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In late May, Colleen and I starred in an in-house video concerning re-opening King Avenue for in-person worship beginning June 14. This was an attempt to prepare persons for what to expect. We covered masks, sanitization, and social distancing. We addressed how to enter and exit the building, and how critical ushers and greeters would be. We prepared worshipers for the changes in worship such is the lack of a choir and the hymn singing “softly to yourself.” The video stressed that in-person worship should be seen as an option to online worship and that the kind of worship one attended was not indicative of any spiritual superiority.
We emphasized two final issues. One, to quote directly, “The spirit of worship will not change one bit. God is good all the time. We are still a community--whether in-person or online--called by God’s reconciling grace to trust, worship, and serve. God’s creative power, love, and mercy will join our worship and fill our hearts. We will praise, pray, listen to the scriptures, and we’ll even get to greet and bless one another.” And two, “[on-person worship is] actually an opportunity for our congregation to model a safe and respectful way for people to come together in public.”
This past Wednesday our staff met at length to discuss whether or not King Avenue should continue to worship in-person. The causes of the discussion were the statements of curfew by Governor DeWine and the joint advisory by the health commissioners for Columbus and Franklin County. It was a healthy and respectful dialog. A variety of opinions and concerns were voiced. I was proud of our collegiality and I believe you would have been also. In the end we made decisions. One, we would remain open for in-person worship at both 9 and 11am. Two, we would limit singing to only the worship leaders. Three, we would suspend in-person worship if the county went purple.
The Franklin County went purple so we shall suspend in-person worship effective this Sunday, November 22, until further notice. I want, however, to write about the first point, the decision to stay open before we went purple. Why would we do that in light of what our civic leaders were advising and that other churches had already ceased or were intending to cease in-person worship? It was because you had acted so safely and respectfully. You have truly modeled how to worship in-person and online. Sunday after Sunday worshipers have masked, distanced, sanitized, and cared for each other. You have faithfully followed every precaution and made King Avenue a safe place to be and to worship. You have shown other institutions how to behave and respect their neighbor in public. You modeled what we talked about in May.
We know how this has been a time in our country to ignore safe behavior and flaunt individual rights. It is also a time of binary thinking. Any issue is immediately politicized. If one is not with us, they are against us. If one is not red, they must be blue. If one is not blue, they must red. The party line must be toed. There is no middle or other ground. We were aware that, by choosing to remain open, some would push us into a camp most of us were not part of. We felt it was healthy to resist this politicized, binary thinking of facilely labeling ourselves and our neighbor. We wanted to model not only behavior but also thinking which transcended pigeonholing. Such thinking shows independence and a willingness to see a third way of reconciliation. That is a witness needed in our country. Our division cannot be overcome until the politicized, binary thinking is overcome.
This Thanksgiving I am thankful for the model of behavior which demonstrates your concern for neighbor. I am also thankful for the faithful vision of a Christ-centered third way which transcends factions and offers hope of unity. It is a different plane. Christ’s way calls us out of binary thinking to a liberated, new way of seeing and behaving. Christ offers an option which is other than the two which are presented us. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female [there is neither gay nor straight, there is neither red nor blue] for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28
Stay safe and well!
The voting is done, and we wait on the count and results. During this time the calls for healing of our country have begun. There is acknowledgement that we are very divided, and we need to come together. Sometimes the speaker seems to think that this acknowledgement and desire are sufficient for healing. It seems so easy.
We know from personal experience that healing is neither easy nor painless. Surgery, recovery, and rehabilitation are lengthy and exhausting. Chemotherapy and radiation are often sickening. Frequently healing involves more suffering on the journey to health and wholeness. When we remember the healing which Christ brings, we remember it in terms of redemptive suffering. “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5).
If we are serious about healing, we must bear in mind that it is a commitment which demands sacrifice and humility. We tend to think this is required for the other guy, but it is definitely true for me. The healings which Jesus performed were more than cures, they were transformations. If we are serious about healing, we should be ready to be changed. “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” We take the first step; we don’t wait for the other person.
