The Gentle Rocking of Peace, Part 2

by Davin Franklin-Hicks

We are called to love. We are called to love those around us. What about this, though: Those around us are who we are called to love.

This removes the fantasy element of all of this. Now we are dealing with names, dates, places and times. We are dealing with life in real time. This is a different discussion all together because it is the marrow of life, the relationship aspect of our dwelling together. And it’s where everything can get messed up. There are so many moving parts that often require intention and care.

Anne Lamott says that we are on this Earth without a manual because this is forgiveness school. Wouldn’t that be something? If my purpose on this Earth was to be able to forgive? My access to self-forgiveness and my access to forgiving those around me often get in the way of my call to love. Now my ability to recount every wrong that someone has done is amazing. Where others may have athleticism, I have this down pat. If the Olympics offered resentment as a sport, you’d want me representing you there! And I am certain I am not alone in that. I am certain we could spend just a little time observing the world around us and find some Olympic quality resentment. And we don’t even have to observe the world around us; we can simply observe the world within us.

This is lived experience. Lived experience is often far different from imagined experience. It is in the lived experience that we get to have access to realities that change the very fiber of our being. Those around us, right now, are who we are called to love.

The recounting of wrongs, resentment embracing and the tit for tat lived experience does not allow access to grace. It allows access to what is due, not what is healing. A lived experience in which we keep record of wrongs and the score card limits our own access to grace. There is something so life affirming in affording someone else grace when the score card is full. In my own spiritual development, I have recognized that when I turn toward forgiveness and choosing love, I am turning toward that in my own life as well. I open that door to you and suddenly that door is open to me. I have access to a lived experience that before was completely blocked. I have access to the very love that I long for because I have offered it to another.

Richard Rohr speaks eloquently on this topic in his book, “Breathing Under Water” which is his description of choosing a life lived in spirit. He says this, “Grace will always favor the prepared mind.” It is not that grace isn’t extended to all. It is. Grace is all around. The love of God is all around. Our ability to have access to this grace and love is often in direct proportion to our willingness to turn toward love.

I lived in South Africa in the late 90’s. I was a 7th grade school teacher. I moved there at age 18 so I was a baby teaching babies. I was having it out one day with one of the students, Akhona Mvandaba. We had argued and argued and argued that year. I offended him. He offended me. Our score cards were oh so full! I don’t remember what triggered the moment of change, but something did. He said something that I didn’t like and we were on our way to the principal’s office. He had his angry face on and so did I. We were huffing up the way when our path was blocked by a Mama. Her name was Esther.

She asked why we were angry. I let it out, listing his bad parts that were just not acceptable. Then he let it out listing all the reasons why I just was not good people. As we took turns, Esther took my hand in her hand. She then reached for his hand. We continued as she held our hands. She began to say “Peace. Peace. Peace.” I responded to Akhona’s last sentence with furvor and anger. She started to rock with a sway, side to side, “Peace. Peace.” It went back and forth as she swayed. And the quiet began to rest on me. It began to rest on him. Peace. Peace. I cried. He cried. It was such a hard year. “Peace. Peace.”

She blocked our path to anger and spoke peace into our beings. And something changed fundamentally. There was no anger left, just sadness at all the moments we didn’t love each other. We swayed with her and the gentle rocking presence of God rested on us. Peace. Peace.

Those around us are who we are called to love. As Richard Rohr so eloquently put:

“Grace will always favor the prepared mind.” But then he continues, “Maybe we can sum it up this way: God is humble and never comes if not first invited, but God will find some clever way to get invited.”

Look around. The invitation is right in front of you.

Peace.

Peace.

Image above: My students at Valley Dawn Christian School in Willowvale, South Africa. Akhona is in the back row second from left. –  Dax

Pastors Cover the Who, What and Why; Spiritual Directors cover the How

by Teresa Blythe

As the last great generalists in our increasingly niche economy, pastors do a lot and they do it well. They preach the good news; advocate for a more just society; cast a vision for their congregation; and encourage Christians to live and work in community.

Pastors cover the “who, what and why” of the Christian faith. But where it breaks down for so many in the pews is the “how.” People want to know what it means in this 21st century world to be a Jesus follower. People want to know how to pray in their daily lives and how to apply their faith to complicated and important situations they face.

How do I do what the pastor is talking about?

The question of “how do I live out this faith I’m hearing about at church?” is the terrain of the trained and experienced spiritual director. Which is why I am encouraging church leaders—pastors, Christian educators, council moderators, church musicians and worship planners—to warm up to a local spiritual director for support, encouragement and help with discernment. Church leaders and spiritual directors can work together to fill in gaps between theology and practice.

Sermons only go so far

I remember once hearing a beautiful sermon in a progressive church about the importance of being in close, personal relationship with Jesus. (Yes the preacher defied the convention of the day by actually talking about getting to know Jesus personally). It was inspiring but she failed to address how this relationship is built. But she’s not the only one guilty. I recall as a child in a conservative Christian church that the only “how” we were given was one prayer we needed to pray to be close to Jesus.

