A Thanksgiving Prayer from Walter Brueggemann


A Thanksgiving Prayer by Walter Brueggemann

At Thanks Giving
Amid football, family and too much food, 
we pause quickly and without inconvenience
to remember and to thank.

We remember ancient pilgrims
who followed dreams of alabaster cities and financial opportunity;
We remember hospitable first nation people
who welcomed them, and then lost their land;
We remember our family times
filled with joy and
filled with anxiety, and
old scars still powerful.

We thank for this U.S. venue of justice and freedom,
and are aware of its flawed reality;
We thank you for our wealth and our safety,
and are aware of how close to poverty we are
and how under threat we live.

We gather our impulse for gratitude today,
grateful to you and our ancestors,
grateful to you for our families, our health, our government,
our many possessions.

We gladly affirm that
"All good gifts are sent from heaven above,"
But we yield to none in a sense of self-sufficiency,
our weariness in needing to share,
our resentfulness of those who take and do not give.

Your generosity evokes our gratitude,
but your generosity overmatches our gratitude.

We are ready to thank, but not overly so;
We remember our achievements, our accomplishments,
our entitlements, and our responsibilities
that slice away our yielding of ourselves to you.

Move through our half measure of thanks
and let us be, all through this day,
more risky in acknowledging
that we have nothing except what you give.

You have given so much
not least your only Son.

Give us the gift of dazzlement and awe
that we may rejoice in our penultimate lives
and keep you ultimate all the day long,
relishing the wonder of your self-giving love.

- Walter Brueggemann, Prayers for a Privileged People

Self-Sufficiency in LaPorte County

From the foundation, State Street has been a community that has engaged poverty, hunger, and loneliness in the city of LaPorte. The Pax Center is an extension of our belief that Christians should be committed to the common good. Christianity is a neighborhood religion. What happens in the localized neighborhood should concern the citizens of a church. But, in order to be concerned, we must first be aware. What are the needs? What are the struggles? How can we best walk with those battling these profound poverties? 

Indiana Institute for Working Families released The Self-Sufficiently Standard for Indiana 2016 in January. It just recently crossed my desk. The self-sufficiency standard measures the basic costs needed for a family of a given composition to bet by where they live. Essentially, it tells you how much it truly costs to live in a community and be self-sufficient (i.e. not needing any governmental or nonprofit assistance.) The equation to determine the self-sufficiency standard includes costs associated with housing, child care, food, transportation, health care, taxes, and other miscellaneous burdens that people incur during the course of the month. As most people know, there’s always SOMETHING else that comes up, and those somethings can often be the determining factor between someone making it or not. 

The most important truth that came from this study is unsurprising to most — the current minimum wage will not support a single adult in any county in the state of Indiana. The minimum wage is not a minimum wage for self-sufficiency. You can get paid minimum wage and still need the support of governmental and nonprofit entities. Anecdotally, we have people that work that also visit the Pax Center. Many get a job paying minimum wage and believe they will finally be able to make it on their own. Disappointment sets in when they find out that they can, in fact, work 40 hours each week and still not be self-sufficient. The following is a chart that shows the highest self-sufficiency wages compared to some of the lowest in the state. 

One of the more interesting findings from this study: 

“The most common Indiana occupation is retail salespersons and accounts for 3% of all Indiana workers. With median hourly earnings of $9.47 per hour (median annual earnings of $19,709), the most common occupation in Indiana provides workers with earnings that are less than 50% of the Standard for this family in Marion County. IN fact, two adults working full time at this wage would still not be able to earn the minimum needed to support a preschooler and a school-age child in Marion County. Both adults would have to work an additional 16 hours for a total of 56 hours per week at a retail salesperson’s average wage just to meet their basic needs.” 

The study paid special attention to single parent incomes. They found that with a single parent, one preschooler, and one school-age child, at the minimum wage the parent would need to work 82 hours each week to meet the cost of their basic needs (and this includes the value of tax credits.) To meet the state standard for self-sufficiency, a single parent of two children would need to make $20 per hour. However, each county can differ on the precise costs and amounts needed to be self sufficient. Here’s the data for LaPorte County: 

Based on this data, for a single person to be self-sufficient in LaPorte County, they would need to make at least $8.90 per hour. For a single parent of two children in LaPorte County, they would need to make $21.45 per hour. 

It is quite a bit of data to digest. I’m not exactly sure how the data will impact what we do at the Pax Center. It will certainly inform our opinions and posture toward those struggling in economically depressed situations. It is hard to make it, especially without a supporting network and someone to give you a chance. It is not always as simple as "_______ needs to get a job!" You can have a job and still not be self-sufficient. We need better jobs. We need higher paying jobs. 

According to Indiana Institute for Working Families, the road to economic security is threefold: 

  1. Secure basic needs [make enough to be above the self-sufficiency standard]
  2. Create an emergency savings fund [have enough for job loss, emergencies, economic crises, etc.]
  3. Choose an economic security pathway [better postsecondary education, improved housing homeownership, and savings for retirement.]

A new chapter, a new look

At the beginning of 2016, I told our congregation that it feels as if we are turning the pages to a new chapter of our community. In the last 18 months, we’ve opened the Pax Center, finished a significant building addition, and added another full-time pastor. I half-jokingly refer to State Street as an experiment. The way we handle money, the path to staffing, and the questions we ask take us down a path of uncommon ground. To do what we do, we must do things in a different way. This new chapter will be an exciting challenge. The experiment continues. 

To go along with this next chapter theme, we decided to incorporate new branding. We have a new logo and website (designed by Apollos.) The logo is simple, yet tells a part of our story. It is not merely an image, it is an identifier and reminder. It says something about us. 

The logo that we went with leveraged two of our main priorities: Jesus and love/charity. In the scriptures, wheat is a sign of charity and love. We believe that the greatest gift the Church can demonstrate to the world is an unrequited and committed love. It is a love filled with mercy, not judgment. It is a love that embodies the common good for each neighborhood. At the heart of all of our ministries and projects is this objective: love God, love others, and love well. At the heart of our new logo is the cross surrounding by wheat grains. It serves as a reminder that Christ invites us to love people well, because we are people who are loved well. We believe that everything we do, including our branding, should tell that story. 

Along with this new logo, we have a new website. Check it out. 

The Lion and the Lamb (and the Donkey and the Elephant)

“Vote your conscience.” With three words, Ted Cruz ignited the fuel of incensed GOPers at this year’s Republican convention. The auditorium filled with boos and disapproval. The next day the news stories were aflutter with Cruz' lack of support, and for some, lack of respect. Perhaps the time and place wasn’t right for Cruz, a former Presidential candidate himself embroiled in a longstanding feud with Donald Trump, to make that statement. Party conventions are the time and place for partisan politics and overly simplistic axioms about the rightness of each party. In a world of binary political distinctions and contentious political bickering that drowns out any nuanced civic discussion, voting ones conscience has seemingly become a secondary commitment. 

My grandfather was a passionate Democrat who believed in the rights of workers and the ability of politics to effect change for the common good. His son, my father, has voted for more Republicans than Democrats. He believes in a limited government that does not overtax its citizens and balances budgets. My grandfather was an active member of his church. He woke up each morning at 4am to spent an hour in prayer each day for his family, his church, and this world. My father is an active member of State Street. He volunteers dozens of hours each month to help further the mission and vision of our church community. He's been a great partner in ministry for me. One leaned Democrat, the other leans Republican. They both love(d) America, Jesus, and the church. Their faith informed their politics, even when they came to a differing opinion on what party to support. 

I have never joined a political party in America. Perhaps it's a symptom of a larger commitment problem (I've spent hours having an internal debate when a questionnaire asked about my favorite food.) I have voted for members of both parties. In some elections, the best choice I could decipher was total abstention (I believe that not voting is a legitimate option... but, that's for another blog.) Our multigenerational church community is filled with different people with diverse political commitments. As a pastor, I wouldn’t want it any other way. But, embracing diversity in anything comes at a cost. There is always the risk that people can love their political party or convictions more than their community. Too often in American, politics informs our theology. If our calling is to truly love our neighbor, that certainly should extend to those on the opposite side of the political spectrum. 

As we get closer to the election season hitting fever pitch, we thought it would be wise to center ourselves on some conversations that will likely impact each of us as we enter (or abstain from) the polls this year. We’re calling this series, “The Lion and the Lamb and the Donkey and the Elephant.” I hope you can join us. 

