For the week of January 15th, 2018
Every day, I ask myself the questions, “Should I respond?” and “If so, how?” It’s actually difficult attempting to be a visionary leader to a community of people who represent a vast spectrum of political, social, and religious values. That said, I cannot dismiss my responsibility to faithfully encourage the people of our mission center to think deeply about the consequences that silence may have on the tasks for which we have been called…living out Christ’s Mission, and working to build the Kingdom of God.
For that reason, I was moved by the following which is taken from the February 2018 issue of Sojourner’s magazine, having been adapted with permission from “After Ten Years”: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Our Times. (The author is Victoria J. Barnett).
ONE MUST BE cautious about drawing simplistic historical analogies. Nowhere is this truer than in the case of comparisons to Nazi Germany, its leaders, and the Holocaust. The period between 1933 and 1945 was characterized by a complex constellation of factors, many of them unique to Europe during the first half of the 20th century. Nationalism, anti-Semitism, ethnocentrism, and populism have played a role in different historical periods and national contexts. Moreover, the language of grievance and resentment is usually homegrown, drawing upon the embedded prejudices and fears of a particular society as well as its hopes, which often are articulated in themes revived from the particular history of the host nation.
At such moments the responses of citizens and their institutions are crucial. Political culture is not just the product of how citizens engage in and create their society. It is also an expression of what we are willing to tolerate, what compromises we make, and the reasons why we make them—and those are the factors that can undermine and even destroy a political culture.
The veneer of ethics and moral behavior in the public square can be surprisingly thin. Human beings are easily swayed and enraptured; peer pressure and crowd behavior are powerful forces. We are used to living by a particular set of rules, values, and expectations of behavior, individually and socially, and it is often easier for institutions such as the civil service, universities, businesses, and religious bodies to conform than to resist. When the rules change it can be difficult to find our bearings, let alone chart a new course that can address and if necessary challenge what is happening around us.
These are the themes that Dietrich Bonhoeffer addressed in his writings. His context was Nazi Germany, but his observations about what happens to human decency and courage when a political culture disintegrates continue to resonate around the world today.
We in the Community of Christ…and the Chicago Mission Center…are not exempt from the call…
You are called to create pathways in the world for peace in Christ to be relationally and culturally incarnate. The hope of Zion is realized when the vision of Christ is embodied in communities of generosity, justice, and peacefulness. Above all else, strive to be faithful to Christ’s vision of the peaceable Kingdom of God on earth. Courageously challenge cultural, political, and religious trends that are contrary to the reconciling and restoring purposes of God. Pursue peace. Doctrine and Covenants 163:3 a-b
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. Doctrine and Covenants 11a
God is calling us/you! How will we/you respond?
For the week of January 8th, 2018
We find these words in the first chapter of the Gospel According to John, having been spoken by Nathaniel when approached by Philip to join him in following Jesus. Of course, Nathaniel was talking about Nazareth…a city/place that was insignificant in the scheme of things (specifically the expectation of a coming Messiah). Those familiar with the scriptures will know that Nathaniel was not the only one to question Jesus’ pedigree…his suitability for the job.
As I read these words in devotion and in preparation for this coming Sunday, I couldn’t help but think of the number of times I have heard something like this said in relation to a person, a group of people, or a neighborhood/region.
How about you? Have you ever come to a conclusion about someone and their ability to amount to something based on…their gender…their city of birth…the neighborhood in which they grew up…the color of their skin…the style of their hair…the number of tattoos or piercings they have…their political party…their religion or belief system…whom they love…?
I heard someone say “men are pigs” the other day. Though it’s not the first time I had heard this expression, it was said with such passion in response to the current media focus on sexual abuse allegations and misconduct by men in power positions…and my immediate reaction was…”Wait a minute! We [men] are not all alike!”
And I was reminded…the same thing has probably been said by numerous individuals and/or groups who have been labeled as “no good” because of things either out of their control or broadly attributed to persons who look a certain way.