How does a thinking person in the 21st century get to know a spiritual figure from the first century? Spiritual directors will tell you it’s by finding inner stillness within yourself (meditation), spending time in a prayer practice that fits for your personality, dialoguing with Jesus (or another spiritual figure) in your journal, putting yourself imaginatively in a scripture setting, walking a labyrinth, spending time in nature, paying attention to your dreams, figuring out who Jesus is for you, and …..well the list goes on and on. It’s different for every person because we are all made so differently.

Bridging the Gap

Some churches understand this gap between what is taught and what is practiced. They are the ones who have incorporated spiritual formation training for adult members so that this bridge can be built in community. If this is something your church would like to explore, a spiritual director would be the perfect consultant, educator or assistant to get a program going.

There are times, also, that individuals need private and confidential assistance. Pastors know who these people are because they come to their offices frequently for counseling. When the questions are of a spiritual nature or hover around practical theology, a referral to spiritual direction can be helpful. While most spiritual directors are fee-based, churches can usually work out arrangements where people who cannot pay may still receive at least a few sessions of spiritual direction.

Getting down to business

So find a spiritual director in your area and start the conversation! How can we help our people find the spiritual practice that will sustain them beyond Sunday worship? How can we assist our members in discerning where God is leading them in their everyday lives? How can we become more in touch with the movement of the Spirit within this congregation?

Let’s make sure we give the “how” of faithful living as much energy as the who, what and why.

Contact information

To find a spiritual director in the Southwest Conference of the UCC, check out this webpage. There are listings of spiritual directors at the website for Spiritual Directors International. For more about spiritual direction as I practice it, please check out my website and the Phoenix Center for Spiritual Direction.

Teresa Blythe is the founder of the Phoenix Center for Spiritual Direction at First UCC in Phoenix. She is a longtime spiritual director for individuals, groups and organizations and is Director of the Hesychia School of Spiritual Direction at the Redemptorist Renewal Center in Tucson. Teresa is author of the book 50 Ways to Pray and the Patheos blog Spiritual Direction 101

The Gentle Rocking of Peace, Part 1

by Davin Franklin-Hicks

We are called to love.

The belief in God has never been something that I have struggled with before. Even as a young child, it was just something that made sense to me. I was able to see a flow in life. I had a pretty clear understanding of kindness, compassion and love. I gravitated toward those who operated in these fruits of the spirit. My grandma would whisper messages to me as she rocked me to sleep and I would absorb them. She told me I was precious to God. She told me God loved me. I believed it without a second thought. What this gave to me was the belief that I was in this world for a reason and that reason had something to do with being loving.

I have a dear friend that describes her faith in a way that is simply brilliant. She has given me permission to use it publicly as it is something that I love so much and I come back to quite often. She describes herself as a children’s Bible thumper. Isn’t that fantastic? When she expands on this more she talks about really getting behind the God of the children’s Bible. The children’s bible has an overarching message. You were created by God and you are so very loved. Nice.

Then we hit puberty and we are all lost. Just utterly lost; rough stuff. Nothing that was is now. Along with that, suddenly, the message changes. The children’s Bible gets dark. It becomes more like Grimm’s Fairy Tales. For many faith communities, all of our desires and thoughts and wishes become somehow bad in some way; something to be denied and certainly to be controlled. The children’s bible will no longer do! For me, this is when intense shame entered the picture for me. My sense of belonging also became challenged as I walked toward the fringe, afraid if those people who say they loved me really knew what I thought and felt, I would be cast out.

The children’s bible version of life is often something that we can get behind. It doesn’t take too much to get us there. We seek to be loved and it feels mighty good when we experience love ourselves. I recently found out from a segment on 60 minutes about dogs that my dog likes to look at me. I have a pit bull mix that I have had since she was teeny tiny. She stares at me. A lot… Like all the time. I honestly have felt burdened by this because I thought she wanted something. Does she need to go outside? Does she want to play? What does she want?

It turns out she just wanted to stare at me because it is enjoyable to her. When she stares at me, her brain releases oxytocin. We like oxytocin. So we do things that will allow us to feel that chemical change. We are called to love and that is a good, good thing. We desire that feeling of love. It moves us and changes us to love.

So we are called to love. Yes, we can get behind that.

Let’s add to that now. We are called to love those around us.

One of the perks I have found in coming to church is that I get to imagine doing “better”, whatever better looks like given the topic at hand. We get to sit in our pews and chairs, listen to a message and apply that message to imagined circumstances. We can have imagined conversations where we put into practice some fundamental spiritual discipline. I can just see myself being loving next time I encounter whatever made it difficult last time. I am going to rock being kind and forgiving at the office on Monday. It’s going to be good.

I can create scenarios with a sense of ease in my head where I am either the hero or I am the regretful one, ready to do it different next time. But I am still imagining. I am running through scenarios, making minor promises to myself that I will do it different next time. I will really do it well.