Week 1: A Call to Civility to Liberals and Conservatives (and every in between)
[Nate Loucks preaching]

Week 2: Justice: The Christian Way
[Becky Crain preaching]

Week 3: The World is Our Parish, Seeking the Common Good
[Nate Loucks preaching]

Week 4: Romans 13. WHAT!?
[Nate Loucks preaching]

I believe in a church that is quick to listen and slow to speak. That seeks to listen well to those we may disagree with on major issues. I believe in a church that cultivates a culture where each person is valued as uniquely created in the imago dei. I believe in a church that can disagree respectfully without false characterization of the other. Humility, meekness, and gentleness are virtues that Christ invites us to imitate. I believe in a church that is meek and humble and not proud and boastful. I believe in a church that can work for the betterment of the city and community it lives. I believe in a church that loves its enemies and prays for those who do us wrong. I believe in the church. Let’s talk about how we can better model the fruit of the spirit in this election cycle. Allow the church to be the entity that embraces the other in the midst of the chaos all around. I believe in a church that truly trusts that mercy triumphs over judgment. 

I hope you can join us this Sunday.

Church Planting Confessions | I’m not always sure the decisions we’ve made were the right ones.

Confession: I’m not always sure the decisions we’ve made were the right ones.

My life is lived within the boundaries of the binary. There’s vast amounts of nuance and deliberation within myself about the things I do and the person I want to become. Perhaps too much nuance, depending on who you ask. But, that’s actually not the confession I really want to delve into. That’s for another day.

When we planted State Street, I felt the burden of making these seemingly monumental decisions that would have fairly significant implications on the community we would become. Where should we plant the church? How will people engage more deeply in their faith? How will we be a tangible presence for Christ in the neighborhood we inhabit? I couldn’t sleep going over the possibilities and potential of such a community. It was fun to dream and think and imagine what such a community could look like, until it came time to make actual decisions. There were days (still are!) that I fake a sense of buoyant confidence to either (1) convince myself or (2) others that we totally know what we’re doing. We often don’t.

Around that same time we were planting the church, I had a conversation with my grandfather about the stress of making decisions that could affect dozens of people who were willing to go on this adventure of faith with me. My grandfather was always so strong and decisive. If you were to wander into uncharted territory, he’d figure out a way to get you out or through like a brave general. Challenges in life didn’t scare him. He started successful businesses and made good investments. He was everything that I’m not in many ways. We are different people. When I asked him how he always seemed so certain about where to go and what to do, he laughed. He confided that he was often uncertain. He didn’t know if things would work out and he didn’t ever know if he’d fail or succeed. His suggestion to me, and one that still echoes in my consciousness was simple: just try something, if it doesn’t work, try something else. And, don’t be afraid to fail. In one profound conversation, the man I had propelled as a fearless general confessed to his failures and fears. In some way, I think I deleted in hearing his failures more than I wanted to celebrate his successes. He was vulnerable and failed like myself. Fantastic!

The other Sunday I confessed to our community that State Street doesn’t look like I imagined it would. I have always believed that it would be better to form a church community into a certain type of people and abandon any notion of becoming a specific branded entity. There’s no mold or form that I believe we must fit in as a community. When someone tries to put a label on us out of genuine curiosity, it never really feels right. We believe in being a force for good in our community and social and civic engagement, but are we missional? Eh. We believe that becoming like Jesus in the way we act, think, and talk is foundational to the Christian life, but are we purpose-driven? Eh. We value the historical confessions of the church and believe that there is value in many liturgical expressions, but are we neo-liturgical? Eh. It’s difficult to brand what State Street has become. Or, perhaps it’s just my gray self rejecting the binary black-and-white distinctions. Who knows. It seems to have become a reflection of hundreds of different people from different backgrounds and different generations who have different stories but similar dreams. 

I’m often not sure if the decisions we make as a community are the right ones. We’ve made decisions that, upon further reflection and scrutiny, ultimately weren’t the right ones. We fail. I fail. I try to fail in confidence, but there are times when anxiety and depression can seep in from the weight of potential decisions that could go wrong (one of my confessions in this series is that I’ve thought about quitting multiple times.) I’m a mess. I'm not a perfect leader and I'm only a good Christian on some days. But, I’ve learned a few things (mostly from other wiser, merciful, and more knowledgeable people that help lead State Street) that has helped me navigate the potential failures and successes. Here’s what I’ve learned (and what I will tell myself if my 6-year old nephew Teddy ever finishes his time machine):

1. Have a good team and crave collaboration.

2. Do something for the good of others. 

3. Be willing to be wrong.

4. Be patient and gracious with yourself and others.

5. Listen, learn and go with the flow.

6. Lead like Jesus, forgive like Jesus.

Some of the truly great things that I’m most excited about in our community were birthed not from a long-term strategic vision, but from a willingness to try and listen and grow (the Pax Center and the Preschool come to mind.) That has been our story. It has taken much faith and energy and quite a bit of persistence. I’m not always sure the decisions we’ve made were the right ones. It doesn't appear that the map for this journey has been drawn yet. We are the cartographers of this mission. But, I’m grateful that where we go, we go together. 

Church Planting Confessions | Blog #1

On Easter, State Street celebrated our six year anniversary of the official launch. We gathered with nearly 500 people to give witness to the resurrection of Christ and to celebrate that, in the resurrection, mercy triumphs over judgment. It was a great day for our community.

I thought it’d be cathartic and even fun to go through a few confessions about my experiences with the pastoral life and planting State Street over the last six years. Maybe another pastor will wander upon these writings and get some hope from our journey. Or, perhaps, others will use this as permission to feel comfortable with their vulnerabilities. 

There are a few things about my experience as a church planter that are unique, or so I'd like to believe. On the top of that list is that I’ve never really felt “called” [whatever that feeling may be quantified] to be a church planter. I hesitate to even refer to myself as a church planter. Many of my friends and colleagues have felt deep desires to start their own community. They've read countless books and attended workshops and conferences on the how-to’s and the what-not-to-do’s of church planting. They’ve worked with church planting organizations that have guided and equipped them. That wasn’t my experience. I still haven’t read a church planting book nor did I ever get that deep guttural desire to plant a church. When I contacted a church planting organization asking for help and coaching, they told me that we were too close to our launch and we should consider waiting 12-18 months to open State Street. That was deflating. Understandable, but still disheartening. 

In many ways, State Street just happened. It wasn't a part of a longterm strategic plan or unrequited desire by anyone within our existing church community. The church I co-pastored at prior to State Street grew quickly and, after a few building additions, didn’t want to build an even larger building that would likely cost a million or more dollars. (In my 12 years of pastoring, I've went through four building projects... Lord, have mercy.) The solution that made the most sense was to plant a church with a group that I had been pastoring already. From the time that decision was made, here’s how our timeline worked out:

June 2009: Has initial conversations and made the decision to plant a church.

September 2009: Acquired our current location from the Salvation Army through land contract. 

January 2010: Started meeting with a smaller group in the new location while we renovated. Ugly floors, awful chairs, it was bliss.

Easter 2010: First open services to the public.

Needless to say, we were underprepared. Perhaps that church planting organization was correct. But, we've always maintained a willingness to learn and grow as a community. State Streeters are also tremendously resilient people. It's in our DNA that we don't shy away from difficult challenges and complex life issues. 

I’m still not a church planting expert. No one is seeking me out for tips on how to grow a church for good reason. I’m not sure if the way we've done it is how anyone else should do it. You'll learn throughout the next few blogs that we are a flawed community filled with hopeful people. Yet, it’s our story and I’m grateful for it. It's a better story than I imagined and it's taken far more work, patience, and faith than I had thought possible.

Tomorrow, I’m going to post the first confession of a six-part series titled, “I’m not always sure the decisions we’ve made were the right ones (or) what in the world have we just done?!?” 


Jackson Street Community Garden

A few years ago, John and Jane Slater and I were discussing the possibility of starting a community garden for neighborhood kids around State Street. The Slaters had some experience in doing this in Rolling Prairie with great success. It’s always been our goal to do anything we can to help better our surrounding community, so the partnership made sense. In the last few years since starting the garden, dozens of children have learned how to grow their own crops. They’ve made friends, expanded their food palate, and experienced the benefits of working together for the common good. Many people have given much time and energy to this program over the years and their work has made a difference. 