So, how do we answer the question of “can anything good come out of…”? Perhaps, we should start by asking “Has anything good come out of…”? Then, if we’re not sure what is good, we can start with the following two scriptures as a “litmus” test to answer our own question:
“the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness,
and self-control. There is no law against such things.”
Do those about whom you would ask the question exhibit these behaviors? If yes…
“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
Do those about whom you would ask the question consider these things in their relationships with others and their interaction in the world? If yes…
Chances are…good can come out of people, places and things we never expected…even ourselves…if we remain focused on the will of God! Remember…as with the picture above…we are in Christ, and Christ is in us!!
For the week of January 1st, 2018
Another new year…another set of resolutions! The question is how did you do last year? If you were successful, you’re more likely to set new goals and push forward. If you were not so successful, you’re more likely to either lower your expectations or eliminate them altogether. I hope the latter is not the case. They say the only failed goal is the one not attempted.
Maybe you didn’t lose the weight that you wanted to…but in the attempt, you probably ate a little healthier…felt a little better…had a little more energy…slept a little better (in spite of your growling stomach)…and learned a little about the things you can do without.
Maybe you didn’t quite make it to marathon readiness with your new running plan…but at least you got off the couch…got some fresh air…got a new pair of running shoes… or perhaps quietly inspired someone else with your tenacity… and, did I mention new running shoes!
Maybe you didn’t write that novel you’ve been wanting to write (you know…the one that is going to launch you into wealth and infamy) …but at least you thought creatively…challenged your mind to go places you hadn’t been…or just had some time to yourself reliving precious memories as you searched for a story line.
Maybe you didn’t become a super Evangelist…growing your congregation with all of the people you “brought to Jesus”… but at least you treated people a little better … prayed for those who cut you off in traffic instead of saying bad things about them… took a little extra time to listen to a child’s story or sat a while with a lonely senior adult who just needed someone to talk to… sent a note to a friend letting them know you were thinking about them… smiled at someone in the grocery store, not realizing that it was the one thing that turned their day around…
You get the idea!
Years ago, while sitting in a meeting with other youth ministers, I made a very profound statement (NOT!!). I said, “every step we take is a step taken!” Of course, I was teased relentlessly at every gathering for about a year. Philosophy was not going to be my thing.
That said, I believe that God has created us to take steps every day to become all that God has created us to be. Sure, we may stumble. We may not reach the ultimate hoped for goal…this time. But, at least we’re a little bit closer…and so then may be the Kingdom of God which we seek to help build.
Blessings for the New Year,
For the week of December 18th, 2017
I pray this week’s “from the desk of…” finds you well, and in the presence of loved ones. From my travels around the mission center, I know that there is a whole spectrum of feelings about the holidays. Sure, there are many who are doing well … are surrounded by loved ones … are feeling blessed beyond measure…and love the holidays. But, there are also those who have lost someone recently, or find themselves remembering the anniversary of a significant loss … those who have lost jobs or been without work for an extended period of time … those struggling with addiction … even others who simply don’t care for what they perceive Christmas to have become.
Wherever you are on the spectrum, I hope that you will find at least a moment to think about what Christ’s birth means to you. Perhaps it represents the coming of hope for a better tomorrow. Maybe it is a reminder Christ comes in the most unexpected ways in the most unexpected places. Or just maybe … it will help you connect the ways and times that Christ has been born anew in your heart throughout this last year.
Regardless of our perspective (where we find ourselves on the spectrum) regarding the holiday… we must look beyond the decorations, presents, food, parties, carols, and various other “trimmings” to find the joy which comes only with the hope of the Gospel made real again and again through our encounters with God and God’s creation…human and otherwise.
May your holiday season be filled with the blessings of Christ’s presence, and may your life be equally blessed by his presence in the year ahead. Know that you are loved and cared about … unique and special … gifted and called!
Thank you for your presence in my life, and for the blessing of knowing that we are in this together!
