Tuesday, December 29, 2015


I’m writing this after Christmas, at my in-law’s farm in Mississippi. And I just learned that they recently invited bees onto their farm. A neighbor who’s getting into that industry asked to use their land. They said fine. And their explanation of the bees’ impact reminded me of Jesus.

Here’s what I mean. Initially, the farm’s focus was beef. More specifically, they raise grass-fed cows who aren’t pumped full of antibiotics and unnatural chemicals. Plus, they allow their cattle to roam freely across their ample pasture land. In other words, it’s an operation that shames most grocery store beef, whose cows may start on farms like these, but eventually are packed into overstuffed feed lots and industrial slaughter machines.

Not an ideal cow life, to say the (very, very) least. It’s also terrible for soil. When cow farmers pump pastures with extra fertilizers and herbicides, they boost production over the short term. It also kills the soil’s long-term viability; by encouraging shallower grass roots, destroying diversity of bugs and microbes, stripping away beautiful black topsoil. Plus, when rain washes those ugly, artificial inputs into our groundwater, it poisons ecosystems down river. Anyone hear about how diminished ocean life has become in vast swaths around where the Mississippi drains into the Gulf? Ugh.

So my in-laws’ farm is intentionally planned to behave differently- more local, more attuned to older/wiser/pre-industrial farming practices, more respectful of the health of both nature and beef customers. Besides, their meat tastes waaaay better! I’ve looked forward for years to packing a cooler full of their steaks and burger meat right before we return home after Christmas.

But cows aren’t the only commercially useful farm animals, of course. So a few years back, they lent some unused land to an organic hog and chicken farmer. Then, they integrated both operations into each other. The chickens run around on the cattle pasture, movable fences keeping them away from steers. Every few days, that set-up shifts a bit north or east, and the chickens peck at and poop on new parts of the pasture. That natural fertilizer beats any petroleum-based product eight days a week. It just takes patience and time, and respect for the earth. The result has been healthier creatures and farmland.

Hence, when another neighbor brought up bringing bees to the farm- for honey production- the in-laws said, “Alright.” And apparently, those bees then spent all last summer pollinating garden flowers and pasture grass. They flew all over where cows and chickens went already, or were going next. The results were even deeper roots, increased biodiversity, and much healthier soil. In fact, a Mississippi State University researcher has been studying their farm. He claims that within two years, it’ll be a carbon neutral, profitable operation. Awesome!

All that reminds me of Jesus because, as a Disciple of Christ, I believe the church’s essential function is inviting as many as possible to the Lord’s Table. That table’ open, after all, to all. God so loved the (whole!) world…etc. Thus, we’re called to make that blessed mission a reality at our communion table.

But here’s the thing; God didn’t give us that calling as a burden. Instead, God knew that the more people we welcomed and kept at our tables, the better our communities would be. Like the soil on a farm, diversity is the source of health, of blessing, not a distraction or an optional aspiration.

Would only that all churches believed the same, amen? Or acted like it… Would that we didn’t spend all our time reaching out to only those who think or look like us, who make the same amount of money or share the same political opinion as us? Have you considered recently that if you found ways to bring folk to church who other churches aren’t working to include, the result won’t be embarrassing? It’ll be unexpected blessing, more healthful community, more diverse and- therefore- exciting church!

That’s what those bees did on my in-laws farm, at least. It’s a brighter, better, more beautiful place now than before. And it’ll share those blessings for generations to come. Jesus, I bet, approves.

Grace and Peace,
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Tuesday, December 22, 2015


Another crazy thing happened on my block recently. I was in my home office working on worship when my dog started barking like she does when people approach my gate. Being the holiday season, I guessed it might be a package delivery. So I put on slippers in case someone came to my door. Sure enough, a UPS van was parked across the street.

The worker, however, wasn’t moving my way, even though it was sleeting. Instead, a white car had parked in front of the van. Its driver had exited and was talking with said UPS guy. I stood in the doorway waiting. But rather than cross the street, he handed the car’s driver two packages and said my next-door neighbor’s name.

Suspicion bells rang loud in my head. So I got the man’s attention. “Excuse me,” I said. “Are those for Jeanne?” He said, “Yes,” as he watched the car’s driver sign his gizmo and walk toward her car. “Then who’s this?” I asked. “I’m Jeanne’s roommate,” she said. “I’m holding these for her.”

The suspicion bells ramped up their volume to deafening! After all, Jeanne’s husband of 40+ years had died not long ago. She’s lived alone ever since in a house she owns outright. Why would she suddenly get a roommate?! I said as much to the lady and the UPS guy. Committed thief that she was, she said, “I’m new. How else would I know her name?” Never give up, apparently.

I told them that, if she wasn’t lying, she’d be glad for me to hold the packages and to know she had a good neighbor. The UPS driver decided in my favor. She gave up the packages and quickly drove away. When Jeanne got home, I took them over, and she and I laughed nervously about this audacious robbery attempt.

This past Monday, the same UPS driver delivered a package to my house, and thanked me for helping out. I took a moment to bask in the glow of being Shane the Good Neighbor, Crime Stopper Extraordinaire! Or whatever. Mostly, I’m glad Jeanne’s grandkids will get their presents.

But it’s not lost on me that, had it been earlier in my life, I wouldn’t have been so helpful. In other places I’ve lived, I didn’t meet my neighbors. I wouldn’t have known about their losses, their goings-on, their families. That thief would’ve gotten away.

I remember talking with a local Muslim friend years back. He married a woman from abroad, he told me, who’d moved to Plymouth, where he grew up. He’d lived in the same house for years, so she was horrified to learn, upon arrival, that he didn’t know his neighbors. She decided a block party was needed. He got nervous, “What if they don’t like me? Reject us for being Muslim, or whatever?” She said, “Don’t care. I intend to be a good neighbor,” and sent out invitations. Nearly everyone came and said the same thing: “I’ve been waiting for someone to do this!”

They didn’t want to live isolated, apparently. But they lived busy lives, their homes were spread out, they worried about being rejected, like my friend. So no one made the first step to create community. I’ve wrestled with that attitude, personally, for years.

Which teaches me a) The next time you hear nonsense about American Muslims being “too foreign,” ignore the speaker’s ignorance or enlighten them graciously. We’re all human, all children of God. More importantly, b) Jesus was onto something by focusing on living neighborly. I read recently of studies that measured the impact of community on happiness. Unsurprisingly, people who act like good neighbors (and who accept help from neighbors) are much happier throughout life than those who value independence more, who doggedly cultivate self-reliance. I’ve seen that work in my life, certainly, and pray it continues as I keep growing.

So maybe, as the year ends and you make “to-do” lists for 2016, you’ll include the goal of being an even better neighbor. Not only has social science shown it adds happiness, Jesus himself called it a top priority. Besides, you may get more packages!

Grace and Peace,
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Thursday, December 17, 2015

How we love…

Last month, the city of Minneapolis designated our dog Fawkes a “Potentially Dangerous Animal.” Ugh. For those not in-the-know (like me until recently), this designation is level one in Animal Control’s disciplinary scheme. Level two is “Dangerous Animal.” Level three is “Destruction Oder.” All in all, then, Fawkes got the lightest treatment. Phew.

It came about because Fawkes “nipped” (i.e. slightly bit) our foster boy in early November, while the two were sitting together on a chair. T might’ve squeezed the dog around her tail, or hugged hard. We’re not clear. We were in the room with heads turned. There was no growl. Fawkes simply reacted, and her single chomp caused a small puncture that’s since healed. He’s fine, thank God.

But that little wound was enough to concern Animal Control, since dogs really shouldn’t use teeth to express displeasure. Had T been physically attacking her, that would’ve been a different story. Her behavior here, though, was unprovoked. At least, not in response to a physical threat. Rather, she reacted from some mix of his size v. hers, stress and anxiety. Such is what the trainer we subsequently brought in hypothesized.

Needless to say, we’ve been on egg shells since the designation. The county’s foster care licensers require that we separate T from Fawkes unless we’re training or walking. Animal Control is making her always wear a muzzle when outside and be on a three foot leash. They may let her run in the back-yard, once they inspect whether our fence is adequate. Until then, she’s an inside-dog. So life has changed for the Isners.

Plus, I’ve also been constantly scouring my memory of the past five years, wondering what I did wrong with Fawkes, how I failed her, why I’m not a good puppy daddy. To which the trainer said something that made me feel better. Sure, she admitted, we could’ve been better about training. Most dog owners can. But Fawkes reacted/snipped at other dogs in puppy class, meaning there’s a history. Hence, the trainer’s comment, “Compare Fawkes to an alcoholic. She just has an aggressive tendency. It’s not terrible, but it’s there. There’s no cure. We can modify her behavior a bunch to make everyone safer. But it’ll be lifelong. You simply have to accept her for the dog she is.”

Ever notice how- for almost every significant relationship- you don’t really choose who you love? Your parents, children, broader family, even many friends. You love them because that’s who was there, who was ‘assigned’ to you by The Universe. And even people to whom you say, “You. I chose to love you,” reveal new things over time or change. I didn’t see this about Fawkes when she was young, not entirely. I’ve changed, she’s changed, our family circumstances changed. One of my wedding vows was “To love what I already know of you, and trust what I know not yet.” I still consider that profoundly right.

Fellow church folk are like that too; by and large, unchosen. They’re still family. But once you officially “join,” you’ve given up veto over who else gets in. The next new members won’t ask your permission to join. They’ll simply step forward when invited during worship. And we can have several responses. 1) Shrug our shoulders, avoid connecting with them, maintain “control” over whom we love. Or 2) Joyfully accept the cards God’s universe deals, finding ways to make them a winning hand.

