Some New Code Words

This month, strategy team member MaryAnn McKibben Dana is curating a series of posts on our most recent National Gathering. Now that we’ve been back in the trenches of ministry for a while, what ideas have really “stuck”? What keeps nagging at us, whether in a positive or challenging way? How has our view of or approach to ministry been impacted by what we experienced? What continues to be a struggle? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by David Stipp-Bethune

My 2017 NEXT Church National Gathering began while I was still “on the way,” when I met a turn in the road overshadowed by a billboard:

“DIVERSITY” is a code word for #whitegenocide

I hadn’t caught my breath when a couple of curves later revealed another, larger billboard, listing all the white supremacy TV channels.

I didn’t want any part of this! I pinched myself, attempting to ensure I wasn’t dreaming, because I instantly identified with the Magi for whom a “dream” invited them to return home “by another way,” and I had already begun re-plotting my post-conference route!

I simply don’t get this yearning some have for being so divided, so “anti-diversity,” claiming a Christ who causes division and suffering rather than leading the great, diverse, Kingdom of God in all its glory. This lust for white power and domination is wholly and entirely inconsistent with what I know of Jesus that I secretly pray, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done” as my own code words for “my Jesus is coming to kick your Jesus’ a$$.”

I’ve always believed “America” (that presumptive code word for the United States) is at her best when we are an open, diverse, color-filled people who share equality and freedom. Much more so, the Church. Part of the language I’ve been taught was “a great melting pot,” but that’s just a code word for “white-washing” everyone so to see ourselves with no marks of difference or diversity—a way of hiding this ugly ingrained racism that robs us all of our identity. Especially the Church.

One of the images I encountered at the National Gathering was a promise born from an ancient people trying to live into “an incarnate Kingdom of God.” In a conversation about the transition from a first-century Hellenized meal called a symposium to the meal we claim as the Eucharist, my friend and colleague Jeff Bryan reiterated the view that the banquet of the Lord would never fail to bring everyone to the table—literally, the whole stinking community. You would find yourself, quite unwittingly, dipping your bread in the hummus with someone else, not just wholly unexpectedly, but with whom you could never allow yourself to be associated with. Yet you’re already guilty by association, because you’re at this dinner party together with Jesus.

I’ve always had this idea I really shouldn’t want to dip my bread with a bunch of white supremacists.

I live in Arkansas. And while I don’t want to disparage the whole state on account of those here who espouse the anathema of racial purity led by white people, it’s definitely true that enough people here are as prepared as ever to fight for a way of life that I want no part of—i.e. segregation, uniformity, monochrome, black and white, separate but equal. And when I say “fight” I don’t mean the way we fight about what scripture means or the color of the new carpet for the sanctuary.

And some of those people are in our churches regularly!

And I struggle to know exactly what I need to be doing about it.

Because “church” is one of the places where we have a history of being divided by issues of race.  Maybe that’s why in the new-to-me-congregation I’m serving, one of the “rules” has always been “check your politics at the door—we don’t talk about these things in church.” Code words for “we know we disagree and if we have to admit it, it leads to division.”

But it’s either the meal of the Kingdom’s freedom, joy, diversity, and love; or it’s not.  “Jesus, bread, and wine” are—or should be—code words for living together—not because we agree, but maybe because we don’t?

Because “church” is one of the places we think or believe we should be more “at one” with each other, “communion” is another code word we use to demonstrate oneness in Christ, downplaying difference and diversity because we must be “a part of the same.”

But maybe Jesus had another idea. That a part of loving one another is not based on agreement.  But that we are at table as the Psalmist says, “even in the presence of our enemies.”

The Lord’s Table: code word for Christ’s holding the different together.

David Stipp-Bethune has a passion for most things PCUSA, thinks General Assembly should still meet at least annually, and currently serves First Presbyterian Church El Dorado, Arkansas as pastor, having arrived in November 2016 and after pastorates in Pennsylvania, Iowa, Arkansas, and Nebraska. 

“Evangelism. Evangelical. Evangelist.” All are Good News!

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Andrew Kukla is curating reflections on being evangelical in the church. Have we connected our congregations to resurrection life? Have we taught them how to talk about it?  How to live it? How to connect others to that life-giving, life-abundant power? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Chris Montovino

Since when did sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ become a combination of four letter words for God’s people? Sadly, I think these words stemming from the Greek have gotten a bad rap. Too often they are either associated with angry street corner evangelists pronouncing fire and brimstone upon the weary “heathen” or entangled in someone’s political ideology. When Jesus came to share his Good News, I can hardly imagine that he had either of those ideas in mind. So what did Jesus mean and how can we as a Church reclaim these words as both Good News for us and worthy of our sharing with the world at large?

5F7649370BIn Luke 10:27, Jesus summed up the Law and the Prophets, saying “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself.”

First, love God. We can do that without lots of explanation. Ok, check!

Second, love our neighbor as ourself. Hmm. That one especially is tricky today in an age of disconnection. People come and people go. Our neighborhoods these days are often just a collection of disjointed homes, where we eat, sleep, and wake up and do the same 365 days a year with little to no real life sharing with those who live next door. In all honesty, I can successfully avoid eye contact with said neighbors by raising my garage door, backing my car out of the garage, heading off to work in a location beyond my neighborhood, returning home at the end of the day, pulling into my garage, lowering the garage door, and retreating to my private fenced in backyard oasis.

But how can we love our neighbor if we don’t share life with them? How can we share life with them if we don’t cross paths with them? How can we cross paths with them if we don’t even know who they are?  

Let me propose a simple suggestion: become an evangelist!  

We live in a cul-de-sac and have a big porch that spans the front. From our porch swing, where we love to sit on summer days, we are able to make intentional contact with our neighbors as they come and go. Hey Steve! How’s Austin? Hey Greg! Catch anything? Hey Lisa! How’s the job search? Hey Dale! How’s your mom?

Over the past eleven years, we have shared a lot of life with our neighbors. There are annual cul-de-sac BBQs, Easter egg hunts, Halloween gatherings, and Christmas parties. There have been times when we have been there for them. And there were many times when they were there for us like extended family.

We have said goodbye to some and welcomed others. We’ve laughed with them. We’ve cried with them. We’ve ticked some off. We’ve said sorry many times. We’ve also prayed with some of them and on occasion got to share our faith with them.  

We had no agenda in our neighborhood but love our neighbors in the way Jesus commanded us to love them and be the Good News that Jesus wanted us to share.   

How? Through the lives we’ve shared with these folks, our neighbors. And when we share life with people that we love, we naturally share what is most important to us which is our faith. It may not be presented as four spiritual law.  It may not result in a “decision” for Jesus that we can count. It may not even make them new church folk. But in the process of really loving our neighbors the Gospel gets lived out before our very eyes.  

Now that’s Good News!  

chrisRev. Chris Montovino has served as head of staff at Cascades Presbyterian Church in Vancouver since 2005.  He has been married to Karen for 20 years and has four active children high school through elementary school.  His passions include outback hiking, fly fishing, and volunteering with the Camas High School Young Life Program.  He hopes to be finished this year with his Doctor of Ministry degree in The Missional Church through Fuller Theological Seminary.