Weekly Reader for June 23

Here’s a selection of my reading for the past week.

Reflection and Commentary on the Mass Shooting at Emanuel AME Church, Charleston

As Nation Mourns Racist Murders, Flag of Hate Still Flies Over South Carolina 

Shooters of Color Are Called ‘Terrorists’ and ‘Thugs.’ Why Are White Shooters Called ‘Mentally Ill’?

Nikki Haley To Call For Confederate Flag To Be Removed From South Carolina Capitol: Reports

South Carolina Lutheran Pastor: Dylann Roof Was Church Member, His Family Prays For Victims

Faith and the Confederate Flag

Taking Down the Confederate Flag Won’t Solve Racism

Stewardship & Generosity

The Essential Guide to Growing Your Online Support for Nonprofits

The Future of Fundraising

Buildings for a New Tomorrow

Reflection on Ministry from Christian Century (Read all of these essays if you have the time)

Reversal

Pastoral Leadership

The Failure-Tolerant Leader

On Our Way: Sabbath Keeping

The summer solstice is nearly upon us and with it the official start of summer. Summer probably began in your mind as well as mine with the end of the academic school year. With the storms and rain, this summer feels quite different from the past few.

In the swing of summer our schedules change somewhat. Sunday school shifts its pattern for the children and youth, small groups are taking a break for several weeks, kids are off to camp, families are preparing for kids to go off to the start of college and trade schools. Other families have children home for summer break. For many of us, vacation planning is underway, and even happening already, and we are looking forward to a time of rest, relaxation, and renewal. We often hang a lot on these vacations. Into them, we try to squeeze as much play and relaxation as possible to the point that the vacation can become exhausting. I’ve finished a vacation on occasion and thought that I needed a vacation from vacation. Have you ever felt that way after your vacation?

Kids Playing in Fountain, Lake Charles, LA

Kids Playing in Fountain, Lake Charles, LA

When I feel that way, and perhaps when you do as well, the play of vacation becomes something else that I must work at accomplishing. What’s missing in the midst of such times is any sense of rest and renewal. Another way to put it is to say that such times lack any sense of Sabbath.

Sabbath should not only be a part of vacation but is something that we need regularly for our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. The discipline of Sabbath keeping helps us maintain the necessary balance between work and rest. Our society skews this balance with its demands for action and accomplishment. The result of such demands is exhaustion and burnout. Sabbath restores balance to our lives and enables us to “remember who we are, remember what we know, and taste the gifts of spirit and eternity” (Muller, Sabbath, 6).

So as you think about the summer time and rest and renewal, I invite you to consider how you will keep Sabbath. Perhaps this exercise from Wayne Muller’s book, Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives, can aid you in this process. Muller writes, “Sabbath can only begin if we close the factory, turn out the lights, turn off the computer, and withdraw from the concerns of the marketplace. Choose at least one heavily used appliance or device – the telephone, [cell phone], television, computer, washer and dryer – and let them rest for a Sabbath period. Whether it is a morning, afternoon, or entire day, surrender to a quality of time when you will not be disturbed, seduced, or responsive to what our technologies offer. Notice how you respond to its absence” (Muller, Sabbath, 6)

This practice may be difficult for you. It is for me I can tell you. But our decision to do it will create the space, time, and energy for us to experience a time of Sabbath – a time of renewal and rest. Please do not use the space, time, or energy to do some other task such as run errands, take care of the household repairs you’ve been too busy to take care of, or take on another job. Instead, use the space, time, and energy to be silent and listen for God, take a Sabbath walk, read a book, be with loved ones and friends, or simply play. Engage in purposeless enjoyment and harvest some of the sweetest fruit of life.

Such Sabbath keeping helps deepen our relationship with God and with one another as God’s people.

Weekly Reader for June 8

Do you remember the Weekly Reader in elementary school.  I loved those little mini-overviews of a variety of current events and other interesting stories.  That’s the inspiration for the title of this post.  What else is behind this new weekly post?  Here at First Christian Church, Topeka, the elders and clergy staff meet weekly for study, prayer, and conversation.  Well, we meet weekly except in June and July.  So since we are not meeting for the next several weeks and we don’t have a chance to talk about articles and other subjects before us, they asked if I would send them a weekly list or sample of what I’m reading.  Here’s my first offering to them and anyone else who might be interested:

Jason Jones’ Blog (an new post and an older one)

When You’re On a Journey, You Should Go to Church

Hospitality

Dorothy Bass and Craig Dykstra on Christian Practices (this one is a pdf)