We are called to love those around us. There is a small human that I know and love. He has been on this earth for about a decade. He is the son of two of my friends. Since his first years of being able to express himself, he has expressed a deep love for others. His ability to empathize is simply incredible. One aspect of him that is true over and over is his desire to see equality and fairness throughout the world. He has just been baffled by America’s reticence to accept all adult couples who desire marriage. It simply did not make sense to him. In June, when his mom told him the news that marriage equality had happened in America, he was thoughtful. And then his response a moment later, “Mom, now they have to be able to marry in the rest of the world.”

We are called to love those around us and the world was all around him. We can imagine as we sit here, loving others. And I do believe that is a powerful tool. The ability to imagine ourselves in a situation is often a step in living into that situation. So, as we sit here in this moment, reading these words, we are likely able to get behind the concept that we are called to love those around us.

Let’s sit with the spiritual gift of imagined experience. Spend time holding onto that and let’s check in again on Wednesday because there is more to this than a simple imagined experience. There is lived experience.

How My Gay Brothers and Sisters Bolster My Faith

by Ken McIntosh

My gay sisters and brothers have given me a tremendous gift—they are the witnesses that enable my own faith to withstand its most severe challenges.”

I begin this article with a confession. I should probably have used the #IWASKIMDAVIS hashtag for my Twitter and Facebook posts last month, because I’m one of those older ministers whose views have changed, and I’m chagrined to think of some of my past sermons and comments. My Christian life began in the Evangelical camp and I remained there for more than a decade. “You can only know what you know” and for years the only theological writings that I came across were of the typical and unfortunate category labeling “homosexuality” as a choice and a sin. Given that background, when I came across GLBT Christ followers, I could only see them as a challenge—challenging the presuppositions that I held.

My sister proved to be my salvation in this regard; without her I might still cling to a very limited view of God’s mercy, along with a hyper-literalist approach to the Bible. She has always been a model Christ-follower in our family (although I’m the one with the formal degree in theology). Simply by being herself, Joyce witnessed to me that my spiritual siblings who loved their partners of the same sex are as faithful to Christ and as transformed by the Spirit as I (nay, they are more so). And I’ve come to realize that my gay sisters and brothers have given me a tremendous gift—they are the witnesses that enable my own faith to withstand its most severe challenges.

As the culture wars heat up I’ve become intensely aware of how Christians get painted with a broad brush stroke. That came to a head a few weeks ago when a long-time friend told me “You’re not a Christian. If you choose that word to self-identify that’s your right, but I know Christians and you’re not that.” Now, she meant that as a compliment—her way of acknowledging that I’ve become a more inclusive and broad-minded person. But it also stung, because that accusation divides me within myself. Bombarded by the statements of right-wing politicians, preachers and ordinary believers, I struggle with doubts. Have I hit upon a truer faith now, or am I deluding myself to remain in a religion that has so long been characterized by oppression? Why couldn’t I have chosen a religion like Buddhism or Jainism that isn’t regarded as evil? Yes, I’m part of a big UCC family, with many inclusive fellow believers, but our numbers (around a million) are pretty small compared to more conservative groups like the Southern Baptists (15 times as many). And then I keep hearing old friends tell how they’ve left the faith and are so much more congruent embracing atheism (they do a good job evangelizing for their non-faith).

So am I crazy to keep believing? Thank God for the example of gay believers—they give me hope to keep on. If any group has reason to feel the sting of Christian guilt-by-association, it’s them. They’ve been told for centuries that their faith is illegitimate, that they are shameful and unloved by God. Yet their experience belies those lies and they continue to proclaim love for Jesus.

I read John Fortunato’s book Embracing the Exile: Healing Journeys of Gay Christians. He recounts the long and difficult struggle of growing up being both Catholic (sincerely devout) and gay. At one point he complains to God about his fellow believers saying “They call my light darkness! They call my love perverted! They call my gifts corruptions. What the hell are you asking me to do?” And then John Fortunato hears God’s voice, clear and unmistakable. “Love them anyway,” God said. “Love them anyway.”

I think of a trusted colleague in ministry, a gay man who reminds me that our calling is to assist all UCC churches to prosper—not just the Open and Affirming churches, not just the Progressive Churches—but all the churches in our conference.

I think of the young woman with a spikey hairdo in my church who wears a “Gay Christian” t-shirt and engages people in dialogue when they comment on that, taking on the role of an educator for the misinformed.

And if my gay companions can wear the label “Christian” despite the toxicity that’s been pinned onto that, then surely I can. Jesus is indeed fortunate to have such faithful followers—and I am blessed to be surrounded on earth by such witnesses.

Why I Bother

by Karen Richter

Do you ever have those days when you ask yourself, “Why am I going to all this trouble?”

When I was in 8th grade (worst year of my life – true story!), my teacher Ann Andrews asked us to write five things about ourselves on an index card. My fifth thing was ‘I am an eternal optimist.’ It’s still true, but I do have those days when I wonder if I’m just talking to myself around here.

“Around here” is a church, a wonderful place filled with laughter and grace and people walking their talk. I do love this place. My lungs fill a little deeper when I pull into the parking lot.

But every year it gets a little harder. Every year attendance is down just a bit. Every year we have to struggle just a little more to make the budget. Every year I’m sweet-talking just a few more to get people to participate in spiritual formation (Sunday School, classes, and retreats and such).

