Weakness is Strong

By The Rev’d Curtis Farr

Lent 4A: 1 Samuel 16:1-13

4621364513_a7e66219c1Think that some of that New Testament talk about the weak being strong and the disadvantaged being blessed was revolutionary? Think again. The story of David’s unlikely rise to power as the youngest, one of the smallest, and the least likely brother of eight sons is just one example of how the Hebrew Scriptures (or Old Testament) demonstrates God’s desire to lift up the lowly.

Samuel, a big deal in Israel—a prophet who talks to God even more directly than Moses it seems—is mourning over Saul’s fall from the throne. God is ready for Samuel to go and find the new king, so God sends him to Jesse. Of course, he’ll have to do so discreetly without arousing Saul and the awkwardness of picking his successor. God gives Samuel a game plan and Samuel meets up with Jesse.

They go to Jesse’s house and take a look at his sons, one by one. The first one is cut—totally ripped; he looks like he’d make a powerful king. God’s like, “Biceps schmiceps, look into his heart—his soul.”

Move along, Eliab.

Then Jesse calls Abinadab. Then he calls another son, and another, and another, and two more. God says, “no” to every one of them.

Finally Samuel asks, “Do you have any other sons?”

And Jesse is like, “Only my youngest—the bashful pretty boy, David. He’s out with the sheep.”

When David comes into the house, God tells Samuel to anoint him as king. And that was that. David becomes a great king after he defeats Goliath and does a whole bunch of other good stuff (I’m not going to tell you the whole story…pick up a Bible!).

But there you have it—David is this young, petite, pretty boy, yet from something so small comes something so great. If it sounds like Jesus’ Parable of the Mustard Seed or like any other number of things in the Bible, it’s because this is one of those themes that just seems to come up time and time again.

Why would God use the small things to do the great things? And what does it mean for us? Are we like David, or are we like his oldest brother Eliab—powerful? For different reasons, each of us are probably a little bit of both. What this might mean is that in seeking God’s purposes for our lives, we can freely pay attention to all parts of our identity and seek to do the greatest amount of good with things that seem like shortcomings or weaknesses.

What parts of you do you typically write off as weaknesses or shortcomings? How can you use those to follow Jesus and treat others with the love that God shows to us?

The Rev’d Curtis Farr is the assistant rector of St. James’s Episcopal Church. He blogs for St. James’s every Wednesday, offering reflections on the readings of scripture from the upcoming Sunday. His personal blog is entitled Bowing to Mystery, on which he posts sermons, articles, pictures, videos, etc.

This is a weekly contribution to the creative and imaginative process of interpreting the black and white fire of Scripture. Sometimes using an adapted process of Midrash, the author includes historical/cultural information, personal anecdotes, and other theologians’ ruminations on selected passages from the upcoming Sunday’s lectionary readings. All are welcome to journey into the fire by using the comment sections on the blog itself, or on Facebook or Tumblr.

Photo: Ian Scott, Flickr

Letting Go of “Leadership”

Letting go of leadershipby Wendy Dackson

A number of years ago, I was very close to a young married couple with a small child who I knew from my church.  I thoroughly enjoyed their company, and we spent practically every waking hour of the weekends together.  We would make plans to go to museums, the zoo, air shows, shopping, and everything else that three adults and a toddler can do.  It was a lot of fun—for about a year.  I was finding that, as fond of them as I truly was, I also dreaded the Thursday night conversation after choir practice of ‘what are we doing on Saturday?’  I sometimes wanted a Saturday to do things that single women in their thirties might want to do (including just slobbing out with a book or cleaning my apartment).

In the course of a conversation with another single friend in her late forties, this concern came up, and she gave me an image that I found helpful.  She said that a jar needs a lid, but sometimes, in the course of time, the rim and the lid can get clogged with stuff that makes it difficult to put them together correctly.  You need to separate the jar from the lid, clean the screw-threads, let it air dry, and only then can they go together again as they were meant to do.  This metaphor helped me understand that as important as my time with this family was, I also needed to separate from them on occasion, and by doing that it would help rather than hinder the positive relationship I had with my married-with-children friends.

