About Doug Sloan

Doug is a member of Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), 4950 East Wabash Avenue, P.O. Box 3125, Terre Haute, IN 47803-0125 (812-877-9959). Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is an open and affirming congregation. Doug is an Elder, has served as Treasurer, enjoys his continuing membership in the choir as the lowest voiced bass and currently is serving as an At-Large member of the Regional Board of the Indiana Disciples of Christ. As a member of the O&A Elders group, he helped write a resolution to change the ordination policy of the Indiana Region. The resolution will be presented at the 2012 Indiana Regional Assembly. He graduated in 2009 with a M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from Indiana State University and a BS in Management Information Systems from Ball State University in 1997. Since August 2005, he has been a member of the CIS Adjunct Faculty at the Terre Haute campus of Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana. He has been published in DisciplesWorld and Encounter: Education for Meaning and Social Justice. In the summer of 2010, Doug became a contributor to this blog: [D]mergent.org

Progressive Fundamentals


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By Douglas Sloan

During the summer between 2nd and 3rd grade, my mother enrolled me in swimming classes at the YMCA – this is long before Village People. Mom showed me the way and thereafter I walked to swimming lessons by myself. I went east two and a half blocks on Spring Street and then 6 blocks south on 12th Street. The YMCA is at the intersection of Church and 12th. I walked to the northwest corner of the intersection and crossed diagonally to the YMCA on the southeast corner.

One week, as I approached the intersection of 12th and Church, I observed that the City was paving 12th Street. The paving started at the south edge of the intersection. Now, I could have gone the long way around the intersection and avoided the new pavement. But, that is not what I had been taught and that is not what I had been doing. I cautiously tested the new pavement – enough time had passed so that it was only warm. So, as I had the previous weeks, I crossed diagonally across the intersection – across the new asphalt – barefoot.

Jim Kinsinger, the manager of the YMCA at that time, would remind me of this story for the rest of his life. Over the years, Jim informed me – repeatedly – that my steps could be followed like a path on a pirate treasure map. Plainly visible little black footprints walked the sidewalk from the corner to the front of the YMCA, up the front steps, across the tile floor of the foyer, down the two flights of smooth stone steps to the dressing room, along the side of the pool, and – into the shallow end of the pool – on the bottom of the pool. By the time I got home, Jim had already phoned my mother and informed her of the situation. I was not allowed to enter the house. I was carried to the bathtub and had my feet washed with turpentine.

In the story of a 7-year-old crossing warm asphalt we see the oblivious faithfulness of every fundamentalist to their particular ideology regardless of the consequences. Never mind the cost paid by others to clean the sticky footprints from the sidewalk, the outside steps, the foyer, the inside steps, the dressing room, the pool perimeter. Never mind that cleaning the bottom of the pool required the entire pool to be drained. Never mind the cost or consequences to myself, to others, or the YMCA for I had not swerved. I had stayed faithful to my path. I was a 7-year-old going-to-my-swimming-lesson fundamentalist.

The danger and appeal of Fundamentalism is not in a particular philosophy. To embrace Fundamentalism is to no longer need and to no longer be concerned with dialogue or discovery, questions or doubts; to no longer need to consider costs, consequences, exceptions, or facts that do not fit or facts that refute the Fundamentalism paradigm. Dialogue and facts and consequences and questions and doubts are pitfalls to be avoided. To engage in any of them is a sign of weakness. They are temptations to be resisted, tests to be endured and passed, obstacles to be met and conquered, enemies to be repulsed or defeated. To embrace Fundamentalism is to no longer consider what is relevant, to no longer consider the specifics or peculiarities of a situation, and to no longer consider that something or someone could possibly be more important than the predefined answer provided by Fundamentalism.

The excruciating difficulty for the rest of us is to not be fundamentalist in our disagreement. We do not oppose either fundamentalists or Fundamentalism. We do this because anything that is not within the world of Fundamentalism is either irrelevant or anti-Fundamentalism. So, our response is to carefully offer an alternative interior view, a different way to be faithful. The most difficult part in our response and our understanding of Fundamentalism is we must first accept that Fundamentalism neither implies nor requires ignorance or hate. Second, we must accept that there are fundamentalists who live constructive lives of love, nurture, compassion, and charity. Third, we must accept that Fundamentalism is ancient, unavoidable, and maybe even necessary.

Our response to Fundamentalism is three-fold:

  1. We celebrate and affirm the seriousness with which Fundamentalists hold their source documents and their faithfulness to those documents and their understanding of those documents. This gives us a possible opening for dialogue by meeting them where they are.
  2. We continuously invite, welcome, and include fundamentalists in community events and community conversations. We do this with eyes and ears wide open and with these publicly proclaimed ground rules:
  3. Nobody owns God, Jesus, the Bible, Christianity or any philosophy or any issue – not them and not us.
  4. Do not mistake graciousness or scholarly carefulness or a commitment to non-violence for a lack of resolve. Willfully and unwaveringly, we will oppose war, oppression, injustice, prejudice, discrimination, exclusion, and language that stigmatizes or belittles and we will oppose them with our minds, bodies, and lives. When we see people being harmed in that way, we will choose to actively engage for justice over sitting still and being quiet.
  5. We do not engage in debates with fundamentalists. To a fundamentalist, a debate is a win-win situation: either it gives them a chance to look reasonable, resolute, congenial, to be seen as a person of strong faith or it makes them look persecuted, justifiably fearful, martyrs.

R. L. Stollar in his blog, “Overturning Tables” makes this point:

[T]o a fundamentalist, debates are quests for linguistic dominionism. Debate gives fundamentalists the chance to extend their loaded language into a larger context. (Stollar)

To a fundamentalist, a debate is not an opportunity to share ideas, to exchange viewpoints, or to gain new knowledge. To a fundamentalist, a debate is an opportunity to stand tall and be seen. A debate is an opportunity to preach and to evangelize.

Fundamentalism is the valuing of an ideology over everything else. Fundamentalism is not a specific set of beliefs or a specific theology and – again – Fundamentalism is not about ignorance or hate. Just because a belief system is embraced and protected by Fundamentalism does not mean that belief system is inherently evil or harmful. Fundamentalism is a stance, an attitude, a way of rigidly viewing and automatically responding to life in a way that is narrow, singular and exclusionary, well-defined and unquestioned.

The appeal of Fundamentalism is in its comfortable and comforting predetermined answers and responses for every question and every situation – no further thought is required. The danger of Fundamentalism is in the implementation and expression of Fundamentalism as a coping and response mechanism to everything in the life of the fundamentalist. The adoption of Fundamentalism requires the abandonment of critical examination and logical analysis of anything that is outside or contrary to Fundamentalism, the abandonment of diverse relationships and choosing empire instead of community, and accepts the unavoidably harmful – even fatal – injury of others and their environment as justifiable or an inescapable consequence. Choosing to be a fundamentalist is choosing to be like 7-year-old children who walk across warm asphalt because they refuse to walk a different path or because they cannot see any other way.

