Monthly Archives

May 2022

Sweet Wonder

Dear Gatherers,


When I was kid, people around me talked about Jesus all the time. They’d tell how they found Jesus to be a bridge over troubled water. (Yep, that’s where the phrase comes from.) They’d talk about finding him to be a friend in time of need. They’d explain how “he may not come when you want him, but he’s always on time.” Somewhere in the outpouring of love for Christ somebody would shake their head and say, “We serve a wonderful God!” My grandmother, Mama Wolfe—who publicly styled herself as a reserved, well-mannered lady—could often be heard singing loudly to herself, “O sweet wonder! O sweet wonder! Jesus the son of God!” That’s all there was to the song, and the more she sang it, the better it sounded.


These days, we don’t talk or sing like that too much. Every generation devises its own language and way of doing. Frankly, a lot of how we talk and sing feel better to me—more honest, less pie-in-the-sky, more relevant to our lived experience. But in the transition from one generation to the next we inevitably lose traditions we should reclaim. As I’ve been thinking and praying through our Thursday series, Faith After Doubt, I keep bumping up against the lost treasure of wonder. It’s a rare gift these days. We need to get it back.


What would happen if we held on to wonder? What if the joys of feeling mystified by things we can’t understand stuck with us? What if we reconciled ourselves to accept some things are simply bigger than reason and often better than anything we could dream up on our own? What if Jesus got so big in our minds all we could do was shake our heads and say, “He’s a wonder in my soul!” (That was another favorite in my grandparents’ house.)


Think about the speed bumps you may have raised just reading the previous paragraph and you’ll get a sense of how quickly we cheat ourselves out of wonder. That’s what we’ll be discussing this Thursday night at 7:30pm CDT. We’ll see why wonder is vital and why it’s risky. Bring your courage and come on in!


Together in wonder,

Pastor Tim


The Faith Project

Dear Gatherers,


We often refer to Gather as a “faith community,” a euphemism most likely coined in hopes of moving away from trigger words like “church” and “religion” or “congregation” that suggest imposed conformity and dogma. I’ve always liked “faith community.” It’s warmer, more inclusive sounding. But it still draws a circle of sorts, creating borders, soft and porous though they may be.


As we’ve been working our way through Brian McLaren’s Faith After Doubt, I find myself leaning into project, a term pinched from music—particularly hip-hop. In that context a “project” is a collection of songs an artist works on to forge a cohesive artwork, often released as an “album,” but nonetheless understood as a project. (This week Kendrick Lamar released his new album, “Mr. Morale & The Big Stepper,” coming several months after rumors he was working on a new project.) The project is a work in progress; the album is the result.


The more I’ve thought about it, the more convinced I am that Gather is a faith project—a work in progress, a collaboration of many artists pulling their hearts and minds together to make something original while also showing no reluctance to bring in older works and ideas that get transformed into something new. What will the final product, the album, be? How will it be received? Will it ever be finished? It’s not clear. We keep going by faith, believing in one another and what we’re discovering as we combine our gifts and questions and convictions into a collaborative work.


The faith project. I think this also what McLaren is getting at when he writes about Harmony as the fourth stage of faith, where the dualisms of simplicity, the layers of complexity, the stops and starts of perplexity point toward equilibrium where doubt and belief coexist in constant flux. McLaren says this kind of faith is expressed in love that understands uncertainty and will not judge or reject doubt and doubters as faithless. I think this is what the apostles keep pointing toward in their reminders that we are a work in progress.


“What we will be has not yet been revealed” (1 John 3:2). “I am confident of this, the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it” (Philippians 1:6). “We are what God has made us, created in Christ Jesus, for good works” (Ephesians 2:10).


If we have enough confidence to envision ourselves, one another, and our community as works in progress, then Gather is, in every way, a faith project. That awareness creates harmony, because it makes room and liberates all of us to be exactly who we are, where we are, knowing that God is doing something in each of us. This Thursday, we’ll do some serious thinking about harmony and transformation, evolution and the faith project. Join us at 7:30 CDT for an invigorating and reassuring conversation!



