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RED AND YELLOW, BLACK AND WHITE

Pink-Faced Christianity and the Missionary Complex

Those of us who grew up in Sunday school probably remember this little ditty: Jesus loves the little children/All the children of the world/Red and yellow, black and white/They are precious in his sight/Jesus loves the little children of the world. It conjures memories of cherubic children chirping at the top of their lungs, and our nostalgia for “simpler times” filters out one important detail. This song wasn’t about racial equity—although it reads that way in 2020. It was a mission song intended to stir pink-faced concern for non-white foreign kids. (Why brown-skinned kids got left out we’ll never know; most current versions wedge them in between “red” and “yellow.”)

Wouldn’t we just love for this song to be our time-tried anthem of diversity and inclusion! That impulse signals how far white-American Christianity has to go to shake its history of white supremacist ideology.

This Sunday school favorite doesn’t celebrate racial diversity; it flags it as something to be overcome in order to “win the world for Christ” (a classic white-American Christian euphemism). How fortunate for Jesus that so many fair-skinned believers fanned out across the planet to spread his gospel to less ideally pigmented masses! How lucky for those youngsters that we would resign the comforts of home to evangelize their “pagan” lands!

If this sounds unduly harsh that’s because intrinsic, systemic racism in white-bred American Christianity consistently cloaks itself in missionary fervor. We’ve distorted the Great Commission—“Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel” (Mark 16:15)—into a cultural mandate. Making disciples has become synonymous with defaming any sociopolitical and religious thought that doesn’t square with our white-friendly systems of faith, government, and ethics.

Is it not curious that, in America, we’re shielded from non-white foreign Christian influences? Why don’t we know that many Africans revere Jesus as the First Ancestor—the most prominent of a “cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1) who are actively engaged in earthly affairs? How is it we’ve never been challenged to grapple with Japanese focus on God’s pain? No white American Christian is going to accept an angst-ridden God! Yet in the post-World War II Asian conscience, a God who is not outraged at human pain and humiliation cannot be loving. A God without suffering is no God at all. Let’s work with that for a minute or two.

Until we overcome our missionary complex, white American Christianity will never be rid of racist impulses and opportunism. Pointing to multiracial congregations doesn’t prove anything—not if we continue to serve a white supremacist agenda of “converting” foreign people of color to our pink-faced gospel with its blue-eyed Jesus and our current nationalistic determination to destroy democracy “for Christ.”

Jesus does love all the children of the world. And Jesus knows how to speak to them in ways that affirm their identity rather than erasing it. Until we get that, we need to leave this “harmless” tune alone.

This week we end our “De-Othering” series with a look at the many ways racism gets inscribed in the Christian character. Join via Zoom or phone:

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/81856098958?pwd=Z2JkRmx3SlZOTk5QOHhiayt0YUF5Zz09

Meeting ID: 818 5609 8958; Passcode: 273071

Or dial in at 312-626-6799, using the same ID and passcode.

We need your help!

As we think about the future of Gather, please let us know what gifts you bring and would like to share with the community. There are many roles that have to come together to make Gather happen every week. This includes setup, technical support, worship, managing handouts and information, coordinating drinks, and teardown. We need your help. Please let us know what type of service you’d be interested in!

Watch God Work,
Tim & Shea

As we prepare to become a vibrant worshipping community, we invite you to enjoy a Spotify playlist that captures the kind of worship we hope to embrace. Give it a spin while you’re driving. Make it your workout jam. Add it to your devotional time. Most of all, feel yourself becoming part of a sacred village of believers who love their God and one another!
Check out the Gather Worship Playlist here.

LOUSY COOKS

Silent, Subservient? No Way!

Recently I was talking with a friend who decried the recent antics of politically ambitious televangelists. “This is why I left Christianity,” he said. My answer surprised him. “Christianity is like cooking. Calling yourself a cook, doesn’t mean you’re good at it.” Which is to say, a lot of lousy but LOUD cooks give Christianity a bad rap.

Some of our worst cooks are committed to a male-dominated diet. It’s a deeply imbedded problem tracing back to ancient cultures that deprived women of voice, education, and recognition. Men did the talking, reading, and writing. Even when they embraced feminine influence (e.g., in goddess worship, submission to priestesses, fealty to royals), they kept slinging the same hash about masculine superiority.

