5 For the Next 500: 5 Changes I Would Like to See in the Church

It’s the beginning of the next 500 years for the Protestant Church. The first 500 really flew by didn’t they? A lot changed over those first 500 years, beginning with Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the door. I don’t have 95 things, but I do have a few I would like to see change in the next 500 (or 5) years in the life of the church.

Horizion

We will no longer need churches to carry an Open and Affirming Designation

I say this because my hope is that when someone hears “church” they know the church is open, affirming, and welcoming to all people. It’s shameful that communities rooted in a faith and ethic of universal love find grounds to tell people they aren’t loved because of who they love. Open and Affirming should be the norm, not the exception.

Scripture claims a central place in our witness

Too often we know the how, but we don’t know the why. The progressive church’s ministry is rooted in the stories of the scripture, but we don’t claim it as such. We lament the way Scripture is used by others, but don’t use it ourselves. We need to find new ways to teach our adults and bring the Bible alive for our children. The Bible is good stuff, lets use it.

The Church better reflects the diversity of God’s creation

Most people still go to church with people who look, act, vote, and think like they do. The challenge is not only integration along racial lines, but socio-economic ones as well. Churches become bubbles where closely held notions are affirmed rather than challenged. The Church of the (near) future will better reflect the diversity of God’s creation.

The Church is a source of transformation, not information

All of us need to be liberated from something in order to experience the wholeness God intends for each of us.  A renewed passion for the Good News of Jesus Christ is in order. Often, we settle for consuming the Good News like we do the Sunday paper. My hope is for the church to find a renewed interest in the transformation of lives and communities.

The Church takes the lead on combating climate change

Climate change is not a political one, but a spiritual and theological one. If we believe that God is creator, then the church must take caring for creation seriously. If we believe that climate change is a threat to that creation, then the church must be an active leader in combating climate change.

Bonus: Children are full participants in the life of the Church

Jesus is one of the few figures in antiquity who spent time with children. The church should mirror this ethic. Children have much to teach all of us about what it means to live a faith-filled life. The Church is better when children are full participants.

Those are my five (well, six.) Here’s to the next 500 years.

The Widow’s Might

Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I assure you that this poor widow has put in more than everyone who’s been putting money into the treasury.”  Mark 12:43

Admittedly, I have a habit of associating much of what happens in the world with the Biblical story. This past weekend I managed to tie 311 lyrics together with Colossians 3 for my brother’s wedding. Sometimes I even impress myself.

Folded-American-Flag

When I see the image of Gold Star widow Myeshia Johnson leaning over her husband’s casket, I can’t help but think about the story of the widow’s mite from the Gospels. It’s a story about a widow who literally gives everything she must the temple treasury. It’s a story about money, but also a story about a lot more. There is no doubt that in agreeing to serve our country both La David and Myeshia Johnson gave all of their lives.

In many experiences with people grieving the loss of a loved one, I have learned two things:

It’s never easy to walk with someone through losing a loved one.

It’s far easier to say the wrong thing rather than the right thing.

I commend POTUS for calling her. I understand that perhaps what he said wasn’t what he meant to say. Maybe the moment overwhelmed him and he tripped over his words. I realize I’m stretching the benefit of the doubt.

Here is where this gets problematic for me; we know that the POTUS is a bully who especially enjoys belittling women and people of color. At the very least he could have hung up the phone and not said another word about their conversation. Instead, he lied about what happened and took to Twitter to call Myeshia Johnson a liar. So, either a man who lies like its going out of style is lying or a grieving Gold Star widow is lying. You decide, right?

I cannot imagine the grief that Myeshia Johnson is experiencing right now. I cannot fathom the immense pain she feels. I do know that like the widow in the Gospels, she gave her all.  She continues to give her all. Like the widow in the Gospels, she inspires others to give more. Her might in standing up to a bully in this most difficult time is inspiring. I hope her might encourages us to each find our own might and say, “enough is enough.”

A Thin Line Between Protest and Prayer

Colin Kapernick kneeled, Jemele Hill of ESPN spoke out, Steph Curry hesitated to visit the White House, and the President turned his racial prejudiced agenda against athletes and those who cover them. To quote Ron Burgundy, “that escalated quickly.” On Friday, the President referred to NFL players as “SOBs” and tweeted that those who did not stand for the national anthem should be fired.

Kneeling

I don’t believe the issue is a lack of respect for the flag or our nation, but the racial bias and prejudice that permeates our living today. The President has made it clear that he cares only about himself. This is the man that has continuously tweeted about crowd size at rallies while making no mention of Puerto Rico being without electricity. When the subject turns to race, he goes to great lengths to defend white supremacists as “nice guys” while calling African-American athletes “SOBs” This culminated in yesterday’s mass protest by NFL players, officials, and owners. Many kneeled, some locked arms, and a few even skipped the whole national anthem all together. The NFL said “enough.”

Walter Bruegemann describes Biblical Christianity as “awed to heaven, rooted in earth,” The wonder of God roots us to what is going on in current time and place. I’ve been thinking about the difference between being driven to your knees in prayer and being driven to your knees in protest. There are times when the line between the two is thin. This is such a time. Prayer is proclaiming that God’s will makes a way when it seems there is none. Prayer is asking that a world more whole than what we currently experience will take root.