At least that’s the way it seems some days. I assume that you have “some days” too. Maybe today is one of them. Just in case, I’m answering the question TODAY so I can remind myself when I need to hear this answer.

1. First, some non-reasons. These are completely irrelevant (to me).

Because I don’t want to burn in hell.
Because I want my kids to be “good”.
Because I don’t want my kid to have sex outside of marriage.
Because Christianity is the only answer to the meaning of life.
Because I’m afraid of / superior to other religions and cultures.
Because I fear.

hee hee..."baggage"
hee hee…”baggage”

These might be legitimate reasons for some people, but they aren’t mine.  I list them here just to deal with the baggage.

2. I stick around church because it grounds me.

Human beings are funny creatures. We are, in the words of the Psalms, “made just a little lower than the angels.” According to evolutionary thinkers, we are the universe becoming self-conscious for perhaps the first time. We are simultaneously selfish, greedy, obsessive, mean, short-term thinkers who can’t get our shit in squares to save our own sorry lives, much less the whole darn planet.

My faith does a great job of keeping me in this middle place: knowing and hoping for the best part of humanity and acknowledging that we are flawed and more than a little dangerous. Yeah, I could have faith without church, but that seems like a lonely answer.

3. I stick around church because it answers my questions and encourages me to ask better, deeper questions.

question marks sticky notes colorsAt its best, Christian faith helps me develop a healthy relationship with my experiences. With a rich history of contemplation and mysticism, Christianity gives me tools with which to grapple with the biggest questions life has to offer. These tools aren’t the only ones out there, but they’re mine: prayer, meditation, centering, lectio divina, acts of mercy and service, spiritual direction and companionship.

4. I stick around church because it makes me a better person.

There’s always a tug between being real and being kind. At least there is for me. Maybe some people are naturally kind, and good for them. Being part of my faith community gives me lots, LOTS of opportunities to practice kindness. I tell my kiddos all the time that the best thing someone can say about you is that you are kind… not smart or beautiful or accomplished or wealthy or popular or athletic. The more that I’m around these wacky church people (I’m talkin’ about you, Southwest Conference!), the more I feel the impulse to kindness. The more I practice kindness, the more I progress along the path to being an actual, real life kind person. Then kindness becomes part of the real me. It’s a slow process; just ask the people who know me!

Church folks are not the only people serving peace and justice in the world, but it’s a good bet that if you scratch the surface of a church, you’ll find people who care… and put their caring into action.

5. I stick around church because it is a human thing to do.

Darn us humans with our existential angst! We just can’t help it. We are always looking for meaning. Sometimes we have a hard time finding meaning and we just make some up. We’re meaning-making, meaning-sharing, narrative-telling critters. We’re hard-wired for connection and community. We long to belong and to become whatever it is we’re meant to be.ch sidewalk existence 2

On the big scale, we’re still a species in our infancy. We’re still growing and evolving. Church is helping me do my part.  It’s a lot of trouble, but I’m sticking around.  I hope you are too.

Karen Richter is Director of Spiritual Formation at Shadow Rock UCC.  She has worked previously in a variety of educational and nonprofit settings.  Her interests include peaceful parenting, theology in pop culture, and adult/adolescent faith formation.  She is also active in Shadow Rock’s sanctuary ministry and Whole Life Center.  Karen lives in Anthem, Arizona with her husband, children, and tiny dog.

You may contact Karen at karen@shadowrockucc.org

How May I Serve You?

by Jeffrey Dirrim

John 13:13-15 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
“You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am.  So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”

How May I Serve You?

On a recent Sunday evening at Rebel & Divine UCC, one of our homeless young adults took a shower and put on a new outfit he’d picked up at our clothing bank. I noticed him with dripping wet hair, standing somberly over a large dark trash bin. He was holding the outfit he’d been wearing continuously for the previous seven days. After standing there for a few minutes in deep thought, he opened his hands and released the clothing.

Moving closer I started a conversation with him. He shared that the t-shirt was his favorite article of clothing “ever.” It was well worn and frankly a tad ripe. He expressed frustration that he could only take with him what he was wearing. His backpack was so full of his essentials that its seams were starting to split. I respectfully asked if I could take the discarded clothes home and wash them for him. Looking at me in a peculiar manner, he walked off saying, “Whatever you want.”

I washed the clothes, with bleach, several times. I tumbled them dry with springtime fabric softener sheets. The clothes were bright and fresh when they were returned to him with little fanfare a few weeks later. An hour must have passed before he pulled me aside. With a bit of machismo, he said, “You didn’t have to fold my clothes.” and “Thank you — I can’t believe you folded my clothes!” I noticed the teary eyes accompanying his smile.

Jesus often spoke to his disciples about ministry. He didn’t charm their egos with visions of celebrity and certain wealth. He referred to the ministry as diakonos, which at its most basic level means to be a humble servant. It was defined by the powerless roles women and children were required to play in society at the time. Becoming one of his followers meant to set aside your own authority. In this way kings, religious leaders, and tax collectors were brought down while waitresses, pedicurists, and maids were lifted up.

