Hold back the river, let me look in your eyes
Hold back the river, so I
Can stop for a minute and see where you hide
Hold back the river, hold back
One of the first things that Chloe and I bonded over was our love for music. Pop music in particular. Cheesy, teenie-bop pop music to be even more particular. (Look, no need to judge me for my choice of music. I see you bobbing your head to Taylor Swift. Or T-Swizzle as Chloe and I like to call her.) So it was no surprise that Chloe and I were both jamming out when James Bay’s “Hold Back the River” came on in the truck. “Turn it up!” Chloe yells out as we both sing at the top of our lungs. “Hold back the river, so IIIIIIIII.” “I love this song,” Chloe says. “Me too,” I replied.
This was my moment. We were bonding. Maybe this could be our song. “Why do you love it?” I asked. “Because my mommy used to sing it to me,” she replied matter-of-factly.
There have been a thousand of these moments over the past two years. One moment you’re on top of the world as the parent of the year, and in the very next moment you wonder if you can even do it.
Chloe and Karson were 5 and 3, respectively, when they came to live with us in the fall of 2015. A welcomed blessing to our family of three. A welcomed blessing that showed up with all of their belongings in two garbage bags after getting kicked out of a group home for fighting and no where else to go. At 3 and 5. “What do we do now?” Jenny asked. “I guess we go to Wal-Mart and get more stuff.”
The journey from foster care to adoption is full of “what do we do nows?”. It’s a step into the unknown. A head-first leap into, “what the hell have we gotten ourselves into?” It is the journey of sleepless nights. Of looking lost when the dentist asks, “is she allergic to anything?” Of more tears than humanly possible. Of having to leave day care for excessive fighting.
But it’s also a journey of love, because that’s what love does. It chooses to stay when the easy way out would be to leave. It says we’re committing to this thing because you’ve had enough uncertainty in your life already. It takes risks. It offers a place of peace in a world full of uncertainty, even when it’s hard and even when it hurts.
So, “What do we do now?” as our adoption date approaches? Love wins.
Lonely water, lonely water, won’t you let us wander
Let us hold each other
Lonely water, lonely water, won’t you let us wander
Let us hold each other
I once heard Deb Hirsch tell a story about ranching. She says that the typical American way of ranching is to get some cattle, build a fence, and get to work. The fence serves multiple purposes: 1) it keeps your cattle from getting out; 2) it keeps your neighbor’s cattle from getting in; and 3) it keeps predators from attacking. Hirsch says that in other parts of the world, where the land is more vast (like the Australian Outback), ranching takes on a different form. Instead of building a fence, the farmer will dig a well. In this system, the cattle will drift and wander, but they will always come back to the well because the water is their source of life.
Hirsch then poses the question: shouldn’t our churches look more like the well-based model of ranching instead of the fence-based approach?
Deb’s husband Alan picks up this analogy in his book with Michael Frost, The Shaping of Things to Come. Hirsch and Frost suggest that the fence-bound churches represent a bounded-set, whereas the well-based churches represent a center-set model. In a bounded-set approach, “[the church] is a set of people clearly marked off from those who do not belong to it.” Contrasted with a center-set approach where “people are not seen as in or out, but closer or further away from the center. In that sense, everyone is in and no one is out.” (1)
The center-set approach resonates with me in part because this is how I see Jesus living out his ministry. In John’s gospel alone, we see Jesus telling the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4) that he is the well (center) that provides living water. The crowds flock to Jesus in John 6 (5,000 plus!) but then retreat the very next day (John 6:66). Just like cattle, there is a drifting away and a coming back. But no boundary. Jesus loved people where they were, but allowed them the freedom to wander away and come back (or not).
And there’s the rub. As Christianity moved from a movement to an institution, we started to draw lines in the sand that served as boundaries determining who belongs and who doesn’t. Church membership, dress codes, and common views on moral issues replaced an openness to the idea that everyone belongs. Perhaps unknowingly, we placed limits on love. And love that has limits is not love.
