Room Service


Today’s readings:
Psalms 97; 145, Jonah 2:1-10, Acts 2:14, 22-32, John 14:1-14

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?

When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, he sent his disciples ahead with instructions to find a room where they could celebrate the Passover meal (which would also be the Last Supper). The room they found was furnished and prepared for the coming event. At the end of a journey, isn’t it pleasant to find comfortable accommodations?

We prepare rooms for people at many stages of life. Some are used constantly, while others are mostly on stand-by. For a newborn arriving home at the end of their first journey, we prepare a room to soothe and stimulate them as needed. The ideal guest room is arranged to help visitors feel welcome and included without making them feel intrusive. When an ailing parent or loved one needs space to recover or to cross the finish line of this earthly race, we may convert a room to provide care and comfort.

A well-appointed space is nice, but the luxuries aren’t the most important element. An old couch in a one-room apartment where love and shelter are promised may provide a more peaceful night’s rest than the finest five-star hotel. The most important thing is to be sure guests can believe we are offering them not a favor but a family.

What kind of dwelling place do you hope for in God’s house, in this life or the next? If we mortals can welcome and support people in our modest homes, just imagine the limitless possibilities God has prepared for us. And note that Jesus said “many rooms” and not “a few rooms you will have to compete for.” God welcomes all of us home. We are responsible for accepting the invitation, and there are some basic house rules to observe, but family is family.

Our one true home is found in God. May our own homes reflect the love we find there.

Comfort: Our God is eager to welcome us.

Challenge: Find one change to make in your home that would make it more welcoming to guests.

Prayer: Thank you, God, for providing for all my needs. Amen.

Discussion: When you visit someone’s home, what do they do that help you feel welcome and relaxed?

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Invitation: Cross Words


For me, one of the greatest delights in life is wordplay. I’ve heard puns described as the lowest form of humor, but a good pun – whether it’s good because it’s clever or because it’s painfully corny – always brings a smile to my face. My older nephew and I will spend and entire weekend of camping trying to out-pun one another. On my Facebook timeline I created a recurring hashtag for #typosthatshouldbewords. (Regreat? Something you’re sorry you did, but you did really well!) Every day I attempt the New York Times crossword puzzle then read the blog about its construction.

My love of crossword puzzles is handed down. On Sundays I would sit at my grandparents’ big kitchen table and do crossword puzzles with my Grandfather. Joint puzzle solving is a character-building experience. When I was young he was patient with me, letting me figure out (or leading me to) some of the answers he of course already knew. I learned relationships are built on give-and-take, and that you may have to wait a little for someone to understand what seems obvious to you.

Last Sunday was Pentecost, and the weekly scriptures included the story of the Holy Spirit, in the form of tongues of flame, descending on the disciples. Afterward, though they spoke many languages, they heard one another in their native tongues. That got me thinking about how we can use so many different words to mean the same thing.

And in turn, that got me thinking about how the same word can mean many different things.

“Love” is a good example. But I’m not talking about that that romantic versus Christian or agape sense of different kinds of love we hear about in sermons.

Several years ago some relationships at church led us to briefly becoming guardians to a teenager who was working some things out with his family. He and I grew close over several mission trips and years of tutoring, movies, cheap pizza, and long talks. We remained in weekly contact for many years. He’s now a father himself and though I see him less frequently, my affection has not waned.

One of things I learned was that “love” meant something different to him than to me. In my family the words “I love you” come easily (but not cheaply or thoughtlessly). Therefore, it felt natural for me to say “love you, buddy” when we parted or ended a phone conversation. He didn’t reciprocate, and I didn’t force the issue. Some people feel left hanging when they say “I love you” and the person doesn’t return it, but over time I’ve come to believe you shouldn’t say “I love you” if what you really mean is “I want to hear that you love me.”

Now he would say it when he was asking me for something inconvenient: “Can you take me to Game Stop [some 15 miles away]? I love you!” It was half jest, half unsuccessful emotional bribe. He’d also say it to girls he dated – in my opinion far too soon and far too often. I think those were more like hopeful little prayers though: “I want to hear that you love me.”