That dapper young homeless man looked at me like I’d performed a miracle that night. Not because I had done anything out of the ordinary, but because I’d done something for him that no one else had ever done. In folding his newly laundered clothing, he began to feel worthy. That young man invites all of his friends to attend church with us, not because we told him too, but because he wants them to have that same experience. We continue to grow.

In other church circles these days I’m hearing a lot about fear. People want to know what that next “big” thing is they will have to do to survive. I wonder if church in this postmodern age is actually a return to the basics? Imagine a place where the least of these feel safe to be themselves. Imagine a place where the voiceless are asked to lead the discussion. Imagine a place where the hungry literally break bread and share the cup. Imagine a place where the naked are clothed and dirty leave clean. Imagine a place where the pastor’s sermon is witnessed, not just heard.

Imagine a place where lives are transformed.

Jesus loved people, very different from himself, into wholeness. Acting in his place in our world today, this new church 3.0 concept really isn’t something to fear. It doesn’t require concert stages, rock bands, and nightclub light displays in our sanctuaries. Maybe it’s actually church unplugged? Maybe it’s focusing less on Sunday morning’s show and prioritizing the building of relationships? Maybe it’s setting aside the first time visitor gifts and offering to wash, dry, and fold our guests’ clothing? It seems the only requirement to ministry today is that Christ be witnessed in each of us.

PRAYER
Holy One, we celebrate your unlimited and unconditional love. Yet we seem to have forgotten the role we play in keeping that love alive in our world today. Assist us in witnessing Christ’s everyday miracles through our humble service. Amen & let it be so!

Rev. Jeffrey Dirrim is a graduate of the Pacific School of Religion(Berkeley, CA) and is currently serving as the Founding Pastor and Executive Director of Rebel & Divine United Church of Christ in Phoenix, Arizona. It is an incredibly diverse missional faith community focused on the health and wholeness of at risk(especially LGBTQ) youth/young adults. Those he serves lovingly refer to him as their “Pomo-homo-genderqueer Pastor!” To learn more visit the church’s website.

Follow Jeffrey on Twitter and Instagram.

God is still speaking!

What I Learned About Peace From an Imam

by Ryan Gear

The recent photo of two­-year old Aylan Kurdi’s body washed up on the beach in Turkey shocked the world. Human beings with any sense of decency were cut to the heart at the loss of this little boy and the thousands of other children and adults he represents who ave been killed in recent Middle East conflict.

As European countries rightly welcome Muslim refugees from Syria, anti­-Muslim and anti-immigrant fervor is rearing it’s ugly head once again. A nationalist party in Britain released a fear­-mongering anti­-Muslim/anti­immigration video featuring wild math about birthrates and a ludicrous doomsday ending. Closer to home, we are witnessing a level of both anti-immigrant and anti-­Muslim nationalism in our current presidential campaign that has never been higher.

With irresponsible and even dangerous rhetoric increasing, we cannot afford to remain silent any longer. It is past time for all peace­-loving Christians to stand up and speak out loudly in favor of empathy and hospitality toward the immigrant and the Muslim. This is not simply a “liberal” cause. The need for Christians to speak out is based on this undeniable fact– the most vitriolic and xenophobic language in America is not coming from Muslims; it is coming from far right wing nationalists who claim to be Christians. The Muslims I know speak out for peace regularly but find it hard to gain media coverage.

This past May, I scheduled a series of sermons at One Church entitled Religions of the World. During that series, I invited a rabbi and an imam to speak on Judaism and Islam respectively. They both represented their faiths very well.

Prior to the series, I had been looking forward to having lunch with a local imam named Khalil. He speaks regularly at interfaith gatherings and flatly condemns all violence in the name of Islam. He is one of the moderate Muslims who is accused by right wing persons of not speaking out enough against terrorism. Like many American Muslim leaders, however, he speaks out against violence continually. It’s just that he has trouble getting his message into the news media.

I suspect that the cable news channels that complain that Muslim leaders do not speak out rarely invite Muslim leaders on air to speak out. After all, if you invite Muslim leaders on air to condemn violence, you can’t induce fear and rage in your viewers by claiming that Muslim leaders won’t speak out. Fear and rage drive up ratings, but what kind of ratings do calm, reasonable Muslim voices get you? Depending on the news outlet, inviting them to speak might drive away viewers.

Khalil and I had a very pleasant, thoroughly enjoyable conversation over a two­and-­a­-half hour lunch. We shared stories of how we entered the ministry and what our respective religion means to us. To him, Islam means peace. He beautifully articulated how Islam provides a holistic way of life, and I was struck by how similar it sounded to a Christian’s explanation of why she or he wants to follow Jesus. We joked about the common experiences that clergypersons have, regardless of their religion. As our server kept pouring fresh cups of coffee, we discovered that we have a great deal in common. I now consider Khalil a friend.

After our lunch, I drove home and saw the headlines that ISIS had burned Jordanian pilot Moaz al­Kasasbeh alive. ISIS commits revolting, brutal murders on video in order to recruit more terrorists and provoke endless conflict with the West. As you know, a war with the West is part of their fundamentalist, apocalyptic fantasy.