Christian Practices and Congregational Education in Faith

Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation

The Hiding Place Is Also the Revelation Place of God

Faith&Leadership.com

Congregations align with public institutions to serve the common good

Forming laity, for life and ministry

Pew Research Center – Lots of folks reading here with recent release of data on religious trends in the United States

America’s Changing Religious Landscape

The Non-Profit Times

High Net-Worth Donors Want To ‘Giving Back’

 

On Our Way: The Gift of Hospitality

We have a whole industry called “The Hospitality Industry.”  I did a quick internet search and quickly got a list of job openings for restaurants, bars, hotels, and resorts.  While I value great customer service in all of these settings, the practice of hospitality that we’re exploring as a Christian practice and Bread&Grapes Smallin the stories of scripture is something different than great customer service.

When is a time you have personally experienced profound hospitality?  Answering this question, I think, begins to help us understand the difference between biblical hospitality and our modern “hospitality industry.”  Some other ways to help us make sense of the difference include these questions, “When were you in need of support and comfort and received it?”  “When were you lost and someone helped you find your way?”  Although hospitality is not always mentioned by name, it was part of the very fabric of the Hebrew and Christian peoples.  It involves welcome, protection, feeding, slaking thirst, and providing space for rest.  I don’t remember where I found this definition but it makes a lot of sense to me: Hospitality is the attitude and practice of providing the atmosphere and opportunities, however risky, in which strangers are free to become friends, thereby feeling accepted, included, and loved. The relationship thus opens up the possibility for eventual communion.  By entertaining the stranger or sojourner, we open ourselves to the blessings of God.

It involves both a practiced act and an attitude toward others – so it involves our heads, our hearts, and our hands.  So practiced, such moments of the shared table brings together host, stranger, and God. Communion around The Welcome Table reminds us of our bonds with one another and also reminds us of the need to show hospitality to others.

Practices for Living a Whole Life

The foundation of the “On Our Way” Worship Series begins with a series of questions:

  • Am I living my life the way I intended?
  • As we participate in of the activities that make our lives incredibly busy, are the activities making a difference beyond ourselves?
  • Are we really living in right relation to other people, to the created world, and to God?
  • How does the idea of “practices” help us think about and live the Christian life?
  • How are we already engaging in Christian practices? How can we further participate in Christian practices?

Christian practices help us explore the meaning-full questions of life!  And we can’t live a meaningful life alone.  We need one another to live such a meaning-full life!  So over these next several weeks, we will explore one practice at a time. It is difficult to examine a way of life as a whole, so we will explore some practices individually in order that we have some understanding of them. The inter-connectedness of the practices will reveal itself as we continue through the series.

So what is a Christian practice?  Craig Dykstra and Dorothy Bass describe them this way:

  • Christian practices are things Christian people do together over time in response to and in the light of God’s active presence for the life of the world.
  • Practices address fundamental human needs and conditions through concrete human acts – hungry people need food not a sermon on hospitality.
  • Practices are done together and over time – centuries old, even if we have not always done them well.
  • Practices possess standards of excellence – the challenge is to explore the practice with enough specificity to make a difference.
  • When we see some of our ordinary activities as Christian practices, we come to perceive how our daily lives are all tangled up with the things God is doing in the world (Practicing Our Faith, 6-8).

The worship series begins this Sunday, May 31.  I look forward to joining with you in worship.

Summer Worship Series – On Our Way

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On OUr Way Series ImagePeople want meaning in their lives and want their lives to be meaningful. I hear the truth of this statement in the conversations with people in all sorts of settings from pastoral conversations to casual conversations about work and family with fellow school parents and other acquaintances. These conversations tell me also that we find it challenging, at times, to live with all the meaning and purpose in our lives that we want. We wrestle with so many daily tasks and responsibilities – those demands of family and work…and so, we are tired.

As a follower of Jesus the Christ, I believe that following him leads me to find meaning for my life that is rooted in God’s love. This journey has twists and turns, hills and flat sections, as well as detours and hazards. So how do we prepare for this journey and sustain it over time? Our ancestors in faith have found several ways to prepare and sustain this journey – these ways are sometimes called Christian Practices. Craig Dykstra describes practices in this way, “Christian practices are not activities we do to make something spiritual happen in our lives. Nor are they duties we undertake to be obedient to God. Rather, they are patterns of communal action that create openings in our lives where the grace, mercy, and presence of God may be made known to us. They are places where the power of God is experienced. In the end, these are not ultimately our practices but forms of participation in the practice of God.” These practices help us experience fully the presence of God in our lives.

