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Month: March 2016

Midweek Message – 3/17/16 “All Souls?”

My spirituality is most active, not in meditation, but in the moments when: I realize God may have gotten something beautiful done through me despite the fact that I am an @**hole, and when I am confronted by the mercy of the gospel so much that I cannot hate my enemies, and when I am unable to judge the sin of someone else (which, let’s be honest, I love to do) because my own crap is too much in the way, and when I have to bear witness to another human being’s suffering despite my desire to be left alone, and when I am forgiven by someone even though I don’t deserve it and my forgiver does this because he, too, is trapped by the gospel, and when traumatic things happen in the world and I have nowhere to place them or make sense of them but what I do have is a group of people who gather with me every week, people who will mourn and pray with me over the devastation of something like a school shooting, and when I end up changed by loving someone I’d never choose out of a catalog but whom God sends my way to teach me about God’s love.
― Nadia Bolz-Weber, Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People

Nadia Bolz-Weber is a Lutheran pastor in Denver. The quote above comes from her most recent book, Accidental Saints, which was the common read for my annual reading retreat/reunion with my seminary friends. I had the pleasure of hearing her speak last May at the Festival of Homiletics in Denver. The church she began in Denver (while still in seminary!) is named House for All Sinners and Saints, which is at once an aspirational name and quite the mission statement, and it ministers to many in Denver who might be considered to be living on the fringes of the community. The congregation lovingly shortens the name to “House for All.” It’s a church name that reminds me of our own UU aspirations for community ‑ there are so many of our congregations that bear the name “All Souls.” To those who are unfamiliar with Universalist theology, that might seem like a name dedicated to the reverence of people who have passed, of people who are in the past. I’ll admit, my own lingering Catholic schoolboy heart has often taken that phrase to mean just that, despite my own Universalism. It only takes a little imagination to tack Rev. Nadia’s “House for” onto that “All Souls” to begin to grasp the true meaning of the aspiration in the name ‑ and, given the challenges in her quote above ‑ to glimpse the real discipline it might take to build that “house for all.”

This Sunday at 10:30, “A Room for Every Soul” — one final exploration of what the community we dream of building might require of us. 

Midweek Message — 3/10/16 “Belonging From the Beginning”

The weekly Wednesday vespers service at seminary was a true family affair: students and faculty, along with respective partners and spouses and children of varying ages. It was a new experience for Jess and me. We’d grown used to our UU congregation where there was nursery care and RE during the service — kids downstairs and grownups up above in the sanctuary. We needn’t have worried. Once we explained to Brandon and Nora (who were 6 and 3 at the time) what it meant to sit in church with the grownups, they took to weekly worship as if it were a natural thing. They grew to know many of the songs by heart, they knew when to sit and stand, and they could always snuggle in one of our laps if the sermon made them fidgety. Vespers was for them as much as it was for the grownups. They belonged to the community and it belonged to them.

That sense of ownership was on full display especially once the service was over and the fellowship hour had begun. Snacks were laid out, juice and wine were poured, and everyone milled about in conversation — including my kids, who flitted about having brief checkins with my classmates and teachers, often with that “little kid serious” look on their faces that is at once adorable and gives a parent pause. And then, conversations finished, they would climb up onto the chancel and sit in the pulpit chairs with their snack plates in their laps and just watch the community as it did its thing. The first time that happened, I knew that they had arrived at a place where they felt comfortable and safe in a community. There they were, week after week (and in the years to come, shepherding the new kids who arrived into that same space), embodying what it meant to feel like one truly belonged to community and felt some sense of ownership of and responsibility toward it.

This Sunday, we take a look at why a real multi-generational community is so vital to the future of church. Join us at 10:30 a.m. for “A Time and Place for All Ages.”

Midweek Message — 3/3/2016 “Labels”

What I really resent most about people sticking labels on you is that it cuts off all the other elements of what you are because it can only deal with black and white; the cartoon.
~Siouxsie Sioux

I’ve been on something of an 80s music nostalgia kick the last few weeks, so I was amused when I found the above quote while reading up for this month’s sermons. Siouxsie’s probably not the best known, or most influential philosopher out there — unless, like me, you’re a child of the 80s, a member of Generation X, maybe more nerd than jock, possibly the tiniest bit weird . . . and more new wave than metalhead.

And there I go, labeling myself. They’re old labels. Some I placed on myself way back when. Others were placed upon me. And while they’re handy shorthand for signaling one’s identity, they’re also rather limiting and, like Siouxsie intimates, somewhat cartoonish. None of them were, or are, wholly me.

The theme for the month of March is “Balance.” Each of my sermons during the month will touch on some aspect of promoting the wholeness of self or the wholeness of community. This Sunday at 10:30, we’ll talk about (you guessed it!) labels — both their usefulness, and the perils they present to the care of the whole person.

See you in church!