Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

What’s cooking with Cross Creek?

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you probably know that I was a member of Cross Creek Community Church, actually since its very beginning.

You may also have read my post last November about Cross Creek’s merging with Oak Creek United Church of Christ. That post also featured the name I liked—Croak Creek Community Church (“cross” + “oak” = “croak”)—for the merged church, as well as a fun logo I proposed to go along with the Croak Creek name.

I didn’t really think “Croak Creek” would be adopted, and in fact it wasn’t. The new church is named Harmony Creek Church. Not “Harmony Creek Community Church” or “Harmony Creek United Church of Christ,” although Harmony Creek Church is a part of the United Church of Christ as were both Cross Creek and Oak Creek, and Harmony Creek is also affiliated with the Alliance of Baptists, as was Cross Creek.

The merger’s going fairly well as Harmony Creekers work out what traditions from the two churches to keep and what new stuff to try.

 

Even so, I’m feeling a bit nostalgic about Cross Creek. Because of that I’ve been going through some Cross Creek memorabilia, and one item I came across was this, the one and only official Cross Creek Community Church cookbook, Pass the Plate ’round the Welcome Table.

This cookbook was put out in 2007, a year that was billed at Cross Creek as a “Decade of Daring,” the tenth anniversary of our church. The cookbook wasn’t particularly successful as a fundraiser, but it does work at providing some memories of the good food we had at church gatherings.

The forward to the cookbook also provides a nice glimpse of some of the history of Cross Creek. Since these cookbooks are no longer for sale—they made the move to Harmony Creek but were set out for anyone to take for free—I figured it’d be okay to post a scanned copy here for those who want to remember or learn a bit about the church that was Cross Creek.

Sunday, November 18th, 2012

Croak Creek Community Church

Croak Creek Community Church Today my church, Cross Creek Community Church, voted to merge with Oak Creek United Church of Christ.

It’s the right thing to do, and I voted in favor of the merger, but I’m still a bit sad. I’ve been a part of Cross Creek since it was founded, 16 years ago. The sad part of the merger will be leaving our building and giving up our name.

Really, though, it’s not a building or a name that makes a church but rather a group of people. All the folks that make up Cross Creek will still be together, just in a new place, plus we’ll be debt-free with some cash reserves, we’ll have plenty of room to grow, and we’ll have new friends from Oak Creek joining us.

Actually the folks at Oak Creek are old friends, not new. They contributed financially to our congregation when our church started, and, after a period of meeting in people’s homes and condo meeting rooms in 1996, Cross Creek met for the first few months of 1997 in the parlor at Oak Creek, before our official opening on Palm Sunday later that year, in a storefront down the street on Bigger Road that was to be our home for five years.

Oak Creek gets to keep their building, but they’re likely feeling a bit overwhelmed by our greater numbers, and they’re taking on our pastoral staff since their pastor retired. And they’ll be giving up their name of 45 years and will have to learn with us how to get along as a new church.

I’ve no idea what our new name will end up being, but I’m not the only one to say when you merge “Cross Creek” and “Oak Creek” what you get is “Croak Creek”—although our pastor did call me out at the congregational meeting for having suggested that name. Well if I’m to be blamed for the name, I might as well have some fun with it, and hence I’ve altered our logo to reflect the proposed new name. It would reflect both churches’ names and show that we don’t take ourselves overly seriously. Vote Croak Creek!

P.S. I’ve also taken the precaution of registering the domain name croakcreekchurch.org, in case we need it.

Sunday, November 13th, 2011

Some notes after hearing Walter Brueggemann

Walter Brueggeman This afternoon I and a group of almost 20 people from my church, Cross Creek Community Church, UCC, went to Southminster Presbyterian Church to hear Old Testament scholar (and UCC pastor) Walter Brueggemann speak on the topic “Hope and Healing in a Broken World.” Afterwards most of us Cross Creekers met together over a meal to talk about what we’d heard.

It wasn’t the first time I’d heard Brueggemann speak—in October 2009 I took a day off work to go hear him at the SONKA Clergy Day. I don’t exactly remember why I went to hear Brueggemann that first time. I’m not clergy myself, nor do I wish to become clergy, but since returning to church in the early ’90s I’ve hung out with a lot of clergy. Cross Creek counts among our membership way more clergy than do most churches. I’ve learned through this association with clergy that they are human beings, usually with specialized education in theology, but as fallible as the rest of us and whose interpretation of what the Divine may be telling us is subject to challenge by non-clergy.

I didn’t blog about that SONKA Clergy Day in 2009, though I did take a lot of notes. Tonight, however, I feel called to process some of my thoughts about what I heard from Brueggemann today. That’s a bit ironic given my somewhat cynical blog post from just two days ago about Occupy Dayton’s love of processing, but a friend (retired clergy) who was part of our discussion (processing) after Brueggemann’s talk spoke of how writing letters to politicians was helpful not just to get her voice heard but also to organize her thoughts. Also, despite the fact that my blog post of two days ago could be taken as opposition to Occupy Dayton, I do claim to support some of their goals and I found that much of what Brueggemann said today resonates with their movement.

I’ll try to sum up what Brueggemann said in a sentence: Brueggemann compared what the Bible has to say about departure from empire (systems of money and power), whether exodus from the Old Testament empires of Egypt or Persia or from the Roman empire in the New Testament, to choices we as present day Christians must make about departing from the control of the American empire with its system of consumer violence and militarism.

That’s where the resonance with the Occupy movement starts. The Occupy movement is not one (only) of Christians but it is about the violence done to our society and the brokenness caused by the consumerism and militarism of the American empire.

Brueggemann also spoke about the anxiety and stress that comes from staying in the rat race and trying to avoid loss (loss of what, you might ask—perhaps the privilege I mentioned the other day). Brueggemann said that instead “we should seek a Gospel zone of freedom for our lives” and that we should “organize our lives for an alternative to the imperial system.”

A “Gospel zone of freedom” isn’t exactly something Occupy campers would picket for, at least not using those words, but they sure would advocate “organiz[ing] our lives for an alternative to the imperial system,” wouldn’t they?

Brueggemann explained that alternative as “neighborliness in an anti-neighborly socio-economic system” and gave four “marks of neighborliness”:

  1. Hospitality (as opposed to being exclusionary)
  2. Generosity (as opposed to “miserly selfishness”)
  3. Forgiveness (as opposed to “calculating vengeance”)
  4. Economic justice (or “valoriz[ing] people” that our dominant system discounts)

That economic justice stuff is certainly what the Occupy movement is about. Brueggemann went on to explain it by saying that it is “important to provide viable life resources and support for all people.” (Contrast that message to Michele Bachmann’s recent declaration that “if anyone will not work, neither should he eat.”)

Brueggemann then reminded us of what he called “the most dangerous Biblical teaching,” found in Deuteronomy 15, about the forgiveness of debts during Jubilee years. The Occupy folks aren’t calling for the cancellation of all debts, but they sure are calling for the cancellation of some debt (see OccupyStudentDebt.com).

Some other nuggets from Brueggemann’s talk:

  • Church is like a 12-step program for addicts to consumer capitalism.
  • The God of the Gospel is not the God of Empire.
  • The Gospel is a subversive revolutionary summons.
  • The Golden Rule is that the one with the gold makes the rules.
  • Our government is in the grasp of the rich.
  • President Obama is in bed with big bankers.
  • Loss brought to speech turns to energy. Loss not brought to speech turns to violence.

Brueggemann also made reference to something Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners magazine, said about change being effected not by institutions but by movements. Brueggemann then pointed out that movements begin small. So my mocking Occupy Dayton the other day for being 1% of Montgomery County’s population rather than being comprised of the 99% they claim to represent could really be a mistake.

Brueggemann then told the story of a woman in Liberia who started a movement for peace by sitting down in the street. I did some googling just now to find out more about who he was talking about and found out it was Leymah Gbowee, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for her actions in leading other women in protests that stopped the second Liberian civil war.

Interestingly, Brueggemann then confessed, “I am not a candidate for sitting in the street.” Perhaps that’s because he’s 78 years old. Perhaps that’s because he himself isn’t ready to give up all his privilege (he’d mentioned earlier his anxieties from worrying about his retirement portfolio). Perhaps that’s because he’s a white man—white men, he said, are the last people to “get it” in any movement.

I too am not a candidate for sitting in the street, nor am I, as I made clear the other day, a candidate for camping out on Courthouse Square to occupy Dayton. But can I just dismiss everything Brueggemann called to our attention? Can the others in my church (many of whom, like me, have substantial privilege in our lives)? I don’t know. Cynics might say that yes we can dismiss challenges to our privilege. Others might say that change begins with movements that start small.

