The Parallax View

parallaxWe can see different things according to our viewpoint.

I’ve been thinking about the concept of parallax. That’s when it looks like a difference or displacement of an object when you view it from two different lines of sight.  If you go to the Wikipedia page on a parallax, you see a diagram looking at an object from two different viewpoints.  In one view it looks like the object has a blue background, but from another view, it’s in front of a red background.

I’ve been thinking about myself and the church I serve at in terms of parallax. My church is a very small church, with a shrinking budget in a broken down building.  Looking at this from one point it appears the church is ready to close.  But if you look at it from another vantage point, you would see a church that is active, a church looking at what it’s future can be.  Two vantage points.  Is one the real choice or are both true?

My own take is that both can be true.  The church looks vulnerable and it is.  If the boiler blows that could spell doom for the congregation. But the other view, where there is still hope for the future is also true. I don’t think it has to be an either/or, I think it can be a both/and.

(I could have used my other physics think piece which is my favorite- Schrödinger’s cat.)

I think about Disciple congregations in Minnesota that have closed.  Now, there are a lot of reasons why churches close.  But I have to wonder, did they get to a point where one vantage point was no longer visible?  Did they get to a point where there was no other way to look at the longevity of the church? What does it mean that First Christian- St. Paul can still see things from two places?

I’ve been thinking about parallaxes because of a sermon by Disciples pastor Doug Skinner.  In his final sermon at First Christian Church in McAllen, Texas he writes about the state of the denomination and its state right now isn’t very great.  He notes when he was ordained in 1979, the Disciples were 1.2 million strong.  Forty years later, the denomination numbers 450,000. This is just par for the course for what is happening to churches across America, but it’s happening faster in the DOC.  He then shares an interesting story about the pastor of a “big steeple church:”

I knew a minister in one of our tall steeple churches back in the day who, when his church was building their annual budget, after all of the pledges had been calculated, and all of the revenue streams had been fully taken into account, and they had a good fix on their projected income for the coming year, insisted that another 10% be automatically added to the bottom line.  He called that extra 10% “the faith quotient.”  He liked to say that he didn’t become a minister to raise churches’ budgets but to grow people’s faith, and he said that the added 10% “faith quotient” was just a concrete way of reminding himself ,and his people, that God was able to do things in them, and through them, that they couldn’t even see yet.  So, what do you think?  Was this a foolish or a faithful thing for him to do?

Did his “faith quotient” make sense?  I think it did.  As Doug shares, this pastor wasn’t interested as much in growing budgets as he was in growing the faith of the members.

I’m not as interested in the quotient as much as I am in the role of the pastor.  He took what was a common everyday thing, a church budget and used it as an instrument to grow people’s faith.

Sometimes we pastors get caught up in things like budgets or building maintenance, or political action.  We get caught up in all these things…things people do.  What we don’t do as well at times is having faith.  Faith is in many ways parallaxed: if you look at things from a vantage point that is only focused on what we see, we can see things one way.  But if we stand from another vantage point, the vantage point of faith, we will see things in a different way.

I sometimes wonder in many churches if we have forgotten that congregations are supposed to be places where faith is formed.  Someone once told me that in many Disciples churches the congregations have become clubs and not communities of faith. Pastors are trying to grow people’s faith and the people in the pews are not thinking about faith. We see things from only one vantage point.  I’m as much caught up in this way of looking at things – worried about how we can afford the church budget.

Our church is having their stewardship drive as we think.  I wonder what would happen if I added 10% to the bottom line.  How would people respond? How would I respond?

I want to be the kind of leader that wants people’s faith to grow, to want my own faith to grow and to trust where God might be leading.  Not in an uneducated way; but in a way that is knowledgable and also faithful.  One where we can see where God is leading and follow even if we don’t know the entire journey.

I hope to God we can be church that looked at things from the vantage point of faith.