Double standards and glass ceilings we revile to this day have hung around a long time. Unfortunately, they can’t be completely rooted out of our sacred texts because assumption of male privilege is too thoroughly knitted into the narrative.

The boys-club mentality that overshadows so many texts has often persuaded highly privileged (and naïve) male faith leaders, as well as some women, to inscribe gender inequity into alleged Christian values, culture, and doctrines. Preaching subservience and silence for half of humanity may work for some members of the other half. But it also diminishes and disregards the Creator’s bold decision to equip all of us with intellect, reason, desire, and purpose.

Again: A lot of lousy and LOUD cooks give Christianity a bad rap.

For all the testosterone that fueled its writing and propagation, scripture keeps showing its hand. It can’t deny the unique powers women possess as creative forces. Our faith is committed to this idea on so many levels that cherry-picking scripture in order to bully half of the community is a fool’s errand. It can’t pass the gospel test of “all-ness.”

Women keep silent? Wives obey? Daughters comply? These notions are repeatedly contradicted, often within the very same books and letters that espouse them. With very few exceptions, every woman seen or mentioned in scripture is extraordinary. They’re the real movers and shakers. They make things happen. Their opinions matter. They don’t get as much stage time as the men—many of whom are train wrecks—but when they show up, something’s about to give.

It’s just bad theology, poor scholarship, and pure hatefulness—terrible cooking—to ignore the power and influence women possess. Don’t let a bunch of lousy chefs convince you all cooking is terrible. Don’t let a bunch of sexists turn you against Christianity. Lousy cooks are just lousy cooks. We all would be wise to see that.

Our conversations about “De-Othering” continue every Thursday through November 19th. Join via Zoom or phone:

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/81856098958?pwd=Z2JkRmx3SlZOTk5QOHhiayt0YUF5Zz09

Meeting ID: 818 5609 8958; Passcode: 273071

Or dial in at 312-626-6799, using the same ID and passcode.

We need your help!

As we think about the future of Gather, please let us know what gifts you bring and would like to share with the community. There are many roles that have to come together to make Gather happen every week. This includes setup, technical support, worship, managing handouts and information, coordinating drinks, and teardown. We need your help. Please let us know what type of service you’d be interested in!

Watch God Work,
Tim & Shea

As we prepare to become a vibrant worshipping community, we invite you to enjoy a Spotify playlist that captures the kind of worship we hope to embrace. Give it a spin while you’re driving. Make it your workout jam. Add it to your devotional time. Most of all, feel yourself becoming part of a sacred village of believers who love their God and one another!
Check out the Gather Worship Playlist here.

MALE AND FEMALE

What the Creation Story Tells Us About Gender

God created humankind in God’s image… male and female God created them. – Genesis 1:27

In the ancient Hebrew imagination, Creation was perfect, because it was God’s doing. Our task, as God’s ultimate handiwork, is to hasten the world’s return to its original perfection. That can sound rather simplistic until you dig a little deeper into what Israel’s poets, prophets, and rabbis meant.

For them, perfection meant wholeness. And that applied to everything God makes in the Genesis 1 narrative, from the stars in the heavens to the tiny things creeping through the grass. Thus, when the early rabbis read Genesis 1:27, they assumed gender wasn’t an either/or category, but rather an all-of-the-above proposition. This idea was so prevalent in Jesus’s day that soon thereafter it was inscribed in Jewish commentary. “Said Rabbi Jeremiah ben Elazar: In the hour when the Holy One created the first human, He created him [as] an androgyne” (Genesis Rabbah 8).

Why is this important? First, it tells us that in the minds of Jesus’s teachers the creation of a male or female human would be incomplete because being created in God’s image would necessarily mean having all the qualities we associate with God, whether they are manly or womanly traits. But also beginning with a dually gendered human makes sense of a later story in Genesis in which the “male side” and “female side” are separated to enable them to face one another.