Sunday, June 26th, 2011

My so-called Christian life—a response to two people’s opinions about my Christianity

A few days ago a gay friend of mine complained on Facebook about my “Christ-centric” point of view, saying that he couldn’t understand my “still want[ing] to find hope within the religious mainstream.” On the very same day, a heterosexual stranger with whom I had a little debate on Twitter about marriage equality in New York said that his opposition to same sex marriage was “the Christian point of view,” having expressed astonishment at my 140-character explanation of my religious beliefs. An irony made more evident by the close timing of the reactions from these two very different people is how they, coming from such antithetical places, share something in common with each other—neither approves of my religious beliefs or the spiritual choices I’ve made.

For the former person, someone I’ve known for many years and whose friendship I still value, I’m too Christian. My openness about my faith, my participation in a church, my knowledge of scripture, all of this is apparently too much for him, this despite the fact that I’ve never pushed my religion on him, never told him he should be Christian or join a church, never engaged him in debate about religion, never emailed him or posted on his Facebook wall about religion. Indeed my comment on one of his posts that triggered his harangue made no mention either of Christ or of religion.

For the latter person, the stranger whom I’ve never met and never will, I’m not Christian enough. My being a member of a United Church of Christ congregation, part of a denomination that not only endorses marriage equality but also espouses views such as the key UCC one that “God is Still Speaking,” means that I am “not Biblical” in my approach to life. [Another irony is that this stranger’s father is a UCC pastor, although I do not know whether this stranger and his father share similar views about the path the denomination has taken.]

Perhaps one reason my friend disapproves of my religious perspective is that, although he does not realize this, he agrees with the stranger about Christianity. The stranger, explaining his beliefs on marriage, on the UCC and on Biblical inerrancy, presented his views as “the Christian point of view,” not a Christian’s point of view [emphasis mine], and I think that somehow my friend agrees with this stranger, Somehow my friend agrees with this stranger, that there can be only one Christian point of view. that there can be only one Christian point of view, and thus if I say I’m Christian, my point of view must be invalid.

A third irony is that the stranger showed me a little more respect than did my friend because he actually asked about my beliefs, while my friend I don’t think understands them, but both the stranger and my friend think I’m wrong when it comes to religion. While I respect the right of both my friend and this stranger to have religious beliefs different from mine, I refuse to allow either of them to tell me that there is a single Christian perspective.

 

So what do I believe? Well, what I told the stranger about my beliefs, in a Twitter-sized chunk, is “that the bible isn’t inerrant, that, as the UCC says, God is still speaking, and that Christianity isn’t the only way.”

For many Christians, including the stranger, my beliefs are enough to disqualify me from claiming that I’m a Christian, and given our culture’s understanding of what it means to be Christian (an understanding of Christianity that, ironically, my non-Christian friend shares), I guess I’m not a Christian. I do not believe the Bible to be inerrant. I do not believe an omnipotent God had no choice but to sacrifice his only son to atone for my sins to save me from eternal damnation. Further, I do not believe in an omnipotent God at all, I do not believe Jesus was the son of God or the sole manifestation of God, I do not believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus, and I’m not entirely sure there even was a historical Jesus. The stranger’s right—
I’m not Biblical.

My friend’s right—
I am Christ-centric.
The stranger’s right—I’m not Biblical.

For many non-Christians, including my friend, my beliefs are enough to dismiss me as yet another Christian, and given my choices in life, especially those about many of the people with whom I associate, I guess I am a Christian. My background is Christian and I’m a part of a Christian church. You may not know many people who’ve helped to start a church, but I’m one such person, having been a part of Cross Creek Community Church since before it was even called that (I drove my little gay Miata through a blizzard in 1996 to be part of a small group of people who met to come up with our as yet unborn church’s name). Many of my friends are clergy. Despite not being entirely sure there ever was a historical Jesus, I believe much of what Jesus reputedly says, including the bits about loving one’s neighbors and caring for the least among us. It’d be much easier if I didn’t believe this stuff—I wouldn’t ever have to take a vacation day to unload a Foodbank truck or to get up very early on a Saturday to volunteer at a church food pantry. My friend’s right—I am Christ-centric.

Ultimately, however, it doesn’t matter whether either the stranger or my friend is right. I can’t live my life to please strangers who understand my beliefs and thus think I’m going to hell, and I can’t live my life to please friends who misunderstand my beliefs and thus think I’m making choices to avoid going to hell. All I can do is make choices that, as much as possible, make my life better for me.

And whether the stranger is right that I’m not a Christian but should be or my friend is right that I am a Christian but shouldn’t be, I’m happy being the kind of Christian I am. A statement that is true for me, though it will be too Christ-centric for my friend, is that I’ve found God at Cross Creek. The God I’ve found there is neither the one in whom the stranger believes nor the one whom my friend rejects. No, the God I’ve found is one whose voice is heard through relationships and dialogue, one who is made powerful from people working together but one who is limited by people’s imperfections. My describing God in this way should make it obvious that I believe God can be encountered in many circumstances, not just through Christianity and indeed not just through religion, but my encountering God through this Christian community works for me. I’m not ashamed of it, nor will I apologize for it.

A final irony before I close is that in another context this same statement—I’m not ashamed of it, nor will I apologize for it—would be something my friend would wholeheartedly endorse. It’s rather queer that in a Christian context he would find it so offensive.

Update 8/4/2013: This post is a bit out-of-date. I still believe, as I said above, in Jesus’s instructions to love one another and to help those in need, but I’m no longer calling myself Christian. Read why here.

Saturday, March 26th, 2011

A rabbi tells my church to listen for truth from conservatives

Rabbi Irwin Kula
Rabbi Irwin Kula
If you’re a regular reader of my blog or if you’re familiar with the church I attend, Cross Creek Community Church, you know that over the years we’ve had quite a few rabbis come to talk to us. It’s become a tradition of sorts for us to invite a rabbi to talk to us during Advent (read about rabbis who spoke to us during Advent in 2009 and 2006), but this weekend we invited a rabbi, Irwin Kula, to come to speak to us for Lent.

Rabbi Kula lives in New York City but has developed some Dayton connections through teaching a class at United Theological Seminary where he influenced Ruth Hopkins, one of many Cross Creekers who have gone to seminary there. Ruth brought Rabbi Kula’s book Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life to the attention of Cross Creek’s pastor, Mike Castle, who ended up incorporating teachings from the book in the sermons and liturgy for Lent in 2009, and many Cross Creekers read Yearnings that Lenten season. Because of those connections, Rabbi Kula is back in Dayton this weekend for Cross Creek’s latest weekend intensive; he gave a talk this evening after a chili supper and will be back to preach at both services tomorrow morning.

I have to confess that I was not one of the Cross Creekers who read Rabbi Kula’s book in 2009, and despite the many references to Rabbi Kula’s writings in Cross Creek materials from 2009, he didn’t make a big impression on me then. It’s not that I disagree with what he said; I guess I just wasn’t paying attention.

This evening, however, I appreciated what Rabbi Kula had to say, and I think I can pass the test Rabbi Kula’s son might put to me—Rabbi Kula shared several anecdotes about his family, one of which is that his son often travels with him as he lectures around the country, but people don’t realize who his son is, and if his son hears someone saying to Rabbi Kula, “I enjoyed your talk,” his son will ask that person, somewhat mischievously, “Oh, really? What did Rabbi Kula say?”

A great deal of the first part of Rabbi Kula’s talk, which had been billed as being on “Tradition and Change: Reimagining Religion in the 21st Century,” was helping us to understand the state of religion in the United States in 2011, and much of what he told us wasn’t surprising. The fastest growing religious segment in America is “None,” and that’s not atheists but spiritual people who don’t identify with any religious group. People don’t feel obligated to follow the religious practices of their parents. Rabbi Kula used the metaphors of cathedrals and bazaars for how people used to get information on religion and how people get that information now—people used to have beliefs handed to them in cathedrals, buildings whose price of admission was buying the beliefs being sold in them, but now people search for wisdom from the many booths in a bazaar (one that, unlike markets on the streets of old European towns, doesn’t have an anchor store in the form of a church at its center), and if the wisdom being sold at your booth doesn’t make sense—real practical sense, the effects of which people can witness—people will move on to other booths.

Rabbi Kula then tried to explain why people search for wisdom, and, given his Jewish background, I didn’t find his mentioning the Jewish concept of tikkun olam unexpected, but instead of translating it in the way I’d heard before, repairing the world, Rabbi Kula described it differently, as “repairing the soul.” That’s not so altruistic. “Do[ing] less damage,” another reason Rabbi Kula gave towards the end of his talk for seeking wisdom, is important too, but we seek wisdom to make our own lives better.

 

What Rabbi Kula said next about this 21st century search for wisdom was something I really hadn’t expected and indeed heard very skeptically at first. Locate
the partial truths
our opponents have
What he said was that an important way to find wisdom is to locate the partial truths that our opponents have.