Our summer worship series will focus on these practices to help each of us discover how we can craft these practices to fit our own lives.

A Good Example for Us

I think it is interesting that Jesus never uses the word doubt in regard to Thomas, yet he is forever known as the doubter. What Jesus says is “Do not unbelieve, but believe.” Our English translation bibles translate it as “doubt” but that translation seems to have more to do with Thomas’ reputation than anything else. In John’s gospel, believing is about living in relationship with Jesus and not affirming a particular set of ideas, creeds, or faith statements about Jesus. In this light, Thomas’ expressed desire is to be once again living in relationship with Jesus and Jesus reminds Thomas through his invitation to touch him that they continue to abide in relationship.

I also think that this story probably hits a little closer to home for many than some are ready to admit. Thomas is after all a realist – and he’s ready to ask the question (John 14) on his mind and follow Jesus even into the face of danger (John 11). I have questions and you probably do too. I wish I had the courage to ask all the questions that stir in my mind. I’m not sure that I’m always willing to follow Jesus into the face of danger. So Thomas is a good example for us – an encouragement to ask the questions that we have and a willingness to follow Jesus where he leads.

I’m also wondering what others questions folks wrestle with?

Dependence on God

The story of the widow in Mark 12:41-44 recounts the story of a woman who puts her last two cents into the treasury at the temple. I believe that Jesus points to her as an example because in her giving all she had to live on, she is giving herself into God’s hands. In this act, the woman expresses a complete dependence on God. We are often encouraged to give because the cause is worthy or because there is some implied or expressed benefit to our giving. The difference that the story of the giving widow illustrates is that our giving helps us practice following Jesus. Practicing giving in a repeated fashion leads us to more and more live a life rooted in a dependence on God.

We concluded our Redwoods worship series this past Sunday but we haven’t concluded our emphasis on these practices, sometimes also called marks of discipleship. We continue to encourage you to grow into Redwoods by engaging these practices:

  • Reading Scripture Daily
  • Engaging in Daily Prayer
  • Devoted in Spiritual Practices
  • Worshiping Weekly
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  • Openly Sharing the Gospel
  • Demonstrating God’s Love to Others
  • Sharing Our Resources

Continuing on the Journey

We approach the end of our current worship series, “Growing Into Spiritual Redwoods,” and our related small groups. The elders have done a great job leading these groups and we hope that you’ve had an experience of spiritual growth and deepening of your relationship with God. As a part of Lent, we’ve been exploring these spiritual practices and marks of discipleship: Reading scripture daily, Engaged in daily prayer, Devoted in spiritual relationships, Worshiping weekly, Openly sharing the gospel, Demonstrating God’s love to our neighbors, and Sharing our resources. Such practices are important for at least 4 reasons as Dorothy Bass reminds us:

  • these practices address fundamental human needs and conditions through concrete human acts
  • these practices done together and over time lead us to discover that we are part of a community that’s been doing them for centuries
  • these practices possess standards of excellence that shine God’s light on all we do
  • these practices, tangled up with our daily living, help us perceive how our lives are tangled up with what God is doing in the world (Practicing Our Faith, Josey-Bass 1997, 6-8).

While Lent quickly draws to a close and Easter season is around the corner, the practices can continue and need to continue if you desire to grow in your relationship with God and others around you. I hope that you will continue to read scripture daily, engage in daily prayer, devote yourselves in spiritual relationships, openly share the gospel with others, demonstrate God’s love to others, and share your resources. I am convinced the routine of these practices leads us into deeper relationship with God and one another. Early Christians were often referred to as people who followed The Way – meaning they were followers of Jesus and his way of living and relating to the world. We are still people of The Way and these practices help us travel, following Jesus into the world.

Next Worship Series – Get Real with Your Faith starts April 12

Lent is moving along quickly and Holy Week will soon be upon us with our most important celebration on Easter Sunday when we gather and proclaim again, “Christ is risen! Alleluia!” Tradition says that we don’t say “Alleluia” during Lent but Easter is close and I’m ready to hear that “Alleluia”! Maybe you are as well?

During this Lenten season, almost 60 folks have been participating in our small groups. Some have asked if the groups could continue and others have inquired when the next groups would start and if they could join. Our next small group opportunity will begin the week of April 12 and will center on the theme of our next worship series theme: “Get Real with Your Faith.” We’ll offer a variety of times and opportunities for small groups. If you’d like to sign up for a small group, please complete a signup sheet or contact the church office. Also if you have questions, please call or email me at your convenience.