Archive for the ‘presbytery’ Category

Genesis 21:8-21
Romans 6:1-11

Do you pray? How often? What is it that you pray for? If not, why not? Is it the words (or lack thereof), the “audacity” of “bothering” God with “petty” requests?

Many of us are probably like the man who flew in an airplane for the first time. He was nervous on the cross-country trip. But sitting by the window, he grew more anxious as he saw flame shooting out of one of the engines. The plane began to hiccup and bump. And so, desperate as he was to land safely, he turned to the deity at hand and said, “O Lord, I know I’m not the best person, but if we make it through this flight, I will give you half of everything I own!” The plane leveled out and the rest of the flight was just as smooth as could be.

As the passengers got off the plane, a preacher came up to the man and said, “I heard what you said, my friend, that you’re going to give half of everything you own to the Lord! And you know, you’re going to start right now!” The man replied, “No, I made a better deal. I told the Lord that if I ever got on another plane, he could have it all.”

Are we prayer bargain hunters? Do we try to make deals, prefacing our prayer at that time of desperation – be it need or want – with all the caveats about how we mean to pray more often or give more or attend more or be a better person? And do we finally go to prayer only as a means of last resort, when that engine is on fire and we feel the steady ground beneath us shake?

Perhaps we see ourselves in that prayer of Hagar, that cry she raises up in the wilderness.

The story of Abraham and Sarah has taken many turns thus far. They have left the land of Haran, leaving behind what they know for the unknown, for the promise of plenty and offspring. And so far, they are still childless. Assuming this to be some kind of test, Abraham and Sarah decide that he should bear a child by Hagar, Sarah’s servant. Ishmael is Abraham’s first-born child. And he is raised in the household. But this was not what God had intended. Despite the absurdity of it all, God still intends that Sarah herself will bear a child. She does, and Isaac is born.

By the time our lesson picks up, Isaac and Ishmael are both being raised in Abraham’s household. The story hear translates that they are playing together, but the better translation is that they are laughing together. Sarah grows jealous; perhaps for her son, perhaps because of Hagar’s continued presence. She demands that Abraham send them away. Abraham, rightly so, is concerned. He loves his son Ishmael and desires his well-being. It is only at God’s intevention, as Abraham and God speak, that Abraham understands that this is all OK. Ishmael is going to be fine. God will provide for his future and all will be well. So Abraham sends them away with a few days provision out into the desert.

It is there that the story takes its dramatic turn. We can imagine Hagar’s pain, out of food and ready to give up. She sends Ishmael away so that she won’t see his agony and suffering. It is then that she cries out. She raises her voice and weeps. God hears the weeping – the text says it is Ishmael’s cry that God hears, but at that moment, the cries of mother and child are really one and the same. God opens her eyes (note that God doesn’t make a well out of nothing; it was simply that she could’t see what was already there). They make it through the wilderness, and as the lesson leaves off, Ishmael thrives.

Mother and child raise their voices. God hears. God provides.

Are we willing to believe something like this? That all that is needed for us to thrive, even and especially in the middle of the wilderness, is simply to raise our voices, to have our cries ring out?

Since Pentecost, we have been looking at the theme of Stewardship: not only in that narrow sense that we Presbyterians usually mean, which is the question of how are we gonna pay for all of our ministries; but in that broader sense of how is it that we act as good stewards, caretakers of all that God has entrusted to us. We will continue that conversation as we move outdoors in two weeks for our July services, and as is fitting, we will take a closer look at the question of environmental stewardship. Thus far, we have looked at our finances, our buildings, our ministries, and how is it that we have been entrusted. We have explored the question of trust, like Abraham leaving behind everything. We have looked at surprise, as Sarah and Abraham encounter God’s absurd promise of a child in their old age. Today, we look at prayer.

