For the week of July 17, 2017

It’s All About the Journey

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings,
Blake

For the week of July 10, 2017

Time to Create our “Family” Portrait

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings,
Blake

For the week of June 19, 2017

Become Living Sanctuary

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

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

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

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

Are you ready to become…?

Blessings,
Blake

For the week of May 29th, 2017

Where do YOU draw the line?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a great week!

Blessings,
Blake

For the week of May 22nd, 2017

For Whom Shall We Pray?

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

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

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

Jesus is recorded to have said,

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

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

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

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

Blessings,
Blake

For the week of May 15th, 2017

What’s Your Favorite Fruit?

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings,
Blake

For the week of May 8th, 2017

Celebrate Moms

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings,
Blake

For the week of May 3rd, 2017

Hearing God’s Voice

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings,
Blake

For the week of April 24th, 2017

Walkin’ Down Zion’s Road

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings,
Blake

For the week of April 17th, 2017

How Will They Know?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings,
Blake

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

Another Good Friday

Another Good Friday

April 4, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

Shalom,
Tami Perryman, Pastor,
Mission Community of Christ

For the week of April 3rd, 2017

Guest at Your Door

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you ready for the guest at your door?

Blessings,
Blake

For the week of March 27th, 2017

Alter Your Course

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Easter and God bless.

Craig Perryman

For the week of March 20th, 2017

March Madness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings,
Blake

For the week of March 13th, 2017

Nature vs. Nurture

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings,
Blake

For the week of March 6th, 2017

This is Us

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

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

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

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

Blessings,
Blake

For the Week of February 27th, 2017

“A Storm is Brewing”

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

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

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

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

Blessings,
Blake

For the Week of February 6th, 2017

“Freedom of Speech”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a great week!
Blessings,
Blake

For the Week of January 30th, 2017

We’ll Leave the Light On

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings,
Blake

For the Week of January 16th, 2017

It’s Time for Bifocals

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a great week!
Blake

For the Week of January 9th, 2017

What are You Looking For?

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings,
Blake

For the Week of January 2nd, 2017

Focus on the Small Steps

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

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

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

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

Blessings,
Blake

For the week of December 19th, 2016

When New Life Shows Up In Unexpected Ways and Unexpected Places

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

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

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

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

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