The divide in our country is aggravated by how we think and speak of the other. We have objectified and demonized each other. The well-known poem “For everything there is a season” in the Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, is a series of paired opposites. Born/die, plant/reap, weep/laugh. The opposite for “a time to heal” is “a time to kill.” As I think about the speeches, articles, and ads for the campaign, each side accused the other of essentially killing the country. The campaign was a time for killing language. If we are serious about healing, now is the time for healing language.
This is a long quotation from Joan Chittister’s There Is a Season, but it is worth reading to the end.
There are two obstacles to being healed. The first lies in our attachment to the pain. We cannot heal ourselves of the pains to which we cling. We have to want to be healed. We cannot wear injustice like a red badge of courage and hope to rise from it. Even before we are vindicated, even before restitution comes – if it ever comes – we ourselves must move beyond it, outside of it, despite it.
Healing depends on our wanting to be well. I may not forget the blows I have suffered in life, but I must not choose to live under their power forever. Most of all, I must not choose to imprison myself in my own pain. Whatever has mutilated us – the betrayal, the dishonesty, the mockery, the broken promises - there is more to life than that. The first step of healing, then, is to find new joy for myself to tide me through the terror of the abandonment. It is time to get a life instead of mourning one. When the beating is over, there is nothing to do but to get up and go on, in a different direction to sure, but on, definitely on.
The second step in healing is to find new ideas in which to live. Whatever we needed before the breakpoint came – security, love, connectedness, certainty, identity - we must find it someplace else. We must put our hope in risk and find it challenging, in self and find it strong, in newness and find it enough.
The third step to healing is to trust ourselves to someone else just when we think we cannot trust anyone or anything at all. Just when we are not sure who the enemy really is, we must risk confidence in someone again. It is a false and hollow cure that ends with a sterile handshake. Healing comes for both the beaten and the intellectually bound when they step across the lines in their minds and hope that this time, in this person, in this situation, they will find the acceptance, the enlightenment, needed to join the human
community one more time (pp.49-50).
Healing is about a new level of compassion. It finds the other important. And it finds importance in one’s own life.
I’ll close with a prayer from the United Methodist healing service.
May the power of God’s indwelling presence heal you [and our nation] of all illnesses – of body, mind, spirit, and relationships- that you may serve God with a loving heart. Amen.
Hope you are safe and well.
PASTOR JOHN’S MUSING 10.30.2020
During the Comprehensive Campaign our church’s prayer team has created numerous opportunities for prayer. On Wednesdays, from noon-1pm, and 6:30-7:30pm, the sanctuary is open for prayer and meditation. There are prayer stations and hymns played on the piano. It is wonderful to sit in the quiet sanctuary, center on God, and unburden oneself. Team members have also been posting prayers for our church on Realm.
During our worship services, members of the team have led us in both prayers for the campaign and the prayers of the church. Last Sunday Shannon Poole offered the prayers. I was deeply moved by the honesty and faith of her prayer. I was especially impacted knowing that she experiences the stress that all parents of small children do and that she lost her job during the pandemic. This is her prayer. Thank you, Shannon.
During these unknown times and with the fear we have in our hearts, we pray that we turn to you.
We do not know what this COVID pandemic will look like, who our elected officials will be, and really anything in the future.
We pray we will not be gripped with fear. Fear of how our schools will conduct learning, fear of our economy being shut down and people losing jobs, fear of the virus spreading, fear of how the holidays will look. Knowing you means we don’t have to know the future. Remind us of the truth and help us walk in faithfulness and unity together.
As we feel the world spin out of control, grant us grace to trust you. Help us as a nation to vote with your principles of integrity and wisdom. Please bless and protect all of the politicians running for office. Remind us that even if the ground crumbles from underneath our feet, we have no reason to fear, for you will support us.
Remind us of your truths and help us walk in faithfulness and unity together. Amen.
Hope you are safe and well.