Now Rabbi Kula made it very clear that he’s pretty progressive; beyond being willing to come talk at a Christian church pastored by an openly gay man, he was also explicit about advocating for the acceptance of LGBT people in his Jewish circles. So, although Rabbi Kula wasn’t just talking about the gay issue but any issue with multiple sides, my mind went immediately to how unlikely it would be that those who say I’m going to hell for being gay or that God hates me for being gay or that I can change my being gay could have any truth on their side. And I did something somewhat rude and blurted out a question about just how little these partial truths we were supposed to find could be. Rabbi Kula had confessed during one of his initial anecdotes that he himself finds it difficult to control his impulse to blurt out exactly what he’s thinking sometimes, so I hope he understood my lack of impulse control. At any rate, he took my question seriously and diverted temporarily from the planned path of his talk to give an answer I found very helpful.

The partial truths that conservatives or fundamentalists have in our society’s culture war turn out not be so small after all: the truths they have are related not to the remedies they prescribe for our society but have to do with the diagnoses they’re making about our society.

For example, sexuality is messed up in our society. The specific example of this, pointed out by Rabbi Kula and discussed some afterwards by the assembled group in the appointed question and answer time, is the hypersexualization in our society of young women from their teens to early twenties. Conservatives aren’t wrong when they say this is a problem. What they think should be done about it—oppressing women back into traditional roles, stopping acceptance of alternative sexualities, etc.—is wrong, but the problem is real, and liberals can find wisdom by acknowledging it and talking about it. Rabbi Kula modeled this talking about this particular problem by sharing an anecdote about a situation his daughter, working amongst liberal artsy folk in a NYC gallery, found herself in.

Other areas in which conservatives have some partial truths are in the ideas that sacrifice and discipline and aggression can be necessary, although, again, not necessarily in the ways conservatives might advocate.

This seeking wisdom by locating the partial truths our opponents have pertains not only to large groups of strangers but also to individuals whom we know and love, love being the operative word. Rabbi Kula, sharing some anecdotes about his relationship with his wife, said that we should not seek to understand our opponents so that we can then love them but rather that we should love our opponents in order to understand them.

That should ring a bell for Christians, shouldn’t it? Rabbi Kula’s not the first Jewish teacher to tell us the importance of loving our neighbors. He’s just the first one, at least that I’ve heard, who frames it not as a belief—“Thou shalt love thy neighbor”—but who offers it as a method for finding wisdom—by trying to love your opponents, by cooling down the rhetoric, by listening, you might understand them and gain something for yourself in the process.

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

Date: Tuesday, November 9th, 2010
From: David Lauri
To: Pastors and Congregation Council members of Epiphany Lutheran Church
Subject: Your church’s debate over homosexuality

Dear Pastors and Council of Epiphany Lutheran Church,

I read with interest the Dayton Daily News article about your church’s struggles with reconciling homosexuality and Christianity and your church council’s recent vote in favor of leaving the ELCA because of the ELCA’s decision to “open the ministry of [your] church to gay and lesbian pastors […] living in committed relationships.” I was interested not because I’m Lutheran (I’m not and never have been) but because I’m a gay Christian and because several years ago I attended a Centerville Washington Diversity Council community conversation about “Gay and Lesbian Issues at the Intersection of Faith and Public Policy” at which both Mike Castle, a friend and the openly gay pastor of my church, Cross Creek Community Church, UCC, and your senior pastor, John Bradosky, spoke.

Reading about the struggles in your church, both your congregation and your denomination, makes me glad I found the United Church of Christ, a denomination that’s settled this issue (although individual UCC congregations are allowed to differ), that supports the calling of openly gay clergy and that supports full equality for LGBT people, including marriage equality. As I said, I never was Lutheran, but I was raised Methodist, and as I’m sure you know, like Lutherans and other denominations, the United Methodists have long debated and continue to debate this issue. The ongoing debate in what was my church as to whether I was an abomination “incompatible with Christian teaching” or whether I was who God created me to be made me tired, tired enough to leave Christianity altogether for a time and then, after a brief return to Methodism, too tired to want to work for change in that denomination when I could find acceptance elsewhere.

You may well be wondering why I’m e-mailing you given my gladness that I’m not part of your struggles. You may well think what your church does on this issue is none of my business, and to a certain extent, if you think that, you’d be right. It isn’t my business. Whether Epiphany Church stays in the ELCA or leaves the ELCA will have no direct impact on my life; I’m not going to change my beliefs or change my church affiliation based on what you all say or do (and I recognize the irony inherent in my assuming, after such an arrogant statement, that you might change your beliefs based on what I say, but oh well).

However, having read that your church has 3,000 members, I thought to myself, wow, that means your church has a fair number of LGBT kids and teenagers and even adults, closeted or out. Take a conservative estimate, say two or three percent, and that'd be about 60 to 90 (or take a liberal estimate of ten percent, and that'd be 300!). These are the kids and the teenagers and the adults who are hearing your senior pastor say that homosexuality is “to’ebah,” that who they are is an abomination, that unless they manage to change who they are or at least suppress it, God will never accept them. These are the kids and teenagers and adults who are witnessing your church declare that you must take a stand against accepting homosexuality even if it means giving up your denominational ties, a stand that your congregation did not feel compelled to take on the issues of divorced clergy or remarried clergy or female clergy. A queer kid attending your church is getting the message that it’s better at Epiphany Lutheran Church to be divorced than it is to be queer. Perhaps as importantly, the non-queer kids at your church are getting the message that queer kids are “less than” and perhaps deserving of being bullied.

My telling you this, my pointing out to you that the message you send out makes you partly to blame for anti-gay bullying and for suicides committed by LGBT people, is probably not a message you want to hear, least of all from a faggot like me.

However, perhaps you’d better appreciate that same message from a heterosexual conservative Christian pastor, and to make you aware that there is such a person with that message is partly why I decided to write to you all. I’d urge you to become familiar with the Rev. Dr. Leslie David Braxton, Senior Pastor of New Beginnings Christian Fellowship. Apparently, according to an article on TheStranger.com, Braxton used to be an anti-gay preacher but now thinks the church’s rhetoric on homosexuality is partly to blame for anti-gay bullying and gay suicides and who thinks that “[t]he church definitely needs to have a conversation about sexuality.” I’d never heard of Braxton before today, but it’s rather serendipitous, isn’t it, that I read an article about him the same day I read an article about your church’s struggles.

I also want to point out some resources that you might find useful in your continued discussions about your LGBT brothers and sisters. One is a film, available on Netflix, called Fish Out of Water. My church in conjunction with the Dayton chapter of PFLAG sponsored a viewing of that film last month, and for us, of course, it was rather like preaching to the choir, given that folks at Cross Creek and many folks in PFLAG think it’s quite possible to be openly gay and Christian (and not just in a chaste Catholic celibate for the rest of your life kind of way). We lamented at the viewing that people who didn’t agree with the film’s message would probably never see it. I’d urge you, at least the pastors and leaders of your church, to watch it; it’d be even better if you had a viewing of the film for your entire congregation (even if you disagree with the film’s premises, surely your faith is strong enough then to be able to withstand challenges to what you believe).

Another resource that you can have access to is folks both at Cross Creek and in Dayton PFLAG. Although I am a member of Cross Creek’s Coordinating Council (I’m the chair of Cross Creek’s Justice and Witness Ministry), I am sending this message to you as an individual, not as a representative of Cross Creek, and I have no official capacity with Dayton PFLAG, but if you’d be interested in dialoguing about this issue with people who may hold a different perspective than you do, I’m fairly confident that I could bring folks from Cross Creek and PFLAG to the table.

One last point I want to make is that at first I was disheartened to see that 10 out of 15 of your church council’s members voted in favor of your congregation’s disaffiliation from the ELCA. However, after thinking about it more, I realize that’s the wrong way to look at it. Fully 1/3 of your church council voted against that decision. I don’t know who among you to whom I have addressed this e-mail feels one way or the other, but there’s a good chance that at least some of you to whom I’ve sent this e-mail are part of that 1/3 minority. I don’t know whether those of you in that minority fully accept your denomination’s decision about queer clergy or whether you disagree with it but also disagree with breaking your denominational ties, but I figured it might be good for you to know that there are gay-affirming progressive Christians in Dayton, Ohio, who are your neighbors.

My sending this message is also a reminder to myself that you all are my neighbors too. If I profess to be Christian, I have to try to love you, as distasteful as I may find what you say and what you do.

I wish you and your church luck as you continue to work on this decision, and I won’t bother you again if you choose just to ignore my e-mail.

Sincerely,
David Lauri

Sunday, September 12th, 2010

Greek Festival and Gulley

This weekend I experienced a rather odd juxtaposition of two things one wouldn’t normally experience in tandem, namely the Dayton Greek Festival and Quaker pastor and author Philip Gulley. The first I experienced by walking right across the street from my physical home, and the other I experienced by driving 15 minutes south of town to my spiritual home.