Merry Christmas! (and Blessings),
For the week of December 10th, 2017
For years, I have been concerned about the disposable mindset we are encouraged to take on by our consumer driven society. We brush it off, saying things like, “they just don’t make things like they used to,” and we don’t even have to ask why. We have been conditioned to think that it’s OK that companies want to be able to sell us another one in a couple of years (if not every year). We look for faster, more efficient, and more convenient without thought of long term consequence. Here’s the thing…being a follower of Jesus…the one whose birth we hopefully await…comes with a responsibility to consider the big picture of God’s whole creation.
As I was reading different blogs regarding Advent, I ran across the following piece on ministrymatters.com in an article titled “The Most Wasteful Time of the Year.” That’s right…wasteful, not wonderful.” Hmmm…
“Christmas is fast approaching, and so are the mountains of trash Americans produce along with it. Based on EPA figures, it is estimated that Americans generate an extra 25 percent of garbage each year between Thanksgiving and New Year’s in the form of food waste, plastic waste, wrapping paper, ribbon, party supplies and decorations. In an April 22, 2016 Los Angeles Times article, it was reported that Americans produced 254 million tons of waste in 2013 and was the largest trash generator in the world.
We don’t see it
Our constant consumption and throw-away culture has consequences we rarely see because we have no idea where our trash actually goes or what happens to it. But the number of landfills across the country has grown exponentially, and the transport of garbage oversees is a growing industry. The result? The land, water and air are increasingly more polluted as we spend more energy and resources to transport and process trash and recycling. Toxic pollutants are leeched into the soils, waters and air from overflowing, closed or mismanaged landfills. Recycling centers cannot recycle as many items as we think they can. Yet, we continue to use non-recyclables and plastics — everything from straws to packaging and from water bottles to microfibers in clothes.
A change in attitude
Our earth was carefully crafted and has evolved to provide all we need to sustain animal and human life. But far too many humans have taken those resources for granted and abused them, thinking of them as possessions rather than privileges to be shared and cared for by us. Advent was never meant to be a time of rampant consumerism, gluttony and wastefulness. Advent was meant to be a time to simplify, to focus on preparing our homes and hearts for the Savior, to live out our faith by sharing our time and resources with those in need — and to focus our minds and hearts on the God who provides all, including the gift of salvation through the birth of Jesus.
As we go through this holiday season, let us remember the words given to us in Doctrine and Covenants 163:4b…
The earth, lovingly created as an environment for life to flourish, shudders in distress because creation’s natural and living systems are becoming exhausted from carrying the burden of human greed and conflict. Humankind must awaken from its illusion of independence and unrestrained consumption without lasting consequences.
Before throwing it out or replacing it, think about how you might recycle, repurpose, or reuse it! Let’s create a world of Hope together.
For the week of December 4th, 2017
We’ve all seen them…and avoided them! They come out during the holiday season and run interference at our most popular stores. Last week, after arriving at the grocery store near my home, I sat in the car and watched for a little bit. I wanted to see how people respond to the Salvation Army bell ringer. My interest was peaked specifically because this was not the average bell ringer…you know the ones that stand by the bucket ringing their bell and looking at people as if they hated being there just as much as the passersby hated them being there…
Janice (not pictured above, and name changed to protect the enthusiastic) sang, danced, and greeted every guest with a sincere “MERRY CHRISTMAS!” Though it was hard to avoid making eye contact with her, the number of people who managed to do so was astounding. It’s interesting how many women had apparently lost something in their purse right before they got to the door and entered while looking for the missing item(s)…or the number of people who found something in the upper right corner of the door frame so captivating that they had to stare…in the direction opposite of Janice.
In spite of the rejection, Janice didn’t give up. Her smile never cracked. Her singing and dancing continued on cue (not to be confused with “on key”… LOL). She would not be dissuaded from her task. She was determined to bring joy into the lives of others.
A few days ago, in the midst of a bit of a frustrating day, I stopped at a different store (several miles from the first) only to find a dancing, singing, joy-filled bell ringer awaiting my entry. Yes…it was Janice and the only thing that had changed was her location. I stopped to talk to her, and asked her why she had changed locations, and though she never answered that question (perhaps she was too joyful for the clientele of the first store), she seemed amazed that someone had recognized her…and even more so that someone took the time to speak to her. But I wanted her to know that her enthusiastic presence was just what I needed that day. She thanked me, gave me a hug, and wished me an extra special Merry Christmas.
