Monthly Archives: October 2013

Settling into place

Our family has been living in our house for about three months now (My first month at CMC, you may remember, was homeless and wife-and-kids-less).  The moving in process is slow but rewarding.  In the last week we have hung curtains, organized our dining rooms shelves, found the just-right color/design/size rug for the living room, and even hung a few things up on the walls.  It’s amazing what you can get done when you don’t have a child in the hospital. 

Clintonville is a beautiful neighborhood.  Our neighbors are fantastic, Oakland Park Ave is gorgeous in the fall, our kids are in a good public elementary school, and the church is a short walk from home.  The neighborhood has many other perks.  It’s a very good life. 

In my adult life I have more and more come to acknowledge and be conscious of the role of place in shaping us – where we live and who our neighbors are.  Condo or farm, city or suburb, buy or rent, any place presents both opportunities and limitations.  As we have been settling in, I’ve been thinking again about place.    

A few weeks ago I was at a luncheon of community leaders and was asked by a person at my table where I lived.  After my answer, he replied, “Oh, that’s where the yuppies live.”  I’m a person who hardly ever gets offended by what other people say, but I had a visceral reaction to the comment, which I tried not to show in my facial expression.  I wanted to tell him that I actually feel a lot more comfortable in dirty jeans than the button down shirt and slacks I was wearing that day; that I value living close to work wherever that work may be; that I aspire to be more downwardly mobile than upwardly mobile and that my rusting ’94 Civic gets 40 miles to the gallon if I do need to drive.  I wanted to tell him how much I miss homeless folks who I know by name and who consider me their pastor knocking on our door because they need a few extra candles to warm the tent they have set up by the railroad tracks just a few blocks away.  I wanted to tell him, an African American man, how much my girls miss being in a school where 85% of the kids are black and brown.  I also wanted to say that, if we are going to use labels, that Clintonville seems more crunchy than yuppy to me.  In short, I wanted to defend myself as not being who he thought I might be.  Instead I said calmly, “Oh, is that so?”

I think part of my defensive thoughts come out of a realization that being comfortably middle class in America – or anywhere, for that matter – can be spiritually dangerous.  It’s not wrong, sinful, or to be avoided, but it’s a responsibility not to be approached lightly.  While some people may see living in a wealthy predominantly white neighborhood as a marker of success, I approach it with caution.  I need poor people, immigrants, people of color, queer people in my life because I need them to mess with my mind.  Because this is a messy world.

As we settle into life in this place – this beautiful place, where we are glad to be, I might emphasize – I’m coming to terms with these things. 

I’m sharing this because I’m guessing that we all live with these questions to some degree or another, and we’re a faith community that believes questions of how we live are just as if not more important than questions of what we believe.  Or better, how we live is what we really believe.     


The gifts of women

On the last Sunday of October congregations are invited to observe Mennonite Heritage Sunday, each year having a different theme related to the Anabaptist/Mennonite story.  This year’s theme is The Gifts of Women.

Needless to say, the church historically has not done such a good job of treating women and men as equal partners in the mission of God.  Neither has it done such a good job of using language and imagery for God that celebrates both the feminine and the masculine.  The dual effect here is that men have too often seen themselves as god, and women have too seldom seen themselves as god.

We’ve not done this well, and we are all the poorer for it.

I see Columbus Mennonite as a community committed to learning and growing and nurturing the gifts of all who are present, regardless of gender identity.  That’s a beautiful thing and an important witness.

I thought it would be a little strange if I, in my maleness, would deliver the sermon on this theme, so instead I’ll be interviewing three CMC women about their experiences with church – Joyce W, JoAnn K, and Becca L.  We’ll talk about the churches of their youth, how their gifts have or haven’t been welcomed, their evolving relationship with the predominantly male populated Bible and masculine God imagery, what they are observing presently, and their best hopes for what the church can be. I, for one, am looking forward to it.

This Sunday we will celebrate the gifts of women, we will lament the ways those gifts have been ignored and repressed, we will sing to the Divine who is the Source of the feminine and the masculine, and we will hear from women who will give voice to their own journey with God and church.

And whatever ways the conversation needs to continue after Sunday, may it be so.

TEDx Columbus

During Sunday’s sermon I mentioned a TED talk given by Brene Brown called “The power of vulnerability.”  A link to that talk has been included in the sermon blog and can also be linked HERE.  The tagline of TED talks is “Ideas worth spreading,” and this is one talk, and idea, that is spreading well.