First, a straightforward question. What is prayer? Is it eloquent words spoken aloud, the leader, the pastor, taking the hopes and fears of the gathered into poetic words that can somehow be appropriate to address to God? Is it theological integrity, where every item needs to fit into a larger worldview and an appropriate understanding of God, the kind of thing that only time and wisdom and education and experience can grant? Is it simply a checklist for God, ticking off the things we want or need (and not really sure about the difference) as though we were hunting through the catalog at Christmas time? Is it a practice, something we engage in regularly, on a daily, weekly, or committed basis? Or is it something that we turn to only at the most desperate of times, our Hagar-in-the-wilderness moments of fear and agony?

I want to suggest something rather straightforward this morning. Prayer, whatever we might think of it, is simply conversation with God. That’s it. The moment where Abraham  is distressed, that was prayer. When Hagar and Ishmael cry out, that was prayer. There’s no need for eloquence or theological integrity. Simply speaking the desires and groans of your heart, or even trusting that the groans are enough, that is prayer. And for a faith that proclaims boldly that we are so close to God that we share in death and resurrection with Jesus Christ, that kind of intimacy is one that ought to bring us into regular conversation, prayer, with the one who washes us clean and welcomes us and sustains us, even in the middle of the wilderness.

I want to share a story of prayer with you.

Joy Fisher is a friend of mine. She serves as pastor of Midway Presbyterian Church in Decatur. It is a struggling little church which has missed several generations of transition in the neighborhood. The congregation is elderly and mostly white. The neighborhood is mostly African-American. In Joy’s time there, and due in many ways to her leadership, the church has gone from fantasizing about how to recapture the “glory days” to embracing the reality that it it may be time to admit that this church is dying; and in doing so, to proclaim that promise in Paul we heard this morning: that in its death, it might live again. The Session of Midway has come to the realization that it is time to discern to whom the church should be handed off. Joy has been asking her members to pray through it all. She has asked them, as they walk by empty pews on Sunday mornings, to lay a hand on it, and ask that it might be full. As they walk by the baptismal font, to pause for a moment and pray that others might come to feel the cleansing of its waters. Prayer has undergirded all that has happened at Midway Presbyterian. And yet, for years, it has been the slow decline of status quo which has been its mark.

It was in the midst of all this that Joy had a dream one night. She was at the pulpit, preaching to her congregation of a couple dozen, the pews far outnumbering the attendance, as was usual for a Sunday morning. At that moment, a man put his hand on her shoulder, and said, “It’s time for you to sit down.” She turned around to see a male and female pastor sharing the chancel with her, both of them dark-skinned. African-American, she assumed. She went down to the communion table, knelt, and wept; and when she turned around, the sanctuary was filled: old and young, white, black, brown, “It looked like heaven,” she said.

It was a vivid dream; and Joy, being the faithful Christian she is, knowing the role that dreams play throughout Scripture, knew it was a vision. She began to pray for those co-pastors she saw in the dream. Not long after, a Kenyan man stopped by the church. He and a Somali man had begun a ministry of outreach to the nearby Clarkston apartments, one of the largest immigrant communities in Atlanta. They needed a place for their community to worship. They met and prayed together. A few Sundays ago, the plan was for the community to begin worshiping at Midway at a separate service; for a variety of reasons, they were unable to do so, so suddenly the congregation tripled in size. Joy found herself preaching to that sanctuary she had seen in her dream.

The ministry had a bus, too, since most of the people in Clarkston do not own cars. This was vital to bring people to and from the church. The bus driver quit, so Joy added “bus driver” to the prayer list. Within days, they had not only one, but two, one of them a PhD student who had moved to Clarkston in order to do ministry with the immigrant community there. In these conversations with God, there has been answer. There has been provision. They have raised their voices, and God has heard.

Think about that story in connection with our Genesis passage. This church, much like Hagar cast into the wilderness, has been despairing about its future. It has wanted to return to the household, that Ishmael might grow up there in the splendor and warmth of it all. But God had intended a different future. And as soon as they raised their voices in earnest prayer, albeit desperate prayer, God opened their eyes to the deep well that was there all the time.