When it comes to new Plymouth Creekers joining, that’s rarely a serious difficulty. You’re all lovely! But even in my dog’s case, with her real challenges, life won’t be miserable unless we chose to stop loving her. Maybe that will have to, one day, and put her down for safety reasons. I hope not. We planning to adjust our routines, our expectations, our training schedules to accommodate and shape this unfortunate character trait of our otherwise beloved Fawkes. Indeed, I pray that now that we know her better, we’re better able to provide her more of what she really needs, not just what we hoped she needed. That’s how to truly love, after all. May we all be so worthy. 

Grace and Peace, 
Shane Read more!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Full service…

Here’s a conversation I unexpectedly endured at the drycleaners last week. It was the day after the shootings in San Bernardino, but before any information about the attackers had been released save for their names and his place of birth:

Drycleaner employee, “Shame what happened in California.”
Me, “Absolutely!”
Employee, “I think they’ll find it was terrorism.”
Me, “Oh? Uh, All mass shootings are terrorism.”
Employee, “Sure. But his name. It’s so foreign…”
Me, “Umm...he was an American, born and raised, right?”
Employee, “But the Muslim name; it’s gotta be like Paris.”
Me, “There are Muslim Americans.”
Employee, “I’m just saying. His name’s suspicious.”
Me, “I don’t want to talk about this with you.”
Employee, “Listen, the name…”
Me, “I said I don’t want to talk about this.”

The employee awkwardly- and loudly- said thank you as I quickly left, growling. The word “bigoted” escaped my mouth, louder than I anticipated.

Of course, the employee happens to have guessed right, in part. We now know that the attacks were carried out by people with affinities toward radical, violent Islamic ideology. I further read that they were planning other violence, but got sidetracked by this workplace dispute. Not, shall we say, a stereotypical terrorist event. Tragic nonetheless.

That said, I remain angry about the employee’s behavior. The reason, I think, is obvious: Calling an Arabic-sounding name “foreign” is bigotry. And especially when the tone of one’s voice treats “foreign” as akin to “malevolent” or “untrustworthy,” which this person made clear was the intent. I don’t care if the killers did, in fact, intend to commit terrorism. The employee had no grounds for making that huge leap, and severe moral condemnation, other than these folks’ names.

I mean, consider the consequences if we accepted that reasoning. Then, any neighbor named Mateen or Sadia, Abdeel or Yasir (i.e. Board members for our local, friendly Mosque) would be legitimate objects of suspicion, worth keeping at arm’s length, needing a close watch. After all, it would be argued, some radical Islamic terrorists had similar-ish names. They aren’t included in what we call “normal.” Who cares if their grandparents were born in St. Cloud?!

Well, I certainly care. My sister lived in San Bernardino for years; her father still does. That doesn’t make me any more interested now in painting all Muslims with the broad brush of “terrorist.” I mean, I didn’t feel that way about “Roberts” or Christians in the aftermath of the Colorado Springs (where I went to college) Planned Parenthood shooting either. Thus, I won’t start acting more apprehensive about Muslim neighbors- citizens or immigrants- because a misguided couple perpetrated evil.

Yet I’ve heard anti-Muslim rhetoric escalating. My encounter at the drycleaner. From politicians and pundits. Liberty University’s President, Jerry Falwell the Younger, encouraged students to carry concealed weapons so they can, “End those Muslims before they can come in and kill.” I read that he misspoke, meant to say ‘terrorist.’ The slip-up is telling. This is, alas, normal human behavior. When we get afraid, we look for someone to blame, to demonize. Normal human behavior and Godly human behavior are NOT, however, always the same.

Indeed, consider this. One of the worst things ISIS does is see the world in black-and-white terms: “We are Good. Everyone else is Bad.” Hence, they can kill whomever is not “Us,” whomever doesn’t share their beliefs and values. We should never do that, never see the world so simply, treat God’s children so cavalierly, regard unknown neighbors so judgmentally. Jesus said to “pray for our enemies,” i.e. recognize their humanity, see God’s image in them too. I’m convinced we can do that even while we oppose their violence with force. The point it is, when we follow the lead of ISIS-type terrorists and pretend we’re in a clash of civilizations, good guys v. Muslim evil guys, we feed their propaganda. What’s worse, we alienate decent neighbors in the process, and so act like bad Christians.

Soon, I’ll go get my laundry. I hope that employee isn’t working. But suppose so…What do you think I should say? Anything? In the meantime, may we all pray for peace.

Grace and Peace,
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Monday, November 30, 2015

New chapters,

Many of you have heard that on November 29, I informed the congregation that I’d accepted a new call. Sometime around March next year, I’ll become the Senior Minister of First Christian Church in Montgomery, Alabama.

Therefore, January 31st will be my final Sunday at Plymouth Creek. Praise God that means we’ll have another Advent together! Another Christmas Eve candle service that will end with lights off, Silent Night lifting into a darkening evening. Maybe we’ll even do a truncated Cinema Sermon Series after the New Year, if you’re up for it. Let me know!

By then, it will have been seven and one-half years since I was welcomed into this community. And what a welcome it’s been! It started with dear Pat Farr telling me- my first Sunday- that I couldn’t be the new minister because I looked like I was still in high school! She was right. So I’ve grown a beard. I recall how the chairs were lined up straight back then, and our musicians were in a corner, hidden from view. They nevertheless directed the choir to sing more richly than I expected from such few voices. Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, indeed!

Thy Word Worship Center worshipped in our space still, and for the next few years. I regret that we weren’t able to build longer-lasting, mutually respectful relationships with that lovely church. That said, I’m proud they remain “in business.” Though we had to say goodbye, we shouldn’t let that color over the fact we were good for each other, for a time.

Same goes for Yellow Brick Road Child Care. It’s likely they’ll move to a new building in the coming year. They’ve grown too large for our current space, and the building expansion just didn’t work out. I was looking through notes from our first architect interviews, well over a year ago. Everyone anticipated that our project would be in the $80-$120 per square foot range, max. The best bid we actually got this summer, after scouring the market multiple times, was over $200/square foot! Needless to say, that blew past the outer reaches of our plan, despite the best guidance we could find and the due diligence our leadership did.

I’m hoping we’ll settle on a clear plan for that arena before I leave, and will work hard to help create it. Regardless, please always remember that the 100s of kids YBR has served (very well, I might add!) over the past decade will grow up knowing that a church welcomed them during their earliest years, supported their development and future success. Thus, when they’re lonely, afraid or- God forbid- abused as, say, young adults, they’ll be more likely to turn to a local church for support, to God for guidance. In other words, this was never just about money. It was ministry. And good ministry too!

I could go on about other good stuff we’ve accomplished together- the garden, the bus, baptisms and weddings, funerals and new members- but there’s only so much space. Besides, our agenda now isn’t simply to remember what has been, but also to plan for, pray for, be excited for what will be. God, after all, is never done “doing a new thing”.

For the past several years, we’ve named as our vision “to become a beacon of Christian openness and service in the NW suburbs.” I think we made demonstrable, wonderful steps in that direction. Thus, to my mind at least, that chapter’s been written and written well. Meaning that a new vision is called for! And it’s one, I’m convinced, that springs from the deep wells of God’s grace and the magnificent dreams God’s still crafting for this church.

I won’t lead you to name and claim that vision, obviously. But I can say that I’m proud of what we’ve done together. I’ll spend the next two months supporting your efforts to turn the page, and will follow along gladly for years as you continue this glorious journey with Jesus toward the full coming of God’s Kingdom on earth. What a privilege to be included in that mission, amen?!

Grace and Peace,
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Monday, November 23, 2015

Eyes opening…

I’ll admit. I’ve often been smug around the holidays, even judgmental. At issue, was the hype and hysteria surrounding Black Friday, all it symbolized, all it idolized. To think we’ve grown so accustomed to constant consumption that people forgo Thanksgiving meal time simply to get better deals at Walmart. To imagine we’re so comfortable with coveting that shoppers have fights over who gets the fashionable new toy first. Oh, the shame! I’ve said such stuff regularly before.

Then, over the past year, whenever I’ve taken the foster boy to Toys R Us, he’s begged for this particular red Ferrari remote control car. He’s right. It’s awesome. Large, fast, stylish. I understand the kid’s drooling. Unfortunately, it’s not inexpensive. He keeps saying anyway, “Can I get it?” I’m like, “Just save your money kid, for the next five years.” Nevertheless, I’ve filed it in my memory for just this moment to arrive: Christmas Season.

In other words, we’re about to buy presents. Plus, his birthday is a week before Christmas. And while I know that he’ll still be quite excited if we get him cheaper toys then that RC Ferrari…well, I still know how much he’s dreamed about that RC Ferrari. Should we give in and pay up, or hold out and stay solvent? That’s become the debate. I know the choice isn’t that dramatic (it’s not a real Ferrari, after all!). But I’ve gone back and forth a lot. An unexpected turn about a week ago, however. It dawned on me that maybe…maybe…MAYBE the Ferrari will be on Black Friday sale! If so, best of both worlds, right? We don’t pay full price for this toy we know that he passionately desires. The only sacrifice will be sleep after Thanksgiving. Whatever.