Most important for us today, in a world where gender fluidity is finally being more widely accepted, this reading calls us to fresh awareness that we don’t live in an either/or world because we’re not made by an either/or God. There’s simply no such thing as an “all-man man” or an “all-woman woman.” And that causes us to question limits and definitions we create around gender. It’s imperfect thinking because it’s incomplete.

How radically would our gender assumptions be altered if we embraced our androgynous origins? How easily could we open ourselves to more gender variance—not worrying about what little boys and little girls are made of, becoming more fully like the all-encompassing God who made us? How would that ease our discomfort with others who may not fit so easily in our binary boxes?

Creation is perfect. We are not. But we can move closer to perfection—closer to the Holy One who made us in a non-binary image to reflect our Maker’s non-binary nature.

This week we conclude our series, In the Beginning: Creation Across Cultures, with a look at how the making of humankind is portrayed. We invite you to join us on Thursday evening at 7:30p CDT, using the Zoom information below. If you’ve missed this opportunity you can find a recording of the discussion on our YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCldChQ-w8vS1vkbSDyyxLOQ.

 

Via Zoom:

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/88285720765?pwd=bWd2Z1dCVjVMWkIxdEgxSW90Z2dIZz09

Meeting ID: 882 8572 0765, Passcode: 930247

You can also phone in at 1-312-626-6799 using the same meeting ID and passcode.

We need your help!

As we think about the future of Gather, please let us know what gifts you bring and would like to share with the community. There are many roles that have to come together to make Gather happen every week. This includes setup, technical support, worship, managing handouts and information, coordinating drinks, and teardown. We need your help. Please let us know what type of service you’d be interested in!

Watch God Work,
Tim & Shea

As we prepare to become a vibrant worshipping community, we invite you to enjoy a Spotify playlist that captures the kind of worship we hope to embrace. Give it a spin while you’re driving. Make it your workout jam. Add it to your devotional time. Most of all, feel yourself becoming part of a sacred village of believers who love their God and one another!
Check out the Gather Worship Playlist here.

MADE FOR PRAISE

Not “Again”

Isaiah tells the story of a national crisis. Weak leaders have sold the country out. Enemies have invaded the land. The capital and its beloved Temple are reduced to a sand pile. The best citizens are taken hostage while those left behind—somewhat tellingly called “the Remnant”— long for the day when they can make their country great again, forgetting its collapse was brought on by greed and xenophobia, all under a veneer of false piety.

After the equivalent of 18 American Presidential terms, the captives come home. The dream of a return to “normal”—complete with rebooted economy, a restoration of old systems of power and a revived sense of ethnic supremacy—doesn’t jibe with God’s thinking. “Again” isn’t on God’s mind. “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old,” God says to Israel. “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Is. 43:18-19)

Why isn’t God so gung-ho about a “great again” plan? Restoring earlier glory doesn’t take much. Just some money and elbow grease. Yet God is abundantly clear this new thing has one purpose. God is doing something new for “the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise” (v21).

God wants our praise. In fact, we are made for praise. And that means we are made to expect more from God and ourselves than reviving a fabled past that never really existed. I’m about to do a new thing, God says. Don’t you get it?

Both testaments make it abundantly clear that when we praise things get shaken up. In Joshua, we see the Israelites raise such raucous praise walls crumble. In Acts, Paul and Silas go into such a high praise their prison cell can’t hold them; they literally sing and shout the jail doors off their hinges! The God of new things desires praise and when we praise, God does every more revolutionary things.

But praise is hard because praise seems silly to us—all this telling God how wonderful God is, all this noise and singing and clapping and shouting “Hallelujah!” (which, by the way, literally means to praise God exuberantly). In other words, praise is uncomfortable. And for that reason, a lot of us would rather dream of the past than step outside our comfort zones to see what kind of new ideas God’s got in mind. We’ve lost the praise that pushes us into a new reality.

“I’m up to something new—something only I can do—something that will inspire and command high praise. DON’T YOU GET IT?”