As Jesus is teaching his disciples that he must die as part of God’s plan for his life, he says, “when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). My hope and prayer is that our churches would start to take down the fences and boundaries that may be limiting access to the Christ who is at work drawing all people to himself. Let’s stop setting a boundary regarding who should be in and who should be out, and instead point people to the center, the well, the Christ. Continuing to drive the point home, Hirsch and Frost conclude, “Churches that see themselves as a centered set recognize that the gospel is so precious, so refreshing that, like a well in the Australian Outback, lovers of Christ will not stray too far from it. It is then a truly Christ-centered model.” (2)
Author’s note: this approach to ministry has impacted us at FaithBridge in such a way that we have begun to make some changes in order to move towards a center-set approach. You can hear about some of those changes from my sermon on April 30, 2017 here. More to come.
To my friends and family that find themselves in a place of vulnerability,
It has been over a week since America voted to elect a new president. I have questioned a lot in the days that have followed, including the direction that our country is headed and even my own beliefs on certain issues. But I have not questioned my resolve to stand up for you, dear friend. In fact, in seeing the hateful actions of some (including those in my own tribe), I am evermore committed to advocating on your behalf. Here are some of the ways that I intend to do that. It may not be enough, but I promise to give it my best shot.
To my black friends, I acknowledge that your lives do matter. I commit myself to speaking out against all forms of racism in general, and systemic racism in particular. I repent of my own white privilege and intend to use my place of privilege to raise awareness about all of the ways that our country continues to oppress people of color. I also am sorry to see the hate-filled actions that have occurred in the past week. Please know that I am grieving with you because when one member suffers, we all suffer (1 Corinthians 12:26).
To the unborn, I am committed to standing up for your rights, particularly because you are the most vulnerable. But my commitment does not end when you are born. I will advocate for you throughout your life, and even take you into my own home if your life becomes unsafe. I will raise awareness of the need in our country for families and churches to become advocates for the foster/adoption community. (FYI in 2014 650,000 kids spent time in the foster care system in America.)
To my brother earth and sister moon, I am writing this letter as the smoke from wildfires in my area serves as a reminder of how endangered and vulnerable you are. Some have even suggested that our changing climate is a hoax, but that doesn’t change how I will support you. I support you because I believe that you are a reflection of our Creator, and that through you I can know something about the divine nature of God (Romans 1:20). Thank you for this gift.
To my friends who are immigrants (including refugees), I am grieving with you. I am so sorry that you are being targeted by hate. We Christians have a long history of welcoming the stranger, and I have even spoken on this at length prior to the election. My resolve has not changed. I’m committed to standing with you.
To my LGBTQ friends, you have an advocate in me. I support you. I stand with you. I can do this because you are my neighbor (and brother and sister), and I intend to take Jesus seriously as he tells me to love you as I love myself (Matthew 22:39).
To my friends who are Muslim, I’m also sorry that you are being targeted by hate and threats. Please know that my faith in God is strong enough to welcome you and show you hospitality. This is the least we can do. As a person of faith myself, I can appreciate your beliefs, even when they diverge from my own.
To all women, my heart aches for you. I will not stand for misogyny. I refuse to normalize talk of sexual assault as “locker room” conversation, and I commit to fighting for you. My own faith and call to ministry was nurtured by strong Christian leaders including my mom, Michelle Chappell, Brooke Turner, Sally Queen, and Ka’thy Gore Chappell, among others. I am thankful to God for the role of women in my life and I will do everything in my power to continue to advocate for all women. We’ve got a long way to go, but I’m with you all the way.
I know it may not seem like a lot, but you’ve got my best.
Learn to do good.
help the oppressed;
defend the orphan;
plead for the widow.
“Do this in remembrance of me.” Luke 22:19
As it turns out, there are nearly 300 references to “bread” in the Bible. We know because we are working our way through all of them. One per week, in the order that they appear in Scripture. It took us nearly six months to get through Genesis. We have been doing this for over a year and a half, and we are only now in 2 Chronicles. FaithBridge‘s mid-week communion service is called The Bread of Life (you can read more about it here), and to be certain, we have plowed through some pretty obscure passages just because there was a reference to bread. For example, here is a passage from 1 Kings 22 from a couple of weeks ago:
Zedekiah, Chenaanah’s son, approached Micaiah and slapped him on the cheek. “Just how did the Lord’s spirit leave me to speak to you?” he asked.
