For the week of September 18th, 2017

Hard Words to Hear

Last night, President Veazey shared a truth with the church that was hard to hear. We heard the hard truth that has come because of continued downward trends in giving coupled with the shrinking numbers in church attendance…the budget being prepared for fiscal year 2019 will have to be $15 million less than that approved for fiscal year 2018. Just when we thought things couldn’t get any tighter, we face another round of staff cuts, service reductions, and consequently…worldwide outreach with the Gospel message.

In the closing prayer of a webcast held for staff earlier in the day, Bishop Cramm referenced Jesus’ words on the cross when he asked, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”…acknowledging that in our darkest moments, we may ask a similar question regarding the church. But even as she said those words, I was assured that just as God had not forsaken Jesus on the cross, God has not forsaken us. If anything, it is the church (the Community of Christ and the Church universal) who I believe risks forsaking God when we take for granted all the blessings that we have experienced…all that we have…and call it ours. Does not all that has been created (including our gifts and talents and abilities with which we obtain the money to acquire many of the blessings we have) ultimately belong to God?

I confess that in years past, I gave to God from my abundance (a.k.a. my leftovers). I shared the belief that I worked hard to have what I have, and I “deserve” to indulge a little. I didn’t want to distinguish between wants and needs. I even participated in the practice of using my money as a “weapon” of sorts…giving financial support to the things that made me feel good, and withholding financial support when things weren’t going my way.

I decided several years ago to change my behavior in hopes that my attitude would soon follow…and it did. I can happily add my voice to those who witness of the increased blessings that come as a result of first fruits giving. When I let my giving become an act of worship rather than an obligation…when I gave because I wanted to rather than because what others might think of me if they saw me let the offering plate pass by…I experienced a new joy and freedom.

Even so, I understand when people say they have grown weary of hearing the pleas for money. It is hard to hear the words, “You need to give more,” or “you need to be more generous.” The truth is sometimes hard to hear.

Perhaps these words will be easier to hear: (I know they were for me!)

“I have not forsaken you…do not forsake me…feed my sheep!”

Note to self…the best way to feed them is with “first fruits.”

Blessings,
Blake

For the week of September 11th, 2017

If a Tree Falls…

So much is going on in our world every day that it is easy to miss something significant because something more pressing is capturing the headlines. It’s as if a tree has fallen and no one was around to hear it.

The following is taken from a website called “Ministry Matters,” and was posted on Sept. 12th. It was written by Reverend Kira Schlesinger – an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Tennessee. I share it because it speaks truth to how we ought to prioritize our message:

At the end of August, as Hurricane Harvey was flooding southeast Texas, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood launched a slick, well-designed website containing their newly-released Nashville Statement, a “Christian manifesto” on marriage, same-sex relationships, and transgender individuals. While the views of the conservative evangelical organization are not new or surprising, the Nashville Statement appears to be a line in the sand, something that the writers and signers have compared to the Barmen Declaration (a document adopted by Christians in Nazi Germany who opposed the Deutsche Christen movement) and other Christian statements named after the places where they were written.

Per their Danvers Statement from 1987, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood was formed, in part, in opposition to the feminist movement and affirms the complementary view of gender roles. Likewise, this Nashville Statement claims it is written in response to the increasingly post-Christian nature of the Western world and what they see as a “massive revision of what it means to be a human being.” The signers include such evangelical heavyweights as John Piper, Russell Moore, and James Dobson.

In a series of fourteen Articles, the Nashville Statement defines marriage as between one man and one woman, affirms chastity outside of marriage and fidelity within, affirms the distinct and divinely ordained differences between men and women and links these to reproductive structures, and mandates chastity for people who experience sexual attraction for the same sex. In Article X, the statement explicitly states that those who “approve of homosexual immorality and transgenderism” are in sin and denies that this is a matter on which otherwise faithful Christians can “agree to disagree.”

While the other tenants of the Nashville Statement are neither new nor surprising in the conservative evangelical world, Article X caught my attention, particularly in terms of what this might mean for those of us in Mainline denominations who are trying to have difficult, faithful conversations about sexuality and gender identity. Not only was the Nashville Statement’s release painfully tone-deaf in light of the destruction wrought by Hurricane Harvey, it also seems to be a deliberate shutting-down of conversation with other Christians. If we can no longer “agree to disagree,” then what do we have?

In engaging in online discussions about the Nashville Statement, it became obvious that this was not only about sexuality. When I initially tweeted my criticism about it, the first people in my mentions had profiles with explicit white nationalist sentiments. Others remarked on the diminished moral authority of evangelicals to make statements like this in the age of Trump. As a straight, white woman priest in the Episcopal Church, this statement has no bearing on my own beliefs, but it does affect my ministry, particularly to those who come to my congregation out of conservative evangelical traditions and have been hurt and broken by statements like these.

My reaction to the Nashville Statement is mostly sadness and disappointment in my brothers and sisters in Christ. There is no doubt that the Church in all of her myriad denominations and forms will continue to struggle with and have challenging conversations around sexuality, sexual and gender identity, and the meaning and purpose of Christian marriage. This is not a time for lines in the sand but for faithful wrestling, for hard, generous conversations, for listening to those who have been marginalized by the Church.

The Church also faces diminished relevancy in a world wracked by massive wealth inequality, suffering, and fear, in a world that is desperate for the Good News of Jesus Christ. It is hard to imagine the Nashville Statement changing anyone’s mind towards the position of its writers, particularly those outside the Church. It seems more likely that on-lookers will once again conclude that the Church is more obsessed with the speck in our neighbor’s eye than with the plank in our own.

Blessings,
Blake

For the week of September 4th, 2017

Take Note!

So much has taken place in the last couple of weeks that has my mind moving in a million directions, but ultimately ending up at… “As a disciple of Jesus Christ…what is my responsibility and what is my response-ability?” What demands does discipleship place on my life and what limitations are placed on me by my abilities/inabilities?

Honestly, I think these are questions we should have been asking every day since our baptism if not sooner! As a missional church guided by specific Mission Initiatives and Enduring Principles (such as we are), we simply cannot avoid asking the questions, seeking the answers, and responding accordingly.

No doubt, to be alive in this day and age, is to be confronted daily with crisis, chaos, criticism, and challenge…a full “plate” for a conscientious disciple. Whether it’s flooding in Houston or South Asia, war in Afghanistan or gang killings in Chicago, political battles from Springfield to Washington D.C. to Korea, people living in poverty next door or in remote villages in Africa, the removal of young immigrants from our county or the removal of old monuments from public places…turmoil abounds, and the call for a Christ-like response is massive.

But there is good news! To be alive in sacred community (especially when authentically lived out in accordance with the initiatives and principles upheld by the Community of Christ), is to have at our disposal the resources of love, grace, welcome, inclusion, diversity, hospitality, abundance, blessing, and divine guidance (just to name a few) … all of which can serve to balance the scale!

Here is an example…

Without knowing it or putting a title on it, people in Texas created that type of “sacred” community time and again in response to Harvey. I heard one newscaster say that it didn’t seem to matter to people whether a Democrat, or Republican, or Muslim, or Christian, or African American, or Gang member stood beside them in the efforts to save lives…it only mattered that they stood together! They didn’t stop to ask or to judge or to point fingers. They simply responded as human beings…ordinary people responding in extraordinary ways.

Disciples take note!!

Blessings,
Blake

For the week of August 28th, 2017

Will We Ever Learn

Estimates of total rainfall in Texas and Louisiana as a result of Harvey range from 16 trillion gallons to 24.5 trillion gallons. If we take a number somewhere in the middle…say…19 trillion, the equivalent rainfall would raise the level of all five of the Great Lakes by almost 12 inches, or fill 28.8 million olympic size swimming pools. Given those numbers, it may not matter whether you build your house on a rock or on the sand…unless the rock is really big and/or really high up.

People who have been paying close attention to environmental trends don’t seem to be too surprised when catastrophes such as this occur. They say we have perhaps pushed the boundaries of our expansion…insisting to live on water ways, beach fronts, flood plains, etc. No doubt, many of those places provide unbeatable views…a literal paradise most of the time. But bad weather isn’t something that just started happening, nor is it proof of the wrath of God for the sins of the world. It is part of the cycle of life.