I’m experiencing the same uncomfortable, clogged-up relationship lately with the word ‘leadership’, especially when it applies to the church.  It was triggered yesterday, when this (admittedly very good) blog post was shared on two separate Facebook pages:  http://careynieuwhof.com/2014/03/why-we-need-more-entrepreneurial-church-leaders-not-more-shepherds/ .  I am in agreement with what Nieuwhof says about pastors being responsible for small groups of people (usually ‘local churches’), and that there is a need for people who can think beyond the local.  I’d add that it needs to extend beyond just launching a bunch of new communities, but to do some serious work on the inter-relatedness and distinctiveness of various types of communities (such as my interest in the differences of dioceses throughout the Anglican Communion, or the question of identity for Anglicans whose first language is not English, such as the Francophone Network of the Anglican Communion).  It needs not just to seek opportunities for bringing new people in, but to create spaces for reflection which leads to more considered action.  And it needs not to be limited to the ordained. Continue reading

ARE YOU LEADING A ZOMBIE CONGREGATION? Part 3: OMG! Now what do I do?

Zombie Church 2

The third part of a three-part series – click here for Part 1.

Okay. You’ve taken the quiz and found out you’re leading a Zombie congregation or a faith community that’s at risk for becoming Undead. What do you do now?

Neither condition is easy to deal with. But stretching our Zombie metaphor just a little further, clearly a faith community that is at risk for going Zombie would be a lot easy-er to deal with than one that has already become Undead. After all, a congregation that is “merely” at risk still has a mind capable of critical thought. But by “definition,” a congregation that has actually gone Zombie no longer has a functioning mind and has lost the capacity for independent thought and with that the capacity for self-critical reflection.

If your faith community is merely at risk of becoming infected with Undeadness, you may be able to engage the congregation’s critical faculties by having the members of your leadership board take the same quiz you just did and then ask them what they make of their scores. While the quiz is admittedly somewhat tongue-in-cheek, engaging your leadership playfully on issues such as these may gain a lot more traction than a more somber approach. Once the can see the signs of impending Undeadness, they might be able to find a pathway back to full health. After all, while it may really piss you off first, knowing the truth will ultimately make you free (John 8:32).

If your faith community has already joined the ranks of the Undead, you are facing an infinitely greater challenge. Just as Hollywood Zombies do pretty good jobs of emulating many activities of the living, a Zombie faith community can also do a more than halfway-decent job of imitating healthy congregational life: often good enough to lure in the occasional non-member, and generally good enough to convince its own leadership and membership that a healthy, friendly, welcoming, vital congregation. They may have even convinced themselves that they want to grow (but just can’t seem to figure out why they don’t). More often, however, they may be found employing rationalizations like, “Growing in number is not the only kind of growth: growing in depth is valid, too.” Not that there’s anything wrong with growing deeper. For Christians, it’s just that actually deepening one’s relationship with Christ usually translates into a deeper encounter with Christ’s transforming love, which is usually marked by a natural desire to share that love with others.

When a faith community becomes so thoroughly convinced by its own rationalizations that it no longer retains the capacity for self-criticism, the only recourse may the proverbial “bullet to the head.” Once in a while, a Zombie congregation, as it grows closer to actual death, may benefit from the salutary effect of staring death in the face. Occasionally, this insight, combined with new leadership at the helm, may be capable of beginning the long road back to health. I’ve seen it happen, but it is rare. Unfortunately, many Zombie congregations would rather die than change. And if this is the case, the only options left are either: (a) let it “live” until it depletes the last of its own (a perhaps others’) resources of time, talent, and treasure, or (b) put it out of its misery now while sufficient resources remain to start a new faith community or invest in the living in some other way.

Daunting, right? Yet I can offer two rays of hope: Question #7 and a lot of prayer. If you can help your faith community remember WHY it exists – its reason for being – its first love – the Truth that can make it free – there may be a chance to come back from the brink. And prayer because, as Jesus said, “This kind can come out only through prayer” (Mark 9:29).

dry bones live

Thirsty

By The Rev’d Curtis Farr

Lent 3: John 4:5-42

8592076710_e8e0375bcaWe’re going to step a little (a lot) beyond the lectionary this week because I think it might be important—or interesting, at least. We’re going to cover John 4:5-15 and jump to John 19:28-30. Read ahead, if you like.

When Jesus comes upon a Samaritan city called Sychar—near the well where Jacob met his wife Rebekah—he comes across a Samaritan woman at noontime gathering water. And remember that gathering water wasn’t for fun, it was for survival and to provide for the family. Also remember that Samaritans didn’t comingle with Jews (that one is in the text as a freebie…read up on your post-Exodus Old Testament to find out why), or Google it.