The point of me telling this story is that I was reminded in the moment how the simple act of “noticing” the presence of a person may mean more to them (and us) than we can ever imagine. Let’s face it, there are lots of “nameless” and/or “faceless” people in our communities…people who have been made to feel that they don’t matter or that they are not as good as others…and they don’t all ring bells at Christmas. They live in our neighborhoods, go to school with our children, work in our offices, and sit beside us in our pews.
This week, I challenge you to think about the “bell ringers” in your life. Who is it that causes you to search in your bag or stare at the door frame when entering a store? Maybe they dance a little crazy or sing off key. Perhaps they stand by their bucket waiting for you to toss in your loose change. But, more importantly, maybe they are a glimpse of Emanuel… “God with us”…sent by God to see if we’ll notice.
For the week of November 27th, 2017
Perhaps it was just in my home, but I remember a day when Christmas decorations and music didn’t surface until after the turkey was gone. These days, we can hardly wait (and some don’t) until the first of November. It’s almost as if Thanksgiving has become a day to give thanks for being done with Christmas shopping and having the lights put up before the first frost. Not that those things aren’t worthy of thanks, but I wonder if we’re missing the point.
I guess it wouldn’t seem so bad if our reason for rushing Christmas was because we couldn’t wait for Jesus to come so that we could thank him in person. But let’s face it…the rush to Christmas has little (if anything) to do with our longing for Jesus’ presence in our life, and a lot to do with the longing of retailers for us to purchase presents to go under our tree.
Every celebration requires preparation…right? Sure, we can “pull off” a spontaneous dinner plan when guests show up on our door unexpectedly. But, for an all-out celebration, we need time to get ready so that when the event comes, we can participate fully and appreciate that which is being celebrated… a wedding, an anniversary, a birthday, a graduation…and, yes, the birth of Jesus.
In my mind, there’s no better way to enter into Christmas preparation than by taking time to stop and give thanks for all that was, and is, and is to come. Maybe it’s not just by chance that eating turkey slows us down. Surely, it has to be for some other reason than because we simply ate too much and need a nap!
Here’s a question for you…What do you and your family do after the turkey is gone? In our family, we play games…tell stories…laugh…enjoy each other’s presence…nap a little…and, if the weather is nice, take a walk together (we have to make a little space for leftovers!). Maybe you did all of these things and more…maybe you rushed through the meal and headed off for Black Friday deals…or maybe you just bypassed Thanksgiving altogether. However you experienced Thanksgiving, there’s still time to do a little prep work “after the turkey is gone.”
Over the next couple of weeks, I invite you to do the following…
When you have finished your “turkey” (a.k.a. breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner), and before you have cleared the table or thrown out the fast food bags…take a few minutes to prepare yourself to receive the blessings of Christmas by giving thanks for all the blessings you already have. And, while your at it…remember to say a prayer for those who didn’t have “turkey” in the first place.
The gift of Jesus’ presence will be better by far than any “presents” you get from (or give to) anyone else!
For the week of November 13th, 2017
This week, my family faced the loss of a family member. Stories were told…memories were shared…laughter rang out…and tears were shed. As I reminisced and prepared the words I would share during the funeral, I was reminded of the unique way in which each of us lives out our calling and makes a difference, for good or for bad, in the world.
Our society most often recognizes the accomplishments of those who go through life making their presence known by outward acts that draw attention or trigger a response. Few are the public acknowledgements of those in our midst who quietly “run the race” of life affecting others by their character…their consistency…their integrity…and their example. My father-in-law was more of the quiet ones.
A recurring theme in the stories that poured forth from those who knew and loved him was one of complete immersion. From his hobbies, to his family, to his faith, my father-in-law was “all in.” He didn’t do things half way. He had the right equipment, he surrounded himself with the right people, he read everything he could on the subject at hand, and he committed himself to fullest measure.