Regardless of your opinion or stance on the truth (or lack thereof) of global warming, it’s hard to deny that there are limits to what nature will allow. I wonder if we will ever learn, or if we’ll continue to wonder why God would “allow” such things to happen and, as a consequence, bring about so much loss.

I’m not sure that the cloud that we have come to know as Harvey has a silver lining, and I can’t say with assurance what God will or will not allow. However, I am certain that a silver lining has been created in the midst of (and aftermath of) this and other crisis situations because of what God has done in the hearts of many in this country. A have been a country that has been divided for many months over politics, politicians, and all that has gone with them. And yet, people from all faiths and walks of life have come together once again in amazing ways.

Do we really need 19+ trillion gallons of water to fall on a metropolitan area…killing and/or displacing thousands of people in order to learn the power that we have to do so much more when we work together…when we look beyond race, religion, economic status, political affiliation, etc…when we admit that we are all vulnerable at some time or other and are in need of community?

Will we ever learn?

Blessings,
Blake

For the week of August 21st, 2017

Solar Eclipse or “Soul-ar” Eclipse

This week, many if not all of us experienced the solar eclipse that crossed the United States from coast to coast. People stood in long lines to get special glasses with which to watch the eclipse. Others traveled hundreds or thousands of miles to be in the right place to get the best view possible. And the whole thing…from the time it was first seen on the West Coast until the last view of it on the East coast…took only a little over 1 ½ hours.

It was kind of like a family gathering for a holiday meal…hours of preparation (invitations, announcements, planning, decorations, “holiday” apparel, food prep, long travel days, etc.) culminating in a grand meal that typically lasts less than an hour. However, like a family gathering, most everyone goes away with a sense of contentment/satisfaction and a lot of good memories.

All of this to see something block the sun. Perhaps the Cleveland and Seattle Chambers of Commerce ought to take note, as both of those cities (and I’m sure others) have the sun “eclipsed” by cloudy skies most days of the year. I know…I know…it’s much more of a phenomenon when the moon does it…I’m just sayin’…

The reality is, I am grateful for the astronomers and scientists who had the wisdom and foresight to see the eclipse coming and to provide people with ample time to make adequate preparations to experience this “once-in-a-lifetime” event. Wouldn’t it be nice if the “eclipse” we sometimes experience as Christ’s disciples (that which happens when something in our lives blocks our view of the Son) happened only once in a lifetime…or, better yet, not at all? Wouldn’t it be nice if we could see it coming and either go to a place where the view is better or prepare ourselves for the dimming that occurs?

Unfortunately, eclipses happen with regards to the sun as well as the Son. The good news is that eclipses are not forever. They do pass, and there is the promise of light on the other side. If/when you experience a “Soul-ar” eclipse…know that you are covered by a grace that is more powerful than any protective glasses, and rest assured that the darkness will soon pass!

Blessings,
Blake

For the week of August 14th, 2017

“I’m Going To Live Until 122”

That’s the whimsical thought that crossed my mind while recently reviewing a personalized insurance policy with an actuarial table that expires in the year 2077.

I am writing this during the last few days of my 61st birthday. So that that notion literally translates into this: I’m at the halfway point of my life!

You may quash the notion of living 122 years, but wait, not so fast! Don’t discount what good nutrition and exercise can do. Also consider the fast-moving front of medical technology and research.

I’ll probably have parts that need to be repaired or replaced– after all, the Newtonian laws of cause and effect still hold sway. But that won’t stop me from enjoying the second half of my life.

I enjoyed every job I ever had during my working life. But I always retained this thought, “I can’t wait to retire to get on with my life!” I recently retired and that thought is now my M.O.

Do I really believe I’m going to live to 122? Well, let me put it this way: I’m certainly going to live each day with that in mind!

The preacher in Ecclesiastes perhaps said it best. ‘God has made everything beautiful in its time and has set eternity into the human heart. I know there is nothing better for people, than to be happy and do good while they live. That each one of them may eat and drink and find satisfaction in their toil– this is the gift of God.”

I accept that gift!

– Roger Hintzsche

For the week of August 7th, 2017

Give Them Something To Eat

I should be having Pastor Ash write this week’s blog, because it is her inspiring sermon on Matthew 14 that has me thinking this week…

When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds
away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give
them something to eat.”

I have read that passage many times, and have even recently studied it at our Tuesday night Bible Study in Libertyville…and yet, Pastor Ash has opened my heart to a new way to hear this passage. Commentaries suggest that part of the reason Jesus would have discouraged sending the people away to get their own food had to do with the “price” they would have to pay for food in the villages. Many would have had to barter or work for their food, and what Jesus had to offer came at no cost. Makes sense, right?

As you know, I have spent a great deal of time in prayer and conversation regarding how and “to what” the Chicago mission center was being called. I have been troubled by a couple of things. First, I am troubled by the thought that Community of Christ might not be missed (or missed only for a short time) in Chicago if we closed all of our doors. Second, I am troubled by the fact that the communities in which our churches exist are often not the communities in which we live. And finally, I am troubled by the fact that the city whose name we share needs the very things we offer…and yet we most often offer those things only to those who enter our doors. Meanwhile, people are fleeing our towns and suburbs…searching for what they cannot find.

How often do we leave our communities to get something to eat…to buy gas…to get our sugary drinks without paying extra taxes…to buy clothing and other essentials? When we do, we limit the ability of our communities to thrive and to become something better for all who reside there. Businesses close and jobs are lost. Schools lose funding and children suffer.

Of course, we have to decide which communities we are going to “feed” … the ones we in which we live or the ones in which we worship. Perhaps it’s time to ask God. Perhaps it’s time to see where God is calling us to serve, and not just default to a place because of a building. Only then can we determine who the “them” is that we are supposed to “give something to eat.” By our absence in those places, we are in effect sending the “crowds” away to fend for themselves.

Let’s pray together for God to lead us to the “deserted places” where he is waiting to perform miracles with the little bit of “bread and fish” we have to offer up for a blessing. It may cost us a little more up front, but the return on investment in the communities to which God has called us and in which our churches have the opportunity to live out Christ’s mission is priceless.

Blessings,
Blake

For the week of July 31st, 2017

Is It Too Much To Ask?

Jesus told the rich man, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” (Matt 9) Then, a few chapters later, he told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” (Matt 16) Is that too much to ask? Sell everything…deny yourself…take up your cross…

A couple of days ago, I received a copy of a letter put out by the National Council of Churches on behalf of Congregate Charlottesville, a group of pastors and faith leaders who are working together to counteract racism and hate in their community. The letter was an invitation to clergy (especially white clergy) from across the United States to come to Charlottesville, VA on August 12 to “stand up” to the white supremacists that will be gathering in their community for a rally to protest the city’s decision to remove Confederate monuments from their public parks. They are hoping to have 1000 clergy join them on that day. Is that too much to ask?

As I read the opening lines of the letter, I couldn’t help but think about Jesus’ calls to action throughout the gospels. I also couldn’t help but think about all of the people who suffer daily from the effects of racism and all of the other “isms” in the world…some of whom are members of, or live right in the middle of, our mission center. And I was ready to pack my bags and go…until I got to the part that said, “[we] have concluded that there is an extremely high potential for physical violence and brutality directed at our community [as a result of this event].” The letter also mentioned that at a recent rally, “non-violent community members standing against racial hatred were met with chemical weapons, military vehicles, and hundreds of militarized police, some carrying grenade launchers and automatic weapons.” And I thought…that’s too much to ask! I have a family to think about. What if something were to happen to me?

It scares me to think that this is the world we live in…but it is. And we don’t have to go all the way to Virginia to see this kind of thing. It’s happening just down the street!! I have to be honest… I don’t have an answer… but I know we have to be willing to ask the question and seriously consider our answer before simply responding with a “yes” or a “no”! My bags are not packed, and I will not be going to the rally in Virginia. But it begs the question… is it too much to ask? This time, for me, it IS too much to ask, but now I have to wonder… where do I draw the line? What isn’t too much to ask?