Curious to see all opinions, I typed foxnews.com into my browser and read an article titled “ISIS Burns Jordanian Pilot: Mr. Obama, when will you get angry about radical Islam?” In two sentences, the author called for vengeance and dehumanized the enemy. “America wants to know, when is President Obama going to get angry? When is he going to slam his fist on the desk, demand vengeance, put aside his incessant campaigning and call out the Islamic radicals of ISIS as the animals they are?”

I support thoughtful U.S. intervention on behalf of innocent people, but on a news outlet known for catering to conservative Christians, what does angry, dehumanizing vengeance have to do with the teaching of Jesus?

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:43­-45)

Just as famously, Paul (in Romans 12:19) referenced Deuteronomy 32:35: “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” The King James translation is still the best remembered, saying, “’Vengeance is mine; I will repay,’ saith the Lord.”

I believe in protecting the innocent from terrorists like ISIS, but this opinion piece and much of the news coverage of Muslims is an example of violent, vengeful, dehumanizing war rhetoric that is diametrically opposed to the teaching of Jesus.

And do we even need to remind everyone of the recent dehumanizing statements toward Latino immigrants by a presidential candidate?

Progressive Christians speak out regularly in defense of peace-­loving Muslims in our communities. Following the inflammatory anti­-Muslim protest in Phoenix this past spring, we saw how beautiful solidarity can be between Christians and Muslims.

Progressive Christians also speak against xenophobia and urge immigration reform that welcomes immigrants into the United States as though we were welcoming Jesus, Himself (Matthew 25:35).

This, however, can no longer be only a progressive Christian cause. Now, I think it’s time to ask a different question:

When are moderate Christians going to stand up and condemn this kind of un­Christian, vengeful rhetoric toward immigrants and Muslims?

Millions of Christians consume xenophobic and inflammatory “news” on a daily basis. When a prominent piece such as this one goes unchallenged by a large number of moderate Christians, I have to ask, where does their allegiance lie—with a cable news channel or with Jesus Christ?

The fact is, my lunch with an imam was far more peace­loving than the opinion piece I read afterward. Who has the inside track on making peace?

Ryan Gear is the founding pastor of One Church, a nondenominational progressive church in Chandler, Arizona. He is the founder of openmindedchurch.org, a growing national directory of churches willing to wrestle with questions and doubts. Ryan writes regularly for religion blogs such as OnFaith and Convergent Books and has been featured in Real Clear Religion. Ryan also serves as an initiator in Convergence U.S., a national movement bringing together forward-thinking Catholics, Evangelicals, and mainline Protestants, along with ethnic and peace churches and other willing colleagues.

Follow Ryan on Twitter at twitter.com/ryangear77.

A White Boy and His Toys

by Tyler Connoley

When I was fourteen, I got my first computer — an Apple IIe. Actually, it was my family’s computer, and my dad used it pretty much all day doing his work. However, at night, I was allowed to play on the computer. I remember one time when I stayed up all night writing a simple program in BASIC. The next day, I proudly showed off what the computer could do, as it went through it’s paces of answering questions based on the users “Yes” or “No” inputs. I thought about that Apple IIe this week when I heard the story of Ahmed Mohamed’s arrest for building a clock and bringing it to school.

You see, when I was a geeky teenager, no one thought anything of it. Kids like me — white boys — were allowed to be geeks, and were allowed to dream of building robots like R. Daneel Olivaw, who captured my imagination when I was sixteen. My parents joked with their friends about my silly BASIC program, and everyone thought it was funny and cute and a sign of great things to come. I was on my way to becoming the smart, successful man I was expected to be.

If I had been a girl doing the same thing in 1984, people might have thought me strange. There might have been a worry that I was too masculine. (Believe me, that was never a worry with me, but that’s another story for another time.) I sometimes wonder what my sister could have done with our Apply IIe, if it hadn’t been hogged by her brother who figured she should be doing girly stuff anyway.

Or what if I’d been born a person of color? We now have the rise of the Blerds, but in 1984 — five years before Geordi La Forge — black nerds were unheard of. Even today, we feel the need to give them a special category and their own term, because we find them so exotic. What message does that send to a young black man who loves to goof around with technology?

And then we have Ahmed Mohamed. Like me, at fourteen, he spent the night creating a fun project that he wanted to show off. However, unlike me whose white skin is a blank slate onto which I’m allowed to paint any future I want, all people could see in young Ahmed was a potential terrorist. He kept saying, “It’s a clock,” and everyone around him kept looking at those wires and those digital numbers and thinking, “It looks like a bomb.”

I also remember my first digital watch. My Grandma gave it to me for Christmas, and it made me feel like James Bond. It never occurred to me that someone might think of me as the villain in the story, because I didn’t have a deformity, or an accent, or brown skin, or boobs. That’s what happens when you grow up in our society as a white boy.

I pray for a day when the same is true for every little Ahmed or Levar playing in his room with wires and digital clocks or reading books into the wee hours of the morning.

