Wednesday, October 16, 2013

What'cha Reading: Fixing the Church

What Rev. Trish is reading this morning...
I'm Done Fixing the Church: Turning the Future Over to God

By Billy Doidge Kilgore

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

1 John 21: Reconciliation

This past Sunday, was Reconciliation Sunday within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  I used the following video to introduce the topic, to visually remind us why we needed to continue to do the hard work of reconciliation, and to engage the text in a new way.  Several folks have requested a copy of the sermon (thus, the post here)....but my guess is, it wasn't the sermon that moved them, but the Word of God, the video that brought to light our collective perceptions, and the Holy Spirit. 

It was a powerful day of worship...and I give thanks, that I could be part of it, in some small way.

The video:

The scripture that was used:

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but when we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

And the sermon:

For a lot of folks, Reconciliation Sunday brings about a lot of eye rolling and questions as to whether or not talking about race relations is really necessary in this day and age. Most folks don’t mean that in a bad way…it’s just, especially for those who grew up in the 50s and 60s, there’s a sense that we’ve done the “race thing” and we’ve made our reparations. Everything’s equal and right. And even though we know the statistics aren’t perfect…it’s better than it was….and we wonder if maybe we should just let it go. Doesn’t talking about race, discrimination, and reconciliation, just bring up the bad stuff?

Well, yes. Yes to all of it. Yes, it’s better than it was. Yes, we’ve made strides in equality (praise be to God!). And yes, sometimes talking about race and acknowledging discrimination and praying for reconciliation does bring up the bad stuff. Yes. But when we quit talking about it…when we quit acknowledging the continued journey of equality and reconciliation…we rob the story of its fullness.  

I shared a video in the Youth Sunday School class this morning, about a woman by the name of Chimamanda Adichie, an African storyteller and author from Nigeria. In the video, she tells of growing up as a child, reading British and American books. An early reader, she devoured these books about blond hair, blue eyed heroines who frolicked in the snow, while eating apples. When she began to write her own stories…at 7 or 8, in pencil, illustrated with crayon drawings…her heroines too, where blond hair, blue eyed, and talking about the weather while eating apples.

It didn’t occur to her, that a heroine in a book, could be anything other than that particular character, because that was the only character she had known…that is, until she was introduced to heroines written by African authors…who (and I quote), “had skin the color of chocolate and kinky, untamable hair that struggled to get into a ponytail…who ate mango, and frolicked in the sun.” It wasn’t until she was introduced to a new story, that she was able to have a fuller picture of who she was, of what literature could include, and how she might be part of that: a fuller, richer, more kingdom-like story.

But even more poignant for me, was her recount of another story. Chimamanda was raised in a typical, middle class family, and as is the norm in middle-class Nigeria, they had a house servant. The only thing her mother ever told her about their “house boy” was that he was poor. So poor, that her mother would send him home on holidays with yams and rice, old clothes and blankets. And  Chimamanda could only pity him. Because that’s where the story ended. With abject poverty.  

But one day, her family went to deliver some goods to the house boys family and when they were invited in, the house boys mother showed them a beautiful basket – one of the most beautiful she had ever seen – that he had woven. The poor house boy, was an artist. A creator. And she hadn’t known that, because those around her…those in power…and decided that his story ended -- not with creativity or hobbies or joy or even life outside of being a house boy -- but, with poverty.

That story struck me, because I do that, every day. I end people’s story. When someone comes into the church office, dressed in a suit and tie…I assume that person is here to sell me something. I start to form their story, before they even sit down. They’re pushy and fake and hard and I feel disdain rising up in me, as soon as their shiny shoes cross the threshold. And I end their story.

Or when one who is dressed in less than appealing clothes and a body odor that greets me at the door…I assume, before they even extend their hand out of formal obligation, that they need something from me. And as they tell their tragic story…for the part of their story that they share, it is always tragic, because at some point, we taught people that it had better be…when they tell their tragic story,I feel an odd mixture of pity, exasperation, and distrust. And I end their story. 