At least, that’s the idea I’ve been wrestling with recently. So to all those who’ve been the unknowing object of my judgmental/anti-Black Friday attitude before, I’m very sorry. I was being haughty. However, I’m befuddled now, because I still don’t like that naked consumerism is held up as an unalloyed good around this time, every year. It’s not! Given the environmental impact of all the waste we generate to keep buying more disposable stuff, given the pressure it puts on families who can’t afford a lavish Christmas to go into deeper credit card debt, given that Jesus said, “Love God with all your everything,” and not, “Love presents.” Just because a special sale makes buying more a bit more affordable doesn’t mean we should buy more. Obviously. Yet, we do.

Solutions? I’m still searching! I think for this year, though, now that I’m less resistant to viewing Black Friday shopping as a good idea, I’m giving myself the following rule of thumb. If I go, all purchases must be something I know I’d otherwise make. I.e. I may go get that Ferrari. But if I see something I didn’t actually plan on grabbing, I will (hopefully) not allow myself to talk myself into believing I need it.

Presumably, other folk have already figured this out, or something better. The experience is new for me, though. Tabitha and I aren’t big gift givers, or receivers. We’ve never felt much Black Friday pressure for one another. Then, we became foster parents, and learned over the past year that our foster son feels extra loved when he gets a gift. Especially if the gift is one he’s been wanting. So I’ve had fun thinking about what he wants, how we can get it for him, what’s too much, what’s just right, etc. Because that’s not a conversation about consumption. It’s about relationship building, fostering deeper attachments, joyful connections for a boy who deserves them.

Makes me wonder if all this time, our Heavenly Parent has been scheming ways to help us receive those gifts that make us feel specially known, particularly cared for? I hope so. I’d like to think God cares that much for us. In fact, I do think that! And maybe best of all- I now realize- is that God’s not holding out for Black Friday sales. Good Friday showed that God will pay any price to shower us with love.

Grace and Peace,
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Wednesday, November 18, 2015


Several years back, I was cleaning my garage, which faces an alley, when a police officer walked by. He was systematically searching for a robbery suspect. This happens regularly in Northside alleys, I’ve since learned. But I hadn’t seen it before, so asked, “Is everything alright, Officer?”

He responded, “Just fine. Still, have you seen anyone…suspicious?” He meant both that day and more broadly. I told him no, but he must’ve seen my perplexed brow furl. After all, what counts as “suspicious”? But I wanted to help when asked, so I thought and thought but couldn’t bring anyone useful to mind.

Noticing my confusion, he explained further- “Don’t worry about being offensive. If someone looks shady to you, always call the police and don’t hesitate…whatever his race…understand?” The implication was clear. This officer was informing me that I had every right to fear young black men, to call the cops whenever I encountered any I deemed scary. To do otherwise, he strongly implied, was “politically correct” hogwash, and dangerous. He walked on.

This memory came to mind Sunday evening when I heard that a young black man was shot by Northside police on Saturday. And that some neighbors were forcefully protesting the shooting. The situation sounded tense. As I write on Monday, many details are hazy or contested. Perhaps we’ll receive a clearer picture soon. Until then, I’m guessing we’ll hear, instead, loud protests against police misconduct, along with loud outrage from people who think we shouldn’t ever criticize cops.

First things first: Pray for the deceased man’s family. And for the officer who shot him.

That said, and whether or not the shooting was justified, I suspect our city will soon debate if this incident is symptomatic of consistently poor police behavior or something else. People will share statistics, personal vignettes, indignation. I imagine, however, that most have already decided what to think, that many aren’t open to changing our minds about the fundamental issue. Maybe our son was a police chief, which colors our compassion for the profession. Maybe our son was singled-out by school authorities for his skin color, which impacts our trust in other authorities. My hope is we’re open. My hope is we believe we have more to learn. 

 My worry, though, is we’re resistant to change.

Which is why I shared the story above. Full confession: I don’t fear police. I’m a well-off white guy whom police have almost always treated kindly. I’m deferential, respectful, and truly glad for those who put their lives in harm’s way to keep mine safe. Yet, when an officer encouraged me to racially profile my neighbors, it made me worry about how he treated my neighbors. If that’s what he expects from me, what does he expect from himself? From co-workers? From my African-American neighbors? Sadly, that moment diminished my trust in his capacity to do objective police work.

Fortunately, it also contributed to me knowing others better. I’m prayerful that his was an isolated attitude. Alas, I’ve subsequently heard some neighbors of color say that they regularly experience biased policed treatment. I’m now primed to believe these neighbors more than I’d have been before a man with a badge and gun told me that race-based fear was morally and civically proper. In other words, I hope I listen more to neighbors than I once did.

And that, I think, is something I’d like to see as this issue unfolds: more active listening. From those skeptical of the existence of police misconduct, I pray for willingness to listen to neighbors who say they’re afraid, constantly. From those unwilling to trust the police, I pray for sympathy when authorities claim they’re striving to serve all. I’m aware, of course, there’s a vast power imbalance, and fraught history, and Christians ought listen especially for the cries of the less powerful, the marginalized, the silenced.

Whatever the case, I most pray fervently we don’t turn off our ears, or TVs, and move onto something simpler. Many neighbors don’t have that choice, that privilege, because this tension is a daily reality. And until we collectively solve it, more people will die. That should matter to everyone.

Grace and Peace,
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Thursday, November 12, 2015

All together now…

I got on Channel 12 news last week. They aired maybe five seconds of a five-minute interview I gave. So I baaaaarely made the news. Still, I’m glad for the inclusion because my very presence- I think- accomplished something that matters. Let me explain.

I knew almost nothing about Islam on September 11, 2001. The super traditional Christian high school I attended taught me a little about Muslim theology, in a class designed to help us argue about why We were right, They were wrong and non-Christians were destined for Hell if they don’t become “Us”.

Anyway, the point is that most everything I’ve encountered about one the world’s great religions has come in the aftermath of Islamist extremists attacking Americans. I’ve told you before that I’ve tried taking that education seriously, given the outsized impact that Islam has played on subsequent global events. Unfortunately, too many of our fellow citizens decided that learning about this religion wasn’t necessary. They saw enough when terrorists attacked, thus deciding that Islam is suspect and violent and Muslims are probably evil until proven otherwise.

We’ve gotten better as a society since that began. Muslims figure more prominently in public life now. Non-Muslim allies stand more consistently alongside neighbors. When our local mosque went before the city council for a building permit four years ago, there was barely a fight. Bravo to all!

Yet struggles endure. Some fellow citizens still call our President a secret Muslim, as if being Muslim is a slur. Mosques are protested by “concerned citizens.” An Islamic Cemetery in our state was rejected recently. Schoolkids in our suburb who wear headscarves report being ridiculed, picked on, asked if they’re planning to blow something up. That’s not setting anyone up for a better future.

Thus, I believe, it remains critical for Christians- still our country’s dominant religious group- to use our position of societal privilege to lend support to Muslim neighbors. Better yet, we should get to know each other! Learn not just about but from each other. Members of our nearby mosque are super accommodating toward that. Last week, I sat and chatted with several. One even tried converting me! But it was without the pressure or threat of Hell I’ve heard from fellow Christians. This guy just really loved Allah and hoped I would too. Fair enough. Won’t happen, but I wasn’t offended. By the way, pray for the guy, since his parents live in Syria.

Back to the news. Muslim integration into broader society needs more than changed attitudes, but changed power structures. We’ll have made the progress we need when Muslims run for public office without harassment, or Muslim professionals sit on local civic boards regularly. Well, I love our local social service provider- IOCP- and their annual fundraising campaign began last weekend, as you know. This year, the local mosque joined in, organizing an event of their own in the campaign, for the first time. Wahoo!

Specifically, a high schooler challenged her community to raise money and awareness to help neighbors in need by giving to IOCP. And they did. And with that simple act, our local community became more integrated, more structurally welcoming to Muslims. After all, if we’re raising money together, they are no longer “Them.” They are Us. Channel 12’s story drove that home. Because the spot wasn’t highlighting the mosque as a mosque. The theme wasn’t “Local Muslims Are Good People Too!” The story was about suburban homelessness, how it’s rising, how Plymouth residents and faith communities are responding. The mosque was the story’s example, not its focus. And that made all the difference.

Thus, my couple words were about homeless people. Not Muslims. Nevertheless, the screen read “Rev. Shane Isner,” meaning that the high-priced seminary degree I got to allow me that Reverend title was lent for this brief moment to normalizing interfaith, multicultural community. Essentially, it communicated, “Of course, Christians and Muslims work together to solve local problems.” As it should be. After all, there’s no litmus test for whether you’ve included in the Kingdom of God. All are welcome. Let’s continue making sure our actions contribute to that coming more fully on earth.

Grace and Peace,
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Friday, November 6, 2015

Holiday habits…

We just made it through Halloween. I believe this was the last annually-occurring “significant moment” before our first anniversary as foster parents. The little guy arrived in November last year, so we had him for Christmas, Easter, summer vacation, Back to School, etc. But we hadn’t shopped for and wore costumes with him. Now we have. Check!

I think we did alright. A friend encouraged us to join her and her cousin at ValleyFair. I’d never been to this amusement park; was happy to try it. T, at first, was uncertain. Then, he found a room in which he could run around and shoot soft balls at us with air cannons. That was awesome, obviously. Things looked up. He even attempted two rollercoasters. Being Halloween, they had staff stationed near several rides for “Trick or Treating.” T liked that too! And that, basically, was all we did.

We arrived home near dark. So we made a brief appearance at our neighborhood community center. They were hosting a “Halloween Party”, i.e. costumes, kids’ games, candy. But we decided against actual Trick or Treating. After all, T’s not obsessed with candy. Neither are we big on giving him extra sugar. Besides, he gets nervous about new things, like strange houses and people. All in all, I think that was a good decision.