We are made for praise. God is always giving us new reasons for praise. When we live in a state of praise, we see beyond stale ideas and golden oldie days. Not “again.” Never “again.” Always new. Can we step out of our tightly drawn comfort zones to give God the praise God deserves? It depends on how well we believe God when God says, “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”

Don’t miss this Sunday’s YouTube worship experience, “Praise & Protest” that links praise with demanding more than a weak-spirited “great again” philosophy of life. This will be an uplifting time together. You can access the service at 5pm CDT (on October 25) via our YouTube channel. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCldChQ-w8vS1vkbSDyyxLOQ. See you then!

We need your help!

As we think about the future of Gather, please let us know what gifts you bring and would like to share with the community. There are many roles that have to come together to make Gather happen every week. This includes setup, technical support, worship, managing handouts and information, coordinating drinks, and teardown. We need your help. Please let us know what type of service you’d be interested in!

Watch God Work,
Tim & Shea

As we prepare to become a vibrant worshipping community, we invite you to enjoy a Spotify playlist that captures the kind of worship we hope to embrace. Give it a spin while you’re driving. Make it your workout jam. Add it to your devotional time. Most of all, feel yourself becoming part of a sacred village of believers who love their God and one another!
Check out the Gather Worship Playlist here.

WONDERS OVERHEAD

Day Four of Creation

Heaven is declaring God’s glory; the sky is proclaiming God’s handiwork. – Psalm 19:1

The six-day creation account in Genesis 1 takes an interesting turn on Day Four. The first three days are elemental: light and darkness; land, sea, and sky, with an invisible “dome” preventing a constant deluge of rain. Plants emerge in these early days, as they must, to anchor the land with their roots and because, when you put water on soil, something always grows. The Creator is clearly up to something. But what it is doesn’t come into focus until the fourth day, when the sun, moon, and stars are set in place to be “for signs and for seasons and for days and years” (Gen. 1:14-17; NRSV).

But it’s interesting that daylight and moonglow are almost afterthoughts. In the ancient imagination the wonders overhead bore two important functions. The sky was often scrutinized for divine “signs” that held predictive or confirming capabilities. Astrology is an art as old as religion, and many people looked to it for indications that they were pleasing their gods. Indeed, these instincts are so deeply imbedded in our nature, we see a shooting star or a blood moon or an eclipse and read all kinds of meaning into it!

More importantly, the movement of the spheres kept track of time. Like many cultures, the Israelites got very good at marking months and years by the heavens. Our own liturgical calendar is derived from such moves. For instance, not many folks realize Western Christianity’s highest holy day—Easter—dances around the calendar because it’s tied to lunar behavior. We celebrate Easter on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox ushers. We do this because the Easter narrative is set on the first day of the week after Passover, which occurs on the first full moon of spring.

What makes all of this more than a trivia exercise? It shows we primally understand our Creator to be deeply implicated in our own time, history, and hourly existence. The Psalmist looks up and doesn’t merely gasp at celestial beauty. The poet “hears” the heavens boasting of God’s glorious ability to mark time. The first few verses of Psalm 19 are a ravishing account of daytime, with the sun’s rising and progress compared to a warrior bridegroom leaving his honeymoon bed. And what’s interesting about that is scholars are convinced this is borrowed language, a sly adaptation of earlier poetry about Egypt’s sun god. In other words, the heavens declare God’s glory in every dialect, every tradition, in every way we’ve come to understand signs and times. It’s such an enormous idea, no one religion can claim exclusive rights to it. Which is just as it should be.

Our look at Creation Across Cultures continues as we spend this week contemplating the heavens. Join us each Thursday evening at 7:30 CDT via Zoom:

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/88285720765?pwd=bWd2Z1dCVjVMWkIxdEgxSW90Z2dIZz09

Meeting ID: 882 8572 0765, Passcode: 930247

You can also phone in at 1-312-626-6799 using the same meeting ID and passcode.

We need your help!

As we think about the future of Gather, please let us know what gifts you bring and would like to share with the community. There are many roles that have to come together to make Gather happen every week. This includes setup, technical support, worship, managing handouts and information, coordinating drinks, and teardown. We need your help. Please let us know what type of service you’d be interested in!