But also consider the residents of Clarkston apartments. Many of them come from uncertain political climates, many of them are refugees who have been resettled here due to the simple fact that they will not be likely to return home any time in the near future. They are poor. They are hungry. And here come two pastors, a Kenyan and a Somali, showing up with bags of free bread and a simple word about Christ’s love. For these folks, the story of Hagar rings true not only in a spiritual sense of doubt and fear, but in a primal, physical sense of despair, of desperation, of hunger, of thirst. And in the wilderness of Clarkston, so far from what they know as home, God has heard their cries and has brought them the possibility of a new future and of new relationships.

Are we so bold? Do we believe that we might be audacious enough to raise our voices in prayer, to speak with God and to listen to God’s nudge? What is your prayer? What are your hopes, your desires? What is it that you fear? What gives you anxiety? What are the changes that face you right now, the uncertainties, the ways that you are leaving behind a home you knew for an unknown place, whether that be literal or symbolic?

What are your prayers for OPC? Do we pray for growth, for baptism, for pews to be full that others might be able to experience what it is that brings us here each and every Sunday? Would we be so bold as to pray for something as seemingly crass as money, that we could meet budget and pay for all of these ministries to which we are convinced God is calling us? Will our cries mean that God will simply open our eyes so that we can see the deep wells that are right there in front of us?

What about our community? When we drive past empty houses, new construction, empty lots, do we dare to stop for a moment, or even to pray briefly that these folks would come to know that close relationship that God desires for each of us, that they would come through our doors – and not just ours, but the doors of communities where God is proclaimed and hope is known and eyes and hearts are opened?

Do we pray for our world, that wars would end, that the hungry be fed, that justice and mercy rule the day?

Do we dare? And what will we do when God answers?

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The presenting question is whether or not the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) should ordain homosexuals. This means not only pastors, but also elders and deacons. As you can probably guess, the national church is very divided on the issue; my hunch is that our Session and congregation are as well.

Two years ago, at the national level, Presbyterians adopted a compromise position. The national ordination standard is that candidates be either married (defined as a man and a woman) or celibate. However, local ordaining bodies (presbyteries in the case of pastors, congregations in the case of elders and deacons) can decide that this standard is not an essential one and thus ordain the candidate. This has been the practice for some years on other issues, such as passing Greek/Hebrew exams, though not one that has such emotional resonance.

In short, the compromise is a “local option” approach for presbyteries and congregations.

A recent church court decision ruled that the ordination standard regarding marriage/celibacy is an essential one, and therefore cannot be bypassed. An overture came from the John Knox Presbytery in Wisconsin in reaction to that decision. The desire is to overrule that decision and keep the 2006 compromise in effect.

The overture originates with the John Knox Presbytery in Wisconsin. They are seeking other presbyteries to sign on in support. Several Atlanta-area congregations have done so (Central, Trinity, Druid Hills, and Ormewood Park are the ones I know about), and brought this to our May Presbytery meeting for consideration.

Whatever happens in Atlanta, the overture is already going to be presented at the 2008 General Assembly national meeting. The question is whether the Atlanta Presbytery will add its name in support.

I spoke in favor of the motion. Here were my initial reasons, which I shared with our Session:

1)       The national task force that worked on it represented the broadest possible cross-section of people in our denomination, including very outspoken people on both sides of the issue. After four years of work, prayer, study, and research, they ended up with a unanimous recommendation to support this compromise. I cannot think of a unanimous recommendation dealing with such an emotional issue ever, and that kind of support and deliberation means a great deal to me.

2)       Once the national decision was passed, each Presbytery needed to decide how to apply it. The committee that worked on that in the Atlanta Presbytery also represented a similar cross-section. They, too, presented a unanimous recommendation to our Presbytery. That also says a lot to me.

