Grace & Wonder Quest(ions)

Dear Friends,

Hope you all are well.

I wanted to introduce a new venture that I hope will be a success. (See image.) It is inspired by a new reality that Covid has confirmed, the reality that without a new approach to the ways we do church, we will continue to see declines in membership and attendance.

In a blog post titled “They’re Not Coming Back,” minister and consultant Rev. Rob Dyer aptly discusses how the way we do outreach and function as a church body must radically change. He states, “Each church needs to consider how it might evangelize to its neighbors (and some of its own members) — almost as if launching a new church in 2021.” I agree.

We in many ways need to start from scratch, while at the same time maintaining the traditions we hold dear. And this juggling act of approaching outreach as if a new church startup while continuing the church traditions – this is what makes the work daunting even if necessary.

So, I introduce the new venture with the flyer above. We will meet in the Parlor once a month initially. If it proves successful, we will look to do it twice a month and progress forward from there. Here’s what I am asking of you – share it with your friends via social media, email, or even my printed copy (which we’ll make available). Let’s make this venture a success!!

Rev Don                  

The Basics, pt. 1: Who is God?

I think of our simple creed God is Love. It is repeated twice in 1 John 4. Have you ever stopped and reflected on how radical that simple creed is?

It may be the most radical truth ever put forth.

God, the essence and source of the very universe, is not merely loving. God isn’t just akin to love. God IS Love. Every other attribute of God – just, good, creative, etc. – is wrapped up in and reliant on the reality that God is Love. God is just on the basis that God is Love. God is good on the basis that God is love. God is creative and creates on the basis that God is love. Wherever or whenever one sees selfless, unconditional love at work in creation, one sees God. And in Christ on the Cross, in one laying down his life for his disciples and forgiving his executors, we see the embodiment of this selfless, unconditional Love. It is this Love that saves, heals, makes well and whole, liberates, and will make its way to all.

Here is another earth-shaking, radical truth our tradition teaches – that God is a loving Father. This Jesus repeats over and over again. What’s more, and we often miss this, the kind of Father Jesus describes in the gospels, one who forgives again and again, who nurtures over and over, who seeks after the lost endlessly, this kind of Father is rather motherly in the traditional sense and in Jesus’ culture. The God Jesus claims is very much, a father-mother God.

So, who is God? God is Love, a Love that loves us like a loving parent loves us.

The Holy Trinity, Race, and a Time of Crisis | Comment Magazine

That’s that. But there is more. God is also Triune. God is Trinity.

Now, before I lose some of you, let me say the teaching of the Trinity teaches us something so profoundly beautiful, you don’t want to miss. Don’t tune me out!

And if you love that God is Love, that God is Trinity should also be pleasing. Why? Because God as Love and God as Trinity are inextricably connected truths.

How is the Trinity related to the truth of God being love? Well, if we claim God is Love, love can only be understood if it is living within a relationship. If love is just theoretical, a theory, than it isn’t really love. Love is lived-out if it is really love.

What’s more, a Love involving only one person is meaningless (unless you are Narcissus). We say we should love our selves. But self-love is not godly love, the love we are talking about. Godly love is unconditional love that relates, that reaches out, that reaches down.

This Godly love, a love that by its very nature relates and reaches out to us, begins with the Trinity, within the Trinity, in the love shared among Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit.  Love begins with the love lived-out between Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit.

Have you ever considered that the Trinity is in essence defined by the love relationship between the Three?  Father God, Mother Holy Spirit, and Son of God, they are not strangers to one another. They are not aloof realities. They are not three spirits passing in the night. They are akin to a family sharing a loving bond like no other.

How could there be such a bond if the three are separate, autonomous, and unrelating? 

Now, the Trinity uses familial terms to point to the fact that the Trinity is marked by a relationship, by a relating to one another, by relationality.  What unites the family, what defines the family relationship? Yes, that’s right. Love. Love is what unites Father, Mother Holy Spirit, and Christ the Son.

When we read in scripture and in turn repeat the three words, God is Love, that is what we mean. At the center of the Trinity, as the hub that makes the holy family of Father, Mother, and Son turn, at the foundation of the household, if you will, is Love. Love unites the Trinity and moves the Trinity forward. Love is what moves God to create and in turn relate to what is created. 

And the godly love shared among Father God, Christ the Son, and Mother Holy Spirit spills over into Creation. It spills over into us. It spills over into the church.

Love is the basis, the ground, the uniting tie of the Trinity. And Love is the basis of all things connected to God. This is beautiful.

God is Love. God is Trinity. But what else as we come to a close?

God is Diversity in Unity and Unity in Diversity. You know that phrase, e pluribus unum. Out of many, out of diversity, One. God in God’s own self models e pluribus umum.

Indeed, the Trinity points to a God who includes within God’s self a diversity. Our tradition tells us even God is diverse. There is a reason Creation contains so much diversity. Creation mirrors God’s own diversity.

You know another term we can use to describe God’s unity in diversity and diversity in unity. That’s right — community.

The Trinity says that God is community.

We worship a God who is a Community, a Common Unity, of Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit. We worship a God who as Community grounded in Love Creates a world that innately involves communities. We worship a God who loves the worldwide community and who in Christ empties self to become flesh and dwell among us. We worship a God who in Christ preached and birthed the Beloved Community we call the Church, a community that at its inception practiced equality and commonwealth. We worship a God who in Christ commands that we love God and love one another as a community.  

To be a Christian means to be in a real sense a Community People, for its all about Community, from God who is Community to us here trying to live as the Beloved Community. This is beautiful to me.

