Monday, September 27, 2010

FCC St. Joe Members in the CROP Walk

Great pic in the paper today of FCC St. Joe members walking in the CROP Walk yesterday. We had a goal of 10 Walkers and raising $1000 to fight hunger locally and internationally. We ended up with 15 walkers and raising over $1200!!!!  All funds raised are split between Church World Service, Interserv's Mobile Meals and the Open Door Food Kitchen.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Currently, the church which I am proud to serve, First Christian Church, Disciples of Christ of St. Joseph, Mo, is having an interesting discussion: What Do We Mean By Welcome?  In the coming days and weeks I'll be publishing here on my blog thoughts from FCC members on the subject in hopes that it will reach a wider audience not only in the church but also in our community--and who knows it might prove helpful to other people and congregations who are working through what it means to welcome all people in Jesus' name.  These articles or essays are being shared with the authors' permission and they were also published in our church newsletter.

By Dr. Elizabeth Hendrix

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most im-portant?" "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these" (NIV, Mark 12:28-31).

Often, I ask myself why some Christians interpret Jesus’ words here (and the greatest commandment) as “Love your white, straight neighbor as yourself”? We are called to love everyone, even our enemies, as Christians. However, in the year 2010, we still seem to have a problem loving our neighbors—gay, lesbian, and transgendered individuals—as our-selves. Most churches are not loving and accepting of everyone, and they truly are not “open” either. Heterosexism (the “ism” that gay, lesbian, and transgendered people face) is rampant—especially in the “church.” One easily can observe this heterosexism in the “Christian” actions of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas and its leader, Fred Phelps. Members of this church protest at the funerals of gay community members, and in-stead of comforting and loving those who are grieving, they add to their pain. Supposedly, that is what God wants them to do and supposedly that is His commandment. I disagree. Jesus commands us to love all of our neighbors and not just the white, straight ones. Whether or not you agree with everyone’s lifestyles, as Christians, we are called to “love” and not to judge.

One of my nephews is gay, and one of my nieces is a lesbian. I would hope that in-stead of discovering hate and pain in church that they would find love and compassion. Also, I would hope that grieving families could find comfort from Christians in their times of need instead of more pain. Now, our church is deciding whether or not to be an open and affirming church. I would hope that we decide to be open and that we choose to love our neighbors as ourselves and not to be a part of another “ism” (heterosexism) as a church. Does Jesus ask us to love or hate our neighbors? In my opinion, gay, lesbian, and transgendered individuals find more hate than love now—especially from Christians, and we have to change this. We have to learn to love ALL our neighbors.

An Open and Affirming Stament for an Open and Affirming church?

Currently, the church which I am proud to serve, First Christian Church, Disciples of Christ of St. Joseph, Mo, is having an interesting discussion: What Do We Mean By Welcome?  In the coming days and weeks I'll be publishing here on my blog thoughts from FCC members on the subject in hopes that it will reach a wider audience not only in the church but also in our community--and who knows it might prove helpful to other people and congregations who are working through what it means to welcome all people in Jesus' name.  These articles or essays are being shared with the authors' permission and they were also published in our church newsletter.

An Open and Affirming Statement for an Open and Affirming Church?
by David Tushaus

The First Christian Church Board has approved our Welcoming Task Force's proposal to amend our bylaws to include an Open and Affirming Statement. You will now be asked to vote to approve this amendment at a Congregational meeting to be held later this year. With your approval the Open and Affirming statement:

"First Christian Church of St. Joseph is open to and affirming of all people whatever their gender, race, age, culture, ethnic background, sexual orientation, economic circumstance, family configuration, or difference in ability. All who seek to follow Christ are welcome into our community to share fully in its life and ministry.”

will be included in the bylaws of our church at Article III: Membership, as a new Section 2, with Section 2 becoming Section 3, etc.

Why should we adopt such a statement? 