Like everything else we do, there’s the thing as it begins and then the thing as it evolves. The community garden, and our involvement in urban gardening, is evolving. The Pax Center and State Street Community Church is partnering with other organizations in LaPorte to help manage the vision of the Jackson Street Community Garden. I couldn’t be more excited. Why? Basil Hallberg describes perfectly the potential impact of a community garden on a place like LaPorte, “Community gardens supplement food security efforts by increasing the availability of nutritious foods to low-income urban residents. Community gardens can supply vegetables and fruits to needy participants and their families, but gardens alone will not eradicate food insecurity. Community gardening offers other benefits to society beyond providing a nutritious supply of fruits and vegetables. These include environmental benefits such as reuse of remediated Brownfield sites and reductions in crime, vandalism, and health care costs as well as increased social cohesion.1” Community gardens contain the potential to change neighborhoods. Not only do they provide nutritious food to supplement ones weekly diet, they also provide an important third space where others can be known and get to know others. It has the potential to combat hunger, loneliness, and community apathy.

We will still have our Sprouts summer program (preschool through second grade) at State Street. But, starting this year, our summer gardening program for children will be at the Jackson Street Community Garden. We are also going to provide adult mentorship for those wanting to learn how to garden. Very soon, families and individuals will be able to reserve a plot in one of the garden boxes. Though the Pax Center will help control some of the vision of this space, it is our hope that the community will help own this space and use it to the betterment of our neighborhoods in LaPorte. In the next couple of weeks, the drainage problem at the Jackson Street Community Garden will be getting fixed. After this issue is fixed, we will be installing the perimeter fence, building the garden boxes, and fixing up the site. Once this is done, we will open up registration for garden plots to the community. 

So, here’s a few questions you may have:

What other organizations are partnering in this endeavor?
The primary partners of the Jackson Street Community Garden are the City of LaPorte, the Main Street Association, the LaPorte High School FFA and Agriculture classes, and State Street Community Church/The Pax Center. Many, many other individuals and organizations have helped get this project off the ground. 

How can we sign up for a garden box plot?
We will have details on how to sign up in the near future. Please pay attention to our Facebook page.

How can I help? There are a few ways you can help:

  1. We need financial and corporate partners. If you would like to donate personally, you can donate securely online here. Your donation is tax-deductible. If your business would like to talk about what a partnership with the Jackson Street Community Garden may look like, you can email me. I’d love to meet with you.

  2. You can share this news with your friends and neighbors. 

  3. There will be some work days in the future where we will be building boxes, spreading mulch and dirt, and other things. Join us. We will list these days/times on our Facebook page.

Here's a video I took at the site yesterday: 

Spring is almost here! A message about the Jackson Street Community Garden from Nate Loucks.

Posted by The Pax Center on Tuesday, March 8, 2016

To the Well-Intentioned Lady Who Called Me a False Teacher

To the Well-Intentioned Lady Who Called Me a False Teacher - 

Hi. I think we got off on the wrong foot on Sunday. I'm not even sure if we got to exchange names to each other when we met. You were upset when you approached me after church. I was tired from preaching two sermons about being vulnerable and transparent with our emotional health. I knew you were upset, not because you explicitly expressed that to me [which you did], but because you were physically shaking when talking to me. It was an equal mix of anger and frustration and concern. I'll again apologize like I did then. While I never try to shy away from discomfort from within our community, your disposition moved far beyond discomfort into anger. My hope is that I didn't cause it. My fear is that I did.

After all, you had just sat through a sermon [I'm still not completely sure you 'heard' it] that didn't use the King James Bible and saw women in the sanctuary not wearing long skirts. You were puzzled why people were using their phones/tablets [or nothing at all] when I was making biblical references. You were embarrassed for us that we allow [and encourage] men to work in our children's ministry space and thought it shameful that we would allow our children workers to use video clips for teaching strategies. You weren't sure how you were going to explain the chaos around you to your five year old son, who had taken to asking women about their lack of skirt-wearing. It was a tough day for you. Again, I'm sorry. 

Though you said that my sermon "made absolutely no sense" [my thought: if you thought THAT sermon didn't make sense, stick around for a while and you'll really hear a doozy] 

AND thought it was a ridiculous assertion that true Christians could suffer from anxiety or depression

AND believed that the King James Bible is the inspired English version and had never heard of the deceptive and dubious New Revised Standard Bible

AND threatened to have your pastor in Michigan call me to straighten me out

I THINK it's important to say: I ain't mad at ya [as unwise as it may be to quote TuPac currently, I can't help myself.] Seriously, though. When you left, I wasn't mad at you. Instead of anger, I felt empathetic. It has to be tough to live within your theological constraints. It has to be even more difficult to encounter a place that State Street that is an affront on those constraints. 

Unsurprisingly to you, it's not the first time I have been called a false teacher. One gentle soul once called me a heretic and didn't think it too funny when it was suggested there should probably be a formal council to decide such a fate. After all, if we're going to formally make someone an iconoclast, we might as well make a party of it! Why let the Carthaginians have all the fun?

I'd like to explain myself as I didn't have the time or clarity to navigate a coherent self-defense on Sunday. My wife can attest that I lose sleep when I believe people don't like me. I tend to internalize these types of problems and feel they reflect my interpersonal failures. It's a problem I'm working on. I think if you give me the chance I can help you understand some of my persuasions.

The goal of my life is to imitate the way of Jesus within the locations I inhabit and the people I encounter. It motivates all that I do. State Street and the Pax Center are birthed out of these beliefs that the best life is found in the imitation of Christ. So much of the Christian faith makes little sense to me, but following the way of Jesus makes sense to me. 

You told me that your goal is to do what the Bible says to do. You quoted a few verses from Deuteronomy when pressed about your conviction for not watching television (side note: a completely honorable conviction, but no need to bathe it in a false hermeneutic.) You said that you follow every dot and tittle within the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. But, as I told you then, I find that hard to believe. Do you advocate the stoning of people that break the Sabbath? What about children you repeatedly rebel against their parents? What about apostates? All should be stoned within the context of a plain reading of the Old Testament. 

I also noticed, conspicuously, that you were not wearing a head covering. Yet in 1st Corinthians, the Apostle Paul exhorts the early church women to wear head coverings. The importance of head coverings was echoed by many of the early Church Fathers. Is there a reason why that particular part of the biblical narrative is disregarded? Of course there is! We all adopt the Biblical witness and adapt it to our culture. At some point in time, your tradition decided it was no longer important for women to wear head-coverings [I make no judgment, I don't advocate for the essential wearing of head-coverings either...] The Baptist tradition you adhere is one that has adapted their theology from other older Christian movements. John the Baptist wasn't a Independent Fundamental Baptist. Nor was Tertullian. Nor was Augustine. Your denominational and tradition ancestors read their Bibles, made sense of what they could, and adapted it to the culture that surrounded them. It came at odds with other traditions and put a wedge between them and other Christians. But, they were doing what they thought was best to live an honest faith. 

Most Christians I know are trying to live an honest faith in a changing world. Sure, we disagree on many things, but I think my denominational brethren and sistren are wanting many of the same things that I do: a coherent theology that makes sense of God and the world around them. We Christians need to do a better job at living within theological tension. I'm grateful for the love shown to me by my Lutheran friends, though they may disagree with my Anabaptist leanings. I've learned so much from astute Catholic theologians, though I'm thoroughly (and at times obnoxiously) Protestant. My Methodist friends remind me of what attracted me to Wesleyan theology and justice in my early Christian years. Even locally, I've had enriching conversations with Reverend Sally Wicks the Presbyterian, Pastor Mike Sutton the Evangelical, Father Thomas Kincaid the Episcopal, and Pastor Dennis Meyer the Lutheran. They come from different theological backgrounds but want the same thing: to follow Jesus. We may disagree on creationism/evolution, LGBTQ issues, covenantal theology, and nonviolence [and many other things.] But, they are my brothers and sisters in the faith and I'm incredibly grateful for them. As am I grateful for you. My friend Dr. Jim Stump once taught about the intersection of faith and evolution at State Street and reminded us that it's not that we all have to believe all of the same things on these secondary issues [and we have the historic Creeds to remind us of the primary issues], it's that we should demonstrate a willingness to allow others around our theological table to hold these divergent views. I agree completely with him. 