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Reading Is Hard

 

adult-beverage-blanket-1550648I’ve had this problem for years, but never really thought about it until now.

The problem is I have trouble reading.  It’s not that I can’t read, I can do that rather well.  But when it comes to reading books or articles, it can become a chore.  The words start to lose any sense of meaning and I tend to not comprehend the reading.  The other thing that can happen is that I lose focus on reading.  Even if the book has my attention, I get antsy and can focus.  So I end up reading for no more than a half hour. This happens on a spectrum; some books are easier to read than others.  More modern books tend to be a little bit easier to consume, but the older the book and the more “thick” the book is, the harder it is to read. For example, when I was in seminary, you have to read a  bunch of theologians. I was excited to be reading these books, but most of them were hard reads.  Theologians like Barth and Tillich were a bit easier to read, but others like Friedrich Schleiermacher, were just impossible to read and comprehend.

I’ve been wondering if there is a link between being on the autism spectrum, which I am, and reading.  I’ve tried to find anything online about reading and autism, but there is very little information.  I did find this abstract from the National Institutes on Health that is somewhat helpful.  I’ve wondered if I’m dyslexic, but I’m not sure.  What I do know is that it can be frustrating to hear someone say they read something from the Federalist Papers and I want to read it, but I know that it will be nigh unto impossible for me to read.

What I would love is to find ways that would help me to read and comprehend.  As hard as it is, I love to read. If anyone has any advice, I’d love to hear them.

 

It’s Neurotypical World and I’m Living In It

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One of the thing that I’ve noticed over the years since my autism diagnosis is how others on the spectrum demand the world accommodate to them.  That makes sense; like other persons with disabilities, there is a time when you do have to demand that changes be made to be able to work or simply live.  But there are times that I wonder if what has to be done, when possible, is to…well, suck it up and try to adapt.

Let me explain. Something that I am learning over the years is that people won’t always bend to your wishes.  There are a lot of reasons why some valid and some not.  More often than not it bad intent, it just is. I’ve experienced this in a lot of situations.  In those times, I’ve learned to stretch myself and try to adapt as much as possible.  It isn’t easy and it’s not always successful, but what I am learning in life is that life really isn’t fair and that sometimes you just have to find the best way to get something done. Sometimes saying that your autism means that you are so focused on something that you forgot the other thing you needed to do won’t cut.  Sometimes all you can do is apologize and say you will do better.

I’ve been trained as a journalist.  Being a journalist means you have to interview people.  Interviewing is not easy for me for the simple reason, meeting people and doing small talk is difficult.  The other part is that I have to try to create a story from my notes.  There is a part of being autistic that focuses on perfection.  I wanted to make sure my stories had the right information and I was trying to make sure that the quote I used was exact. Let’s not even start talking about using the phone.  The whole thing was draining and it made me not want to write stories even though I loved writing and I loved writing stories.

Without going into much detail, I was pushed to have to interview people and write again.  It’s my job and for a long time, I was trying to avoid it.  But when I had to do it, I had to find ways to adapt.  Using dictation software on my iPhone helps with the fear of having to be perfect.  I’ve had to learn to make small talk with people and I also wrote stories ahead of time so that I wasn’t so nervous.

I’ve had to adapt.  I didn’t have a choice.

I don’t want my experience is something everyone with autism/Aspergers should do what I’ve done. Not everyone has autism like I do.  But if you can adapt, I think you should try it.  Just because you’re autistic, doesn’t mean you can’t challenge yourself.

I’m glad I was pushed into something I had to do.  Reporting and writing didn’t have to be a chore.  I learned to use tools that would make it easier for me to do the work. If I never allowed myself to try to adapt, I might feel better, but I think I would be a lesser person.

When I titled this “It’s a neurotypical world and I just live in it,” I was trying to get the point across that sometimes I can’t expect the world to make room for me; I have to adapt.  Sometimes you have to.  But I think I’ve learned I can live in this strange world at least on some days.

