Monthly Archives: July 2014

Love as hospitality

The church building is full with activity during the evenings this week with Vacation Bible School.  The theme, “Give and receive God’s great love,” is a nice continuation of our worship focus for the last three weeks during this portion of the Twelve Scriptures Project.  As has been alluded to in worship, love can be an incredibly broad, general, even generic, idea.  During VBS love has been talked about specifically as extending hospitality.

The primary symbol of this hospitality is a canvas tent on the platform in the sanctuary.  Each evening the tent is a scene of hospitality from a dramatized Bible story:  Abraham and Sarah’s welcome of the three visitors in Genesis 18; the inn where the Samaritan takes the injured man he finds by the side of the road in Jesus’ parable on neighborliness; Zacchaeus’ house where Jesus invites himself over for a meal.  Hospitality is a simple act of extending a welcome that often leads to a transformation, or an enrichment, of all parties involved.

Hospitality contains the word hospital – which may or may not always be a hospitable place.  At our Central District meeting in Madison last month a hospital chaplain reflected on her work and how the hospital has come to fill a role that church buildings used to in an earlier time.  Hospitals are open 24 hours a day, are the place people go in emergencies, and accept people who comes through their doors no matter what their condition.  She spoke of her vocation as one of hospitality.  A hospital at its best is a living laboratory of hospitality, and those who work there – many of you! – are practitioners of a generous hospitality.  The church could learn a thing or two from this. 

Christian love, human love, in action looks like hospitality.  We who have been radically welcomed by God open our lives as a space of welcome for those who pass our way.


After Skyping, a poem

Thoughts after a phone call and Skype session with my daughters and wife who have been in Kansas for nearly three weeks and are returning tomorrow.  


“I forgot what you looked like,”

laughed the six year old,

coming into view,

smiling with two less teeth than before,

and gazing intently at the screen ,

at me.

I had forgotten too.

Not what she looks like,

but what effect

that gaze has on me.


she reminds me she will soon be seven,

and arrangements must be made:

to celebrate

this occasion,

this passing of time,

this flowering of a life,

as if out of nowhere.

To mark

this radiant and unlikely existence

we share.



A morning in court

One of the privileges of being a pastor is having a window into the many ways people in this congregation serve the community in their professional lives.  I spent my morning with Joe Mas, a CMCer who is a criminal defense attorney downtown working especially with the Spanish speaking population.  Joe was part of a panel at a BREAD Welcome Columbus! event on immigration back in March.  His presentation caught my attention and afterwards we agreed that he would show me around his work someday.  That day was today.

The court system is mostly a foreign world to me, so a good part of the time I was trying to catch up on the basics of how it all worked.  All morning we were in the Franklin County Municipal Court building on South High Street.  The municipal court hears misdemeanor cases and civil cases where the claim does not exceed $15,000.  The court can also hold bond hearings for felony charges.  Joe took me into the two courtrooms on the first floor, both dealing with minor offenses – small fines mostly below $200.

In another room on a higher level of the building we witnessed different bond hearings for felonies.  Among them were six Hispanic men who had been arrested at the airport last night and charged with drug trafficking.  Several of them did not have social security numbers.  Two of them claimed they had no involvement in the trafficking.  They were each given $1.5 million bond and held in jail awaiting indictment and transfer to the Common Pleas Court. 

Joe noted that about 10,000 undocumented persons come through the Franklin County Municipal Court each year.   About 96% of them come to one of those first-floor rooms – most often for traffic violations, which can range from driving while intoxicated to having a light out on their vehicle.  The other 4% have serious felony or crimes of violence charges and will be deported if convicted.  Those in the 96%, when pulled over by Columbus Police and discovered to not have official documentation, are first taken to the police station to be finger printed and then given a date to appear in court.  This is where their situation can take two significantly different paths.  About 2/3rd of that group will be asked to show up in court and pay their fine, with no further penalties.  This is the hoped for path.  But the other 1/3rd – at the arresting officer’s discretion – will be processed through the jail, which is where their situation becomes more perilous.  In being checked into the jail, their names are automatically given to ICE, the federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.  ICE then will place a “holder” or order of detention on them so they will be picked up and interviewed.  ICE can then decide whether or not to pursue deportation.

One of the things Joe does is advocate to the judge that they can pay a fine, but not be sent to jail, thus keeping them out of ICE’s reach.  Joe has been at this 35 years and it is clear that the work is highly relational, the judges and prosecutors and public defenders and defense attorneys and others working in the building know each other well.  The relationships of trust and good rapport are what enable Joe to do his work effectively.

It’s hectic work, and emotionally draining.  Joe feels what he is mainly doing in these cases is enabling his clients to have more time until real immigration reform can happen at the federal level.  We both agreed this was not just a job, but a calling.

A weekend in Madison with CDC

Last weekend I was one of four Columbus Mennonite delegates to the Central District Conference annual gathering, hosted by Madison Mennonite Church in Wisconsin.  Yep, Wisconsin.  And we didn’t have near as far to drive as folks coming from Harrisonburg, Virginia or Pittsburgh, PA.  Atlanta and Sarasota, Florida folks flew.  There is some business that happens at these gatherings, but the main focus is fellowship, worship, and story-telling about what is happening in our congregations.   The two year theme for our Conference is “Transformed Through Text and Table.”   

On Thursday evening Matt Morin of Milwaukee Mennonite preached on Mark 10:17-31, the story of the rich young ruler.  He highlighted Jesus’ first line to this young man: “No one is good but God alone.”  We spend a lot of time and effort in discussion and argument vying for the good of our own side, but Jesus isn’t even willing to call himself good in this case: “Why do you call me good?  No one is good but God alone.”  It can be freeing to be able to let go of our need to be good and right.

Ron Adams of Madison Mennonite preached Friday evening on Luke 19:1-10, the story of Zacchaeus.  Ron spoke of how when Jesus came to town, something remarkable always happened, and in this case what was remarkable was that Jesus invited himself over for supper with a person who had oppressed just about everyone else in town.  Jesus’ gesture changes Zacchaeus, causes him to reorder his economic and relational priorities and, one can hope, changes the whole town.

On Saturday Lisa Pierce and Helen O’Brien of St. Paul Mennonite preached on Mark 7:24-30, the story of the Syrophoenician woman who begged Jesus to heal her daughter.  Lisa and Helen suggested that this was a situation in which Jesus learned and opened himself to a wider understanding of his own mission.  After initially refusing to heal the daughter of this foreign woman and even referring to her with an ethnic slur, calling her a dog, the woman comes back by saying that even the dogs get to eat the scraps that fall from the table.  A very human Jesus models what it might mean to be transformed by a foreigner, and stay open to love.

On Saturday we passed two resolutions, both unanimously.  The first was “A Call to Greater Inter-Racial and Cross-Cultural Engagement” that calls on CDC congregations to “take intentional steps to connect with and develop relationships with a church of a predominantly different cultural and/or racial composition.”  The other was called “A Resolution on Unity in a Time of Disagreement” and calls on the wider church to have relationships of accountability that are “relational rather than punitive.”       

The highlight of the gathering, as always, is the laughter and lightness of spirit that is present with this group.  As I told a CMC person earlier this week: The rest of the church is in upheaval, but when CDC gets together we just have a good time.  No one is good but God alone.  Having a good time must be a Divine gift.