Rev. Tyler Connoley is the pastor of Silver City United Church of Christ, a new church start in Silver City, New Mexico. Tyler has a Master of Arts in Religion and a Master of Divinity, both from Earlham School of Religion, and is the co-author of The Children Are Free: Re-examining the Biblical Evidence on Same-Sex Relationships, which has been translated into multiple languages including Spanish (Dios Nos Ha Hecho Libres). In 2014 and 2015, Tyler worked as the Immigrant Care Coordinator for the Southwest Conference. He lives in Silver City with his spouse, Rob Connoley, who is Chef at the Curious Kumquat, a restaurant they own together.

Unity Within Diversity

Unity Within Diversity 1

by Amos Smith

Some authors, such as our very own John Dorhauer, have written about the colossal brush strokes of Church 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0.2 These are the Pre-reformation Church, The Post-reformation Church, and today’s Emergent Church.

Church 1.0 is the pre-reformation church with its primary authority vested in the hierarchy of the priesthood. Church 2.0 is the post-reformation church, with its rallying cry: “Solo Scriptura.” This was a radical shift of authority from clerical to scriptural! Church 2.0 believed that with the help of the Holy Spirit any baptized Christian had the authority to read and interpret scripture, not just institutional church authorities (1.0 and 2.0 Churches are alive and well today). Church 3.0 is what author Cameron Trimble and others say is emerging now. In this emerging Church scripture is not the end all, be all, as it is for Church 2.0. So, what will define Church 3.0?

I think the most authentic strains of Church 3.0 will rally around two words: Jesus and Justice. If I were persuaded to summarize the Hebrew Scriptures with one word I would say “Justice.” If I were swayed to summarize the New Testament with one word I would say “Jesus.” The words of the Hebrew Scriptures, above all else, point to Justice. The words of the New Testament, above all else, point to Jesus. These are the root words of Judeo-Christian Tradition. If the church loses these two words it has ceased to be the church and should call itself something else, perhaps Unitarian, perhaps Bahai.3

Some progressive churches know how to spell justice! They are missional churches through and through. And this is wonderful. This is the dream of church realized! Yet, many of these churches have sidelined Jesus or dispensed with Jesus all together. A prime example is a church I visited in Berkeley where I was told, “We don’t use the J word here. Too many people have been burned by it.” “Christ” is the root of the word “Christian.” So, this statement baffles me.

The other extreme are churches who know how to spell Jesus with precision and vigor. Yet, they have not caught on to justice. These churches are about a mere belief system. Yet, Christianity is not primarily a belief system! It is a life to be lived, an idea to be worked out, a task to be done! In other words, Christianity is about following Jesus onto the path of justice! These churches also tend to be insular and dying. A vital church cannot be about an exclusive theology of Jesus. For one thing, this is not true to the Gospel witness. For another, this prevents full-on engagement in justice missions outside church walls, which is the point of church from the beginning.

My book, Healing the Divide, addresses churches who emphasize Jesus to the exclusion of justice and vice versa. It outlines a theology of Jesus that is broad enough for Church 3.0 and for our postmodern world!

Just as the full faced portrait photo doesn’t contradict the profile photo, so to Jesus and Justice don’t contradict! Far from it! They complement one another!

People ask me, “What’s the essence to which the scriptures point?” People ask me, “What do you think the emergent church is all about?” When they do, I don’t hesitate. It’s about Jesus and Justice! Jesus is synonymous with spiritual healing, wholeness, and inclusive love! And justice is synonymous with communal fire in the belly, aliveness, and mission!

The prophetic legacy leading up to Jesus is the finger pointing to the moon and justice is the moon. We need both!

Jesus is the Church’s inclusive compassionate heart, which jumps off the pages of the Gospels. And justice is the church’s business. Both are essential for historical integrity and vitality!

Justice and Jesus are the two wings of the butterfly of emergent Christianity!

In Church 3.0 there will be numerous forms of justice work: social justice, economic justice, death penalty abolishment, racial justice, nonviolence witness, gender justice, LGBT justice, mental illness awareness, ecological justice, nuclear disarmament, immigrant justice, homeless justice, microloan justice, Palestinian justice, food justice, prison reform, et cetera.

Depending on the community, Church 3.0 will also emphasize numerous Jesuses. There will be the Roman Catholic Jesus (culled from Thomas Aquinas and Thomas Merton), the Eastern Orthodox Jesus (filtered for the West through Tolstoy and Dostoevsky), the Nonviolent Jesus (gleaned from The historic Peace Churches,4 Jesus’ Third Way, and French Philosopher, Renee Girard), the Jesus of the oppressed (from liberation theologians like James Cone and Gustavo Gutierrez) the liberal Protestant Jesus (from historical Jesus scholars like Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan), the neo-feminist Jesus (culled from Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza and the multitude of feminist theologians since), and the Jesus of the mystics (The Jesus Paradox/Miaphysite in Greek) as interpreted by the Alexandrian Elders and the Oriental Orthodox Church. And the list goes on…

My particular calling is to Jesus as interpreted by the Alexandrian Mystics and to the healing arts of Contemplative Christianity. Yet, I celebrate that Christianity is a vast body with many members (1 Corinthians 12:12-27). I celebrate all the different angles on Jesus and Justice! May the members of the body, in all their diversity, invest in the essential vision: Jesus and Justice!