PASTOR JOHN’S MUSING 10.2.2020
You may have picked up by now that I am a big fan of the Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann. He began each of his seminary lectures with a prayer. Fortunately, a former has collected them in Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth: Prayers of Walter Brueggemann. This prayer was offered 44 years ago yesterday. It strikes me as still fresh and pertinent.
[God], You are the voice we can scarcely hear
because you speak to us about dying and suffering,
and we are impacted by so many voices
that have to do with power
We do know that you are the voice that gives life,
that you are the voice that opens futures to people who are hopeless.
We are a part of a hopeless people,
because the other voices eat at our hearts,
and we are immobilized
and we become deaf.
So we pray for new ears.
We pray that your voice may be more audible to us,
that we may be able to sort out the death-giving
from the life-giving voices among us.
We pray in the name of Jesus,
through whom you have spoken
in such inscrutable ways.
PASTOR JOHN’S MUSING 10.9.2020
“Lord, what is Your will for my life in this matter as it relates to Your will for our church at this time? What do You want to do through me as it affects what You are trying to do through our church?"
This prayer is in the Commitment Guide for King Avenue’s “Coming Together for Transformation” campaign. I hope you are aware of the campaign and have been reading the literature that you have received at home and is available online at kingave.org. Please take 30 minutes now to read about the campaign. I hope you plan to attend one of the information meetings this week. In the coming weeks, as we approach Commitment Sunday on November 15, I’ll write about why I am committed to the campaign and am enthusiastic about it. We have numerous committees working on some aspect of it. This morning our consultant told me there are over 100 King Avenue members working on it. Wow! It is exciting that they have such energy.
Now to the prayer which you’ll receive in a mailing soon, if not already. The tendency in these campaigns it to go quickly to the money. The campaign is really about our future. Will our building continue to be a facility through which God works? Will we be equipped for the new ministries to which God calls us? Will we be in a position for God to work though us? Our concern for our building as a site for future ministry and our concern for future ministries reaching out of King Avenue go before money.
This prayer asks me to see my money and resources not so much as cold cash but as a warm spiritual concern. This prayer turns money into a spiritual issue. Our use of money has always been a spiritual issue; the prayer just makes us aware of it. How I spend my money is indicative of what God is trying to do through me. How King Avenue spends its money is indicative of what God is trying to do through our church. My spending is not only about giving to King Avenue. The question is, “What is God trying to do through me on whatever I spend my money?” The prayer reminds me that God is a player in my use of money. And that affects my relationship to God. Often, we think of prayer, Bible study, fasting, and worship as faith formation. The use of money is also faith formation and reflects how our spirit has been shaped.
“Lord, what do You want to do through me as it affects what you are trying to do through our church?” is about money, but it is about more than money. It is about our time, relationships, space, community, justice, speech, and talents. What is God trying to do through me is again about not only what I do in relation to King Avenue, but also what I do outside my King Avenue relationship. You may say that is all encompassing. It is. It is loving God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.
“Lord, what do You want to do through me…as it affects what you are trying to do in my marriage, in my family, in my neighborhood?” The next time I am in conflict, anger, turmoil, unforgiveness, judgment; it would do me well to pray this prayer.
I think it is extraordinary that God is trying to do something through me, us, King Avenue. We are incredibly important to God. We have been using the image of a formation of a clay pot for the campaign. We have, as Paul writes, this treasure in clay jars (II Corinthians 4:7). God has mission and ministry in mind. We are the ones God asks to be in mission and ministry. God is trying to work through us to open doors of sanctuary, to create new avenues of ministry, to equip Christians for discipleship, and to lead reconciling ministries.
As regards the comprehensive campaign, we don’t start with boilers, bricks, mortar, stained glass windows, or livestreaming. We don’t start with money. Those are the means to an end which is ministry. We start with prayer. “Lord, what do you want to do through me as it affects what you are trying to do through our church?” The campaign and our commitment begin with this prayer. Before you click off, spend 60 seconds praying this prayer.
Hope you are safe and well.