One day as I was dropping him off at his mother’s place, I gave him a hug and said “Love you, buddy.” I was surprised to hear “Love you, too” but I decided not to make it weird. In the moment, at least. The next time we saw each other I mentioned I had appreciated it. He told me he didn’t say it much because his father would make him say it back when he didn’t feel like it or mean it.

We had learned to solve life’s puzzles very differently. What an invaluable lesson in the power of how the intention and reception of our words can be so distant from one another.

Love-the-word had very different meanings for us, but we both understood love-the-feeling. When he trusted me to pull splinters out of his hand, or rode to summer school in my passenger seat in silent protest but never once defied me about actually going, or burped across the table at me in anticipation of how I would rate in on a ten-point scale, we both understood.

When we tell people Christ loves them, our intention may be distant from how they are able to receive it. Sometimes that distance may feel irreconcilable. Maybe they’ve been mistreated by the church and we represent pain. Maybe they’ve had struggles we can’t imagine and a loving God seems like an impossibility. The list of maybes is endless. Regardless of the reason, if they don’t respond in a manner we find acceptable, our reaction to that response tells us whether we are truly seeking to share the gospel … or seeking validation.

The Gospel is not delivered via scare tactic or data dump: it is delivered via relationship, sometimes in many installments over a long period of time. People need to – and should – get to know us before they trust or believe us. We shouldn’t be offended by that. Sure, you and I know we are coming from a place of love and honesty and feel defensive when someone questions that … but do you believe everything told to you by a stranger or acquaintance? “Actions speak louder than words” has become a tried old cliché for a reason.

Crossword clues can be intentionally misleading. That can be fun for the experienced puzzler, but frustrating for those who aren’t used to the conventions. If we want someone to understand love from the clues we’re dropping, it is more important that they be clear than clever.

If you invite someone’s into Christ’s love and they decline … invite them again a different way. Don’t guilt them. Don’t strong-arm them. Don’t dismiss them. Love them.

Take out their splinters.
Endure their moods.
Laugh with them about the things they think are funny.
Play with the words until they make sense.

As my grandfather grew even older and his thoughts slower, the puzzles became much easier for me than for him. It was my turn to sit at the table and  demonstrate patience, and it was easy because I’d had such a good example, who had shown me solving a puzzle together – whether it be about life, love, or the Hawaiian state bird – is about far more than the solution.

Wait for them, and let them wait for you.
Sit patiently at the table.

In the end, it’s not our words that persuade people of Christ’s love. It’s the limitless grace of God, the enduring nature of Christ’s table.

Not our words, but The Word.

You and I simply choose whether or not to love them enough to speak it in a language they can understand. “I want you to hear that Christ loves you. Let’s gather at this table and start that conversation.”

May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

Radical Inclusion

shoes mile

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 143; 147:12-20, 1 Samuel 13:5-18, Acts 8:26-40, Luke 23:13-25

One of the great joys of being a Christian is that we are called to be more in the business of expanding our circle than closing our ranks. At any given point in history, or in any given congregation or denomination, we may be circling the wagons in fear, but since the earliest days of the apostles we’ve been learning that God’s love is more inclusive than our own.

Take Philip for example. One day the Spirit urged him down a certain road, where he found a man sitting in a chariot and reading from the prophet Isaiah. The man, an Ethiopian eunuch serving as a court official of his queen, was in Jerusalem to worship. Philip ran up to the man, who needed help understanding what he was reading, and began a conversation which led to the Ethiopian asking to be baptized in some water they passed on the side of the road. So Philip baptized him.

This first Gentile convert – eager to join the faith and just as eagerly welcomed at the urging of the Spirit – differed from the Jewish apostles racially, ethnically, and sexually. He would never have been allowed inside the physical temple, but once Christ became the temple raised, these distinctions no longer mattered. Christ’s arms stretched out on the cross are the temple gates thrown wide open.

