The Unfinished Work of Christmas

On Christmas Day, a colleague in ministry said on Facebook, “I’ve just finished my first Christmas Eve worship marathon.” She’s in her first year on the staff of a mid-sized church. I replied that sharing the Christmas story with all those people in all those different ways reminds us clergy that “it’s not about us”. We’re privileged to open ourselves as instruments to share “…good news of great joy for all the people.” (Luke 2:10)

I didn’t run this year’s marathon. I’ve run a few dozen, including during my Lutheran interim pastorate the past two years. In mid-December, our UM pastor asked for volunteers to help with the 9 and 11 PM Christmas Eve services. My wife started to sign us up. But I said not this year. We’d already planned to share the 5 PM Family service with our family, sing with the choir at the 7 PM service, and then go to our daughter’s home for supper. No Christmas marathon for me this year. I’m retired!

The next day (Christmas Eve) Rufus the Wonder Dog took me for our early morning walk. We hadn’t gone far when we heard sirens. Sirens are a daily occurrence in our neighborhood. We live about a mile from a hospital and not far from major streets. I said a prayer for the people those sirens were racing to help.

Later that morning Dianna and I set out to pick up the tamales we’d ordered for Christmas Eve supper. We stopped for lunch along the way. From our table by the window I watched “Henry” talk to some pedestrians. They appeared to be having a pretty intense discussion. Finally those folks gave him some money and moved on. Henry moved out of my view. A little later we saw “Alice” walk by on the sidewalk. She appeared to be intensely engaged in a spirited conversation with–herself. “Alice” was neatly dressed–down to her ankles. She wore serviceable socks, but no shoes. How long, we wondered, would “Alice” be able to function before some crisis overwhelmed her? How would “Alice” spend this Christmas?

While we ate our lunch, “Henry” moved to the parking lot. We met him when we went outside. “Henry” said he’d been arrested recently on a minor misdemeanor, spent a night in jail, and then released to make room for higher-priority offenders. His papers appeared to confirm his story. He sought enough money to take the bus to his minimum-wage job in a distant part of town. I found his story sufficiently believable. I violated my rule of not giving money to folks who ask for cash. If Henry was being honest, I  wouldn’t let a few dollars keep him from getting to his job on time. If not, it was on him. My wife gave him her leftovers, as she often does with obviously hungry folks. I wonder how “Henry” spent Christmas.

“The Work of Christmas”–Howard Thurman

Around 4 PM we set out for the church and the first of those two Christmas Eve services. When we stopped at a traffic light, we saw a woman we’d noticed before at that corner. On this particular (50-degree) day “Sharon” wore a thin top, shorts–and nothing on her feet. She too appeared to be carrying on an animated conversation with an invisible partner. We wondered about her as we had about “Alice”. How long before some crisis (pneumonia?) overwhelmed her?

Those three “street people” helped me rethink my choice not to “work” this Christmas Eve! Howard Thurman’s prophetic vision of “The Work of Christmas” came alive in those Christmas Eve encounters. “Henry”, “Alice”, and “Sharon”–and those sirens–call us to the true “work of Christmas”. Charity is huge in December. We do toy drives. We organize Christmas dinners for the poor, the homeless, and the lonely. We sing carols in hospitals and nursing homes. We support numerous good causes–and some not-so-good ones.

Much seasonal charity is band-aid work at best. Granted, band-aids may help stop the bleeding and begin the healing. But seasonal charity rarely leads to lasting change. The givers feel good about meeting an apparent immediate need for food, shelter, or companionship. But the new year dawns with the recipients’ situations unchanged. The homeless are still outside in the cold, the poor are still desperately destitute, and the broken are still wounded and vulnerable.

Centuries before Christ the prophet Micah defined the work of Christmas: “…what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8) The work of Christmas calls us beyond charity to justice–and far more. “The Work of Christmas” means doing all in our power to help the ancient prophetic vision of Shalom come true for all of God’s precious children within our reach. Most Christians most of the time the time oversimplify the Hebrew word’s meaning to “peace”. But “shalom” is far richer and deeper. God’s Shalom loose in the world is transformative and revolutionary.

In his book “Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin”, Dr. Cornelius Plantinga described the Old Testament concept of shalom: “The webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight is what the Hebrew prophets call shalom. We call it peace but it means far more than mere peace of mind or a cease-fire between enemies. In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness and delight – a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.”

“The Work of Christmas” does whatever it takes to let this Good News loose into every nook and cranny of life, and every dark corner of Creation. In Luke’s gospel, Mary and Zechariah sing of Shalom as they anticipate Jesus’ birth (Luke 1:46-55; Luke 1:67-79):

“Through the heartfelt mercies of our God, God’s Sunrise will break in upon us,
Shining on those in the darkness, those sitting in the shadow of death,
Then showing us the way, one foot at a time, down the path of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79 MSG)

The Work of Christmas is 24/7/365 life-changing, world-changing work, by all who follow Jesus and welcome God’s New Day of Shalom, on behalf of our neighbors and the whole Creation. On our Christian calendar, the Twelve Days of Christmas are almost over. But the Work of Christmas continues. Let’s get to work!

 

 

 

 

Kaspersky Password Manager
Create a strong password for your account

CREATE

Do not show again
Kaspersky Password Manager
Create a strong password for your account

CREATE

Do not show again
Kaspersky Password Manager

 

Create a strong password for your account

CREATE

Do not show again
Kaspersky Password Manager

 

Create a strong password for your account

CREATE

Do not show again
Kaspersky Password Manager
Create a strong password for your account

CREATE

Do not show again
Kaspersky Password Manager

Create a strong password for your account

CREATE

Do not show again

“…Study War No More…”

Recently our grandson graduated from Coast Guard Intelligence School. A large delegation of his family (including Dianna and me) attended the event. The trip over Veterans Day weekend took us near historical sites from the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, and Civil War. Our family found ourselves experiencing an extended US history seminar  during the weekend of the 100th anniversary of the Armistice ending World War I on November 11, 1918.

In this country, Armistice Day evolved into our Veterans Day holiday. We honor all who have served in our country’s armed forces. The church where we worshiped that Sunday recognized veterans who were present. Many religious and secular events throughout the weekend offered veterans well-deserved recognition and appreciation for their service.