The Greek Festival, which occurs each year the weekend after Labor Day, is something I’ve attended annually for over a decade, even before I gained such convenient parking for it, having fallen into the tradition of going with the same friends each year. There’s plenty to experience at the festival—cute Greek boys (especially the one there Friday lunchtime at the Never on Sundae booth), music, shopping (in particular for icons that a friend of mine collects), dancing, thick Greek coffee in small cups, crowds, noise—but it’s the food that’s the main draw.

It used to be that I’d go only once each year, but now that I live so close I eat Greek all weekend. Friday for lunch I had a gyro and cheese and spinach pies and a chocolate-coated baklava for dessert. For dinner I shared a bottle of retsina and had pastitsio and Greek salad, followed by Greek coffee and a couple baklavas. The festival doesn’t open each day until 11 a.m., but, knowing that, I’d planned ahead and had
A sweet, if not healthy, Greek Festival breakfast
baklavas and chocolate pinwheels for breakfast both Saturday and Sunday. Today for lunch I had a chicken gyro (not as good as the lamb gyros—be sure to ask for extra sauce on the side—but tasty) and another spinach pie, followed by some honey puffs. I definitely got my Greek on, as one of the t-shirts available for purchase said.

On Saturday, apart from breakfast, I took a break from Greek and ate Italian, not in the way you might have thought (no, not at the Italian festival) but at a spaghetti dinner held at my church as part of “An Evening with Philip Gulley.” Gulley was at Cross Creek as the guest speaker for the most recent of our weekend intensives, occasional times where we invite “professional thinkers” (as Gulley refers to himself and as my pastor introduced him but applicable also to other guests we’ve had previously) to give us amateur thinkers something more to think about.

You might be thinking I’d have done better to stick with the Greeks (and perhaps another bottle of retsina) than to go to a church dinner to hear a preacher talk, but Gulley, whom my pastor also introduced as an Indiana Quaker version of Garrison Keillor, was entertaining. Gulley has a dry self-deprecating sense of humor, a quiet, folksy manner that drew out quite a bit of laughter from those in attendance.

Like Keillor, Gulley draws upon his experiences growing up and living in small town America, but, unlike Keillor, Gulley’s purpose is not just to entertain but also to share his understanding of his faith, and, as Gulley shared on Saturday evening, although he is Christian he doesn’t believe that Jesus is the only way to experience the Divine. Gulley believes there have been and are multiple “God bearers,” and he spent his time Saturday explaining how we might recognize them. (Hint: the more loudly one proclaims that one is a God bearer, the less likely it is that one is.)

As part of his explanation of the concept of God bearers, Gulley, who says he likes to avoid theological language for the most part and to speak instead in language more people can understand, did bring up and explain a theological term, Theotokos, a Greek term for Mary, the mother of Jesus, a term that means (you guessed it) “God bearer.” I mention Gulley’s mentioning of Theotokos not so much because the term itself was central to his message but because I happened to hear that same specific Greek word again not more than 24 hours later.

 

Just as one helping of Greek food wasn’t enough for me this weekend, neither was one helping of Gulley sufficient, and I went back to Cross Creek again this morning to hear Gulley preach during our morning worship. Gulley was again entertaining, telling funny stories from his life experiences, not just to elicit laughter but to explain his faith. Gulley told a funny story from his Catholic childhood about being caught by his priest sledding down the hill of the Methodist church in his small town; rather than progressing in his faith by associating with non-Catholics, the priest thought Gulley should instead remain on the unchanging flat lawn of the Roman Catholic Church.

The problem is, as Gulley went on to explain, faith is not unchanging. Gulley illustrated this with another story, about a photo that his parents still display, a photo taken in 1958 of their family, before Gulley and his younger siblings were born. The photo which Gulley’s parents are still so fond of is valuable because it shows their family at a point in time, but it’s not an accurate depiction of their family over all time.

Alongside that story about a cherished family photo Gulley talked also about the Nicene Creed, again straying briefly away from folksy stories and into theological explanation, but again I mention his mentioning of a theological reference because this too I would hear mentioned again very shortly thereafter. Gulley talked about the 1685-year-old creed not because it is worthless and to be discarded but because, like the photo Gulley’s parents still like so much, the Nicene Creed is a snapshot of Christian faith at a particular point in time, not an unchanging depiction of Christian faith forever and ever.

So after my two helpings of Gulley, I went with another friend back to the Greek Festival for some more Greek food, and after eating, we went inside the Annunciation church to hear a brief explanation of the building and the Greek Orthodox faith, and here’s where the odd juxtaposition of Gulley and the Greek Festival took place. Sitting in the interior of the church with all its beautiful
The only Theotokos?
icons, I heard mentioned two things I’d just heard Gulley mention—Theotokos and the Nicene Creed.

For the Greek Orthodox there is only one Theotokos, and they venerate her with a large icon at the back of their sanctuary, and the Nicene Creed, available on laminated cards stored in the backs of their pews, they brought up as an example of the unchanging and eternal nature of their faith. Quite a contrast to how Gulley made mention of these two theological things.

I point out this juxtaposition not as an attack on the Greek Orthodox faith (this statement echoes one I just saw made today on another blog by someone claiming, as it happens, not to be making “a personal attack on Pastor Philip Gulley”). It’s just that as enjoyable as I find the food at the annual Greek Festival, I’m afraid I don’t find what they serve inside their sanctuary to be as nourishing. Ironically, considering Gulley’s story of childhood sledding, it seems that those who go up the hill to the Annunciation Church value most the unchangingness of their faith while we who worship on the flat lawn in the church building that is Cross Creek cherish that God is Still Speaking.

I guess a lesson to be learnt from this odd juxtaposition is that just as there are multiple festivals with different kinds of food, there are also different Theotokoi bearing the Divine to us in different ways, even if some of us would prefer to go all our lives to the same festival.

Sunday, May 23rd, 2010

Amidst our festively decorated sanctuary Ruth read the Scripture.

This Sunday at my church, Cross Creek Community Church, United Church of Christ, we celebrated Pentecost Sunday.

Our worship space was festively decorated in Pentecost Red with balloons everywhere lifted by the Spirit!

Click any photo to embiggen it.






Of course, I brought one of the balloons home myself to enjoy on my balcony:


After worship some people released their balloons into the wild.

Mike Castle preached about Pentecost and said next year perhaps we should add a goose to the decor as an additional symbol of how the Spirit works.

Watching balloons everywhere after worship

Being mainline Protestants we don’t normally do Communion except for the first weekend of each month, but for Pentecost we made an exception.

Dan Carl, the pastor’s wife, snagged a couple balloons.

Happy anniversary to Ken and Richard!

Sue tries to get her balloons into her van.
Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

Rabbi Bernard Barsky
Rabbi Bernard Barsky
This past Sunday I went to my church to hear a rabbi talk about Advent. Though that doesn’t happen at all in most churches, it wasn’t the first time in mine, as it’s become a bit of a tradition at Cross Creek Community Church for us to invite a local rabbi to speak during December. In the past we’ve had Rabbi Judy Chessin of Temple Beth Or; this year our Jewish guest was Rabbi Bernard Barsky of Beth Abraham Synagogue.

In the times that I’ve heard Rabbi Chessin speak, I’ve quite enjoyed her, so I have to admit to being a bit disappointed beforehand that she wasn’t going to be our guest again this year, but diversity is good, and Dayton is lucky to have not only multiple Jewish congregations and religious leaders but also more than one willing to be associated with a radical church like Cross Creek. Indeed Rabbi Barsky stood with Cross Creek in 2004 in speaking against Ohio’s “marriage protection amendment.” So, although it would have been easy enough for me, having given a party the night before his visit, just to have slept late, I got myself up and to church on time to hear him (at the 11:00 service).

I’d remembered one of Rabbi Chessin’s messages at Cross Creek as being rather apt for the Advent season, which is one of waiting, and looking back at my blog entry mentioning her visit, I see that I wrote that “it was our similarities, not our differences, that Rabbi Chessen wanted to stress,” that whether we were Jews waiting for the first appearance of a Messiah or Christians anticipating the annual birth or the eventual Second Coming of one, we shared that sense of waiting.

Rabbi Barsky, too, started by noting a similarity between Christianity and Judaism, specifically that each religion has a liturgical calendar, but he did so in order to point out some differences between Christians and Jews. That the Jewish liturgy does not include anything from the New Testament is obvious, but Jews also treat the Hebrew Bible differently than do Christians, placing an emphasis on the Torah, the five books of Moses or the Pentateuch, all of which Jews read every year over the course of their liturgical calendar. The second part of the Hebrew Bible, the Nev'im or Prophets, is not read each year in its entirety, and the rabbi said that most Jews look to the writings of the Prophets not as texts predicting the future, as texts to which later events must be tied, but rather as commentaries on the times in which they were written. Our liturgical text for the service included a passage from one of the minor prophets, Micah 5:2-5a. Portions of Micah are included twice a year in the Jewish liturgical calendar, but this particular passage—predicting the coming from Bethlehem of a ruler of Israel, one of peace, who shall be great to the ends of the earth—is not one of them and thus is not read by or known by many Jews.