Radical inclusion, while ultimately joyful, can scare us. We worry strange newcomers might change the fundamental character of our community. We fear that allowing our understanding of God’s inclusive nature to evolve somehow betrays long-held beliefs or practices. Throughout history the church and its members have excluded, minimalized, or stereotyped the roles of women, the disabled, and even the left-handed. Yet the Spirit continues to urge us toward each other, to build bridges, to break down assumptions and prejudices based not in the gospel but in culture and superstition.

The world pushes us to judge, condemn, and exclude. Christ invites us to love, forgive, and welcome. As Christ’s body, let’s run to those who, like our Ethiopian friend, differ from us so struggle to understand his invitation.

Comfort: God loves more and better than we could possibly understand.

Challenge: Try to find more reasons to include people than to exclude them.

Prayer: Teach me, o Lord, to love your people and share your Gospel abundantly.

Discussion: Do you belong to any groups the church has excluded or does exclude? How does that affect your relationship with and understanding of Jesus?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!

Invitation: Cross Traffic


About five years ago we moved to downtown South Bend. We moved into a “transitional” neighborhood, which is what realtors call it when they think you’ll be concerned a lot of the neighborhood is not as white and wealthy as you are. We love living downtown, especially being able to walk places. Walk past the same people enough times, and you start to recognize them. If they’ve asked you for money and you’ve obliged, they start to recognize you, too.

One day I was walking back from the library when two men I didn’t recognize ducked into an alley I was about to walk past. One of them stood lookout, which seemed suspicious to me. Still I nodded at him as I went by, and he nodded back. Then he said, “Hey, mister!” I turned around mostly because I didn’t want anything at this point happening behind my back. “Do you have any cash to spare? My buddy is looking for food in the dumpster. I don’t want food from the dumpster.” I looked down the alley, and his buddy sure enough had one leg over the edge into the bin. I’ve been told before that giving cash just “enables” people (as though there are no drug addicts with well-paying jobs), but somebody could have a needle hanging from his tied-off arm and I wouldn’t want him to eat from a dumpster. I had $3 on me, so I gave it to him. He called to his companion that they could buy real food.

Some people who read this will think I made a bad call. They will think these guys could have gone to a food pantry or a homeless center. They may say these guys need to learn from the consequences of whatever decision brought them to this sorry state.

But I’ve learned something else from living downtown.

Our house is on a fairly busy street. Several less busy streets intersect it at two-way stops. Each one of these signs has a warning: “Cross Traffic Does Not Stop.” At least once a day, somebody ignores the warning and flies into the intersection. When they’re lucky we hear the screeching tires. When they’re unlucky we hear the sickening crunch and shatter. So far, thank God, no one has been so unlucky that we’ve heard the ambulance take them away.

My point is that the people driving on our street are following all the rules. They have no idea that life is about to plow into them at an intersection. The rules didn’t protect them. Following the rules is no guarantee of your safety – be it vehicular, physical, or financial. No one starts their day hoping to get into a crash. No one starts their life planning to eat from a dumpster either, but life can force us through some pretty nasty intersections. And sometimes it can bless us with an intersection that lets us help someone else.

We can sit in judgment of whether someone belongs at our table, or deserves to be at any table, but we’re all one bad intersection away from lost dignity.

Jesus said he came for the sick, not the well. If the only people we invite to the table are the people we think deserve it, we’re not ministering to the same people Jesus was. Turning people away from the communion table is like sending them to find dinner among the garbage. Sometimes you can’t make a good decision until you are relieved of the pain of hunger – be it physical or spiritual.

We all hunger for love and dignity. Christ offers it to us in bread and wine. Let’s share it generously.

May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

Invitation: Transcend


Several weeks ago I attended a church service acknowledging Transgender Day of Remembrance, an annual recognition of transgendered people who have died from violence during the year. All over the world, participants in similar services remember, name, and mourn these people. Several years ago I was listening to an interview with a transgendered woman. When asked about how people first reacted to learning she was transgendered, she said she was surprised and disappointed by the number of gay friends who were happy to hang out and buy her a beer when they thought she was a gay man, then said they “just didn’t understand” and distanced themselves after she came out as trans. Hearing this hurt my heart (though surely nothing compared to how living it must have affected hers).