Jesus approaches the Samaritan woman and asks for a drink. She’s taken aback. How is it that a Jewish man is approaching a Samaritan woman at all, let alone for a drink. She’s right to be perplexed, but Jesus reveals that if she knew who he was, she would have already crossed that cultural boundary and asked him for a drink…and he would’ve given her living water.

Hold up. What is “living water?” Basically living water, ύδωρζωυ (hudorzo), is water that is not collected: rivers, streams…etc. Ponds and lakes are collected water. Wells have collected water, while springs have living water—they produce it as its source.

But is Jesus talking about a river? Again, if you’re reading this literally, you’ll have to stretch your imagination to include the possibility that a river would pour out of Jesus somehow. Obviously there is a deeper meaning here.

Let’s go there.

Jacob gave them this well that provides water for drinking but comes along with the necessity to work for the water, plunging buckets deep down to receive just enough water for a day. Jesus says that his living water will provide for her more than a day’s worth; this water will allow her to never be thirsty again.

This sounds good to the Samaritan woman, so she asks Jesus—this time calling him “Sir” instead of “you, a Jew,” for some of this water.

Let’s imagine that the water of which Jesus speaks is the Holy Spirit. There are numerous connections between water and spirit. (Think the spirit moving over the waters in creation and how Jesus tells Nicodemus that one must be born of water and spirit to enter the kingdom of God.) This might be a solid guess, especially considering how later in John, Jesus will tell his disciples that the Holy Spirit will come to take his place with them to move among and sustain them. The movement of the Spirit is kind of like a spring of water from a divine source that drenches people in holiness.

Going with this idea that from Jesus comes the Holy Spirit, which will continue to move among the people of the world as living water continues to flow from springs through rivers and streams, we run into a predicament later in John 19:28-30.

When Jesus is about to die on the cross, he says, “I thirst.”

Whoa.

Wait a minute.

Jesus, the one who brings living water that can quench thirst eternally, the one who makes wells and the bottled water industry irrelevant…Jesus thirsts?

One remarkable thing about this passage is the utter humanity that John exhibits in including this statement of bodily need. John’s gospel account is not known for displaying a human Jesus. As the readers, we know from the very beginning that Jesus is the Christ. We’re in on all the jokes when other characters don’t get it. We know when Jesus approaches the woman at the well that she is about to be astounded by the divine, but in this moment John reminds us that Jesus was human. And in this moment we are not in on the joke as we were before. We’re left near the end of this gospel wondering how the provider of living water can thirst.

This is a mystery worth sitting in for a while—it is worth praying, meditating, and pondering the humanity and divinity of Jesus. It is worth not rushing to answer these questions and instead use this opportunity to grow more familiar with paradox.

As you think about these questions, remember last week’s reading from John, in which Nicodemus is so focused on how it all works—focused on his own certainty rather than approaching God as one approaches a life-giving relationship with another.

One of the ways that the Living God calls us deeper into relationship is by seeking our trust, our patience, and our love. Perhaps it is from that kind of approach that we are quenched by living water.

The Rev’d Curtis Farr is the assistant rector of St. James’s Episcopal Church. He blogs for St. James’s every Wednesday, offering reflections on the readings of scripture from the upcoming Sunday. His personal blog is entitled Bowing to Mystery, on which he posts sermons, articles, pictures, videos, etc.

This is a weekly contribution to the creative and imaginative process of interpreting the black and white fire of Scripture. Sometimes using an adapted process of Midrash, the author includes historical/cultural information, personal anecdotes, and other theologians’ ruminations on selected passages from the upcoming Sunday’s lectionary readings. All are welcome to journey into the fire by using the comment sections on the blog itself, or on Facebook or Tumblr.

Photo Credit: See-Ming Lee 2013, Flickr

Blessing & Curse

By The Rev’d Curtis Farr

Lent 2: Genesis 12:1-4a

7937994840_b27422bb2dGod’s relationship with Abram (later “Abraham”) does not begin with a rule, it doesn’t begin with a law, and it doesn’t begin with a code. God’s relationship with Abram begins as a promise:

“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Okay, God’s relationship with Abram really begins with a command…an invitation really, but built into that invitation to leave home is the promise of a great, blessed nation. God says that they will bless Abraham, his nation, his name, and all those who bless him. And then God says they will curse those who curse Abraham and his etc.

I almost stopped writing on this passage right there, but whenever we hit a difficult part of the Bible, it’s probably time to go deeper rather than closing the book altogether.