Part of me, however, worries that I “robbed” him of a quintessential experience of American childhood. I know, I know, “There’s always next year.” But who knows if we’ll have him next year? Or, even if we do, once you do something one way, it has a habit of becoming habit, right? A one-off activity easily transforms into precedent. Thus, next October, maybe he’ll decide that rollercoasters is what Halloween “means,” and beg we go again. Suppose the same transpires the following year. Suddenly, it’s tradition!

Would I want that? Well, in that unlikely scenario, I’d be glad to not fight every November over how fast bags of sugar get ingested. But once something becoming “tradition,” oftentimes other options get sidetracked, poo-pooed or simply forgotten. What “feels right” is what you’ve always done. Changing course can oftentimes be painful. You may even require a strong, outside force to force the issue (like skyrocketing ticket prices!).

Now, apply that thinking to religion. Our beloved Christian Season is coming. Churches and families have many things they “always do” during Thanksgiving, Advent, and Christmas. People eat specific foods. Congregations light particular candles. Musicians play exactly the songs we expect, and they better not forget, because without “Silent Night” the season is meaningless, amen?! Amen…? Obviously, I jest. But not entirely. People protect Holiday Traditions with ferocious loyalty.

One reason we love these traditions, of course, is exactly because they’re familiar. We often provide other rationales too, tied to the stories and theologies of Christ’s birth. And some of those are great! Other times, though, it’s transparent we haven’t thought the issue fully through. For instance, every year, Christians ask about the precise details of Advent Wreath Candles. “Is this Joy Candle Sunday, or Peace Candle Sunday?” As if that’s in the Bible. Which, of course, it isn’t. It became a tradition because someone had a good idea once that others copied, continued copying, and now we assume each Sunday has one precise “meaning.”

So how about this year we commit to opening ourselves to new practices, new possibilities? For Adult Sunday School, I’ll teach about different Advent traditions from around the Christian World. Hopefully, we’ll discover interesting and fresh holiday ideas we never thought to think about. Along with that, perhaps you’ll pause to ponder what else you do; the foods you cook, the decorations you put up, the attitudes you change, the giving you plan. When you do so, think specifically about whether you do this stuff with purpose and joy, or whether they’re simply habits you’ve fallen into. 

If the former, bravo! If the latter, you needn’t change, necessarily. You can! More importantly, though, I hope you’ll be fully thoughtful about your Holiday traditions and activities. Because I heard somewhere once that this season- done well- can bring tidings…of great joy… That’s right, isn’t it?

Grace and Peace,

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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Finding Jesus…

Remember those “Where’s Waldo” books? I’m sure they still exist. But they’re not as popular as I remember from my youth. I spent hours staring at these colorful cartoons, drawn in minute detail, illustrated scenes of Paris or Egypt, or of underwater landscapes, or wild dreamscapes. The possibilities were limitless! But somewhere in each drawing, we were promised, was a man named Waldo who always had the same innocent smile, waving hand, candy-stripe shirt. He often was hard to locate in these elaborate, detailed illustrations, but he was always there. And that was the game: finding Waldo.

Advent approaches. For many Christians who’ve attended church faithfully for years, the season’s arrival is welcome. We know well the rhythms of gift-seeking and giving. We’ve memorized many of the carols. The Jesus stories we repeat are among our most cherished tales; the infant lowly, the beautiful babe of Bethlehem born. 

And yet, for all that, the season can sometimes feel boring, repetitive. “Do I have to sing another verse of O Come All Ye Faithful? I have only so much ‘Glo’ in me.” Or, “Preacher, please, stop trying to sound suspenseful. We’ve ‘waited for Jesus’ before. They always find room for his birth.”

At least, that mix has often churned within me. I want to embrace the specialness of The Holidays, yet worry about enduring bad reruns. What’s the new angle? The “fresh take”? The exciting idea that’ll inspire us to sing earnestly with angels this year, rather than drone on in poor harmony?

Well, my 2015 answer may not be perfect, but here’s a go. Like Waldo, Jesus can be tough to “find” on a consistent basis. Not always. Sometimes he nearly jumps off the page in the story of my life; when I need forgiveness, when I notice a bursting sunset, when a moving hymn reminds me that life eternal has already begun. Other times, however, he’s hidden; when I read about Syria’s civil war, when I watch police and residents in my neighborhood eye each other warily, when I worry about my foster son’s future. And that concerns me, since those moments of “Where’s Jesus” occur with unwelcome regularity.

Besides, they matter a lot! When I used to find Waldo, I smiled briefly, then turned the page. When I find Jesus, by contrast, I feel more than proud of my eyesight. I encounter God. I fill with peace. I’m challenged to overcome placidness with holiness and strive more for God’s Kingdom. In other words, life is better.

“Where’s Waldo” was a game. Finding Jesus promises the resurrecting power of love as the inspiration of every day. I want more of that finding. I hope you do too. Thus, our theme for Advent 2015 (which begins at November’s End) will be Finding Jesus. 

Practically speaking, that means we’re going to treat the familiar Christmas stories as clues for where we might perceive the power, purpose and presence of holiness in our lives more dependably. After all, Jesus shows up in many diverse places in these Christmas stories: on the tongues of angels, in the dreams of shepherds and magi, in the nightmares of kings, in a smelly stable, in the hearts of his Holy Mother and Father. I.e. throughout a world desperate for salvation.

I think that each of those places where Christ “arrives” in the Christmas stories offers a clue for where we might find Christ in our own lives. Do you sometimes wonder, “Where’s Jesus”? Then join me in discovering where he’s been before in order to learn where he might be going next.

Or, better to say, where he is already. Because, as we know from decades of faithful worship, Advent’s a time of waiting for what’s already arrived: Light for the World, Salvation for Sinners, Hope for the Oppressed, Love without End. Put on your Holy Ghost Glasses this year and prepare to look for that gift with me. The finding may be easy sometimes, tricky at other times, but always worth the effort since God is good, all the time. So let’s find God more- in Jesus- together!

Grace and Peace,

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Thursday, October 22, 2015

Closing time…

I saw the band Semisonic in concert when I was 19. We wanted desperately for them to play their major hit, “Closing Time.” They waited to do so until the last song of their second and final encore. In retrospect, we should’ve expected that to happen. When a song’s lyrics include, “time for you to go out,” it’d be weird to finish that song and begin another, right?!

Anyway, another lyric reveals something I think our church should celebrate about the past few months. The singer croons, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” It’s a clever turn of phrase, but borders on trite sentimentality. I’m referencing it now, however, to speak of death and decay. And that’s always deep, amen?

Please don’t answer that question.

Instead, picture with me a pile of weeds and vines and tomato plants. We have several currently steeping on parts of our property. That is not, of course, the result of disregard for how we present ourselves to our community. Rather, earlier this year- thanks to Kimberly’s diligent efforts to enhance our Creation Care ministry- we received a composting grant from the county. Thousands of dollars were awarded us to create a system for composting organic waste from our building and grounds. Well done, church. Way cool! Thus, as we anticipate closing time for the garden this year (after church on the 25th; please help out!), we know that last spring’s new beginning won’t end for good. It’ll contribute to next year’s beginning.

Which is the point of composting. Organic material doesn’t keep its shape and composition forever. Just look at the withering leaves our foster kid taped to our walls as decorations (don’t ask…). Fortunately, this ending isn’t the story’s end. Nutrition emerges from decomposition. Seeds become trees that produce leaves that fall and become dirt within which new seeds become trees... Cue someone singing “Closing Time.” Or “Circle of Life.”

None of this is news. Nor is it news that, whatever the natural process, humans don’t especially like endings. Unless it’s a dentist appointment. The problem being, I suspect, that we’re aware of the endings of former new beginnings in a way that trees aren’t. We’re feel our bodies declining, see problems emerging (so we think) within communities, churches, nations, families, all portending an ending we weren’t wanting. So we don’t celebrate new new beginnings with gusto as readily as we might sometimes. Particularly when the ending in question is, say, a project we invested in or relationship that sustained us. It’s hard to see a new beginning that could replace what’s ended.

Thankfully, Christians can remember that the soil in which we reside- ultimately- is the soil of Christ’s resurrection. Call it divine composting (bad pun…sorry). In other words, we believe that not only was Jesus raised from the dead. Perhaps more important is that Jesus is God’s revelation to us, God’s unmasking the deeper truth of reality. So resurrection wasn’t a one-off event for Christ alone. It’s the structure of this world in which we live and move and have our being. Compost piles reflect that story, just as the abundant fertilizer of God’s mercy does too, along with the never-ending in-breaking of forgiveness to us and through us, we who follow Christ’s lead, who believe that life will always be more powerful than- indeed, will always overcome!- death itself.

The key is remembering that we don’t stop death and endings. Instead, we encounter resurrections, risings to new life, transformations from what was into what will be. A loss is painful and sad. That doesn’t mean you’ll never gain something again. A failure is heartbreaking and hard. That doesn’t mean you’ll never succeed at anything else. New beginnings emerge from the soil of God’s resurrection-infused reality all the time. They maybe came from a beloved former beginning’s ending. Organic composting process isn’t without breakdown, heat and churning. But through it all, resurrection and transformation are in process too.

So as you see those waste piles at church, remember they’re a sign of what God might be doing in your life too, if you’re willing for new life to rise again.

