Archive for the ‘Community’ Category

Living Alongside

Thursday, September 17th, 2020

It isn’t about taking some loud, blustery stand against sin, it isn’t about how much we pound our pulpits or how loudly we condemn or the cultural battles we wage. It isn’t about drawing some moral line in the sand. It’s about our willingness to be with people and live alongside them.

This is why the inclusion of the LGBTQ community into the body of Christ is so important in these days, and why it is one of the hills worth dying on for me as a pastor, because it is one of the greatest opportunities we have to set the kind of table Jesus set for the believers he entrusted to carry the message forward. It is an opportunity to show the watching world what Christ looks like by emulating him. The Church’s resistance to and persecution of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning men and women is a push against the Holy Spirit because it runs in direct opposition to the heart of Jesus as reflected in the Gospel biographies and the book of Acts. It isn’t just shrinking the table: it’s walling off the table from those who desire to be present. And the answer isn’t offering some tentative, heavily conditioned token tolerance as a compromise. (If that were the case, Jesus’ table gatherings would have been very different.) It is to be fully obedient to Jesus’ command to love another as oneself. The straight Church doesn’t need to tolerate or pacify or throw scraps to the Christian LGBTQ community, it nees the LGBTQ community for the same reason it needs all those seeking and walking in faith regardless of their gender or skin color or sexual orientation — because these folks are breathing sanctuaries of the Spirit of God and because without them any version of the Church is still inferior and incomplete. Until the queer Christian community is received fully and welcomed and included without caveat or restraint by the institutional Church, the Church will continue to be less grace-filled, less rich in its complexity, and less in the image of Christ than it should be. When Christians attempt to exclude any group from the table, they distort the Church because they deny the heart of Jesus for all of humanity. Discrimination hinders people from finding community, and it robs the Church of the tremendous gifts that diversity brings.

— John Pavlovitz, A Bigger Table, p. 138-139

Photo: View from Burgruine Koppenstein, Germany, September 19, 1998

Sharing Life

Friday, September 4th, 2020

As people watched how they lived, how they faithfully cared for one another, how they embraced diversity, how they lifted one another up, they noticed that they resembled Jesus. The believers began to claim ownership of the name Christian and to redefine the word and themselves, precisely because of their bigger table.

This was far more radical than we can really appreciate today. In a culture reinforcing the sharply drawn lines between people — the lines of religion, ethnicity, nationality, and gender — the followers of Jesus were erasing the lines, knocking down walls, and pulling up chairs. The incredibly narrow “chosen people” of the Old Testament tradition was now giving way to a far more expansive new “kingdom people” based solely on their faith in Jesus. As the apostle Paul would describe, in their tribe, there were no longer any divisions that mattered more than what grafted them together in redemptive community (Gal. 3:26-29). They were one body with disparate but equally necessary members. Their primary commonality was Christ. He became their peace. To be Christian meant to willingly cast aside any idea that another was unworthy to share in fellowship; it was to give up the moral evaluations and preconceptions they may have had before. When we look back at the table of Jesus, this early Christian community really shouldn’t surprise us because he was pointing toward this day the entire time, as he met with lepers and Pharisees and tax collectors and street people. The early Church wasn’t doing anything in its infancy other than replicating his life together with those in their midst. In the two thousand years since then, we’ve added a great deal around this idea, cumbersome layers of tradition and doctrine and pageantry, and yet these are the things we could easily discard and still have the essence of the Church. We would still have people sharing life.

— John Pavlovitz, A Bigger Table, p. 134-135

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, September 4, 2020

Agents of Healing and Change

Saturday, August 22nd, 2020

In this way, the spiritual eyes through which we see the world change everything. If our default lens is sin, we tend to look ahead to the afterlife, but if we focus on suffering, we’ll lean toward presently transforming the planet in real time — and we’ll create community accordingly. The former seeks to help people escape the encroaching moral decay by getting them into heaven; the latter takes seriously the prayer Jesus teaches his disciples, that they would make the kingdom come — that through lives resembling Christ and work that perpetuates his work, we would actually bring heaven down. Practically speaking, sin management seems easier because essentially all that is required of us is to preach, to call out people’s errors and invite them to repentance, and to feel we’ve been faithful. But seeing suffering requires us to step into the broken, jagged chaos of people’s lives to be agents of healing and change. It’s far more time consuming and much more difficult to do as a faith community. It is a lot easier to train preachers to lead people in a Sinner’s Prayer than it is to equip them to address the systematic injustices around them.

— John Pavlovitz, A Bigger Table, p. 125

Photo: Isle of Staffa, Scotland, July 13, 2003

Our Actual, Non-Ideal Selves

Thursday, August 6th, 2020

Christians should help one another to silence the voice that accuses. To celebrate a repentance — a snapping out of it, a thinking of new thoughts — which leads to possibilities we never considered. To love one another as God loves us. To love ourselves as God loves us. To remind each other of the true voice of God. And there’s only one way to do this: by being unapologetically and humbly ourselves. By not pretending. By being genuine. Real. Our actual, non-ideal selves.

— Nadia Bolz-Weber, Shameless, p. 183

Photo: near Skyline Drive, Virginia, August 6, 2009

The Eyes of Christ

Saturday, July 25th, 2020

Other followers of Jesus see something different when they look at the mess in front of them. They see pain. They see need. They see longing. They see an opportunity to bring restoration here and now. They are focused as much on this world as they are on the next. These, I’ll contend, are the eyes of Christ, and these are the eyes of those who would build the bigger table. We are learning to see differently than we once did.