Or when I struggle to communicate with someone who doesn’t speak English and that thought slips into my mind, “I wonder where they’re from,” because surely they aren’t from around here and must be from Mexico City or Mumbai or Bangkok and I wonder how they got here. And I begin to make assumptions…I assume they must be here illegally right (even though only about 20% of all first generation immigrants are undocumented), I begin to assume they must be on government assistance (because that’s what I’m told), and I assume they must be lonely or poor or tired or dangerous or lazy…

And just like the characters in our video…I end their story with flashes of what I’ve been taught by television shows and radio hosts and my grandparents and my friends and the always tragic news that I read in the newspaper. I end their story with assumptions of who a person is, before I even know their name. I end their story, even when I know there must be more.  

And THAT is why we need to continue to talk about race and reconciliation.

Chimamanda continues to tell a story about going to university. Her roommate was an American…and she talks about their first encounter, and how her new roommate was shocked that she spoke English (despite that fact that English is the official language of Nigeria)…she talks about how her roommate assumed that she wouldn’t know how to use a stove…and when asked to hear some tribal music, her roommate was disappointed when she produced a recording of Mariah Carey.  

And Chimamanda says this, “What struck me was, she had felt sorry for me, before she even met me. She had a default position toward me, as an African…a patronizing, well meaning pity. My roommate had a single story of Africa…a single story of catastrophe…there was no possibility of being similar to her, no possibility of feelings being more complex than pity, no possibility of us, as humans, being equals.”

Chimamanda continues, saying, that if she hadn’t grown up in Africa, she too, may have assumed that Africa was little more than a beautiful land with majestic animals and incomprehensible people, fighting wars, dying of aids, and waiting to be saved by a kind white foreigner. Because that is the single story of Africa…that is the end of the story. And it is the story that most of us, have known our whole lives.  

People become a single story, when you show one image, over and over again. So that the single story of those from Costa Rica or Venezuela or Porta Rico is one of undocumentation and manual labor and government assistance and old women wrapped in blankets, praying the rosary.  

The single story of those with chocolate brown and dark brown and black skin becomes one of gangs and guns and enemies and handouts and neighborhoods harboring criminals.  

Or the single story becomes one of terrorism and subjugation of women or discount cigarette stores and taxi drivers. The single story becomes one of machismo and tourism, diabetes and alcoholism… need I go on? We know how the stories end.  

We know how they end, because that’s the only ending we see on the news and when we watch "Law and Order" and from our politicians and in our history books and our blogs and twitter and facebook.

But what if I told you, that the single story that would be told about you, would be one of consumerism and indulgence and radical Christianity. What if the end of your story was your hatred for gays, lesbians, transgendered peoples and bisexuals. What if your story was only one of war and the authority to convict without just cause. Or to burn crosses in another’s yard. Or even white picket fences and stay at home moms who greet their husbands with a cocktail in hand. I suspect you would be aghast. Heartbroken. You would want others to hear the other side of your story. And maybe, if you heard that other, ended story enough…that story of consumerism and hatred and pleated dresses…you might begin to believe it yourselves. You might begin to believe that you were that story.  

But what if my story and the story of Maria, who stopped by the office on Friday to wait for a cab, had more similarities than differences. What if, when we started talking…her in broken English and me trying so hard to remember my 9th grade Spanish…what if we found that we both loved dogs and ice cream and that Fall was our favorite time of year.  

What if we both talked about how we’re not sure what we think about Syria, other than pain for life lost, when with wrinkled brows, we wonder if American intervention was the right thing. Or that it scares us when we hear about young people dying of heart attacks and we both smirk about the fact that maybe we shouldn’t love ice cream as much as we do, because talking about death, when it’s so close to you, is uncomfortable no matter what color your skin is.

I don’t even know Maria’s last name…but I know her story is more than what I’ve been told…it’s more than immigration or poverty or praying the rosary. And vice versa.