How about you?

Blessings,
Blake

For the week of July 24th, 2017

Hands and Feet

“Where is the Ark when you need one?”

I’m sure this was on at least a few people’s mind in the last couple of weeks as the rains continue to come and the rivers continue to rise. Thousands of people along the Fox river have suffered loss due to those rains and those floods…not to mention the wind and hail and other accompanying weather phenomenon.

But in the midst of the storm, a ray of light shone…and it wasn’t coming from the sky… or a city on a hill…or a church. It was shining brightly in the Algonquin, IL Public Works Department garage as hundreds of men, women, and children from all walks of life, a vast diversity of faith communities, and, yes, even some who were probably “un-churched” gave anywhere from an hour to a whole day to participate in the relief effort. Work assignments were not assigned according to gender, or age, or race, or lifestyle, or faith. Some checked in new volunteers…some filled sand bags…some tied off the bags…some loaded the bags onto tractors and trailers…some distributed water bottles and snacks to the workers…some simply provided encouragement to other more able-bodied persons. All worked together to fulfill a need.

It is not unusual for folks to respond in times of crisis…to do what needs to be done. As a matter of fact, it is often in these times that people come together in ways they might not otherwise. I couldn’t help but think of how wonderful it would be if we didn’t have to wait for a flood, or a hurricane, or a terrorist attack to live as if there are no walls…as if there are only hands and feet and eyes and ears caring so deeply about others that the common need for love and community, safety and security, trumps the need to live in our silos.

Let’s face it, crises come in all shapes and sizes… loneliness…broken relationships…job loss…teenage suicide…human trafficking…and the list goes on. There is need all around us. And, where there is need, there is the call to be the hands and feet of Jesus…the body of Christ. Maybe you are unable to lift a shovel to fill a sandbag…or too weak to lift those sandbags into a trailer, but I bet you are able to offer a word of encouragement…share a drink of cold water…or just be present with someone who is experiencing the rise of “flood waters” in their life.

How will you be the hands and feet of Jesus this week…a ray of light to someone experiencing a “storm?” If you can’t think of an answer to that question, pray the mission prayer:

God, where will your Spirit lead today. Help me be fully awake and ready to
respond. Grant me courage to risk something new and become a blessing of
your love and peace. Amen.

The answer will come?

Blessings,
Blake

For the week of July 17, 2017

It’s All About the Journey

“We are so often caught up in our destination that we forget to appreciate the journey, especially the goodness of the people
we meet on the way. Appreciation is a wonderful feeling, don’t overlook it.”
(Source unknown)

At family camp this past weekend, we had an incredible opportunity to enter a journey together using paint and canvases, imagination and creativity, hopes and dreams. When it was time to begin, those who had gathered took their place at one of 18 canvases with 3-4 other persons from around the mission center…some with great anticipation and others with absolute fear and trepidation. The age spectrum of participants was broad (from 5 to 83), as was their artistic abilities. Luckily, the point of our time together was the “journey” of storytelling, rather than the “destination” of Louvre worthy art pieces. Our purpose was to work together to create beautiful art that represents us…God’s children in this place and time…that is more than worthy to hang in God’s house.

Not long after we hung the canvases together on the wall to form a mural or sorts, people began to come and see what we had done together. They pointed out things in the paintings they had helped to create, and pointed to things they saw and interpreted in the creations of others. Conversations started up, and stories hidden in the paint began to be unveiled. What seemed to one person to be a “mess,” became something special as they saw it through the eyes of another.

This is great analogy of what ought to happen as we gather in sacred communities across the mission center, formed by the common story of Christ’s unconditional love and grace. It is in sacred community where the stories behind the “paint” (a.k.a. masks) are unveiled. It is where the beauty and special worth of “messy” people are brought to light. It is the place where we are able to view the world through the eyes of others, and see with new perspective and expanded lenses. It is where the children of God journey together…grow together…share together…pray together…care together…laugh together…cry together…love together…and experience welcome and inclusion together.

The canvases that were painted in community may not be perfect, but neither are we or the people whom we are called to invite into community. The canvases remind us of who we are and the ways in which we can grow and improve. Our story is still being written and the canvases of our lives are still being painted. Let’s make sure not to get so focused on the destination that we forget to take the time to appreciate the journey with all its messiness and imperfections. There is lots of beauty to be found in the process if we will only open our hearts to see it.

Blessings,
Blake

For the week of July 10, 2017

Time to Create our “Family” Portrait

When I was a kid, we called it “Reunion,” that week every summer where people from all over our district and/or region (now mission centers) would come together at our campgrounds for a multi-generational camp. Friends we hadn’t seen since the last reunion would be there, and we would pick up where we left off…as forever friends and extended family. Don’t hold me to this, but I believe that the reason it was called Reunion for so many years is because it grew out of a tradition that was started in the church to allow people to gather in the years between World Conferences. It would seem that saints of old liked being together…can you imagine?

The gatherings were significant in that they created space for persons of all ages to come together for worship and fellowship and learning. I remember evening services in the tabernacle (an outdoor pavilion with a red clay floor that doubled as a volleyball court when worship was over) at Bluff Springs Campgrounds in McDavid, FL. Being at those evening worships was probably the closest thing to a good old-fashioned “Tent” Revival I’ve ever experienced. They were hot, and buggy, but the preaching was powerful, and the passion of the people was strong. (And, if we were good, there was a chance we’d get to have a night swim in the lake.

Unfortunately, time, circumstances, busy schedules, and shifting family dynamics have changed the face of Reunion. Lots of jurisdictions dropped the word “reunion” and replaced it with “family camp.” While some still gather for a full week, others…like us…gather for shorter periods. What we need to remember is that it is not the length of the gathering or the name of the gathering that matter, but the getting together and sharing in sacred community.

This weekend, folks from all over the Chicago mission center (and a few other outlying areas) will come together at Camp Quarryledge for our Family Camp. While there, we will have the opportunity to share in all of the traditional ways, and one exciting new way…through collaborative art!! We are going to write our story with paint and canvases. Though we create a snapshot of who we are every time we are together in our congregations, the “family portrait” that emerges from our experience will be something special because it will represent the rich diversity and amazing giftedness that we have inherent in our mission center when we join together. It will capture this moment in time as we seek to move forward in our call to be a part of Christ’s Mission. No other family portrait will be able to express the depth of who we are in the same way.

I pray that this will be only the beginning of the “family portrait” we will continue to “paint” as we journey together in Christ.

Blessings,
Blake

For the week of June 19, 2017

Become Living Sanctuary

Most, if not all, of us have heard or sung the song “Sanctuary” in which we ask God to prepare us to be a living sanctuary for Him. Last week, after singing the song at a reunion in Iowa, I asked the people gathered there… “Do you really mean it?” They looked at me in a dazed and confused way having no idea what I meant. So, I reminded them what they had just sung. And then I asked them again… ”Do you really mean it?” It wasn’t a trick question. I really wanted to know if they were serious about asking God to help them become living sanctuaries for Him. It seems that all too often, we sing the hymns we sing because they fit the theme…or because they’re familiar…or because they were recommended. The more familiar they are, the less we have to think about what we’re singing, and the more likely we are to make bold requests or significant promises without even realizing it.

The thing is…there is a huge need for sanctuary in our communities and our world. One need not even go outside the church doors to find someone in need of sanctuary…needing to feel safe, welcomed, accepted, valued, loved. Of course, when you open the doors to the church and go out, you can’t even count the number of people who have those needs. Now I believe that if everyone who sang that song really meant it … REALLY meant it, and sought to live their life accordingly, we would be well on our way to being able to fill the need. Here’s the problem…and this may surprise you…for many, “church” and “sanctuary” are not synonymous…and neither are “Christian” and “sanctuary” for that matter.

