Level Church

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level ground

In 587 BC, the city of Jerusalem – the city which God himself had founded, in which the temple of the one true God of Israel was located – was overrun by the Babylonian army.

The prophet Isaiah was busy, to say the least, in the run-up to this great failure. The first thirty-nine chapters of the book bearing his name detail his attempts to call the people of Judah back into relationship with God. He wrote about the idolatry that brought God such displeasure. He wrote about God’s anger at the mistreatment of the poor and the vulnerable. He held out the option of repentance: if we turn and seek God’s face, this looming disaster need not befall us.

No one listened. The city was taken. God’s temple was set on fire, and all of its treasures were carried away. Read more

Quasidaily Gazette: 08.22.15

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From Suzannah Paul, on wanting to be made well:

Many Christians are so accustomed to seeing ourselves as the healthy bringers of a gospel of wellness to a sin-sick world, but we’re just as sick as anyone. (And we’re not the doctor in this metaphor, either, particularly when our actions and neglect contribute to making our neighbors sick!) We trust a pallid gospel of go-to-heaven-when-you-die, but the “personal” Savior Christians claim inaugurates systemic, all-things-made-new, salvific work among and within our communities here and now. We are saved together for greater works than these.

From David Garber, on Isaiah 40:

God does not come to the people declaring a conviction or carrying out judgment. Instead, God, through the prophet, declares that today is the day for comfort. The sentence that God decreed upon the people of Judah has expired. In fact, the people of Judah have paid twice what they deserve for their previous errors (40:2). God acknowledges here that the mandated punishment outweighs the crime.

While we might look at that confession and question God’s fairness, this probably came as a word of hope to the exiles. There is a sense of vindication in God’s confession, and with that vindication, comes the confidence in a God who holds the power to make things right.

From Scott McDowell, on improv:

One of the basic tenets of improv comedy is known as “Yes, and…” It’s a protocol that allows for anything to happen, and it goes like this: No matter what your fellow actors present to you, instead of negating it, belittling it, or disagreeing with it, your job is to say, “Yes, and…”  Accept the scenario as it’s presented to you (regardless of where you wanted it to go), and then to add to it. Volley back with something your fellow players can respond to.

From Steve Graves, on silence:

I’ve found silence to be not just a “thing” I experience but a way of life I try to cultivate. To get outside the craziness of the everyday, I routinely create opportunities for space. When I take time in the river, away from my anxious schedule, to-do list, and ringing phone, I find myself exposed—face to face with my honest thoughts, fears, and dreams.

From Chuck Fager, on expulsions in North Carolina Yearly Meeting:

On Thursday August 20, 2015, the Executive Committee of North Carolina Yearly Meeting (FUM) met and resolved to “release” (i.e., expel) three monthly meetings, effective immediately: New Garden Meeting in Greensboro; Holly Spring Meeting, in Ramseur; and Poplar Ridge Meeting, in Trinity. […] “This is a terrible precedent,” one well-informed member said to me. “If it stands it will leave us all at the mercy of whoever is on the Executive Committee at any particular time. They expelled those three meeting this time. It could be mine or yours next.”

Quasidaily Gazette: 08.20.15

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From Seth Haines, on anxiety:

I want my children to grow into authenticity, truth, and the tenderest expressions of manliness. And so, I’m training them to know their anxieties, to speak them to the wind, to pray about them, to accept them as part of their humanity. I think it’s only fair.

From Heather Caliri, on being an editor:

Editing is coming alongside someone who is trying to create something, and helping them. It is a great metaphor for parenting, for being a good spouse, for being a mentor, and being a good friend. And just as I struggle to be all of those things, I struggle with editing.

From Lutheran Julia, on story ownership:

She gripped my hand in the doorway  of the church, following the Good Friday service, “I’ve never really liked Jews.”

I had just finished decrying present-day harassment of Jews in the Ukraine and noted that we are kidding ourselves if we thought we would treat Jesus better now than he was treated then. We prayed. We grieved. I again felt the chasm between the religion of my heart (Christianity) and the religion of my blood and my ancestors (Judaism). Always the tension between betrayal and the realities for anyone of Jewish ancestry or culture, here I was, being told by a parishioner I love deeply something that amounted to, “I’ve never cared for an entire race of people [to which you belong through your mother and her parents and your grandparents].”

From Allie Gross, on my adopted state’s attempt to break the law in order to kill people for breaking the law:

The state of Ohio planned to illegally import sodium thiopental, a drug used for executions, according to a Food and Drug Administration letter obtained by BuzzFeed through a Freedom of Information Act request.

From John Pavlovitz, on the Bible:

I wish more Christians would admit that the Bible, at its very best, at it’s most perfect and inspired, is just a collection of words about the ocean.

God is the ocean.


Quasidaily Gazette: 08.19.15

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From Peggy Senger Morrison, on naming rejection honestly:

Sometimes they curse at me. Sometimes they cry. They almost always argue their side. Sometimes they quote our grandest, highest aspirational statements back at me. Sometimes they own their part – sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they just walk away.  But they never thank me.  They don’t feel released to better fitting opportunities.  They feel rejected. Because we have rejected their membership in our community based on their behavior.  I don’t expect them to like me, whatever our relationship was before. Because I have divorced them from the community. They do not go out into the world and say nice things about me or the program. Most of them have more experience with rejection than I do, but they hurt.