Grace and Peace,
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Thursday, October 15, 2015

After pain comes…

I’m not a baseball fan, per se. But I know that, for many, this is the best time of year. Major League Baseball Playoffs. That’s doubly so if your favorite team remains in the championship hunt!

Famously, the Major League team with the longest championship drought is the Chicago Cubs. Their last ultimate victory was 1908. A famous joke goes, “’What did Jesus say to the Cubs before he ascended?’ ‘Don’t do anything until I return!’” Thus, you’d forgive any Cubs’ fan from forgoing the old bromide, “There’s always next year…” If it were me, I may’ve have stopped saying that around, oh, the Korean War!

And yet…the Cubs are in the playoffs this year, leading people I know in/from/concerned with Chicago to brush off dreams of championship parades. I was in seminary in Chicago the last time this possibility arose. The town got crazy (including a world-renowned Bible scholar/professor of mine…funny story I’ll tell some another time). Then, as now, hope sprung eternal. You almost feel bad for them, right? How many times can folk get back up to hope again?

Among my favorite verses is 1 Corinthians 13:13, “Now these three abide- faith, hope and love- and the greatest of these is love.” Good stuff about love. The further claim, though, that faith and hope are different, is also good stuff, worth exploring further.

For instance, suppose you say, “I have faith that the Cubs will win.” You’re making a prediction, right? You’re contending some knowledge about what will, or is most likely, to occur. By contrast, suppose you said, “I hope the Cubs will win.” This time, you’re sharing an aspiration. It may get crushed in a week, but you haven’t projected some claim about what is, or will be true. You’ve simply hoped.

Which might sound weak. But consider what Martin Luther- the great 16th century reformer- said about the difference between faith and hope: “Faith is the beginning of life, before all tribulation; hope proceeds from tribulation.” Translating from his outdated vocabulary, he’s saying that hope, properly speaking, can only arise after you’ve run into trouble. Hope means nothing if you’ve always avoided problems, always won. Yankee fans better not pretend to “hope.” They have too many trophies! Faith is important too, of course, but hope is the resilient partner in that pairing.

I find that claim inspiring. Consider again my previous suggestion that, after so long coming up short, Cubs’ fans should give up. After being beaten down consistently, should you ever hope again?! From the perspective of faith, yes! Indeed, it’s only because of our troubles, tribulations, encounters with sin, accepting of the need for forgiveness and justice, that we’re able to hope in the first place. If we never open our eyes to challenge, we’re creating fantasies.

Using sports as the analogy for this, I realize, is cheap. So consider, instead, a single mother desperate to keep her kids fed, an aging grandfather worrying how long he’ll remain independent, a student being bullied again and again. The terrible temptation in all those scenarios is accepting defeat, giving up and giving in, pretending that that your troubles truly define you, that you have no reason to hope. And yet…we serve this God who endured the worst, in Jesus, so that we’d see he came out best. And we will too. In other words, our faith in his victory should give us hope in our own.

Not that we can end every trouble forever, but that we can endure those that arise. Not that we’ll never be defeated, but that defeat need never define us. Not that we’ll get all we ever want, but that we can hope for better days, for the abundance of enough, for grace and peace to surround and inspire us. Only those who struggle can hope. Problems don’t prohibit you, they qualify you. 

So if you’re hurting, believer that hope is waiting. You can claim it, can be made confident because of it. That’s not naïve. That’s faithful. That’s loving yourself, as God love you.

Also, since I’m writing this, well…Go Cubs.

Grace and Peace,

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Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Sleep out…

On the final Wednesday of every month, I wake up early to attend a board meeting of the local social services provider, IOCP. Partly, this is about raising our church’s community profile. It’s also about amplifying our church values. IOCP does incredible work assisting our most-in-need neighbors. Among similar agencies in the Twin Cities, few are their equal, like maybe 2 or 3 in terms of budget and impact. And since housing the homeless, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for struggling kids are the reasons we do church, then it makes sense we spend time and money to assist this good partner. At least, that’s what I tell myself as I groggily drive to morning meetings!

Well, it’s nearing November, and that means one thing to IOCP supporters: Sleep Out time! The Sleep Out is their largest annual campaign, raising nearly half their budget. It began twenty years ago, when Bob from “Bob’s Shoe Repair” in Wayzata decided to sleep outside during winter to raise funds for homeless neighbors. It’s grown from that solitary act of kindness into a community-wide event involving churches, schools, scout troops, businesses and more creatively dreaming up ways to raise money for and awareness of the poorest amongst us..

The most well-known of these events, of course, is people taking Bob’s lead and sleeping outside for a night, while asking friends, family, co-workers, etc. to sponsor their freezing evening. For years, Plymouth Creek folk did the same, though that’s faded in recent years. Perhaps because our youth and congregation aged. Or maybe people who once gave the event leadership wanted to do something else, and no one else stepped in. Which is how church should work. Don’t do what doesn’t inspire you simply because you think “that’s what’s supposed to happen.” Ugh. Jesus wants to lift our souls to singing. Make us uncomfortable sometimes to prod us toward more holiness? Sure. Make us dreary constantly by commanding we do stuff we don’t think matters? No way!

My other theory for why our (and other groups’) Sleep Out went away is that, without a youth group doing most of the sleeping, most adults say, “I’ve done it once; check,” and feel we’ve paid our dues. Our bodies, after all, respond less strongly than before; plus, we can write better checks than we could as youth. In other words, without an urgent reason to sleep out every year, why keep subjecting ourselves to the cold and stress?

If that guess is right, then I have a new reason for sleeping out this year that I wanted your feedback about. Several years ago, you’ll recall, a Muslim community (Northwest Islamic Center, aka NWICC) bought a building and planted roots just up the street. We’ve been on friendly terms since because Plymouth Creek believes in unity among God’s people, and doesn’t think that “having the same beliefs” is necessary for being good neighbors. Indeed, if more people of differing faiths would work together for a better world then…well…we’ll have a better world. And that’ll make Jesus ecstatic!

Anyway, NWICC continues exploring ways to be involved in their community. And I heard through the grapevine that they may be interested in hosting a sleep out for the first time, if they had a partner. That makes sense. It might seem rather daunting to jump into a community-wide campaign of this kind without a friend to jump with you.

So I’m wondering if some of y’all might be willing to sleep out with our Muslim neighbors?

I imagine we’d have fun together, learn about each others’ faith tradition, eat good food, whatever. But I only want to follow up on the possibility if enough PCCers commit to sleeping out that it would be worth everyone’s while. We can find a date later (maybe November 7?). The point is, this could be a fun way to connect again with this important event. And even if you’re uninterested or unable to sleep outside, I hope you’ll contribute to the campaign in another way. That way- together- we can build a better community for everyone.

Grace and Peace,

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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

What’s next…

It’s been awhile since I’ve written a newsletter letter introducing an upcoming sermon series. I apologize profusely. I’m certain you’ve been waiting in agony.

The thing is, we’ve been choosing scriptures on a week-to-week basis since last May’s Stewardship Campaign. I had a summer series idea, talked about it with the Servant Leaders, even began pairing some Sundays with certain scriptures. But you can guess why I waited to start, right? All together now…”The building project.” That’s been the answer to most questions about my time and focus these past months. You know the joke about how every answer to a Children’s Moment question is “Jesus”? It’s like that, even for worship. I was awaiting confirmation about the direction of that project before starting any new sermon focus..

Then summer gave way to fall, the building project was delayed, and then- in the past couple weeks- it’s been suspended, perhaps indefinitely (which I shared in my weekly email newsletter; hit me up at pastor@plymouthcreek.org if you want to subscribe!). FYI, the Board continues to gather information about that decision’s consequences. We’re waiting for feedback from partners regarding the full amount of outstanding costs (like architect fees, etc.). We’ll share what we know when we know it. In the meantime, if you want to donate further to help offset those costs…well, we wouldn’t say no! Still, one result is the sermon series plan I’d been working on will remain on the shelf. After all, without that project we have nothing important any longer to focus our efforts, our dreams, our growth, right?

Wrong! Obviously. I’d be lying if I said that 18+ months of work we put into that venture didn’t leave behind an unpleasant taste with it not proceeding. I’d also be lying if I said I believed that was a waste of time, resources and dreams. I’m no aged spiritual sage. But some wisdom I picked up on early in my minister journey is that God’s pathways and plans rarely involve straight lines forward. They almost never follow clear blueprints that God provides ahead of time to inspect. Psalm 119:105 says, “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet”; i.e. not a spotlight to my horizon!

Which is scary when we’re feeling uncertain, or wanting more control. More light God, please! But that also means that what seems sometimes like an “end”, may be something else entirely. What sounds like God’s “no”, might be another answer to a question we haven’t yet thought to ask.

In other words, God’s calling never ends. It changes. It adapts. It responds to our pitfalls and prizes. Constantly! But in the project that is “God’s Kingdom coming on Earth as in Heaven” – which is the project Jesus asked us to pray for and help make happen – there is no finale. There’s always new acts. Thus, the sermon series that will take us through Advent this year: There’s Always a Next; So What’s Next?! I mean for that to apply as much to your personal lives as our church’s direction.

Fortunately, our scriptures have many valuable ideas and stories that explore this theme. In some cases, the “next” was rest and healing. In other cases, people experienced new life. In still more cases, the issue was starting over, or ending well, or forgiveness, or following through on tough choices, or… The ultimate point being that our God has a vast, active imagination! Our God doesn’t leave us to flail when we’re needing new pathways and plans. God wants to help us create next chapters of hope and faith and grace.