This is my point: as much as you had a hard time with State Street on Sunday and I'm guessing you will never return, I want to remind you that you do have a place with us. Everyone does. It's not a place of easy answers or an easier faith. Being peculiarly Christian is difficult. We wrestle with complex theological quandaries and learn to live out our faith with an amazing amount of grace and love. It's not a perfect place. But, it's a place for people like you who have all the answers and for people like me who struggle to find all the right questions. I do hope to see you again. I promise next time I'll remember your name! 

Grace and peace to you!
Nate the False Teacher

On the 18th Anniversary of My Mother's Death

 My mother with my sister, Heather. 

My mother with my sister, Heather. 

On January 15th everything was seemingly normal. By evening on January 16th, everything changed. It’s been 18 years since the tragic evening when my mother died. She was 36 years old. It’s been so long since I have shed a tear about my mother passing. The shock of the situation is over. After all, I have lived more of my life without her than I did with her. Yet, there’s still a profound heaviness each year on this day. It’s a day when I’m willing to let my memories collide with the potential of a life with her in it. I don’t often entertain the question of “what if…” as I find little value in looking at the world in impossible outcomes. She’s dead and she’s gone, of that there’s no doubt. For years I thought it was a bad dream of grief and anger and guilt. I prayed for resurrection. I prayed for another conversation. I prayed for relief and release.

The finality of her death set in a number of years ago and I opened my eyes to reality. It’s been my experience that tragedy has a way of leaving an indelible mark on those who suffer with the tragedy. Not all deaths are tragic, but my mother’s was. The worst part is that when death happens, the impact of the relationship doesn’t die with it. That’s the most difficult aspect of death. You just find a way to be comfortable living with suspension of the relationship in light of the brutal finality that is separation in death. Christ has brought me rest from the burden. 

But, today I allow myself the freedom to wonder, “what if…” 

What if my mother didn’t know how much I loved her because of my frustrations with her addiction? 
What if my mother would have been successful in getting treatment for her depression and addictions? 
What if my uncle Danny wouldn’t have died months earlier and her sadness wouldn’t have accelerated her addiction? 
What if my mother could see my siblings and me now? 
What if my mother was around and she could help my aunt and my cousins take care of my grandfather? 
What if my mother could see my children? Would she see herself in my daughter as much as I do?

Some questions lead me to laughter thinking about what life would be like. Other questions lead to a bit of sadness. But, I wonder. 

What I don’t wonder anymore is whether or not my mother loved me. Though I can’t speak for all people who love those facing addictions, my temptation was to believe that my mother loved her addiction to alcohol more than she loved me. My rather elementary [and ignorant] understanding of addiction was that if I would simply explain to my mother that I didn’t want her to drink anymore, she would abstain out of her love for me. Since she didn’t do it, she didn’t love me, or my rather distorted thinking told me. But addiction doesn’t operate in the expanse of logic and rationality and deductive reasoning. This is why addiction can be so troubling: it leads you to do things that you don’t want to do, but have little control over. It’s compulsive and abrasive. It’s not rational. It’s love misplaced. 

My mother loved me, in spite of her hurts and hangups. She loved me. She didn’t always know how to deal with everything raging within her. She was pregnant at 15 years old. She was divorced and had four children. She didn’t marry men who valued her uniqueness or her partnership. She wasn’t unlike many people I know who are a bit lost in the high tide of the seas of life, but unlike many I know: she had four children. My mourning for my mother always accompanies compassion. Her life wasn’t easy. I don’t know what I would have done if I was her. But, I know my mother loved me. And, as I reflect on her death, I tried to remember what she gave me in life. 

I miss you, mom. You are loved more passionately than you ever knew or understood. 

Let's Talk about Church Finances

I have a friend that is skeptical of the way many churches handle finances. He's not a Christian, or at least doesn't self-identify as one. One of the primary reasons he's skeptical of the Church is that his experience tells him that the Church cares more about money than about people. His story isn't terribly uncommon. The church hasn't always done well at talking about finances, handling finances, and caring about people over finances. Knowing this has affected the way we handle the topic of money and finances at State Street. 

There are a few things in regards to money and the Church that I hold in tension:

  1. Possessions and money are an important topic in Christ's teaching. There's been a tendency, at least since Christ's time but likely throughout all time, to idolize money, power, and possessions. Christ spoke about this temptation. The Church needs to combat this temptation. 
  2. Money is required to do the work of the Church: helping the hungry, creating communities of inclusion, staffing various ministries/initiatives, and, for practical purposes, paying the electric bill among other things. 
  3. The Church hasn't often spent money wisely. This shouldn't surprise anyone. The Church is made up of people. People aren't always wise in the way we handle our finances and possessions. The Church's lack of wisdom is an extension of humanity's lack of wisdom. 
  4. I think many of the proof-texts used to support the tithe in the Church are uninformed at best and manipulative at worst. This seems especially rampant among the Evangelical church.
  5. Generosity is an essential path in becoming more like Christ. Christ demonstrated an immense amount of generosity in His ministry and on the cross. I believe He invites us to embrace generosity in the same manner. 

These things held in tension manifest themselves in different ways in our particular community at State Street. We choose not to pass any plates for offering. We do, however, believe that giving is an essential part of our worship. By demonstrating generosity, we allow ourselves to also claim allegiance to something greater than ourselves. 

We have also decided to forgo some of the normative budget trends within the Church in order to make a new way forward that best fits our vision. While it may be normal to spend 50-70% on staffing, we don't think it will help us achieve our mission. The same can be said with building expenditures. Some research would say that we can spend 25-30% on a church facility. By doing this, we would limit some of the good work that we try to do in LaPorte. We don't believe this is the best or only way to lead a Church, but it has allowed our specific community to meet the needs of our specific ministry vision. 

Each year, our leadership team comes together and looks over the past year's expenses and income. We compare our past expenses with the projected budget. Our finance team is tremendous at calculating those figures in advance and presenting them to the leadership team. Our projected budget typically comes very close to our actual income over the year. This year we were within 1-2% of our estimated budget. 

We have certain metrics that we aim to meet. If we don't prioritize the money being spent on community ministries (like the Pax Center, missions, etc.), it's been our experience that those types of initiatives will be the first to suffer if budget cuts are ever needed. But, community ministries are essential to the make-up of our community. There is no Pax Center without State Street but there also isn’t a State Street without the Pax CenterFeeding the hungry, helping the hurting, and loving the lonely is foundational for us. So, we prioritize it in our budget. 

However, just like everything else that is worth doing, we had to sacrifice some things for a life of better things. We have a smaller staff and are extremely dependent on volunteers because of it. We don't spend as much money on facilities. Our staff is continually cognizant about spending only what we need or what will make their ministry better. They say 'no' to some things, to say 'yes' to our community ministries. But, because of our belief in the radical nature of the Kingdom of God lived out, we know it's worth it. 

We have an average attendance of roughly 300 people. About 1/3 of that number are children, many others are in economically depressed situations, others are young families without a ton of dispensable income and others are more financially stable.  In all, many of these give generously of what they have been given. We budget conservatively so that we can continue to do ministry in the way Christ has called us. But, He has been faithful in our five years of ministry to provide for our needs and much, much more. 

I want to be transparent when dealing with our finances. It's good to talk about it and not hide it. Certainly we need to be honest about the Church's past transgressions, but the way to fix them is not to ignore them or not talk about it further. I want to be transparent because I don't want the way State Street handles finances to be a hurdle for anyone to know Christ. It's worth talking about. 

Here is State Street's yearly budget put in pie chart format. If ever there is a question about how we maintain our budget or the values we maintain, do not hesitate in contacting myself or email the finance team at finance[at]statestreet.tv: 

The Pax Center | Downtown LaPorte

Revive my imagination. That’s been a central prayer in my life over the last few years. It wasn’t until I had children that I realized that I had lost a bit of the imaginative spirit somewhere along the path to adulthood. My children never lack in creating worlds in their mind where anything can exist. Seeing their imagination work and lead to questions about possibilities within our present reality is one of the great joys of parenting. But, somewhere along the path to adulthood, my ability to imagine new worlds and possibilities started to slowly corrode. It seems to be a common path for many of us. In its place was a staunch and subtle form of cynicism that cleverly masqueraded as stoic realism. After seeing the violence and hurt within this world caused by the bitter poverties of loneliness, hunger, and cultural maladies, we can fashion a belief that the way of brokenness is an essential, if not determined, way of life for much of humanity.

There exists today a war of theological imagination. Central to this theological war are these crucial questions: is Jesus Christ also Lord of creation? If so, what particular way of living should manifest from such a confession? What if what we previously believed to be a determined fact of the way of life isn't necessarily so within the Kingdom of God?