We may believe that, in fact, those words are synonymous…but whether or not we believe it’s true doesn’t really matter. What matters is if those needing or seeking sanctuary believe it. So the proof is up to us, and we need to take a really hard look at how we present ourselves. What good is it to be pure and holy or tried and true, if what people see in us is judgement, or hypocrisy, or self-righteousness, or exclusion, or condemnation.

To become a living sanctuary, we need to be more than pure and holy…tried and true. We need to be who we really are…imperfect children of God…vulnerable to Divine Grace…who long to be accepted in spite of our failings and loved without condition.

Are you ready to become…?

Blessings,
Blake

For the week of May 29th, 2017

Where do YOU draw the line?

Studies have shown that persons who witness crimes or violence against individuals often “look the other way.” And, events in Portland last week give credence to the argument that the safer choice may be to do just that.

Last night at the Bible study in Libertyville, we were looking at the 10th chapter of Matthew. It’s all about the cost of discipleship, and it’s not a passage for the faint of heart. Here’s an excerpt…

“See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles… have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known…Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword…Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

It’s way easier to say these things than it is to do them. And, I know, reading the Scripture in this way is dangerous and out of context, but you get the idea… “DISCIPLESHIP IS NOT EASY.”

We don’t know if the two “good Samaritans” were Christian disciples or followers of another world religion. We don’t know if they are religious at all, or simply acted out of a sense of humanity and decency. What we do know is that they took action, and it cost them their lives.

Might they have done differently if they could have foreseen the outcome? Perhaps! But, it raises a question that I fear many of us would prefer not to address, and that is: “Where do you draw the line?” How far is too far when it comes to defending: your faith, the life of another innocent human being, the worth of all persons, the rights of those who are oppressed or abused, what is “right” (that is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, might, and mind…and to love your neighbor as yourself…not only in word, but also in deed)? What are you willing to risk losing…for the sake of the Gospel?

If your line is immovable or your willingness to risk losing something is non-existent…you may need to rethink your baptismal covenant, because…at a minimum…to take on the mantle of disciple is to automatically lose your right to ignore God’s call in your life!

Whatever you decide, before you draw the line…have a chat with God!!

Have a great week!

Blessings,
Blake

For the week of May 22nd, 2017

For Whom Shall We Pray?

This week, we mourn with the families of the Manchester bombing victims. We join the voices of outrage that cry out against the unnecessary loss of lives…especially those of innocent children. No one deserves to have their life (or the lives of loved ones) taken so unexpectedly…so cruelly…so senselessly. And in the midst of this unfathomable tragedy, people from around the world…representing a diversity of religions, beliefs, cultures, economic backgrounds, and lifestyles…lift their voices together in prayer.

In the end, it is not only those who are “radicalized”…those who sacrifice their lives for a misdirected cause…who are the “losers.” At times like these, the “losers” are too many to count. In addition to the quantifiable loss of life (which cannot be replaced), there is the loss of hope, security, trust, peace, and innocence (all of which are, at best, difficult to regain). To some degree, we are all “losers” at times like these.

When the smoke clears and the shock wears off (which it never should), we pray…for the victims and their families. It’s what we do. Perhaps because it’s what we’ve been told we ought to do… perhaps because we don’t know what else to do… or, perhaps because it’s all we feel we can do. But perhaps we could do more..

Jesus is recorded to have said,

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matt 5:43-48)

So, what about the bomber…or his family? What about those persons who are susceptible to being “radicalized” in the first place? Maybe Jesus didn’t mean terrorists, but what about school children driven by bullies to bring weapons to school and kill classmates and teachers? What about persons driven by abusers to lash out in an effort to regain some control in their lives? What about adults (including Christians) who, after having been laid off from their jobs due to circumstances out of their control…unable to find other employment…evicted from their homes…and now desperate…commit “crimes” in an effort to survive or to provide for their now homeless children? Are these not the persons we have decided are our “enemies?” Ought we not to pray for them?

Are we not, because of our own greed, or envy, or anger, or self-righteousness, the “enemy” of someone? Don’t we in our darkest times hope that someone is praying for us? Isn’t that what God would want?

I know…I know…lots of questions. And though there are probably just as many answers…only one answer really matters… We had better be praying for everyone including (if not starting with) ourselves. Hopefully, others will be praying for us as well. This is something we have to do together. If not, we will ALL continue to be “losers” at some level or other.

Blessings,
Blake

For the week of May 15th, 2017

What’s Your Favorite Fruit?

Love. Joy, Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Faithfulness. Gentleness. Self Control. Hopefully, you recognize this list? It is the fruits of the Spirit as found in the fifth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. The list is offered “in contrast” (cf. v 22) to the works of the flesh.

I had lunch with a friend on Tuesday of this week. We were talking about relationships, living with integrity, and the role of the “disciple”…a person who calls themselves a “follower of Christ.” My friend shared a story of a budding friendship with a person whom he met due to a shared hobby, and with whom he has since shared a meal on a few occasions. He shared how on his second visit with this new friend, the friend had acknowledged (without prompting) a couple of things he had observed regarding my friend’s character, and what he perceived to be my friend’s way of life…specifically that he was a “man of faith.” It should be noted that my friend said he never mentioned God…never quoted Scripture…never said anything against any other person’s actions. He didn’t proselytize, or preach. He didn’t show his credentials, or flash his “Jesus badge.” He was simply living in accordance as best he could with a choice he made long ago…to listen to the heart of God and live his life with integrity.

Suffice it to say…and I think my friend would agree to this…my friend is not perfect (though pretty darn close in my eyes). But, in reality, none of us are! He makes mistakes (though I’d guess not many). And, let’s face it, we all do!! The point is that he lives his life with integrity; and, because of that, others recognize in him something different.

I share this story because we (our church, our communities, our nation, and our world) could use a reminder of the importance of integrity…of truth-telling…of manifestations of the fruits of the spirit. If we set before ourselves the fruits of the spirit as a goal to measure how close to the Word we are living our life…if we establish a lifelong pattern of values, behaviors, and relationships that can serve not only as a “banner” for others to observe, but also as a corrective for ourselves on those occasions when our humanity slips in and causes us to stumble…and if we refuse to allow our pride to keep us from taking responsibility for our mistakes, but instead seek reconciliation and healing…the “tree” that is our life will flourish and bear fruit.

Why wait…It’s Spring, and there is no better time to nurture the tree so that the fruit will grow.

Blessings,
Blake

For the week of May 8th, 2017

Celebrate Moms

This week, I’m going to step away from the typical inspirational/challenging words found in this blog post and take an opportunity to join others in celebrating a group of people who have been an inspiration to so many…and have provided challenges in our lives that have helped us to grow in ways we might otherwise have done… our MOMS.

For the purpose of this “from the desk of…” I want to recognize biological moms, adoptive moms, step moms, mother-in-laws, church moms, and…moms that became moms by default (such as our friend’s moms…you know, those who fed us when we wouldn’t go home, made a place for us to crash when it was too late to go home, or drove carpool when our parents were busy or otherwise unavailable).

I would be remiss if I didn’t start with my biological mom since my home experience was very positive. Because of the shortness of this blog, I can’t even begin to relate all that my mom has done for me and meant to me. I have been blessed to have a mom that loves me and has worked hard to make sure nothing kept me from achieving my dreams. More often than not, it was her love and commitment that got me through. Trust me…I would not have made it through high school if it weren’t for her amazing typing skills…and the fact that she was willing to put them to use between the hours of midnight and 2 am (many times) when I finally got done procrastinating and got the “rough draft” completed.

Let me say that I realize that everyone’s experience with their mom is may not have been as positive as mine…though I hope it was. My guess is, however, that everyone without exception has a mother figure in their lives (see the list above) that has served as an inspiration and/or cheerleader and has had a positive impact in their life. Though I only have one mother (and I couldn’t ask for better), I have had more moms than I can count, and I can honestly say that each of them have either encouraged me, challenged me, inspired me, disciplined me, or loved me when I needed it most.

So…as we approach Mother’s Day…think about the “moms” in your life. If they are still around, consider writing them a note and letting them know how they have touched your life. If they are no longer alive, consider writing a note to them anyway…then tuck it away somewhere to pull out and re-read on those days when you could use a reminder of how blessed you are to have had them in your life. Then, think about how you will be an inspiration or encouragement to someone else.

