but deemed vitally necessary for her health by her doctor. Hospital refused to consider her for their low-income payment plans because she didn't qualify.

A friend’s father had a stroke. The doctors at the local hospital refused to consult with his neurologist because he was part of a different hospital group and therefore critical information was not passed on.

This is wrong. This is injustice.

In the U.S., healthcare reform is coming into play. One can no longer be denied insurance coverage due to a previously diagnosed condition. Families can carry young adults on their insurance plans until age 26. Many forms of birth control are now available without extra cost through insurance providers (though there is a religious exemption that is still being debated).

But it’s not nearly enough. The gap between those who are so poor they have to be on state insurance and those who are just able to afford to pay for insurance or have an employer who will do so is widening. The gap of those who will slip through the cracks, who will pay a penalty and not have any health insurance is a chasm no one should have to fall into.  And even wider still will be those who will have insurance, but like my son’s classmate, the insurance will fail to cover many expenses.

My own family, on a denominational health insurance plan, pays much out of pocket to cover our son’s therapies and various appointments, not to mention dental coverage that is extremely costly and not covered. We are stretched so thin that we have had months where we have decided what bills to pay and what bills to put off.

And even those on insurance find themselves victims of hospital for-profit corporations whose doctors have to play politics to keep their job rather than consulting with one another across the same field, thus resulting in misdiagnosis, misinformation, and at times critical injury or death.

This is wrong. This is injustice.

Where is the church in all of this? In the news, the “church” is the one arguing for religious exemptions from having to provide coverage for birth control. Within our denominations, our churches vary at providing good coverage or poor coverage. I was on one denominational plan before I was pregnant with my son that provided so little maternity coverage (as I have found few mainline Protestant denominations do) that I switched to a private plan. We paid a little more per month for premiums, had a higher deductible, but almost everything was covered for our son’s birth. This turned out to be good news, as I ended up with an emergency C-section, a massive infection and extended hospital stay, plus home health care. I can’t imagine the thousands of dollars we would have paid out of pocket had I been on the previous plan, or how soon I would have been sent home from the hospital.  The church plan would have left us scrambling to pay the bills.

Churches, we can lead in this.

We can demand better coverage from our insurance companies for our staff and employees.

We can work to organize people in our congregations to speak out for better healthcare coverage from their employees and from insurance companies.

But most of all, I believe we need to change our system. We have to confront the idea that employers are the best dispensaries of healthcare coverage has got to change. Healthcare cannot be a benefit that is earned by a few.

We need to challenge the idea that healthcare is a privilege, and lifting up healthcare as a universal human right.

We must change the notion that anyone is expendable, whether they have a disability, an illness, a genetic condition, are poor, are sick, are elderly, are not documented, or any other way people have been devalued by our system of health care.

We must speak out for a new vision of healthcare, one in which people are valued over corporate rules and politics. One in which doctors and experts are free to speak to one another and share information easily to reduce miscommunications and mistakes.

What if churches were to lead the way? What if we were to bring together doctors and nurses and hospital officials in our communities and say, “How can we change healthcare in our community so that no one falls through the cracks?”

What if we were to group together and provide low-cost health insurance to our members (imagine the memberships piling in!) and provide basic medical services (such as regular health screenings, flu vaccinations, and other prevention-based services) to the community?  What if we didn’t just have blood drives but had basic first-aid drives and gave away basic first-aid needs to the community? What if we got a dentist and a hygienist to offer free dental cleanings once a month?  What could we do together?

If we as churches are concerned about the well-being of those who are part of our community, then we must step up to bring change about to health care. And I believe we can start that transformation of the system by rethinking our role. We don’t have to just speak out for one form of health care reform or another. We can act. We can support local clinics, or begin one. We can do our part to transform the conversation, to transform the system, if we dare to dream about our role in healthcare differently.

Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. ~James 5:14

Everything Can/Must/Will Change [NOW]

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"...And in my opinion, the young generation of whites, blacks, browns, whatever else there is, you’re living at a time of extremism, a time of revolution, a time when there’s got to be a change.  People in power have misused it, and now there has to be a change and a better world has to be built, and the only way it’s going to be built—is with extreme methods.  And I, for one, will join in with anyone—I don’t care what color you are—as long as you want to change this miserable condition that exists on this earth.”

- Malcolm X, 12/3/1964 - Oxford University

Everything must change.

Since I was a kid, my dad and I have played chess.  Because he has never believed in letting someone win, he used to beat me a lot.  As I was learning the game, my dad would get me into check and then help me figure out how to get out of check.  He might say, "you have three possible moves" or "you have two moves available" or "you have one move left."  Invariably, I would hear, "checkmate."

This went on for almost 25 years.  That's how old I was when I beat him for the first time.

The key to developing a strategic mind, one that can navigate the game of chess, is to see all the available moves ahead of time.  It is an exhilarating feeling to watch a field of virtually limitless possibilities narrow into increasingly smaller paths.  They become threads that can lead into dead-ends or escapes.  Those threads can strangle you, or pull out creative options you didn't know you had.  Either way, you are able to see things on the board that are obscure to someone who doesn't know the game.  You can see when the game is over several moves before it happens.