We’re told over and over again in the Bible, that love has the last word. We are commanded to love…even when it’s not easy. We’re told that love supersedes law and that love is Godly. We’re encouraged to love in ways that are radical…meaning, we’re to love in ways that expand the story…and we’re told that we’re to do this, because such love was offered first, to us. But I know that’s hard…

We hear this story…this story of Love, once, maybe twice a week…maybe even everyday for 15 minutes during our morning coffee or meditation time if we’re committed to that sort of thing...but we hear a different story…a story that seems to be the antithesis of love….a story that is shrouded with suspicion and anxiety and hatred and judgment and dishonesty…24 hours a day.

But we know that the story of love, matters. We know that the story of love writes new endings. Reconciles one to another. Brings about new change, new hope, new life. So we must. We must live as if we believe it. Live as those who love, first. Not because it’s a good idea. Or it might be helpful. Or maybe something in our world might change. Though all of those things would be true. But because Jesus Christ has demanded it of us. Because he believed in the inbreaking of the Spirit of Love. And if Jesus believed that love mattered…that hearing the end of the story, was as valuable as the beginning…then I think we ought to listen to that word, head that word, and live that word. Thanks be to God…

May peace and reconciliation be made known,


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Hope: M.O.M.

This article will be published in the October newsletter, but because this is a new ministry and I think, one we should be excited about, I figured it wouldn't hurt to publish it here too:

During the months of April and May, 9-13 people from across the life of the congregation, gathered together each Wednesday night to share fellowship and worship, read the Bible, and discern three main things: what Cherokee’s past had taught them, what the reality of the present actually looked like, and what a “dream” future might include.  By the end of the discernment study, the consensus among the group, was that Cherokee Christian Church ought to focus their collective energy on ministry with children and those who care for children.  This decision was affirmed by the Elders and the Board, and I was charged with finding a ministry that could be sustained with our limited budget, small membership, and uncertain future.

And by the grace of God and the Spirit of Leading, I met Misty, the Director of MOM.  MOM, is a ministry with and for, single mothers.  MOM is a “…a relationship-based ministry dedicated to the restoration and healing of single-mother families.  Through small groups, personal relationships, regional events, discipleship, and inter-ministry networking, MOM seeks to equip single mothers to walk in healing and wholeness through the deeper understanding of who Jesus Christ is.”  MOM offers fellowship, seminars and continued education, family fun opportunities, accountability, and networking…all framed around the love of Jesus Christ.
Misty and I met several times, wondering and exploring how Cherokee Christian Church might be part of the lives of these single mothers…how we might offer a bit of solace and hope…and how we might be the face of Jesus Christ for these women!!  And as it turned out, MOM needed more space.

Of course, we have that in abundance.  But simply providing space didn’t seem sacrificial, relational, service oriented, or even all that hope-filled.  Especially when I had learned, through our conversation, that 89% of women who go through divorce, “lose” their church.  Or that at least 70% of all disciplinary issues within the middle school, involve children who come from single parent homes.  I also learned that the quality of life for newly separated or divorced women, drops disproportionally when compared to their male counterparts, with 30% of single mothers, living in poverty. 
The Elders and I wondered how we could be a more intentional, active presence in the life of these women.

And so, on the first Saturday of each month (beginning November 2), we will make “sacred space” for 50-75 women, who will gather for fellowship, support, learning, and nurture.  We will prepare a meal/brunch (at no cost to us), we will set up tables, and make an atmosphere of “value” for these women who may not have folks “do” for them, very often.  We will sit at table with them, listen to their story, and support them in prayer (sounds like the work of Christ followers, huh?!).  And when the morning has ended, we will clean up after them (so they don’t have to) and continue to keep them…their prayers, their struggles, and their dreams… in our hearts.
I hope that everyone might find a way to “plug in” to this community ministry, either by cooking or cleaning, setting up, or simply sitting at table with them, and being present to a group that is often overlooked.  If you have more questions and/or a willingness to be part of this exciting and life-giving ministry, please contact me (Rev. Trish) at

What a joy it is, to serve God in life and ministry with you….
Peace, rt

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Tangible: I Have A Dream

Fifty years ago today, one of the most well known speeches in the world, took place.  "I have a dream..." by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr..  Today, preachers quote it, activists live it, children recite it, and a world yearns to know its truth.