Of course, high on our church’s agenda, now, is plotting such stories of “What’s next.” I know that’s also true for some of you, personally. So let’s discern and dream together, pray for faithfulness together, amen?! The alternative would be to stop hoping, lethargically sit around and wait for God’s voice to break through storm clouds of gloom and frustration gathering. But that sounds boring. Instead, we’ll be actively exploring this fall the wisdom of ancients who claimed that, with God, there’s always a next.
And they were right. After all, we’re here, praising God still.

Grace and Peace,

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Thursday, September 24, 2015

Divine attention…

An interesting theological debate occurred this weekend between two NFL quarterbacks. We knew they were divine at passing. But their spiritual depth is a revelation.

Puns aside, here’s the scoop. Apparently, several months ago, Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks defeated Aaron Rodgers’ Green Bay Packers. Mr. Wilson praised God for the achievement. Mr. Rodgers later responded, “I don't think God cares a whole lot about the outcome. He cares about the people involved, but I don't think he's a big football fan." Wilson disagreed, claiming, “I think God cares about football. I think God cares about everything he created."

(Pastor’s note: God isn’t male. Anyway…)

Then, last weekend, Green Bay defeated Seattle (cheering Tom Jarvi’s heart). At the post-game press conference, Rodgers responded to a question about the game, how victory was achieved. He said, “…And then getting help from God. I think God was a Packers fan tonight, so he was taking care of us."

The biting dig at Wilson was subtle, but present. I haven’t yet heard a snappy retort from Wilson. But I don’t care. The debate is back on! Which world-class athlete is right about God?!

Now, it’s familiar for a professional athlete (or actress, or doctor…) to thank God for her/his natural abilities. That’s fair. I don’t mind. Unless said athlete patrons a strip club that night, amen?! Some go further and, like Mr. Wilson, suggest that God’s actively involved in a particular moment or game. As if the Spirit helps guide footballs (or scalpels?). I’m more dubious of that claim.

Thus, my pleasant surprise at Rodgers offering an alternative take. Namely, he thinks that God’s is solely for the people involved in a sporting contest, not the result. That’s good theology. Although, I do agree with part of Wilson’s reply, that Rodger’s went too far by saying, “I don’t think (God)’s a big football fan.” Maybe God is. Why not? Besides brain disfigurement the sport has caused…

Moving on…the mistake the Seahawks’ slinger makes is assuming that because something exists, God created it. He says God cares about football because “God cares about everything (God) created.” That’s a common theological claim. But I don’t think it’s true. After all, if it was, it would mean we do nothing independently. That whomever first conceived of football was just fooling himself. God was doing it, in the background, or something.

The problem with that notion is it seriously devalues humanity. If we’re so incapable of independent action, why would God love us as much as God does?! What would sin mean? Answer: nothing! Therefore, God’s intention in creating us wasn’t for us to be puppets, but rather Co-Creators with God. That’s right, God’s given you the tools, imagination, insight and ability to make something new that God didn’t do “in the beginning”! Why? Maybe it’s more fun that way. Maybe God sought to create that which God couldn’t control- humans- so even more good could emerge. Who knows?! Whatever the case, it’s beautiful.

At least, it can be, when we don’t mess up. Not only have we created football, but (much, much) more importantly, cures for diseases, sonorous symphonies, Sunday dinners that feed generations. God care about that stuff because God cares about us. Which is a subtle difference from Wilson’s claim, but that difference means something. After all, if you believe that it’ really God doing everything, you won’t feel the same responsibility and empowerment to invent something new, rectify some social injustice, mentor a kid and change her future. But all that’s stuff Christians should do, and God created us to do it well. Thank God, then, that Scripture teaches that the Creator created us in the Creator’s image.

So in this epic theological battle, I’ll take Rodgers over Wilson. Although, I wish Rodgers had decided not to use God as prop in belittling someone else publicly. Rather, I wish both of those gifted, famous and well-paid men had decided to honor God together by caring as much for their fellow humans- co-creators!- as God does, especially the poor. I mean, they and their even better-paid bosses/owners could co-create a lot goodness if they walked their talk, amen?!

Grace and Peace,

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Friday, September 18, 2015

New ventures,

Can I confess something? I don’t like the fact that, over twenty years ago, we changed our name away from New Ventures Christian Church. For those still around who were involved in that decision, please know I’m not second-guessing or casting stones! I realize there were great reasons for the change. You’d worked for over a decade to grow the community, buy the land, build the building, and were, therefore, committing to being in this place, doing ministry at this location, integrating your church family, your hopes for making God’s Kingdom come within the Plymouth Creek neighborhood. That’s a beautiful a reason. Commitment is holy. Hence, Plymouth Creek is a good name.

But I love New Ventures, the former name. Some of the backstory, of course, was a struggle between leadership at FCC Minneapolis, nudging people to feel led by God to embark on the new venture of forming a new church. The name “Plymouth Creek” was a small way of moving on, therefore, by claiming an independent identity. Choosing New Ventures in the first place, though, was a wise act of faithfulness. After all, what else is living faithfully than frequent experiences of newness, of changing directions, of everyday resurrections? Part of me wishes the old name remained because it would’ve kept that mission- to forge forward in new ventures with God constantly- front and center, always.

Well, I’m discussing that name because we have a new venture ahead, Church. Alas, it’s not the one we anticipated. Last Monday, due to lack of funds, the Board decided that, unless some miracle arises, we’re ceasing efforts to renovate and expand our building with Yellow Brick Road Childcare. 

I must share how proud I was of your leadership as they made that heartbreaking decision. They understood it comes with real costs- money paid we won’t get back, large bills still outstanding, the likelihood that our child care tenant will leave in the near future, with all the budget ramifications that holds. To say nothing of not accomplishing the good work for kids from poor families that we dreamed about. Nevertheless, they talked about God’s will together, prayed together, loved one another without blaming each other or others, and basically were the good, faithful Christians we know makes God’s heart sing.

It says something about people’s (or a church’s) character, the old adage goes, how they react when the cards aren’t falling their way. Your Board reacted faithfully. And hopefully. And that’s awesome! You see, our conversation wasn’t just about whether we’re able to do this or not, or what the fallout will be. We’ve discussed all that, of course, and will be quick to share what we learn when we learn it. But soon enough they turned to, “So what’s next? God brought us this far. We learned important things, and the dream of using our resources to grow our community in numbers and mission impact remains. This chapter closed. The book hasn’t ended.”

Put differently, new ventures remain. So after a meeting you’d imagine I or others would leave feeling dejected, defeated, instead I walked to my car with a smile on my face and lightness in my heart. And I was grateful to have witnessed the Christian hearts of these people, of you. Thank you!

And again I ask, “What’s next?!” Indeed, that’ll be the topic of our Fall Sermon Series, for your information. We’ll look at Scripture’s many texts and stories about reversals, new life, fresh beginnings because we know that new ventures are God’s specialty. And they’re in our church DNA too, if no longer in our name. Please lift your hearts in prayer, then, for discernment among your leadership. Contact them or me with any concerns, questions, or ideas that pop up. Finally, thank YBR for walking with us on this road, and risking with us, and taking serious losses too in hopes that we’d be able to serve our neighbors better together. Their next steps are also uncertain. May God guide them with grace as God does us. And may we all respond with faith, hope and love.

Grace and Peace,
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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

We are walking…

Years ago, I read an idea that’s shaped my thinking since. It claims that Christianity can be understood as a long-running debate. In one corner is the church behind John’s Gospel, typified by Christ’s final commandment in that book: Love one another as I’ve loved you. In the other corner is the church behind Luke’s Gospel, typified by another commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Perhaps you’re thinking, “Shane, what debate? Those ideas are the same!” In some cases, maybe. But look closer, and at least I see two poles on one constantly swinging pendulum.

After all, in John’s Gospel, the focus is internal. Love one another, Jesus says, as in your fellow sisters and brothers in Christ. The goal here is guarding the faithful, defending the purity of their truth claims, not letting “the world” invade. There’s some historical justification for that sentiment. John’s community was harassed. They experienced derision from neighbors, expulsion from synagogues and cities, occasional outright persecution. And such looming threats can weigh on a community. Infighting and bickering become common: “If only she’d shut her trap…” “If only he had done more…” John, therefore, quotes Jesus begging, “Love one another,” or else the whole ship might sink!

Luke’s Gospel, by contrast, focuses outwardly. His Jesus spends less time concerned about his disciples’ relationship to each other, than their relationship to the world. In particular, he wants them offering love and service, guidance and acceptance, forgiveness, to the most vulnerable around them. “Love your neighbor as yourself,” he counsels, and it’s not like his community had it easy. They too experienced derision, rejection, persecution. But to keep people united, Luke counsels they focus on helping widows, orphans, outcasts, strangers, and not buildings a wall around the church, enforcing strict standards of identity and purity, a la John. Rather, Luke says, “Hey, if we wanna beat this trouble, let’s throw our doors open wider! Serve and love our neighbors more!”

Hence, the debate that’s evolved within Christianity across centuries and cultures: Is our primary mission internal or external? Especially when we’re vulnerable, should we guard our “truth”, protect our Christian identity above all, or should we open our doors and tables wider, aiming above all to love neighbors as best we can?

Both answers, of course, have value. When forced to choose, though, I go with Luke. I love John’s language, poetry and insights. But I think he’s wrong about the best Christian mission. It’s not defending truth; it’s showering love, particularly on and with those in need.

