Listening: Denai Moore - Elsewhere by Denai Moore

"Denai Moore - Elsewhere" from Denai Moore

No Better Time Than Now: An MLK Day Reflection

This is a photo of Martin Luther King, Jr. preaching at the Washington National Cathedral in 1968. It would be his last sermon. If you listen to or read the sermon, you'll find that King's words remain incredibly relevant today. This says two things to me. First, it is a compliment to King's amazing intellect. But it is also shameful that the struggle for justice and peace has not achieved all it has yet to achieve.

What continues to stand out to me from this sermon is one line:

"... time is neutral. It can be used wither constructively or destructively."

King goes on to say: "Somewhere we must come to see that human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals who are willing to be co-workers with God. And without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation. So we must help time and realize that the time is always ripe to do right."

He concludes: "Thank God for John, who centuries ago out on a lonely, obscure island called Patmos caught vision of a new Jerusalem descending out of heaven from God, who heard a voice saying, "Behold, I make all things new; former things are passed away."

God grant that we will be participants in this newness and this magnificent development. If we will but do it, we will bring about a new day of justice and brotherhood and peace. And that day the morning stars will sing together and the sons of God will shout for joy."

I'm reminded how often I procrastinate, waiting for the illusive perfect moment or opportunity to participate. I'm reminded that there is no better time than now. I'm reminded that we are seeking out what God is already up to in this world. Am I willing to lean into that? To contribute to the hard work it requires?

If we memorialize this day simply by this: by taking the time to reflect on how we are contributing to the creation of the beloved community that King envisioned, well, that would be worthwhile.

Decision Making Processes

I was recently talking to a friend who worked in retail for years. She reminded me that the best retailers know that it's all about the customer. If you ask the best retailers why they do what they do, they'll tell you it's for the customer. In the healthiest of retailers, every decision takes the customer into consideration.

This got me thinking about how this relates to decision-making in faith communities.

Institutions don't last as long as those I've worked over the last half decade without mastering processes for preservation. On the other hand, young faith communities are more prone to make reflexive decisions that risk their stability yet provide invaluable lessons.

The truth is that people of faith benefit from both, whether they acknowledge this or not. Establishing processes by which decisions are made that allow more people to be a part of the process is good. It turns consumers of religious goods and services into collaborators. The danger is when the processes we create for making decisions squelch our courage to make the right decisions... and make those decisions on time.

What do you think? What's more important: the decision or the process?

Listening: Clown by Bad Grammar

"Clown" from Bad Grammar

Donuts + Bible Study

If you follow me on Instagram, you may have noticed some of my comments about "donuts + Bible study." It's one of the best parts of my week. Every week, my oldest son and I gather with other boys in the neighborhood for donuts and a Bible study. At first, they asked for a Bible study on sports... that was rough. Eventually, I talked them into thinking about other stuff. They decided to study different personalities in the Bible. During Advent, we studied Jesus. We are now doing a study on Paul. In the spring, they asked to go back to Jesus. This summer, we'll be studying Moses. Their choices.

We've been at this since the summer time. This last Saturday, I asked them if they wanted to keep doing this. They said that they did so I asked, "Why? What do you get out of this?" This image is what I wrote out as they responded:

With no prompting, these kids offered that they look forward to this. They said that they enjoyed being able to pray together, read the Bible together, share their thoughts about the Bible and how it makes them feel. And they felt as though they were learning something. That's pretty much verbatim. Their words.

I really get a lot out of this group of boys between the ages of 10 and 12. They really push me. When I tell stories from our studies in sermons, it's not to brag (well, maybe a little–I'm really proud of them). It's simply that some of the best theology I experience comes out of their pushing and questioning. Since I do talk about this group from time to time, some folks have asked what we do: "How is it that you're getting kids to study the Bible?!" It's not hard. I don't do anything special with these kids. I follow a few basic principles (most of them picked up from my friend, Neil Cole). So, here's what I would recommend:

Eat together.
Food brings people together. Simple. They asked for donuts. I buy them donuts every week. It costs me about $6 a week.

Read together.
Everyone reads. We take a paragraph at a time and go around the room.

Focus on the stories.
Everyone enjoys stories. The Bible was not written for 21st century ears. So, I often retell the story in my own words after we read it together.

Ask questions.
We take turns being the person to ask the question after we read the story. The questions are simple: What stands out to you? What questions do you have? What did you like about this? Those simple questions typically create a 20 minute conversation. When I get asked a specific question, I tend to reply, "That's a good question! Does anyone else have an answer?" And then I share mine. But I never hesitate to say, "I don't know" if I don't actually have an answer. Nobody seems to worry about this. We end our conversation with a simple question, "How should we respond to this?" That is to say, what are supposed to do with this information. Everyone responds and then...

Pray together.
We end by asking if there is anything else that we ought to pray for and then we each pray. Oh, and we always start with someone praying before we start each week. They ask everyone to share their high's and low's of the week, and then pray for these.

Keep it brief.
We try to keep within 30 minutes. It is Saturday after all and they want to go play as soon as possible. But this way, no one gets bored. We end while the energy and attention is high.

That's it. Not rocket science. Simple. But really fun and fulfilling.

Orbiting the Center, Moving Towards the Margins

This is a bit of a half-baked thought but I'm throwing it out there...

We have a slogan at work. We believe that our job is "engaging a changing world with an enduring faith in Jesus Christ."

I like this. I like it because it does two things: 1–it holds a commitment to a particular tradition and 2–it makes a commitment to understanding–being in relationship with–our current reality, context.

Christians tend to struggle with this. Relevance or Faithfulness? Traditions or Trends? This motto simply says, We do both.

I like this.

I like it because I think it's realistic. I think it's honest. I think it's what we're always struggling with, trying to figure out how to do. But it's also not that common. We Christians tend to either promote that we do one or the other.

In Acts 1:8, before Jesus' ascension he tells his best of friends to be his witnesses in "in Jerusalem, all over Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the world." In the King James Version that last part reads, "the uttermost part of the earth." I don't know why but I like that. Christians have often used this passage as a metaphorical trajectory for ministry. Start in your proverbial “Jerusalem” and move towards your metaphorical “ends of the earth.”

In a sense, this is much more than metaphor. As Michael Goheen offers in his book A Light to the Nations, we still orbit around the initial calling of Israel to be a people for all peoples (p. 131). But rather than a straight line moving in one direction, I wonder if we work in a kind of never-ending spiral whose center is Jerusalem–our roots, our tradition, our history; which we forever orbit as our center, yet simultaneously and continually move towards the margin–relevance, context, etc.

If we thought of the work of the church in this way, I wonder if such a motto as "engaging a changing world with an enduring faith in Jesus Christ" would seem so rare in current Christian conversation.

I think folks are tired of having to feel as though they have to pick between commitment to tradition and faith in their own language. I think folks are ready for the both/and.

I think this is what the term "missional" was intended to get at.

What do you think?

Our Reply To Violence: To Make Music

Recently came upon this awesome quote from Leonard Bernstein's response to JFK's assassination:
" ... But this sorrow and rage will not inflame us to seek retribution; rather they will inflame our art. Our music will never again be quite the same. This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before. " (emphasis mine)
Remind's me of Questlove's Instagram post a month ago.

... anyone looking for a drummer?