Christ makes the Good Samaritan the hero of his parable because his first-century Jewish listeners would have recoiled at such an idea. Christ did this to challenge them and us to love our neighbor who we may not traditionally think of as “one of us”, who we may fear could do us harm, or who would not expect us to love and accept him or her. The proposed Open and Affirming statement embraces

Christ’s message of love and justice toward all people who seek God.  Church is intimidating to many. People fear they will not be accepted, or that they may be judged harshly. Single parents and interracial couples fear a church only wants white families with two kids. Low income people assume a church only wants people with means. Black people assume a “white church” is not for them.  Disabled persons wonder if a church is willing to accommodate them (and indeed our church does not have a handicap-accessible rest room).

Worse, the “Church” has condemned rather than welcomed many “who seek to follow Christ”. Those in different family configurations (e.g. divorced) were openly condemned at one time. They still feel unwelcomed in many cases. As for race, much of our society has become more integrated than our houses of worship.  Sunday is still the most segregated day of the week in America.  Those with different sexual orientations continue to be shunned and condemned by the Pharisees of our day. Issues of sexuality may present the most emotional response today. Family, friends, and sympathizers of the LGBT community have turned away from the church because it could not recognize the inconsistency of its own message. Traditional churchgoers may fear they won’t recognize their own church if it embraces such diversity, but all of us must resist our fears for the sake of those people who feel excluded from the church.

Since the Welcoming Task Force has been formed I have heard from some that First Christian Church is already “Open and Affirming”, that we welcome all who come inside our doors. But if this is true, then why do we not even want to whisper such acceptance. Why wouldn’t we want to shout from the mountaintop what Christ proclaimed so many years ago – that our God is a loving and accepting

God of inclusion, not condemnation?

If we do not stand with the churches that single out homosexual and transgendered persons for condemnation, then we should say so. The Good Samaritan calls on us to be bold and reach out to people in need. Our silence opens us up to the assumption that gays and transgendered persons are not welcome at our church. This is an assumption not only the LGBT community may make, but their family, friends and sympathizers too.  First Christian Church lays claim to providing a unique and important voice in our community. I know there are some fine examples of that. But there is so much more we can do, and we can start with the adoption of the simple Open and Affirming statement above.

Our Congregation has worked through some important issues in the last two years. We came to a consensus on adopting a resolution for a moratorium on the death penalty, approved building repairs that were daunting at the time, and conducted a successful capital campaign to help pay for them. Now is the time to come to a consensus again, to stand together as a community of believers for the way forward.  We have a significant number of new members who have joined FCC in recent history. Many have claimed that a gospel of inclusion is important to them, even if they are not members of a group that is being singled out for discrimination. These new members and others like them are eager for a church that embraces Christ’s gospel of inclusion. We can be that shining light in this community. I urge you to prayerfully consider and ultimately support this Open and Affirming statement for adoption into First Christian Church’s bylaws.

Please come and talk to me or anyone on the Welcoming Task Force if you have any questions or comments about this bylaws proposal.

David Tushaus, Moderator
First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), St. Joseph, MO

Louis C.K. on Father's Day: All Fathers Should Watch This!

Worth reading from the St. Joseph News-Press

Neither of these pieces is all that recent, but it has just taken me some time to post them here. 

  • A few weeks ago, there was a great column in the News-Press by Alonzo Weston.  Here's a taste: "To truly restore America’s honor, we must help the least of us. That’s not socialism, that’s compassion. We need to make education, social services, mental health and unemployment our priorities, instead of worrying about whether Obama is a Christian."  The comments on the web site and the nasty notes in the paper have not stopped since!
  • Here's the most recent article I've been quoted in from tne News-Press

Some more stuff that's worth reading

Here are a few more articles, essays, op-eds, etc. that I've found to be worth reading lately:

Scholar Anthea Butler offers good advice on the value of doubt and accountability in religious groups.
Sorry folks, the Rapture is not in the Bible.
A nice reflection on how Facebook can help us to face broken relationships we thought we'd left behind.
A great perspective on homelessness in St. Joseph, MO.
Wow! This is a great example of a progressive church showing Christian hospitality to and allowing dialogue with a far-right protest group. I'm humbled and challenged by their decision to allow dialogue to occur, even though the prospects of the two sides agreeing were dim. Interestingly, a more conservative church in the same community refused to meet with the group.