Watch God Work,
Tim & Shea

As we prepare to become a vibrant worshipping community, we invite you to enjoy a Spotify playlist that captures the kind of worship we hope to embrace. Give it a spin while you’re driving. Make it your workout jam. Add it to your devotional time. Most of all, feel yourself becoming part of a sacred village of believers who love their God and one another!
Check out the Gather Worship Playlist here.

MASTER OF THE SEA

Divine and Human Domains

As Genesis rolls out its Creation narrative, arranging the elements becomes the first concern after the creation of light. The primordial world needs organizing! The sky is hung above the sea. Dry land is summoned from the ocean floor and plants take root. Days Two and Three complete and “God saw how good it was” (Gen. 1:12).

The heavens are the exalted domain, where God resides, watches from, and comes from to intervene in our affairs. The land is where we live, where our food and raw materials come from. It’s the stuff we’re made of. That takes care of land and air. What of the sea?

For the ancients, the sea epitomizes chaos. It’s unpredictable, mysterious, and often treacherous. It supports strange life forms that can’t be found anywhere else. Things change quickly at sea. A sudden squall can turn smooth sailing into a nightmare.

That’s why so many myths and legends valorize sailors: Odysseus, Sinbad, and other maritime heroes who overcome sea monsters and nymphs luring them to certain death all come to mind. In our own time, we abide a number of sea myths, most notably the story of the Bermuda Triangle, where sailors and pilots vanish for no reason.

The prominence of sailors in so many folklores sparks curiosity about why neither the Hebrew Bible nor the Christian texts ever focus on a sailor. It could be argued the Jewish nation simply wasn’t a seafaring culture. Yet that’s also curious, since it sits on the Mediterranean shore, at the trade crossroads that joined the East and Europe. There might be something more significant than geography going on here.

Genesis positions God as the Master of the Sea. The deep’s power is mediated when God calls forth land. Its dangers are contained, its threats minimized by the decision to create a home for humans on dry ground. Meanwhile, although scripture doesn’t give us one heroic sailor, it gives us plenty of nautical episodes, nearly all of which go sideways. Jonah, the disciples, and the Apostle Paul are subjected to harrowing storms and (in Paul’s case) even shipwreck. Yet all of these tales end happily with divine intervention. Whatever other lessons there are, the underlying moral is always the same: God alone is the Master of the Sea.

We live in tumultuous times of uncertainty and near-constant squalls. The stormy seas of existence feel less like a metaphor and more like lived reality. No sailor heroes are emerging in our story to lead us home. But we aren’t dismayed because our trust is too precious to invest in a mere sailor. We place our confidence in the Master of the Sea. As the sailor-poet of the great hymn “Amazing Grace” put it, “‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far / And grace will lead me home.” Amen.

If you’re not catching our October series “Creation Across Culture” you’re missing a treat. Join us each Thursday evening at 7:30 CDT via Zoom:

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/88285720765?pwd=bWd2Z1dCVjVMWkIxdEgxSW90Z2dIZz09

Meeting ID: 882 8572 0765, Passcode: 930247

You can also phone in at 1-312-626-6799 using the same meeting ID and passcode.

We need your help!

As we think about the future of Gather, please let us know what gifts you bring and would like to share with the community. There are many roles that have to come together to make Gather happen every week. This includes setup, technical support, worship, managing handouts and information, coordinating drinks, and teardown. We need your help. Please let us know what type of service you’d be interested in!

Watch God Work,
Tim & Shea

As we prepare to become a vibrant worshipping community, we invite you to enjoy a Spotify playlist that captures the kind of worship we hope to embrace. Give it a spin while you’re driving. Make it your workout jam. Add it to your devotional time. Most of all, feel yourself becoming part of a sacred village of believers who love their God and one another!
Check out the Gather Worship Playlist here.

LET THERE BE LIGHT

Intuitive Theology

Northwest indigenous peoples tell of Raven, a trickster character, who grows weary of hunting in the dark and finds a way to incarnate himself as a child. He ingratiates himself to his grandfather who’s been hoarding the light. When the old man isn’t looking, Raven steals the light and flies away with it. In the process, the light is broken into many pieces that become the moon and stars. It’s a lovely origins tale that intrigues and surprises those of us who only know the primeval creation narratives of Genesis. And it points to an understanding that often goes unnoticed.