Jesus was not a stranger to employing a healthy dose of theological imagination in His teachings. He was a master at it. We call these parables. They invite the reader/listener to imagine possibilities or scenarios outside of the normative path. Jesus was also quite proficient at asking the world around Him to imagine a certain way of being that confronts and engages the injustices surrounding them. Instead of perpetuating the systems of violence and brokenness, this would be a way of restoration, resurrection, and peace. In the midst of a volatile culture that featured many social, societal, and religious divisions, Jesus invited His followers to believe that the way of such broken systems is not the way of God. He also challenged them to believe that they are not an indeterminate form of being that must follow the status quo of power and influence.

Change can happen. Prior to giving perhaps the most profound sermon known to man [recorded in the Gospel of Matthew], Jesus gave an explanation and illustration of the way of the Kingdom of God called the Beatitudes. In them, Jesus has a particularly relevant benediction, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. ” In Christ’s economy, happy are those who make peace within their lives with God, their families, and their neighbors. Often we mistakenly read this as an instruction for peace-keeping. As important as peace-keeping may be, Christ has invited us into something even deeper: peace-making. Peace is a form of reconciliation. It starts with acknowledging that there are systems and people and events within this world that are broken and their brokenness affects themselves and those around them. This brokenness permeates the world in which we live. We see it in our families, communities, and even ourselves. Peacemaking challenges brokenness. More than that, peace-making is allowing Christ to have space to do His justice work of bringing that which is broken and chaotic and unjust back to rights. We believe this world could use a few more peacemakers at work.

When we planted the State Street community, we sought to be purposeful in our engagement with LaPorte. In that time, we have witnessed the many forms of division that is happening within our neighborhoods. Many of these patterns of brokenness we see already starting in childhood, patterns of poverty, loneliness, and despair. There is no absence of forces and collectives that seek to divide those within our communities. But, what if we sought to be a particular community that countered those voices of division with that of unity and reconciliation? That earnestly believed Christ can break down the walls of division between us [whoever we may be] and them [whoever they may be.] That said, “enough is enough! We seek unity over division."

This work is nothing new for Christ. It’s been the vocation that He has asked His Church to do since the beginning. The Apostle Paul acknowledges this work in Ephesians, "Christ is our peace. He made both Jews and Gentiles into one group. With his body, he broke down the barrier of hatred that divided us.” It’s certainly not easy work, but with Christ, we are tasked to imagine a world where it is possible. How many of the world’s greatest innovations and ideas were birthed by first allowing oneself to imagine a world where such a product, event, or idea would be possible? Peace within our community is possible. Engaging injustice within this world is possible. Christ has made a way. Can you imagine it?

I’d like to introduce you to a place in our community that is committed to the good news that makes all things well: the Pax Center. Pax is Latin for peace.

The Pax Center is a place that will ungrudgingly engage the divisions within our community caused by poverty, hunger, and loneliness.

The Pax Center is a place that will be willing to celebrate creativity and innovation within LaPorte.

The Pax Center is a place that will partner with other organization in LaPorte that is seeking the restoration of our community.

The Pax Center is a place with open doors, humble hearts, and joyful spirits.

May Christ continue to light the fires of restoration and reconciliation within His people that bring peace within this world. You can now like the Pax Center on Facebook or visit our website [which is currently under construction.] If you would like more information about the Pax Center and how to be involved, I encourage you to contact the Pax Center Director Jason Clemons on Facebook or through email. Finally, to echo the words of Paul in Colossians, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.” Happy Thanksgiving and Pax vobiscum [Peace be with you!], everyone!

LOCATION: 605 Washington Street [the former Friend's Night Club]
: /paxcenterlp
FACEBOOK: /thepaxcenter
WEBSITE: thepaxcenter.com [still in progress]

Reclaiming the Art of Neighboring

I have a very special place in my heart for Bethel College. It was at Bethel that was introduced to a form of Wesleyan-Anabaptism that gave my faith a sense of vitality and substance that has propelled it into adulthood. It was there that the words of Stanley Hauerwas, John Howard Yoder, and John Wesley first introduced themselves into my theological paradigm. I'm really grateful for that season of life. So much of who I am today is a profound reflection of that growing season. 

When Shawn Holtgren emailed me and asked if I'd be willing to speak in chapel, I was thrilled. To be able to give back in some small way to the institution and people that have given so much to me was an honor and challenge that I was excited about. As my wife could attest, it was also probably the most nervous I had been in many years of speaking. But, for those that wanted to watch the message, here's the video. I entitled it, "Reclaiming the Art of Neighboring." It's a bit about what we've learned in community at State Street. 


IDEA: Challenge for the church today: Reclaim the art of neighboring. 

"The Church doesn’t need more revolutionaries, we need more people being faithful to the already revolutionary message of neighboring in Christ.”

6 With what should I approach the Lord
        and bow down before God on high?
Should I come before him with entirely burned offerings,
        with year-old calves?
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
        with many torrents of oil?
Should I give my oldest child for my crime;
        the fruit of my body for the sin of my spirit?
8 He has told you, human one, what is good and
        what the Lord requires from you:
            to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God. 

58 Shout loudly; don’t hold back;
    raise your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their crime,
    to the house of Jacob their sins.
2 They seek me day after day,
    desiring knowledge of my ways
    like a nation that acted righteously,
    that didn’t abandon their God.
They ask me for righteous judgments,
    wanting to be close to God.
3 “Why do we fast and you don’t see;
    why afflict ourselves and you don’t notice?”
Yet on your fast day you do whatever you want,
and oppress all your workers.
4 You quarrel and brawl, and then you fast;
you hit each other violently with your fists.
You shouldn’t fast as you are doing today
if you want to make your voice heard on high.
5 Is this the kind of fast I choose,
    a day of self-affliction,
    of bending one’s head like a reed
    and of lying down in mourning clothing and ashes?
    Is this what you call a fast,
        a day acceptable to the Lord?
6 Isn’t this the fast I choose:
    releasing wicked restraints, untying the ropes of a yoke,
    setting free the mistreated,
    and breaking every yoke?
7 Isn’t it sharing your bread with the hungry
    and bringing the homeless poor into your house,
    covering the naked when you see them,
    and not hiding from your own family? 

JOHN WESLEY ON NEIGHBORING, “One of the principle rules of religion is to lose no occasion of serving God. And since he is invisible to our eyes, we are to serve him in our neighbor; which he receives as if done to himself in person, standing visibly before us.”

1. Be honest. 
2. Be kind. 
3. Do something. 

BILL LOUCKS, “Do something. Even if it’s wrong. Do something.” 

As a bonus, here's the picture of the white-water trip that I talk about in the video:

Hey Washington Street, State Street is coming!

I learned early when planting State Street that the act of planning is essential, but our plans shouldn't be held too rigidly. The goal of our community has always been to facilitate and encounter a profound sense of love with Christ and our neighbors. How this is done, however, can change and evolve to places and with people that never played a part in the initial plans of grandeur. The State Street vision that we had five years ago doesn't necessarily look too closely to the State Street vision we have today in particulars, but it does in heart and passion. 

We have always felt it was part of our calling and vocation to be in downtown LaPorte. Having these convictions has made some decisions more difficult, but we have tried not to allow the easiness of a decision effect whether or not it's the best thing for us as a whole. For example, many days (and some nights!) were spent thinking about how to build our addition at State Street to fit enough space in our spare yard while also equipping the ministries and initiatives we started with the tools necessary to continue to grow and help others. After a few months and countless changes, we had a plan. That plan is now in Indianapolis being reviewed. If the review is approved, we will hopefully start construction in October. But, even with this approval, it still leaves us continuing to find a location for our community garden and space for our neighborhood children to play [we have one of the only yards in our area.] When we get to the point of making a plan, it's after weeks-and-weeks or even months-and-months of thought, prayer, and planning. 

While all of this was happening, something occurred to make us rethink our plans. A family within the community, after seeing the success of the State Street community center and the incredible growth taking place, graciously offered us a facility to house these ministries. The location has a commercial kitchen, space to feed 120+ (we can only feed about 80 people at a time in our community meal), located just a few blocks away from State Street, and best of all... it would be free! Seriously. It's someone allowing us to borrow this facility, it's being given as a gift to help further the mission and footprint into LaPorte. 