All our biblical prophets confronted the evils of empire in their time and place. The stories from the Bible that we read to our children are about heroes who were in tune with God’s will against empire. The one whom we proclaim Lord and Savior was put to death because he confronted empire. Yesterday I thought about where we would find Jesus. I imagine if you looked closely enough, you would have seen him somewhere on his knees, in prayer and protest, proclaiming God’s kin-dom come to earth.

Jesus Wept- In Defense of DACA

“I was a stranger and you welcomed me” Matthew 25:35(b)

It is the easiest parts of the Bible to understand that are the hardest ones to live out. As the Trump administration prepares to end DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) I have a hard time seeing how Christians would support this action. If anything, people who seek to follow the ways of Jesus should be on the forefront of advocating for rights for Dreamers.

DACA

Immigration is tricky in the United States. In a nation where everyone is from somewhere else, we struggle with what to do about those who desire to do the same as our ancestors.  I’ve spent time building homes in Tijuana and Tecate, along US and Mexican border. I’ve had interaction and spent time with people who live in these communities. The welcome and hospitality is consistently excellent (and biblical). This past Spring, our group meet Eddie. Eddie lived across the street from where we were building. He made it a point to open his home to us each day for bathroom facilities and for rest from the sun. He played music for us while we built. He cut up enough fresh mangoes for twenty-five people each day. I don’t know if Eddie was familiar with Matthew 25, but he sure did know how to live it out. He spoke of the family who had moved to the United States for better opportunities. I remember thinking how I hoped they had been treated equally as well in the states as we had been treated in Mexico.

There are currently 800,000 Dreamers here in the United States. Chances are you know at least one, two, or twenty in some form or fashion. They are neighbors, friends, and colleagues. I suspect that if you took a snapshot of any group of 800,000 people here, you would find that the Dreamers compare very well using the traditional metrics of success. For example, ninety-five percent are either working or in school. In the the wider church I serve, Dreamers offering some of the best ministry the church knows today. Our church will be less whole if DACA is ended. Our nation will be less whole if DACA is ended. Dreamers illustrate the best of what the United States offers not a problem that needs to be solved.

Later in Matthew 25, Jesus points out the consequences for not welcoming the stranger are steep. Rejecting the stranger amounts to rejecting him. While I do think that the ending of DACA by this administration is cruel and has much to do with racial resentment and prejudice, it is not my politics that informs my thoughts. It is my faith. It is my understanding of how Jesus calls us to live that urges me to speak out. A world in which Dreamers are deported is a world that is taking a step away from God’s dream for us. The deportation of Dreamers brings another scripture to mind- “Jesus wept.”

New

 

Danny, we will start in the deuce court.tennis-courts-1024x768

I’ve made three major changes in my life in the few months.

First,  I begun a new ministry with the Pension Fund of the Christian Church.

Second, our family relocated to Carmel, Indiana

Last, but not least, I started tennis lessons- at the intermediate level.

We’ve been knee deep in new lately.

I’ve had to learn lots of new words in the last month. A new job brings a new daily language. I use words and acronyms daily that I have never used.

We’ve lived in Carmel but there is still lots of new. Lots of new roundabouts to be exact. It is very important here to not only know what a roundabout is but also how to use one.

Tennis- I have played on and off, but never at this serious of a level. I’m convinced our instructor is prepping us for the US Open at Flushing Meadows.

It occurred to me on the tennis court that faith forces us to learn a new way of speaking. Faith calls us to new understandings. One of the great promises of the Bible is that God is always moving us forward. God moves us forward in our understanding who God is and what God would have us do. Encounters with the holy call us to see and to understand the world differently. Some embrace this while others fight it. New comes easier for some than it does for others. You can hold onto the past but the consequences of doing so are great. New life is found in what we are becoming, not what we have been.

I decided that I am going to figure out which side of the court is the deuce court and which side is the ad. My guess is my game will improve with new understanding of where to begin.

Grace and peace

The Work of Christmas

This appeared today as the Christmas Day devotion for my congregation. Sandy Springs Christian Church.

 The child is here, and through him the whole world rejoices. I think we love Christmas Day so much because the world stops. We have some time to simply be. What a wonderful gift! Tomorrow, life will begin again, in more than one way. For you, what will be different now that the messiah is here? Will we rejoice at the new possibilities that are born through this child? Will we celebrate the new life offered through the messiah? The angels sing, the thrill of hope is real, a weary world rejoices– now what are we going to do?

The gift of Christmas calls us to be different. All of our expectation and preparation will be nullified if nothing in our lives and the world changes. Our reality is not unchangeable and the birth of a messiah is all the proof that we need.

Something I read every Christmas Day is Howard Thurman’s poem The Work of Christmas Begins. I share it with you now as it perfectly lays out our work following the gift of a messiah:

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.

Merry Christmas!

No More Apologies (or Labels)

Church

“Oh, I’m not that kind of Christian.” I have uttered those words more times than I can count. As a child, playing with neighbors, in the halls of middle and high school, in social gatherings in college, in offices I’ve worked in, and now, as an ordained minister, seemingly to most every person I meet. I’ve grown weary of apologizing for my faith. Maybe you have as well. Continue reading “No More Apologies (or Labels)”