What does it mean that God will curse those who curse Abraham? One interpretation we cannot ignore is the obvious one: God will (or already has) cursed enemies of the nation of Abram. While I doubt this passage from Genesis is ours, or any country’s, primary motivation for supporting Israel, the belief in this interpretation is widely embraced by many people.

As is usually true about interpreting scripture, we should probably put this passage firmly in its context—specifically its literary context.

Up until now, God and humanity have struggled to make their relationship work. Since Adam and Eve left the garden, it’s been something like long-distance (and that hardly ever works). Noah and his loved ones survived a flood that cleaned out tons of people, and a bunch of people tried to build a tower to heaven. Now God picks this dude Abram to bless and to be a blessing to others. God is setting Abram up to be one through whom that relationship between God and humanity is redeemed and made whole. And furthermore, “in [Abram] all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

All the families? Like all the nations? The Jews and the gentiles?

If God’s purpose for Abram is to put together the pieces of this jumbled relationship between the created and their creator, then those who oppose that goal would naturally be “cursed” by virtue of their turning away from what is blessed.

In my mind I always go to Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son (or Forgiving Father) when I’m confronted with questions about God’s nature when it comes to their children. Remember how the prodigal son basically proclaimed that he wished his father was dead, took his inheritance, and left home for good? And years later after his money had run out and his clothes were in tatters, he came crawling back—and his father simply ran out to meet him, embraced him, and provided a feast to celebrate the son’s return?

If our “Father,” if our God is that loving and forgiving and warm and embracing, why on earth would anyone want to leave home? Compared to the warmth of that relationship, anything else seems like a curse.

God’s relationship with Abram begins with a promise—the same promise Jesus affirms in the Parable of the Prodigal Son: God delights in us enough to want to be in a close, intimate relationship with us. That is a blessing worth passing on to others.

The Rev’d Curtis Farr is the assistant rector of St. James’s Episcopal Church. He blogs for St. James’s every Wednesday, offering reflections on the readings of scripture from the upcoming Sunday. His personal blog is entitled Bowing to Mystery, on which he posts sermons, articles, pictures, videos, etc.

This is a weekly contribution to the creative and imaginative process of interpreting the black and white fire of Scripture. Sometimes using an adapted process of Midrash, the author includes historical/cultural information, personal anecdotes, and other theologians’ ruminations on selected passages from the upcoming Sunday’s lectionary readings. All are welcome to journey into the fire by using the comment sections on the blog itself, or on Facebook or Tumblr.

Image: © 2012 Jim the Photographer, Flickr

ARE YOU LEADING A ZOMBIE CONGREGATION? – Part 2: The Scoring Guide

Image

The second part in a three-part series – click here for Part 1.

Are you ready to find out if you the faith community you lead is undead?
by Ken Howard

Are you leading a Zombie faith community? Where the individual members are alive, but the church as a whole is undead? Where the congregation has lost both the desire and the capacity to grow? Where the people have have convinced themselves that their lack of change and adaptation to new contexts is due to the strength of their traditions?

Are you ready to find out? Have you taken the 10 question quiz and recorded your answers?  Great!

Check your answers against this handy scoring guide and explanation.
[click here for a PDF version of the scoring guide]

1.  Your typical congregant thinks the purpose of your faith  is to minister to the congregation.

True = 0 | Uncertain = 1 | False = 2

   Explanation

  • Vital congregations believe that the purpose their church exists, not just to serve those inside the building but also in their neighborhoods. As a result, they tend to focus on nurturing and challenging their congregations and their neighborhoods.
  • Undead congregations put insufficient effort into developing neighborhood presence, connection, and openness. As a result, they tend to focus primarily on nurturing their congregations.

2.  Your faith community’s growth rate is lower than that of the zip code in which it is located.

True = 0 | Uncertain = 1 | False = 2

Explanation

  • Vital congregations work to develop a significant neighborhood presence and connection. As a result, they naturally tend to expand (and contract) along with their neighborhoods.
  • Undead congregations put insufficient effort into developing neighborhood presence and connection. As a result, their growth rates tend to be less than that of their neighborhoods.

3.  Your congregation’s social-cultural-demographic makeup bears a roughly positive relationship to that of the zip code in which it is located.