As a rule, I don’t believe patriotic observances belong in Sunday worship.   The church is not a patriotic organization. But the 100th anniversary of “the war to end all war” and “make the world safe for democracy” offered a significant “teachable moment” for the church. How do followers of the Prince of Peace manage the tension between being citizens of a nation (USA, Mexico, etc.) and citizens of God’s Kingdom? How does the church exist in a particular place and time and also honor our commitment to Christ that transcends all human and national boundaries? The church where we worshiped on Veterans Day recognized and thanked the veterans present. They remembered and gave thanks for those who had died in combat; they asked God to bless and protect those currently serving. AND THAT WAS ALL. 

The teaching moment came and went–in that congregation and, I’m afraid, in thousands of others. When the church’s patriotic observance merely mirrors secular ceremonies, we’ve failed to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ whom we call “Prince of Peace”. When we fail to share our message of transforming revolutionary hope for all humanity and all creation, we fail to be the Church. The difference between the Church of Jesus Christ and the service at the cemetery or the Legion Hall is, after all–JESUS CHRIST!

I believe an authentically Christian observance would move from grateful remembrance toward Proclamation of Good News: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:15). “Repent” means far more than “Sorry.” It means “Turn around. Choose a new direction. ” “Repent/Turn Around” is Good News because it affirms that we can turn. We can change. We can become New Creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). What if Veterans Day worship invited all within reach to turn away from “studying war” toward “the things that lead to peace…” (Luke 19:42 CEB). We learned on our trip that approximately 650,000 people had died in the Civil War–about 2% of the nation’s population! This chart documents war’s death toll over many centuries. Some figures are careful approximations, of course. But these hundreds of millions of senseless deaths tell the shameful story of our continuing inhumanity to one another. More than 13 million people died in World War I, 69 million in World War II–and they’re just the tip of the iceberg. These figures include all God’s precious children who’ve died as a result of war–not only soldiers, but all the noncombatants who are warfare’s “collateral damage”. No, I didn’t add up the grand total. I didn’t want to know that number.  Let us repent of this horrific obscenity–before “studying war” is the death of us all! Let us rather share, pray, and work toward God’s dream for God’s world:

“They will beat their swords into iron plows and their spears into pruning tools.
Nation will not take up sword against nation; they will no longer learn how to make war.
All will sit underneath their own grapevines, under their own fig trees. There will be no one to terrify them;              for the mouth of the LORD of heavenly forces has spoken.”—Micah 4:3-4 (CEB)

A faith-full Veterans Day observance might move from Remembrance to Repentance to Renewal. As we said, the call to “Repent” is hollow without a meaningful possibility to which we can “Turn”.  Visionary Easter faith sees possibility even for folks like us who thought “studying war” was our only option. Easter faith sees light-years beyond “thanks for your service” to the Risen Christ’s promise that “I am making all things new…” (Revelation 21:5) When did we last proclaim that Good News on Veterans Day or Memorial Day? The promise sounds wonderfully, impossibly good. We don’t dare believe it. We dare not turn fully toward the Light of God’s New Day. We dare not “pray without ceasing” for the prophet’s dream of peace to fill the earth. We close our ears to Jesus’ disappointed “O ye of little faith” (Matthew 8:26). We offer no altar call for peacemakers in the spirit of Jesus: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” . (Matthew 5:9) Altar calls, after all, are risky business. What if nobody steps up–even me??

This turned out to be about much more than Veterans Day, didn’t it? Like so much of our Christian life, growth means choosing between the status quo we know and love and the “new thing” just coming into view. What if we believe those ancient prophets? What if we make their inspired vision our own? What if we energetically pursue the blessing of becoming peacemakers? Most of all, how do we get from here to there–and invite our neighbors?

Rick Love is a pastor whose ministry invites Christians, Jews, and Muslims to the same table–for coffee and tea, a good meal that observes everyone’s dietary restrictions, and honest discussions about what they have in common, where they differ, and how they can live together peacefully. Rick says Romans 12:18 is the key verse for practical peacemaking in the Spirit of Jesus: “If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people.” (CEB) In this video, he talks about what he calls “Peacemaking for Dummies”.

The implications of that verse would take me at least another thousand words–but not now! It will start a journey from business-as-usual to repentance toward renewal and re-creation. I invite you to spend some time with this sentence. Focus on each phrase. Start a conversation with one or a few others about how this might impact your life and relationships. If you dare, include folks whose worldviews differ from yours. Try not to yell! Expect to be surprised by what’s “possible”; by how “best” your “ability” becomes when it’s Spirit-empowered; by the depth of the “peace” you share; by the way your life is enriched as your circle of “all people” grows. `

 

 

 

GENEROUS ORTHODOXY (Part I of a few)

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God…” Romans 12:2 NRSV

Galadriel’s opening words in the movie The Lord of the Rings sound like someone (me!) reeling from an overdose of Breaking News: “The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was, is lost, for none now live who remember it.”

Civil conversation may be doomed to become part of “much that once was”. Respectful dialog across political, religious, and ideological divisions is fast becoming the exception rather than the rule. We arrogantly insist we’re completely right and “they” are totally wrong. We talk at each other rather than with each other. We yell our case at “them” and close our ears to their equally harsh response. Legislators dare not reach across the aisle, lest their colleagues accuse them of political treason. Ideological fault lines divide neighbors, families, co-workers, school classmates, and churches. Toxic polarization stifles common sense and common courtesy. It suffocates the wisdom and creativity that could give birth to new ideas, new dreams, and a new future.