Speaking of TED talks, walking our kids to school each day has given us the chance to meet neighbors.  One of our neighbors on Oakland Park Ave, it turns out, is the organizer for TEDx Columbus.  TEDx events are independently organized (not just on the West Coast!) gatherings that highlight dynamic thinkers and doers in a particular locale.  The Columbus TEDx event was last Friday, October 11th, at COSI, featuring around 20 speakers.

We ran into that neighbor last night at the Clinton Elementary open house and I asked her if the videos from the talks are online yet and she mentioned that it should be happening by the end of this week.  She said it was the best event yet she had organized and that the speakers and performers were excellent.

I wish I knew more about the themes so as to be able to comment on a few talks to entice further viewing, but for now I’ll just give the link where the videos will be posted and note that you may want to keep an eye on that space over the next few days.  A list of the speakers can be found HERE and the Columbus TEDx home page is HERE.  Enjoy.

Hey, another possibility for a CMC small group: Viewing and discussing TED talks.


Economic refugees

Phloem and Xylem: Economic refugees

October 9, 2013

Yesterday I attended a breakfast for clergy of the supporting congregations of the YWCA Family Center.  Once a month Columbus Mennonite teams with North Broadway United Methodist Church to serve a dinner.  Our congregation also gives $1000 annually to support the mission of the Family Center. 

It’s an impressive facility, constructed in 2005.  It is home to all sorts of community outreach and includes 50 dorm rooms, each giving a temporarily homeless household private space while the Center helps with job placement and permanent housing.

What most struck me about the morning was the level of urgency expressed by the staff regarding the increase in demand they have seen over the last couple of years.  They are currently housing 136 households, far above the capacity of 50.  This means that cots are being set up in spaces in their facility not originally intended for housing.  Because all of the extra space is now full, the Center is also paying for hotel rooms for some families. 

There are many churches, corporations, and individuals donating money and time to the Family Center.  One message from the staff was a strong Thank You.  Another was challenging congregations to take a next step in their commitment to the Center and these families.

Several staff said something to the effect: “There are reports that the economy is improving, but we’re not seeing it here.”  If the situation at the Family Center is any indication, there are a growing number of people for whom the economic system simply isn’t working.  There are not enough living wage jobs to support households.  Although this wasn’t the focus of yesterday’s meeting, it’s important to not only serve the needs, but also ask why the needs exist in the first place.  Charity joins hands with social justice.

Yesterday also happened to be the evening that CMC serves the dinner.  I was not there, but this morning Nancy Franke of CMC sent me a note reflecting on her experience that included these words:  “I never thought about our country having refugee camps, but this felt like something close to it tonight.”

Economic refugees?  Yes.  Right here among us.

A good prayer before a meal, or anytime:

God, grant bread to those who are hungry; and a hunger for justice to those who have bread.



Eating well

Today I ate lunch at North Star Cafe and saw this sign in the entrance.

“We all eat and it would be a sad waste of opportunity to eat badly.”
— Anna Thomas

That place does am amazing job of making sure everyone there eats very well.  Wow.  I’m going to have dreams about Beechwold Salad.

This Sunday is World Communion Sunday.  Christians around the world will share in this common meal of bread and cup and celebrate the new humanity that Jesus has called into being.

“We all eat.”  Christian or non-Christian.  Those who celebrate the Eucharist every Sunday and those less frequent.  Eating and drinking are part of what makes us human, part of what makes us alive. Everything is eating something else to maintain life – taking the other into one’s body and making it part of the self.  Jesus’ parting gift to his followers was to have them equate the bread and cup of everyday living with his body and blood.  Communion is a ritualized and stylized meal reminding us of the true Source of life, the Other whose continual self-giving makes us the selves we are.  “We all eat,” but we don’t always do so in such a way that takes us deeper into the reality of Christ – that enables us to eat the body of Christ and thus become, as a church, the body of Christ.  It’s pure gift.  It’s there for the taking.  Everyone is invited.

The past number of weeks there has been an announcement  in the bulletin regarding how we will practice an open Communion table this Sunday.  The words of invitation will be “All who hunger and thirst for God are welcome.”  For those who have been baptized, it is a renewal of baptismal identity.  For children and adults who have not been baptized it is an opportunity to be formed by this gift which even precedes our own “Yes” of comprehending or committing.  There will also be opportunity for those who wish to come forward but not have Communion to receive a blessing.  Each household is encouraged to make their own decision as to how their children will participate.

It will be good to eat together.