Yet, in every religion, Fundamentalism is an inherent and inescapable and necessary half of it. The story of a 7-year-old unable to swerve from a single predefined path, the inability to see any other way or the unwillingness to travel any other way is half of the call and message of every ancient enduring well-established religion. It is half of the story of the universal human search for meaning beyond bare existence. Every religion presents a tension between two callings, two understandings. If Fundamentalism is a necessary half, what is the other half?

As we transition from child to adult, our intellect changes. We change from seeing one path to seeing multiple different paths. We begin to see different possible outcomes. We begin to calculate costs and benefits, to make decisions in a deliberate attempt to achieve a specific future. We see the inevitability of death, the inescapable chaos of the universe, and – even if not personally experienced – we understand how others see life as hopeless, meaningless, useless. We seek meaning and purpose for our lives and in our lives. Maybe we are fortunate enough to witness one of those exceptional people who, instead of being consumed by hopelessness, exude hope; who live a life filled with rich meaning and invigorating purpose far beyond the impoverished stasis and putrid stagnation of Fundamentalism. These exceptional people of hope share a message that speaks to our needs beyond our maturation, education, and experience. When queried about “what happened,” they reply about an epiphany-initiated metamorphosis, a personal transformation into a new being – they are not who they use to be. Their transformation enabled a new world-view that differed in scope and detail and interpretation and response. They speak of an experience that was an inexplicable leap across an experiential chasm and forms a discontinuity with their previous experience and existence – and they find that there is no going back. It is a transformation that is so unforeseen and so positive and so profound that it is labeled transcendent, holy, divine. For example, in Christianity, we celebrate it as Easter and we call it “Good News” and “The Way”.

The non-fundamentalist or Progressive Christian message is this: Something happened on Easter. Until that morning, the disciples still saw the message of Jesus as an unassembled upside-down puzzle with no idea as to what image would be revealed by the completed puzzle.

What happened on Easter was a transformative epiphany. The women had it first – a profound comprehensive epiphany. It was the best of epiphanies. When the women shared their insight with the others, the others had the same epiphany and experienced the same transformation.

In the Roman Empire, the intent of crucifixion was oblivion. The crucified person was to be erased from memory, from history, even from conversation. It is not that a crucified person was dead and gone; after their execution, it was to be as if they had never existed. Whatever happened that first Easter, the life and ministry and lessons of Jesus escaped or transcended oblivion. Regardless of whether a body was in the tomb, Jesus was not there. Jesus was resurrected – Jesus was in the world: in gardens, in locked rooms, walking dusty roads, sharing meals, still listening and teaching. That is possible only if Jesus is transformed into a discernable recognizable presence that is familiar, personal, and both transcendent and tangible.

It was as if every piece of the puzzle had been turned upside-right and sufficiently assembled so that the picture could be easily perceived. In those first few years, this same epiphany happened to the Apostle Paul and hundreds of others. Repeatedly, it was such a powerful experience that people were transformed. The isolation and desperation and fatalism of day-to-day living in an oppressive empire supported and legitimized by imperial dominionist theology was replaced by the realization that what is divine is a universal infinite expression and existence of unrestrained love and unconditional grace. The miracle of Easter is not so much about the resurrection of Jesus as it is about the resurrection of the Disciples – a miracle that continues to this day. In this way, Jesus does return – again and again and again and…

If your previous understanding of the divine was expressed as:

  • the piety of the empire elite
  • miles of roman highway lined with dozens – even hundreds – of crucifixions and their rotting corpses
  • blood sacrifices of any kind to appease any god.
  • storms
  • volcanoes
  • earthquakes
  • 50% mortality rate for children under the age of 10 (PBS)
  • housing for peasants and the working class that was so inferior, it is estimated that in the larger Roman cities, one multi-story dwelling collapsed every day
  • plague
  • war
  • angry brutal divine judgements and capricious miracles by a remote detached deity

– if that was your previous understanding of the divine, then there is no hyperbole that can overstate the effect of discovering and embracing the divine as unrestrained love and unconditional grace and as personal, relational, and universal; a better and more humane way of living and a way to live without empire.

The Good News is good. The Way is true. Progressive Christian theology is an understanding that instead of fearfulness elicits fearlessness. Fundamentalist Christian theology tends to have been developed in the last half of the history of the church. Progressive theology tends to align with ancient Jewish theology and, thus, with the theology of Jesus, the Disciples, and the Beginning Church. Progressive Theology is not fundamentalist, it is fundamental. Progressive Theology is not new, isolated, or singular. Progressive Theology is ancient and wide-spread, orthodox and universal, and dangerous. It is an understanding that instead of open opposition or armed insurrection, it elicits an understanding and a way of living that makes empire irrelevant and unnecessary. The Roman Empire knew how to combat armed rebellion. The Roman Empire did not know how to combat being irrelevant and useless.

There is more to the Good News: That which is divine calls us to be a community of peace, justice, and compassion.

Peace means we are non-violent and actively oppose war and systemic injustice.

Justice means repair, rehabilitation, restoration, and – where possible – reconciliation.

Compassion means feeding, quenching, clothing, sheltering, healing, educating, visiting the prisoner and the home-bound, and inviting and welcoming and affirming and including and providing safety and hope and justice for the stigmatized, the marginalized, the excluded, the oppressed. The TV show “The Sisters in Law” says it with alliteration: the least, the last, the lost.

There is more to the Good News: That which is divine calls us to be people:

who are fearless and humbly gracious,

who offer an embracing hospitality and abundant generosity, and

who provide healthy service without pretense and without belittling those being served.

The entirety of all scripture of all ancient religions is filled with questions and layers of meaning:

How do we live a divine life?

How do we not live a divine life?

Is a divine life about legalistic obedience and ritual purity?

Is a divine life about justice and compassion?

Is the divine about indictment, judgment, eternal punishment for a vast majority and eternal reward for an elite few?

Is the divine about relationship, unrestrained love, and unconditional grace?

Is a divine life about empire or is it about community?

Is a divine life about the rugged independent self-sufficient individual?

Is a divine life about family who nourish, shelter, heal and care, support and uplift, forgive, embrace, stand with you through all trials, walk with you on all journeys?

Is the divine life about the eternal there and then?

Is the divine life about the eternal here and now?

All sacred writings embrace and explore all these questions and many others and present many possible responses. Instead of providing specific incontrovertible answers, all Scriptures plead with us to deeply ponder and unendingly explore these questions – both in solitude and in community. It helps us and baffles us to know that these questions predate our recorded history. These questions will not leave us and we must not ignore them. All scriptures are filled with the tension of these questions and we do a grave disservice to any collection of sacred writings unless we acknowledge and embrace that deliberate and inherent tension. When we understand the purpose of the tension and the purpose that Fundamentalism has in creating that tension, we will more easily hear and respond to the divine call to turn away from the poverty, stagnation, and death of Fundamentalism and turn toward a rich vibrant living love and grace as a community of peace, justice, and compassion as lived and exuded and provoked by a fearless people of graciousness, hospitality, generosity, and service.