And the people dream on...hoping, praying, yearning for a day, when equality will be made known in ways that are tangible and real and life-giving and hope-filled.

If you would like to listen to the speech in its below.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Luke 10: Intentionality

A snippet (granted, a long snippet!) from the sermon preached on August 4:

As they went on their way, Jesus entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work myself? Tell her, then, to help me."

But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her." - Luke 10:38-42

..........Because in that moment…the doing, has become more important than the who, that we’re doing for.  The work has become about the task and appeasement and the "proper thing" …rather than about pleasing God and hearing Jesus’ call and breathing in the Spirit in all that we do.  
It is NOT that Jesus doesn’t want us to work…to do and be the active embodiment of the Divine in the world.  It is, rather, that when we do these things…we do them remembering whose we are and who we are…people of faith, called out by Jesus Christ, to do the work of the Kingdom, here on earth.  That is who we are.  

If the bread is burnt, because we are talking to one of God’s children…that’s okay.  If the roof leaks for one more month, because one of God’s beloved needed grocery’s to feed her family…that’s okay.  If the kitchen is left dirty one night, because those who have found respite in God’s house, were celebrating one year of sobriety…that’s okay.   If the bulletins don’t get done because another was comforted in their grief…that’s okay. 

And on the flip side….
if we bake bread, so that others can eat…that’s good too.  If we fix the roof, so that others can worship comfortably in this place…that’s good too.  If we clean the kitchen, so that we can offer hospitality to the least of these…that’s good too.  If we print bulletins, so that another can lean in closer to God on a Sunday morning…that’s good too. 

It’s when we forget the heart behind what we do, that it becomes meaningless, glorified busyness. 
Sometimes I fear that we are becoming Martha’s.  So focused on the doing…of what comes next for Cherokee Christian Church…that we forget to be church.  We busy ourselves with worry and nervous chatter and hand wringing rather than the prophetic, embracing, table work that we have been called to.  And we start to stand in the doorway and call to Jesus, reprimanding those who don’t work and function and busy, the way we do. 

And somewhere along the line, we forget that Jesus is beckoning to us to do the “better thing.” To forget this – the country club with its “right way” of doing things and its cleanliness and perfectly baked bread – and instead, to give ourselves to Jesus in all its rawness and messiness and expectedness. 

One of the options before us, as a body of Christ, is to sell this building…with all its needs and busyness and bigness…and move to a smaller building…something that will accommodate our small size a little better.  But I’m going to be honest here…if we simply pluck up and land somewhere else… we’ll still fizzle out.  We will.

Unless we can remember that which brought us to this place to begin with – that deep, heart yearning that continually points to Kingdom, to Christ in our midst.  We must recapture the passion of the Spirit.  We must find Jesus and sit at the proverbial feet of the one who is calling.

It doesn’t seem like much really…but it also can seem like everything.  Because it takes a pretty significant shift.  Suddenly, we don’t just “do” church… we “become” church.  We don’t “go” to church…we are church.  We aren’t just Christians on Sunday…but are Christ’s followers everyday.  We don’t just work because we have to…we work because we are called to. 

There is an article written by Rachel Held Evans, that’s being passed around on Facebook, about why the Millenials (that age group of folks born between 1980 and the year 2000) are leaving church.  She talks about how the church gets so busy getting wrapped up in the business of church, that they forget that Jesus isn’t found in the coffee bar or the pastor wearing skinny jeans or the LCD screens.  And she says,
“You can’t hand us a latte and then go about business as usual and expect us to stick around. We’re not leaving the church because we don’t find the cool factor there; we’re leaving the church because we don’t find Jesus there. Like every generation before ours and every generation after, deep down, we long for Jesus.”