— John Pavlovitz, A Bigger Table, p. 124

Photo: SchloƟ Dhaun, Germany, July 2002

Silencing the Voice of the Accuser

Saturday, July 18th, 2020

What God claims to love, do not deem unworthy of that love.

What God has called good, do not call anything other than good.

What God has animated with God’s own breath and endowed with a soul and God’s own image, do not treat with anything less than dignity.

When that accusing voice is on repeat in your head, know that it is not the voice of God. God’s voice is found in the warm singsong of a mother to her newborn, the one who says, “You are beloved.” God’s voice declares us clean, justified, forgiven, and new. It imparts to us a worthiness that has nothing to do with our efforts or our accomplishments or our becoming some imagined ideal.

This is the use of Christian community, as I see it. We help each other silence the Accuser. We tend each other’s wounds, show each other our scars, see and forgive each other’s shortcomings, let each other cry, make each other laugh, and are absolutely adamant about grace for everyone. We insist on freeing each other from the grip of the accusing voice, and we amplify the voice of God.

— Nadia Bolz-Weber, Shameless, p. 181-182

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, July 12, 2020

Creating Proximity

Friday, June 5th, 2020

The beauty of the bigger table is that it creates proximity in the way Jesus did. It destroys distance between people, and distance — whether real or imagined — is the enemy of relationship. This chasm allows us to otherize people with little accountability to their reality. It enables us to hold onto the belief that the crudely drawn caricatures we fashion for those we disagree with are at all accurate, allowing us to craft a clearly defined us-vs.-them narrative and place them opposite us. This simple narrative can’t accommodate people’s individual stories, as this is too labor intensive and time consuming. Instead it lumps those stories together into the closest-fitting generalization (a political party, a religious tradition, a people-group stereotype) and operates with that as truth. But these containers are simply never adequate. Our labels are never large enough for unique image bearers of God, and unless we become relentless in really straining to see individual people, we will always default to this easy, lazy shorthand, and we will always shortchange the beauty within them. We’ll also be satisfied viewing them from this safe distance of our self-righteousness and shouting through bullhorns or shaking tambourines.

— John Pavlovitz, A Bigger Table, p. 120-121

Photo: Great Falls National Park, June 14, 2016

Experience

Monday, May 11th, 2020

For me, going to the beach is always like meeting God. There’s that moment when you make your way down the path that cuts through the dunes. As you walk farther, the quiet noise in the distance gradually becomes a welcome roar. You crane your neck as if unsure it’s all still there. Your pace quickens as the sound rises and the wind grows, and suddenly you’re emptied out into the full, vivid majesty of it all. And you breathe. It never fails to level me. It is never commonplace. It is always holy ground. If you’ve been to the beach, you understand exactly what I mean. If you haven’t — well, you just won’t. That’s the thing about the ocean: until you experience it, no one can explain it to you, and once you have experienced it, no one needs to. The love of God is this way. For far too long, Christians have been content with telling people about the ocean and believing that is enough.

We’ve spoken endlessly of a God whose lavish, scandalous love is beyond measure, whose forgiveness reaches from the furthest places and into our deepest personal darkness. We’ve spun gorgeous, fanciful tales of a redeeming grace that is greater than the worst thing we’ve done and available to anyone who desires it. We’ve talked about a Church that welcomes the entire hurting world openly with the very arms of Jesus. We’ve talked and talked and talked — and much of the time we’ve been a clanging gong, our lives and shared testimony making a largely loveless noise in their ears. They receive our condemnation They know our protests. They experience our exclusion. They endure our judgment. They encounter our bigotry. And all of our flowery words ring hollow. It’s little wonder they eventually choose to walk away from the shore, the idea as delivered through our daily encounters with them not compelling enough to pursue for themselves. Our commitments to hospitality, authenticity, diversity, and community can be empty words, too, if we don’t put them into practice.

Church, the world doesn’t need more talking from us. It doesn’t need our sweet platitudes or our eloquent speeches or our passionate preaching or our brilliant exegesis. These are all just words about the ocean, and ultimately they fail to adequately describe it. The world needs the goodness of God incarnated in the flesh of the people who claim to know this good God. As they meet us, they need to come face-to-face with radical welcome, with unconditional love, with counterintuitive forgiveness. They need to experience all of this in our individual lives and in the Church, or they will decide that it is all no more than a beautiful but ultimately greatly exaggerated story about sand and waves and colors that cannot be described.

— John Pavlovitz, A Bigger Table, p. 105-106

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, May 10, 2020

Resurrecting Word

Monday, May 4th, 2020

To those who believe, the call from the depths of their relationship with God is to bend every effort to stand with God in solidarity with those who suffer; to right the wrongs, counter injustice, relieve the pain, and create situations where life can flourish. Then a resurrecting word can gain a foothold in this fractured world.

— Elizabeth A. Johnson, Creation and the Cross, p. 108

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, May 3, 2020

Favorites?

Tuesday, April 28th, 2020

We must be honest and humble about this: Many people of other faiths, like Sufi masters, Jewish prophets, many philosophers, and Hindu mystics, have lived in light of the Divine encounter better than many Christians. And why would a God worthy of the name God not care about all of the children? (Read Wisdom 11:23-12:2 for a humdinger of a Scripture in this regard.) Does God really have favorites among his children? What an unhappy family that would create — and indeed it has created. Our complete and happy inclusion of the Jewish scriptures inside of the Christian canon ought to have served as a structural and definitive statement about Christianity’s movement toward radical inclusivity. How did we miss that? No other religion does that.

— Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ, p. 34-35

Photo: Burnside Farms, Virginia, April 24, 2015