Monday, June 26, 2006

This is it!

Organizationally we may be suspected of incompetence, doctrinally we may be too diverse to qualify for "sound in the faith", we can certainly be accused of lacking a distinct vision for the "enterprise" (that's what one church consultant told me pastors should do - build an enterprise), and we don't always seem to attract the right kind of people . . . but this email today about the ladies' get-together last night is what being Christian means:

I wanted to thank you for a great evening. I've never been with that large a group of women who exchanged differing views and ideas with as much grace and respect, kindness and consideration and just good 'ole laughter as you all exhibited last night. From my perspective God was glorified.

God was definitely glorified - because love, kindness, gentleness, mercy, patience, joy, goodness, forgiveness, humility, grace, and respect were evidently present within that gathering last night! This is godliness. This is what it means to follow Christ.

Some might counter that this is not a zero-sum game. That we could embody all the first things I mentioned and still have the fruit of the Spirit, as in what I remarked was evidently shared last night.


I do tend to think that choices must be made. Emphasis has to be put in certain places, and not in others. Some values have to take precedence - and I do believe that institutional efficiency often is at odds with loving community. Maybe we can't have it all. Maybe structured efficiency is somehow less than merciful, patient, and gracious - and so when cultivated hinders the others' growth.

Could it be that a distinct "entrepreneurial" vision will at some level undermine respectful, diverse, and kind dialogue? Could it subvert the practice of loving my neighbor? It just might be that we can't have both as equal emphases.


Wednesday, June 21, 2006

A Visitor's Comments

This last Sunday was Corpus Christi - the feast focusing on the Body of Christ. The morning's worship centered on the meaning of Holy Communion.

I'm going to post an email that I received from a fellow-believer who joined us for worship last Sunday morning. The PCUSA general assembly was here in Birmingham last week, and three adventurous Presbyterians decided to find an emergent-like place to worship . . . and our website scored the best . . . so they came to worship with us.

I hesitate to post this because he says some complimentary things about me . . . and it's not because I am so humble that I usually don't usually share this type of stuff, but because pride is such dangerous enemy. The truth is I would love to share things like this for all the wrong reasons!

But while I'm confessing this to hedge against being self-promoting, not sharing it would keep others of you who share in this congregation from being encouraged and blessed. What I find in his comments is a testimony to God's work - that someone can come among us and they do see what I hope we are living out. This is a glory to God . . . he is helping us to live the life of community and faith that we hear Jesus talking about.

So here is his email to me on Monday - note particularly the insightful postscript about how a dismembered world is being re-membered in holy communion.


You had to go off to other responsibilities and we were mobbed by more of your members (that we found out weren't really members, since you don't have members), so I didn't get to speak with you after the service. [I was the one you didn't put to work.] I want you to know that the moment of transformation you described in your sermon/message/whatever YOU would call it happened for me. I told my new friends that you gave me ideas for about six communion meditations. (If those were "random" thoughts, I would like to hear you speak when you are really focused.)

I know the service was not about you, and it was designed to make that very clear, but I think you should know how very deeply the experience touched me, in mind, heart and spirit. Both sides of my brain and that part of me that is beyond thought were thoroughly engaged.

Your community is well named. I felt like I was among people seeking to live as disciples and who exhibit what true fellowship in Christ is about.

It was not MY design that brought the three of us Presbyterians together in the first place, surely not my effort that discovered your fellowhip, nor my inclination to drive to the other side of town; but God knew what needed to happen, and I am grateful.

Maybe even some of us stodgy Presbyterians can trim our sails to this move of the Spirit. Thank you for showing us what can be.

Grace and peace,
(name omitted)

PS: one communion idea your sermon triggered: If the opposite of remember is not forget, can the opposite of remember be dis-member? It is in re-membering that what is torn apart by the world is brought back together in Christ.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Theology and Children

I am reading some of Children Matter. I say "some" to be honest, because I am much more of a scimmer who jumps around and gets the gist, then a reader who starts at the beginning and goes to the end.

Sunday morning after next I am supposed to help a reading group discuss the chapter on Theology and Children. The authors talk about three distinct traditions - though certianly not the only ones - sacramental, covenantal, and conversional and how each tradition tends to handle the spiritual formation of children.

Which of course makes one think about one's own experience. The churches I grew up in were definitely "conversional" - children aren't Christians until they convert. The trick was, of course, to get us to convert in that narrow window of "old enough to make a personal decision, but still young enough to not be into full-blown adolescent rebellion."

Ten to twelve seemed to work well. Much beyond that, and many didn't seem to convert - having already having decided to blow off as uncool any type of repentance. If you miss that window, I guess it often means waiting until they are somewhere into college years or later. But college age seems more like a time when kids who didn't grow up Christian turn to it, rather than those who did, but opted out, come back. They usually seem to do so later.

Anyway - makes me think, and realize how different my children's experience has been from mine. I don't think they ever had the idea they weren't Christian and needed to convert, but more like they've always been Christian and took another step, a personal one, in continuing in that direction.

I just don't think they grew up with as much fear of hell (and of God) as I did. I count that a blessing. Which puts me somewhere more in a sacramental/convenantal world in practice with my own children.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Questions About Being Church

God is love. That is clear. God's love is the condition of the inter-relationship of three distinct persons who are one. Even if this is a mystery, it is still clearly the case. When only one thing is what we choose to say about God, love - the dynamic of the trinitarian existence - is what we would name.

What does it mean for us to be the church of this God? If we were to try and deduce the nature of God from churches that we see today, what would we conclude? What would be the outstanding and striking characteristic?

If people were trying to deduce what is important to God from what is important to us, what would their view of God be?

Like it or not, some value trumps other values. Choices have to be made. Those choices are not always between good and bad or holy and evil. Often they are between better and best; between high and highest. What does it mean for love to trump everything else?

What happens when we are church because of love, and through love? What happens when love is the first and greatest concern, the agenda that has first priority? What would we have to be like as church for people to conclude by looking at us that love is the chief characteristic of our God?

What would be important, and what would not be important?