True = 1 | Uncertain = 0 | False = -1

Explanation                                                                  

  • Vital congregations work to establish and maintain organic connections and relationships with all the various social-cultural-demographic groups that make up their neighborhoods.  As a result, their diversity bears some relationship to that of their neighborhoods.
  • Undead congregations put insufficient effort into connecting and relating with the various groups that make up their neighborhoods.  As a result, remain less diverse than their neighborhoods.

4.  The makeup of your faith community’s zip code is changing and your congregation is growing.

True = 2 | Uncertain = 1 | False = 0

Explanation

  • Vital congregations work to establish and maintain connections and relationships with the social-cultural-demographic groups that make up their neighborhoods.  As a result, they tend to grow as the demographic makeup of their neighborhoods shift.
  • Undead congregations put insufficient effort into connections and relationships with groups that make up their neighborhoods.  As a result, they tend to stagnate or shrink as the demographic makeup of their neighborhoods shift.

5. Your church has an endowment. 

Unrestricted Endowment = 0 | Restricted Endowment = 1 | No Endowment = 2

Explanation

  • Vital congregations tend to rely on income rather than endowed wealth to fund ministries and their structural maintenance. If they have endowments, they restrict themselves to using them only for capital expenses that will grow the congregation or benefit their neighborhoods. Personal investment leads to personal engagement in and responsibility for the wellbeing of the parish. Greater engagement and responsibility lead to greater vitality.
  • Undead congregations rely substantially on endowed wealth to fund ministries and structures, and tend to have unrestricted endowments which makes this easier to do. Lower levels of personal investment, lead to lower levels of personal engagement and responsibility which lead to congregational decline.

6.  The leadership board has done a demographic study of the faith community’s zip code in the last five years.

Verified demographic study = 2 | Unverified demographic study = 1 | No study = 0

Explanation

  • Vital congregations regularly study the social-cultural-demographic make-up of their neighborhoods. This allows them to better tailor their ministries and programs to the needs of their neighborhoods. Really vital parishes really get outside the building to verify their assumptions and programmatic conclusions about the results.
  • Undead congregations rely on unverified assumptions and stereotypes about their neighborhoods.  Because of this, the programs they offer to their neighborhoods, if any, tend to be poorly conceived and poorly received.

7.  The leadership board has asked why your faith community exists at least once in the last three years.

True = 2 | Uncertain = 1 | False = 0
Explanation
  • Vital congregations regularly get beneath WHAT they do (ministries/programs) and HOW they do it (organizational structure/processes), and ask WHY they exist (their calling or purpose). This encourages them to listen to what God’s Spirit is calling them to do, allows them to be more creative, enables them to take appropriate risks in support of what God is calling them to be and to do.
  • Undead congregations, by definition, are faith communities that don’t know why they exist but pretend to be alive.

8.  The leadership board has asked why a ministry or program exists at least once in the last year.

True = 2 | Uncertain = 1 | False = 0

Explanation

  • Vital congregations regularly assess the vitality of their ministries and programs. This allows them to take prayerful and thoughtful action to improve them or to end them if they are no longer serving a purpose.
  • Undead congregations have undead programs.

9.  The leadership board has purposefully allowed at least one program or ministry to end and reported to the congregation what they have learned from the experience within the last three years.

True = 2 | Uncertain = 1 | False = 0

Explanation

  • Vital congregations regard failure as something to learn from rather than something to sweep under the rug. Faith communities with a theology that accepts failure and death as a natural part of life can harness the power of resurrection to learn, adapt, grow, and experience rebirth.
  • Undead congregations have undead programs.  Faith communities with a theology that cannot accept failure and death as a natural part of life are unable to harness the power of resurrection to learn, adapt, grow, and experience rebirth.

10.   The average active participant in the congregation can describe in one or two sentences the congregation’s vision/mission.

True = 2 | Uncertain = 1 | False = 0

Explanation

  • Vital congregations regularly communicate their vision and mission in a way that it can be clearly and easily grasped by all engaged in the life of the congregation, and that they can explain it to others. A faith community’s vision/mission is the DNA which both forms the congregation and allows it to adapt itself to its changing environment. As Albert Einstein once said, “If you cannot explain it to a six-year old, you do not understand it yourself.”
  • The membership of undead congregations has little sense of the faith community’s vision/mission, if one indeed exists at all in any meaningful way).  They don’t understand it themselves, they can’t explain it to others, and so they just keep on shuffling forward, sapping the life force of all around them.

Now Add Up Your Points

________________

Interpreting Your Score

16 to 20:  Congratulations! Your congregation is alive and well.