Theology simply means “talking about God.” When we talk about the universe’s Maker and Keeper, we reach for metaphors and stories and symbols to explain what can’t be comprehended, let alone spoken. In this we are hardly alone. Every culture has stories that extol a divine presence at work in the world. They always begin with how the world came into being and nearly all of them feature two constants: the presupposition that “someone” is there before the beginning, and the first act of creation involves the appearance of light.

Raven performs a trick that enables him to enter the sphere where light is being held captive. In many ways that’s very different than our Genesis story, where darkness is equated with chaos and the realm before creation is a flood with God’s spirit gliding above the waters. Our story with begins in murky abstraction and order is established as creation becomes increasingly concrete. In the Raven myth, there is already a world and (apparently) humans; there just isn’t any available light.

Yet the instincts are very similar. There is someone, or something, pre-existent that possesses the power to create and contain light. “God said, ‘Let there be light.’ And so light appeared.  God saw how good the light was. God separated the light from the darkness.  God named the light Day and the darkness Night,” we read in Genesis 1:3-5.

The prevalence of light-and-darkness myths across cultures suggests there are instinctive aspects of theology that we may undervalue. In our determination to categorize, define, and analyze, we may forget awareness of the divine is deeply rooted in our consciousness and we come to these ideas from a place that precedes logic. Is our understanding of God and how we came to be intuitive?

In 2 Corinthians 4:6 we find these words: “God said that light should shine out of the darkness. He is the same one who shone in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ.” Light is knowledge and that light enables us to see God’s glory in Jesus and one another. The Raven is not far from this idea in that he enables the world to see what was hidden from it. Let there be light!

Join us during October as we embark on a fascinating series that compares the Genesis creation narrative with similar tales from other faiths and cultures. We’re doing intuitive theology this month, and it’s going to be an illuminating time together. We meet every Thursday evening at 7:30 CDT via Zoom.

Join Zoom Meeting

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/88285720765?pwd=bWd2Z1dCVjVMWkIxdEgxSW90Z2dIZz09

Meeting ID: 882 8572 0765 Passcode: 930247

You can also join by phone at 1-312-626-6799, using the same ID and Passcode.

We need your help!

As we think about the future of Gather, please let us know what gifts you bring and would like to share with the community. There are many roles that have to come together to make Gather happen every week. This includes setup, technical support, worship, managing handouts and information, coordinating drinks, and teardown. We need your help. Please let us know what type of service you’d be interested in!

Watch God Work,
Tim & Shea

As we prepare to become a vibrant worshipping community, we invite you to enjoy a Spotify playlist that captures the kind of worship we hope to embrace. Give it a spin while you’re driving. Make it your workout jam. Add it to your devotional time. Most of all, feel yourself becoming part of a sacred village of believers who love their God and one another!
Check out the Gather Worship Playlist here.

MADE AND REMADE

Lessons from the Potter

 

For so many of us, the news cycle has become a wheel of misfortune. With cyclical regularity we are spun into another fit of despair. COVID numbers continue to mount, along with the baffling assertions of officials and pundits desperate to convince us all is well. The loss of Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg unleashed a political firestorm that, however it resolves, will leave us to repair long swatches of scorched earth. Racial injustice rears its head regularly, as the flagrant mishandling of Breonna Taylor’s case reminds us again. Most days it feels like we’re on a merry-go-round that is neither merry nor going in any kind of hopeful direction. Just around and around and around.

We are not the first generation to experience this. Times were comparably tough for the prophet Jeremiah, as he watched his nation fall apart before his eyes. He railed against injustice in very public and persuasive ways. Yet he couldn’t move the people away from their own self-destructive habits and sinful attitudes. The news may have traveled more slowly back then, but the same cyclical kind of despair—one thing after another after another—was Jeremiah’s daily portion. He’s not called The Weeping Prophet for nothing!

After another experience preaching to deaf ears, God instructs Jeremiah to visit a pottery studio, where he sees an artisan rescue a flawed vessel by remaking it. “Can’t I do the same with you?” God asks, addressing the prophet as much as the nation he cares about.