Amen


PBS. “Family Life.” 2006. The Roman Empire in the First Century. Devillier Donegan Enterprises. Web. 19 April 2016. <http://ift.tt/1QQQfLg;.

Stollar, R. L. “Whether or Not It’s Possible to Debate Fundamentalists, Fundamentalists Want to Debate You.” 5 February 2014. Overturning Tables. Web. 8 April 2016. <http://ift.tt/1rQSGcL;.

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Reclaiming the Prophetic Voice & Reclaiming the Straight and Narrow


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By Douglas C. Sloan

The prophetic voice does not predict the future. The prophetic voice warns us about the path we are traveling and invites us to travel a different path, to embark on a different journey. The prophetic voice is one that takes us to task for not being the Love and Grace, the Justice and Compassion of God in the world. The prophetic voice calls us to listen for God in different places and in different ways. God does not speak through war, violence, or oppression. God does not speak through empire, nationalism, patriotism, wealth, exclusion, or isolation. The voices and words of people – whether verbal or written, ancient or contemporary – are not the voice of God. It is through the lostness of the coin, the lostness of the sheep, the lostness of both sons that the voice of God is heard. God speaks to us and calls to us through injustice, oppression, bondage, exile, hunger, thirst, nakedness, homelessness, imprisonment, and the need for healing. When we find the lost, deliver justice, save the oppressed, release those in bondage, return those in exile; when we feed, quench, clothe, house, heal, and visit the prisoners – it is then that God speaks and God acts and God is clearly present in the world. It is then that there is no thin place and the curtain that hides and separates us from the Divine is torn asunder and the presence and glory of God is plainly visible for all to see, for all who dare and care to look. It is then that God is more immanent than transcendent. And there is more. When it does occur that there is compassion for the widow and orphan and alien and stranger, when the lost are found, when there is justice that repairs and rehabilitates and restores and reconciles, when the oppressed are freed, when the exiled are returned, when we feed and quench and clothe and house and heal and visit the prisoners, then God celebrates enthusiastically and extravagantly and all are invited to the party. That is Good News.

Jesus is a prophetic voice who invites and directs us to a different path – the middle path. The middle path is narrow and one of constant tension. Thus, Jesus does not dismiss us from the Law. Walking the middle path is about maintaining that tension by walking straight and narrowly between the way of God and the way of the world – by maintaining the tension between a life of Divine Love and Grace and a life of legalistic obedience and ritual purity. Walking the middle path is not about indecision or balance. Walking the middle path is not about weighing the options and analyzing the arguments and making a choice. Walking the middle path is about immersing and subjecting ourselves to the tension and conflict of the middle path and allowing it and enabling it and participating in it as a purgative experience, a purifying fire, a death – our death. To be fully human – to be fully what God created and intends for us to be, to be a citizen of the Kingdom of God, to be a child of God – is not about choosing or living into a better way. We do not reject or abandon or suppress the ways of the world. We have to die to them. That of us that needs and desires legalistic obedience – and rituals of magic and absolutes and divisiveness – and empire and wealth and vengeance and war and violence and oppression and hate and exclusion and jealousy and gossip and cold hearts and mean spirits and idolized certainties – that part of us has to die. When that part of us dies, we are inescapably left with resurrection and transformation and new life. That is Good News.

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The Four Questions of John Dominic Crossan


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By Douglas C. Sloan

New Testament authority John Dominic Crossan suggests four questions for Christians:

  1. What is the character of your God?  When you think about God, what are you imagining?
  2. What is the content of your faith?  What do you believe in?
  3. What is the function of your church?  What are you coming together for?
  4. What is the purpose of your worship?  How does God want to be worshipped? Does God simply want prayers said – or is God more interested in prayers that lead to a life?

And then of course, it goes back to, “What is the character of your God?” It is a circular exercise where each question flows into the next. These are the questions we have to face.

The ideas we hold about the nature of God and the language we use to describe God play out in small ways – how or even whether we pray, how we think about our purpose in life, how we relate to those who do not share our beliefs. They also influence how we see the world and, ultimately, God’s role in that world.

Living the Questions: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity

David M. Felten and Jeff Procter-Murphy

pp. 25-26

What follows are my answers to these questions – as they are for now.

What is not the character of my God?

  • Santa Claus, a magician, genie, leprechaun, fairy godmother, four-leaf clover, wishing well, magic lantern, or birthday cake
  • a vending machine or engaging in “quid pro quo” transactions, trading or bartering, purchasing or selling
  • neither favors nor disfavors
  • a vampire requiring blood
  • a kidnapper demanding ransom
  • an extortionist demanding payment
  • a psychic, medium, fortune-teller, or in any way knows, controls, directs, shapes, or influences the future.
  • a medieval lord requiring the punishment, injury, or death of a vassal or serf to satisfy a perceived offense to an honor code defined by the lord
  • a psychopath cruelly creating a mandatory binary choice between either the tortuous sacrifice of Jesus or a personal eternal punishment
  • a puppet-master pulling every string of every person and every object and every event and every energy
  • a mad scientist experimenting with the universe by manipulating every variable at every level
  • a Greco-Roman deity who needs mindless obedience and endless appeasement and praise
  • a disciplinarian, gym teacher, sport coach, or drill instructor toughening us for the rough rigors of life
  • a referee, umpire, or judge in a court of law
  • the ultimate micromanaging tyrant
  • an avenging wrathful warrior
  • a murderer or destroyer of life
  • an enemy or bully or a source of fear
  • a danger or threat in any way

What is the character of my God?

unrestrained boundless Love

expressed wastefully and uncontrollably and

unconditional Grace

provided freely with no exceptions and no restrictions and

a persuasive presence of excellence

whose desire is for each of us to live a long healthy life full of peace, joy, contentment, growth, and discovery.

What is the content of my faith?

Engaging in a relationship with the Divine does not require a God

who controls, manipulates, interferes, judges, condemns, punishes, destroys or

who is narcissistic, capricious, sadistic or

who condemns us or abandons us or opposes us or oppresses us or for any reason inflicts death, disaster, illness, loss upon us or

who avenges us or rescues us or rewards us or protects us or provides for us.

IF

the later theologies that are both post-biblical and non-biblical are rejected:

  • Rapture and End Time (Darby/Scofield, 19th century)
  • Biblical Literalism and Inerrancy (17th century)
  • Penal Substitution (Reformation, 16th century)
  • Omnipotence (Thomas Aquinas, 13th century)
  • Satisfaction/Sacrifice (Anselm, 11th century)
  • Ransom (Origen, 3rd century)
  • Original Sin (Irenaeus/Augustine, 2nd century)

AND

IF

God is not characterized as has been previously listed

THEN

we need to consider that

  • God is not in charge and
  • God does not control and
  • God does not interfere and
  • God does not intervene and
  • we do not need either to placate God or to be rescued from God.

That what is Divine is neither defined nor measured by

power, knowledge, size, time, any dimension, any quantifiable metric or

any threat or any promise or

any calamity or any good fortune.