Although the writer of the Gospel of Matthew found this passage in Micah to be so important that he quoted it in his writings, Rabbi Barsky implied that the author of Matthew was being rather disingenuous, picking prophetic verses that augmented the story he was telling. The reason Jews don’t normally care about Micah 5:2-5a is, Rabbi Barsky said, not only that Jews ordinarily care more about what prophets’ writings say about the prophets’ own rather than future times but also that normally Jews aren’t very messianic and don’t worry much about the coming of a Messiah. There are exceptions to this, he said, particularly during times of adversity, such as that faced when under Roman rule around the time of Jesus’s birth, times during which Jews have in desperation sought a Messiah who might save them, but determining who the Messiah might be is not a dominant part of Judaism.

Indeed, Rabbi Barsky pointed out that asking him whether he thought Jesus was in fact the Messiah would be asking for a Jewish response to a Christian question, a question of concern to Christians but not to Jews. Instead, the rabbi suggested it would be better for him to give a Jewish response to the Advent story. To do so, he returned to the Gospel of Matthew, still in the second chapter but after the part in which the Gospel writer used Micah as a proof text (not a phrase the rabbi used but appropriate, I think), to Matthew 2:16-18.

 

The story in the second chapter of Matthew is at once both familiar and unfamiliar to Christians. We, of course, remember that Magi came from the east to worship the baby Jesus and bring him presents, for that is a part of the Christmas story we hear each year. We may also remember that King Herod felt threatened by this baby king and that Joseph, Mary and Jesus fled to Egypt, thus allowing Jesus to escape the fate befalling all other boys in Bethlehem two years old and younger, namely death by King Herod’s henchmen. You did remember that a part of the Christmas story was the mass slaughter of baby and infant boys, didn’t you?

Don’t feel too bad if you didn’t remember that, since most Christians don’t, and most of us certainly could not tell you the passage to which the author of Matthew turned to show that this slaughter was predestined, Jeremiah 31:15, about “[a] voice […] heard in Ramah, […] Rachel weeping for her children [who] are no more.” Talk about a mighty example of proof texting! By pulling a single verse referring to a town eight kilometers away from Jerusalem, where conquered Israelites were staged before their exile into slavery in Babylon, the Gospel author can dismiss mass slaughter as fulfilling the words of an ancient Jewish prophet. You see, Jeremiah wasn’t really talking about slaves being gathered in Ramah for exile but instead was talking, without even mentioning it specifically, about a future attempt to kill a baby king of Israel in his crib.

Rabbi Barsky was not as willing as the author of Matthew to gloss over the deaths of so many innocents and suggested that this tragedy might well have been something which Jesus also would have had a difficult time putting away. Jesus would surely have learned how close his escape was from being murdered as a baby and would probably have wondered why he was spared when so many of his peers were not. That Jesus would have been concerned about the memory of his murdered neighbors might be more apparent to those who know of a Jewish custom which Rabbi Barsky pointed out to us. The rabbi explained that when Jews speak of the dead, they often say something along the lines of “may their memory be for a blessing” (this practice of uttering honorifics for the dead is something Judaism has in common with Islam). Jesus might well have wondered whether he owed anything in his life to honor the memories of those who had not been so lucky as he.

Having given something of a Jewish response to a Christian question, Rabbi Barsky turned, though he didn’t term it as such, towards asking for a Christian response to a Jewish question. The rabbi said that Jews ask themselves how their convenant with God is made apparent through the actions they take. Addressing us Christians at Cross Creek, he asked how we make it apparent in our lives that Jesus is indeed our Messiah. How may Jesus’s memory (or His continued presence in our lives, if you prefer to phrase it that way) be a blessing?

How we answer that question can show whether or not our Christian faith is in fact similar to Rabbi Barsky’s Jewish faith. If, as many conservative Christians are apt to do, we point towards particular passages in Hebrew scripture as having been fulfilled by Jesus (proof texting), then our faiths are more different than similar. If, instead, we look at what prophets and Jesus had to say not as prophecies to be fulfilled but as commentaries on our communities, as challenges for us to make our communities better places, bringing about the kindom of God here on earth (that’s not a typo of “kingdom” but rather a phrase I learned from former Cross Creeker Lisa Wolfe), then our faiths are more similar than different.

That the faiths of us Christians at Cross Creek and of Rabbi Barsky and his congregation are more similar than different is something we’ll have more opportunity over the coming year to examine. Both Beth Abraham and Cross Creek have been involved in the efforts to organize a Dayton-area affiliate of the Industrial Areas Foundation, a grassroots community organizing network which has worked on justice issues across the country. The next meeting of the Dayton group will be in January at Beth Abraham; for more information, visit the new Cross Creek IAF team’s new webpage.

Saturday, September 26th, 2009

Candace Chellew-Hodge, Jason & deMarco, and the Holy Cow
Candace Chellew-Hodge provided the message part of Holy C.O.W., and Jason & deMarco provided the music part.
This morning I attended a workshop at my church by the Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge (the first part of whose last name rhymes with “shoe,” not “chew”), author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians. Frankly I’d been a bit reluctant to go. I’m quite secure in my faith and don’t need what I thought Chellew-Hodge would have to offer, but because I chair my church’s Justice & Witness ministry, whose Equality Cross Creek team arranged the big Holy C.O.W. (Celebrate Our Welcome) Weekend of which this workshop was a part, I felt obligated to go. However, having gone, I can say that I did enjoy hearing Chellew-Hodge speak (if she ever wanted to give up preaching, she could take up a career in stand up comedy) and learned a thing or two.

What I’d thought Chellew-Hodge would have to offer (and my thinking this probably shows that I did not read her book) was a bunch of refutations to the various Bible verses so often trotted out by people who believe homosexuality is a sin, but that’s not what Chellew-Hodge’s talk was mainly about. She did offer one fun refutation, however. If someone cites Romans chapter 1 to show that God disapproves of homosexuality, you can ask whether that person has read Romans chapter 2, which talks about no one’s having any excuse to pass judgement on anyone else.

Yet proof text fighting, countering one Bible verse with another, was not the point of Chellew-Hodge’s talk. Instead, her main idea is that people who use the Bible or other arguments to condemn homosexuality are trying to offer a gift and just because one is offered a gift does not mean that one has to accept it. In other words, for those of us who are secure in our faith, for those of us who have come to an understanding that we too are made in God’s image, for those of us who find value in trying to live as Jesus taught and are comfortable doing so without having to try to change our sexual identities, (and, I imagine, also for those who are comfortable not being Christian) there shouldn’t be anything anyone can say that will bother us. I pretty much knew that already because the example she gave was already true for me — if someone tells me I’m going to hell, it doesn’t bother me. I know, for a lot of reasons, that I’m not going to hell. What I also know, but more often need to put into practice, is that I can’t change the minds of most people who do think I’m going to hell and thus usually shouldn’t bother to try to do so.

Chellew-Hodge also pointed out that if we are bothered by something that someone else says about our faith, that we are bothered is not about the person who said something but rather is about ourselves and is something we need to work on for ourselves. She told us about having been motivated to go to seminary in order to learn how to refute the various things fundamentalist Christians say about homosexuality, to be able to change their minds and convince them they were wrong, but she finished her studies, having gotten weapons that might come in handy for proof text battles, with the conclusion that she didn’t need to engage in battles to defend her faith, in part because such battles usually cannot be won but also because there are better things she can be doing with her time, better ways she can serve God.

Thus, often, Chellew-Hodge said, when she gets hate mail explaining she’s going to hell for her “lifestyle,” she just uses the DELETE button. Sometimes she uses gentle humor—tell her she’s going to hell, and she’ll tell you she’ll save you a seat.

Chellew Hodge also realizes that, just as our being bothered by something someone else says is more about us than it is about them, so too is what someone else says more about them than it is about us. So sometimes when she’s challenged by someone about homosexuality, she really disarms her opponent by using Dale Carnegie’s magic phrase and saying, “I don’t blame you one iota for feeling as you do. If I were you I would undoubtedly feel just as you do.” People who feel compelled to speak out against homosexuality often are looking to do spiritual battle and are surprised when instead their words are simply acknowledged as having been heard.

That’s not to say that Chellew-Hodge never engages in debates with those who disagree with her theology. She warns against doing so in anger and with the intention of coming away right because that leads to frustration and unhappiness. A debate is less about changing one’s opponent’s mind than about quietly influencing bystanders, some of whom might also think as one’s opponent does and others of whom might be, for example, closeted young queers. Gentle and respectful disagreement can open minds.

