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Saturday, January 14, 2012

What has changed?

I'm having one of those days where the thoughts and emotions are running so rapidly that I am not sure I can write anything cogent, coherent or comprehensible (I know, aren't alliterations annoying!)  I am currently staying in Stone Mountain, GA, commuting to Columbia Theological Seminary for another Doctor of Ministry class.  Today I did some homework and then drove over to a community called Roswell.  It's historic and has been revitalized into one of those cute, trendy, good eats and cute shops kind of places.  What I wasn't expecting was the history.  Sadly, the Smith Plantation was closed for renovations this weekend, but I trekked around outside and enjoyed the cool, crisp air and wondered about what actually happened on that very land 50, 100 or 150 years ago.  The grounds are maintained by various garden clubs (those are really big here in the South) and they have a tiny little plot of cotton plants.  That got me fixed on the history of the place I  might just as soon not consider.  How many slaves were owned by this aristocratic Smith family?  Since the seemingly largest church in the area is Roswell Presbyterian Church and Mr. Smith was one of the first elders there, I wondered how many of their members owned slaves?  And then I wondered, what has changed?  Well, a lot.  And at the same time, not nearly enough. 

You may wonder why I say that (or not!) but I am always particularly struck by the disparities that exist in our land.  The dividing lines between haves and have-nots, poverty and wealth, upscale and undesirable neighborhoods are pretty fine lines here in the Atlanta area.  There are some areas where the only people of color you see are the ones at bus stops or serving the rest of us in some way or another.  What has changed?  Lots of things and not nearly enough. 

On a more personal level, I left the plantation and drove to the little village of Roswell to walk around and have lunch.  I noted that folks were nice but not all that welcoming in the shops and of course, no waiter in a semi-upscale restaurant is ever too crazy about serving a table for one.  I discovered that the red light was on at Krispy Kreme and I couldn't resist.  So, I parked but thought I'd walk around and I noticed some women walking from a bus stop.  I was stopped on the sidewalk and as they came toward me, one of the women must have noticed that I was ambling a bit and she asked me if I knew about the Old Roswell Cemetary.  She then told me that Teddy Roosevelt's grandparents were buried there.  I felt oddly and sweetly welcomed by someone whose hospitality, by virtue of my privilege, I seem not to really deserve.  What has changed?  I have and I still have a long way to go.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

nouveau church

It’s a new year, It’s a new day, It’s a new era, It’s new, new, new.  So much newness is generally bandied about at the beginning of any calendar year.  We are bombarded with all sorts of tv, print and computer ads about how we should start one of 6 million new diet plans, enroll in a gym, quit smoking, and any other number of things to balance us out and give us the perfect lives.   January/February are the Black Friday months of self-help books.  And in days, weeks or at best a month or two, 90 percent or more of motivated individuals will have fallen off the wagon, backslid and reverted, and lost the new me mo-jo.  I know because I’ve been there and done that.
Musing on such matters has caused me to ponder how we can insure the church to not fall into the same rut.  I’ve read plenty of church self-help manuals.  All sorts of books have been written and  tell how to grow the church, increase participation levels, grow motivated and spiritually mature leaders, appeal to younger generations without offending the older generations, and on and on it goes.  The antithesis of these books are books that provide some sort of nebulous ideal but say they won’t be like all those other formula books that try to convince you that their model works regardless of what kind of church you are. 
When we met in groups during Advent to talk about areas of passion and interest and ways to impact our community but also hopefully grow as a church and as individual people of faith, I’m sure many of us had the desire for this to not be just a one shot wonder, a flash in the pan or like so many of our past efforts to renew, revive and reenergize our efforts.  As we all know from past experience, mission and vision and values are so easy to talk about, but much, much harder to put into practice and to sustain.    Is there a secret formula, or some magic source that we can tap into that will suddenly make us who we want to be? Or more of who we are? Or have people be more aware of the best kept church secret in Clayton?  I don’t think so.
As you know if you read last month’s book list, I have just read a book about Alice Waters and her rise to fame and the bumpy road to success as restaurateur of the internationally acclaimed Chez Panisse in Berkeley.  Alice is quoted as saying at every turn, “Of course it’s possible. And when people challenged her she would smile and say without agitation ‘It can be done, it will be done, it’s going to happen, you’ll see.’  She really does believe that she can change the world, she can change individual people one by one.”  I think that is the formula, the secret the bit of the faith that we have somehow let slip from our fingertips and given over to those who have absolutely nothing to do with matters of faith and life….the absolutely conviction that God is faithful and that whatever is begun will be seen to completion because well, it’s going to happen! 
I pray that is the year for our church.  I believe that God can do great things through us…in mission, in service, in spiritual formation, in care and in ways which have yet to dream or envision. 
Thanksgiving and Prayer (Philippians 1 – NIV)
 3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
 7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. 8 God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.
 9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.