Sermon: Lift High the Cross

This is the text from my 2019 Easter Sermon. You can listen to it by going here

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“Lift High the Cross”
Easter Sunday
Matthew 28:1-10
April 21, 2019
First Christian Church
Mahtomedi, MN

I’ve been blessed to have been inside Notre Dame twice. The first time was in 1998, my first time in Europe. The second time was ten years later in 2008 when I was on honeymoon with my husband. We had a hotel near Notre Dame, and we checked in and dropped off our suitcases and went to Notre Dame. The inside is glorious. I’ve always been amazed that this building was built nearly 9 centuries ago. The people who built this cathedral were building something they would never see completed.

So I was shocked and surprised when I heard that Notre Dame was on fire. Seeing the pictures was horrible. Many of us were wondering if Notre Dame would survive. Would it be reduced to rubble. Thankfully, after a few hours the firefighters were able to extinguish the fire after a few hours. The inside the was a disaster, the spire had collapsed, the wooden roof was gone. But the structure was still there and it could be restored. Maybe you saw the images from the inside. The inside is a mess. There is debris everywhere. It will take a while to restore the sanctuary. There is one picture that I think captured the whole story. It shows a picture of the altar and all around it is debris. Sitting on top of the altar is a cross. It looked like it had not been disturbed in the slightest. Out of nowhere it seems, is a shaft of light that shines down on the cross. In the midst of all this devastation and sadness, in the midst of seeing the horror of this grade edifice being damaged, was this symbol of hope. The message conveyed was that in the midst of pain and grief and sorrow, there is also hope and joy. The cross, a method of execution that the Roman empire used to kill those they deemed the worst of the worst, the instrument that brought suffering and death to Jesus, is also what gives us life and hope.

Today’s text in Matthew shows the women who followed Jesus heading towards the tomb. In the other gospels, the women head to the tomb in order to prepare the body. Here, there is no talk of preparing his body, they are just going to the tomb. They are not expecting that anything could change. Why would it? Jesus was dead. There was a stone in front of his tomb with Roman soldiers guarding the tomb. There was no hope. But then the earth shakes, just as it had a few days before when Jesus died. The stone is rolled away and an angel appears. The guards are so scared they faint. The angel tells them that Jesus the one that was crucified is no longer at the tomb and now has been raised from the dead. The women make their way to tell the disciples and it is there that they meet Jesus. They can’t help but touch him, because it seemed so unbelievable. Jesus tells them to go and tell the disciples to meet him in Galilee.

There are a few things about this story. When the angel says that Jesus was crucified, in Greek it’s in the perfect present tense which means that Jesus wasn’t crucified in the past, but it is current. Jesus was still dealing with the crucifixion. It is not something that Jesus got over, it is still present with Jesus even though Jesus conquered sin and death. Easter is not simply about the joy of the resurrection, but it is also a reminder that God in Jesus is familiar with grief. Jesus is familiar with pain. Easter tells us that sin and death don’t have the last word, but on this side of heaven, there is still pain. The difference is that God is with us in grief and pain.

The movie Amistad is the telling of a slave revolt on a ship bound to America. The slaves were put on trial and as they were awaiting their day in court, one of the men was given an illustrated Bible. He shares with another person the account of the crucifixion and he immediately saw that this God chose to die. He understood that God knew of suffering and grief. It gave him a sense of comfort to know that this God was with him in an uncertain time because God suffered like he did.

The second thing is use of the word phobu, where we get the English word, fear. The angel tells the women to not fear. The tense suggests that fear is used to say stop being afraid and keep being not afraid. The guards were filled with fear and fell down like dead men. But the angel is saying that the resurrection is nothing to be afraid of. Instead, this is an event of joy.