Soon after his passing, the first scripture that came to mind for many of the family was from 2 Timothy 4, verses 7 and 8:
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now
on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous
judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for
It’s not that his only goal was to achieve a crown in heaven…that was more of a bonus. I don’t believe he did what he did so that he could receive the accolades of others. His crown (and assurance) came with the knowledge that his life, and the lives of those around him, were better because he had done his best. It’s not that he was perfect at everything, but he did approach it with the goal of perfection. He believed that “if it’s not worth giving a 100% effort, it’s not worth doing.”
There are so many things that can get in the way of our accomplishing the things which God has gifted each of us to do, and so many excuses we could make NOT to give God 100% of ourselves. There are so many things we could use to convince ourselves that we have nothing to offer…that we are not capable or worthy…that it’s ok to settle…
OR… we can acknowledge that as children of God…we have all that we need to do all that God is calling us to do. People like my father-in-law are added to the “cloud of witnesses” of which the author of Hebrews speaks in chapter 12, when encouraging the church:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay
aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance
the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”
Perhaps you’re not a runner, and the thought of running a race does not appeal to you. If that’s the case, consider walking the race…just don’t miss it on account of your fear. You never know whose life you might affect positively just because you tried!
For the week of November 6th, 2017
I had full intentions to write about something completely different this week. And then…as I ate breakfast and caught up on a recorded episode of The Voice, I was deeply moved by the words of a song written by Craig Campbell and performed by one of the contestants.
Now it is no secret that I am from the south. If you listen carefully (very carefully) you might hear an occasional slip of southern accent when I preach or pray… or any other time I open my mouth. Needless to say, I incur a significant amount of teasing because of that. But the truth is…it’s worth it; and, when I hear songs like “Outskirts of Heaven,” I am reconnected with cherished memories of a time when things were (at least for me) carefree… when kids could roam their neighborhood unsupervised…when walking barefoot down a dirt road, laughing and joking with friends without thought of passing time or looming obligation was as normal as saying bedtime prayers…when neighbors sat together on their front porches well into the evening because what was happening in someone else’s life really mattered.
Here are the lyrics to the chorus:
Lord when I die I wanna live
On the outskirts of Heaven
Where there’s dirt roads for miles
Hay in the fields and fish in the river
Where there’s dogwood trees and honey bees
And blue skies and green grass forever
Lord when I die, I wanna live on the outskirts of Heaven”
The good news is that we don’t have to wait until we die to “live on the outskirts”…we can live there now. This is actually the kind of “heaven” I would prefer. (Here and now…everyone is welcome…shoes optional…grassy, dogwood shaded spots in which to hang out…dirt roads and long, winding, fish-filled rivers…and don’t forget blue skies forever). Let’s face it, streets of gold are like carpets of red…you can only walk on them Sundays between the hours of 10 and noon…no drinks allowed…and, you can forget about pizza parties and potlucks where dropped food might leave a stain.
The first time I returned home after having moved to Independence to be a youth minister, a member of my home congregation asked me if I was ready to come home. I reminded her (jokingly) that I had moved to Zion…what more could I ask. She said, “that might be true, but you had to leave Paradise to get there.”
The way I see it, what happens in the church on Sunday morning may be Zion or heaven (if we’re lucky), but what God is doing on the “outskirts” just might be paradise. I don’t believe God ever intended for us to trade rules for relationships, carpet for community, or pews for paradise!
Have a great week!
For the week of October 30th, 2017
“Radical” has never been just a word in a Scrabble game. It has had both good and bad connotations, and actions it has been used to describe have had both good and bad ends. Like many words, the meaning of the word has changed over time. Webster dictionary records the original meaning of radical as: “of, relating to, or pertaining to a root (also basic, fundamental). Google dictionary defines it as “pertaining to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough.” Somewhere along the line, it came to be associated with the exact opposite of its original meaning… “departing sharply from the usual or ordinary.” So, is it good or bad to be a “radical?”