That what is Divine

is altogether something other than control or coercion or capriciousness or condemnation.

is relational instead of domineering, manipulative, obstructive, or suppressive.

is participatory instead of observing, criticizing, or judging.

by being relational, is vulnerable to associated relational risks.

by being participatory, is active and creative.

by being relational and participatory, is present, persistent, messy, and immeasurable.

is a Mystery.

That we are called by and to

a deep multilayered complex influential Mystery

that is better than and more and beyond ourselves

and is and dwells in

  • the journey and the learning and
  • the growth and forward movement and
  • the death of old ways of passive being and passive waiting and
  • the resurrection of new ways of active living in the present and active creation of the future and
  • the act of personal transformation

and not in the dogma of death or destination or certainty or finality.

It is Divine

to have a positive growing relationship with and

to have our spirit and actions be persuasively influenced and empowered by our nearness to and association with and

to constantly move toward a total embracing of and complete assimilation by that which is Divine

What is the function of my church?

To be a Community of Peace, Justice and Compassion

Peace that

actively rejects and opposes war and violence and oppression and

actively seeks and advocates for Peace at all levels from individual to global

Justice that repairs, rehabilitates, restores, and reconciles

Compassion that quenches, feeds, clothes, houses, heals, educates, visits, welcomes, includes, embraces, affirms, accompanies . . .

To be Individuals of

abundant Generosity and

joyful Hospitality and

gracious Service that is healthy for the server and the served and neither obligates nor belittles the served.

As Community and as Individuals

to live, share, proclaim, and provoke the Divine

as joyous and celebratory Good News.

What is the purpose of our worship?

To intentionally gather as a community at least once a week to spend time

immersing in and centering within and nurturing our relationship with and

participating in and sharing the communal and individual presence

of the Divine.

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An Advent Message


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By Doug Sloan

Dear NRA,

Here is what you don’t understand…

Two millennium ago, we were given the message that we are to think and live differently.

That Good News message invites us to follow a narrow path:

As individuals, we are to:

* seek resurrection and transformation and to live

* simply and fearlessly and joyfully and hopefully,

* gently and peacefully without violence and without vengeance.

In relationship with others, we are to provide:

* inclusive hospitality

* joyous generosity

* wise and healthy service

As a community, our purpose is to provide education, stewardship, justice, and compassion:

* Education as the respect for and nurture of each student as an individual with unique gifts to be discovered and developed while introducing students to the best of art, knowledge, scientific inquiry, logic, and philosophy and encouraging play, creativity, self-confidence, self-reliance, self-expression, independence, collaboration, and community.

* Stewardship as the long-term protection, management, and replenishment of renewable resources, and that non-renewable resources require minimum use and maximum protection and maximum recycling and contemporaneous and complete reclamation;

* Justice as repair, rehabilitation, restoration, and – where possible – reconciliation;

* Compassion as feeding, quenching, clothing, sheltering, healing, visiting, welcoming, …

As a congregation, our theology is simple:

* The Divine is not distant. The Divine is with us.

* The Divine is unrestrained love and unconditional grace.

Implicit and integral to the Good News message is the rejection of violence and the threat of violence and the instruments of violence as solutions to violence and war. This does not mean we are unresponsive pacifists – it means we are actively peaceful and actively contrary to the ways of violence and war. Our commitment to the Good News message means that we will live it and exude it and provoke it, here and now – constantly and forever, regardless of your response.

If this makes you fearful; if this makes you consider us a threat; we understand and we will not be swayed. We know what you did to Jesus and the early disciples and the many others since then who dared to walk this path. To us, it is more important to live the Good News than to live your way. For each of us, death is inevitable. So the question is: In what manner will we live with ourselves, with others, with the Divine? We have given you our answer. What is yours?

Click here for a pdf of this article

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Jesus Is Not the Reason http://dmergent.org/articles/


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By Douglas C. Sloan

Jesus is not the reason for the season.

(Jesus would have been shamed and insulted by such a view and attitude.)

The reason for the celebration in any season is the message and the path and the way taught by Jesus.

This season, we celebrate the Advent of an old message renewed and reborn and retold to replace the way of the world:

  • Empire – war, conquest, piety, peace – or Tribal Justice or Honor Codes are not the way to live.
  • It is wrong to allow individuals to accumulate or attain or have access to such wealth and power that they are able to take the homes, farms, land, property, and livelihood of others.
  • It is not about copious conspicuous consumption, short-term planned obsolescence, or easy disposability.
  • It is not about the supremacy of the individual or the community.
  • It is not about beliefs, creeds, canons, literal interpretations of ancient texts, holding ancient texts as obligatory and controlling, original sin, guilt, fear, hate, exclusion, divine narcissism and capriciousness, divine interventions, sacrificial atonement, eternal rewards and punishments, or making a post-mortal existence more important than how we live here and now with ourselves and with each other.

Advent is when we celebrate the arrival and presence of Good News for all people:

*The Divine is unrestrained love and unconditional grace.

*The purpose of community is education and stewardship and justice and compassion:

  • Education as the respect for and nurture of each student as an individual with unique gifts to be discovered and developed while introducing students to the best of art, knowledge, scientific inquiry, logic, and philosophy and encouraging play, creativity, self-confidence, self-reliance, self-expression, independence, collaboration, and community.
  • Stewardship as the long-term protection, management, and replenishment of renewable resources, and that non-renewable resources require minimum use and maximum protection and recycling and reclamation;
  • Justice as repair, rehabilitation, restoration, and – where possible – reconciliation;
  • Compassion as feeding, quenching, clothing, sheltering, healing, visiting, welcoming, …

*The goal of the individual is to seek resurrection and transformation and then to live

  • fearlessly and joyfully and hopefully,
  • gently and peacefully without violence and without vengeance,
  • with graciousness untainted by jealous or passive-aggressive intentions.

*The purpose of the individual is to provide inclusive hospitality and joyous generosity and wise and healthy service to others.

*As individuals in community, we are to embrace and internalize the Good News message

  • then live it and exude it and provoke it
  • here and now, constantly and forever.

Amen

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Doug

You can get a pdf of this article here.

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Responding to the Sandy Hook Elementary Massacre


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By Douglas C. Sloan

A list of who was lost:

CHILDREN                           BIRTH     SEX    AGE

Charlotte Bacon                      2/22/06   female  (age 6)

Daniel Barden                         9/25/05   male     (age 7)

Olivia Engel                             7/18/06   female  (age 6)

Josephine Gay                      12/11/05   female  (age 7)

Ana M. Marquez-Greene       4/04/06   female  (age 6)

Dylan Hockley                       3/08/06   male     (age 6)

Madeleine F. Hsu                   7/10/06   female  (age 6)

Catherine V. Hubbard             6/08/06   female  (age 6)

Chase Kowalski                    10/31/05   male     (age 7)

Jesse Lewis                             6/30/06   male     (age 6)

James Mattioli                        3/22/06   male     (age 6)

Grace McDonnell                 11/04/05   female  (age 7)

Emilie Parker                           5/12/06   female  (age 6)

Jack Pinto                               5/06/06   male     (age 6)

Noah Pozner                         11/20/06   male     (age 6)

Caroline Previdi                      9/07/06   female  (age 6)

Jessica Rekos                          5/10/06   female  (age 6)

Avielle Richman                    10/17/06   female  (age 6)

Benjamin Wheeler                   9/12/06   male     (age 6)

Allison N. Wyatt                    7/03/06   female  (age 6)

ADULTS

Rachel Davino                         7/17/83   female  (age 29)

Dawn Hochsprung                  6/28/65   female  (age 47)

Anne Marie Murphy              7/25/60   female  (age 52)

Lauren Russeau                               82   female  (age 29)

Mary Sherlach                        2/11/56   female  (age 56)

Victoria Soto                         11/04/85   female  (age 27)

Nancy Lanza                                          female

Adam Lanza                                           male     (age 20)

This is not God’s doing.