Blessings,
Blake

For the week of May 3rd, 2017

Hearing God’s Voice

In 1994, when I realized that I was deaf in my right ear as a result of a bout with the Shingles (google it), I was in a bit of shock. I can’t say I was devastated because I had probably been deaf for a little more than a week by the time I realized it. While at home recovering from the illness, I had been in a relatively quiet environment. We only had one child at the time and she was three. There weren’t a lot of noises/sounds competing for my attention during the illness. (If only I could find that quiet space again without having to be sick…hmmm!!)

It wasn’t until I returned to work that I noticed that something was different. I had picked up the phone to make a call, and there was no dial tone. My first inclination was to check with others in the office to see if their phones were also not working. Then the secretary came and checked my phone…and it worked for her. I thought she was pulling a prank on me. Then, it hit me…the sounds were there…I just couldn’t hear them.

Later that same day, while in a crowded room for a meeting, I realized that the only thing worse than not hearing in one hear was hearing everything…all at once…in the one ear that still worked. It had become difficult to determine the source of many of the sounds. To this day, if someone calls out to me from a distance, I cannot tell the direction from which the sound has come.

The good news is…For the most part, I have learned to recognize the source of the sounds (especially the voices of friends and family) so at least I can tell if they are talking to me. And, if I focus, I can even tell what they are saying.

The reason I’m telling this story is because our theme for worship this coming Sunday is “Here His Voice,” and I recently heard a conversation between members who were asking, “How do you know if it’s God’s voice that you hear?” Whether you have two good ears or only one, hearing God’s voice can be difficult in the midst of competing noises, voices and distractions. I cannot lie, it takes focus. Even then, it is easy to be deceived, but hopefully you are constantly developing the ability to recognize God’s voice. I find that the voices that I most easily recognize are those of the friends I spend time with on a regular basis. (HINT, HINT!) One thing I do know is that if the voice(s) you are hearing are telling you something other than that which upholds and uplifts all of God’s children and all of God’s creation…be suspicious…be VERY suspicious!!

Blessings,
Blake

For the week of April 24th, 2017

Walkin’ Down Zion’s Road

Walkin’ down Zion’s road
Gonna lay down my heavy load…
‘Cause Jesus said he’d walk along with me,
Praise God, Glory Hallelujah!
I singin’ all the way,
I’ve got sunshine on every day…
So why not come along and join me…walkin’ down Zion’s road?

I went to campfires at youth and family camps all of my young life and had never heard this song until I became a youth minister and moved to Independence. It quickly became one of my favorites. It had a unique rhythm and a bit of a gospel feel. I couldn’t believe that I had gone all those years singing at campfires and had missed what I considered to be a really cool song! Those were campfires I would never get back.

The lectionary scripture for this week (the third Sunday of Easter) is found in the 24th chapter of the Gospel of Luke. It is the story of a couple of Jesus’ disciples walking down yet another road…the road to Emmaus. As you know, Jesus joins the disciples on the road…walks with them…talks with them…accepts their invitation to join them…sits at their table…and offers them food and drink. Only after all of this do they recognize who has been with them, and then he is gone. They had spent the day with this really cool guy, and they missed it! That was time they would never get back.

How often do we miss something cool, and realize we’ve missed it only after it’s too late to get it back? I had missed years of opportunities to sing “Walkin’ Down Zion’s Road,” but the great news is…I don’t have to miss any more opportunities. From this point on, it’s up to me. I know the song and I can sing it as often as I want.

Perhaps we have missed opportunities to recognize the presence of Christ in our midst in the ordinary routines of life (walking, talking, eating, encountering strangers…). I certainly have! But each new day brings new opportunities. Since we know the “song” and since we know that Christ IS present among us (sometimes in the “stranger” we encounter on the “road”), and since we know His promises to be true…it’s up to us what we do with that information. It’s up to us to sing his song and recognize him in our encounters with others.

So…why not come along and join me walkin’ down Zion’s road!

Blessings,
Blake

For the week of April 17th, 2017

How Will They Know?

In 1996, on her self-titled album, Whitney Houston released the song “How Will I Know”. For those unfamiliar with the song, it was a song that asked the question, “How will I know if he really loves me?” It would be perfect for my purposes here if the song was about whether or not JESUS loved her. But, of course, it had nothing to do with Jesus at all.

That said, it is a question that was asked long before 1986, and long after the newness of the song wore off. In the Christian community, and among those trying to determine if there is a place for them in Christian community, it has been around since the beginning. And, I imagine, it will not soon lose its place…not as long as there are those in our world, in our communities, and in our pews who feel marginalized, unworthy, other, and “less than”.

Imagine, if you will, what the disciples must have been feeling on the days following that first Easter. Sure, Jesus had appeared to them…he had made it known that he had risen and that death had not had the final word. But, when all was said and done, for all intents and purposes, he was gone (or would be very soon!). There would be no daily pep talks or beatitudes, and no one to cook them fish on the beach. How would they know that they were loved…that they had not been abandoned? Well, the answer was quite simple…they would know because they had each other. They would know because they had been gifted with a sacred community of persons created in God’s image and called to be the body of Christ in the world.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans (10:12-15) we find these words…

“For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written [Isaiah 52:7], “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

As followers of Jesus, we have heard; but, for those who haven’t heard about or experienced the unconditional love of Christ and the value of sacred community, “how will they know”?

We can’t let the message of Easter (“He Lives”) be just another catchy phrase recited one day a year. We must be the “beautiful feet” that bring the good news so that they will know! We have been sent for that purpose!

Blessings,
Blake

For the week of April 10th, 2017 (Holy Week)

Another Good Friday

Another Good Friday

April 4, 2015

After last night’s contemplative Good Friday service, I decided I would get up to watch the blood moon lunar eclipse. I did not set my alarm, but woke in time to experience the awesome beauty of the heavens from my patio swing. It mimicked my thoughts on Good Friday, the darkness, the blood, and the light reemerging through my tears. The darkness was joined by silence, but as the sun started to rise, the red faded, the moon reappeared and the birds started to sing. It was sacred time, spent with my love, who did not yell at me for waking him up to share the time. The darkness of Good Friday has ended, and the joy of Easter is on the horizon. Blessings to my friends and family, Happy Easter.
This just popped up on my timeline on Facebook and I found myself trying to remember the day. I do not remember the service, but I do remember the lunar eclipse. I should remember the service. The mystic part of my spirituality is moved by contemplative services, and Good Friday has always been special. There is little joy in the service, so it surprises me that I am drawn to Good Friday, but I am.

I believe it is important for us as Disciples of Jesus Christ to remember that our Lord CHOSE to go into Jerusalem. He CHOSE to allow himself to be arrested. He did not defend himself, but stood silently as others accused and persecuted him. He CHOSE not to fight back, there would be no retaliation. He walked as far as he could, and then allowed another to carry his cross. He experienced great pain and suffering. He CHOSE forgiveness through it all.

It’s easy to be an Easter people, to celebrate the joy of resurrection and the promise of light in our lives. It is the easy path. Jesus Christ calls us to be Good Friday Disciples. To walk in faith into the darkness and know that wherever we go, God goes with us. It is not the easy road, but it is the road of a missional people. When we take the name Jesus Christ on ourselves, what exactly is it that we are choosing to do with our lives? Can we journey into our own Jerusalem knowing that there is no safety there? Can we allow our actions to speak louder than words? Can we persevere, especially when we feel like we are walking alone? Can we have faith that Easter is on the horizon, resurrection is filled with the light of Jesus Christ and the journey, difficult as it might be, is always worth the effort?
Doctrine and Covenants 165 1a-e reminds us:

1 a. Community of Christ, a divine vision is set before you. Presented over the years through various inspired phrases and symbols, it is expressed now through initiatives in harmony with Jesus Christ’s mission.
b. As a spiritual venture, boldly follow the initiatives into the heart of God’s vision for the church and creation. Then, in response to growing insight about God’s nature and will, continue to shape communities that live Christ’s love and mission.
c. Lovingly invite others to experience the good news of new life in community with Christ. Opportunities abound in your daily lives if you choose to see them.
d. Undertake compassionate and just actions to abolish poverty and end needless suffering. Pursue peace on and for the Earth.
e. Let nothing separate you from this mission. It reveals divine intent for personal, societal, and environmental salvation; a fullness of gospel witness for creation’s restoration.