I guess that depends on how you choose to use the term. By definition (both old and new), Jesus was a radical. Though his actions were intended to depart sharply from what had become the acceptable interpretation of God’s law, they were also intended to get back to basics…to focus on the fundamentals of kingdom living. Consequently, his “radical” behavior was not seen in a positive light by his opponents in the religious establishment. The point is… the act of working toward extreme change is not bad in and of itself. What matters is the end goal of said “radical” behaviors.
These days, the word radical has become more often associated with terrorist attacks and other negative events happening in our society. Individuals and groups seem to be finding new ways to use radical actions for evil and destruction. With the events this week in New York City, we are reminded of the power of language. I don’t know of any place where it’s a good thing to be “radical” or “radicalized.”
I find myself wondering if it has to be that way, or are those who walk in the light strong enough to change the perception of a word that was good when it described the bearer of that light…Jesus. What if we, as the body of Christ, got radicalized and started to exhibit radical grace…radical forgiveness…radical hospitality…radical love…
I don’t know if it’s time to “take back” radical as a word intended for good, or if we simply need to find a new word. What I do know is that regular everyday grace, forgiveness, hospitality and love has not been enough to change the world (It certainly doesn’t get the same press coverage as radical terrorism).
So…what do you say…let’s get radical…Jesus style!!
For the week of October 16th, 2017
Everyone (well…almost everyone) likes getting an invitation to a party. Add in free food and drink, and it’s a sure thing that those invited will accept the invitation. Or will they? Actually, it seems that more often than not these days, people are hesitant to commit. Whether it’s for fear that a better offer might come along…or, not knowing how they’ll feel in the moment, they might simply want to have the option to stay home and enjoy some “down” time. It’s even possible that they may feel that what they are being offered isn’t worth the effort.
If you’re the party planner, the host, or the guest of honor, you might find it a bit disappointing when others don’t seem to share your excitement for the occasion…especially if you’ve gone to great lengths to make everything just right. Such was perhaps the case for the king in parable of the wedding banquet found in the 22nd chapter of the Gospel of Matthew (last week’s lectionary scripture). Hopefully you’ve never been so distraught by someone’s refusal of your invitation that you resorted to murder and fire-starting!
In the parable, the king (God), is so determined to have someone join him for the prepared banquet that he tells his servants to go and get anyone…good or bad…ANYONE… who would accept the invitation. You see, he knew that he had something to share with the people that they couldn’t get just anywhere. The food and drink that he offered (mercy, grace, compassion, kindness, etc.) was not available on the streets or in the local convenient store. His “banquet” was available from only one source…Him. But, many invitees didn’t accept the invitation, and of those who did, at least one didn’t appear to appreciate that to which he had been given access…he wasn’t “wearing the wedding robe.”
Of course, the king’s anger had nothing to do with what the guest was wearing. God loves us just the way we are…wedding robe or not! But, there is a difference between loving us “just the way we are” when we are offered the gift, and knowing “what we can become” once we have accepted the invitation and received the gift.
I don’t know about you, but I think sometimes my hesitation to accept the invitation to God’s banquet is due to the fact that, because I am so blessed already, I don’t think I really have need for anything more. (OK…OK…If that were the case, I wouldn’t always be wanting more.) It’s more likely that my hesitation is due to the fear of what might happen if I accept the invitation and become vulnerable to divine grace…allowing the possibility of true transformation. Sound familiar?
“When your willingness to live in sacred community as Christ’s new creation exceeds your natural fear of spiritual and relational transformation,
you will become who you are called to be. The rise of Zion the beautiful, the peaceful reign of Christ, awaits your whole-hearted response to
the call to make and steadfastly hold to God’s covenant of peace in Jesus Christ.” – Doctrine and Covenants 164:9b
Well…I’m not the only one that’s been invited! What’s holding you back?
For the week of October 9th, 2017
This past weekend, I had the opportunity to join other ministers from across the United States for our annual field meetings. The very presence of the word “meetings” in the event title doesn’t foster a sense of renewal… or the promise of renewal for that matter. And yet, our time together was very renewing! As I made the four-hour trip back home at the end of the weekend, I found myself reflecting on how that was even possible.