We who follow the Prince of Peace often get swept up in these waves of social change. Church history includes ugly chapters like the Crusades, in which thousands of Christians and Muslims died, and the Inquisition, a 12th-century anti-heresy pogrom. More recently Christians have fought bitterly and sometimes violently over women’s rights, slavery, racial equality, biblical interpretation, human sexuality, and more. Both liberals and conservatives have weaponized the Bible against “the other side”. “If you’re not reading the Bible through our God-given set of religious and cultural lenses,” we holler across the ideological chasm, “you’re reading it upside down and inside out. Good luck with that!” Our churchy conflicts use and abuse scripture, often with reckless abandon. Our razor-sharp holier-than-thou language punishes our misguided brothers and sisters in Christ. Our conflicts can be as vicious and damaging as any dust-up at the neighborhood bar, the city council or school board, or a family celebration gone south. You know, that time an inadvertent (or not!) remark triggered a nuclear meltdown whose fallout still poisons the atmosphere at every gathering of the clan.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds…” In other words– People of faith, we’re better than that! Yet our church fights mostly conform to the faultlines fragmenting our society. In the face of revolutionary change we choose “the way we’ve always done it” over “the renewing of our minds” by the power of the Holy Spirit. We beat each other with our Bibles, proclaim that our side alone has the truth, and question the sincerity and even the salvation ofthose who dare to disagree with us—and thus (obviously) with God! Currently the United Methodist Church (UMC) is caught up in such a struggle over its theology of human sexuality. Some of our leaders have set an example of respectful and meaningful conversations despite significant differences. Bishop Robert Hoshibata is leading another helpful series of Holy Huddles in our Desert Southwest Annual Conference. These events offer opportunities for clergy and laity to speak honestly and listen deeply to each other. But will this spirit infuse and transform the grassroots of the UMC’s thousands of local churches? Or will our “conformity” to the world’s winner-take-all ways prove devastating for many churches, communities, and individuals?

Recently I’ve been learning about a transforming way called “Generous Orthodoxy”. What?? Yes, “Generous orthodoxy” sounds like an oxymoron—two words headed so far in opposite directions that they can’t possibly stay together. Our traditional, cramped understanding of “orthodoxy” fuels that conclusion. But some wise folks are exploring ways that “generous orthodoxy” might be an idea whose time has come.

Theologian Hans Frei may have originated the term. He envisioned the possibility of “…a kind of generous orthodoxy which would have in it an element of liberalism…like the Christian Century [a liberal theological journal] and an element of evangelicalism…like Christianity Today [a similar conservative journal]. I don’t know if there is a voice between these two…if there is, I would like to pursue it.”

Anglican preacher and theologian Fleming Rutledge goes deeper: “…ortho-doxy (Greek for “right doctrine”)…has come to sound constricted and unimaginative at best, oppressive and tyrannical at worst…we cannot do without orthodoxy, for everything else must be tested against it, but that orthodox (traditional, classical) Christian faith should by definition always be generous as our God is generous; lavish in his creation, binding himself in an unconditional covenant, revealing himself in the calling of a people, self-sacrificing in the death of his Son, prodigal in the gifts of the Spirit, justifying the ungodly and indeed, offending the “righteous” by the indiscriminate nature of his favor. True Christian orthodoxy therefore cannot be narrow, pinched, or defensive but always spacious, adventurous and unafraid.” She echoes Frei’s earlier words: “Generosity without orthodoxy is nothing, but orthodoxy without generosity is worse than nothing.”

Can this oxymoron live? Can we share an inviting, welcoming, Christ-centered orthodoxy? Can we listen to and love those with whom we differ? Can we share open and meaningful dialog, rather than maneuvering to get the last word and be the “winners”? Next February the UMC’s General Conference legislative body, will meet to address the church’s policy regarding issues of human sexuality. Then the thousands of UMC congregations will have to discern how General Conference’s action relates to their understandings and ministry. What a gift it would be for them to be able to do that in a climate of Generous Orthodoxy! This wisdom is circulating at some levels of our church. But in my limited experience, I don’t sense that it’s reaching the grassroots quickly or deeply enough. Five years ago Bishop Kenneth Carter shared the concept with the people he serves in Florida. More recently he’s expanded this material into a book called “Embracing the Wideness”. I’m sure Bishop Carter’s wisdom is being well-used in some settings. But it’s apparently new information for a lot of folks out west where I live. If I were actively serving a congregation, we’d be immersing ourselves in this approach. We’d be learning to practice “generous orthodoxy” in all we did together. It’s an oxymoron whose time has come!

Bishop Carter clearly links generous orthodoxy with God’s grace. “A generous orthodoxy begins with God,” he writes, “and more specifically with the grace of God.” Toward the end of his Florida message, he says, “A generous orthodoxy will rediscover the practices of Jesus in the gospels, calling all people into communion with him. Is that call a tacit approval of who we are, in our humanity? No, and this is true for gay and straight people…the ground is indeed level at the foot of the cross, and this is the common ground of grace.”

This is the first of a few posts on this topic. If you’re curious, follow some of these links. Agree and disagree. Future posts will look at the way “generous orthodoxy” played out in a painful, yet ultimately redemptive, episode in one family’s life; the connection between grace and generous orthodoxy; and practical ways to help Paul’s dream come to life so that our lives, our churches, our communities, our world are “…transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you may discern what is the will of God…”

“Let’s Begin with a Word of Prayer…”

I must have said that dozens, even hundreds of times, in the last fifty or so years. People of faith frequently begin our gatherings this way. So I invite you to  pray with me as I/we begin anew with this blog. Some of you know that this retired United Methodist pastor has served for the last two years as interim pastor for a Lutheran (ELCA) congregation in a community about 100 miles south of Las Vegas, NV, where we live. It took longer than anticipated for that congregation to locate and call its new fulltime pastor. But I think most of those folks would agree with me that it took just long enough.

That  Lutheran “sojourn” was a rich experience for Dianna and me. The only downside was the weekly commute that meant we lived in two places, yet often felt we weren’t really “home” in either place. But now we’re full-time residents in our only home. We’re resuming some things we let go during that assignment, including this blog. It may be redesigned eventually. My brain has more substance it wants to share, as soon as it flows through the keyboard in an acceptable form.

But for now “let’s begin with a word of prayer”. I’ve recently begun following Shifting Margins, a blog written by retired United Methodist bishop Kenneth Carder. Yesterday he shared this prayer. It says what I’ve felt, and what I’ve heard from many folks, especially in the wake of recent violence and ugliness in this country and beyond.

Prayer of Lament and Longing
Posted on October 29, 2018
Bishop Kenneth Carder

God of Love and Peace, who created us to live in harmony rooted in mutual respect, compassion, and justice: We have lost our way and now wander in the toxic wasteland of cruel hatred, shameful disrespect for the dignity of others, and the normalization of verbal and physical violence. In such a time, our prayers seem powerless and we cry out, “How long, O Lord? How long?”

Hear our laments and turn them into actions on behalf of compassion, justice, and peace.
We lament the coarseness of our public discourse, while we long for civility.
We lament the disrespect for those who differ from us, while we yearn for mutual respect amid our differences.
We lament the tribal nature of our politics, while we long for commitment to the common good.
We lament the inequity in our economics, while we want all to have access to your table of abundance.
We lament the arrogance of always having to be right, while we desire the humility to live with ambiguity and mystery.
We lament the hatred and cruelty within our life together, while we hunger to love and to be loved.