PASTOR JOHN’S MUSING 9.25.2020
Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary!
Praise God in his fortress, the sky!
Praise God as suits his incredible greatness!
Praise God with the blast of the ram’s horn!
Praise God with lute and lyre!
Praise God with drum and dance!
Praise God with strings and pipe!
Praise God with loud cymbals!
Let every living thing praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!
– Psalm 150
Each day read a psalm as part of my morning devotions. I march through them from beginning to end. When I reach the last one, Psalm 150; I return to the beginning. You may have guessed that I recently finished and started over. The psalms are prayers of lament, petition, warning, instruction, thanksgiving, anger, manipulation, and exhortation. Psalm 150 is pure, unadulterated praise. The only commandment is to praise.
It strikes me as prayed by someone who is energetic, aware, and appreciative. The writer senses that all is well in God’s world. It focuses on God’s goodness and encourages others to experience God’s goodness. This is a person full of love and hope. It is a person who is glad. She is a person who probably has said on more than one occasion, “I am glad for you.” She delights in the joy of others. This is a person focused on God and neighbor. We might even say that she is devoted to living for God and neighbor.
This is a hard psalm to read in a monotone; it is read with an enthusiasm for life and God.
For this person, faith is not primarily duty to God, but gratitude for God. Action flows from this gratitude. Music plays a significant role in her life. Maybe she was a musician. What she is skilled at she uses to praise the Lord. This determines how her gifts are used. She must employ her cymbals to praise God. She has to do something in order to praise. How would a teacher have written this psalm? An accountant? A gardener? A student? A carpenter? It is kind of psalm which any of us could write.
Praise the Lord!
Praise God with the hammer and nail!
Praise God with saw and lumber!
Praise God with the level and tape measure!
Praise God with clamp and chalk line!
Praise God with beautiful buildings!
Let every living thing praise Lord!
Praise the Lord!
For years, I have not regarded Psalm 150 as that profound. In these days I think it may be the most profound psalm. Praise of God is what draws us out of our doldrums. It calms our anxiety. It lessens our fears. It raises us out of our funk. We shift our focus to God and neighbor. We concentrate on using our gifts.
Try writing a psalm like Psalm 150 this week. I would love to read what you come up with.
Hope you are safe and well.
PASTOR JOHN’S MUSING 9.11.2020
Since the mailings about King Avenue’s exciting Comprehensive Campaign were received last week, many of you have asked me about the relationship of our church with the United Methodist denomination because of the incompatible stance against LGBTQI persons and inclusive churches.
In short, the significant difference is the January 2020 announcement of the Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation.
I recognize that this announcement may have gone under the radar for many due to all of the distractions this year has posed, but because of this Protocol, it gives me the confidence to recommend the re-starting our Comprehensive Campaign which is so needed for our future ministry. While it’s been on our website, I should have been more aggressive in drawing attention to this.
As a quick review, the actions of the special General Conference in February 2019, were not hospitable to LGBTQI persons and inclusive churches. The inclusive One Church plan was rejected in favor of the “traditional” plan which prohibited ordination of LGBTQI members, banned churches and clergy from celebrating same-sex weddings, and the “incompatible” language of the Discipline was retained. Penalties for performing weddings were severe with forfeiture of credentials for the second offense. The Trust Clause would be invoked for churches which desired to disassociate from the denomination. This could entail the forfeiture of all local church assets including property and monies.
Here’s the big difference.
What has changed with our denomination for King Avenue to revive its Comprehensive Campaign? Again, in early January of this year, a diverse group of traditionalists, centrists, progressives, and bishops announced the Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation. I encourage you to visit our website kingave.org and click “United Methodist Proposed Separation” on the home page. All the details of the protocol are there in several articles. I’ll summarize the highlights.
The United Methodist Church remains intact and allows those to leave who desire to do so.
The traditionalist churches would be allowed to leave and form a new Methodist denomination.
This new denomination would be given a $25 million gift to help it form.
$2 million would be escrowed to help other potential new denominations form.
