Tilling and Keeping: A Report on Gathering 2014

In July we gathered to explore our call to “till and keep” the very good creation of God. Over 140 participants gathered in Chicago, traveling from California to New York.  There were a record number of first timers at the gathering this year—new friends that we hope will continue to join us. 

Our three plenary speakers guided our conversations at the gathering.  First was Norman Wirzba, who renewed our understanding of the very good creation and called us away from the language of “nature” that obscures our view of a world to which God has already given value.  Second, was Ched Myers who called us to learn our watersheds and place our discipleship within our local ecosystems. Third, we heard from Philip Bess who led us through an exploration of how we might imagine a city such as Chicago or the space of a church campus as a more human scaled and ecological space.  In addition to our plenary speakers we had a number of excellent workshops exploring climate conversations in the church, green burials, poetry, local activism, and craft.

As always worship was at the core of our time together.  We were led skillfully in music by David Butzu and heard powerful preaching from Jesse Shuman Larkins, Sally Youngquist, and Jim McCoy.  Debra Dean Murphy and Sharon Huey created beautiful liturgies that facilitated our common prayer and worship.

There were several new elements at the gathering this year.  Key among them was a film festival.  The festival kicked off Thursday night with a showing of an episode of the Showtime documentary series “Years of Living Dangerously” followed by a Q&A with Anna Jane Joyner, a preacher’s daughter turned climate activist who was featured in the episode.  On Friday, after enjoying a meal featuring a variety of locally grown and organic foods, we watched ten films submitted from a variety of communities from Christian colleges to churches.  Members of each community were on hand to personally share about the practices shown in the films.

Once again our time together served as a renewal of subversive friendships new and old.  We hope that the practices and reflections shared this year will bear fruit in the individual communities of all those who gathered.  To that end the audio from the workshops and plenaries is posted online.  There will also soon be a page featuring selections from the film festival and a pamphlet reflecting on creation care practices in the coming months.

Airbnb, Hospitality, and the Gift Economy

Chi-Ming Chien, EP board member and blogger, examines the tension between the economy we live in and the economy which God calls us to participate in:

“It’s ironic that, as we participate in the sharing economy, more and more of our lives get ceded over to the domain of the transactional. Where previously we might have a couch or spare room for a guest to crash in, now we rent it out. Where previously we might have offered an unused desk space in our office for a friend needing a place to work, now we list it and charge by the hour or by the day. Where previously (in antiquity, it seems…) we might have given someone a lift if we were headed their direction, now we charge for a Lyft. Interestingly enough in Lyft’s case, what started off as a suggested donation has moved toward fixed charges as the service has matured.

The core issue, as I see it, is that despite our best efforts, we continually get bent toward relationships characterized by transaction or exchange– what Jacques Ellul, the French sociologist and theologian, calls the Law of Money.”

Read the rest here:

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Junk-yard Dog

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Genesis 45:1-15
Psalm 133
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Matthew 15:10-28

“Junk-yard dog.” The first time he ever called her that, I bristled. Wish I could tell you it was said in private, out of ear-shot, but it wasn’t. It was his term of affection for her, said often to her face. I’d been coaching kids’ soccer for all of three weeks, eight year olds, and her mom had struggled to consistently get her to practices and games. So my assistant, a dear man and veteran coach, but living in a place where such ignorant terms of endearment (or not) were still somewhat culturally accepted, had offered to give her rides to practices and games.

She was from the “wrong” side of town, he told me. He worried about her, he told me, and wanted different for her. He ached for our team to be a shiny spot in her life, where she didn’t have to think about home. His daughters were the same age; I watched his huge dad-heart at work over this little girl and I knew for certain he cared. But his name for her most of the season long still grated on me each time I heard it – just the same way Jesus’ words in the gospel text this week grate on me. Read more

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Rocking the Boat

Proper 14A/Ordinary 19A/Pentecost +9

Genesis 37:1-4Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45bRomans 10:5-15Matthew 14:22-33

This week’s post is a reflection originally published in 2008.

 

I’ve been following a blog debate over at www.theolog.org [ed. note - this blog is now part of http://www.christiancentury.org/blogs] between a scientist of some sort, hostile to religion generally and Christianity particularly, and a pious defender of the faith. In my view, neither has been very impressive in articulating his case against the other, and the back-and-forth accusations and “gotcha’s” and outright vitriol have only escalated as the debate has gone on (and on and on). I tried briefly to weigh in on it earlier this week, calling for a little charity and humility from both sides, but, like a sister trying to pull her two brothers off each other in a backyard brawl, I was roundly ignored. Lesson learned.

The gospel text from Matthew 14 this week strikes me as the kind of passage over which science guy and defender guy would go at it, arguing past each other all the while—as they have been doing all week. The ghostly Jesus walking on the water is too much for the rationalist to take in; it’s laughable, even—easy pickins. The mocking denial of such an archetype biblical image of Jesus (and the sacrosanct truth it represents) is scandalous to the defender’s deeply-felt piety. You can almost hear defender guy quoting Jesus back at his opponent: “You of little faith, why do you doubt?” (14:31). Disagreement. Accusation. Counter-accusation.