3)       Our denomination, like our nation, is divided on this issue. General Assembly votes have been 51%-49%, and tension has grown nationally around this issue. I think the compromise is a brilliant way to hold together a very broad range of perspectives and to do so in faithful tension. I deeply love the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and I think its diversity is part of its core strength.

The more I thought about it, though, I realized that I needed to be more honest with myself as well as with the Presbytery. Here, in essence, is what I said:

I polled our Session, and we were divided. So I write this not on their behalf, but only on my own. But as they spoke honestly with me about it, many of them were torn even as they held strong opinions. I began to see that reflected in my own opinion. I am, to be honest, torn on issues of human sexuality. If forced to a place of an either/or vote, I’ll almost always go with a theology that reinforces the open, inclusive embrace of Christ. But the torn-ness in my Session, and the torn-ness in my denomination, I feel very heavily within me.

And so, the compromise that was reached holds this conversation in tension for a while. And for me, that is a freeing moment, because it gives me the space to live within this tension as I continue to wonder about what it means to me.

The rest of the debate at Presbytery was interesting. Those opposed were so largely for constitutional reasons; those in favor were so largely for reasons of compromise. And when the vote took place, it was the first time I can remember that we voted on something related to sexuality that didn’t require counting those votes. The motion passed by a clear majority. The message to me is that it’s time to move forward with more pressing issues in the church, both local and national.

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This is taken from the 30th Anniversary celebration of AMIS (Atlanta Ministry with International Students) this evening.

It was fifteen years ago that I walked into Fahed Abu-Akel’s office at First Presbyterian Church. I was simply in the neighborhood and stopping by to say hello. On a whim, he asked me, “How would you like to go on a trip to the Holy Land?” Being a recent college graduate with no particular job responsibilities tying me down, and always up for an adventure, I said, “Sure.” It was a PC(USA) young adult trip to Ramallah. For three weeks we shared our lives with Palestinian youth at the Friends’ School there, clearing brush and playing basketball. It was the tail-end of the first Intifada or uprising, and we experienced the realities of life under Occupation first hand in ways that forever changed each one of us.

It was in 2000 that Elizabeth and I returned to Palestine, this time sent by the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta and by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) as mission workers to a little majority Christian village in the northern West Bank called Zababdeh. We were sent to work with the Christian community as teachers and helpers, primarily with the large Roman Catholic Church and school. We arrived there in August, but before we had even purchased our plane tickets, Fahed had gone there during a trip back home to meet with Father Louis, the priest, to prepare our way.

If you have traveled to the Holy Land, you may have a picture in your mind of our little village. But even if you have been, and especially if you haven’t, I invite you to journey with me to this place that taught me the true spiritual meaning of hospitality that is at the heart of what AMIS represents.

Let us begin our visit in the Galilee, where Elizabeth and I spent precious time with Fahed’s extended family: his sister and brother-in-law, his nieces and nephews in Kufr Yasif, who welcomed us into their homes as though we ourselves were part of the Abu-Akel clan. They fed us to overflowing and gave us extensive tours of the whole region, taking us up to the border with Lebanon and the seaside cliffs of Acre. It was in Palestine and Israel that we saw and experienced first-hand what those ancient visitors to Abraham under the oaks of Mamre must have known: strangers for whom it was nothing unusual to slaughter the fatted calf and throw a feast at a moment’s notice. Hospitality is second-nature to the peoples of the Middle East. It is imprinted on Fahed’s DNA, and shapes everything that AMIS represents.

A short-distance to the Southeast of Fahed’s home town lies our village of Zababdeh. Our apartment building was on the edge of the village, overlooking pastures waiting for the winter rains. In order to get anywhere in town from there, we had to walk the dusty, crammed streets past Jadallah’s house. Jadallah was every bit the Palestinian villager, with his white head scarf protecting his head from the sun. His hands showed the work of digging soil and tending olive trees to raise his 12 children. At 5:00 in the morning, he would begin his day sitting on the front stoop, inviting anyone and everyone to sit a while and have a cup of coffee with him. Every time we walked by. “Tfaddalu! Sit down! Have some coffee! Where’s the fire? Slow down!” And it wasn’t just us – it was anyone. Pedestrians, cars slowing down for the speed bump…Even if I had stopped by a few hours earlier on the way into town, he would still invite me to sit on my way home. “Where are you going? There’s a fresh pot on!”