This is not of God. This is not by God. This is neither a divine act of commission nor a divine act of omission. God wants every person to have a long, happy, healthy life. The only divine message in this horrible act is that this is not how God wants us to live and it is not the life that God wants for us.

Whether it is the World War II Holocaust or this massacre or the 5-week death of a friend by pancreatic cancer, I do not know why God does not intervene. It is an unfathomable and indecipherable mystery – the contemplation of which leads nowhere, solves nothing, and is incapable of lessening the sharp ache in our hearts. We do not understand. We know we will never understand and it makes our heartache just that much more pointed and more poignant.

It is a time for grieving. It is a time for seeking and offering mutual comfort. It is a time for tears and vigils and prayers of grief and services of remembering and gathering. There can never be enough hugs – yet, we will seek and offer hugs. There can never be enough words – yet, we will tell and listen to memories and emotions. There can never be enough silence – yet, in silence we will gather as one community as often as it is necessary.

There can never be enough questions – yet, we will ask questions – of ourselves and of those we elect to positions of governance.

For the school year 2010-2011, the enrollment at Sandy Hook Elementary was 575.

According to the FBI, for children aged from newborn to 12 years, by year those murdered were:

2010 – 627

2009 – 634

2008 – 702

2007 – 695

2006 – 663

Every year for those five years, more children were murdered than the enrollment of Sandy Hook Elementary. While over half of them were white, over a third of them were black. Where is our grief and outrage and vigils and questions for any of those children?

Instead of gun control, let’s talk about gun responsibility. As a community, state, and nation, we have a responsibility to determine:

  • who is allowed to manufacture guns and what kind of guns?
  • who is allowed to sell guns?
  • who is allowed to purchase guns?
  • what training should be required of those who are allowed to purchase guns?
  • what is the responsibility of gun owners to keep their guns out of the hands of those who are not allowed to have a gun?

According to the FBI, from 2001 through 2010, there were 70,975 murders and 47,856 (67.43%) of those murders were with firearms. The next identifiable murder weapon was “knives and cutting instruments” which was responsible for 9,075 murders or 12.79%. For the first decade of this century, firearms were used to commit 5.27 times as many murders as knives. When a single type of weapon is responsible for more than 2/3 of the murders, it is time to be much more responsible about the availability and control of that weapon.

Finally, the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre was not an act of evil. To use the label “evil” is to wash our hands of our communal responsibility. We desperately need to put in place a system to identify and intercede for those who pose a threat to themselves or others whether it be by their mental incompetence, emotional incapability, or potential for violence.  As important as it is to increase the legal requirements for gun responsibility, it is vastly more important to implement a public mental health system that respects due process and individual rights and utilizes the best psychiatric and psychological diagnostics and therapies and oversight.

Either response, but especially both of them – better gun responsibility and a public mental health system – would be a far better memorial than any marble or granite edifice. Let our response be both healing and constructive.

Amen.

To open a pdf of this article click here.

The Christmas Joke War on Christmas? Sign This Minister Up


Click this link

December 6, 2012

by Rev. Mark Sandlin

(as edited and revised by Douglas C. Sloan)

A form of this this post originally appeared at The God Article

Christmas is a joke.

Specifically, the birth narratives found in the Gospel according to Matthew and in the Gospel according to Luke are insurgency narratives. They are not stories told as history – to analyze, critique, or correct them historically is to completely miss their purpose, completely misunderstand them, and completely misuse them. They are stories told for strictly non-historical purposes. The Matthew nativity either is a taunting parody of or a sly tongue-in-cheek jab at the magical/miraculous birth narratives told in the Roman Empire to elevate the status of certain rulers and military heroes. The Luke nativity is a marketing/evangelistic ploy told by a person living under military occupation and empire domination for the purpose of currying favor with and acceptance by those who rule the Roman Empire.

The baby we remember at this time of year was not part of the dominant culture. The non-empire sacred stories told in those days were told under the shadow of the dominant culture. They were stories of oppression and hardships, stories of overcoming unthinkable odds, stories of hope for a people living in times and cultural positions that fostered hopelessness and a survivor mentality – as designed and desired by the Empire.

Today, our religious stories are told from places and positions of power. Today, Christianity is the dominant culture. Originally, it was a story of an olive-skinned middle-eastern, unwed, as-young-as-14 mother, who was seen as little more than property, giving birth to what the world would surely see as an illegitimate child who was wrapped in what rags they could find and placed in a smelly, flea-infested feeding trough in the midst of a dark musky-smelling animal stall. Today, instead of that story, we end up with a clean, white skinned European woman in her early 20s giving birth to a glowing baby wrapped in impossibly white swaddling clothes and laid to rest in a manger that looks more like a crib than a trough in the midst of a barn that is more kept and clean than many of our houses.

For centuries, the Christmas story has been hijacked by a dominant culture. Places of power and positions of prestige have warped the comeuppance sensibilities of the original Christmas story. God’s vision of liberating the oppressed and the down trodden has been slowly replaced year after year with a story that no longer brings fear to the Powers-that-Be. Rather, it supports the big business agendas of profit and mass consumerism and the big church agendas of political power and ecclesiastical empire.

If the Christmas Present, with its full on worship of consumerism and privilege, continues to masquerade as Christmas Past, our Christmas Futures will increasingly become a time when we give out of our abundance rather than out of a response to need and out of a response to God’s love – the kind of Christmas where we give amongst ourselves amidst our broad breadth of abundance. Meanwhile, the oppressed and the downtrodden and the marginalized and the unjustly incarcerated, watch our overindulgence and rightfully judge us by actions that run contrary to our sacred stories of a spirit-child born to bring light into the dark corners of the world.

  • The people who walked in darkness
  • have seen a great light;
  • those who lived in a land of deep darkness –
  • on them light has shined.
  • NRSV Isaiah 9:2

That should be the dominant message of the Christmas narrative. Is it? Does the way we celebrate Christmas bring light into the darkness? Does it bring hope to the hopeless? Does our modern day Christmas celebration bring justice to those who have been treated unjustly?

If your answer is “No” then, whether you knew it or not, you too believe that the Christmas Past has been white-washed by the Christmas Present.