The road to personal, societal and environmental salvation sounds like the road to the cross, difficult, hard to imagine, scary to travel on, but oh, so worth traveling, especially if we can do it together.

Shalom,
Tami Perryman, Pastor,
Mission Community of Christ

For the week of April 3rd, 2017

Guest at Your Door

Several years ago, when my family was moving to Independence MO for my first ministry assignment, we were hoping to find a congregation that would closely match the one in which we had attended previously. Obviously, we knew that none of our options would offer the southern hospitality with which I was accustomed, but we never expected our congregation of choice to be without hospitality altogether. The reality is that the congregation members had no idea that they were perceived as being inhospitable. To the contrary, they felt as if they were one of the most welcoming congregations in the area.

They weren’t, and they are not alone! Because we are part of a church deeply rooted in community, and because most of us have been a part of that community for a number of years, we don’t always maintain our objectivity when it comes to hospitality. Any time we become comfortable with the way things are, or have been doing something (like gathering for church) for so long that we don’t have to think about “what comes next,” we are in danger of assuming everything makes sense and everyone feels the same way we do. Unfortunately, that is often NOT the case…especially with visitors!

This Sunday we will celebrate Palm Sunday, a day which marks the arrival of Jesus (the ultimate visitor) in Jerusalem. Congregants in many churches will wave palm branches, and cry out in praise, “Hallelujah!!” in honor of that special day. And so it should be! But what about the visitor who comes unexpectedly to our congregation…on Palm Sunday or any other Sunday for that matter?

This past weekend, those who participated in the class, Ministry with Latter-day Seekers, got a reminder of the importance of being prepared for the “visitor” in our midst. Perhaps one of the greatest things for us to keep in mind is that often in our technological age, visitors have “checked us out” online before their first visit. And even If they haven’t been online, they probably come to us having at least formed an image of what they expect to encounter. Though Jesus may not have used the internet to learn about the people he would encounter…no doubt he knew what to expect.

The bottom line is…visitors already know about us. If they’ve researched our denomination, they know what we say we believe. If they haven’t, they probably have certain expectations regarding what it means to be “Christian.” The question is, will they find what they are looking for…what they have come expecting?

Obviously, we can’t know the answer to that question until the time comes. However, there are a couple of things that we can do. First, we can make sure that we represent our identity as a Community of Christ by knowing and living out our Enduring Principles both individually and corporately. Second, we can commit to removing obstacles that create discomfort for our guests: lack of signage, missing or otherwise occupied greeters, insider abbreviations and language in the bulletins, mixed messages created when actions and words don’t match…and the list goes on.

We are called to be in mission. We are called to go into all the world and make disciples. But perhaps we need to start at home…preparing for those who are seeking community, caring, and a spiritual home.

Are you ready for the guest at your door?

Blessings,
Blake

For the week of March 27th, 2017

Alter Your Course

The captain of a ship looked into the dark night and saw faint lights in the distance. Immediately he told his signalman to send a message: “Alter your course 10 degrees south.” Promptly a return message was received: “Alter your course 10 degrees north.” The captain was angered; his command had been ignored. So he sent a second message: “Alter your course 10 degrees south–I am the captain!” Soon another message was received: “Alter your course 10 degrees north–I am seaman third class Jones.” Immediately the captain sent a third message, knowing the fear it would evoke: “Alter your course 10 degrees south–I am a battleship.” Then the reply came: “Alter your course 10 degrees north–I am a lighthouse.”
Author Unknown

I have a confession to make, one that probably won’t come as much of a shock to those who know me, but… I’m a bit of a control freak. I don’t know why I’m like this. I just know I am, and I’ll bet some of you are too. We try to control everything; the temperature, the television channel, our children’s personalities, even our walk with God. Too often, instead of walking with God, we insist that God walk with us, we ask God to bless what we want to do instead of getting involved in what God is already blessing.

We are at a crossroad in the life of our church, on a congregational level, Mission Center level and even a World Church level. Financial stressors, dwindling attendance, exhausted leadership, changing culture and political landscapes are just some of the issues facing us as we attempt to discern a pathway for the future. It can be daunting and paralyzing. But roadblocks and diversions are not new challenges for us as a prophetic people. In 2007, President Veazey warned us about being distracted by such issues:

11 a. God is calling for a prophetic community to emerge, drawn from the nations of the world, that is characterized by uncommon devotion to the compassion and peace of God revealed in Jesus Christ. Through divine grace and wisdom, this faith community has been given abundant gifts, resources, and opportunities to equip it to become such a people. Chief among these is the power of community in Christ expressed locally in distinctive fashions while upholding a unity of vision, foundational beliefs, and mission throughout the world.

b. There are many issues that could easily consume the time and energy of the church. However, the challenge before a prophetic people is to discern and pursue what matters most for the journey ahead. Doctrine and Covenants 163:11

What matters most is the mission of Jesus Christ. Not my mission, not yours, not even the perpetuation of our congregations or our denomination. What matters most is the mission of Jesus Christ. So, for lent this year and from now on, I’m rededicating myself to seeking God’s will for my life. I’m choosing to make room for the lighthouse. As Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” I’m choosing to trust in the Lord. After all, who better to guide our journey than the one who created both us, and the pathway?

Happy Easter and God bless.

Craig Perryman

For the week of March 20th, 2017

March Madness

Northwestern basketball fans started the month having a lot to be excited about. They had been waiting 78 years for this day to come…almost as long as the Cubs waited for the pennant!! It’s amazing how much energy and enthusiasm is created when such long-awaited dream has finally come true. For at least that moment in time, you are on top of the world. And the way some fans celebrate, you would think they had been on the court and made the winning basket themselves. Unfortunately, the same is true when the tables turn for a favored team. Dreams are crushed. Perhaps you saw the video clips of the young boy in the stands during the Northwestern/Gonzaga game who was obviously distraught in the final moments of the game when Gonzaga moved toward victory. It was as if his world was ending.

So I have to be honest…I’m not a huge basketball fan. Consequently, I’m not that wrapped up in March Madness. As a matter of fact, I am so “out of the loop” on the whole thing. When I hear the phrase “Sweet 16,” my thoughts are more likely to turn back to what was a significant birthday in the lives of each of my daughters, than they are to turn to the bracket of a basketball tournament. I know…un-American, right? What can I say…I’ve spent more time raising girls than I ever have spent on a basketball court. And when it comes to my family…I celebrate their victories as if they are my own, and am devastated when their dreams are crushed.

The reality is that we all have something to get “mad” (excited, crazy, goofy, over emotional, etc.) about. So here are some questions…for you and for me… to ponder:

“When was the last time you experienced “madness” with regards to your relationship with God?”

“When was the last time you celebrated the ‘victory’ we can experience every day because of God’s love and grace?”

“When was the last time you were devastated or distraught by the knowledge that everyone on God’s team (a.k.a. God’s children…our family) weren’t allowed to fully experience that victory because of poverty, abuse, oppression, rejection, discrimination, etc.?”

Perhaps March Madness doesn’t just have to be about basketball. They way I see it…in the kingdom of God, there’s lots to get “mad” about.

Blessings,
Blake

For the week of March 13th, 2017

Nature vs. Nurture

I’m sure you’ve seen the story by now. It’s been on the news and all over the internet for days. And, in contrast to all of the “bad” stuff we find in the media, this story brings a smile to your face…touches your heart…and shows the hope that lies within us. It’s the story of Jax and his friend Reddy. It’s a simple story really, but at the heart of the story is a deep affirmation of something we sometimes forget…all that God has created is inherently good…what we do with it can make all the difference in the world.