I learned more Arabic from Jadallah that first year than from anyone else. He was a member of the Greek Orthodox Church in town, and was exceedingly patient with my slow pace of learning. He would simply tell me stories from the Bible. I would catch every tenth word – Jesus, Peter, the Samaritan woman, the lepers – and slowly I began to fill in the gaps.

But there was one thing that troubled Jadallah: Elizabeth and I didn’t have any children. That Western concept of “waiting” wasn’t even on the radar screen in a small Palestinian village. And as the father of twelve himself, he figured there must be something wrong. “What’s the matter with you? Where’s the baby? Yella, jeeb baby! Get to it!” As we talked about it, he suddenly got very quiet, though his lips continued to move in prayer. He crossed himself as he finished. Then came these words of advice: “I’m writing a prayer for you on this piece of paper. You keep it under Elizabeth’s pillow, and in nine months, you’ll be parents.”

There was something intriguing in that moment, that simplicity of trust in the power of prayer and of God’s work in the world. And yet, I also wanted to say to him that there was a need for wisdom in the kind of prayers we might choose. The verse of Scripture that came to me was from Matthew’s gospel, where Christ encourages the disciples to be “as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.” In other words, trust in the power of God, but don’t tempt the Spirit.

The problem was that I didn’t have the Arabic vocabulary to share that thought with him. What I had learned through experience was to get as close as possible and then let the other person fill in the linguistic gaps. So I took my best shot: “As Jesus says in the Bible, ‘You must be as clever as a really big worm and as simple as a pigeon.’”

Jadallah looked at me with a mixture of pity and confusion. I’m sure he wondered what translation of the Bible these Presbyterians used. And after a few moments, he said, “Take the paper.”

We lived in Zababdeh for three and a half years, and our ministry expanded to minister alongside the Protestant, Orthodox, and Catholic communities. The school where we taught was a place of great diversity, with Christian and Muslim students and Christian and Muslim teachers side by side. Our lives were forever changed; our understanding of the world forever broadened.

And yet, those moments sitting on the front stoop with Jadallah became almost a home base, a place for me to return periodically and reflect on the journey I had taken. He was the Greek chorus in the drama that unfolded for us every day.

One evening we stopped by. It was cold, and rather than sitting on the step, we went inside. There was also a family whom we didn’t know that was visiting: a man, two women, and a small child. They were from a nearby village, and we could tell by the way the women wore their headscarves that they were Muslims. The father had worked with Jadallah and had become friends. There was something odd about their visit: they were over in a corner, away from the rest of us. But we had been there long enough to know that not fully understanding the customs and culture was just going to be part of our reality, so we didn’t think much of it.

As we talked through the evening and shared sweets and conversation, Jadallah got up and walked over to the family and stood with his eyes closed and his arms outstretched. His lips moved silently in prayer as they had done for me on the front step a months before. And then, he not only made the sign of the cross on himself, he also gave the sign of the cross as a blessing for this family. This happened several times, after which the family said their thank yous and farewells and left.

The child was sick, we learned. The doctors were running test after test, and the family was distressed. And though they were Muslim and Jadallah was a Christian, they knew that he was a deeply devout man. They had brought the child to him so that he would pray for them and strengthen them and that their child would be healed.

That image is seared in my memory: an elderly Palestinian Christian farmer in white headscarf standing to make the sign of the cross over a Muslim family. It spoke to me volumes about the nature of Palestinian society, the crossroads of interfaith conversation, the interplay of friendship and culture, and yes, even about the nature of that which we celebrate tonight, hospitality.