One of the great lessons from the Potter is that we are all works in progress, being made and remade, consistently perfected until we’re finished vessels. And along the way, when we place ourselves in the hands of the Master Craftsman, our cracks and flaws get mended. Why? Because it’s in the Potter’s best interest to make us over. We can’t be as useful to him/her if we aren’t sufficiently strong and adequately shaped to “hold our own.” And for this reason alone, we become the beneficiaries of divine patience, compassion, and care.

This happens on a different kind of wheel that spins a different kind of way and follows a different set of cycles than what we get in the constant spin that intimidates us with its gloom and doom. Even as the world seems like it’s whirling out of control, we are firmly held in the Potter’s hands. The pressures exerted on us give us shape. The remaking may be painful, but it also works out impurities that might distort the Potter’s intentions for us.

The struggle, of course, is learning to rest on the wheel, recognizing its spin and the pressures of reshaping are necessary discomforts. We are becoming, always becoming what the Potter knows we can be.

“Can’t I do the same with you?” God asked the prophet. God asks us the same of us today.

Join us this coming Sunday, when Gather hosts its monthly online worship at 5pm CDT. You can access the service at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCldChQ-w8vS1vkbSDyyxLOQ.

We need your help!

As we think about the future of Gather, please let us know what gifts you bring and would like to share with the community. There are many roles that have to come together to make Gather happen every week. This includes setup, technical support, worship, managing handouts and information, coordinating drinks, and teardown. We need your help. Please let us know what type of service you’d be interested in!

Watch God Work,
Tim & Shea

As we prepare to become a vibrant worshipping community, we invite you to enjoy a Spotify playlist that captures the kind of worship we hope to embrace. Give it a spin while you’re driving. Make it your workout jam. Add it to your devotional time. Most of all, feel yourself becoming part of a sacred village of believers who love their God and one another!
Check out the Gather Worship Playlist here.

Word of Life

Scripture’s Power to Inspire and Animate

 

Anyone who’s spent time in its pages will tell you the Bibleis a force of nature. Actually, it’s several forces of nature that meet and mingle to produce a powerful, life-giving experience. There is, most notably, a divine presence in our sacred texts—a sense that what we’re reading originates with a Creator whose love prompted ancient writers to pen the words. On some level we believe the source of scripture and the Source of life are one and the same. Even if people were the instruments through which these texts came into existence, their power transcends human invention.

But we are also a force of nature in these texts, because none of them escaped human interference. Not one original manuscript for any book in the Bible is known to exist. The best we have are copies of copies—handwritten copies—which defy consistency we find and expect in mechanical publishing.  And even high-tech replication doesn’t assure perfect copies every time! We know ancient languages present challenges for translators whose own work becomes problematic over time. Compare the King James Bible with today’s more current Common English Bible to get a sense of that. Then there are shifting thoughts and circumstances that invariably impact interpretive approaches. What one generation sees and believes clearly another barely sees or doesn’t believe at all. (The most infamous example: early American use of ancient texts to justifychattel slavery; the very thought of employing scripture to defend enslavement is and should be abhorrent today.)

Finally, no account of scripture is complete without acknowledging the written or spoken word as its own force of nature. The text actually announces this when, very early on, it tells us God breathed God’s life into the human. Embodying that divine gift not only inspires and animates us, it also empowers us breathe life into thoughts and words that, in turn, inspire and animate. The creative force we call the “Logos”—the wordbehind Creation—also exists in our words and literature, in our creative capacities.

Inspiration and animation are how God works. Allowing scripture to inspire and animate us is how we hear God speak.It’s also how we experience God. When we combine these three forces of nature, God, humanity, and literature, we experience transformation. And learning how to do that becomes an art—a force of nature—all its own.

As with any art form, reading scripture in life-affirming ways requires much practice and skill. Because so many of us encounter scripture at an early age, we often associate it with other childhood occupations that don’t ask much of us. That’s why so few of us really experience the full force of scripture. But if we develop a love of the art of reading scripture, we’lldiscover it is indeed life-giving, life-affirming, and life-changing.