I bring this up by way of introducing an idea that began with a Servant Leaders conversation months ago, and will become a church activity this month. Every year, our city has a parade, aptly called Plymouth on Parade. Local institutions, schools and citizens march together, celebrating the tapestry of our community. This year’s parade is September 26. Our Servant Leaders wanted us to join in, signaling to neighbors, “We’re here! You can be too!” In other words, it’s an act of opening up, of challenging the church to think beyond our building and our relationships, and instead to imagine anew the new connections we can create with others.

So they signed us up! All PCCCers are invited to march. We’ll bring the bus, wear church t-shirts, have fun together. We’ll also hand out fliers to onlookers, which will include worship information as well as a call to action. We’re inviting neighbors to join a food/clothing drive the following week. The flyer will say, “Bring donations to our church by October 3. We’ll take them to people in need!” That, too, is about opening up, communicating not just, “We’re Here! You can be too!” But also, “We’re here! We love people! You can too, with us!”

Will that bring more visitors? Maybe. It’s certainly worth trying. Will those visitors return? Perhaps, especially if we’re open to forming new relationships. Will we collect enough donations to feel like it’s “worth it”? Who cares?! Jesus said Love, in both commandments. And however we do that, if we love, actively, we’re behaving as we should be. No debate about that!

Grace and Peace,

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Tuesday, September 1, 2015


In early June, I’m sure everyone remembers, a white man entered a black church’s Bible Study in Charleston, SC. Its members welcomed him warmly. After an hour, he shot nine dead.

Immediately, people across the country were horrified. And the heinous deed stood in starker relief, days later, when survivors publicly forgave the killer. Then…well…many people moved on, to new news stories, to the unfolding demands of daily life. What can be done, people might ask. What can someone who lives far away do in the face of another’s evil heart?

But on August 28, our denomination’s leaders wrote a letter challenging Disciples churches to not let this story get lost. In particular, they’ve joined with other church leaders - including the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME, which is the Charleston church’s denomination) - to invite Christians to a Sunday of confession, repentance and commitment to end racism.

Specifically, they’re hoping we’ll incorporate something into worship on September 6, and so add our voices to a collective claim that racism’s stain has endured too long. Plymouth Creek will participate, opening our worship by seeking God’s guidance and grace for this sensitive subject.

Yet I wonder if people will feel like this is too little, too late, or – dare I say it – unnecessary? “After all,” I could imagine someone responding, “The issue is that the Charleston shooter was one racist acting violently. Why should I confess, repent and commit to change? Shouldn’t we simply cheer on the victims’ amazing grace?”

I don’t know your answer to those questions, but here’s mine: I’m participating that day because I’m a racist. Yep. I’m not a virulent, committed white supremacist who proudly treats people of different ethnic backgrounds as less human. God forbid! Rather, I’m the other kind of racist, the more subtle and widespread kind.

I’m the kind who grew up thinking that color doesn’t matter anymore, since God only cares about our hearts. I’ve since learned that, while truly God doesn’t judge based on skin color, that doesn’t mean race doesn’t still matter. I see how (mostly white) people treat my black foster son different- often worse- because they assume things about him they wouldn’t about a white boy. It’s not malicious or intentional usually, but it happens and that affects him. I’m aware that I too treat my black neighbors different at times than white neighbors- through words choices I make, topics for small talk, etc.- and I don’t even want to do it! Thus, I dislike that my subconscious is shaped by assumptions about other people based on skin color. But I won’t lie and say those assumption aren’t there. They burrowed into my heart really early in life. Thankfully, I’ve made intentional steps to expunge their negative influence. Still, that work’s unfinished. So I’m still a little bit racist.

And, probably, so are you. Which I don’t say as a judgment of your character. You’re all good people; I am too! I mean, it’s not like my parents taught me to think or react this way. It’s a society thing that most (especially white) people simply absorb. And thank God that these assumptions aren’t as pernicious or mean as in previous generations, or as violent as what that shooter believed. But since they’re still there at all is what makes our leaders’ call to end racism relevant.
That’s similar to how scholars distinguish between personal racism and systemic racism. The personal kind is the kind that many loathe and shy away from. Good! The systemic kind is harder, because is less noticeable, more polite, often subconscious, but it impacts things like getting home loans, frequency of arrests, rates of detention and expulsion in school. So when we pray together on the 6th, I’ll be praying for a) my own wholeness and healing, and b) the wholeness and healing of our broader society. Which has done so much to get better, and has so much more to do to get even better. Meaning, that Christians – who believe that, with God’s help, we can all always get better! – should lead the way and pray together. Then commit together, acting to end this too-long tolerated stain.

Grace and Peace,
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Tuesday, August 25, 2015


My family is dealing with something both obnoxious and welcome: school uniform policy.

School started this Monday for our foster kid (and I know I’ve said we wouldn’t have him once school started…well…“developments” occurred that will keep him with us longer. How much? Who knows anymore? We plan, God laughs, Grace endures). Anywho, he’s now attending a school with a uniform policy. The look’s familiar to many: khaki pants, navy polos, black or brown school shoes, under-stated gym shoes for PE, no hats. Which is to say, nothing interesting. And while he was excited when we went shopping (new stuff? Wahoo!!!), once it came time to deal with looking like everybody else, said excitement faded.

For instance, when I dropped him off on day one, I removed his hat and he immediately covered his head with his jacket. His cute version of being shy, while worrying about how he looks. Plus, several kids didn’t have the “proper” school shoes on, and that seemed unfair, and he was feeling out-of-place, and worried about new teacher/new friends/what everyone’s thinking, so began whining, “Why can’t I wear my gym shoes now?! The other boy’s wearing his gym shoes.” I resisted. But only for 87 seconds, forgive me. I then let him swap shoes, knowing I was only outsourcing that fight to his teacher, who’d demand a switch in half-an-hour’s time. I should email an apology.

The point is, his problem with the uniform was about the uniform, but so much more.

Here are reasons I love the policy. Morning routine will go super fast once we’re not debating whether favorite pants are clean, or if the shirt properly “matches”, or if there’s another acceptable hat, since Shane lost one last night (I do that…oops). Bus comes at 6:36am now. Every minute counts!

Besides, more substantively, I remember the pressures of my school clothing being an advertisement to potential friends, or fodder for rivals, and how that impeded relationship building. Such status signaling will occur with uniforms too, though probably less of it, which could nurture better community. Finally, I suspect families with fewer resources than mine are glad to feel less keeping-up-with-the-Joneses-and-Isners pressure, as regards their kids’ fashion choices. Doing what’s better for poorer families is, I’m convinced, usually what Christians should support.

Still, there are reasons I hate the policy too. I don’t believe the job of kids is to make their adults’ worlds easier. We care for kids because of the disruption to our lives they bring, not in spite of it. So while uniforms will create smoother mornings, such smoothness isn’t a primary value for me.

What’s more important, I think, is whether our foster son feels good about himself, whether he’s able to express his inner life adequately. Or better yet, magnificently! Yet forcing one clothing style keeps him from standing out. Isn’t that the opposite of self-expression? Isn’t it wise for a boy to grow comfortable with standing out (for positive reasons)? Speaking his mind (kindly)? Discovering his joys (without diminishing others)?! Being a leader?!

Thus, generally speaking, I don’t consider sartorial creativity a problem that needs to be managed or disciplined into submission. Plus, the gender assumptions annoy me- e.g. girls can wear earring studs; boys can’t- as if there’s one expected (accepted?) way of being a girl or a boy. Lastly, if it’s not clothes, then extracurriculars, shoes, backpacks, etc. will pressure families economically. Does the uniform policy alleviate enough money worry to justify dampening a poor child’s range of expression?

I’m not yet convinced. After all, in the emergence of any new identity – be that for a growing child, a newly-retired Christian…a church- a bit of chaos ought be anticipated and tolerated. Growing is messy, sometimes contradictory, often challenging. Responding to that by enforcing conformity, though, doesn’t put unity in the community. It dims the lighting of the whole. After all, distinct, differentiated identities, by definition, stand out and shine. That’s only healthy. Which is why I’d prefer no clothing policy, or something less strict. Clothing is symbolic, and I want our foster kid’s imagination encouraged. Though, again, I’ll enjoy those simpler mornings…

Grace and Peace,
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Friday, August 21, 2015

Fine lines…

I wrote to someone not long ago that I’ve recently learned, “There’s fine line between stubbornness and faith.” Maybe it’s even in the eye of the beholder! The context, you’ll be unsurprised to hear, was our building project. For the past several months, it’s felt like an on-again, off-again situation, which was very jarring. Indeed, your leadership has traveled an active rollercoaster of frustration, changes and hopes.

As of this week, the car feels like it’s nearing a peak and – finally! – is poised to head downhill with excitement and speed. What I mean to say with that clunky metaphor is that our church received and accepted a loan offer from Klein Bank to fund the work!

As you maybe know, Church Extension originally rejected our application due to us attempting to be our own General Contractor. Klein doesn’t like that either, but is willing to work with us. Plus, they’re offering better rates than CE, which could prove useful. The church should see budget savings from a reduced mortgage, and also be able to stash away enough money to cover a year’s full mortgage. Should something unexpected happen to the child care center, that fund buys us time to recruit new tenants.

The deal hasn’t closed yet, of course. The bank will do title work, an appraisal, and need assurance that our construction budget is sufficient to build the building. We’re working closely with new contractors to provide that assurance, and should know – either way – in the next week. But assuming things go well, we’ll break ground in time to beat winter. Please keep praying for that!