So let’s gather back after our brief trip halfway around the world. And let us pull out a map. On this map is our geography of hospitality. Let’s read the guidebook as it describes the character of several of the regions represented here. And then, as we listen to the images, let’s see what sounds most like where we might find a ministry like AMIS. Let’s also see where it is that feels most like home to us. And let us also make an itinerary of the other regions we’d like to visit some day.

There is one region in this geography full of ambassadors. The inhabitants are struck by the possibility that the world’s problems can be attributed, in some measure, to the fact that people assume things about one another. This could be AMIS’ home, through the unique opportunities that bring people halfway around the world to sit at one table. These ambassadors aren’t always pleased by how their region is seen abroad, whether that’s through exported politics or entertainment. Simply put, they want the chance to represent themselves.

The one common thread of conversations throughout the Middle East was one simple plea: “Tell your friends in America what you have seen, that we are not the terrorists they see on TV, that we have dreams and hopes like them, that we love our children, that we are proud of our heritage.” In October, Elizabeth and I had the chance to travel to Iran. It was a joint trip between Peachtree Presbyterian and Oglethorpe Presbyterian. And every single conversation we had with ordinary Iranians ended with the notion that the people of our two nations can work things out; it’s our leaders who stand in the way.

So in this region, hospitality is a step toward tearing down the boundaries that separate in the hopes that a better future and a common humanity might win out.

Then there’s this other region in our geography where the inhabitants are evangelists. AMIS is a Christian ministry, after all, founded and supported and funded by churches and individuals throughout Atlanta. Church members are the ones who host. In this evangelistic region, their main desire is to share this faith which gives meaning and purpose to their lives. There is the hospitable sense of welcome, but behind it is the hope that that they might be able to proselytize, to communicate that peace they know through living out this faith.

It is a common saying in the U.S. that there are two things that you don’t talk about: politics or religion. We took this assumption with us to the Middle East, but soon learned that you don’t talk about much other than politics or religion. Many of my close friends were Muslim, and they took every opportunity to both ask me questions about Christianity and its doctrines and to share with me the beauty and elegance and encouragement they received from the Qur’an and from Islam.

So in this region, hospitality is a way to share good news and to communicate its beauty to those who enter in hopes that the community of faith might grow and people might find meaning.

And then there’s this third region in our geography whose inhabitants are students. They recognize that they have so much more learn than they have to teach. AMIS could very much base itself here, an outreach to students bringing their wisdom here where they end up being both student and teacher. So the citizens of this region welcome travelers in order to learn, whether it’s their philosophy or religion or worldview or culture. They’ve also been at it long enough to know that that first their own preconceptions need to be addressed and overcome. Religious differences, in this region, are considered to be simply part of the fabric of God’s creation. All of them have something to teach about the nature of God and of the world. Religions are broken pieces of one great big whole, pieces of a shattered mirror which give some reflection on God’s character, but only dimly so.

The conversations I’ve had halfway around the world about my society and religion, about race and violence and sexuality and entertainment and politics and religion have not only given me a chance to share my experiences and perspectives, but also to be shaped by those with whom I come in contact. Their, and my, assumptions have been challenged. Their, and my, horizons have widened.

So in this region, hospitality is a way to find that common ground of humanity on which all stand, regardless of perceptions, so that folks might together learn from each other and thus grow in understanding of the world and of things of ultimate import.

Can we see these regions in our mind? Can we see AMIS and its hospitality somewhere in the midst of it all? And where is home for you? Where do you want to travel next?
Before we leave this map, though, there’s one little spot that we have overlooked. It’s a bit like Andorra or Lichtenstein or Monaco, sandwiched in between these other regions. And sitting where it does, it bears some of the character of the places it borders, affecting its sights and sounds, its worldview and approach. It’s not a very big place, more of a weigh-station. Its inhabitants have no region to call their own, and have chosen to stake their claim right here.