Impasse.

What to say about such a text when there are probably many science guys and defenders guys (and gals) in our congregations? Whose side does the preacher take? Read more

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Questions for a Picnic

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 55:1-5
Romans 8:35-39 OR 9:1-5
Matthew 14:13-21

What does is mean to be fed, to not know when or how our bodily needs will be met, yet to wait in confidence that food will come? How do we grow so confident of being fed – and fed well – that we follow Christ into the desert? What do we learn from having our dependence on the grace and love of another made so obvious, so public?

Why was the story of the feeding of the five thousand (“not counting women and children”) so important to the early church that it appears in all four gospels, with a reprise – for four thousand – in Mark and Matthew? What are we to learn from such unexpected abundance? Why are being taught and being fed central acts of Christian worship? Read more

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The Greatest of All Shrubs

Seventh Sunday After Pentecost
Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

What a time in the life of the American church to read this brief parable of Jesus: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of …shrubs.” A shrub. Not a towering redwood, not a spreading chestnut, nor a big oak, and not even a nice fruit tree. Just a shrub. At least Ezekiel thought the kingdom of God would be a cedar, about as big a tree as existed in the ancient Middle East. But a shrub? What’s going on here, Jesus?” Read more

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Something to Do

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Genesis 28:10-19a
Psalm 139
Romans 8:12-27
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

A couple of weeks ago our family moved about 180 miles south and east to Dayton, OH, In the spring, I had been offered and accepted a job teaching Christian ethics to business students at the University of Dayton. I have been out of full time work for two years.

To get this job was a homecoming: I was now “Lecturer in Christian Ethics” at a good university. What’s more, in coming to this position I am being welcomed by friends—friends associated with the EP, as it happens. Who I am, what I have to offer, has been affirmed by persons who know something of me. Given the specific nature of the position, I was being affirmed not only for what I had done, but for what they believed I could do. Read more

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Wasteful Miracles

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time


Isaiah 55:10-13
Psalm 65
Romans 8:1-11 OR Romans 8:18-23
Matthew 13:1-23

With two millennia of practice, Christians have nearly perfected the art of explaining away Gospel demands. Excuse-making is, after all, a human strong suit, and it’s not easy to stop doing what you’re really good at.

A modern variant of the “that’s nice, but it doesn’t apply to me” excuse stresses how different our lives are from those of first century peasants. Farmers, shepherds, and fishermen are, for many of us, abstractions invisibly at work somewhere beyond our personal experience, black boxes in the grocery store supply chain, while the few among us who farm or fish for a living know better than to throw precious seeds along a rocky path, leave ninety-nine percent of the stock loose and unwatched while searching for a stray, or toss nets over the oarlocks and hope for the best without benefit of engines, fishfinder, or radio.

In contrasting my busy, technologically sophisticated modern life to sentimentalized myths of agrarian simplicity, I construct all the distance I need to miss the point – and missing the point is, after all, the unacknowledged point of much contemporary scripture study. I like to imagine that I would never be so wasteful and inefficient as the benighted peasantry of Jesus’ time. Read more

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(Mis)Remembered Words

This week’s post is a reflection originally published in 2011. -

Zechariah 9:9-10; Matthew 11:25-30

In an October 13, 1813 letter to his former political rival, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson described his work on a short book, The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth. This was Jefferson’s own distillation of gospel texts, in which he meant to include, “the very words only of Jesus,” while eliminating all elements Jefferson deemed irrational.  Jefferson assumed the parts he found superstitious were simply the result of ignorant men who misremembered or misunderstood Jesus’ “pure principles.”

When he was done with his editing, Jefferson wrote, “There will be found remaining the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man. I have performed this operation for my own use, by cutting verse by verse out of the printed book, and arranging the matter which is evidently his, and which is as easily distinguishable as diamonds in a dunghill.”

He later completed The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, a unified narrative of Jesus’ life cut from the New Testament with all mention of miracles, angels, prophecy and resurrection edited out. Jefferson privately shared his compilation with friends, but declined to have it published in his lifetime. Read more

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“Oh, Jesus Christ, Is It You Again?”

 

Third Sunday After Pentecost
Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matthew 10:40-42

When I first began attending mass several years ago, I was struck by the kind of welcome I received. Or, rather, the kind I didn’t. Raised in the over-eager Protestantism that hovers and fawns over every guest at worship (a well-meaning practice; I’ve engaged in it myself), Catholics were noticeably cool, it seemed—a little distant, even.

This wasn’t (and isn’t) calculating or conspiratorial on their part—nor on mine now as a Catholic. Any given group of parishioners at any given mass is not following a script about how to treat newcomers to the liturgy. And I don’t mean to suggest an absence of warmth or kindness; I’ve never experienced that in a Catholic church and I hope I’ve never communicated it. But I do think that the Eucharist—week after week, year after year—trains worshipers to know, even if they don’t or can’t articulate it theologically, that it is not the people or even the priest who does the welcoming; it’s Christ who does so.

All of us—long-timers and first-timers alike—are Christ’s guests, receivers of his gracious welcome. Read more