As a gay person, I’ve heard more than once from someone who “just didn’t get it” and thought that was reason to reject me and people like me; that’s why I was so disappointed to hear people like me were almost as likely to do the same thing. God bless the friends and family who “didn’t get it” (and maybe still don’t) but loved and included me anyway.

We have this notion that once we get to know each other, we’ll learn to understand and love one another. I even believe it’s true, but let’s face it: we don’t have time to get to really know absolutely everyone we meet. There are lots of things I “just don’t get” about other people, and I never will. I could start listing them, but that’s just another type of finger pointing and rejection.

Here’s the thing: Jesus doesn’t ask me to “get” you, and he doesn’t ask you to “get” me. He asks me to love you. He’s actually very specific about loving the people you don’t even like when he says: “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.”

So when it comes to Christ’s table, our personal objections to a fellow Christian’s behavior, attitude, or identity don’t matter. Yes, we may be able to point to some specific verses that make us feel justified, but then we could also point to the ones we choose to ignore when we “get” someone. Christ asks us to transcend the idea that we have to “get” or accept someone before we can love them. If they are starving – physically or spiritually – it’s not okay to ask them to wait on our own comfort while we gorge on their portion at the table. Yes, we should work to understand each other, but my inability to understand you does  not trump your membership in the Body of Christ.

I may never “get” you. You may never “get” me. It’s okay. Christ gets us all.

May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

Invitation: Clutter


My car is usually a mess.

It started out clean and new, and I kept it that way for a few months, but I travel a lot, eat in the car a couple times a week, and accumulate items from work and home. Any more I don’t notice it most of the time. It’s nothing to be proud of, but sometimes it just is. Have you ever heard of the term “clutter-blind?” It describes things like the sticky note reminders all over your desk that you no longer notice, the items in your closet you move out of the way every time without thinking, or the receipts, books, and fast food bags piling up on your seats.

The times I do notice it are when I need to give people a ride. If it’s just one person, I can make a quick apology and grab a quick head start to clear the passenger seat. If it’s two or three, it can be pretty embarrassing. More often than not, I have to decline. Whether you’re judging, nodding in understanding, or just confused, there is a bigger point to this.

Sometimes we are clutter-blind to behaviors. Maybe it’s the way you click your pen in meetings, or hum at the dinner table. In churches, our clutter is often made of habits and assumptions. Like clutter on a desk, to the familiar eye they are more background than anything, but to the unfamiliar eye, it’s difficult to determine what’s important. If someone new came to our worship, what would we have to push out of the way before they could fully participate? To start with, our assumptions they understand any of it at all. And next, our habits that may exclude or alienate them. Referring only to acronyms or first names, launching into hugs during the passing of the peace, or breaking into our usual cliques in the parking lot may be comforting to us but off-putting to others.

The trick to de-cluttering is knowing what to keep, where to put it so you handle it most effectively, and what to throw away. If there are parts of worship that require explanation every time, think hard about whether you need them, or if you should make them more user-friendly. It took a long time for me to figure out that “narthex” just mean”front hall.” Such jargon only serves to make people feel like they are not part of the in-group.  Chances are many years ago your worship service and church experience started out new and clean, but after it’s been driven until the odometer goes around a few times … not so much.

The most important place to de-clutter is the communion table. We need to clear away any doctrinal or ritual clutter we might have added – anything that keeps people from understanding and participating. Christ died for all of us, and instructed us to observe this meal to remember the sacrifice of his body and blood. It is a privilege to come to the table, but not one bestowed or limited by man; it is an invitation directly from Christ, and all are welcome.  Keep a seat at the table clear for everyone.

May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

Invitation: Graduation


Today is the first Sunday of Advent. It’s a solemn season when we reflect on the past and look toward the future. Advent reminds us why Christ needed to come into the world, and why we need him to return. As the world observes the approaching Christmas holiday by urging you to buy more, eat more, and do more, the church asks you to slow down, to remember, to mourn. The world’s message is a lot more fun, but all it seems to get us … is more of the world. The conflict. The need. The emptiness.