During this season, as we remember the birth of the light of the world, a child sent to enlighten the darkness, we also remember his words, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (NRSV John 15:13) As we remember the humble, unassuming way he came into this world, let us not forget that he left this world among thieves, as an outsider hanging on a cross in an attempt to teach us something about God’s love.

This Christmas, I wish for you and for me, light in the darkness of the Christmas Present. I wish for us enlightenment from God – an enlightenment that helps us see clearly the love for all people that laid in a mythological and metaphorical manger some 2000 years ago – an enlightenment that encourages us to be the light to those trapped in the darkness of hunger, homelessness, oppression, poverty, and war – an enlightenment allowing us to see that we too have darkness in our lives – an enlightenment that helps us see beyond the cleaned up Christmas of the present to the humble, unassuming beginnings of our religion – a baby as King, born to an outsider – born to save the world from darkness.

War on Christmas? A war on what Christmas has become? A war on worshiping consumerism in the sacred halls of Walmart and Target and Best Buy and Dick’s Sporting Goods and Gander Mountain and every chain that sells clothes as a fashion statement and every sit-down restaurant chain with gluttonous portions and every upscale hotel chain while the world is swallowed up in the darkness of not having enough: food to eat, clothes to wear, places to live, clean water to drink, access to information and education, access to reasonable health care, and places of worship that practice inclusion over exclusion and largeness over largess? SIGN ME UP! I refuse to let the story of my faith be co-opted by secular and religious corporations who only wish to convince us that we are privileged and we deserve what we have and deserve it more than others and we should revel in our abundance and consider it a sign that we are chosen … even as we celebrate the birth of the rag-wrapped spirit-child who laid in a feeding trough, who lived his life with no place to lay his head, who told us that “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these…you did it to me” (NRSV Matthew 25:40) … who gave up his very life that we might fully understand and clearly see the full extent of divine love.

Here’s a pdf of the article

Indiana 2012 Ordination Resolution


Vote for the Resolution

On the morning of Saturday, September 29, 2012, The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Indiana at its Regional Assembly will consider a resolution that would remove sexual orientation as a criteria for being ordained in Indiana. Three other DoC regions will consider similar resolutions this year. I had the privilege of being one of the four (4) contributing authors of the Indiana resolution. The congregation of which I am a member is one of the six (6) sponsors of the resolution. Here is a link to that resolution as a PDF file formatted to fit on two pages: Ordination Resolution final 2-page

During the Saturday business session, there will be 48 minutes for debate of the resolution. The speakers, alternating between pro and con, will each be allowed two (2) minutes to make a statement. Here is a link to a PDF file of what I would say if there was no such time restriction: Ordination Resolution Regional Assembly Comments

Use the comment box below to leave your response. Comments are invited and encouraged and welcomed.

Our gay sisters and brothers are not our enemies. Our gay sisters and brothers are not the scapegoats we send into the desert to carry away our sins of bigotry and willful ignorance and unholy exclusion. Our gay sisters and brothers are not a problem. It is our treatment of our gay sisters and brothers that is the problem. There is no secular basis or justification and there is no biblical basis or justification for the way we are treating, for the way we are abusing our gay sisters and brothers. Specifically, in this Indiana region, we accept people into a seminary journey that can last as long as six years and cost tens of thousands of dollars (usually covered by long-term student loans) and subject them to the associated deprivations, rigors, and stress of obtaining an advanced degree and then at the successful end of their academic journey, deny them ordination. That is – deny ordination to those who are truthful about who they are. To gay seminary students who lie or who are quiet about their sexual orientation; under the current ordination policy and process, we accept their request for ordination. This process is politely referred to as having no integrity. That description is both insufficient and inaccurate. It is a disgraceful process that is immoral because it is fraudulent. We punish people for being truthful and we reward people for being deceptive and then subliminally encourage them to continue that deception into their ministry. It is a process that needs to be replaced with a process that is just and compassionate and has moral integrity in its application and, consequently, rewards and encourages openness and honesty. Why? Because we do not treat people the way we are treating our gay candidates for ordination. We are divinely called to offer justice that is fair and restorative. We are to offer compassion that is generous and hospitable and healthy. Why? Because we are followers of Jesus. Because we worship a God of unrestrained love and unconditional grace.

VOTE FOR THE RESOLUTION

RECLAIMING THE FAMILY OF GOD


Us, not Them
Here, not There
Now, not Later

A Sermon by Doug Sloan, Elder
Terre Haute Central Christian Church
Sunday, May 6, 2012

I want to begin by thanking Dianne Mansfield and Phil Ewoldsen for their participation in a very important and successful meeting that took place yesterday, Saturday, May 5, 2012 at Central Christian Church in Indianapolis. This congregation [Terre Haute Central Christian Church], through its board and elders, is one of four congregations [now five] sponsoring a resolution to change the ordination policy of the Indiana Region. Elders and representatives of those four congregations met with the pastor and an elder of the Oaktown congregation, which has deep reservations and sincere concerns about the resolution. The meeting was serious – most of the time, we are talking about a gathering of Disciples – and spiritual. I came away from the meeting feeling hopeful. New ground was broken and a path was cleared for similar conversations elsewhere in the region that involve congregations with the same reservations and concerns as Oaktown.

Also, I want to thank my wife, Carol, for “encouraging” me to stop and think and – in this case – step back ten yards and punt. I can’t help wondering how much better off the history of the church and how much easier Christian theology would be if Paul had been married. Imagine the difference there would be in all of Christianity if Paul had been married to a woman who had looked at him with equal amounts of disdain and concern and said, “Paul, honey – KISS.*”

Being family is not always easy.

My father was quiet and laid back. My mother was gregarious and active. My younger brother, Dennis, was a jock. I was not. In high school, I was in choir, plays, and on the speech team. Dennis ran cross country and played trombone in the band – with band, especially marching band, being more for social enjoyment than satisfying any musical ambition.

Dennis also liked to ride his 12-speed bicycle. Dennis and his riding buddies thought nothing about jumping on their bikes and pedaling from New Castle to Muncie and back between lunch and supper. Muncie is approximately 25 miles north of New Castle – a round trip of a good 50 miles. You have to understand, they would return from these little jaunts with no signs of having exerted themselves.

One day, a trip was planned to our Uncle’s house on the southwest edge of Muncie – and I decided to join them. How hard could it be? The trip to my Uncle’s house was a great ride – we took county roads and stayed off the state highways. We had a nice visit with our Aunt Marjorie and Uncle Kenneth and our cousin Joy Ann and her boyfriend, Phil – and the girl who lived next door to Phil.

Well, the time came to return home. We jumped on our bikes and started pedaling home. A few miles south of Muncie, it happened – my lack of experience with long-distance bicycle rides caught up with me and hammered me with the great-granddaddy of all leg cramps. Every muscle in both legs, above and below the knees, tightened into an unbreakable searing knot. Whatever fantasies I ever had about being “the man of steel” – this wasn’t it. The ride came to a screeching stop in front of someone’s house – to this day, I don’t know who those poor people were. Dennis knocked on the door to ask to use the phone to call our parents. Meanwhile, I had hobbled to the porch to get out of the sun where I promptly collapsed in excruciating pain which I expressed without restraint at the top of my lungs. Eventually, my father arrived and took me and my bicycle home. I never took another bicycle trip with my brother – and my brother has never harassed me about it or held it against me.