Hospitality takes a different shape here. It has character in common with the region of ambassadors. The practice of welcome is about giving others a chance to see who they are, so that they might break down barriers and get to know one another first and foremost as beings created in the image of God, children of Adam, all of us. But, they say, that’s not the main reason we’re here. It’s a side effect, and an important one. But that’s neither its goal nor its origin.

It also has character in common with the region of evangelists, perhaps most clearly so. In their hospitality, they share the love and grace of Christ with whomever they come in contact. But they are also very clear that this welcome is unconditional. It is unapologetic, but it is never manipulative. They don’t do hospitality simply for the sake of luring others into the community of faith. Instead, it is simply part of their DNA.

It’s a tough place for us residents of this nation to be, as unaware as we tend to be of the power we wield. Here, hospitality comes out of its poverty and thus, paradoxically, its generosity. They remind us how at odds our power is with the message of humility and service and, yes, even weakness that lies at the heart of the Christian gospel. To evangelize here means first shedding any sense of triumph one might get at playing the numbers game.

And this place also has character in common with the region of the students. Here they meet and learn from the travelers that past through. They meet them where they are and know that they others can shape them as much, if not more, than they can shape others. But they do so celebrating their diversity, not seeking homogeneity. They are who they are, unapologetically so. They are gifted by God, sharing those gifts with those with whom they come in contact, that their lives might be blessed as a result.

I invite you to walk the streets of this little border land. As we do, we will hear a voice calling to us: “Tfaddalu! Sit down!” It sits at the edge of the crowded streets. The invitation meets people wherever they might be in their journeys, patiently listening and sharing. It offers the cup of fellowship unconditionally. It prays unabashedly in its own way for the travelers and their strength. And it simply trusts that the world will be forever changed.

Will you join me on this front stoop? Do we have time to sit for a while?

May God bless AMIS for the next thirty years, and may we continue to welcome others with the open arms with which God has welcomed us.

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I just got back from the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, NC, where I spent the weekend with three colleagues. Each of us had our own art we learned – two in quilting, one in blacksmithing, and me in printmaking. I took some of my favorite photos through the years and transferred them to solarplates for printing, and I loved the results. I’ll try and post those soon.

Last year we received a grant from the Lilly Foundation to form a group rooted in service, study, and sabbath. The crux of our project is to look at the creative arts – whether that be musical, visual, or written – and to spend time together for refreshment and exploration. This weekend was part of that. In a way, it’s our desire to connect more deeply with the God of creation and the Spirit who continually re-creates us, shapes us, and calls us to serve the church with imagination and creativity. In some ways, there is something in this act of creating which moves us a breath closer to that divine, creating character.

One of our group noted that the artistic process has three movements: inspiration, creation, and exhibition. We have the idea and we give it form. But the piece doesn’t really exist until someone else sees it and interacts with it. Could the same be true for God’s work of creation? Is that part of the reason we need community with one another, that we creatures need to see and know one another to become fully created beings?

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(acronyms abound…)

Tonight I attended a Bible Jam Session at the Living Room, a new ministry developing in West Midtown. This movable feast, which has met on rooftops and in restaurants, literally met in a Living Room last night. There were twenty of us from various walks of life, though many are in the ministry or academy. The music was a combination of songs by some of my favorites, like Sufjan Stevens and Derek Webb, plus a few powerful, meditative originals.

The discussion was on the story of Jesus’ washing the disciples’ feet, and this little nugget emerged for me: what would it look like if congregations held the practice of footwashing in the same esteem as we do communion? How would that begin to shape our life together, this intimate knowledge of each other’s callouses, warts, hangnails, bunions? Would we be willing to let ourselves be served in such a way?

At the heart of that gospel story is that God loves us so dearly that God wants to serve us. Could any of us stand the intensity of that love up close?

I find myself drawn to these intimate gatherings, but not fully. I am still deeply in love with the ritual and shape of a more traditional faith community. So for now, I am both at home and a stranger in both worlds.

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