Our weekly study series “Reading Sacred Texts: Resistance and Renewal” continues each Thursday in September. Join us via Zoom at:

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/88660895432, Meeting ID: 886 6089 5432

If you prefer to join by phone, dial 1-312-626-6799 and use the same meeting ID.

We need your help!

As we think about the future of Gather, please let us know what gifts you bring and would like to share with the community. There are many roles that have to come together to make Gather happen every week. This includes setup, technical support, worship, managing handouts and information, coordinating drinks, and teardown. We need your help. Please let us know what type of service you’d be interested in!

Watch God Work,
Tim & Shea

As we prepare to become a vibrant worshipping community, we invite you to enjoy a Spotify playlist that captures the kind of worship we hope to embrace. Give it a spin while you’re driving. Make it your workout jam. Add it to your devotional time. Most of all, feel yourself becoming part of a sacred village of believers who love their God and one another!
Check out the Gather Worship Playlist here.

BLAME THE MESSENGER

When “The Bread of Life” Goes Bad

 

Depending on how people you’ve known studied and applied scripture, reading the Bible can be one of life’s greatest pleasures. Or it can be akin to holding a loaded gun in your lap. Some of us hear music in the psalmist’s confession, “I keep your word close, in my heart, so that I won’t sin against you” (Ps. 119:11). Others note how holding our sacred texts close seems always to end with sin and condemnation. For many, the Bible is the Bread of Life. For possibly more of us, this “Bread” has gone bad—grown stale, molded over, turned toxic.

The problem may isn’t the content, but rather how it’s been mishandled. When the Bible is reduced to an oversized catalog of do’s and don’ts, there really isn’t much life-giving value in it. Instead, it’s life-taking, since these backward readings typically generate and promote fear. Yet, as 1 John 4:18 stresses, perfect love won’t abide fear. So using scripture to make someone afraid or submitting to fears that arise from how we’ve been taught to read these texts is counterproductive to its purpose.

Our faith ancestors regarded sacred texts as a life source. In them they found hope and healing, clarity of purpose and imagination for carrying out tasks they undertook as people of faith. They did this in defiance of how scriptures were treated in their day because (brace yourself—this is going to shock you) even in the time of Jesus and Paul there were “Bible fanatics” who treated the texts like scorecards and prided themselves on how closely they followed scripture to the letter while wholly missing the Spirit it conveyed.

To read sacred texts as sources of life and freedom and wholeness has always been a revolutionary project. Folks who prefer to read and respond to it as a frightening threat will always outnumber those who embrace its gorgeous challenge to live fully.

This is not inherent in the texts, though. The problem is the messenger—the preacher or teacher or influencer who exploits biblical texts to enforce his/her/their personal will on a crowd. If you’re struggling with problematic passages of scripture, you’re not alone. Anyone who reads the Bible mindfully runs into parts that are unseemly, archaic, impractical, and inapplicable to their lives. It’s not unusual for those very same passages to be the ones people hang over our heads as demanding and damning.

The problem isn’t the text. That can be parsed and interpreted and embraced in highly valuable, life-giving ways. The problem are messengers who’ve get this whole scripture thing so twisted they use it to destroy life. Don’t blame the Bible. Blame them. And then leave them to their own amusements while you feast of fresh Bread!!

Each Thursday in September we’ll take a closer look at Reading Sacred Texts and how to avoid the pitfalls that trip so many people up. Join us each Thursday at 7:30pm CDT via Zoom:

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/88660895432; Meeting ID: 886 6089 5432

Or you can join by phone at 312.626.6799 and use the same meeting ID.

We need your help!

As we think about the future of Gather, please let us know what gifts you bring and would like to share with the community. There are many roles that have to come together to make Gather happen every week. This includes setup, technical support, worship, managing handouts and information, coordinating drinks, and teardown. We need your help. Please let us know what type of service you’d be interested in!

Watch God Work,
Tim & Shea

As we prepare to become a vibrant worshipping community, we invite you to enjoy a Spotify playlist that captures the kind of worship we hope to embrace. Give it a spin while you’re driving. Make it your workout jam. Add it to your devotional time. Most of all, feel yourself becoming part of a sacred village of believers who love their God and one another!
Check out the Gather Worship Playlist here.