And, again, what I’ve been reflecting on as this up-and-down process played itself out is that, at several points, we could’ve walked away, simply said, “It’s just too hard. Isn’t doing good supposed to be easier than this?!” I’ll be honest, I’m still tempted by that idea. That will be especially true if new contractor bids aren’t what we’re expecting. An alternative thought, however, is that we do what’s hard because it’s good. I like that better, that without a stick-to-itiveness, a tenacity and confidence that what we’re trying to accomplish is worth accomplishing, then good won’t be done. We’ll remain as we are, watching the status quo devolve into a much less interesting story about the power of Jesus’ Good News. Paul said that faith, hope and love are the three great Christian virtues. And they’re interdependent. Without hope, faith means little, to say nothing of love!

Hence, my recent insight about stubbornness. Sometimes being stubborn is about pride or, basically, not losing. Perhaps that’s been going on here. But I believe your leadership was up to something different, something better. I’m convinced their stubbornness to keeping finding new solutions, to take responsible and timely risks, to put it on the line consistently for the sake of pursuing Christ’s call, I believe that was about hope. A hope that we’re walking God’s way, a hope that the kids we’re serving and the church growth we’re seeding will pay off, making us and the world better, a hope that would diminish, even dissipate, if we decided to give up.

Hope without foundation is naiveté. Hope based on the promise and ways of God is faith. And faith is good! Because, essentially, it’s the stubborn commitment to trust that a better future is possible than one predicted by our fear. We’re too often told to fear. By so much around us- the news, our families, dour neighbors, bank account statements. That loud, resounding and repeating voice of fear convinces too many it’s also the voice of wisdom. That’s rarely true. Rather, I trust faith, that however stubborn it sounds, it’s better (and holier) to invest in futures forecasted by hope.

Of course, our project may all go south in a couple weeks, again, because not every step forward in faith ends the way we…hope. Nevertheless, I’m glad your church leaders chose that path rather than one less…rich, interesting, and primed. So tell those stubborn souls, next time you see them, “Thanks! Bravo! Keep it up!” Then, whatever happens, we’ll be faithful together.

As church should always be.

Grace and Peace,

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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Economic practice…

I recently finished a book about Behavioral Economics called Misbehaving by Richard Thaler.  I read such books, so you know both, to learn something new and to impress my econ-trained wife!  Misbehaving had numerous good stories and insights, though one just became personally relevant.  Let me explain.

First off, ask yourself: How well do people make shopping decisions? One classic answer is that, by and large, people shop rationally, i.e. get the most value for the lowest price. Thaler thinks, however, that we’re not always so efficient. Indeed, we make irrational decisions constantly, he says, but fortunately, not randomly. We are predictably irrational; say, regularly grabbing the first bag of chips we see rather than comparison shop waaay back in the chips aisle.

Sound familiar… Nevertheless, critics have responded, “Who cares? People might behave irrationally when buying chips. But for big stuff with much at stake, like buying a new roof, people will behave rationally.” Which also sounds plausible. But as someone currently purchasing a new roof, I find Thaler’s rejoinder convincing. He further suggests that because we buy chips more frequently than roofs, we get good at such decisions. Like practice for soccer players, the more we do it, the more efficient we can become.

Conversely, most rarely “get good” at roof shopping because it’s so seldom done. That’s how I currently feel. We made a hail insurance claim and know that the insurance company and contractors have both more experience and self-interest. Whose information to trust? How much time to spend on this unfamiliar decision? Thus, I feel less like the self-maximizing rational actor of classic economic theory. I’m more like Thaler’s bumbling amateur making the best of a situation, with much still at stake.

Hence, why I read such books!  I’ll let you know if that helps.  But for now, apply that idea to spirituality.  In particular, consider forgiveness.  Maybe close your eyes and think about what forgiveness really means, why it really matters….

Did you think about a BIG sin? Betrayal? Abuse? Violence? If so, you’re not alone. It’s how many Christians understand forgiveness, egged on by their preachers. We tell powerful stories, hear dramatic testimony of people begging forgiveness for something HUGE. Their subsequent transformation into Redeemed Sinner inspires folk, convinces folk that grace is real.

But isn’t that equivalent to a roof purchase? After all, moments when grace is massively needed aren’t how most experience forgiveness. We deal with simpler stuff more often- ignoring a spouse’s impatient comment, giving a pass to a tired kid, saying, “That’s alright,” when a co-worker apologizes for insensitivity. That list is loooong! But I worry that because many reserve the term ‘forgiveness’ for just The BIG Sins, they consider themselves unpracticed at grace, ignorant of forgiveness’ full dimensions.

At worst, this leads some to overinflate their sinfulness, like equating white lies with abuse. Which are certainly not the same, but such ‘sin inflation’ is common in many churches. People are told that God forgives sin, that everyone sins, but the only forgiveness stories told are the BIG, dramatic ones. A + B, therefore, = We’re All Depraved Monsters.

But, again, such dramatic stories are outliers, right? Not the common experience of daily, faithful living, suggesting that most Christians are well-practiced at forgiveness, or can become so. I find that idea empowering! It means that, a) practical spirituality can produce a HUGE testimony to grace, when viewed over time. Are you a Christian who’s maybe never had a dramatic conversion, but have worked for decades to get better at forgiving? The grace you’ve accumulated and shared is impressive. Well done!

It also means, b) when people struggle to accept or extend forgiveness for BIG things, it’s not necessarily because they’re irredeemable. Like roof purchases, most folk don’t often encounter that need. We’re typically amateurs, who might need time to find and accept other’s wise counsel. Just don’t give up on someone if s/he doesn’t come around immediately.

Call that the Behavioral Economics of Forgiveness. If you find other implications, let me know. In the meantime, remember that simple graces aren’t irrelevant. They’re building blocks for daily spirituality. So practice often, and practice well.

Grace and Peace,

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Friday, August 7, 2015


Tabitha and I spent most of this week on stay-cation with our foster kid. Between that and other responsibilities at church, I didn’t have time to write a new letter. However, I think I’ve written some interesting stuff in the past. So I figured I’d just copy and paste something from several years ago that I enjoyed writing. Perhaps you’ll enjoy reading it, either again or for the first time. And if you didn’t like it when you read it years ago, feel free to skip this and go read some scripture instead! Always, it’s a joy to be connected with you…

Cuando Fluyan a la Mar…

I was privileged to be ordained at Iglesia del Pueblo Christian Church in Hammond, IN. In fact, IDP was the first Disciples of Christ church I joined. So it’s important to me, although I almost never attended in the first place. What happened was I, a relatively new DoC convert, was looking around the Chicago area for a DoC church to ordain me. I tried many places over multiple months, but nothing seemed ‘to fit.’ However, I needed to choose soon if I hoped to be ordained after graduation…

Then an attractive woman at my seminary told me she’d been checking out IDP, this Disciples church just over the state line from south Chicago, and it was really cool. They spoke Spanish and English, she said, and worshipped with a praise/gospel/salsa band, and I should go with her sometime. I must say, that sounded intriguing, but very intimidating. And I agreed to go mainly because 45 minutes in the car each direction was a long time to convince her to date me.

It worked, by the way. She’s now my wife! And what’s certainly less important, but still crucial, is I loved the church. Plus, they nurtured me down the final path to ordained ministry. But again, however neat the result in retrospect, I didn’t expect IDP ‘to fit.’ I figured I was a young white kid who speaks minimal Spanish. Thus, hoping a predominantly Latino congregation would partner with and love me enough to make me a reverend seemed farfetched. Until I walked in the door, and all assumptions I’d made about “Us v. Them” or “White v. Latino” disappeared, when John Cedeno vigorously greeted me, saying, “Thanks for coming! Tell me about yourself!” Great hospitality! I felt very welcome. And that helped me relax enough to learn that in the important things, IDP and I were one and the same. We both valued hospitality and passionate worship, above most everything else.

But similar though our values were, IDP worshiped differently than I’d experienced before. They were intentionally multicultural. This, as you might suspect, is quite tricky. Across the country, only 7% of American churches are what sociologists dub “multicultural” (meaning no one ethnic group tops 80%). Indeed, White, Black, Latino or Asian Pacific-Islander, most American Christians attend church with folk who look similar, and share similar tastes in music and expectations about worship culture (expectations like service length, music volume, impromptu v. scripted prayer, vocal interaction during sermons, clapping). That’s not news, surely, but the stats highlight how strange IDP was by blending English and Spanish, Black Gospel, Salsa, White Evangelical Praise, and Old European Hymns. However, what to some seemed strange, I learned was Glorious

In retrospect, I think one lesson from my IDP days sticks out most: Christians share vastly different cultures, languages, assumptions about ‘proper church behavior’ and even beliefs about Jesus, but all that’s less important than our shared desire to praise God. In whatever way we do best. My favorite IDP song remains a Spanish language Pentecostal tune called Como Las Aguas del Rio Roughly translated, the words are- “Like the waters of the river when they flow to the sea/so arrives the glory of the Lord into my heart”. I think glory-arriving is possible whether you’re shouting and dancing, or silently meditating to a Celtic version of "Be Thou My Vision".

But the point of multicultural worship isn’t simply to affirm ‘we have more in common than not.’ Nor is it, as some have suggested, rejecting your inherited culture as ‘boring’ or ‘dull’. I means using worship to affirm 1 Corinthians 13:12- “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” Experiencing worship from a variety of cultures, in multiple languages, is the same thing as seeing God through another’s eyes, and from vantages we’d never achieve on our own.

Or, if you will, knowing God more fully now, in anticipation of that ‘Great Gittin’ Up Morning’ when it’ll all be made plain.

Grace and Peace,
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