Now, admittedly, this offer didn't fit with our plans. We had a room in our new facility designed for the food pantry. It wasn't incredibly large, but bigger than the room we have currently. However, and this is the challenge of growing any organization, there are times when you stay firm to the plans laid out and there are times when you allow the unknown-but-now-opened door lead you to a place that you never thought you could go previously. As of this last week, we acquired keys to these doors and have taken possession of the former Friends Bar & Nightclub on Washington Street in LaPorte. Ladies and gents, the party can now commence...

Now it's time for us to make new plans. Though we have acquired this building, it means that we have to continue to think wisely about how to use it, how to fund it, how to facilitate the ministries in this new space, and other scenarios. The board at State Street is committed to being wise stewards of the resources Christ has entrusted us. They're also committed to seeing us take part in restoring LaPorte in whatever way we are able. We don't know when we'll move into the facility. We still have another addition getting ready to begin on our State Street location. Over the next few months, we'll be giving the Washington Street building a slight facelift. Jason Clemons, our community center director, will be going to other churches and organizations to invite them to take this journey with us in helping to end hunger and poverty in LaPorte. In many ways, the dream has just begun. But, in other ways, this seems to be another chapter in a dream that was started five years ago. 

New Music: Dry the River

For fans of music, Tuesdays are big events. It's on Tuesdays that a new crop of albums are released to the masses to enjoy, dissect, and interpret. There are few things as enjoyable during my week as listening to a new, highly-anticipated album from beginning to end for the first time. 

I love it. 

I had been looking forward to the release of Dry the River's sophomore album for a few months. Now it has arrived and it has proven to be well worth the two-year wait from their last (and first) album. 

Fantastic harmonies.
Sweeping choruses.
Thoughtful lyrics.
Distorted guitars.
A beautiful album and wonderful listening experience. 

Check it out.

Cleansing the Temple [or, what happened to the carpet!?]

When we made the decision to put carpet in our sanctuary at State Street in 2010, we hadn't yet started our community meal. It wasn't even a dream of ours yet. Our community meal happens every Monday at lunchtime. Sunday [after our final church gathering] volunteers stack the chairs in the sanctuary and, on Monday, the tables and chairs are set up to convert our sanctuary to a cafeteria. We try to maintain a seriousness about meals that are rivaled only by the Hobbits of the Shire. Over 100 people typically gather around the table with our volunteers and share a great meal. Feeding hungry folks has been a great source of communal integration and interaction for us. Our community comes alive during this time. It's one of my favorite things we get to do at State Street.

One of the unforeseen tragedies of our community meal [and Sunday gatherings] is the spilling that has happened on our sanctuary carpet. 

We made the decision recently to remove the carpet. Last night, a dozen or so volunteers from State Street arrived to remove the [disgusting] carpet. Within a half hour, all of the carpet was removed. 

In its place we will have installed a concrete overlay product. It will be easier to mop and clean spills. This overlap will be installed within the next few weeks. Eventually, this type of flooring will be installed in the foyer, bathrooms, hallways, and many of the rooms of the new addition. Here's a YouTube video to give you an idea of what the product is like and what installation looks like: 

Over the new few months, things will be changing to our building. On top of this flooring project, we are hoping to start the renovation of the men's bathroom. If all goes as planned in our fundraising goal (we need roughly $3,000 to meet our $200,000 goal), we will attempt to start the construction project this Fall as well. It's an exciting time for our community. 

Love first, ask questions later.

Yesterday, in my sermon on Revelation 5, we talked about having a faith that sounds like a conquering lion but looks like a slaughtered lamb. I used this video on Jeremy Courtney and his organization "The Preemptive Love Coalition." 

This quote from Loren Johns is fantastic:

The Lamb of Revelation is manifestly no cute, little nonviolent Lamb. It is a powerful and courageous Lamb who, through his consistent nonviolent and faithful witness, conquered evil. He did not deny the reality of evil or the reality of violence or “lie down with the lion” in some utopian idealism. […] Rather, the Lamb overcame evil by refusing to adopt its methods and its rules and bearing its brunt. And he serves in the Apocalypse as a consistent and trustworthy model for believers facing the harsh realities of civic pressures to conform to the expectations of Graeco-Roman society. - Loren Johns, professor of New Testament at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary

May we continue to learn what it means to be particularly and peculiarly Christian in this world. 

The Future of Christianity: Part 1

The world is changing. It should come as no surprise. The world and the people that inhabit it always change. You are different than your grandparents. They were different than theirs. While someone looks back at their past idyllic self and circumstances from yesteryear, there's another person that when yesteryear was present thought, "If only we can return back to the good old days." While each progressing generation has their struggles and injustices to confront, there should also be sufficient reason to celebrate the advances that have happened over the last many years. Medical science is improving. Racial relations, in American and many other places, is improving. Equality for women has made drastic progress. There is evidence that shows many countries are making significant economic gains proving that poor countries do not have to stay poor. This includes Chile, Turkey, Malaysia, and Gabon, among others. There are many tragedies happening in this world, but there are other achievements and advances which cause us to celebrate as well.

But, what about the future progress of the Church? Is there sufficient cause to lament the future of Christ's covenant community in this world? Is there cause to be hopeful? Harvey Cox, retired Harvard Divinity professor, theologian and scholar, has accumulated much research to shed light on the trajectory of the Church in America. For some, it will be reason to celebrate. For others, there may be sufficient cause for sorrow. 

Cox's book The Future of Faith seeks to address this question: What does the future hold for religion, and for Christianity in particular? It's a book that leverages bits of sociology and theology. Through the first few chapters, I am trying to determine if it's accurate and prophetic or misguided. My hope, should I feel the proper motivation, is to blog through some of the highlights of this fascinating book. The leadership at State Street has had ongoing conversations about the future of faith and how it effects the way in which we minister in LaPorte. 

CHAPTER ONE: An Age of the Spirit: the Sacred in the Secular?

Cox begins the book by noting three qualities that mark the world's current spiritual profile that will effect how religion will be practiced in future generations. It's important to note that Cox is not suggesting that these things NEED to happen, but have ALREADY happened. These qualities are:

  1. The unanticipated resurgence of religion in both public and private life around the globe. It's important to note that Cox isn't suggesting that there's a resurgence of a particular form of Christianity, but religious values as a whole. It's the recognition, that for whatever reason, there is something more than the self. It doesn't look much like the religiousness of the last thousand years in the Western world, but there are still theological, ontological, and philosophical commitments being made. This resurgence comes at a surprise to many. He states,
    "Scholars of religion refer to the current metamorphosis in religiousness with phrases like the “move to horizontal transcendence” or the “turn to the immanent.” But it would be more accurate to think of it as the rediscovery of the sacred in the immanent, the spiritual within the secular. More people seem to recognize that it is our everyday world, not some other one, that, in the words of the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, “is charged with the grandeur of God.” The advance of science has increased the sense of awe we feel at the immense scale of the universe or the complexity of the human eye. People turn to religion more for support in their efforts to live in this world and make it better, and less to prepare for the next. The pragmatic and experiential elements of faith as a way of life are displacing the previous emphasis on institutions and beliefs."
  2. Fundamentalism is dying. Fundamentalism, as a religious and political movement, is coming to an end. It may take a generation or three, but it is dying out. This is why religious fundamentalists [Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or otherwise] are digging in their heals and fighting with such fierce zealousness. To protect their neatly packaged beliefs, fundamentalists feel they have to fight ideologically [or in some parts of the world, militarily] with those who will threaten the shell of the facade. Cox notes,
    "Fundamentalisms, with their insistence on obligatory belief systems, their nostalgia for a mythical uncorrupted past, their claims to an exclusive grasp on truth, and—sometimes— their propensity for violence, are turning out to be rearguard attempts to stem a more sweeping tidal change."
    In my conversations with the emerging generation [which I may be a member myself], truth is very important. Many falsely believe that members in these developing generations do not believe in absolutes in morality and ethics, but that is largely not the case. They do, however, have a harder time admitting that they believe everything absolutely. "There are absolutes," they might say, "but I don't know if my perception of truth is absolute." This is not relativism, as some may claim. It is ideological humility. It is true, however, that the umbrella of what is and is not absolute may be much different among emerging generations than the generations before them. 
  3. A profound change in the elemental nature of religiousness. Cox suggests that this might be the most important in understanding this paradigm shift. What does it mean to be "religious"? He comments,
    "Not only has religion reemerged as an influential dimension of twenty-first-century life; what it means to be “religious” is shifting significantly from what it meant as little as a half century ago. Since religions interact with each other in a global culture, this tremor is shaking virtually all of them, but it is especially evident in Christianity, which in the past fifty years has entered into its most momentous transformation since its transition in the fourth century CE from what had begun as a tiny Jewish sect into the religious ideology of the Roman Empire."
    He goes on to dissect the important difference between belief and faith. Faith is deep-seeded confidence. Beliefs are more like opinions. In Cox's words:
    "Beliefs can be held lightly or with emotional intensity, but they are more propositional than existential. We can believe something to be true without it making much difference to us, but we place our faith only in something that is vital for the way we live. Of course people sometimes confuse faith with beliefs, but it will be hard to comprehend the tectonic shift in Christianity today unless we understand the distinction between the two."
    Christianity has done well at forming our beliefs into concise and treasured pillars through the historic creeds. However, these beliefs are not what has made the Christian community thrive throughout the last 2000 years [nor was that ever their intention.] The creeds have given a sense of form to an already-demonstrated conviction through faith. Cox suggests a needed paradigm shift. 
    "Eliminating the spurious use of “belief” to define Christianity has another advantage. It recognizes that often people who call themselves “unbelievers” have episodic doubts about their unbelief . “Believers” go through similar swings. Beliefs come and go, change, fade, and mature . The pattern of beliefs one holds at ten are not identical with the ones one holds at fifty or seventy-five. To focus the Christian life on belief rather than on faith is simply a mistake. We have been misled for many centuries by the theologians who taught that “faith” consisted in dutifully believing the articles listed in one of the countless creeds they have spun out. But it does not."
    To profess something as true is entirely different than living as said proposition is true. Hypocrisy happens when our confession do not match up with our convictions. Modern apologetics has taken a hit partly because of this phenomena. One of the larger growth movements within American Christianity is that of Eastern Orthodoxy. Perhaps this is caused by the Orthodox's adherence and valuing of awe, wonder, and love in light of the more binary view of faith that apologetics often professes. 