So, as we begin a new church year of worshipping God together, let us voice our grateful praise to God who is love ever with us, who is Creator, Christ and Holy Spirit in Community, and who eternally reaches out to us, showing us how to be the Beloved Community we are called to be.  Amen.

Masks – WWJD?

We are experiencing a dilemma these days. Public health versus personal freedoms. Collectively getting a vaccination for better collective health or refusing to do so using your individual rights. Wearing or having your kid wear a protective face covering to improve public safety or refusing the wearing of masks declaring personal freedom.

I won’t get into the science that overwhelmingly shows the efficacy of both vaccines and masks.

What I want to look at today is what ethics and Christian ethics has to say on the issue of individual freedom versus the pursuit of the collective good, in this case, good public health.

Let me begin by looking at basic, secular ethics when it comes to individual freedom and the public good.

First, we need to define freedom.

I define freedom in general terms as the capacity to live fully, void of forced constraints. Put simply, freedom means being able to live without some kind of power constraining us.

But that “us” is vital. Look at masks. You may say, well, I am free to live free from the constraint of a mask. But unless you are living on an island alone, there is someone else to consider. I and others live alongside you on the island. And if we live in close contact, notions of personal freedom must be considered alongside persons. I deserve to live free from constraints just like you do, namely the constraints that the Covid virus would entail.

This raises a dilemma, doesn’t it? What happens when individual freedoms conflict? We are seeing tha play out now, aren’t we?

This dilemma tells us something crucial – freedom must exist in community, among individuals living together, for it to matter much. If your freedom restrains my freedom, there is no freedom shared among us. You have it and I don’t.

The ideas is to maximize the freedom of all, not just individual me or individual you. How we can all live as free as possible, that is the key question. Is life amid a pandemic feeling so free?

So, the dilemma is really about individual freedom and collective freedom, between your right to personal freedom and the community’s right to be as free as possible.

Christian ethics actually helps us confront our dilemma. In fact, it seems to me what Jesus would do and what Christian ethics has to say is often left out of the debate.

The best way to approach the idea of Christian freedom is to consider two things: where human freedom comes from in the Christian understanding. And what the point of human freedom, what the aim of freedom is.

Well, the source of Christian freedom and the point and aim of that freedom are one and the same – God!

Freedom comes from God. Freedom is a gift of our Triune God. Want to know what freedom looks like, look at the Trinity. Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit, on the basis of love, seflessly and freely living in community with one another. The freedom found in the selfless love of the Trinity overflows as a gift to us.

The overflowing gift of freedom is revealed most powerfully to us in the person of Christ. Jesus was the freest person who ever lived, right? He revealed the free life to us most potently and most clearly.

And what did Jesus do? He lived a selfless life, a selflessness that took him to the foot of the cross, and the freest of choices – to lay down his life for us. His selflessness and his freedom were one and the same in him.

As for us, the truest freedom amounts to a life transformed by this selfless and fully free Christ. By taking in Christ, we are given the capacity to freely live, living in a free-flowing way on the basis of his selflessness and compassion.

The opposite of a free life, according to the Christian faith, is a life lived on the basis of selfishness. A life filled with choices and ways moved by selfishness, is a life that is not free at all.

Paul in his letters to the churches of Rome and Galatia focuses a great deal on this enslavement to selfishness. Most Bible translation term this, slavery to the flesh.

The Bible says, we lack godly freedom because of our enslavement to selfishness.

But thanks be to God, the selflessness of Christ frees us from such enslavement to selfishness.

Through Christ, we overcome freedom’s opposite – enslavement to selfishness.

And what does a life freed by Christ, what does a life free from the slavery of selfishness look like. Paul points to fruits of the Spirit as the answer. If someone is truly free spiritually speaking, they exhibit these attributes:  love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. If one is truly free, one is loving, joyful, peaceful and nonviolent, forbearing and tolerant, kind, goodhearted, faith-oriented, gentle and humble, and self-controlled.

So what it the effect of all this, as we come to a close? Well, when it comes to public health or anything else in our collective lives, a choice or decision based primarily on self-interest is not the mark of a free person. Freedom and selfishness are not in the same camp, according to the Christian understanding.

The freest thing we can do as Christians is act out of this sacred knowledge – that we don’t exist alone but live connected to God and interconnected with the world around us  The freest thing we can do is to act out of this sacred insight – that our freedoms are tied together and are sourced in God’s freedom, and God’s freedom is always based in selfless love. The freest thing we can do is to free ourselves from selfishness in service to God and to others.

As we come to a close, we ask what would Jesus do?

Its clear where Jesus stood. The story most often told in the gospels, told some 6 times, is Jesus feeding the thousands. You know the story. Jesus’ disciples just want to get on with things and leave the scene after working all day helping Jesus heal and teach. Despite his disciples and his own weariness, Jesus says, no, no, we are all about sacrificing our personal comfort, we are all about getting past our desire to do what we want to do. Jesus says, yes it’s hard, but let’s feed them!

Then there is that Ol Rugged Cross, the heart of the Jesus story. Remember the story? Jesus sacrificed his individual life for the collective good of all. Remember the story? Christ selflessly giving all away for the sake of all, giving away his freedom in an ultimate way, all to free us. Remember the story? Jesus endured the pain and the persecution out of love for the world, even portions of the world nailing him to the cross.

We are called to be like Christ! The very word Christian means just that – Christ-like. To use that name means to assert that selflessness and sacrifice are core to who we are and to carry our own crosses.

As for masks, show your freedom in God and wear your masks out of a free-flowing love for others! It’s what Jesus would do.