A local church affiliating with another Methodist denomination “pursuant to the protocol” would keep its assets and liabilities.
There is an immediate abeyance (moratorium) on all complaints, charges and trials against LGBTQ clergy and clergy who perform same-gender weddings.
To support communities historically marginalized by racism, $39 million would be allocated over eight years to strengthen Asian, Black, Hispanic-Latino, Native American and Pacific Islander ministries, as well as Africa University. Of that total, $13 million would come from funds the separating traditionalist denomination chose to forgo.
The pension plans of The United Methodist Church would remain in place for all current clergy and lay employees, even if they affiliate with another Methodist denomination under the protocol.
After the 2020 General Conference, set for May 5-15 in Minneapolis, there would be a special General Conference for the remaining denomination. “The protocol also references a plan which calls for a special general conference of the post-separation United Methodist Church. The purpose of the Special Session would be to create regional conferences, remove the current prohibitions against LGBTQ persons, and to repeal the Traditional Plan.”
The protocol has now been endorsed by seven major advocacy groups that have often been at odds with one another: The Confessing Movement, Good News, Mainstream UMC, Reconciling Ministries Network, UMCNext, Uniting Methodists, and the Wesleyan Covenant Association.
The signers of the Protocol agreed to honor the moratorium on trials until it was passed. Bishop Palmer is a signer and has honored the moratorium.
All of the above gives me great hope for King Avenue’s place in the future of the United Methodist Church. We would stay within the denomination and keep our assets. The “incompatible” language would be stricken. LGBTQI persons would be fully included and eligible for ordination. Weddings would happen. Charges and trials would be over.
The Protocol was to have been voted on at the General Conference this past May. Because of Covid-19, it was postponed until September 2021. So, we are in a holding pattern. Yet, I take great hope of its passage because of the diversity of persons who produced it and the groups that have endorsed it. They seldom reach agreement. Unlike in the past, the opponents come committed to the same proposal. I strongly believe it will pass.
PASTOR JOHN’S MUSING 9.4.2020
Several weeks ago, I preached on God’s speaking to Moses out of the burning bush. Moses asks for God’s name, and God responds with the four-letter word, YHWH (Exodus 3:13-15). My understanding of the word used is that it is a verb form. Those four letters are translated a variety of ways, “I am,” “I am who I am,” “I will be who I will be.” There are numerous instances in John’s Gospel in which Jesus refers to himself as “I am.” I am the Light of the World; I am the Bread of Life; I am the Good Shepherd; I am the way, the truth, and the life. Jesus identifies with and is God – God is the verb form.
Verbs are different from nouns. Nouns are solid, substantial, fixed. Often nouns are things we can control, manipulate, and use. I can pick up a stone, put it in my pocket, and carry it around. I take it out when I need it and put it away when I don’t. I am in charge. Verbs are a bit different. Verbs are hard to control. They are action; they are being. I can sometimes control life, but can I control “live?” Verbs are alive, dynamic, free. They are hard to predict; they grow; they change. Nouns are things; verbs are events. Typical English sentences begin with nouns; things are what is important. Typical Hebrew sentences begin with verbs; the action is what is important.
What if we understood God as a verb? It is a new perspective and hard to express without continuing to use “God” as a noun. God, not as a stationary thing in a location; but God as a living, energetic force moving in the world. God, not as somebody in a box, but God as free to move in the world without boundaries. If we understood God as a verb, we would know God is bigger than we are. God would not be limited by our doctrines and dogmas. We would live in the expectation of what God will do next. God would be free to challenge and confront, comfort and nourish, forgive and love, include and mercy. We would be more inclined to listen to God than to speak for God
To change a verb to a noun is to fix it and control it. To make it a noun is like putting it in a box. There is a difference between “I mercy you,” and “I show you mercy.” The former is commitment, risk, and involvement. It is hands on. There is a difference between faith as a noun and faith as a verb. Faith as a noun is an intellectual affair which we agree to. It is something I attain. Faith as a verb is trusting, following, engaging. It is alive and active. I know that faith is not used as a verb. But I wonder how different Christianity would be if words like faith and mercy were verbs.
