February 8, 2022
The Impossibility of Bishops
by Matt Laney
A bishop must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way—for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church? – 1 Timothy 3:4-5 (NRSV)
The United Church of Christ prides itself on not having bishops. We are allergic to the idea.
Is our opposition to bishops based on (A) the noble preference for democracy over autocracy or (B) the scripture above?
I’d say B. Because, really, can any parent on earth claim to have children who are submissive and respectful in every way? If that’s the prerequisite, bishops are impossible to find.
Moreover, if ever there was a person with totally submissive and respectful children, we might question their parenting and leadership styles. Submission is based in fear. Submission is the demand of dictators. Submission tends not to engender trust, genuine love, and free expression.
Is that the management style needed for Christ’s church? Conversely, do we want church leaders disciplined every time Junior gets snippy?
I think not.
Let’s give all church and denominational leaders encouragement and room to care for themselves, their families, and their flocks with the heart of Christ, with love, respect, grace and truth. The church will thank them. One day, their kids might appreciate them too.
Holy Parent, please show me the way.
February 9, 2022
by Kaji Dousa
Let all those be put to shame and confusion who seek to snatch away my life; let those be turned back and brought to dishonor who desire my hurt. – Psalm 40:14 (NRSV)
In the winter of 2016-2017, I sat in a chilly gymnasium on wooden seats crowded with clergy who responded to a call saying: Please, stand with Standing Rock.
And stand we tried. But the winds were strong. Our guide in this Lakota land offered a word: Take off your gloves. Pull your hands out of your pockets. And look at your hands, at your fingertips. In the U.S., the patterns on your fingers identify you in case there’s a crime. But to the Lakota, those patterns tell the story. They show us how the wind was blowing the moment you were born. And that wind means everything.
It is winter again. This is not one of my favorite seasons, owing, mostly, to the bitter winds that assault my exposed face on my longer walks in the city.
Wind often feels like an enemy. As I walk my toddling daughter, I worry that the wind will be too much for her as I try to coax her back into her hat and mittens. Wind threatens her security and comfort. It might make her sick.
I want to know the wind. Because I want to know how to change it. I want to know—in an onslaught of negativity, of nationalism that would call my right to exist or to thrive into question—that such hot breath is not the only wind that is possible. I want to take the power of the wind blowing at the moment of my birth, I want to see my palm and to know it, and I want the hand that holds those fingerprints to be powerful.
Maybe the forecast calls for winds that would dominate me, “desire my hurt,” “seek to snatch away my life.” Maybe we are in a time when the tales of the Bible, the cries of the psalmist in lament, seem acutely familiar. Maybe there’s a freedom in being this close to God.
Let this be a time when we change the wind, with the help of God. For God’s sake. Amen.
February 10, 2022
A Steadfast Pivot
by Talitha Arnold
The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called. – Isaiah 6:4a (NRSV)
Everything had come unglued for Israel. Long-time King Uzziah had died, his sons were at one another’s throats, and an enemy army was at the border. Perhaps because of the tumult swirling around him, Isaiah had sought refuge in the temple. Yet instead of peace and quiet, he had a vision as fearsome and uncertain as the world outside.
He saw God Almighty on a throne as smoke lifted to the rafters and six-winged seraphim flew singing, “Holy, holy, holy.” Actually they were probably hissing, not singing. According to the Harper Collins Study Bible, seraphim weren’t the angelic figures I’d always pictured, but instead “winged cobras.” Yikes!
In his terrifying weird vision, Isaiah also recognized something common and ordinary: a door pivot. It’s the basic hinge in a threshold that lets a door turn in different directions—like the neck’s pivot joint that lets the head move up and down, back and forth, or the knee pivot joint that a basketball player uses to spin around with one foot on the floor.
We use the verb “pivot” a lot these days. Isaiah used it as a noun when recalling his vision. He remembered the “pivots on the threshold shook.” He also remembered they didn’t break. No doors flew off their pivots. They held fast and held the temple together.
That’s what pivots do—hold fast. Their steadfastness keeps us from falling over or falling apart. Pivots let us change direction when the world changes around us. A steadfast pivot lets us adjust to new realities, yet still maintain our center.
I wonder what the synonyms are for pivot. I wonder if “God” is one.
You are the pivot point of our lives, O God. Help us remember that. Amen.
February 11, 2022
by Quinn Caldwell
For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. – 1 Peter 1:23 (NIV)
Back in the 1960s, excavations at one of the palaces of Herod the Great (yes, that Herod) turned up a bunch of 2000-year-old seeds of the Judean date palm tree. In 2005, scientists managed to get one of them to germinate.
The new tree flowered in 2011. It’s begun pollenating other trees, which have begun producing fruit. Six more trees grown from other ancient caches are nearing reproductive maturity. Botanically, this is a big deal; the Judean date palm, widely praised in antiquity, has been functionally extinct for several hundred years.
Most seeds won’t stay viable as long as those date palm seeds did; that took some pretty ideal accidental conditions. And yet, seeds do tend to be survivors. It’s kind of their whole deal. They sprout from the places the thieving squirrels hid them. They float away on the winds of the storm that knocked their parents down. They sprout in the wake of the fire that decimated their community. They survive the inner acids of the things that eat them, and then use the pile of crap they end up in as fertilizer.