We live in an age where fear is very strong. I’m not talking about the feeling you get when you ride a rollercoaster, but that feeling you get when you get that phone call at 3 am in the morning knowing that something has gone wrong. People are fearful of the other, people of fearful of the economy, people are fearful just plain fearful. Where there is fear, there is very little love or joy. The angel tells the women to trust that Jesus is not at the tomb, Jesus is alive just as he promised. The cross is many things but the one thing it is not is an instrument of fear. The Romans intended it to be an instrument of fear, but God in Jesus took the fear away. The cross reminds us we will face suffering, yes, but we don’t fear the suffering because God is with us and death never, ever has the last word.

When I was in seminary, I started to learn a bunch of new hymns. They were necessarily written recently, some were written centuries before. One such hymn I learned was “Lift High the Cross.” The song is a reminder that the tool of death, the tool of the world is has been transformed to something shows the victory over sin and death, even though we face the sin and death, they will never, ever have victory over us and most importantly over God.

Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim
till all the world adore his sacred name.
Come, Christians, follow this triumphant sign.
The hosts of God in unity combine.*

The symbol the cross on the altar of Notre Dame tells us that the cross is lifted up amidst the chaos of the world. Jesus is victorious. Even when we face tragedy, when we face the grave, the cross still stands to share God’s love.

Easter is a day of joy, not simply happiness, but a sense of joy even when life is strewn with debris. We are joyful because the one that is crucified is no longer in the grave. So let us lift high the cross, telling all we meet that Jesus is alive and hope is here. Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen, indeed. Amen.

Love Don’t Live Here Anymore

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Well, the Special General Conference for the United Methodist Church is done.  For those of us who are LGBTQ and allies, the result was shocking and hurtful. I want to share some observations about the event and what it means for the church as a whole.

 

A few caveats:  I’m not Methodist, so this is an outsider’s perspective. But, this issue matters to me as a gay man, an ordained minister and most importantly, as a Christian. Second, people will not like this post for various reasons.  This is not a blog post trashing one side, there are a lot of other blogs that can give you that. What I want this post to be is a way how church in many ways is ceasing to be church. Just as the wider culture has become polarized, with no middle ground, the church is showing those same sides.  Instead of being an example of unity in the midst of diversity, we are simply following culture and what happened in St. Louis is Exhibit A.

 

One more thing. My underlying point here is that we, the church have to learn how to have hard debates in ways that respect one another.  What happened in St. Louis is just a microcosm of what is going on in the larger culture. Beyond all the nice words, we really don’t respect one another and we feel that the other side is evil.

 

I say all of this not as someone who is above the fray but as someone that has “picked a side.”  I am gay. I am married to a man. I do believe the church is called to welcome folks like me. I saw what happened at the General Conference and felt sadness and shock.  So yes, this is personal.

 

But I am also a Christian that is called to love even those I might believe are my enemies. I know that there are people who I strongly disagree with on this issue who are good and faithful people. I know this because I’ve met them and engaged them.  I know that this is also a personal issue to them. So how can we talk about this important issue and still be church? How can we be an example, a witness to the wider society?

 

With that, here are some of the salient points:

 

The Traditional Plan Sends a Clear Message.  It was quite telling that of the four plans that were offered, One Church Plan, the Simple Plan, the Connectional Conference Plan and the Traditional Plan, the one that was approved was the only one that did not allow a place for LGBTQ Christians in the church.  I know that there are those who will say that gays are welcomed in conservative churches and I do believe that. But the enhanced penalties that are now in place against gay clergy and same sex marriage send a message that conservatives might not think they are sending: the message that any LGBTQ Christian is not really welcome in churches.  That sense of not being welcome is born out in the fact that conservatives didn’t seem to even want to be in the same denomination with LGBTQ Christians. Nevermind that some of these plans allowed both sides freedom to do their own thing; there was no desire to even have to deal with LGBTQ Christians. It’s hard for me to believe that I would be welcome in a church when you can’t even think of having me in the same denomination.