No one wants to be a wet blanket tossed over the Christmas party buffet, but Christmas without Advent is like celebrating a graduation for someone who never went to school: the cap and gown are nice for a day, but ultimately there’s nothing inside. The season of Advent is our preparation for the Christmas graduation. It is a time for exams – examination of ourselves, examination of our relationship with Christ, and examination of the world in all its brokenness. At the end of our forty-day term, we understand why the world needs Christ. And like graduation, Christmas is a watershed moment. It marks the completion of one journey, and the beginning of another. What we learn during Advent is celebrated on Christmas, but then we have the responsibility of putting that knowledge to work to better ourselves and the world.

Advent means we have the opportunity to prepare and graduate every year. Like any school experience, you get out of it what you put into it, especially if you are wise enough to retain and build on what you learned before. Every year we learn what more we can contribute, and understand better how that all depends on surrendering ever more completely to our dependence on our God. The wiser we get, the less we know.

So if Advent is our school term, the communion table is our study group. Here we check in with our adviser, and learn from our fellow students. But we can’t just sit in the room with our noses buried in our own books; we must become invested in each other’s success. To know when to tutor, and when to be tutored. To dedicate ourselves to one another, because that is the condition of the full ride scholarship paid for with the life of Jesus. Whatever our life circumstances, the offer is available. Communion is the ultimate student union.

Pop quiz: Who does Christ invite to the table? Answer: Everyone.

May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

Invitation: Election


So that happened.

After what is possibly the most divisive election in modern American history, the Christian family finds itself in the same boat as many families around the country: an awkward gathering around the table for the Sunday meal.

Some of us feel like we lost. Some of us feel like we won. Some of us feel like nobody won.

If you feel like you lost, and are angry at the other side, keep in mind you’d probably feel differently if you’d won. You’d be less afraid, and therefore less angry, and therefore in a more forgiving mood even though your opponents did nothing differently. Also consider the possibility that had you won, the other side would be experiencing its own fears right now. It doesn’t matter whether you believe those fears are justified; fear is not always best addressed through reason, but through compassion. Remember this moment, so that when the pendulum swings and you are no longer afraid, you will understand your opponents’ fear, and be merciful in victory.

If you feel like you won, remember that Christ teaches us having the upper hand is a burden, not a privilege. Listen to the concerns of the losing side without dismissing or mocking them. Keep in mind that had you lost, your side honestly wouldn’t behave much differently. If you snorted at that last sentence, revisit history; you won’t have to go back far. For Christians, power is not a mandate to exercise control, but a call to service. If the first are last and the last are first, you are now walking a golden tightrope. Christ calls us to do good to our enemies; that includes the ones we’ve defeated.

If you feel like nobody won, consider that you may be called to the role of peacemaker. Perhaps rather than expressing disappointment all around, promote work in areas where all Christians should agree. Visiting the sick and homebound is not a political issue. Feeding the hungry is not a political issue. Comforting those who grieve is not a political issue. Where you can, encourage those who are – for the present time – emotionally estranged to find common ground.

Christ’s table is not a political issue. We meet here because we need him the most in times like these. Come to the table willingly, and break bread with all members of the family because Christ has invited them, too. If Jesus didn’t turn away Judas, we have no excuse to turn away from each other. Sharing a meal, especially this divine one, is the both the most holy and common ground we will find.

May the Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

Invitation: Chunk


Several weeks ago I was having dinner with friends and the conversation turned to childhood memories, specifically memories of dinner time. Our experiences were somewhat different. One of my friends explained how in his large family the younger children were lucky to get much, as the father took his food first, and then the oldest children, and so on. By the time the youngest ate, there was always something left, but it could be pretty meager. My own experience was different. We did not think of ourselves as wealthy – my father brought home a teacher’s salary and worked part time in a grocery store – but whether we ate at home or out, we three children were served or could order portions equal to that of the adults. I remembered it being the same way at my grandparents’ table, and with my aunts, uncles, and cousins as well. This, I said, seemed much more fair. Then my friend explained that in his family if his father didn’t keep up his strength and ability to work, there wouldn’t have been food on the table at all. Suddenly I was confronted by the reality of my own privilege, and reminded how wealth is always a relative condition.

