Monthly Archives

November 2022

Turning Toward Light

Everything came into being through the Word, and without the Word nothing came into being. What came into being through the Word was life, and the life was the light for all people. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light. – John 1:3-5

Dear Gatherers,

Especially for church nerds like me, the leap from Thanksgiving’s noisy gratitude to Advent’s somber season of expectation can feel abrupt. That’s because our calendars are out of sync. The daily calendar sets New Year after Christmas; the Christian calendar places it four weeks before Christmas. It makes more sense, I think, for Thanksgivingto be the year’s final holiday—a time to count our blessings before the promises of Christmas are newly reborn in us.

It seems right to pause and recall goodness we’ve shared over the previous year before taking on Advent’s challenges, turning our thoughts to this amazing origin story that draws and holds us together all year long. At Gather, we’re grateful for the wide range of beliefs and life experiences and expectations binding us together. That’s a miracle worthy of gratitude all by itself.

It’s only right that we each tell the Jesus story our own way. That’s what the Gospel writers did. Matthew looked at Jesus as a long-awaited king. Luke saw him as miraculously embodied divinity. Mark presents Jesus as God’s chosen child named at baptism. And John relates to Jesus as a cosmic life-giving light that cannot be conquered. They are all correct, and that’s the point. What each of us sees in Jesus is precisely who we need Jesus to be. We gather in thanksgiving and set out to journey together through Advent, seeking light, knowing it will not look or be understood exactly in the same way for everyone. And because this communal journey of unique perspectives is a defining moment, we claim it as a new work in us, a new era in our community, a new year.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come.” Thanksgiving and Advent enable us to confess our needs and be grateful for goodness and fix our eyes on greater things to come. They’re tied together.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving. I look forward to seeing everyone on Sunday’s special Advent worship on YouTube at 5pm CST. But most of all, Happy New Year!

With much love,

Pastor Tim

The Y Factor

The wolf will live with the lamb and the leopard will lie down with the young goat; the calf and the young lion will feed together, and a little child will lead them. – Isaiah 11:6


Dear Gatherers,


It’s just about that time of year when the History Channel lights up with specials about “what really happened at Christmas.” How do you explain Mary’s pregnancy? What’s up with the Star of Bethlehem? How do we reconcile the historical anomalies? It seems our post-modern minds only grant truth to “factual” events and rational “reality.” When did imagination leave the life of faith?


In Isaiah 11, the prophet imagines a time of serene cohabitation, when lambs feel unthreatened around wolves, leopards and kid goats nap in the sun, calves graze beside cubs. This is the divine vision often referred to as “The Peaceable Kingdom.” And of course, it’s more than domesticated wildlife. In fact, it’s probably not about predators and livestock at all.


The prophet wants to shock the system of a people that has suffered relentless turmoil and become heartlessly enthralled in predatory, psychopathic behaviors. While they chafe under foreign occupation, they fixate on “survival of the fittest” fatalism. (As Billie Holliday famously summarized Matthew 25:29, “Them that’s got shall get, them that’s not shall lose…”) God longs for the day when wolves and wildcats stop pouncing, when lambs and kids no longer feel threatened, when walls and fences come down because danger is no more. And a child shall lead them.


Many turn the child reference into a Messianic oracle, saying, “This is all about Jesus!” But that alters the prophet’s intended meaning. The world needs children simply because they can imagine what God envisions. Is that so far-fetched we put it on the shelf beside all the other biological contradictions in this picture? Have we become so “adult” we only see young people as “adults in the making”? In elevating the text to mean something mystical we lose the common sense it wants to convey, especially in an hour when imaginative thinking is scarce.


For the past few months, Gather has been working with the Children’s Defense Fund and Lilly Endowment to create a culture of child wellbeing in our community. It’s a three-year program out of which we’ll offer transformative opportunities to young people. In our conversations we keep coming back to one fact: we’re missing the Y factor at Gather. We need young folx to lead us. That’s why, as your pastor, I’m declaring 2023 as Gather’s Year of Youth. I challenge us to go through our friends and family lists to find young people for Gather. As they come into the community, we’ll figure out how best to provide what they need. In the meantime, we must figure out why we need them to lead. And for that I give you one word: imagination.


Grateful for vision and youth,

Pastor Tim


(Above: Peaceable Kingdom by Edward Hicks, c. 1834, oil on canvas.)