 

A Gracious Exit that Wasn’t So Gracious. This is an issue I am most familiar with.  I worked for the local jurisdiction of the Presbyterian Church (USA) for seven years.  In 2011, the denomination approved allowing gay and lesbian Presbyterians to become ordained and serve in PC(USA) churches.  This was not something that more conservative Presbyterians could support. Presbyteries worked hard to draw up “Gracious Separation” plans that allowed some path that would allow for dissenting churches to leave with their property. It makes sense to have some kind of plan that dealt with the separation of dissenting churches because it would lessen the chance that church bodies would end up in court against departing congregations. This is what happened to the Episcopal Church after the consecration of a gay bishop in the early 2000s. The plan that was approved by the Bishops, the One Church Plan, didn’t have an exit plan.  I don’t know why and there didn’t seem to be much talk about adding a plan. The Traditional Plan did have what is called a “Gracious Exit.” On the surface this seems like offering more progressive churches room to leave if they can no longer abide by the rules. It seems compassionate, but I’m starting to wonder how gracious it really was. It feels more like what is being said to moderate and progressive churches is, “here’s the door.” It looks like they are the good guys in offering dissidents a way to leave, but it could also be interpreted in a negative way.

 

The Bishops lost authority. The Council of Bishops endorsed the One Church Plan.  In an earlier time, the delegates to the General Conference would take that endorsement to heart and would probably pass it up the bishop’s recommendation. But General Conference basically ignored the Bishops’ advice and passed a plan they didn’t endorse.  I’ve heard that Methodist bishops are more powerful than bishops in other Protestant traditions like the Anglicans. However, after this vote, the bishops have lost any authority. The General Conference not only passed on their recommendation, but they picked the plan that was the exact opposite of the One Church Plan. Will the bishops be listened to in the future? I don’t know.  But any illusion that they have power is now gone.

 

We don’t know how to talk about social issues. Why is it  that when it comes to issues like homosexuality we don’t know how to talk about them without wanting to go our separate ways? In the early 1990s I attended a Baptist church in Washington, DC.  At the time it was an odd church; it had both liberal and evangelical members. An ordained pastor who belong to the congregation was called as a part time Associate Pastor, but there was a catch, she was an LGBTQ ally. During the debate, an evangelical member spoke in favor of calling her. The two had a relationship and she might have disagreed on the pastor’s stance, but at the end of the day, they were friends. That’s an example of how to disagree and yet be united.  Unity was some kind of afterthought to the opposing sides. Conservatives thought the One Church Plan enforced a fake unity. Progressives never didn’t seem to see conservatives as people they should respect. As fellow Disciple minister, Douglas Skinner noted, progressives never listened to theological conservatives. No one was interested in talking in a way that respected the other. Instead, people talked at each other.

 

False humility. I remember seeing an image of a tweet written by a Democrat on election night 2016.  The person wrote thinking, like many people did, that Donald Trump would lose the election about the need to come together and all of that.  A few hours later when it became certain the Clinton would lose and Trump would become President her attitude changed. The next tweet was angry at conservatives swearing up a storm.  

 

I remembered that when I read retired Bishop William Willimon’s article after the vote.  I’ve always respected him and love reading his blogs and books.  But his writing after the vote was like the second tweet, a mask of civility fell revealing a sense of rage. He asks God to smite the other side and exhibits what I think is a rather racist attitude when he says that the global Christians who voted for the Traditional Plan will have to deal without that money from American Methodists which provided the income for the denomination.  His advocacy for LGBTQ people is admirable, but the attitude towards fellow Christians tarnishes his support. He displayed some a kind of false humility because he believed his plan would win the day. When it didn’t that mask fell revealing his true face.

 

Listen, don’t come talking about wanting the Spirit to move and then get mad when it seems the Spirit didn’t go your way. Willimon had a false kindness that was only based on his side winning. It’s hard to see someone I have respect seem to be so petty and shallow.