We have only to look around on a Sunday morning…and we can probably rightly assume, that this isn’t just a millennial issue. 
There is a world that longs for Jesus…and they won’t tie themselves to custom and they won’t care if the bread is burnt and they probably won’t even notice if the LCD screens are blank….but they WILL notice Jesus and how we treat each other and how we listen to the Spirit and how we move an do and work for God. 
So before we make any moves, sell any buildings, continue to busy ourselves with this…we need to find ways to connect with Jesus.  To leave the busyness behind and be church.  Let us hear Jesus, when he says, “…you are worried and distracted by many things; there is only one thing that matters,” and know all the way down into our toes, that the one thing that Jesus refers to, is him.  The Divine.  The Hope.  The Restoration.  The Promise of New Life.

Let us live as those who hear that word, head that word, and live that word. Let us give our whole selves to God…our service, our work, our prayers, and our stillness…

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Yes: Five Ways To Be Unsatisfied With Your Church

This is so, totally worth the's not even funny.  There is truth here.  And I thank Shane, over at for saying it.

1. Don’t participate, merely consume.
If I had to say the one thing holding the American church back today, it would be a consumeristic culture. We’ve come to expect that the latest technology comes standard in our cars. Our movie theaters should  have wide rows with extra padded seats and that lean way back.
Unfortunately, we think our church should be no different. Just like the movie theater, we come when the production starts, sit in our seats, are entertained, and think we should leave satisfied when it’s over.

When I was a pastor, those most unsatisfied in our body, were those who just showed up on Sunday’s (sometimes). There was little to no participation in small groups, service projects or teaching and serving within the church.

Obviously there are those in most churches who are seekers, or young in the faith that just need to be taken care of for a season, but that should be a temporary state.

2. Criticize your leadership.

I once heard about a couple who didn’t like their pastor because he told stories about his family in the pulpit before beginning his sermons. Quirky? Yeah, kinda. Unbiblical, sinful, illegal, harmful?! Definitely not. We’ve really got understand the difference.

It’s also not fair to compare your pastor to the celebrity pastor on the other side of the country whose book we just read and now believe that every church everywhere should be run like that celebrity pastors church. Remember that celebrity pastor is in a completely different context. He doesn’t know your church, and he also doesn’t come to your home when you have a tragedy or celebrate with you when you have a baby or other joyous life event.

We’re hard on our pastors. Their job is a very public job. One that’s performed in front of an audience (by ‘performed’ & ‘audience’ I just mean that the duties of the job are undertaken in front of a crowd of people). We would do well to remember that our pastors/church leaders are human beings like us, full of quirks and wrestling with sin and struggles just like we do. Instead of seeing our pastors with targets on their backs, we should see them with love and compassion and as people who have dedicated their time to serve the body.

If you have a legitimate concern, approach your leader about it, and don’t talk about the them behind their back. Be kind, be loving.

3.Don’t spend time with your church outside of the church building. 

Most of our churches corporate gatherings serve a great purpose. We worship together and we learn together. But most aren’t very conducive to getting to know each other on a deeper level. This isn’t a failure on the part of our leadership, it’s just the nature of a larger gathering. We need these small group gatherings (not just official ‘small groups’, but parties, coffee dates, men’s/women’s nights, etc.). I’ve found that I learn more about a person over 30 minutes of sharing coffee or a beer, than I did attending liturgy with them for several months.

4. Believe that everything should be about you and for you, all the time.

Not long after Kate and I started attending our current church, they undertook a ‘season of kids’. There was additional time in liturgy given to teaching the children in the church. The kids participated in the service in various ways. Even the sermons were about child-like faith and other themes centered around children.

Kate and I didn’t have children (we now have one on the way if you’re not keeping up), and we were not ourselves children. We had to understand – not everything is about/for us all the time.
That’s not to say that we didn’t get anything from the season of kids, it just wasn’t aimed directly at us, but even that taught us something important, because the church that teaches you that everything is about you, all the time, is preaching a very different message than – lay down your lives for each other.

We were also appreciative to be apart of a church that found value in children and went to great lengths to show it to them.

5. Be unhappy with the fact that it isn’t perfect. 

“There is no perfect church, and if you find one, don’t join it because you’ll ruin it.” I don’t know who first said that, but it’s true. All churches are strong in some areas and weak in others. Hopefully churches are always working on those weaknesses, but if we can’t settle for anything less than perfection, then we’re in real trouble.