Pastor Tim


No Easy Way Back

Dear Gatherers,


During the pandemic I developed a bit of a podcast habit, wading into rivers of thought I don’t often swim in. One spot I splashed through was contemporary evangelical thought. I knew the waters. But years of absence—and the gift of free time–allowed me to test the currents and tides presently affecting our conservative cousins. I purposefully sought out podcasts hosted by younger people, since young folks frequently embrace trendy ideas as the only ideas. Match that with innate evangelical fervor and you’re going to get a clear taste of what’s trending. (And trendiness matters to evangelicals, where marketing strategies have eternal implications.) My instincts weren’t too far off.


I didn’t get very deep before bumping into a familiar seminary word: deconstruction. Hearing it in a conservative Christian context was a bit jarring, though, because deconstruction is a theoretical discipline intent on reducing a thought to its essence. Based on the work of 20th-century (devoutly agnostic) French philosophers, deconstruction in the liberal academy verges on destruction. You keep pulling at the pieces and breaking down the language until there’s little more than questions and misgivings left. That’s got to be tough in environments where certainty is a premium staple.


As I suspected, in evangelical corners, deconstruction has a different flavor. It tries to maintain core doctrines like biblical authority and purity and implacable faithfulness despite deeply conflicted feelings about the movement’s traditional indifference to (and even hostility toward) science, human sexuality, and multiculturalism. In other words, evangelical deconstruction seeks to distill perplexing theology down to simple faith that admits unease with long-held doctrines. As the sincere podcasters twisted their logic every which way to get the desired effect—a process all too familiar to liberal theologians—I kept thinking, “Simplicity is not so simple. It only takes you so far and once it drops you off, there’s no easy way back.”


How do we move beyond simple dualisms of good and evil and complex ideologies that turn faith into conquest? How do we clear sufficient room to pull our beliefs apart, deal with their messiness, and realize we may not get them put back together as neatly as they once seemed? If, as often say around Gather, doubt is an element of faith, then we have to admit dissent is essential to doubt and faith. This Thursday at 7:30pm we’re going to deconstruct these concepts. (See what I just did there?) And it’s probably going to be a messy conversation—meaning, you don’t want to miss it!


See you at Gather!


Peace in perplexity,

Pastor Tim


New World, New Wonder

Dear Gatherers,


Two weeks and change have passed since Easter and already it feels like a blip in the rearview mirror. Our days are so packed with things that need doing and diversions that need tending it’s hard to keep track of time. But I wonder how the hours passed for the first disciples. Did they crawl? Was every day a minute-by-minute ordeal wondering when—or if—the Risen Christ would manifest in their presence? Or did time fly in those first days after the resurrection? Was there simply so much excitement and possibility and activity that each day ended before it got started?


Easter is easy for us, because the story is pre-made and generally accepted despite its logical challenges. Before we’re old enough to measure the implications of resurrection, we’re told it’s understandable. Except it’s not. Everyone lets on like it’s comprehensible when it’s more than human intelligence can fathom. We’re asked to accept a premise beyond our grasp. Now step into the shoes of Mary Magdalene or Peter or Thomas and look into the eyes of a dear friend you buried, who now stands in front of you, hands outstretched, a loving smile on his face, and strangely alive, actually more than alive—more alive than he was, than you are, than anyone could ever be (or so you thought). How do you put all of that together?


Who know how long it took the disciples to figure out they were living in a new world defined by a new wonder? How do you measure your days after learning death is not the end? How long will it take to recognize there’s something more compelling than human enterprise at work in us? This Sunday we continue our journey to Pentecost by looking at the post-Resurrection new world filled with new wonders. Join us on May 8 for our next live service, with guest preacher Colin Knapp bringing a powerful word. We meet at 5pm at 9Twenty-Eight at 2144 W Van Buren. Come for the worship, stay for the dance!


Peace and power,

Pastor Tim