Monthly Archives

April 2022


Dear Gatherers,


In Brian McLaren’s Faith After Doubt, we meet a young aerospace engineer who says, “For most of my life, I’ve been addicted to certainty.” It’s understandable for a scientist, whose career is founded on measurable outcomes, predictability, and laws of physics. But, as his story unfolds, it takes a while to realize his skill set isn’t easily transferable to his faith journey. He joined a faith community where answers were abundant, but questions were scarce. Not only was the prevailing mindset “doubt-free.” The culture was hostile to questioning the embraced orthodoxy. Ask at your own risk.


When the young scientist raised concerns and doubts (prompted by the group’s blind support of a politician with a problematic past and aversion to truthfulness), he was warned to stay inside the box. “Question one moral absolute and you’ll soon be questioning everything,” he was told. As a believer, he had been conditioned not to question. But as a scientist, he’d been trained to interrogate multiple possibilities. The group’s dismissal of doubt as taboo thrust the engineer into cognitive dissonance. On one hand, he valued the certainty his friends equated with faith. But if everything his community seemed so certain about really was true, why did testing their beliefs—asking honest questions and raising ethical dilemmas—set off so many alarms?


Certainty worked for the young engineer—until it didn’t. “I felt I was creating my spiritual home, my fortress of faith,” he says, only to discover he’d constructed a prison. He was stuck. While he didn’t want to move backward, certainty kept him from moving forward into a more satisfying way of living that valued differing perspectives. He began to understand “certainty and faith are vastly different things.”


Our discussion this week will focus on the value of doubt as a catalyst that gets us unstuck from our certainties (whatever they may be) so we can embrace a more complex understanding of faith and how it works in a real world. Plan now to join us this Thursday at 7:30pm, clicking the link below. As those who joined last week discovered, this will be an amazing and challenging conversation!



Pastor Tim



Make Room for Doubt

Dear Gatherers,


Not long ago I had the rather unpleasant experience of speaking with someone from a major theological institution. She was doing some market research and wanted to know my views about the direction her school was headed. The move du jour seemed to be a kind of one-size-fits-all training applicable to every kind of religious thought and conscientiously (or self-consciously) changing the language to avoid sounding too this or too that. I listened for a while but eventually interrupted her to ask, “So what do you folks believe these days?”

“Why?” she countered.

“I’m just trying to figure out your mission. What are you trying to do?”

“Oh, yes, do you mean are we still Christian? You picked that up, did you? Well, we’re de-centering Christianity.”

Now it was my turn. “Why?”

“Because it’s dying. Surely you’ve seen the Pew Research. Americans are leaving churches in droves.”

The survey reflected what I’d been hearing for a while. Churches were folding as people opted for brunch and baseball over hymns and homilies. But did that mean Christianity was dying? Or are those churches in decline simply falling short? In his book, Faith After Doubt, Brian McLaren says this “falling away” is the result from many Christians’ inability to tolerate doubt. In the post-evangelical age of biblical inerrancy and unshakable certainty, merely suggesting you have questions can put you in socio-spiritual limbo, leaving you alone with your uncertainties.


How is that healthy for any individual, community, or faith? When did “knowing” replace believing? In our hyper-competitive world of know-it-all, over-achieving A-students-for-life, have we lost our respect for doubt? That may be why congregations are dwindling. The sermons and discussions may have no teeth. The community’s lived experience may be pallid and cold. The theological waters may be so shallow it’s not worth the plunge.


At Gather we’ve always loved questions… always embraced doubts… always made room to ponder big ideas with healthy suspicion. Why? Because we’re a faith community. Starting this Thursday at 7:30pm, we’ll look more deeply into doubt and faith. We’ll draw from McLaren’s book. But we’ll make sure we leave space for healthy discussion. Don’t miss one week in this series. It could be everything you need right now in your own faith formation. I look forward to seeing you all!


Peace, and blessings

Pastor Tim

Marking Time

Dear Gatherers,

One of the lesser noted aspects of Holy Week is its real-time observance of the Passion. Each year, we move from the procession into Jerusalem to the Resurrection at the very same pace the disciples experienced them. While Advent reduces the events leading to Christ’s birth to six weeks and Pentecost is a one-off celebration that glosses over the 10-day waiting period between the Ascension and the Holy Spirit’s arrival, every tick of the Holy Week clock is felt.