Move through the dark recesses of my own heart, O God, and purge me of all hatred, arrogance, prejudice, and ill-will. Create in me a clean heart and put a right spirit within me, that I may be an instrument of your Love and Peace. Amen.

Is It Time Yet???

Yesterday I drove past the Mandalay Bay shooting site on the Las Vegas Strip. Almost a month later the memorial site appears lovingly cared for. A steady stream of visitors includes families and friends of the victims, local residents, and tourists touched by the tragedy. Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo still appears regularly on local news shows with updates on the continuing investigation. He looks a little less tired than he did immediately after the event. The concert site remains an active crime scene closed to the public indefinitely. The yellow crime-scene tape reminds passersby of the havoc wreaked by one very sick man.

As soon as the news broke that night, we heard calls for action to address our nation’s continuing epidemic of gun violence. My initial reaction echoed Old Testament laments: “How long, O Lord?” (Psalms 13:1; 79:5; 89:46; 90:13; Isaiah 6:11). When is enough enough? But many people said, “This is not the time. First we need to grieve and show respect for the victims and their families.”  We did need time and space to process the flood of emotions we’d experienced. That’s happened very meaningfully in the Las Vegas community and across the nation.

Now it’s been almost a month. Is it time yet? If not now, when? How long, O Lord? The news cycle’s moved on to Republican infighting, the World Series (Go Dodgers!), and more. How long, O Lord? A month? Three months? A year? Today I learned that more than 800 people have died of gunshot wounds since October 1! “How long” was too long for them. Oh, I know. Anything we’d done in the last three weeks couldn’t have prevented any of those deaths. But the sooner we act, the sooner more people can live safely and without fear.

Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy (D) has re-introduced legislation calling for comprehensive background checks for gun buyers. Murphy’s been fighting this battle since the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012. While gun owners and the general public support the concept, Murphy acknowledges his bill has a slim chance of passage due primarily to NRA opposition. He’s also clear that his bill is one small piece of a vast complex puzzle. Other puzzle pieces include mental health resources, a more balanced and up-to-date approach to the Second Amendment, less glorification of guns and violence in entertainment and popular culture, and reduced availability of military-grade weapons and accessories.

I DON’T WANT TO TAKE AWAY YOUR HANDGUN, RIFLE, OR SHOTGUN YOU USE FOR PERSONAL PROTECTION, HUNTING, AND/OR TARGET SHOOTING. I do want you to consider the tension between your freedom to own and use guns and the rights of everyone else (including the 2500+ shooting victims, approximately 840 of whom died)  since October 1, 2017. One piece of this complex puzzle is many, many honest and respectful conversations between folks with drastically differing views. That will require us to set aside our preconceptions and prejudices, listen and share respectfully, try not to yell, and find common ground.

For followers of Jesus, I suggest that conversation includes the relationship between our daily walk with Jesus and our relationship with guns. Are we willing to accept reasonable regulation? Are we willing to speak out and vote against the NRA’s absolutist stance, and support politicians who do so? How do we reconcile our relationship with guns with Jesus’ call to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-45) and to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9)? As we said earlier, this dialog about guns, gun use, and violence in our culture will be more of an ultramarathon than a sprint. But we’ll never finish if we don’t get to the starting line and begin the race together.

2015 saw 372 mass shootings in this country. (A mass shooting is commonly defined as one in which four or more people die.) In December 2015 a group of Christian leaders gathered to reflect on this record violence. Out of that gathering came the Advent Declaration on Gun Violence. It represents a considered Christian approach to the issue. Whether or not you agree with every detail, I suggest it as a useful starting point for dialog around the issue with folks in your church. Of course I invite you to sign it if you feel led to do so. I have. And I won’t declare you unchristian if you choose not to! But I hope you’ll take a serious look at it, read and reflect on the scripture references, and invite some other folks to consider it with you.

It’s been almost a month. Countless “thoughts and prayers” have been offered for the victims of the Mandalay Bay shooting and other events. Is it time now for meaningful prayer and action to impact this nation’s epidemic gun violence? I know at least 800 folks–probably close to a thousand by the end of this month–who’d say a resounding “Yes!”–if only they could.

PS 1) Here are links to blogs I wrote in response to mass shootings in 2015: “Response to Roseburg” and “Real Live Hope”.

2) Where have I been all this time? This retired United Methodist has been serving as interim pastor for an ELCA Lutheran church. Great learning experience for all involved!

Words from the Past about Our Future

One convention down, one to go. Right now that feels like two too many! These extravaganzas whip the faithful into a frenzy, do their best to sell their party’s “product”  to voters, and widen the partisan fault lines separating the 330 million+ of us who reside in “…one nation…indivisible…”

RecentlyJFK assume responsibility for the future in the space of a few days a number of Facebook friends posted this JFK quote. They are a diverse group politically, spiritually, and ideologically. They don’t all know each other. But President Kennedy’s words touched them. They heard hope and possibility. They heard the Good News of a way forward. They heard the promise of healing our national brokenness. They wanted more of us to hear what they’d heard: “…not…the Republican answer, or the Democratic answer…the right answer…not …blame for the past…accept… responsibility for the future.”

What a healthy, adult approach! Fixing blame is a good way to gain political advantage, but a terrible way to solve problems. Blame binds us to the past we cannot change. Future-oriented responsibility empowers us to shape our collective future. Blaming, especially in politics, is toxic, divisive, and self-centered. By contrast, claiming and facing our future together offers new energy, new hope, and renewed purpose. It’s our future, our country, our environment, our children and grandchildren, our traditions and values to be passed on to future generations.

“Let us not seek the Republican answer, or the Democratic answer, but the right answer.”  I can hear the protests: “The R’s will say they have the right right answer, the D’s will say they do, the verbal food fight will begin, somebody will throw a fit and walk out, and we’re back where we’ve been for years—going nowhere.” How do we move together toward a “right answer” that bridges our deep and real partisan differences?