Here’s what the author of First Peter, and I, and a bunch of plant nerds in Israel, want you to consider: No matter how you are or how you’re feeling—scorched, thieved, knocked down, blown away, eaten alive, utterly crappy, a thousand years old, nearly extinct—it’s entirely possible, maybe even likely, that something inside you, placed there long ago by someone who loves you and wills your good, is just about to germinate.
Please, God, please. Let the thing in me that I thought was long past surviving start to grow today. Amen.
February 12, 2022
Avoiding the Void
by Kenneth L. Samuel
Jesus said, “When an evil sprit leaves a person, it goes into the desert, searching for rest. But when it finds none, it says, ‘I will return to the person I came from.’ So it returns and finds that its former home is all swept and in order. Then the spirit finds seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they all enter the person and live there. And so the person is worse off than before.” – Luke 11:24-26 (NLT)
My church is in the process of renovating a building that has sat abandoned for over six years. But since we’ve only cleaned around the building, but not yet occupied the building, we’re finding that it doesn’t take long for dumpers and vagrants to trash the space again and again, despite our valiant efforts to keep the place looking decent.
We now know it’s not just the clean-up that restores a property. It’s also the occupancy.
According to Aristotle, nature abhors a vacuum. If this is true, then even clean spaces with no content invite anything and everything to fill them.
It is quite possible to build community out of chaos. The work of creation is the work of reimagining and reordering elements that are already present and available. But it’s quite difficult, if not impossible, to build community from a void.
Perhaps this is the reason why voters want to know what candidates are for, not just what they’re against.
And perhaps this is the reason why our greatest contribution to society is not our critique of others, but our ownership of our authentic selves.
Jesus didn’t want clean-but-empty people looking to fill themselves with some outward perception of God’s Kin-dom. So Jesus infused our faith with this revelation: ‘The Kin-dom of God is within you.”
Lord make us clean, then give us content for Abundant Life. Amen.
February 13, 2022
Guess Whose Coming to Dinner?
by Naomi Washington-Leaphart
Levi gave a great banquet for Jesus in his house; and there was a large crowd of tax collectors and others sitting at the table with them. The Pharisees and their scribes complain[ed] to his disciples. – Luke 5:29-30a (NRSV)
It has been six years since Wanda Dench went viral for accidentally texting Jamal Hinton an invitation to Thanksgiving dinner at her house. Now every November, people on Twitter (and media outlets like The Washington Post and the Today show) wait with bated breath to see if their yearly tradition continues. Netflix is partnering with Hinton and “Grandma Wanda” to tell their warm-and-fuzzy story on the big screen.
Picture this: America. 2016. In July, a police officer shot 32-year-old Philando Castile at point-blank range during a traffic stop in suburban St. Paul, Minnesota; he later died. In October, a New York City police officer fired two bullets that killed 66-year-old Deborah Danner, who, distressed, had retreated to her bedroom to avoid the officers’ “wellness check” during her mental health
emergency. That same November, Jamal Hinton, then a 17-year-old Black kid, exchanged those fateful messages with Wanda Dench, then a 58-year-old white grandmother. Though they soon realized they were strangers, Jamal still jokingly texted, “Can I still get a plate tho?” Wanda replied, “Of course you can. That’s what grandmas do…feed everyone.”
What a world this would be if it didn’t take a mix-up to feed everyone!
What if being in God’s presence wasn’t contingent on being a known quantity? When’s the last time a stranger sat at your dining room table? Being with Jesus had so transformed Levi that Levi deliberately invited all his tax collector friends (I get it…most of my friends are clergy!) to share one table with Jesus and crew. Jesus took it in stride: tables are for the hungry, and we all need food to live.
God, we were taught that closed mouths won’t get fed. Help us realize that closed tables can’t do the feeding. May every dinner invitation be a surprise encounter with your Divine image.
February 14, 2022
by Molly Baskette
Love never ends. – 1 Corinthians 13:8a (NRSV)
Julie has lived 9 lives and has a few more left. She grew up in the South with Kentucky Derby bonnets, ran off to be a rock singer in L.A., then became an ass-kicking litigator. She met Lorenzo, and they married in a DIY wedding and had two sweet babies. The marriage didn’t last, but they worked out joint custody of both their kids and their church community. A few years after the divorce, Julie was hit and nearly killed in a drunk-driving accident that left her in a wheelchair.
Just a few months before the accident, a new love tumbled into Julie and Lorenzo’s life: a woman showed up on his doorstep with a 2-year-old son he had not known about. The baby’s mother was in a severe mental health crisis, serially homeless, and unable to care for Abie; she left him with Lorenzo, never to return.
Abie started tagging along to Julie’s when it was her night with their kids, and within a few months, he was calling her Mom. Even given how helpless she was against his charms, it took moxie for Julie to say yes to this unexpected love in her life, to say yes to becoming a mother again in the most unexpected way, as a single parent, an ex, and a newly disabled person.
She made a choice to make her heart bigger, and her life more complicated, in staying friends with Lorenzo and falling in love with Abie.
Richard Rohr says that life is Love School, the chief reason why we are here. “You only know what love is by falling into it, almost against your will, because it is too scary and too big to be searched out, manufactured, or even imagined ahead of time. It is all training for the falling into The Love that is the Greatest.” We will not graduate from Love School until we die—and even then, who knows?
God, keep my heart growing, whether I want it or not. Amen.