By Thursday night, the disciples are worn out and unnerved with uncertainty. A lot happens after the noisy entry into the Jerusalem. On Monday, Jesus goes back to the Temple (having scoped it out the night before) and starts a riot. On Tuesday, he curses a fig tree and spends hours confronting the Temple elite. Then he withdraws to the Mount of Olives to give a master class in apocalyptic discourse, confusing everyone. (All of this has to be exhausting to witness.) He and the disciples apparently plan to take Wednesday off. But their rest gets disturbed when a woman anoints Jesus in a gesture that foreshadows his death. Meanwhile, Temple officials plot to kill Jesus, a tricky task that gets easier when an insider named Judas shows up. Thursday finds the disciples rushing to arrange the Passover feast, a major undertaking since they’re in a strange city and affiliated with a known troublemaker.

They don’t yet know Thursday is their last night with Jesus. (He will reappear on Sunday, but not as one of them.) And in the Gospels’ accounts of the Passover meal we find Jesus using every available means to imprint on their spirits the meaning of this moment. A basin of water, a loaf of bread, a pitcher of wine, and words—so many words.

As we have done from our first Holy Week together, Gather will revisit this moment, holding it up in fresh light, inviting new realizations to break through our familiarity with the story. This year we’re taking an interactive approach, combining scripture with other texts and meditations that come to life in brief exercises to bring us closer to the texts. I pray everyone in our community makes time to gather for this service. And when you do, please have a few items ready to enable your participation:

  • A bowl or basin filled with water (and a towel)
  • A portion of bread
  • A glass of wine or juice
  • Pen and paper

Once you pull the pieces together, join the Zoom at 7:30pm CDT. This will be a non-replicable, unique Maundy Thursday experience. I look forward to seeing you then.

Pastor Tim



Live Versus On-Demand

Dear Gatherers,


Few of our studies generated more positive response than our Lenten series based on Henri Nouwen’s Life of the Beloved. I’ve had quite a few emails and calls from people saying how much his approach to faithfulness has moved them. This week, he pushes us toward a way of being that demands active engagement: “When the totality of our daily lives is lived ‘from above,’ that is, as the Beloved sent into the world, then everyone we meet and everything that happens to us becomes a unique opportunity to choose for the life that cannot be conquered by death” (136). His thoughts are especially poignant at this juncture, when we are—quite literally—returning to life, reentering a world we can no longer control with masks and distance and protocols, resurrected into the messiness of mundane uncertainty, where latent fears of strangers and randomness can’t dominate our every thought and move.


For two years we’ve lived on-demand, clicking our way through each day, struggling to keep our physical and emotional and spiritual needs met from a distance. And there’s been much speculation about what life after COVID will be like. Will we prefer private dining and home entertainment and out-of-synch faith practice? Or will this two-year wilderness—the longest Lent of our lives—heighten appreciation for living from above in real-time engagement instead of the less nourishing on-demand way we’ve settled for?


This Sunday we remember how Jesus—facing certain death—took his people into the city that would try to destroy him. He could have opted for on-demand distance: keeping a low profile, celebrating Passover quietly at home, avoiding friends and foes alike, preferring the safety of his own rooms and routines. Except Jesus couldn’t live on the down-low. He and his followers marched into Jerusalem without shame, live and out loud. When the nervous set scolded them, Jesus rebuked his critics, saying, “If they were silent, the stones would shout!” Yes, living from above is noisy and inconvenient and personally demanding. But if Jesus’s supporters had checked in at their convenience, there would be no Palm Sunday… no live event that points toward what happens when we choose life that cannot be conquered by death.


We have sterling opportunities for live, real-time religion this week—Thursday’s Zoom study and Sunday’s live, in-person worship—with more coming during Holy Week. Time’s up for on-demand survival religion. We’re stronger when we’re joined in real-time, living from above together. I look forward to seeing more of you in person, on time. You’re a vital member of this Beloved Community!


Peace, with much love,

Pastor Tim