Cox finishes the first chapter by discussing three [uneven] periods or ages within the history of the church. 

  1. The Age of Faith [first 350 years of the Church]: In Cox's words: "It began with Jesus and his immediate disciples when a buoyant faith propelled the movement he initiated. During this first period of both explosive growth and brutal persecution, their sharing in the living Spirit of Christ united Christians with each other, and “faith” meant hope and assurance in the dawning of a new era of freedom, healing, and compassion that Jesus had demonstrated. To be a Christian meant to live in his Spirit, embrace his hope, and to follow him in the work that he had begun." As this initial group of Christ-followers evolved, the initial tension between faith and belief became apparent. "Emphasis on belief began to grow when these primitive instruction kits thickened into catechisms, replacing faith in Jesus with tenets about him."
  2. The Age of Belief. [350AD - modern era]: "The turning point came when Emperor Constantine the Great (d. 387 CE) made his adroit decision to commandeer Christianity to bolster his ambitions for the empire." The empire became "Christian," or perhaps Christianity took on the narrative of the empire. Right beliefs in line with the newly minted Christian empire become essential. In 385 AD, a synod of bishops condemned Priscillian of Avila for heresy, and by order of the emperor Maximus he and six of his followers were beheaded in Treves. The ones behind beheaded just 300 years earlier were the ones now doing the beheading. Power struggles, political influence, and religious persecution of those within the ranks became common. Cox summarizes, "The Age of Belief lasted roughly fifteen hundred years, ebbing in fits and starts with the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, the secularization of Europe, and the anticolonial upheavals of the twentieth century. It was already comatose when the European Union chiseled the epitaph on its tombstone in 2005 by declining to mention the word “Christian” in its constitution."

  3. The Age of the Spirit. [Moving forward...]: Cox suggests that we are now entering a new age of Christianity and, perhaps for the first time, one that is not defined by the experience of those in the West.  "Despite dire forecasts of its decline, Christianity is growing faster than it ever has before, but mainly outside the West and in movements that accent spiritual experience, discipleship, and hope; pay scant attention to creeds; and flourish without hierarchies. We are now witnessing the beginning of a “post-Constantinian era.” Christians on five continents are shaking off the residues of the second phase (the Age of Belief) and negotiating a bumpy transition into a fresh era for which a name has not yet been coined." He contends that, in the Age of the Spirit, people will be more influenced by the experiential elements of Christianity more than the doctrinal elements of the religion. 

Cox concludes the first chapter with this paragraph: 

As Christianity moves awkwardly but irreversibly into a new phase in its history, those who are pushing into this frontier often look to the earliest period, the Age of Faith, rather than the intervening one, the Age of Belief, for inspiration and guidance. This should not be surprising. There are striking similarities between the first and the emerging third age. Creeds did not exist then; they are fading in importance now. Hierarchies had not yet appeared then; they are wobbling today. Faith as a way of life or a guiding compass has once again begun, as it did then, to identify what it means to be Christian. The experience of the divine is displacing theories about it. No wonder the atmosphere in the burgeoning Christian congregations of Asia and Africa feels more like that of first-century Corinth or Ephesus than it does like that of the Rome or Paris of a thousand years later.

Einstein’s Snuffed-Out Candles: Awe, Wonder, and Faith

Recommended Reading for Revelation

We start a new series at State Street on Sunday. We'll be spending the next two and a half months going through the book of Revelation. Some approach John of Patmos' book in great fear and trepidation, some in confusion and dismay, some just ignore it in total. I don't think any of those reactions are necessary in building a right and responsible reading of the text. 

If you want to study the book of Revelation a bit more in-depth, I want to invite you to pick up any of these helpful resources. Starting next Thursday at 6:30am at Rocky Mountain Cafe in LaPorte, the State Street Book Club will be going through one of these books [Apocalypse and Allegiance] to ask good questions and to seek answers about any confusion we may have. 

Here's the list of books I'm reading right now for this series:

  • Apocalypse and Allegiance: Worship, Politics, and Devotion in the Book of Revelation by J. Nelson Kraybill: Kraybill is the former President of Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, IN and currently serves as the President of the Mennonite World Conference. [Amazon]
  • The Revelation of John: A Narrative Commentary by James L. Resseguie: Resseguie is Distinguished Professor of New Testament Emeritus at Winebrenner Theological Seminary. [Amazon]

  • The Theology of the Book of Revelation (New Testament Theology) by Richard Bauckham: Bauckham is a New Testament scholar who teaches at Cambridge. [Amazon]
  • Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb into the New Creation by Michael J. Gorman: Gorman is Professor of Sacred Scripture and Dean of the Ecumenical Institute of Theology at St. Mary's Seminary & University in Baltimore, Maryland. [Amazon]
  • The Pith of the Apocalypse: Essential Message and Principles for Interpretation by Paul A. Rainbow: Rainbow is the Professor of New Testament and Sioux Falls Seminary. [Amazon]
  • Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church by N.T. Wright: Wright is the former Bishop of Durham in the Church of England and is now serving as the Chair of New Testament and Early Christianity at the School of Divinity at the University of St. Andrews. [Amazon]
  • The Good News of Revelation by Larry Helyer & Ed Cyzewski: Larry Helyer is Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana. Ed Cyzewski is a freelance writer. [Amazon]
  • Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John and the Praying Imagination by Eugene Peterson: Peterson is the former James M. Houston Professor of Spiritual Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia. He is now retired. [Amazon]
  • The New Testament: Introducing the Way of Discipleship by Wes Howard-Brook and Sharon E. Ringe: Howard-Brook is an author and professor at Seattle University. Ringe is Professor of New Testament at Wesley Theological Seminary. [Amazon]
  • The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story: by Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen: Craig G. Bartholomew is the H. Evan Runner Professor of Philosophy at Redeemer University College. Michael W. Goheen is the Jake and Betsy Tuls Professor of Missiology at Calvin Theological Seminary. [Amazon]

I might add some more to this as we go, but this is a start. Many of these were recommended to me by other pastors/friends/scholars, and some I just stumbled upon. All of them have helped in grasping the critical nature of the text. 

Why preach a Revelation series?