The seventeenth century theologian Rupertus Meldenius once wrote in a tract: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials diversity, in all things charity.”

The essential rallying cry of Church 3.0: “Solo Christos et Jus!”

1 This essay is inspired by a sermon that United Church of Christ Pastor, Evette Flunder, gave at the General Synod of the United Church of Christ when it convened in Minneapolis in 2005.

2 See Dorhauer, John. Beyond Resistance: The Institutional Church Meets the Postmodern World, pg.38-43.

3 I have been influenced by the work of Family Systems theorists, Murray Bowen, Edwin Friedman, Roberta Gilbert, and Peter Steinke, who consistently affirm healthy boundaries. A healthy cell has a membrane that differentiates it from other cells. So too, healthy relationships, communities, and religious traditions have healthy boundaries (flexible and at times porous, not rigid), which differentiate them from one another. The Dali Lama has often said that the differences between religions are as important as the similarities. Healthy interfaith dialogue respects both.

4 The historic Peace Churches are the Mennonite, Brethren, and Quaker (FGC).

Amos Smith is the pastor at Church of the Painted Hills in Tucson, and author of  Healing The Divide: Recovering Christianity’s Mystic Roots.

If You Build It, They May Not Come

by Davin “Dax” Franklin-Hicks

Field of Dreams came out when I was 11 years old. I saw it on video when I was 13 and immediately used the line “If you build it, they will come” for comedy effect with my friends. It was a catchphrase and said at the right moment, it always got a good laugh. Because of the incessant use, it became hard wired in my brain. Sometimes I hear folks talking about a project or an effort they are involved in and that line runs through the back of my mind.

My access to places of worship and faith development post coming out as LGBT was very limited. I had been to a few congregations that expressed a welcome to LGBTQ folks. These churches, though, were largely made up of members who identify as LGBT and very few allies. This was disheartening to me. I wanted to be able to pick a faith community that I could grow spiritually in and not just choose one because they embrace my community. This is further proof to me that the most segregated hour in America is still on Sundays. And I had no desire to participate in that. Then I heard about the UCC and everything changed.

I became introduced to the UCC through the Pastor who served at First Congregational United Church of Christ in Tucson, AZ. She was an out, partnered lesbian, yet her ministry consisted of people from all walks of life; likely people that would never have sought each other out in the world outside the church. Members affirmed and celebrated each other. They advocated openly and unabashedly to ensure those who did not have access to rights would gain access to rights. They just were all so kind and open. It appeared to be church in action. So, I was suspicious. What’s the catch? Why are you guys being so nice to us? And the answer that came consistently was that we were part of them and they were a part of us.

The reason all these things happened is they made an intentional decision to become Open and Affirming, welcoming LGBTQ into the full life and ministry of the church. And I dug it. I shook off the suspicion and embraced the openness. It was delightful and rich. And still, many LGBTQ people would never come through those doors, simply because it’s far too painful. A friend of mine told me the story about her congregation’s decision to become Open and Affirming. They thought it was simply the right thing to do. And it created an expectation for some that the LGBTQ community would pour in. One person said, “I don’t get it. We say we are Open and Affirming. Why aren’t they coming?”

There are a whole host of reasons LGBT folks do not participate in organized religion. Some have experienced churches to express a welcome, only to be condemned when they do attend. The trauma of losing their faith community due to being LGBT is often triggered by churches. In short, many don’t trust us. And that makes perfect sense.

Addressing the trauma that results from faith based rejection is the role of the church. Healing, ministering, listening, affirming. It takes intention and it takes openness to achieve. The church is inviting those who have been wounded from ministers and church members to come to our churches. It is our responsibility to prepare a place for them that will truly heal.

If you build it, they may not come, but we, as the church, must build it still.

Davin “Dax” Franklin-Hicks is a proud member of the United Church of Christ. He was introduced to the UCC in 2003. His primary focus is in supporting those that have experienced trauma within spiritually based communities and/or rejection from family members due to being determined as unacceptable to God for various reasons. Dax had his own church-related trauma experiences after coming out as Queer, and later, as Transgender that included a disfellowship process from a rejecting congregation. What a breath of fresh air the UCC was after that experience.

In 2008, Dax transitioned from female to male, experiencing an incredible affirmation from his UCC congregation at the time, the former First Congregational United Church of Christ in Tucson. The grace and love he received during this coming out and transition process was a very healing experience.

Dax works in the field of recovery in Tucson, is a member of Rincon Congregational United Church of Christ, and currently serves on the Executive Board of the Southwest Conference. He has an amazing wife, Nancy, who is a member of Rincon and a Social Worker in hospice. They have a rockin’ awesome son, named Angelo, who is in his twenties and works in the helping field. He has a cat who shares his point of view nearly constantly, and a pit bull he kisses daily.