An example Chellew-Hodge gave is one I too recently found myself using, though perhaps not as gently and respectfully as she. In 2006 Chellew-Hodge spoke on panels in South Carolina against the proposed state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Once an African American man spoke up to urge that gay men and lesbians wait until public opinion had changed in our favor before pressing for our rights. Chellew-Hodge told him that after the 1967 Supreme Court decision striking down bans on interracial marriage, polls still showed over 70% of Americans disapproving of such marriages; she pointed out that civil rights shouldn’t be subject to the will of the majority. As Chellew-Hodge pointed out to us at Cross Creek this morning, one can still refute nonsense but should do so gently and respectfully.

Another thing Chellew-Hodge said that stuck with me was that people shouldn’t have to say, “I’m a Christian.” If you have to say it, you might not be acting in the most Christ-like manner. I think that this goes along with the rest of her message, that by striving to live one’s beliefs one can change more minds than by talking about one’s beliefs. It goes along with the best way to get people to be in favor of equal rights for all people including queers—the more queers non-gay people see going out our lives gently, respectfully, trying to work for justice, the less a big deal equal rights for queers will be. It’s probably also the only way to convince people that one can be gay and Christian.

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009

I’m sure some people (probably many of the same people who’d be surprised a church like mine does river baptisms) would say this cool October-like weather in August means global warming isn’t real. What they don’t realize is that it isn’t global warming but rather climate change and unusually cool August days are not evidence there’s no climate change (plus what about the unusually hot summer in the Pacific Northwest?). At any rate, the show must go on, and Cross Creek’s annual river baptism did go on, as witnessed by the photos I took.

Sunday, April 19th, 2009

The results of our workships
(Click to embiggen)

The results of my gardening
(Click to embiggen)

Today I did two things:

1) I participated in work-ship at my church, where during worship we bagged household supplies such as toilet paper, paper towels and dish soap to be given away to clients of our food pantry, Feeding Friends.

2) I bought some gardening supplies and planted some flowers on my balcony.

You can see the results to the left and the right.

Friday, August 3rd, 2007
This evening was my church council’s summer potluck. Food, of course, is important at churches, and our church is no exception. In fact, food’s so important that we’re putting together a 10th anniversary cookbook to collect recipes for the various good things we’ve had to eat over the life of the church. Since the council was gathering this evening to eat together, our cookbook coordinator had us prepare items from submitted recipes for testing and for photographing. I made Mexican deviled eggs.
My apartment building's little convenience store
Older expensive eggs
Newer cheaper eggs
Peeled eggs
Egg whites ready for filling
Egg yolks ready for mashing
Mexican deviled eggs

Texas sheet cake
The first thing to know about making deviled eggs, Mexican or otherwise, is how to make hard boiled eggs, and the first thing to know about making hard boiled eggs is not to use extremely fresh eggs because if you do, you’ll have a devil of a time peeling them. You want eggs that are at least a week old.

So you have to plan ahead a bit to make deviled eggs, and not having done so, I had no eggs on hand, week old or otherwise. But a great thing about the apartment building in which I live is that they have a little convenience store, and so yesterday (I did plan ahead a little) I was able to buy some old expensive eggs, $0.99 per half dozen, expiration date 8/3. Perfect age-wise, if not price-wise, because they were still fairly fresh but old enough to be easy to peel. I boiled them yesterday evening, gave them a quick cooldown afterwards under running cold water and then stuck them in the fridge to peel today.

I stopped by Krogers later yesterday evening to get some more eggs, not for this recipe but to have some more on hand and out of curiosity as to how old the other eggs were. The eggs I bought at Kroger had an expiration date of 8/21, about 2 1/2 weeks out, which means the eggs I bought at my building’s store had been sitting around about that long. Also, the Kroger eggs cost $0.99 per dozen, meaning my building’s store’s markup is 100%. Ah, well, you do have to pay for convenience.

Though I took some pics today at various stages in the preparation of my deviled eggs, I’m not going to give you the recipe — if you want that or the recipe for anything else you see, you’ll have to buy the cookbook. I will tell you that Mexican deviled eggs have salsa, mayonnaise, sour cream and cheddar cheese in them.
Tomatoes Southern-style
Macaroni of some sort
Spaghetti of some sort
Bean salad
Potatoes of some sort
Potatoes of another sort
Zuchini bread and two cooks

Brownies
Sitting around talking after supperCatching bubblesBlowing bubbles
Sunday, July 29th, 2007

No, not from Martha Stewart Living but by Cross Creek's very own Dan Carl!
Today was my church's annual summer picnic, and you can see lots of pictures in the galleries, but I wanted to point out one photo in particular, namely that of the delicious Watermelon Bowl O'Fruit, a creation of our pastor's wifepartner, Dan Carl. Doesn't it look just fabulous?

If you want to learn how to make this yourself, look for the Cross Creek 10th Anniversary Decade of Daring Cookbook, to be published this fall!
Sunday, July 8th, 2007


I teach Sunday School at my church, and today my class (9 and 10 year olds) volunteered to help the older youth out with their car wash, so I got roped into moving cars. You'd think pulling cars up wouldn't be very strenuous, but we washed 35 cars during worship service, so we had to hustle!

Sunday, December 3rd, 2006
Real Christians only, please
If you read my blog last month, you know already what ChMS stands for and that some ChMS companies don't care for churches who cater to alternative lifestyles. Despite a few setbacks my church's search for the right web-enabled ChMS has been continuing, with the latest possible candidate being Ekklesia 360, a system that does everything from managing web content to attracting online traffic to involving your community in the ministry to spreading the gospel.

Yes, gospel is spelled with a lower-case "g" on Ekklesia's website, although as it turns out, I'm thinking they should be capitalizing it, because The Gospel's pretty important to them. You see, after we contacted Ekklesia, they took a look at our website and told us they didn't want to do business with us, though not for the reason you might expect, that we're soft on homosexuality. No, it's because of the shocking news, featured on the front page of our website, that a Jew was coming to Cross Creek to preach, and not to preach the Good News that Jesus is Christ.


Rabbi Judy Chessin
Our Jewish guest this weekend was none other than Temple Beth Or's founding rabbi, Rabbi Judy Chessin, an interesting choice for the first weekend of Advent, the season during which we anticipate Christ's birth.

Rabbi Chessin did not come to proclaim that she was a Jew for Jesus but rather explained that she does not believe Jesus was the Messiah. She was quite tactful about it, explaining the criteria outlined in Jewish tradition for what it takes to be the Messiah. A person must fulfill every one of these criteria to be the Messiah, and at least one of them, worldwide peace, is a humdinger. Logically, Rabbi Chessin said, we wouldn't expect there ever to be someone who could qualify. Even Christians don't believe Jesus achieved world peace during his time on Earth, hence the need for a Second Coming.

However, it was our similarities, not our differences, that Rabbi Chessin wanted to stress. We all are waiting for the Messianic age, whether it is marked by the Messiah's return or by his (or her, Rabbi Chessin said) initial arrival. We all need to work together to bring about this time when there'll be no more injustice or ignorance or disease or poverty.

Ekklesia's not having any of this ecumenism (it can't be a coincidence that ecumenism about rhymes with secular humanism, can it?) though. If we're willing to have a rabbi, and a woman nonetheless, stand up in our church and say that Jesus isn't Christ, no matter what she might say about peace on Earth and goodwill toward men, then we're not Ekklesia's type of Christians, and God knows, if they took just any type of Christians, they might as well rename their software Ecumenia 360.
Monday, November 6th, 2006
Continuing the search for ChMS software, we came across a ChMS company based in Colorado Springs, which, as you may be aware, is the site of some conservative Christian homosexual hypocrisy lately, and Church Community Builder (CCB) seems to follow suit, apparently not practicing what it preaches.

What CCB preaches is 1st Corinthians 6:9, which CCB cites in their Terms of Service to show that homosexuality is a sin which "churches must take care" not "to affirm." If your church is "in conflict with [CCB's] Statement of Belief," as I would assume Cross Creek is, then "CCB reserves the right to refuse Service to" you.

Church Community Builder lesbian screen shot
Church Community Builder appears to condone lesbian couples
What CCB practices, however, is that their software, unlike ConnectionPower, will gladly allow you to set up a family with two persons of the same sex, designating one the head of household and the other the spouse. Each person can keep his or her own last name, although, presumably in keeping with 1st Corinthians, the last name of the head of household is the name used for the family. To see this for yourself, sign up for a CCB demo login today.
Friday, November 3rd, 2006
Traditional families only, please
As you may know, I'm a member of Cross Creek Community Church. This past year we've been Raising the Roof, a program based on the book of the same name by Alice Mann and designed to help our church develop better processes as we grow from pastoral size to program size.