Being family is not always easy.

I hear that it has been this way for a long time.

When King David died, the crown went to his son, Solomon.
When Solomon died, the crown went to his son, Rehoboam.

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin is the author of an encyclopedic book titled, “Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People, and Its History.”

Rabbi Telushkin has this to say about King David’s grandson:
“Rehoboam has three bad traits; he is greedy arrogant, and a fool.” (p. 84)

From I Kings 12, here is a summary of what happened after the death of King Solomon. King Solomon had imposed high taxes and forced labor to build the temple. After the death of Solomon, the people approached Rehoboam and asked, “Your father made our yoke heavy. Now, therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke that he placed on us, and we will serve you.” Rehoboam told them he would have an answer for them in three days. His father’s advisors, who are older, suggest kindness and moderation and thus gain the eternal allegiance of the people. The younger advisors, who had grown up with Rehoboam, suggest a ruthless denial of the request. Rehoboam listens to his younger advisors. When the people return in three days, Rehoboam informs them that he will be even tougher than his father. And the people said, “We’re outta here.” [Hoosier translation of the original Hebrew] Ten of the twelve tribes form their own kingdom and Rehoboam is left with the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. The ten tribes name their kingdom, “Israel.”

208 years later, Israel is destroyed by Assyria.
136 years after the destruction of Israel, most of Judah is exiled to Babylon.

Here is the rest of the story. When the Assyrians destroyed Israel, some of the people escaped to Judah, formed their own province in the north of Judah and called it Samaria.

Take a breath and change gears – we are jumping to the United States in the 1860s. Think about the animosity between the North and South just before the Civil War. Now, think about that animosity between the North and South and no Civil War. Instead of Civil War, there is only the constant animosity. That is the relationship between Judah and Samaria in the first century during the ministry of Jesus. Back to the United States; what kind of stories do people in the north like to tell about southerners? What kind of stories do people in the south like to tell about those damn yankees? It was the same way between Judah and Samaria. Remember the animosity and the stereotyped jokes that had to have existed the next time you hear the story of the Good Samaritan or the story of the Samaritan woman at the well.

NRSV John 4:7-21
A Samaritan woman came to draw water,
…..and Jesus said to her,
……….Give me a drink.
(His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him,
……….How is it that you, a Jew,
……………ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?
(Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)

Jesus answered her,
……….If you knew the gift of God, and
……………who it is that is saying to you,
………………..‘Give me a drink,’
……………you would have asked him,
……………and he would have given you living water.

The woman said to him,
……….Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep.
……….Where do you get that living water?
……….Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob,
……………who gave us the well,
……………and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?

Jesus said to her,
……….Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,
……………but those who drink of the water that I will give them
……………will never be thirsty.
……….The water that I will give
……………will become in them a spring of water
……………gushing up to eternal life.

The woman said to him,
……….Sir, give me this water,
……………so that I may never be thirsty or
……………have to keep coming here to draw water.

Jesus said to her,
……….Go, call your husband, and come back.

The woman answered him,
……….I have no husband.

Jesus said to her,
……….You are right in saying,
………………..‘I have no husband’;
……………for you have had five husbands,
……………and the one you have now is not your husband.
……….What you have said is true!

The woman said to him,
……….Sir, I see that you are a prophet.
……….Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain,
……………but you say that the place where people must worship
……………is in Jerusalem.

Jesus said to her,
……….Woman, believe me,
……………the hour is coming when you will worship the Father
……………neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.
[END OF SCRIPTURE]

Two interesting observations about this story.

The first observation is this: Jesus would go the synagogue of whatever village he was visiting. The custom of the day was to invite such a visitor to participate in the worship service. This gave Jesus the opportunity to share his message. Yet, only a couple of stories exist about his synagogue visits. All of the other stories about his ministry – about the teachings and interactions of Jesus – take place outside the synagogue.

The second observation is a question and a challenge: With whom did Jesus interact? Go home and explore the four Gospels; start with Mark, then Matthew and Luke, and finally John. With whom did Jesus interact? Here is a hint: anyone. The early church heard this message and followed it.

NRSV Acts of the Apostles 8:26-40
Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip,
……….Get up and go toward the south
……………to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.
(This is a wilderness road.)
So he got up and went.

Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch,
…..a court official of the Candace,
…..queen of the Ethiopians,
…..in charge of her entire treasury.

He had come to Jerusalem to worship
…..and was returning home;
…..seated in his chariot,
…..he was reading the prophet Isaiah.

Then the Spirit said to Philip,
……….Go over to this chariot and join it.
So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah.
He asked,
……….Do you understand what you are reading?
He replied,
……….How can I, unless someone guides me?
And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him.

Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:

Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
so he does not open his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.

The eunuch asked Philip,
……….About whom, may I ask you,
……….does the prophet say this,
……….about himself or about someone else?

Then Philip began to speak, and
…..starting with this scripture,
…..he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus.

As they were going along the road,
…..they came to some water;
…..and the eunuch said,
……….Look, here is water!
……….What is to prevent me from being baptized?

He commanded the chariot to stop,
…..and both of them, Philip and the eunuch,
…..went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.

When they came up out of the water,
…..the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away;
…..the eunuch saw him no more,
…..and went on his way rejoicing.

But Philip found himself at Azotus,
…..and as he was passing through the region,
…..he proclaimed the good news to all the towns
…..until he came to Caesarea.
[END OF SCRIPTURE]

The eunuch, because of his incompleteness, would not have been allowed to participate in certain acts of worship at the temple in Jerusalem and there were parts of the temple where he would not have been allowed to enter.

Both of these stories were clear messages of inclusiveness to and by the early church. Additionally, a very clear attribute of the ministry and message of Jesus and the conduct of the early church was that ministry and message occur out there, not in the synagogue. While ministry and message are public, they are not to be overtly offensive, not in-your-face abuse, and they do not demand change as a requirement to hear the message or to receive ministry. Change can occur and it happens through the resurrection and transformation that is experienced when the ministry and message of Jesus is embraced and internalized.

We speak of being children of God, of being in the family of God. We speak of how this includes everyone, that it is a global perspective. We gladly talk about having an open table where all are invited. Really?

We are open and affirming – we welcome anyone regardless of sexual orientation. What about the homophobic? They, too, are children of God.

We happily talk about welcoming all regardless of race, color, or ethnicity. What about the racist, the Neo-Nazi, the KKK? They, too, are children of God.

We would welcome attorneys, judges, police officers, prison guards – anyone involved with law enforcement. What about the car thief, the burglar, the robber, the home invader, the child molester, the rapist, the murderer? They, too, are children of God.

Would we welcome the invisible people? The illegal immigrant, the homeless, the people who have chronic mental illness and are receiving little or no mental health service? They, too, are children of God.