Here’s a clip from Jax’ mother’s facebook post showing how it all started…

This morning Jax and I were discussing his wild hair. I told him that he needed a haircut this weekend. He said that he wanted his head shaved really short so he could look like his friend Reddy. He said he couldn’t wait to go to school on Monday with his hair like Reddy’s so that his teacher wouldn’t be able to tell them apart. He thought it would be so hilarious to confuse his teacher with the same haircut.

The two boys are 5 years old, and they live in Louisville, KY. What you don’t know from the clip is that Jax is white, and Reddy is black. But it is evident that they don’t see color…at least not as a characteristic that distinguishes them from one another. They have not yet been jaded by a world that likes to point out differences between people rather than concentrate on the things that they share in common. They are not old enough to have been convinced that some people are better than others because of the color of their skin, how wealthy they are, the size of their house, the brand of clothes they wear, the church they attend (or because they attend church at all), their faith, or even who they love.

The debate of nature vs. nurture will probably not soon end. But, when it comes to prejudice and hatred and division…we can’t blame God or nature. These things are learned. Wouldn’t it be great if we could spend our “teachable (nurturing) moments” praising our children for reminding us of the things we seem to forget…and convincing ourselves that on matters such as these…they should be doing the teaching.

Blessings,
Blake

For the week of March 6th, 2017

This is Us

In September of 2016…in the midst of an unprecedentedly chaotic, mud-slinging presidential campaign…a new show aired that said it all…This is US. Of course, the show has absolutely nothing to do with the presidential campaign, or any other campaign for that matter. What it is about is a diverse group of people who play the role of family to one another. They are black, white, young, old, single, married, child, adult, heterosexual, homosexual, drug-addict, male, female, fat, thin, bearded, clean-shaven, depressed, well-adjusted, blonde, brunette, short, tall, diseased, healthy, broken…but through it all, they are family…and more importantly, they are children of God…trying to get through life together as best they can. Sound like any group of people you know?

As I watched the show the other night, I couldn’t help but think about the Community of Christ in the Chicago Mission Center and find myself saying … “This is US.” We represent every one of those diverse categories. Like them, we succeed some times and we fail sometimes…in our relationships…in our faith journey…in our self-care. We inadvertently hurt each other by what we say and, sometimes, by what we don’t say. We long to be loved and accepted for who we are, all the while depending on one another to help us achieve a better self and a more loving community.

If this is not US, it should be. If you’ve watched the show, you know that this “family” is not perfect, and they are constantly getting it wrong in their relationships with one another. And so it is in the church. The great thing is that in the church, and in the coming Kingdom of God, we have the knowledge of grace and forgiveness…of hope and mercy…of love and compassion. And, we have the faith and experience to know that God’s love looks beyond our categories to meet our needs.

As disciples…those who carry the knowledge and experience of God’s love to the world…we can ask no less of ourselves. So I ask you…If someone showed up this weekend on your church’s doorstep…looking for a community that was quick to love and slow to judge…a community that didn’t see categories, but rather children of God, could you in good conscience say, “Welcome! This is US”?

Blessings,
Blake

For the Week of February 27th, 2017

“A Storm is Brewing”

Monday afternoon, I found myself checking the weather forecast several times…waiting for news about storms that were predicted for portions of the Chicagoland area and, therefore, the Chicago mission center. People that we know and care about were preparing for the imminent danger associated with tornadoes and the strong winds that accompany them. And, though no one could do anything to change what was coming, there was at least some notice given that “a storm was brewing.” Thank you Live Dopplar Radar! While some “hunkered down” to ride out the storm…others made plans to swoop in and provide assistance to those in need…setting up shelters, gathering food and clothing, etc. While I am happy to say that none of our membership were directly impacted by the storms that came, the fact remains that there are many in need of our thoughts and prayers as they recover from tremendous loss (homes, precious possessions, and in some cases loved ones).

As I reflect on the idea of brewing storms, I am reminded that in life, there is no designated storm season…weather is not the only source of life’s storms…and, for most of the “storms” in our lives, there is no “Live Dopplar Radar” to warn us of what is ahead. So many people in our communities, our country, and our world deal with storms in their lives every day. The reality is that what seems to be a “light Spring rain” to some in our community may seem more like a “flash flood” to others. We all experience life in different ways, and we all have different levels of needs. When tragedy strikes…when life doesn’t go as planned…when people feel alone or hopeless or helpless…when “the walls” come crashing down…there is not always time to prepare. Sometimes, life just happens. Storms come!

Though we need not be obsessed with checking the “forecast” several times per hour…fixating on the problems and storms of life that may or may not come, we DO have a responsibility to respond in love and grace when there are those in our communities that have need of that which we possess…knowledge of a God who loves us and does not abandon us…a God who weeps for those who suffer and rejoices with those who find abundant life in sacred community…a God who calls us beloved.

If a storm is brewing in your life, reach out to someone for sanctuary from the storm…if you’re storm free, ask God for whom you can be sanctuary.

Blessings,
Blake

For the Week of February 6th, 2017

“Freedom of Speech”

There’s much talk about freedom of speech these days, and with it, a debate regarding whether or not that freedom gives people the right to offend others. There’s a fine line between speaking out against something that is not right and speaking out against something with which you disagree. They are not always the same thing!

Technically, we all have freedom of speech which gives us the “right” to say whatever we want…whenever we want. But with rights come responsibilities. And, as Christians, those “rights” also come with accountability…to God and to each other.

Consider these words from the online article What Christians Want to Know:

“We live in a world that enjoys tearing people down. From reality TV shows to the coarse interactions on talk radio—there is a continual display of putting people down instead of building them up. The misuse of words and actions can bring destruction spiritually, emotionally, and physically.

However, it should never be said of those who follow Christ. The church is built on the foundation of Christ’s love and continues to grow as we build up or edify other people with our words and actions. As followers of Christ, we are mandated by the Spirit of God to enlighten or improve the whole body of Jesus.”

Don’t forget…as members of the Community of Christ, we hold sacred a set of enduring principles which include, but are not limited to: Worth of All Persons, Unity in Diversity, Responsible Choices, and Blessings of Community…all of which ought to serve to guide our reactions to and interactions with others…regardless of age, religious affiliation, economic status, race, national origin, sexual orientation, gender or any other defining, and potentially marginalizing category.

As you browse headlines, twitter feeds, facebook posts, etc., consider your response carefully. Does it tear others down or criticize their point of view or does it engage them in edifying debate/conversation? Does it offer encouragement for a more Gospel influenced response, or does it encourage a counter attack? Is it “care full” or careless?

It is my prayer that here in the Chicago Mission Center, we will be forerunners of Christ’s peace! We can make a difference!

Have a great week!
Blessings,
Blake

For the Week of January 30th, 2017

We’ll Leave the Light On

What comes to mind when you hear the phrase, “We’ll leave the light on!”? Do you think… “wow, that’s extraordinary hospitality”… “hey, that’s Tom Bodet”… “well that’s a waste of electricity” …or, ”of course you will because you never know what might happen if you turn them off!” (spoken by one who has experienced firsthand the motel to which the phrase is forever linked). Actually, if you’re like me, you don’t waste too much energy thinking about it all.

But maybe you…and I…should think about it more.

Take this weekend for instance. Hundreds of thousands of people across North America will gather in all kinds of places for Super Bowl parties; and, whoever is hosting will surely leave the lights on for their guests. Now whether or not the people are actually interested in football is debatable. Of course, many are interested in football, but even more will gather for the food, the time with family and friends, and the commercials. The bigger draw is the hospitality symbolized by the lights that are always on.

When we gather for worship this weekend, we will be confronted by the words, “You are the Light of the World” taken from Matthew 5:13-20 . Jesus’ proclamation here brings attention to the fact that the purpose of light is to illuminate that which is shrouded (hidden) in darkness and to eliminate darkness altogether. And, oh by the way, we are the “light” that is to be left on. We, the body of Christ, are the symbol of hospitality.