In his book “Under the Unpredictable Tree,” Eugene Peterson helps pastors be content in the church they are in. Maybe there needs to be a version for church members. In the book Peterson coined the term “Ecclesiastical Pornography.” That is the perfect term to describe the problem that so many people have. We look at the church down the street, or the church in town that’s “doing really well,” or the celebrity pastor’s church and think – “they have it all together” or “they’re doing church right.”
Many people start attending those churches and after the honeymoon period wears off, they find that church has weaknesses of its own. Sadly many people go through life thinking the perfect church is just around the corner, or as many young evangelicals do, they decide that they don’t need church at all and embark on solo-Christianity.

Church is like marriage in a lot of ways. In the beginning it’s fun, and exciting, but eventually the honeymoon comes to an end and it’s work, real work, but we find that the work is rewarding and worthwhile, and it’s work that God meant for us to be doing.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Grace: A Word from Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins

A letter of hope... and explanation... concerning the General Assembly resolution (or, "sense of the Assembly") GA  1327, from our General Minister and President, The Reverend Dr. Sharon Watkins.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ -
Grace and peace to you in the name of the living Christ who lives and moves among us, who calls us to the Table, then sends us forth to serve.
I write to share a word with all Disciples congregations following an important vote at the 2013 Orlando General Assembly.
In these days following assembly,my heart is prayerful; my spirit hopeful; and my love for our church is strong. Surely, God has given Disciples a blessing and a mission for wholeness,
welcoming all to the Lord's Table of reconciliation and love.
That blessing and mission for Disciples begins in a congregation. In congregations we come forward and make or reaffirm our confession of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. There we are baptized, our babies are dedicated, we are married and our parents buried. Our faith is nurtured and sometimes challenged in a beloved community of other Disciples we know and love.
We extend the blessing as we join hands with other Disciples congregations to share God's love in our communities and around the world. We offer words and prayers of comfort and challenge, as well as hands-on help, to our neighbor in times of need. In many diverse ways, we learn the story of Jesus and invite others to walk in his love.
The recent vote to "adopt" Resolution GA1327, Becoming a People of Grace and Welcome to All, has significance for the Church, but it is important to recognize the nature of that significance.
The intent of the resolution is to urge Disciples to welcome into our congregations and other ministries all who seek Christ. It serves as a reminder that among Disciples we do not bar the church door or fence the table from those who desire the embrace of God's love.

Here is what this "Sense of the Assembly" resolution is not:
  • It is not a statement of "unwelcome" for Disciples who did not support the resolution. All who confess faith in Jesus Christ are welcome. All means all.
  •  It is not a policy change. The congregation where you worship and serve will not be requested to establish (or change) a policy on gay or lesbian persons in the life of the Church. The region where your congregation is affiliated is not required to change its policies on ordination. Your pastor is not required to bless same-gender marriages.
  • It is not a theological mandate. It does not say that we have the same biblical understanding of sexual orientation or gender identity. Disciples, prayerfully and with biblical study and other research, come to their own understanding on these matters.
This resolution does, however, carry symbolic importance in the life of our Church. It reminds us that our baptism into the living Christ continues to be our common ground
It points out that within the broad membership of Disciples, among the many congregations in covenant with each other, there have always been gay and straight, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender persons who participate fully in the life and leadership of the church.It urges us to treat each other with gospel hospitality as we seek to understand each other better.
My deepest hope is that, in the coming weeks and months, with God's help, we will continue in worship and mission together even when we profoundly disagree - as we have so often done before - recognizing that it is God's covenant of love that binds us to God and to one another[1] in Christ. My prayer is that together we will continue to witness to God's gift of reconciliation and wholeness before the brokenness of the world.
United though not uniform, diverse but not divided, let us name our differences, then claim our common calling to be and to share the good news of Jesus Christ who came "that the world might be saved". (John 3:17)
Your sister in Christ,