In my term as an Elder of my church, I had the privilege of serving communion many times to many people. With another elder I would hold bread or the cup as people walked up to break off a chunk and dip it in the juice. One thing that always amused me was how ninety percent of the people always seemed to tear off the smallest possible piece of bread. I was never sure why this was: we always had plenty left over, and the tiny pieces were obviously difficult to manage based on the number that ended up floating in the cup. If the bread was especially crusty and wouldn’t tear easily, some people shrugged and smiled apologetically for not being able to rip off a smaller portion.

After my dinner conversation, I now wonder if people’s idea of how much communion bread they’re entitled to reflects the abundance or scarcity of their life experience, or if maybe it reflects their perception of what they bring to the table relative to others. The next time I invite people to Christ’s table for communion, I want to tell them Jesus wants them to help themselves to a big ol’ chunk of his grace. At Christ’s table we are all equal, and there’s enough to go around. Don’t be shy – be hungry. Hungry for love. Hungry for forgiveness. Hungry for mercy. Jesus wants us to be stuffed to the gills with all these things. The less you think you deserve them, the more you should consume. Tearing off a morsel that you might actually have to chew on a while isn’t an indulgence … it’s the whole point. Christ didn’t die for us so we could live on crumbs; he died so we could feast on grace.

May the Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

Invitation: Garlic Bread


Several years ago I was part of a mission trip to New Orleans, where we helped with the rebuilding effort in the Ninth Ward after Hurricane Katrina. A few Northern Indiana area churches drove down together, and we stayed at a mission station with another, larger group from Tennessee. The different churches rotated through some of the housekeeping activities: cleaning the bathrooms, preparing meals, doing laundry, and evening worship. Worship always involved communion, so the meal shoppers made sure bread was available.

Even the best schedules can fall apart, and one day the worship team members (all youth) were stuck at a work site an hour longer than they had planned. As the lasagna finished baking, they quickly pulled together a short but meaningful order of worship and selected some hymns. While we were cleaning up after the meal, a whisper traveled from table to table: there had been a mix-up, and all the bread had been basted in garlic and butter for the meal. There was no time to run to the Winn-Dixie before worship. What to do?

One of the young people suggested using the garlic bread. “Hey, Jesus used what was on the table,” he said. So that was what they did. Now in the Disciples of Christ we often distribute communion by intinction, which means the person takes bread and then dips it into the cup before eating it. At youth camp they call it rip-and-dip, or chunk-and-dunk.

As it turns out, garlic bread dipped in grape juice is less than appetizing. Not terrible, but weird and mildly unpleasant. Not things one generally associates with communion. No one said anything at the time, but as the evening wore on, several people began to grumble about how “disrespectful” it had been for the worship group to use garlic bread. One of the adults decided they needed to have a “talk” with the youth about how inappropriate their selection had been. As he offered his opinion, the kids looked deflated and started to apologize until one of the pastors interrupted him. “Excuse me,” she said, “these kids worked really hard today to make sure someone could get back in their home as early as possible. Not everything has to be someone’s fault. The communion wasn’t ideal, but perhaps we should focus on why we’re all here. And make sure we have bread for tomorrow.”

We have this idea that the holy should be pretty and palatable. But the sweaty work those kids did that day was holy. The stink they gave off because they decided to use their limited time to plan worship instead of showering … was holy. When we commune, all we can ever bring is what’s available to us. Some of us have the luxury of buying new whatever we need, and others find the holy in what is on the table, because God has provided it. When we say: “what you have to bring isn’t up to snuff,” what we are really saying is: “I refuse to see the holy in you.”

I’ll take weird garlicky communion that’s offered in love, over bland chunks that confuse respectability for holiness, every time. When we come to Christ’s table, we bring our holy and unholy selves. Maybe some of us do a better job of keeping the holy out front where everyone can see it, but that’s just window dressing. When we don’t like what someone brings to the table, that’s not a challenge to change them – it’s a challenge to change ourselves. And if meeting the needs of a community means we sometimes taste and smell bad … perhaps we should focus on why we’re all here. And make sure we have bread for tomorrow.

May the Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.