I am interested in this because this week I read a prayer by Walter Brueggemann that used Easter as a verb.
Easter us in joy and strength.”
Easter not as date, but Easter as event in our lives. Easter us, resurrect us.
I think it makes God alive and real and present in our lives. What if we began to think in terms of “Christmas us. Lent us. Pentecost us, God us, Jesus us”? Could we compassion and spirit our world? What would it be like to God our neighbor?
Hope you are safe and well and active.
During my recent vacation I watched more cable news than I usually do. When I realized how monotonously repetitive my customary channel was, I flipped to others. Then I noticed how angry so many commentators were on every channel. I started to feel as if their purpose was not to keep me informed, but to keep me angry. If I was angry, I needed to keep watching to feed my anger. My anger may heighten my anxiety, but it also boosts their ratings. There is money to be made in anger. This awareness of anger is not unique to me. Many of you have commented about it. We are an angry nation. I want to share with you what some classic Christian writers have shared on anger. They write so well that I have decided to quote them rather than plagiarize them. I wouldn’t want to make them angry.
Frederick Buechner in Wishful Thinking: Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back – in many ways it is a feast fit for king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you (page 2).
Dorothy Sayers in The Whimsical Christian: That is not to say that scandals should not be exposed or that no anger is justified. But you may know the mischief-maker by the warped malignancy of his language as easily as by the warped malignancy of his face and voice. His fury is without restraint and without magnanimity – and it is aimed, not at checking the offense, but at starting a pogrom against the offender. The mischief-maker would rather the evil were not cured at all than that it were cured quietly and without violence. His evil lust of wrath cannot be sated unless somebody is hounded down, beaten, and trampled on, and a savage war dance executed upon the body….[anger] is likely to stagger to its own opposite, the equally fatal sin of sloth or [apathy] (pp. 161-2).
C.S Lewis in The Quotable Lewis: I suppose that when one hears a tale of hideous cruelty anger is quite the wrong reaction, and merely wastes the energy that ought to go in a different direction: perhaps merely dulls the conscience which, if it were awake, would ask us “Well? What are you doing about it? How much of your life have you spent in really combatting this? In helping to produce social conditions in which these sort of things will not occur!?” (page 47).
Paul in Ephesians 4:26-27 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger and give no opportunity for the devil.
John Keeny, 8.28.2020 Musing. Apparently, there is room for anger. First, denying our feelings of anger is unhealthy. Angry behavior is usually questionable, but angry feelings are valid. We cannot deny them. The issue is how do we express our anger
Second, there are things about which we should be angry. We ought not tolerate the intolerable. This is what Jesus’ anger in the Temple was about. He could not tolerate God’s house being misused for profit and mistreatment of the other (John 2:13-22). There is much about which we should be angry. We know that. If we are not angry at injustice and inequity, our consciences are our numb or dead. Anger is a sign of our moral and spiritual health.
Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger and give no opportunity for the devil. Sin is fundamentally separation – from myself, from my neighbor, and from God. Sin pushes the other away and divides. This is why injustice is sinful. Where anger is a sinful is that it separates and divides. Where anger is righteous is where it sees the separation and division and is motivated to heal the breach. Anger over the sin of separation can either increase the divide or lessen it. I wrestled with omitting the line about the devil. If you are more comfortable with “evil,” that is fine. The point is, when our anger separates and dehumanizes, it is of the devil, or evil. When our anger humanizes and unites, it is of God.
And then “do not let the sun go down on your anger.” Certainly, don’t let your anger destroy you. Don’t nurture it. But I think it is also related to the C.S. Lewis quotation, “Act on it.” Don’t delay. Don’t put it off. Do something constructive. If the voting situation bothers you, do something. If abuse of the earth is intolerable, do something. You get the point.
Be angry but do not sin. Great words for this time.
Hope you are safe and well.
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