More recently some other Facebook friends shared these words from John Kennedy’s brother Robert. I don’t know thRFK when you teache original context of these words. But, except for the male-oriented language, they sound as fresh as today’s Twitter feed. Teaching and preaching fear based on human differences is an old human game. During RFK’s career as senator and later Attorney General, that fear focused largely on Communism and racial differences. Fifty years later political and religious leaders—and just plain folks– teach hate and fear of the Other with regard to a bewildering range of fears and prejudices. We’ve demonized so many sorts of folk as “Them” that we’re struggling desperately to find an Us with room enough for all our uniquenesses.

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical “South Pacific” taught us correctly that “You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear.”  That specific “hate and fear” was the island community’s view of love between a US soldier stationed on a South Pacific island and a native woman. Both the native culture and the US military base culture forbade that relationship. In the theater, love conquers all and the couple lives happily ever after. But our real-life experience too often validates RFK’s wisdom: “When you teach a [person] to hate and fear [the neighbor]…you… learn to confront others not as fellow citizens, but as enemies.”

As I stand on this small island of sanity between the two parties’ conventions, I hunger for leaders who affirm the Kennedys’ wisdom. Who will lead our nation toward the right answer for all of us, not just for their special interests? Who will renounce the blame game and lead us—all of us—to take responsibility for our common future? Who will reject hate and fear as motivations for political and social action? Who will take the lead in refusing to demonize the Other? Who will lead us beyond a culture of toxic fear, hate, and prejudice toward a culture of mutual respect and even love for one another? Who will lead us to see others with whom we differ not as enemies but as neighbors?

Elections can obscure our view of life’s Big Picture. In case you’re struggling with that, the prophet Isaiah offers a very clear view of it. God’s dream for God’s world is that Really Big Picture:

But here on this mountain, God-of-the-Angel-Armies
    will throw a feast for all the people of the world,
A feast of the finest foods, a feast with vintage wines,
    a feast of seven courses, a feast lavish with gourmet desserts.
And here on this mountain, God will banish
    the pall of doom hanging over all peoples,
The shadow of doom darkening all nations.
    Yes, he’ll banish death forever.
And God will wipe the tears from every face.
    He’ll remove every sign of disgrace
From his people, wherever they are.
    Yes! God says so!”  Isaiah 25:6-9 MSG

messianic banquet 7-16

This “messianic banquet” sounds too good to be true—“all the people of the world” sharing an incredibly lavish feast together, the end of death and “every sign of disgrace”. Followers of Jesus believe we act out God’s dream for God’s world every time we share the Lord’s Supper.  All are welcome at the table. We feast on the very life of God. Christ’s body and blood transform us into new people. We come away forgiven, renewed, reconciled to God and one another.

This vision puts day-to-day politics in perspective. It reminds us that God’s dream for our neighbors on the other side of political, religious, and social issues is for them to sit with us at God’s ultimate feast. It helps us see each person as God’s precious child. That identity supercedes all the other labels we stick on one another. God’s dream leads us to choose God’s limitless Love that prepares, invites, and works ceaselessly to gather God’s children at God’s table. It empowers us to reject “carefully-taught” hate and fear that poisons every aspect of our life together. Claiming and living out this vision is the best way I know for us to take responsibility for the future we leave as our legacy–NO MATTER WHO WINS THIS ELECTION.

 

Damn Christians Part II

“Because I’m a [damn] Christian.”—Will Campbell

Orlando clubI’d scarcely clicked “Publish” on my last post “Needed-Damn Christians”—when I realized I needed to say more. I’d told the story of the late Will Campbell and his unique ministry to folks on all sides of political and religious divides. I described his presence at the long-delayed murder trial of Ku Klux Klan leader Sam Bowers. Bowers had allegedly ordered the killing of a number of civil rights activists, most notably Vernon Dahmer—in the mid-1960’s! In 1998, thirty-twoyears after the fact, Bowers stood trial again in Mississippi, this time with new evidence and a realistic chance of being convicted. Campbell spent some of the time at the trial sitting with Dahmer’s large family on one side of the courtroom–and about the same amount sitting with Sam Bowers, who sat all alone on the other side. When a reporter asked why he did this, Campbell growled, “Because I’m a damn Christian.”  I concluded that our fragmented society needs more “damn Christians” who will share the “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:20) modeled by Jesus and pursued by Campbell, Martin Luther King, and countless others. I said, “I believe the church’s place relative to the red and blue faultline running through American society is standing tall with our feet planted firmly on both sides… with neighbors who are easy to love and with those we struggle to love.”

But I hadn’t said much about how we arrive at that conviction, or what equips us for that uncomfortable and challenging stance. Then the Pulse Nightclub shooting happened early Sunday morning. It brought folks together. It also re-opened some old wounds and re-started some old arguments:

  • Omar Mateen’s anti-gay feelings clearly informed his choice of target. Those feelings still live in many hearts and minds.
  • He was an admirer or supporter of Isis. That’s enough to reanimate both rational concern over terror and misinformed or simply mean-spirited anti-Muslim prejudice. The ongoing investigation seeks to determine the exact nature and strength of that connection in this incident.
  • His primary weapon was an assault rifle like the ones banned from sale in this country until 2004. We’re having that yelling match again.

Thirty or so hours after the shooting, before all the dead are identified and their loved ones notified, the noise around these divisive issues grows ever louder. Politicians speak out, seeking every advantage. Activists on both sides strain to shout down the opposition. But if we’re simply yelling past each other, once again we’ll generate plenty of heat but precious little light.

What if some “damn Christians” dare to love our neighbors more than our ideology? Something could change. If we behave differently, the future would play out differently. Don’t misunderstand me. I have very strong convictions about these issues. But beyond the issues are our relationships with our neighbors. “If it is possible,” Paul urges us, “so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:18 NRSV)

So I offer here a framework within which we who follow Jesus might find ways to “live peaceably” with “all sorts and conditions of persons” while still maintaining the integrity of our convictions.

  1. We see and honor the image of God in every person.

“God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them.” (Genesis 1:27 CEB)

Every human being bears the divine image. No exceptions. No exclusions. No weasel words. No fudge factor. Sharing this divine DNA makes all seven billion of us family–for better or worse! That includes all those folks who post their ridiculous nonsense online (and who feel the same way about our brilliant, witty, profound posts); folks from places whose names we can’t possibly twist our tongues around; folks with whom we fit perfectly and folks with whom we clash catastrophically; folks who energize us and folks who drain us; folks with whom we feel welcome and folks who just give us the creeps. All of us, in all our glory and uniqueness, created alike bearing the divine image. All means all. “Damn Christians” practice the spiritual discipline of looking for the divine image, no matter how hidden, marred, or disfigured, in every human being.