Your Soul Needs a Home

God sets the solitary in families. – Psalm 68:6 (NKJV)


Last Sunday I had the pleasure of preaching at Congregational UCC in Arlington Heights. I spoke about “Excessive Love,” based on Luke 6:27: “Love your enemies; do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you; pray for those who abuse you.” I told the church Jesus calls for a love so over-the-top that it overshoots the haters and abusers it targets. And that makes a whole lot of sense because its real objective is enabling us to get over and around hatred, scorn, and emotional violence we may suffer for the sake of believing God is big enough and powerful enough to love everyone without condition.

Excessive love started making sense as I thought about civil rights icons who took this notion to glorious extremes and then I scaled it down further, using Gather as an example of how excessive love works in faith communities. I talked about how often we hear from people who’ve been “wounded by traditions and congregations… by pastors who were supposed to be shepherding them but instead beat them out of the fold… of families who would rather hold on to their religion than their own kin and blood.” (Catch the sermon here:

I felt the congregation lean in. They recognized what we understand all too well at Gather: too, too often spiritual trauma hangs a neon DO NOT ENTER sign over church doors. The horrors of previous abuses advise against ever taking that kind of risk again. Just stepping into a space that feels “churchy” can trigger unwelcome emotions and memories. (The late great bell hooks called the lovelessness that creates these sensations “soul murder,” and she’s right.)

Yet an avoidance strategy only works so long because it doesn’t address the primal issue: our soul needs a home. The God in us craves the company of God in others. Spirituality is—has always been—a group project, despite trendy attempts to work out an eccentric solo variety. Our soul needs a home. The souls of others we love need a home. We all long to sit at table surrounded by eagerly loving family… to know a place where home-cooked flavors are tasty yet free of toxins and dogma we recall from past kitchens… a home where we show up exactly as we are, with whomever we invite, confident there will be no cold shoulders or drama or backlash.

This Sunday, Gather invites you to come on home. Don’t come alone, either. Find someone whose soul is looking for a home. We’ll be serving up some old-school home cooking with some fresh, life-giving flavors. There will be plenty good room at the table. We’re going to do all the things we think of when families get together: we’re going to rejoice, tell stories, think about the future, eat and laugh and dance and love on one another. Come home for the holidays. You’ve been away far too long.


With all my love,

Pastor Tim

De-Weaponize the Word

We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love. – Ephesians 4:14-16


Dear Gatherers,


One of my first jobs out of undergrad was teaching high school English, back when kids learned how to diagram sentences. While I haven’t thought about diagramming in years, it all came back while reading Ephesians 4, where one sentence runs a total of 81 words (see above.) I couldn’t begin to diagram it. But the message is hard to miss. Here’s the Tim translation: “We need to leave deceitful foolishness alone and tell the truth in love, growing in Christ, so we can mature into a high-functioning, healthy community grounded in love.”


This is not to suggest Gather is not a loving, healthy community. We’re all of that. What brings this text to mind is how floridly Paul describes windbags who spew doctrinal gusts to trick and deceive and promote hatefulness. Once he sets that scene, Paul uses the rest of this elegant, runaway sentence to effectively say, “Yeah, we can’t grow if we keep falling for their baloney.”


Now this is hard for many of us hear because some of these blowhards (forgive the pun) raised us and prayed with us and taught us the Bible. Yet, in retrospect, we can see how—for good or bad—they used scripture to manipulate and demean and clobber us, often with such craftiness we don’t want anything to do with faith or the gospel or even God. And that’s understandable. But is it viable?


Paul doesn’t think so. And I have to say I’m on his side. Allowing the schemers and deceivers to stunt our spiritual growth hands leaves us deprived. The way we overcome deceitful doctrines and tricky translations is by de-weaponizing the Word, knowing scripture for ourselves—not only what it says, but why it says what it says, and what it was originally meant to achieve. We start there and then we grow into deeper love for God, for scripture, for one another, and for others like us who’ve not yet found their way home.


That’s why our current series, Queer Theology 101, is so vital. It goes right back to the source and tests what’s there against everything we’ve been told was there. Once we sort through the misleading, often flat-out incorrect doctrines used to demean and deceive, we can move on to “speaking the truth in love.” Get some of that good word in your system and I promise you’ll grow!


Join us this Thursday as we work through more of the so-called clobber texts that have been abused to shame and condemn LGBTQ folks. You’ll discover going back to unlearn some of this stuff is how we find our way forward. The conversation starts at 7:30pm CDT. I look forward to seeing you!



Pastor Tim