A few months ago I watched a VICE on HBO show that dealt with the issue of American Evangelicals and their perceived obsession with Israel. They asked this question: what do Evangelicals believe needs to happen for end times to begin? The program followed a group led by self-proclaimed Revelation expert Irvin Baxter visiting Israel and Palestine. It was an interesting look at how one faction of evangelicals interpret a certain set of Scripture. Here's a bit of Baxter and his teaching for those curious:

The program troubled me for two reasons. First, I find the opinions that Baxter espousing to be in error. Serious error, in fact. Very soon we will get yet another Left Behind film that will support and encourage much of this same thought. Many are fascinated [if not obsessed] with this type of reading of Revelation. But, is this the best reading of the text? 

Secondly, I know many evangelicals that don't support such ideas/theology. VICE painted this issue with broader strokes than are necessary. As a matter of fact, the church throughout much of our history hasn't supported this theology. Not all Evangelicals read Revelation in a similar way. What about them? Maybe those who don't read it similarly haven't taught on it enough or presented a case for alternative understanding. 

After watching the program, I started talking to some friends [including the staff at State Street] about what I had watched and many, much to my surprise, had [at one point] bought into these ideas. Some even joked about how they would be terrified going into a room without any people in it wondering if their loved ones had been raptured. A few mentioned about how much fear was instilled in them because of the effects of this theology. Interestingly, most [if not everyone of them] couldn't tell you about why the early church didn't support such theology or the evolution and development of rapture theology, but they knew that many of their teachers scolded those who didn't support an identical reading of Revelation. It was [and is] an essential doctrine in many Christian movements [someone please alert those in Nicea!] So, I think it's time to deal with this giant literarily-complex, theologically-rich apocalyptic elephant in the room at State Street. The goal is not to do this series in a combative, reactionary way [though much of it was birthed from a reaction], but in a way that hopefully illuminates and brings hope to our understanding of the narrative. 

My objectives for this series:

  1. To preach what I believe to be a proper and responsible reading of Revelation. You may not agree with such a reading, but at least you'll be familiar with other possible interpretations. Ultimately, it's fine to agree-to-disagree but it's best to fully know and understand the basis of the disagreements.
  2. To open up a counter-narrative interpretation of the text that combats a more modernist, dispensational reading with an understanding of the text that is, ultimately, more congruent with how the church throughout history has taught Revelation and fits better within the scope of the biblical narrative. We'll be looking at literary style, genre, functions of apocalyptic literature, etc. To make my former professors content, we'll employ a Wesleyan hermeneutic to Revelation: prima scriptura, tradition/church history, intellect, and guidance by the Holy Spirit. 
  3. To be encouraged and made hopeful by how Christ is bringing the world back to rights [to steal a N.T. Wright-ism]. This is our peculiar Christian hope. 

I hope you can join us.

I'm Thankful for Our Fifth Easter and More...

 A picture I took yesterday before our three Easter gatherings.

A picture I took yesterday before our three Easter gatherings.

Yesterday was our fifth annual Easter gathering at State Street. It just happened to be the largest Sunday we’ve had to date (with roughly 445 people joining us.)  We have now turned the pages of our collective journey to begin the fifth year of ministry and life. Today I’m left with a profound sense of gratitude for the places we’ve been, the people we’ve met, and the events that have left us laughing and crying. It’s been such a great season for myself, my family, and [hopefully] those who have entered into community with us. As I take inventory of the past five years, here are some of the things that I’m most thankful for:

I’m thankful for my wife. Since we’ve planted State Street, we have had two more children [Finley and Harrison] and countless life events. From buying a bigger car to fit the growing family to being patient with me as I finished my graduate work to navigating the waters of my recent illnesses, she has been my best friend, sounding board, and firm ally during it all. My life has so much more meaning with her in it. She never wanted to be a pastor’s wife, but she has made a tremendous one regardless. 

I’m thankful for my children. Few people understand the sacrifice that children make when their mother or father is a pastor. Most week I spend 50-60 hours away from them in my office, in counseling meetings, studying, or helping those in need. Nora, Finley, and Harrison bring incredible amounts of joy to my life. I’m determined to be cognizant and aware enough to make them grateful that their dad was a pastor and not ashamed or disgruntled of that fact. Perhaps it’s an attempt like swimming upstream, but they are worth every effort I can make to provide them with an engaged and loving father. If our community at State Street grows but at the expense of failing my children as a father, this is not success. 

I’m thankful for the staff. Our children’s director Julie Secor has taught me so much about how to value the voices of those who often aren’t heard enough by the adults around them. If every church had a children’s director with a heart, passion, and vision the size of Julie, the church would be in great shape for the next generation. Becky Crain’s passion for Christ and the Church is infectious. She’s also a supremely talented person: a gifted preacher and musician. I’ve learned much about finding my own voice from watching her exercise hers. Jason Clemons provides a constant reminder that the heart of Christ is located with the poor, widow, and orphan. He helps me fully appreciate the redemptive message of the Beatitudes. Without him, I’d be a worse pastor. I’m even grateful for the Philosopher Janitor [Jonny Schult] who not only cleans the bathroom stalls each and every week, but also provides me helpful commentary on Platonic dialogue. He’s a good friend. 

I’m thank for the leadership at State Street. I sit under a gracious, loving, and wise board of stewards that help guide me, keep me accountable, and establish a defined vision for the future of our community. Some have been with me since the beginning [Mark Secor, Neal Loucks, Mark Bublitz] and some have just joined us this year [Stacey Lingle, Ty Miller, Mark Bules, and Brian Morros.] They have never been afraid of asking tough questions and seeking uncomfortable answers if it leads us to be a more faithful presence for Christ in our community. They are truly a blessing to me.

I’m thankful for those who have gathered under Christ with us. Whether you’ve been at State Street since the beginning or you’ve just joined us. Perhaps you only had a short season with us and you’ve now moved on to another community to use your gifts and talents. I am grateful for you. I hope that you’ve been able to connect to the current of Christ in this world with us… if only for a small season or for a long one.

I’m thankful for the many people who have given to State Street. We have certain priorities and values that are funded and equipped by the money, talent, and energies of the people within our community. Each weekend we have dozens of people that volunteer in the children’s ministry, the worship team, greeters, and many, many others. During the week we have those who give to make the community center [food pantry, clothes pantry, community garden, community meal, summer bistro, just to name a few…] happen each and every week. They give of their time and money to see to it that others can experience the profound love of Christ that we have seen and felt. It’s an honor to be in community with you all.

I’m thankful for our neighbors at State Street. When we moved to 209 State Street, it was our goal to become good neighbors. We are located in a very transient neighborhood with many rental homes. People often move every 6-8 months to another location in LaPorte or elsewhere. But, while they are in our locale, it’s important to become good neighbors. Many of these people look out for us as we do for them. We’ve now seen some of our neighborhood children grow from elementary ages to middle school. Many of our neighbors have joined our church community in the process. It’s been a joy to do life together over the last 4-5 years. 

I’m thankful for other churches and pastors. Many of our fellow churches in LaPorte committed to pray for us as we launched into the area. I’ve been able to build relationships with other pastors who share in our commitment to Christ and His Kingdom. Their pray and support has meant a ton to us over the years. 

I’m thankful for my friends who continue to encourage and challenge me. Some of my best friends have been with me during this whole planting process. They’ve encouraged me when I was down, the’ve challenged me when I was wrong, and they’ve laughed with me about all the ridiculous things I’ve said and did in the in between. I’m thankful for Seth Bartlette, Jason Miller, David Cramer, Andrew DeSelm, and Ashley Swanson. They are some of the absolute best people that I’ve had the privilege to meet. 

I’m thankful for the many pastors and theologians that, unbeknownst to them, have fed my sermons with inspiration and creativity. Said another way, I’m glad I could steal so much from these folks: N.T. Wright, Stanley Hauerwas, Scot McKnight, Justo Gonzalez, Kallistos Ware, Luke Timothy Johnson, and many other men and women who give their time to put resources in the hands of pastors like myself. Without your scholarly aptitude, I would be a lesser pastor. 

I'm grateful for the many community businesses and leaders in LaPorte who have given their time to learn about our community center work, their money to help fund this work, and their energy to help further our mission to feed the poor, clothe the naked, and love the lonely. Your partnership means so much.

Most importantly, I’m thankful for Christ. He has given me infinitely more than I can ever give back to this world. My life has been changed by the love of Christ. It’s been such a joy to be able to proclaim this love to others at State Street. Through the comedies and tragedies over the last five years, His love has been an ever present buoy that has reminded me of what is truly valuable, good, and just.

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY, STATE STREETERS!  I am grateful for you all. Truly, you mean more to me than you'll ever realize.