One finding of our Raising the Roof program was that Cross Creek needs better processes to manage our relationships with our visitors and members. Manage? Relationships? Visitors and members? If that makes you think of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, then you're not far off. There's a niche industry for church CRM software, though they don't call it CRM but rather ChMS or Church Management Systems. However ChMS websites and salespeople do still reek of corporate jargon, mixed in with some Jesus and Kingdom talk.

Our Raising the Roof team leader found some ChMS software that seemed promising, ConnectionPower, a package that includes four modules, PowerVisitor, PowerMember, PowerWeb and PowerGiving. ConnectionPower is not just a software package but rather is a theory for managing church visitors and members, the process for which is carried out through use of the software. Churches get volunteers willing to call visitors, and a membership director uses PowerVisitor to assign volunteers visitors to call. The volunteers get their assignments by e-mail and they log into PowerVisitor to report back on their interactions with visitors—what are visitors' interests or concerns, etc. PowerMember does stuff like notice when members' regular attendance varies, triggering alerts for them to be called to see if they have any life problems, etc.

Sounds cool, doesn't it? I'd never heard of ConnectionPower before, so I did some googling and discovered that churches who use ConnectionPower's PowerWeb module for their websites all seem to have the phrase "Copyright © ConnectionPower.com" at the bottom of their pages (and have a main directory of "/pwsite/"). I also noticed that these churches using PowerWeb have names like Trinity Assembly of God or Family Christian Center or The Pentecostals of Cooper City or New Life Covenant Pilsen Ministry. The names alone would make a guy like me wonder how welcome I'd be at these churches (sure, they'd welcome me, but I bet only if I were willing to repent).

 

ConnectionPower founder
Allen Ratta
ConnectionPower's website, like its software, is about more than just a software package. In addition to information about the software, there's also a section, called PowerGrowth Plus!, devoted to the theology of the company and its founder, Allen Ratta, and featuring some rather revealing articles§ and book recommendations, none of which led me to think Ratta or his company would be so progressive as to embrace, for example, gay liberation theology.

I shared my concerns about Ratta's theology with the team evaluating ChMS software and asked if we couldn't find ChMS software companies run by or marketing to progressive Christians. The consensus was, however, that the team should continue to consider ConnectionPower because it seemed like a good package and we'd be buying the software, not the theology.
ConnectionPower
is based on a
"traditional family model"
A demo over the Internet was arranged with a salesperson from ConnectionPower, and we got to see more of the neat stuff the software can do, including allowing members to log into a private section of a church's website to update their addresses and the ability to generate an online church directory. The pages we were shown seemed to include families whose names were all in the format "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," so I asked the salesperson whether the software could handle couples with different last names. She said she didn't know what I meant, and I said, what if a woman keeps her maiden name when she gets married. She said, "Wow, I've never been asked that question before," so I didn't bother continuing down the path to ask what if a couple were both men or both women. (No woman who goes to a evangelical church is allowed to use her own last name?!)

We finished the demo, and the team decided that the ConnectionPower software would be a worthwhile investment for Cross Creek to make. A few weeks later our church council approved making the purchase, and it seemed that we'd be implementing the software starting in 2007.

Except that the question of what if a couple were both men or both women really was a question we should have asked at the demo because it turns out the answer is that in the eyes of ConnectionPower, same-sex couples are two individuals who aren't related. The software will not allow you to link two individuals of the same gender as a family. Such couples can of course be entered as individuals, but they'll be listed separately in the online church directory, receive separate mailings, etc. That may be acceptable, or even desirable, for the vast majority of churches using ConnectionPower, but it just won't work for Cross Creek.

Our Raising the Roof team leader, after having been ignored for several weeks by the salesperson about this issue and some other questions, finally e-mailed ConnectionPower founder Allen Ratta himself. Ratta replied yesterday that while he doesn't want to dictate theology, the ConnectionPower software is based on a "traditional family model" and would be difficult to change. Well, none of us on the team believe that changing the software to allow for same-sex couples in a family unit would really be all that difficult to change, and thus Cross Creek Community Church will not be juxtaposed alongside ConnectionPower customers like Antioch, the Apostolic Church.

One church, however, that Cross Creek is now positioned alongside is the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, the world's largest gay church, which was officially welcomed Oct. 29th into the United Church of Christ. With 4,300 members, Cathedral of Hope counts as a mega-church and probably knows a thing or two about ChMS.


What's the big comma about? Well, as Gracie Allen said, "Never place a period where God has placed a comma," or in other words, "God is still speaking." I'll update you further as Cross Creek continues to explore how we can connect powerfully to our visitors and members.



§Some fun articles by Allen Ratta:
Key Processes for Church Health: Part 6 - The Early Church and Process
God's greatest blessings cannot reside where there is only partial obedience to His purposes.
Strategic Ministry: Part 8 - The Strategic Dynamics of Evangelism
Advocates rightly point to the biblical model of the Body of Christ and the necessity for every member to function in its God's intentioned purpose.
The Multi -Site Church Movement: Part 4 - My Ego or Ego Eimi * My personal favorite
"... Jesus said, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man comes to the Father but by Me.' [This is one of the seven great ego eimi statements of Christ in the gospel of John.] You can't accept Jesus as only a prophet if you read and understand His words. You must either believe that He was God or that He was a madman." What followed was a 20 minute interlude where I had the opportunity to share the claims of Christ in a most engaging way.
Some books Allen Ratta recommends:
Wednesday, September 27th, 2006
Yesterday evening I attended a Community Conversation put on by the Centerville Washington Diversity Council at Centerville High School on "Gay & Lesbian Issues at the Intersection of Faith & Public Policy." I would not have chosen to go to this on my own — I'm way past the point where I need to hear the same tired arguments brought out by conservatives that homosexuality is wrong and homosexuals need compassion and cures — but my friend and pastor, Mike Castle, was on the panel and asked for people to come be in the audience to support him. Another friend and Cross Creeker called me at work a few hours before the event to see if I'd be going; he was worried about going alone. As you can see from the picture, he needn't have worried. Between Cross Creek and PFLAG there were lots of supportive people there.

Tom Harry
Tom Harry
Normandy United Methodist Church

John Bradosky
John Bradosky
Ephiphany Lutheran Church
Mike Castle
Mike Castle
Cross Creek Community Church

Paul Pyle
Paul Pyle
Dayton Christian High School
I suppose it's good that Centerville and Washington Twp. have a diversity council and that they're willing to discuss gay issues. Still the diversity of the panel selected for the program was a bit ironic — four white men, all Christian, all Protestant. That last bit was unplanned; Dr. Brad Kallenberg, professor of theology at the University of Dayton was originally supposed to be a panelist (no, wait, Kallenberg may actually also be a Protestant), but his spot was filled by Mr. Paul Pyle, who teaches Bible and Yearbook at Dayton Christian High School. Rounding out the panel, in addition to Mike, were the Rev. John Bradosky of Epiphany Lutheran Church and the Rev. Tom Harry of Normandy United Methodist Church. I hadn't met any of these other panelists before. It was only upon hearing about the event that I learned that Harry is the father of a friend of mine at Cross Creek, and it was only after googling Bradosky that I learned he is Centerville's official chaplain (thank God I don't pay Centerville taxes or I'd be pissed).

The format of the evening was that the moderator, WDTN's Marsha Bonhart, posed six questions (presumably written by the Diversity Council), each of which was answered by two panelists (one from each side). Then after a break there was a very brief time during which she read selected written questions from the audience for various panelists to answer. I liked how Bonhart started her duties as moderator; she said she had to be impartial but implied (especially later) that she personally supported the pro-gay side. Rather than echo the questions and responses, I'll highlight some points that caught my attention.

Homosexuality
is an
abomination
but
incest is not!
(You still
shouldn't
fuck kids!)
Bradosky talked about the holiness code found in Leviticus and pointed out that although lots of sexual behaviors are banned, such as adultery and incest, it is only homosexuality to which the term "to'ebah" or abomination is applied. Since Bradosky took such care to point that out, I suppose he feels that homosexuality is worse than incest. I guess it's refreshing that unlike most conservatives he sees a difference between incest and homosexuality.

Bradosky also went multiple times to the creation story in Genesis (surely he realizes there are two creation stories in Genesis) and said that since the story's all about God creating Man and Woman for each other, homosexuality must be wrong. Sex, he said, is about the reunion of two parts. Penises and vaginas fit together. Poor guy doesn't seem to realize that penises and rectums fit together too, as do penises and mouths.