  1. We recognize every person as someone for whom Christ died.

“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his…one and only Son…so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.” John 3:16 MSG

Still no exclusionary clause. “…whole and lasting life” is God’s will for each of us and all our divine kin on this planet. Not exactly the message we get from our “I’ve got mine and I’ll take yours if I want it” culture. Claiming God’s gift doesn’t require a dazzling resume or a twenty-page application. It requires only “believing”–trusting with our whole being– that the way of life we see in Jesus leads away from destruction toward more and better life than we’d dared to imagine.

Easy to say, but very hard to accept. Abundant negative evidence exists, much provided by so-called “Christians” in the form of both actions and deadly silence. Our not-yet-believing neighbors want to be told less and shown more. “Believing” takes what God always knew it would take—incarnational evidence.

Orlando hug

  1. We will embody Christ for others through everything we do and are.

 “Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what…When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human!” Philippians 2:5-7 MSG

 That’s all it takes. Just turn my back on this 21st-century  privileged, entitled, “I want it all” culture. Climb down the ladder I’ve worked so hard climbing up. Invest myself in folks from whom I thought I’d managed to insulate and isolate myself. Give up my self-important illusions and just be my created-in-the-divine-image self. All that takes is someone who …didn’t think so much of himself…” “didn’t …cling to…status…” “…set aside…privileges…took on the status of a slave, became human.” It takes some “damn Christian” foolish enough to follow Jesus to places and people most folks say aren’t worth the effort; foolish enough to believe “God loved the world…” means the whole creation and everyone who’s ever been or ever would be a part of it. Some damn Christian like Miss Velma Westbury. According to Will Campbell, Miss Velma often said, ‘”If you just love the folks what’s easy to love,that really ain’t no love at all…If you love one, you have to love’em all.”

“Of course,” Campbell points out, “some folks said Miss Velma was crazy.”

NEEDED–DAMN CHRISTIANS

epa02317367 Taylor Strowger (10) from Darfield explores earthquake damage to Highfield Road, 30km west of Christchurch, New Zealand, on 05 September 2010. It will take at least a year to rebuild the  centre of Christchurch, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said on 05 September as aftershocks continued to rock the city in the wake of a devastating 7.1-magnitude earthquake.  EPA/DAVID WETHEY AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND OUT

The fault lines grow more sharply defined daily in our polarized society. So many of us are so sure we are so right about so much that we’ve spawned multiple versions of “Political correctness”. Their specific content varies according to where we are, whom we’re with, who might overhear us. But all are variations on the theme: “Feel free to express yourself—as long as you don’t say this, do that, go there, embrace and affirm Them.”

 The faultlines fragment our legislatures, our churches, our families, our schools, our workplaces, our neighborhoods, our media. The increasingly bitter presidential race is the loudest, most visible–and most obnoxious?—sign of our fragmentation. Some folks continue to study candidates and issues with an open mind. Others choose to sit on the sidelines. Once again their first choice–“None of the Above”– isn’t on the ballot. But a great many have made their decision, can’t conceive of changing their minds, and speak of those who disagree in terms ranging from impolite and inappropriate to vicious and profane.

OMG IS HE REALLY GOING THERE? WHICH SIDE IS HE GOING TO TICK OFF FIRST?? WILL MY DEVICE EXPLODE IF I KEEP READING??? WILL I GET SO MAD I HURL IT ACROSS THE ROOM AGAINST THE WALL OUT THE FRONT DOOR INTO THE SWIMMING POOL?!?!?

Breathe. Inhale. Exhale.  Again.  Once more. That’s better.

Where should the church stand with regard to our nation’s politico-socio-economic-spiritual faultline? Some say “as far away as possible!” Others urge everyone to study the issues—in private, at home—and vote. And please, PLEASE don’t disturb our peace by mentioning this stuff on Sunday morning. Still others have chosen their side and feel called to persuade everyone within reach. How, we wonder together in our self-righteous holy huddles, could an intelligent person, a sane person, a fully-devoted (thinking-like-me) Christian, a real (thinking-like-me) American, possibly choose otherwise?

Sixty years or so ago our nation found itself similarly polarized. That fault line was black and white, not red and blue. The Civil Rights Movement was begnning to transform every aspect of life in the old South—and beyond, for those who had eyes to see. Folks on both sides were convinced of their side’s absolute righteousness and the other side’s absolute unrighteousness, even wickedness.

In the midst of this foundation-shaking chaos lived a white man named Will Campbell. He’d grown up on a farm in Mississippi. His parents had taught him their Baptist faith—so well that he’d been ordained a Baptist minister at age 17. After serving his country in World War II, he completed his education (Wake Forest, Tulane, Yale Divinity School) and returned to the South. In 1957 Will Campbell was one of four ministers who escorted the Little Rock Nine, the black students who integrated Little Rock, Arkansas public schools. In the late ‘50’s and early ‘60’s he supported, organized, and participated in numerous marches, sit-ins, and other actions. He founded an organization called The Committee of Southern Churchmen, which published Katallegete, a journal whose title is the Greek word translated “Be reconciled” (2 Corinthians 5:20).

In 1965 Will Campbell met an Episcopal seminary student named Jonathan Daniels. Jon was helping register black voters in Lowndes County, Alabama. He and his fellow workers literally risked their lives daily to do what we take for granted today–thanks to the courageous efforts of people like them. One day Will heard that Jonathan and another man had been shot by a sheriff named Thomas Coleman. Campbell’s book Brother to a Dragonfly describes the conversation Will had with his longtime (agnostic) friend P.D. East.. In a previous conversation, East had pushed Campbell to define the Gospel. The result was, “We’re all bastards but God loves us anyway.”

Now as Will relates the story, P.D. said, “‘Come on, Brother.Let’s talk about your definition. Was Jonathan a bastard?’… I knew that if I said no he would leave me alone and if I said yes he wouldn’t. And I knew my definition would be blown if I said no. So I said, ‘Yes.’

” ‘All right. Is Thomas Coleman a bastard?’ That one was a lot easier. ’Yes. Thomas Coleman is a bastard.’

“‘Okay. Let me get this straight now… Jonathan Daniel was a bastard. Thomas Coleman is a bastard. Right? Which one of these two bastards do you think God loves the most?’