Some worthwhile thoughts on same-sex marriage, "don't ask don't tell" and the place of homosexuals in society

I'm continuing to post links to articles here on my blog that I have shared on Facebook in recent months.  I've come across several articles and essays about same-sex marriage that I think are well-worth taking a look at.

First, here's a helpful perspective by a career military chaplain re: rescinding the "Don't Ask/Don't Tell" policy in the US Armed Forces (he is for rescinding the policy by the way).
I love Sarah Vowell and this is a great essay. Although she expresses support for same-sex marriage, this is really a defense of her right to stay single. (WARNING: the other articles on this site may not be suitable for younger readers or homophobic ones either)
Here's a different take on the issues of marriage and how we often choose to live by spiritual legalism rather than by the spirit itself offered by a UUA minister.
A very helpful article by Diana Butler-Bass on the shift taking place in CA (and elsewhere) regarding homosexuality in general and same-sex marriage in particular. It's a shift from understanding homosexuality as a choice to understanding it as something a person is born as, a shift from condemnation to understanding.

Liberation and Post-Colonial Theologies

Remember way back when Obama was running for president and the pastor of the church he attended in Chicago (the buffoonish Jeremiah Wright) caused so much controversy?  In addition to Wright's really arrogant media appearances, many Obama critics questioned the theology of the church (Trinity United Church of Christ) and of Wright because of their theology--specifically what is often called Liberation Theology.  Well, Liberation Theology is back in the news largely due to criticisms against it lodged by cable news talk show host and all-around demagogue Glenn Beck.  This has raised Liberation Theology's profile from something taught in American seminary classrooms to something to be bantered around in the culture wars.  This is unfortunate, because Liberation Theology and a related movement called Post-Colonial Theology are important systems of thought about God, and I would argue important challenges to white European theology that has served for centuries to justify all sorts of sins and crimes. 

Here are a few helpful articles that provide concise introductions to these types of theological work:

Perhaps the best, most concise, most accessable overview of Liberation Theology I've come across. Susan Thistlethwaite's explanation sounds like my understanding of Jesus, and if Obama reads the Gospel this way too I'm thrilled--although I believe Liberation Theology would find much to criticize about the Obama administration's policies.
Brian McLaren (best-known for his writings about the so-called "emergent church") provides an excellent and accessible article explaining the need for so-called "post-colonial" theology and the problems with any theology that has an adjective in front of it. You need not be an academic to read it, only someone who cares about religion not being used to oppress people.
Although not directly speaking of Liberation or Post-Colonial Theology, Jim Wallis offered a response to Glenn Beck's Labor Day rally in Washington, D.C. that lays out in a civil and insightful town the case for faith perspectives that embrace social justice.  If only Glenn Beck would respond in the same civil tone.

Links Worth Reading Re: Recent Islamophobia

Keeping this blog going is at times an effort for me with everything going on in my life, and posting thoughts and links on Facebook has proven not only easier but also often instantly gratifying.  I get more comments and responses on Facebook than I do here (unless you count spammers).  That being said, there is good stuff I've shared on Facebook that is now lost in the ever-changing flow of status updates.  So, I'm going to post some links to articles, op-eds and essays I've liked in the last few months here on the blog.  We'll see if I can keep more up to date with similar items from here on out>

Here are some things I've found helpful regarding the recent flurry of Islamophobia in America, such as the almost burning of the Qur'an by a Florida minister and the opposition to an Islamic Center near Ground Zero in lower Manhattan.