Being family is not easy. There are 4 terrible prices to be paid if we truly accept and embrace this radical ridiculous notion that there are over 7 billion of God’s children on this planet.

1) If we accept each other as real brothers and sisters, then we are going to have to overlook a lot – and that includes stupid disastrous bicycle rides. For example, just in this room, it means affirming that in our worship service, there are no mistakes. [I have lost count of how many times this act of grace in worship has saved my butt.] When applied globally, the price to be paid is: There is no “them”, only us.

2) If we accept that we have 7 billion brothers and sisters, then we lose “there.” The Republic of Congo is not there, it is here. Syria and Iran and Pakistan are not there, they are here. Mexico and Venezuela are not there, they are here. They are as much here as we are in this room.

3) If we accept that we have 7 billion sisters and brothers, then we lose “later.” If Dennis phones from his home in Churubusco saying that he has an emergency that requires me to be there, I’m outta here. I know – We know – that the same is true between many of us in this room. It should be true for all of us who are here – all 7 billion of us. How do we respond “now” [?] – because “later” doesn’t exist.

4) The most terrible price to be paid is that in the presence of evil, we cannot be silent and still. In the presence of evil, we are called to shout, “This is wrong!” and we called to move against it. Evil exists. Evil is when a person is murdered, abandoned, or excluded from their rightful place in life because of prejudice or ignorance. Evil is when people are treated as “them” “there” and we decide that their need for justice or compassion can be dealt with “later.”

Consequently, if we accept that we have 7 billion siblings – and if we accept that “we” are “here” “now” – then we are going to settle our differences in vastly different ways. We are going to settle our differences as family. We are not going to settle our differences as winner-take-all antagonists and not as an act of conquest. We are going to change the way we intervene in conflicts and feuds – and we are going to intervene. We are going to change the way we intervene in harmful practices such as genocide and slavery and exclusion based on prejudice and ignorance – and we are going to intervene. We are going to change the way we intervene in the oppressive practice of living in empire instead of community – and we are going to intervene.

Being family is not easy.

My apologies to those who have already heard this story. I am telling it again because it is the only one I have to end this message.

At one point during his short troubled life, my son, Chad, was arrested and incarcerated in the Greene County jail. Having neither the emotional nor financial resources to pay his bail, I rationalized it as an example of “tough love.”

At 4 o’clock in the morning there was a knock on the front door. There stood my brother, Dennis, with Chad. Chad had phoned Dennis, who at the time lived in Muncie. Dennis had made the 3-hour drive in the middle of the night, from Muncie to Bloomfield, and bailed Chad out of jail and brought Chad home, and then Dennis made the 3-hour drive back to Muncie.

My question to Dennis was something along the line of “What were you thinking?”
My brother’s response to me was “What else was I to do? He’s family.”

Being family is not easy. The Good News is that there is no other way than – all of us here and now – be the family of God living in the Kingdom of God – and respond to each other one-to-one with generosity and hospitality and healthy service – and as a community provide justice and compassion – and that we be and live and share the Kingdom of God by embracing and exuding the unrestrained love and unconditional grace of God.

Amen.
_________________________________

* In this case, KISS = Keep It Short and Simple

RECLAIMING EASTER


Easter is about resurrection and transformation – today.

Easter is not about the torture and execution and resurrection of Jesus.
Easter is not about an event that happened one time to one person a long time ago.
Easter is not about an 11th-century feudal theology
…..of “penal substitution” or “substitutionary sacrifice.”
Easter is not about a 4th-century theology of “original sin.”
Easter is not about a sadistic abusive murderous blood-thirsty God.
Easter is not about a narcissistic mercenary God
…..whose love and grace are so shallow and tenuous and inadequate
…..that the favor or forgiveness of God can only be earned or purchased.
Easter is not about useless promises of an eternal post-mortal utopian etherial existence.
Easter is not about using the sharing the Good News as a form of conquest.
Easter is not about hate.

Easter is about the life and message and path of Jesus.
Easter is about us living the life and message and path of Jesus.
Easter is about the resurrection of the disciples – all of us who follow Jesus.
Easter is about disciples living and being – here and now – the Kingdom of God.
Easter is about disciples working together as the living body of Christ.
Easter is about the Good News.

What difference would it make if an ossuary was found
that undeniably contained the bones of Jesus?

To the message of Jesus – that God is personal and present and immediate and available and is characterized by love and grace, whose passion for us is to provide justice and compassion and generosity and hospitality and service, and who invites us and welcomes us and includes us and embraces us without exception or conditions – that message would not in any way be changed or diminished.

Something happened on Easter morning. Until that morning, the disciples still saw the message of Jesus as an unassembled upside-down puzzle with no idea as to what image would be revealed by the completed puzzle.

What happened on Easter was a transformative epiphany.
The women had it first – a profound comprehensive epiphany.
It was the best of epiphanies.
When the women shared their insight with the others,
the others had the same epiphany, the same transformation.

It was as if every piece of the puzzle had been turned upside-right and sufficiently assembled that the picture could be easily discerned. After all the questions that had only received Jesus’ annoying and unsatisfying answers and after repeatedly hearing the puzzling parables and confounding aphorisms of Jesus, compounded by the grief and depression and repressive fear of the preceding weekend, the impact of this epiphany had to have been earth shaking. It was such a powerful experience that it felt like an earthquake strong enough to roll away massive tombstones. It was so revealing, it was as if the curtain covering the Holy of Holies had been ripped asunder and the presence of God could be plainly seen by anyone who had the courage to look. It was so personal that it was as if Jesus was alive – speaking to them and sharing meals with them – a tangible presence. The life and message and path of Jesus did not die on the cross. The life and message and path of Jesus lives like a fire that hovers over us and smolders within us and breathes as powerfully and disturbingly as a noisy rampaging wind storm. The life and message and path of Jesus can be heard by anyone at any time and regardless of where they were born or what language they speak.

In those first few years, this same epiphany happened to Paul and hundreds of others. Repeatedly, it was such a powerful experience that people were transformed. The isolation and desperation and fatalism of day-to-day living in an oppressive empire supported and legitimized by imperial dominionist theology was replaced by the dual realization that the character of the one true God is:
…..* unrestrained love and unconditional grace –
…..* always present and immediately available to anyone anywhere anytime, and
…..* that life does not require participation in the empire
…..* not its political activities, not its cultural domination practices,
…..* not its imperial civic theology, not its military conquests, and
…..* not its greedy and isolating economics.

This same profound epiphany, this same earth-shaking resurrection,
this same life-as-if-from-death transformation
is still happening today.

The Good News has 3 inseparable messages:
1) The universal accessibility of the personal and persistent
1) unrestrained love and unconditional grace of God; and
2) The feeding quenching clothing healing visiting welcoming compassion and
2) the reparative rehabilitating restorative justice of the Community; and
3) The inclusive hospitality and joyous generosity and healthy service of the Individual
……………………………………………………RECLAIMING CHURCH – REDUX

This is resurrection and transformation!
This is the Good News!
This is Easter!
Alleluia!