“[P.D’s] voice now was almost a whisper as he leaned forward, staring me directly in the eyes…He leaned his face closer to mine, patting first his own knee and then mine, holding the other hand aloft in oath-taking fashion. ‘Which one of these two bastards does God love the most? Does he love that little dead bastard Jonathan the most? Or does He love that living bastard Thomas the most?’”

The agnostic had led his Baptist preacher friend to–conversion: “I remember trying to sort out the sadness and the joy…then this too became clear.

“I was laughing at myself, at twenty years of a ministry which had become…a ministry of liberal sophistication…denying not only the Faith I professed to hold but my history and my people—the Thomas Colemans. Loved. And if loved, forgiven. And if forgiven, reconciled. Yet sitting there in his own jail cell, the blood of two of his and my brothers on his hands. The thought gave me a shaking chill in a non-air-conditioned room in August.”

Will began to understand how ordinary white people like Thomas Coleman and black people were both oppressed by the racist system in the South. Will began reaching out to “racists”, including Klansmen and their families. He hung out with them, sipped whisky with them, officiated at their weddings and funerals–and took intense heat from both white and black “liberals” who couldn’t understand “we’re all bastards, but God loves us anyway.”

In 1998 Will Campbell attended the trial of Sam Bowers, Grand Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. He was charged (again) with ordering the murders of numerous civil rights activists in the ‘60’s, most notably Vernon Dahmer. Sam Bowers sat alone on one side of the courtroom. Dahmer’s large extended family sat on the other side. During the trial Campbell sat with the Dahmers some of the time and with Sam Bowers some of the time. One day a puzzled reporter asked him why he did that. Will growled, “Because I’m a [damn] Christian.”

So to answer my question—I believe the church’s place relative to the red and blue faultline running through American society is standing tall with our feet planted firmly on both sides. Our place is both with neighbors who are easy to love and with those we struggle to love.  We need some “damn Christians” who know from painful, joyful experience that “we’re all bastards but God loves us anyway”. That love frees us to love our neighbors more than any idolatrously-enshrined political, religious, or ideological orthodoxy. That love can grow a new generation called to share Will Campbell’s passion for “reconciliation”:

…”if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived! All of these new things are from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and who gave us the ministry of reconciliation.  In other words, God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ, by not counting people’s sins against them. He has trusted us with this message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors who represent Christ. God is negotiating with you through us. We beg you as Christ’s representatives, “Be reconciled to God!”  (2 Corinthians 5:17-20 CEB)

               

Got Gates?

“I am the Gate. Anyone who goes through me will be cared for…I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.”—Jesus

“I don’t think we need bigger churches; the church needs more entry points.” –Rev. Julian DeShazier // J.Kwest, Senior Pastor of University Church in ChicagoEntrance-logo_ellipse-1024x381

Last Sunday we went to an unfamiliar church. We’ve worshiped there a few times in recent years when we visited a longtime friend. We arrived and headed for the sanctuary to meet our friend–but we couldn’t find our way. We’d entered the large older building from a different direction. A helpful person quickly noticed our disorientation and showed us the correct door. It’s one of those doors you can’t see until someone points it out, and then you can’t miss it.

Our home church has great signage and very clear entrances to the sanctuary. Its physical layout is mostly visitor-friendly.  But that historic old church (100+ years), our newer church (30 years), and  many thousands more share the same struggle with entry points. Can folks find their way into and around the building easily? Does our physical, program, and online presence offer sufficient accessible “entry points” for newcomers? Do the first humans those newcomers meet embody Jesus’ caring welcome to “more and better life”? Most churches today face a fundamental survival/mission issue: Is our church a closed club or an open community? Is church primarily for us, the “faithful”, or for “them”, the outsiders who don’t even know which end of a Bible is up?

Two recent experiences have stirred me to think anew about this ancient struggle (see Acts 11:1-18). The day before that church visit, Dianna and I attended a “Messy Church” workshop. “Messy Church” isn’t about how to keep the church cleaner, or even how to disappear that mountain of sacred junk in the desperately-overstuffed Holy of Holies closet. “Messy Church” is a British response to a drastic decline in worship attendance and church participation. It offers an informal, approximately monthly experience designed to be “church” without being churchy. While each “messy church” is customized for its own setting, every Messy Church includes

  • A relaxed welcome time with drinks and snacks
  • An activity-based learning time with Bible-based crafts, games, competitions, prayers, etc.
  • A short celebration that usually includes Bible story, song, and prayer
  • A sit-down meal for everyone.

Every Messy Church expresses the values of

  • Christ-centeredness—the spirit that underlies the entire two-hour experience.
  • Hospitality—“Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” (Romans 15:7 NRSV)
  • Creativity—Making use of everyone’s God-given gifts in order to learn and discover new insights about each session’s theme.
  • Celebration—Short (15 min.) and interactive, usually including song, story, and prayer
  • All-age—Generations participate together and learn from one another; each generation’s needs are balanced and addressed in activities.

Messy Church is designed to reach folks on the margins who might never attend a traditional church. It provides an “entry point”, not necessarily into traditional Sunday-based church, but into a Christian community and into the journey of following Jesus together. Messy Church doesn’t speak to everyone. It speaks powerfully to some who aren’t being reached any other way.

That brings me to the second “trigger” for this piece. Recently I read a piece by Rev. Julian DeShazier, pastor of University Church on Chicago’s South Side. He says that historically rough community is even “more traumatic” these days…“—and the First Responders to that trauma are the churches he calls “the primary caregivers in the community”. [How’s that for a start on a mission statement!?] He’s clear that his traumatized neighbors need more than Sunday sermons. The difference-maker for them, he says, is “…art that speaks in the language of whatever public we serve; as an entry point, an invitation to experience something deeper”

The art that speaks to Julian DeShazier—also known as “J.Kwest”– and his Southside neighbors is Hip-hop. “If it weren’t for hip-hop”, he writes, “I wouldn’t be in the church, period. What I later heard from some great pastors, I first heard from some dope emcees and gifted songwriters whose songs are described by church folk as “indecent” and “improper” and “unorthodox”. They are, and I thank God for them, because those were my burning bushes…I ended up back in the church because the most popular rapper at school was in the cafeteria free-styling about God and told me about his church, and the youth pastor said I could perform too if I had a story to tell. Neither BreevEazie nor Rev. James preached a sermon. Their art invited me in.