Let me just quickly acknowledge how blessed I am to have had the privilege of being able to find renewal in a weekend of meetings and a quiet car ride, while so many in our country and in our world (fighting fires, living without electricity as well as adequate food and clean water, existing in war-torn communities, etc.) need more than renewal! We should never take our blessings for granted!!
So…back to what made renewal possible…
There were three primary things to which I attribute the renewing atmosphere in the midst of meetings where tough issues are on the agenda…
First was the creation of “sacred space” where those in attendance were free to speak the truth in love* without fear of recrimination…where everyone genuinely cares about the others and desires to hear their story. This can only happen when a foundation of trust has been established…when relationships matter more than any issue…when people share their position or opinion with respect and those positions and opinions are received with equal respect…and when there is no doubt as to the inestimable worth of everyone (those at the “table” and those represented by the issue(s) on the table.)
Second was the sense of community which comes from having a shared goal. In our case, the ultimate goal was to seek understanding for the path forward to full participation in Christ’s mission. If we were to achieve our shared goal, we needed to understand the rules, the players, the possible pitfalls, the inevitable consequences, the blessings of success, and as best as we can…the will of God. Different meetings would seek different goals, but the need for understanding is always present.
Third was the allowance for time to “play” together. Granted, we don’t always have time to incorporate play in our meeting time. (It’s a luxury when you’re in a retreat setting with nowhere to go.) What we can do, however, is be intentional about incorporating play in our life together. It is often through play (or other informal settings) that we truly get to know one another. We laugh…we tell stories…and we share in ways that give glimpses into who we really are…for better or for worse. (NOTE: in worst cases, refer to “inestimable worth” comment above!)
Since we will inevitably find ourselves in a meeting sometime in the near future, and because as a church called to be a prophetic people we will most definitely continue to face difficult issues…perhaps we can find comfort in knowing that renewal for the journey ahead is always possible if we “love the Lord [our] God with all [our] heart, and with all [our] soul, and with all [our] mind, and with all [our] strength….and love [our] neighbor as [our self].’
* if I speak…but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal…” 1 Cor. 13:1 NRSV
For the week of October 2nd, 2017
Before moving to the Chicago Mission Center, I had the opportunity to work exploring new expressions of the church in Lakewood, OH (a suburb of Cleveland). As a part of that ministry, I engaged in a variety of community efforts and organizations in an effort to get to know the needs of the community and it’s lower income populations. One of my regularly scheduled activities was to volunteer at the local food pantry.
When I first began working there, I noticed hesitation on the part of the pantry director. I watched as she engaged with all of the other volunteers, but no matter what I did, I just couldn’t find a way to connect. Then, one day, she came in from a meeting, and asked me to join her in her office. It was pretty clear that she was not happy. I couldn’t imagine what I had done to set her off, but I thought my pantry volunteer days were numbered. After closing the door, the source of her anger was made clear…and it had nothing to do with me personally, and everything to do with the “people” I represented. She had just come from a meeting of community leaders and pastors at which she had shared the pantry’s desperate need for financial and personnel (volunteer) support.
What she got was a number of offers to pray for the pantry and for the people we served. Some pastors even offered to come to the pantry and pray with the people. She had called me to the office to try and help her understand why so often it seems to be that a Christian’s first response was to pray rather than to fulfill an immediate need in the lives of people by getting involved. She admitted that she had been suspicious when I came there to volunteer, because no other minister had ever been willing to do anything but pray. She wanted to know when would be the right time to be the hands and feet of Jesus rather than asking him to send a blessing.
I have been reminded of the suspicion the pantry director showed toward me as I have heard time and again over the last several weeks, when in the midst of tragedy after tragedy…politicians (and even some ministers) have said. “now is not the time.” It would seem that these days when we don’t want to talk about something…when we don’t want to address the “elephant in the room,” all we need to do is label the desire to have tough conversations as “politicizing the issue.” We have not hesitated to have prayer vigils and moments of silence … all of which are certainly appropriate, while at the same time…not nearly enough.