  • Nice op-ed by Nicholas Kristof re: the double standard against Muslims recently in America--he makes his point without ignoring the extremes within Islam, Christianity or any other group
  • As the deadline for the Qur'an-burning in Florida drew near, word came of a Muslim organization in South Africa that prevented a local Muslim leader from burning a Bible in retaliation.  Why didn't this make it on to the cable news talk shows?
  • Good news! Not all Christians are xenophobic hatemongers. (Of course, some of us have know that all along.)
  • An excellent explanation for why the threatened Qur'an incited such a global response from all sides AND great thoughts about why burning books (esp. sacred books) is such a powerful symbol--by Laurie Patton a professor I was fortunate enough to have for a class in grad school
  • Jim Wallis' reflections on what we have learned and not learned since 9-11, with special attention paid to recent bigotry and xenophobia towards Muslims by Americans in general and Christians in particular
  • From the National Council of Churches, USA  (I put this as an insert in our Sunday bulletin a few weeks ago)--a great statement on how Christians should love their Muslim neighbors on the anniversary of Sept. 11. Well-said by Michael Kinnamon who is both a leader in the Christian Church, Disciples of Christ and in ecumenical work.
  • Mixed in with all the bad news about Christians displaying bigotry towards Muslims was a very encouraging story about a church in Memphis which allows a local Muslim congregation meet in its building and both groups have benefitted from the dialogue and relationship.  (This particular story comes towards the end of the video from MSNBC)
  • Another op-ed from Kristof at NYT: For me, this demonstrated the meaning of words like grace and peace. THIS is how we should respond to 9-11.  It's the story of two women whose husbands were killed on 9-11 but who chose to respond by fighting poverty and lack of education in Afghanistan. (from the op-ed) "So at a time when the American government reacted to the horror of 9/11 mostly with missiles and bombs, detentions and waterboardings, Ms. Retik and Ms. Quigley turned to education and poverty-alleviation projects —  in the very country that had incubated a plot that had pulverized their lives."
  • New York is unfortunately not the only place where bigotry towards Muslims has resulted in protests of a planned Islamic Center.  Murfreesboro, TN has also had a isappointing outbreak of ugliness.  The Daily Show with Jon Stewart took a look at the whole sordid affair, and the people of Murfreesboro can feel proud of how small-minded they appear.  (warning: you have to wait through some Comedy Central commercials and the first third of the episode, so be prepared for off-color language and jokes.)
  • A recent episode of NPR's On the Media demonstrated how words matter in the reporting of news (and most forms of media are too lazy to choose their words carefully)--especially in the case of an Islamic center in lower Manhattan--or should I say "Ground Zero Mosque"?
  • What's the most dangerous religious group in American history? It's not Muslims, rather the most violent religious group in American history has and continues to be. . . white, male Protestants! (You should be afraid of me.)
  • A nice piece about the origins of the controversy regarding the Islamic Center in New York at It appears conservative talk show hosts were FOR the Islamic center in lower Manhattan before they were AGAINST it. I guess Obama is not the only one who  flip-flopped on this issue.
  • Jim Wallis declares that American Muslims are not responsible for 9-11 and tells about trying to make this point on Fox and Friends.
  • The so-called "Ground Zero Mosque" is actually 2 blocks away. What else is within a 2 block radius of Ground Zero you ask? Take a look at these pictures--much of it is anything but "hallowed".
  • Lost in all the attacks levelled at the Islamic Center in lower Manhattan was the fact that it is being built by Sufi Muslims who have a demonstrated track record of interfaith dialogue, peacemaking and bridgebuilding.  They couldn't be further from Al Qaeda.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Books mentioned last Sunday

This past Sunday, I preached on Luke 16:1-13, often called the Parable of the Dishonest Steward, considered by many to be the most difficult parable of Jesus to interpret.  I chose to offer two perspectives on the parable.

The first came from Richard Swanson's book Provoking the Gospel of Luke.  Swanson  interpreted the master's praise of the manager/steward's forgiving of the debt owed to the master (essentially praising his employee for ripping him off) as a case where the master is happy that his employee finally knows how to play hardball.  In other words, the boss finally believes the manager/steward has learned how to be cutthroat when it comes to business and is therefore only now worthy of being employed.  Thus, the parable is meant to urge disciples to be as shrewd and determined in their pursuit of the goals of the Kingdom of God (of course it's not an endorsement of dishonesty).

The second perspective came from Robert Farrar Capon's book Parables of Grace.  He understands the story to be about the "grace" demonstrated by the manager/steward (albeit for selfish motives) flowing upwards and inspiring the master to be gracious as well.  Under this interpretation, the manager/steward is a "Christ-figure" who is rejected and lowly, and whose gracious actions seem small but have much larger effects.