From John Pattinson, on hard conversations:

It doesn’t have to be this way. We don’t have to form strategic alliances or send veiled messages. We don’t even have to dis-member the Body of Christ. We can create a culture of rich dialogue, even around our disagreements. We can cultivate community conversations marked by gracious space and spacious grace.

From Stephen Davison, on spiritual authority:

Somewhere in the confusing flurry of blog posts and Facebook posts around this event, I think I read that some meetings threatened to leave the yearly meeting if it did not dissociate itself from West Hills.

This is one of the signature forms of passive aggression among Friends, to hold a meeting hostage to your opinions or feelings. “If you do [x], then I’ll do [y].” Or, “If you don’t do [x] . . . “

When a Friend or a meeting acts this way, they are essentially pitching over the side their submission to the work of the Holy Spirit in the meeting, believing that they already know what God wants the meeting to do.

From David Lose, on John 6:56-59:

Once again, it is as easier for me to identify with the crowds who misunderstand and question Jesus than with Jesus himself. Because what Jesus has been saying, and what we have heard these past four weeks, is indeed hard to listen to and hard to understand. That Jesus is the bread of life? That he provides the only food which truly nourishes? That he gives us his own self, even his own flesh and blood, to sustain us on our journey? These are hard words, hard to hear, hard to comprehend, hard to believe.

From Susan Howell, on gender equality

“Sure, all people are equal, but people living in the Midwest are supposed to lead those in other regions of the US.” […] Is it possible to truly believe statements that promise equality, but offer limitations and qualifications to that statement? Of course not. And as a woman, I don’t buy this “equal but” statement, either.

From Steve Garnaas-Holmes, a prayer embroidering on the Armor of God passage in Ephesians 6:

God, give me grace
to allow you to be my only defense…

From Mallory Ortberg, rewriting CS Lewis:

“We don’t have to do anything,” Aslan reminded her. “Mr. Tumnus’ troubles sound like a Mr. Tumnus problem.”

Lucy helped herself to another slice of cake instead of chasing after a pantsless man-goat who had failed to guard his own self-interest, and was all the happier for it.

RCL blogging: Temples, Birds, and Bread

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Revised Common Lectionary readings: 1 Kings 8:1-43, Psalm 84, Ephesians 6:10-20, John 6:56-69.

Tuesday thoughts:

1. Solomon, at the dedication of the temple, asks God to hear his prayer, and to hear Israel’s prayer. That’s all to be expected. But then: Solomon asks God to answer the prayer of the foreigner. If we are the new temple, how do we pray this part of the prayer of dedication?

2. I am entranced by the image in Psalm 84:3 of the sparrow finding her home in the temple. It could be read from the sparrow’s perspective – I am small and vulnerable, and yet there is a safe place in the temple for me. Or, it could be read from the perspective of a worshiping person – I rejoice that the temple of my God is open even to sparrows.

3. Ephesians 6:12 reminds us that our fight is not against other people, and rest of the passage then describes a set of armor that cannot be used offensively. Other people are not the enemy. Stop. Fighting. Other. People. (To be repeated ad infinitum or until I finally get it.)

4. Jesus says, Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. The disciples in John say that this teaching is hard- what makes it hard? Am I as aware of the offensiveness of this idea as the disciples were, and am I equally aware than I have nowhere to turn but Christ?

Simple Church

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They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

-from Acts 2

When the day of Pentecost came, Jesus’ followers were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

I could tell the story with more elaboration, but this is a sermon on simplicity – a sermon on simple church – so that would be out of place. Let me, instead, summarize the rest of the second chapter of Acts in three points: Read more

Connected Church

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Dear Friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God…

-from 1 John 4

(Sermon given at the annual church picnic at Quaker Knoll.)

Last week, we talked about integrity, about the Quaker call to live lives of wholeness and honesty. Rather than looking at our personal integrity, though, we looked instead at what it means to be a community of integrity. We looked at examples of communities discerning God’s call together and responding faithfully, without backtracking when the road got rough.

This week, I want to apply the same corporate lens to our testimony of community. It’s a little awkward to talk about being a community of community, though, so let’s talk instead about be a community of communion. Let’s talk about being a connected church. Read more

Honest Church

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honest church

One thing I ask from the Lordthis only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.

-from Psalm 27

Before I really get started on this sermon about integrity, let me note two things:

1. We can’t talk about the testimony of integrity without reference to Jesus’ command that we simply say yes or no, rather than taking oaths to somehow prove that we are telling the truth.

2. It has come to my attention that the integrity of my personal yes has come into question, with regard to my professed willingness to eat my Sunday lunch at Taco Bell with whomever would like to join with me in sharing terrible knock-off Mexican food and discussing the topic of the sermon. So, let me be clear: I am eating lunch today at Taco Bell. I’ll be heading there after today’s session of Meeting for Business. If you’d like to talk about integrity, please come and join me. The food will be mediocre, but the conversation may be excellent. Read more