Prayer alone will not feed those who are starving, protect those who are abused, keep homes and businesses from being destroyed in hurricanes, stop groups from propagating acts and messages of hate toward others, reduce gun violence (and other forms of violence), lower the suicide rate among teens disowned by their families, or insure the availability of adequate healthcare for all. These things will take a diverse community of people willing to set aside personal biases, have hard conversations, and seek solutions that respect the worth of all persons.
Unfortunately, due to the nature of our society, many of the solutions will require political actions. Perhaps if we could “humanize” the issues instead of “politicizing” them, we would see that these are life and death issues, and now IS the right time to get to work. If not now … when?
For the week of September 25th, 2017
While watching the news this morning, I picked up part of an interview with Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, in which he was promoting his new book. I haven’t read it, so I won’t put in a plug for it. You’ll have to do that yourself. But here’s what I can share from the interview…
Nadella was asked why empathy plays such a big role in his business cultural model (a model that has proven to be very successful), and he said it had a lot to do with another interview in his life…his first interview for a job at Microsoft. He said that the last question he was asked was, “If you saw a small child fall in the road, what would you do?” Nadella says that after a couple of seconds he responded by saying, “I guess I’d call 911.” To which the interviewer got up and left the room. Nadella says he later found out that the correct answer was “to pick her up and give her a hug.” Not exactly what you’d expect in the “dog eat dog” world of corporate competitive culture. And yet, Nadella said it changed his way of thinking…and helped him see the value of a culture of empathy.
I couldn’t help but relate that to our setting in the church. For hundreds of years (actually thousands of years) the Body of Christ has sought to find its place…to create an identity…to make its mark on the world…to establish its moral authority. In many ways, this search has led to the drawing of lines in the sand where strict righteousness codes have been created and biblical laws have been defined. Those codes and laws, in turn and for all intents and purposes, have become the basis for many “911 calls” in the church.
Here’s what I mean… when someone breaks a church code or law (that’s right, I said church code or law…not even necessarily a God code or law), all good Christians have been taught to CALL 911! Call the authorities…point fingers…pass judgement…offer advice and counsel…demand repentance… chastise…
But what if our first response was simply to “pick them up” and give them a hug? What if we always chose to love instead of judge…offer forgiveness instead of demanding repentance…encourage instead of chastise…use our fingers (and hands) to lift up rather than point out? I can’t help but see in Jesus’ example that very way of being. Then, in the midst of empathetic and authentic relationship, those he encountered found the strength and the will to live in the ways he himself embodied and desired of his followers.
If our understanding of Christian “culture” is lacking in empathy, understanding, grace, and forgiveness…then perhaps it’s time for a culture change.
For the week of September 18th, 2017
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 $5 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.”
For the week of September 11th, 2017
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.
For the week of September 4th, 2017
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!!
For the week of August 28th, 2017
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?
For the week of August 21st, 2017
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!
For the week of August 14th, 2017
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
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.
For the week of July 31st, 2017
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?
For the week of July 24th, 2017
“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?
For the week of July 17, 2017
we meet on the way. Appreciation is a wonderful feeling, don’t overlook it.”
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.
For the week of July 10, 2017
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.
For the week of June 19, 2017
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…?
For the week of May 29th, 2017
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!
For the week of May 22nd, 2017
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.
For the week of May 15th, 2017
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.
For the week of May 8th, 2017
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.
For the week of May 3rd, 2017
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!!
For the week of April 24th, 2017
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!
For the week of April 17th, 2017
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!
For the week of April 10th, 2017 (Holy Week)
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.
Tami Perryman, Pastor,
Mission Community of Christ
For the week of April 3rd, 2017
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?
For the week of March 27th, 2017
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.”
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.
For the week of March 20th, 2017
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.
For the week of March 13th, 2017
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.
For the week of March 6th, 2017
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”?
For the Week of February 27th, 2017
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.
For the Week of February 6th, 2017
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!
For the Week of January 30th, 2017
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)!!
For the Week of January 16th, 2017
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!
For the Week of January 9th, 2017
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.
For the Week of January 2nd, 2017
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.
For the week of December 19th, 2016
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!