25 Micaiah answered, “You will find out on the day you try to hide in an inner room.”
26 “Arrest him,” ordered Israel’s king, “and turn him over to Amon the city official and to Joash the king’s son. 27 Tell them, ‘The king says: Put this man in prison and feed him minimum rations of bread and water until I return safely.’” (1)
Upon first glance, this passage might indeed seem obscure. I doubt many sermons have been preached on Zedekiah slapping Micaiah. But when this becomes the main Scripture text for communion, the obscurity fades away. Why? Because communion forces us to read every passage through the lens of Christ’s death and resurrection. In other words, we have a weekly reminder of the great mystery of faith: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
And let’s be honest, we all need to be reminded of this. All the time. Because it’s at the core of who we are as Christians. As John Wesley claims regarding communion, “A Second reason why every Christian should do this as often as he can, is, because the benefits of doing it are so great to all that do it in obedience to him; viz., the forgiveness of our past sins and the present strengthening and refreshing of our souls.” (2)
It is far to easy for us to feel like our lives are being lived in obscurity. One random event after another. We long for meaning and purpose. Sometimes we even make decisions that pull us away from the life that God has intended for us. Drifting. Struggling. If the sacrament is a means of grace (it is), then we are reminded every time we partake that in fact we are not living a life of obscurity, but one of purpose and meaning. The body and the blood are given for us, so that we “may be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by his blood.” (3)
Thus the joy of constant communion.
At FaithBridge we are currently rolling through a sermon series called MythBusters, where we are looking at some common phrases to see if they hold up to the test of Biblical (and logical/historical) scrutiny. This past Sunday, the myth was “God Needed Another Angel in Heaven,” and you can catch that sermon below. The main idea is that God is the author of life, not of death (spoiler alert: God does not need another angel in heaven).
I closed the sermon with the following poem:
God is Love
God needed nothing to create
all of life, paradise.
Yet with one unfaithful act,
enter sin, death, and strife.
God gazed upon the mighty throng,
And sent his son to bring
An end to death forevermore,
the resurrection of the King.
Jesus is the chosen one,
and came that we might have life.
What can separate us from this Love?
Not even death, nor sin, nor strife.
“I am the Bread of Life.” Jesus (John 6:35)
In a recent hospital visit, one of the healthcare professionals asked me what I liked best about Holy Communion. I looked to the patient to make sure it was o.k. to proceed (actually, to gather my thoughts), and them muttered something about the holy mystery of God. What I said was true. Holy Communion is a great and wonderful mystery. But I was unsatisfied with my response, so I asked for a do over. Take two struck something inside of me that I’ve been wrestling with for some time. I said, “You know, I actually love communion because of the gathering of the people. I love the fact that at the Table, all are equal. People from all walks of life sharing a meal together.”
And it’s true. At Christ’s Table, barriers are broken down. There is no young and old, fat and skinny, rich and poor, smart and less smart. All are welcome, and everyone is equal. At the Table, as God’s children, we are sharing a meal with God’s family.
What if we could offer this same sense of radical hospitality in everything else that we do? At Casting Bread Food Pantry (a ministry of FaithBridge), we have started asking this question. And as a result, we are becoming increasingly aware of the barriers that exist between client/provider and us/them. After a recent visit to the Haywood Street Congregation, we realized that we could be doing more. And if the Table is the ultimate symbol of reconciliation, we figured that would be a good place to start.
So we launched the Bread of Life Service on Wednesdays at noon during the food pantry and soup kitchen hours. No one is required to come, because that would be coercive. But all are invited, and all are welcome. The service will look different from week-to-week, but one thing will remain constant: Holy Communion.
Phyllis Tickle says, “When I help to provide food, I want it to be food shared among us easily and frequently. I’m not out to save the world, just to be a part of it” (Emergence Christianity, 136). And thus sums up the ethos of the Bread of Life service. Everyone is welcome at the table. Everyone.