 

The Global Church was heard…and Progressives and Centrists didn’t like it. The United Methodists are different from most American mainline churches in that they are a global denomination and not just limited to the United States. That means there were people at the General Conference from Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe.  In most of these places the view regarding LGBTQ people is…well, not as affirming. But they deserved to be listened to. One of the problems that progressives have is that they don’t know how to deal with Christians in Africa and other places. Either they speak down to them or they think they are the unwitting tools of American conservatives.  What became very clear in the aftermath of this debate was the underlying racism coming from progressives. Both Willimon and another Methodist I hold in high esteem, Adam Hamilton, have written blog posts that basically assert that American Methodists are the ones that fund the church, which is basically saying that American pay for the church so the Global Church should be grateful.  I’m sorry, I respect both Willimon and Hamilton, but such assertions can’t be described as anything but condescending to persons of color. It reminds me of what happened in the Anglican Communion during the Lambeth meeting where Bishop John Shelby Spong, a progressive bishop in the Episcopal church called African Christians “superstitious.” For some reason, that didn’t go over well, with African Anglicans.  I want to believe Willimon and Hamilton were speaking out of the immediate hurt and anger and that this isn’t what they really think about people from outside America. People have every right t to be angry; but don’t patronize your sisters and brothers from outside the States in doing so. Progressives have to come to terms to the fact that Christians in Africa or Asia or Eastern Europe probably don’t share our views.

When we think of Africans we tend to think they are being deceived by evil evangelicals here in America.  They have come to their own beliefs on their own. They have their reasons for why they believe how they do.  Disciples pastor Jeff Gill explained why at least Africans might not want to relax sexual standards:

 

…Africans are not interested in relaxing standards on sexual activity from where they’ve been. For this, they’ve been demonized in social media and by advocates of the changes proposed; perhaps worse, it’s been repeatedly implied they’ve just been manipulated by cash and propaganda from American conservatives. When I read this stuff, I ask myself “have they actually ever met and talked to any African bishops?”

I have. I had a series of life-changing conversations with one, in this country, in 2005 and have kept up with him, and alongside him some mission and ministry partners in North Katanga on the eastern edge of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. What they have said repeatedly is this: our society does not have any guardrails. Next to none. Polygamy is common, exploitation rife in our cities and villages.

Christian preaching is often the first message many men in Africa have heard, I am told, about the need to treat women with respect, and to live their family lives as something other than a series of conquests. This is, they tell me, still an ongoing struggle. The boundaries of their church are pretty much all the guardrails they have for defining family and relationships in any form other than through power and force as their defining qualities.

So the African Methodist delegates are not interested in relaxing any standards right now. And I hear them. I also see the conflict in this country perhaps more clearly than they do in Africa, and I acknowledge the pain felt by those who see our society making lane changes and resetting some road markers, opening up acceptance and support of same-sex relationships, but then seeing some churches, perhaps their own faith tradition say “we are not making those shifts.” Not now, maybe not ever.

 

You don’t have to agree with this viewpoint, I don’t. But you need to understand it. You need to know why Africans other international members think the way they do. Progressives need to engage these people and also realize that the black and brown people that they admire don’t always see eye to eye on this issue.

 

And to borrow a tired phrase, Progressives and Centrists need to check their privilege.

 

Where do we go from here?  There are some people who think that things will remain the same.  Since the Traditional Plan has to go through a judicial process, it might be rejected outright.  But I think a line has been crossed. Both sides came to St. Louis, not to have a conversation, not to find unity amidst diversity; no to listen to each other.  They already had divorce on their minds. As the old saying goes, it was all over but the shouting.

 

My guess is that by the time of the next General Conference which is next year in Minneapolis, the United Methodist Church will not be whole.  My guess is the Progressive and Centrist factions will split from the main church to create something news. Adam Hamilton has said there will be a big meeting at Church of the Resurrection after Easter to talk about the future of Methodism.  