Bradosky certainly knows the party line on homosexuality. Other old faithful points he trotted out include:
  • love the sinner and reject the sin
  • marriage has always been defined as heterosexual (hmm, well marriage hasn't always been defined as one man, one woman, though, has it?)
  • that the majority decides issues is the American way (too bad the majority in the South couldn't vote to continue slavery or Jim Crow laws?)
  • Scripture doesn't promise that life will be fair (hmm, I guess there's no need to work for justice here on Earth; just believe in Jesus and you'll get your rewards in heaven)
  • research on long-term same-sex marriage says such relationships last only 7 years, while the average heterosexual marriages last 21 years — pressed later for a source he said the Institute for Sex Research, which I couldn't find online (does he mean the old Institut für Sexualwissenschaft from Berlin? does he mean the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction?)
    What I did find online says that marriages last an average of 9.4 years, not 21.

Pyle did pretty good for his team too. He kept insisting on two things, that we have to live our lives by Biblical authority and that homosexual behavior leads to destructive behavior. Pyle does acknowledge that the Bible is silent on some "disputable matters" on which people may disagree, but lest we think that Jesus was silent about homosexuality, we need to remember that Jesus went back to Genesis to answer a question about divorce and Genesis is, as Pyle's teammate Bradosky already pointed out, all about Man and Woman fitting together, so actually Jesus said homosexuality is wrong without having to resort to so many words. In the words of the Church Lady, how convenient! that we have Pyle to interpret the Bible for us.

Responding to a later followup question about what he would do if a child of his came out as gay to him, Pyle told us about his daughter who suffers from mental illness and how he struggles to help her find counseling that will help her avoid destructive behaviors. It's obvious that Pyle didn't get the memo that the American Psychiatric Association doesn't consider homosexuality to be a mental illness and that he doesn't know a whole lot of gay people. After the forum, I went up to Pyle to invite him to come to Cross Creek where he can get to know some gay people whose lives aren't all about destructive behavior. (I suppose I should hope Pyle never finds the pics I took at Folsom, though he can find plenty of pics of heterosexuals engaged in destructive behavior too if he cares to look.)

Harry did an okay job explaining what he saw the purposes of marriage to be (procreation, faithfulness, sacrament which points to God's loving nature, and support/companionship) and explaining that procreation was more than fertilization but also nurturing and caring for children. I'm sure he came across as wildly secular humanistic though to the conservative members of the audience because when asked in a followup question what the authority for his beliefs was, he said he'd sort of come up with his views on his own (an honest answer which probably mirrors my own thoughts but not appealing to people who like Biblical Authority).

Mike personalized the issue, talking about his partner Dan and their children Gideon and Jamie, about how Dan wouldn't receive Social Security spousal benefits if Mike died and about the difficulty in providing legal protections for their non-heterosexual family. Oh well, in the words of Pastor Bradosky, "Scripture doesn't promise that life will be fair."
Friday, April 14th, 2006
This year was the first year that my church, Cross Creek Community Church, participated in the annual Good Friday Stations of the Cross walk for justice and peace, along with people from College Hill Presbyterian Church, our partner church. The walk combines the traditional stations with important social justice issues of today and relevant contemporary quotes about each issue. Our church's Justice and Witness committee thought it would be good for us to participate; we got to sponsor station 8, where we talked about discrimination.

So many people think that this week is all about Jesus' having died as part of some convoluted way through which his father could forgive us all for our sins (God couldn't just choose to extend grace to all of us?). Whether or not that is true, I do think that the historical Jesus was a witness for peace and justice, and by calling attention to issues he would have cared about, we take a step towards following his example.

You can see more pictures from the walk in the galleries.
Sunday, August 15th, 2004
It may or may not surprise you to learn that I went to a river baptism today.
Friday, August 13th, 2004
Marty and Linda are moving to Kenne-bunkport, Maine, and so Mark and Patty and Judy and Roselin hosted a going away party for them.

To help Marty and Linda fit in, they got them pearls like Barbara Bush's. Roselin wore a pig snout to warn them not to cast their new pearls before swine. I taught them how to do the drag queen wave -- wrist, wrist, elbow, elbow, clutch the pearls (sorry, no pic).

By the way, if you run into Linda and Marty, of course you've heard of the tradition that going away honorees must feed each other goodbye cake.


By the way...
any complaining
I did



about German summers
applies also to
Dayton weather
this summer.
(Happy fall,
anyone?)


The cute German is Linda's friend Friedeman, who will be studying law at Vanderbilt this year.
Sunday, April 25th, 2004
Anne, Marty, Linda, Lee, Eric, Mark and meIf you're a regular fan of my blog (lol), you know that my church has dinner groups whose members take turns dining at one another's homes. Tonight was Anne and Lee's turn to host, and they succeeding in maintaining our group's high standards!
Friday, April 23rd, 2004
Roselyn and Mark looking at pictures On Friday nights I'm part of a book group at Cross Creek. We're reading The Heart of Christianity by Marcus Borg. Tonight we talked about how literally we take the Apostles' Creed (not very). Marty and Linda
Judy and rod
Friday, April 16th, 2004
You may know that I'm a member of Cross Creek Community Church, and you may know that Cross Creek is part of the United Church of Christ, but did you know that Cross Creek is also affiliated with the Alliance of Baptists? Just as some people make certain assumptions when they hear the word Christian so too do they make similar assumptions when they hear Baptist. There are of course Baptists and Christians who are pretty vocal about their beliefs, thus fostering those assumptions, but there are other Baptists and Christians who put a different emphasis on their beliefs. Southern Baptists might be representative of the former group; the Alliance of Baptists is representative of the latter.

Cross Creek's pastor, Mike Castle, comes from a Southern Baptist background, and after leaving the Southern Baptists and coming to the UCC (with a brief visit to the United Methodists), he wanted Cross Creek to have a connection to the Baptist tradition, at least the parts of that tradition that Cross Creek could affirm. So Cross Creek has been affiliated with the Alliance of Baptists since Cross Creek's founding. Last year the UCC as a denomination decided to partner with the Alliance of Baptists along with the Christian Church, Disciples of Christ (with whom the UCC already partnered for foreign missions).
? So to make a long story at least somewhat short, this year the 18th annual convocation of the Alliance of Baptists is being held here in Dayton, and Cross Creek is the host church, providing volunteers to staff tables, cook and serve food, house participants and other tasks. Since our building is too small for all the participants, the event is being held downtown at First Baptist Church, an American Baptist church that's also part of the Alliance of Baptists.

I chose an easy task for my volunteer duties, namely providing housing to a participant. My guest this weekend is David Reese, a religion major at Oberlin College. He's got an interesting web site, and apparently he's a comedian who's part of the group Piscapo's Arm.

I'm not participating in the workshops at the convocation, but I am going to the worship services. Tonight's started off fairly slow with all the officials of the hosting congregations and the three denominations taking a long time to say how glad they were that they, each other, and all of us were there. The pace picked up when Timothy Tutt, pastor of United Christian Church in Austin, Texas, explained ecumenism by comparing it to jazz, with some musical help from Winton Reynolds, Phil Borrero and Brad Taylor's jazz trio.

The highlight of the service was a sermon by the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah H. Wright, pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ. This man has a style that's decidedly "African American Baptist preacher," which had me wondering where he was going (was he heading to Biblical literalism? Jesus as Christ is the only path to God?), but by the middle of his sermon he was saying some things I could definitely agree with. I'd be very surprised if any members of his congregation were ardent Bush supporters or strident believers that homosexuality is a sin.
Friday, February 20th, 2004
Making a lemon tart Today was my turn to host my church dinner group, and Derek planned the menu and organized the cooking (I was sous chef). As you can see, making a lemon tart is fun. We took a break in the middle of cooking to go to Goodwill to get Derek a sweater -- do you like it?


As Julia Child says, you have to taste the wine before cooking with itAs Julia Child says, you have to taste the wine before cooking with it We follow Julia Child's advice when it comes to cooking with alcohol, which is that you taste the wine before using it, perhaps not a bad suggestion if you use better than $3 wine from Kroger.


Dark murky Guiness -- a tasty treat?Guiness'll knock you out I didn't take any pictures of our guests. It was a fairly quiet evening, and everyone was gone by 9 or so. Derek and I headed over to Stage Door to play some darts, and then, bored there, we headed up the street to Boston's, just in time for the Guiness toast. I declined a pint of Guiness on the grounds that I'm gay, earning me a laugh from the bartender and a punch in the shoulder from Derek. He had to prove his manliness and ordered a pint at the last minute. It took him a very long time to finish it, and he pulled a face after every sip. I did try one sip and vow that I'll never put Guiness in my mouth ever again.
Friday, December 12th, 2003
Eric, Mark, Marty, Linda, Lee, Anne and meTonight was the first dinner of my new dinner group. People at my church, Cross Creek, sign up to participate in dinner groups where each person or couple takes turns hosting the others. After everyone in the groups gets a turn to host, everyone's mixed up and put into new groups. It's a great way to get to know people better and to get some really good food too!
Monday, October 13th, 2003

http://crosscreek02.tripod.com Saturday was the annual Cross Creek Church fall picnic. I took a lot of pictures.

 
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