"Three possible moves... two moves available... one move left.  Checkmate."

I believe that we are living in a time when people are coming to see that so long as the unfolding of civilization is locked to the grid of such a chessboard, our possibilities of escape are rapidly diminishing.

If the unfolding of the narrative of civilization can be compared to a chess game, then I assure you we as a people have lost the game.  The shadowed forces of greed, the dehumanizing empires of insatiable thirst for power, the corporate bodies we have manufactured in the attempt to make a name for ourselves (Gen 11:4) have cornered us.  Us, the very good creation of the living God, embossed with her divine image.  We have wagered something that was never ours to give away, our precious humanity, in order to give consent to a soulless idol that cannot provide the justice, mercy, love, hope and dignity that our humanity requires.

Sure, there may be a few moves left on the board.  An empty piece of legislation or two, an infusion of cash here or there.  But I assure you the game is over.  We are about to be crushed by the heavy machinery of the juggernaut we have created.  This is not the worst thing that could happen; there are billions of people who have been crushed for centuries.  For millenia.  At least those of us who have been pulling the levers in the machine will finally be able to identify with the poor and marginalized we claimed to be helping by our rabid consumerism.  When the empire has exhausted the rest of us, at least we will know what it's like to be dependent upon the pity and charity of guilt offerings.  At least we will know a pain worse than hunger: the dehumanizing shame that rots within those we bar from a seat at the table of dignity and human community.  We too will finally know what it's like to be invisible.

We don't need to find solutions that work within the racist, sexist, classist, unjust social structures we have built around ourselves.  We need to overthrow unjust social structures.  The problem is not a lack of charity, but a lack of justice (Isa 58:6-12).  The problem is not that we are losing the game, but that we have mistaken God's immeasurably good creation for a game, and a game that's rigged against us at that.

Everything must change.

Whether or not you like or accept this imperative is beside the point.  The game is over and we lost.  There's only one way this will play out and it's with the rest of us rotting in material and spiritual poverty.

But there is good news.

The living God has heard the cry of the poor.  And the living God is bringing the Kingdom in our midst.  What God has to say, God says specifically to the poor (Isa 61:1-3, Luke 4:16-21).  When we are finally crushed too, then we will hear, maybe for the first time, what God has to say.

Of course, we don't have to wait until then.  We could choose to hear it now:  Everything has to change.

The Kingdom of God is the point.  The Kingdom of God is God's answer to injustice, to suffering, to the cries of her people.  When Jesus of Nazareth preached on this earth, he announced that the Kingdom was in our midst.  He healed the broken and sick.  And the ethics of the Kingdom he described were foreign and backwards to anything we can imagine.  A worker who labors for one hour is paid the same as one who works for eight (Matt 20:1-16)?  The last shall be first and the first shall be last?  Are you kidding me?  The prostitutes and tax-collectors, the drug-dealers and predators are getting into heaven before the religious people?  Before the philanthropists?  When the empire finally nailed this peasant to a cross, God revealed that her love will resurrect even that which the empire lawfully executes.

We literally cannot imagine what the Kingdom looks like, and we literally cannot bring it.  The Kingdom is not the fruit of pious, conservative Bible thumpers, or of compassionate, white liberals.  The Kingdom comes from God and it belongs to the poor, the silenced, the powerless, the abused, the shit-on, the screw-ups, those for whom the privileged, conservative, liberal, whatever, claim to know what's best.

Our job is not to bring the Kingdom.  Our job is to believe that the Kingdom is both here, and still arriving.  Our job is to repent (Mark 1:15).  Our job is to tear down the empire -the anti-kingdom- which is occupying the space God created.  Our job is to plant nonviolent dynamite in every gear of the machine.  Our job is to bite the hand that feeds us.  Our job is to use the black glass, metal and plastic devices that we're been duped into buying in order to SPEAK, to SHOUT, to CRY OUT as loud as we can on behalf of the children who have literally paid the incalculable price for them with their lives, so that we can have them for $299.  It is to resist and subvert and destroy the empire that we have legitimized with our consent in order to incarcerate 1 in 9 young black men in the US, in order to bomb the limbs and skin off of innocent brown children in the mountains in Afghanistan with unmanned drones.  It is to expose the systemic injustice of a world that has relegated 51% of its population -women- to minority status.

We can sift through the media noise to discover the lost voices of our artists who can show us the way out of this cultural wilderness.  We can resolve not to patronize the poor, but listen to them.  We can refuse the empire impulse to assume we know what's best for those we oppress.  But we'd better get ready to hear things that we don't want to hear.

We cannot resist the forces that compel us to buy and sin, but we can acknowledge that we are not free.  It is in this admission of powerlessness that we paradoxically find the key to freedom, to find the one move we have left before checkmate: to say NO to the empire that profits from the theft of human dignity, and say YES to the God that will liberate the captives.

(Originally posted Isa 61 on 2/15/12)

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