 

I would also keep an eye for what is happening with the Western Jurisdiction of the church.  This includes all the Annual Conferences in the Western United States and it tends to be the most liberal.  I could see the Western Jurisdiction becoming the basis for a new denomination. There is no desire in the church to try to heal fissures. For LGBTQ Methodists and their allies, the passage of the Traditional Plan was the last straw.  There is no going back. That’s probably the best option for the sake of LGBTQ Christians. But I think the Methodists missed a chance to show the world how to deal with difficult issues and still remain united.

 

I am reminded of the song, “Up on A Cross” by 80s Contemporary Christian group, Degarmo and Key. It’s a song about all of the different flavors of Christianity and how they are divided.  The last chorus ends with an extra line that sums up what is behind some of the division:

 

Up on a cross, He died for sinners
Up on a cross between two thieves
Up on a cross, He died for you and me

I heard the Devil’s voice today

 

I feel somewhere the devil is laughing.

Introducing Chronicles of God Bible Studies

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A few years ago, I started a Bible Study based on the Narrative Lectionary because I couldn’t find anything for adults.  It became the Story of God.
I created the Story of God (which is now called the Chronicles of God) for three reasons: first, there were few Bible Study resources based on the Narrative Lectionary out there and what was available was rather expensive. If your church is one that like to have a Bible Study or Sunday School class match what is being taught with what is being preached that Sunday, this is the resource for you. If you are looking for something that is easy to use without a lot of time for preparation, this resource is for you.
But there is another reason that I created the Story of God that has nothing to do with the Narrative Lectionary and yet it has everything to do with it. Being African American, I’ve always been interested in the African role of the grio. The grio was a storyteller that preserved the traditions and geneologies of the tribe. I think African American pastors have tried to preserve the Christian faith, as well as how God has worked in the lives of African Americans, from slavery to civil rights to the present day.
The story of God is entering a story. It’s about preserving this story of God bringing salvation to all of creation.
While the Story of God based on the Narrative Lectionary, it can be used at any time.
This is why I created the Story of God. If you want to try before you buy, please download this study. When you want to buy, go to the store page. Happy reading and may God’s Story infuse your life.

The Beloved Community in Mahtomedi

 

 

Diversity_Logo_SidebarA few weeks ago, a retired Methodist pastor and his wife came to visit the church. At the end of the worship, the pastor said mentioned something about our church as a “beloved community,” and how that was different than most churches in the area.  At first, I thought he meant that we were a small community and so I responded talking about how we are a mighty church in spite of our size.  It was only when he repeated that phrase again that I got it through my thick head that he wasn’t talking about the size of the church.  Instead, he was talking about the beloved community as Rev. Martin Luther King believed.  The pastor was never talking about the size of the church, but about its diversity.  For a small church, we are a pretty diverse bunch.  Diversity can become a fetish among people in a way to show that people are committed to religious and ethnic diversity. But First tends to live it out with little fanfare.  It is so much a part of who we are that at times, I tend to forget it.

Diversity has been part of the DNA of the congregation for decades.  The church had a Southeast Asian ministry that welcomed refugees from Southeast Asia in the aftermath of the Vietnam War; indeed, for a few years after I came, we were still printing the scripture of that day in Vietnamese.  These days, we have African Americans, Asians and Africans who make up our small church.  Our cantor is part of the “Glocal” initiative; a ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America that helps musicians learn music from other cultures. She has been able to share songs from around the world and that has expanded our hymnody.

But I wonder if diversity is an asset where the church is located.  You see, about 20 years ago, we moved from near downtown St. Paul to the northern suburbs.  In the years that I’ve been the pastor, we haven’t had a large number of people from nearby attend.  That could be for many reasons, but if there are few churches like this in the Eastern suburbs of the Twin Cities, is it something that is not appealing to people?  I don’t know.  I can’t say for sure.  I know our diversity is a positive for us; I just wonder if it is a positive for others in the area.