Here’s the thing though…as the “light of the World,” we have a responsibility to do more than just leave the light on in the church (or even on the porch outside the church). We need to let our light shine so that the world can see what brings us together, what gives us hope, and what fills our dark and empty places. We need to let our light shine so that those things…cultural, political, or religious (cf. D&C 163:3b) … that exclude others or demean others are illuminated and eliminated. We don’t need to leave THE light on, we need to leave OUR light on. It may take a lot of “electricity,” but I guarantee it will be worth every KWH (kilowatt hour)!!

Blessings,
Blake

For the Week of January 16th, 2017

It’s Time for Bifocals

I remember when I was in my mid-30s and a friend of mine…who was turning 40…found out he needed bifocals. He was so devastated by the reality of it, and his wife made it worse by calling the local radio’s morning show and announcing it to the world. He was 40. He needed bifocals. He was just plain OLD! I was so glad it wasn’t me. I didn’t need bifocals and I didn’t want to get old. Imagine how excited I was that, for me, both 40 and 50 came and went without mention of bifocals (the ultimate sign of old age according to my friend). It appeared I was destined to by young forever.

Then, yesterday the eye doctor told me that I was old. Actually, he didn’t really say that. What he said is, “you need bifocals” (same thing). Well…I refuse to admit getting old, so, I’m choosing to look at things a different way. As a matter of fact, the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that all Jesus followers could benefit from a pair of “bifocals.”

In daily living, there are lots of people that have perfect vision. They can see things clearly both up close and at a distance. Some, on the other hand are either near-sighted or far-sighted…and need assistance with one or the other. Still others, like myself, have at least occasional need for assistance with both. I happen to believe that more often than not when it comes to our spiritual life and other things that really matter, we all need vision correction for one or the other (if not both).

How often do we get so focused on our goals or what lies ahead that we lose sight of those blessings that are right in front of our eyes? Or, how often do we get so comfortable with or distracted by what is right in front of us that we forget to look ahead…to hope and dream…to imagine future possibilities.

It is important that God’s children be able to see clearly the blessings and struggles in this moment as well as to be able to live into God’s vision for the future. If God’s peaceable kingdom is to become a reality…if the hungry are to be fed and the oppressed set free…if peace and justice and reconciliation are ever to be fully experienced by all of God’s creation, we can’t afford to spend another day with our present or our future out of focus.

I refuse to admit getting old, but I think it’s time for bifocals!

Have a great week!
Blake

For the Week of January 9th, 2017

What are You Looking For?

You’ve probably heard the parable of the Blind Men and the Elephant where the blind men each approach the elephant from a different perspective, and based on feel alone, determine what the elephant is like. When asked what the elephant was like, answers range from pillar (leg) to pot (head) to brush (tail)…each one confident that their perspective was the correct one.

The same thing happens in life with the things that we see and hear. Often, two people can be in the same place at the same time where one person sees something completely missed by another. There are also times when a group of people can look at (or hear) the same thing and come away with completely different impressions, or a single person might look at (or hear) something multiple times and see something new each time. The reality is that we each approach life with different perspectives and lenses, and as John Lubbock says, “What we see depends mainly on what we look for.”

This week’s scripture text from the Gospel of John has Jesus asking John’s disciples, “What are you looking for?” One might think that the answer would be simple. After all, those who follow Christ are all looking for the same thing…right? Well…apparently, the answer is no, as so much has been done (good and bad) in the name of Christianity over the years. Obviously, we can’t do anything about what has been done in the past. But…we can influence the future.

Although we represent a variety of views and perspectives, we do…as the Community of Christ, claim a set of core values that challenge us to “look for” and support those things that uphold the worth of all persons and bring about reconciliation and healing for all. Earlier this week, In the aftermath of a divisive election season, and in anticipation of the potential for additional divisiveness, members of the National Council of Churches published a statement reminding us that, “Our faith teaches us to be ministers of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:11-21).” The published statement also reminds us that, “throughout Christian scriptures, we are instructed to care for the poor and the most vulnerable.”

As we in the Chicago Mission Center give prayerful consideration to “what we are looking for,” I pray that we will look beyond personal perspectives so that we may “see” and “be” a people of Christ’s mission…a people that truly stands up for that which we claim.

Blessings,
Blake

For the Week of January 2nd, 2017

Focus on the Small Steps

Perhaps the best advice I ever received regarding New Year’s Resolutions was to not make them. The theory is that you can’t fail at something you never tried. But one might also say that you’ll never know if you can unless you try. So…I’m forced to turn to the second best advice I received on the topic…to “take small steps.” I heard a fitness guru say just the other day “Attainability equals Sustainability.” If my resolution is to run a marathon, I probably won’t succeed any time soon…certainly not in the first month…or the second…OK, probably never. If, however, my goal is to run to the mail box every day (which is not hard given recent bitter temperatures), I am more likely to fulfill my resolution, feel better about myself, and gain confidence to push myself by expanding my goals. Who knows…after a couple of weeks, I might also be able to run back from the mailbox without having to take a 10 minute rest at the curb!!

Discipleship is not a lot different than everyday life when it comes to making resolutions. We want to be more spiritual. We want to be closer to God. We want to be more loving and patient and kind. We want to pray more often…and the list goes on. (Perhaps I should say “I hope these are the things we all want.”) So, we resolve to make drastic changes in our lives such as read the entire Bible in 30 days, or commit to journaling everyday before bed, or taking an hour a day to pray, or inviting 20 people to church. Then life happens. I can’t tell you how many times I have resolved to start journaling. The good news is that every time I have resolved to start…I have started. That said, I think my longest run at journaling was three days straight. Most of my entries begin…”Well, it’s been a long time since I last journaled…” The truth…I like the idea of journaling, and I even like the insights that have occasionally come when looking back at previous journal entries.

The typical outcome of starting with extravagant resolutions and failing to achieve them is guilt. And, when guilt enters into our lives, it robs us of the joy that God has intended for us, and limits our ability to walk closer with God. On the other hand, when we focus on taking small (attainable and sustainable) steps, we are more likely to reach our goals and experience joy and fulfillment. Why not start off with a resolve to start each day with prayer…even if it’s two minutes or less. Why not start with a resolve to invest more deeply in one relationship at work or in your neighborhood. Remember, it wasn’t Jesus who invited the whole town to come to the well…it was the one women he had met there and with whom had taken the time to share that did the inviting. Small steps!

As you commit, re-commit, and adjust your New Year’s Resolutions, think carefully about the small steps God has enabled you to take on the journey we call “Discipleship.” Then, focus on those steps and trust God to lead you to even more small steps.

Blessings,
Blake

For the week of December 19th, 2016

When New Life Shows Up In Unexpected Ways and Unexpected Places

It is normal for new life to be found in nature in the spring of each year. It is normal for new life to spring up from the ground where seeds have fallen or been planted in previous seasons. It is even normal for new life to be fostered and nurtured in a controlled environment and then planted in places that have been prepared for them ahead of time. But, for new life to spring up in the middle of that which is considered to have lost its vitality and usefulness…that is not normal. Of is it? Is it possible that this phenomenon is also normal, but that we have just become blind to its occurrence because we think we understand life cycles, or we’ve lost faith in what God can do and continues to do every day in our lives and in our communities?

What better time than Christmas to remember just how incredible God is, and how time and again God brings about the unexpected in unexpected ways and places. Chances are that most of the conversation in your life during this season centers around the expected…buying, giving and receiving gifts; holiday office parties; family traditions; favorite movies or Christmas Carols… but what about the unexpected event that started this whole “Christmas” thing in the first place? What about the hope that came to life in the most unexpected way…born of a virgin … in a stable?

Christmas is a time for family and friends to gather and celebrate…but more importantly, a time to remember and celebrate a story of unexpected things happening in unexpected ways and unexpected places.

As we celebrate Christ’s birth in the days ahead, I pray that we will also consider this…What unexpected things is God trying to give birth to in the Chicago USA Mission Center and its congregations…in the hearts and lives of those who are the Community of Christ? In the season where “I Believe” is used in many contexts, consider what it is you BELIEVE God can do in and through you and me as we seek to live out Christ’s mission.

Merry Christmas! May you know God’s blessings in abundance this season and always!
Blake