“Art that speaks…the language…an entry point, an invitation to experience something deeper.”  What “entry points” suggest themselves to you? Hiphop;  country western; light-rock praise music; come-as-you-are all-age informality; Taize music; Quaker-style silence; elaborate structured liturgy with organ and robed choir and clergy;cowboy church; simple outdoor worship in a camp or park setting.

Careful listening, prayerful reflection, and creative dreaming will lead us toward the best solution for our particular setting. But you and I are the key “entry points”. We’re the “gates” through which others begin to discover Jesus, “the Gate for the sheep”. (John 10:6) Those “Messy Church” values—Christ-centered, hospitality, creativity, celebration, including all ages and stages—fit wherever God’s people gather. They’re signs of that “real and eternal, more and better life” that is God’s will for us and all people, and his gift to us in Christ.child-opening-gate-23111804

I hear our Risen Lord asking his church in all its manifestations today: “Got gates?” He cares far less than we think about how big our churches are. He cares far more than we know about how open we and our churches are.

Transformed NonConformists, the Creative Maladjusted, and the Spirit

For the secomakingdisciplestransformationnd year in a row I’m helping teach our church’s Confirmation class. Confirmation in the United Methodist Church (and some others) invites students in middle-school and above to take a deeper look at Christian faith. Ideally these young men and women will  “confirm” as their own the Christian faith they’ve learned from their families and their church. We’re about a month away from our church’s Confirmation celebration. On that great day, these youth will join twelve million other United Methodists in our mission “… to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. “ (2012 United Methodist Book of Discipline, Par. 120). They’ll share our mutual promise to support this mission with our “prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness”. While this generation’s discipleship will reflect their God-given uniqueness and the times in which they live, they’ll also show a strong “family resemblance” to previous generations of the Christian community.

The world in which we live and serve as “disciples of Jesus Christ” hasn’t stood still during our four-month journey. It’s continued to change at a pace somewhere between breathless and chaotic. Much of that change runs counter to our vision of “the transformation of the world”. I wonder how well we’ve equipped our students for their/our transforming mission. Doing church “the way we’ve always done it” won’t work any better than it has for the last few decades. Our class is learning the Church’s traditions. One we often fail to teach is that God is “making all things new” (Revelation 21:5) and invites us to partner in that continuing process of God’s Spirit uses God’s people to tell the Christian story in new ways that touch peoples’ hearts and “make new” our ever-changing world.

Jim Wallis wrote recently about an inter-racial, ecumenical gathering on the 48th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination (April 5, 1968) at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Ebenezer is the church both Dr. King and his father served for many years. Wallis’ closing remarks that evening included some of Dr. King’s own words: “This hour in history needs a dedicated circle of transformed nonconformists … The saving of our world from pending doom will come, not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a nonconforming minority… Human salvation lies in the hands of the creative maladjusted.” (Strength to Love)Transformed NonconformistDr. King described the post-Easter church perfectly! Jesus’ first followers formed a community of radical sharing. They welcomed the poor, the crippled, everyone their Jewish religious leaders had labeled “unclean”. Then Peter and Paul threw open the doors of the church to Gentiles—the most unclean of all! And that was just the beginning. These “transformed nonconformists” were out to change everything!  I would argue that the Spirit moves more often through out-liers than through the Establishment:

  • In 5th-Century Ireland pirates captured a Christian named Patrick. This “nonconforming minority” of one got to know his captors so well that he translated the story of Jesus into their own cultural expressions and eventually baptized many of them.
  • In Germany in 1517 a “creatively maladjusted” young monk challenged the massive Christian monopoly known as the Roman Catholic Church. Martin Luther’s boldness ignited a revolutionary transformation in the Church of Jesus Christ.
  • In early 18th-century England two seminarians invited fellow students to form an intentional community. These “Methodists”, as their critics called them, set out to live a more disciplined Christian life together. They embraced their new name. John Wesley wrote the words for the new movement, and his brother Charles wrote the music. John struggled for a while, but eventually experienced a personal transformation that focused and energized his ministry. The “nonconforming minority” called Methodists grew into today’s global Methodist movement that is millions strong.

The history of the Church is full of “nonconforming minorities” and “creatively maladjusted” communities like the Desert Fathers, the Mennonites, Clarence Jordan and Koinonia Farm, Howard Thurman and the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples, Henri Nouwen and L’Arche Daybreak, Sojourners Community, Cecil Williams and Glide Memorial Church. Beyond these headliners, millions of very ordinary followers of Jesus share God’s transforming love in Christ each day in countless ways all over our planet.

Last fall I wrote about “Doing Jesus’ Laundry”.  Fifteen-year-old Caroline Gowan needed a community service project to complete requirements for a Girl Scout award. Caroline and her mother regularly made their own laundry detergent, and donated some to their church’s food  pantry. Clients welcomed it because it saved them some money, but they still spent up to $20-30 every time they went to a laundromat. Caroline thought, prayed, studied—and formed a plan. She arranged to use a local laundromat one afternoon a month. She enlisted her church’s help with donations of money, supplies, and volunteers. She spread the word as widely as she knew how. Last June “Loads of Love” began washing clothes and sharing God’s love in Bonaire, GA. They come in with dirty laundry,” Caroline says, “and leave with a renewed spirit and clean clothes…I feel like not only am I doing something for the people around me and that I am doing something for people I don’t even know, but that I’m doing something for the Lord. I am doing Jesus’ laundry!”

A few daysJesus Laundry ago I heard from Caroline’s mother! She’d seen my post. Caroline had received her Girl Scout Gold Award. “Loads of Love” continues “doing Jesus’ laundry” in Bonaire, GA and many other communities. Last Friday,” Michelle said, “27 volunteers from her family joined [Caroline] to serve the people in this community in honor of our grandmother and her legacy of service. Cousins came from all over the state and we had a family reunion at the laundromat. We began the night with $250 in quarters and when we left, we had done dozens of loads and had $315 in the box. There is no way to explain it other than ‘loaves and fishes math’. One thing she knows; God wants her to continue this ministry”. 

Thank God for “transformed nonconformists” like Paul, Peter, Patrick, Caroline Gowan, and all the rest! Thousands of youth are in Confirmation classes like ours this Spring. May the Spirit form them into “transformed nonconformists” serving our God who “makes all things new”!


Categories