How will you work to keep it that way?

11 to 15:  Warning! Your congregation may be at risk.

What can you do to build up their resistance?

0 to 10:    Condolences… Your congregation is undead.

What will you do to bring it back to life? (Or is a funeral in order?)

Click here for Part 3: “OMG, Now What Do I Do?”Image

Enhanced by Zemanta

ARE YOU LEADING A ZOMBIE CONGREGATION? – Part 1: The Quiz

Church of the living dead

Take this ten-item quiz to discover whether your faith community is undead
by Ken Howard

In case you haven’t noticed, Zombies are becoming more popular these days. Gone are the old-time Zombie movies with their slack-jawed, shuffling Zombies. Nowadays the Undead are appearing in Zombie action movies, Zombie romantic comedies, Zombie Bollywood flicks, even Zombie detective series on T.V.

Zombies have even made their way into business literature. Companies and non-profit organizations that are operating but not growing have come to be called Zombies, because they are in a state of limbo – not dead, yet not exactly alive either – and because they maintain their undead existence by draining resources away from healthy organizations.

So what about Zombie faith communities? Could there be congregations in which the individual members were alive, but the congregation as a whole was undead, having lost both the desire and the capacity to grow?  It’s not just possible but true. By the standard just articulated, a significant portion of our faith communities (perhaps even a plurality) could be classified as Zombies. In fact, faith communities may be more at risk of becoming Zombies than other kinds of organizations, because they can blind themselves to their condition by convincing themselves that their lack of change and adaptation to new contexts is due to the strength of their traditions. And they can often maintain their undead existence for decades by consuming their own endowments and/or denominational resources that might otherwise go to healthier congregations.

Are you leading a Zombie faith community? Take this ten-question quiz and find out…
[Click here to take an online, self-scoring version of the quiz]
[Click here to download and take a PDF copy of the quiz]

  1. Your typical congregant thinks the purpose of your faith community is to minister to the congregation.
    1. True.  The typical member of our congregation thinks the purpose of the faith community is to minister to them.
    2. Uncertain. I have no idea how the average congregant thinks about the purpose of our faith community.
    3. False. Most members of our congregation believes that our faith community exists not only to minister to them, but to the community and the world around us.
  2. Your faith community’s growth rate is lower than that of the zip code in which it is located.
    1. True. The community in which we are located is growing faster than our congregation.
    2. Uncertain. I do not know the growth rate of my congregation or the community.
    3. False. Our congregation is growing faster than the surrounding community.
  3. Your congregation’s social-cultural-demographic makeup roughly reflects that of the zip code in which it is located.
    1. True. The makeup of our congregation is similar to the makeup of the neighborhood.
    2. Uncertain. I don’t know how to answer this question.
    3. False. Our congregation is less diverse than the surrounding community.
  4. The make up of your faith community’s zip code is changing and your congregation is growing.
    1. True. Our neighborhood is in flux and our numbers are growing.
    2. Uncertain. I’m not at all sure how the two compare.
    3. False. Our neighborhood is changing and numbers are declining as long-time members leave (or die).
  5. Your faith community has an endowment.
    1. True. Our congregation has an unrestricted endowment that has been used for operating expenses.
    2. True. Our congregation has a restricted endowment that cannot be used for operating expenses.
    3. False. Our congregation has no endowment.
  6. The leadership board has done a demographic study of the faith community’s zip code in the last five years.
    1. True. Our leadership board has conducted a demographic study and verified it “on foot.”
    2. True. Our leadership board has conducted a demographic study but has not verified it.
    3. False. Our leadership board has not conducted a demographic study.
  7. The leadership board has asked itself why your faith community exists at least once in the last three years.
    1. True. Yup. I’ve heard that asked…answered, too.
    2. Uncertain.  I don’t really know.
    3. False. I don’t think so. Why would they do that?
  8. The leadership board has asked why a ministry or program exists at least once in the last year.
    1. True. Indeed, the leadership board regularly asks that question.
    2. Uncertain.  I don’t recall. Maybe it was at one of the leadership board meetings I missed.
    3. False. Wow! That would be awkward. I think not.
  9. The leadership board has purposefully allowed at least one program or ministry to end and reported to the congregation what they have learned from the experience within the last three years.
    1. True. Yes. I remember when they “retired” the [insert name here] committee.
    2. Uncertain.  I couldn’t tell you.
    3. False. Not on my watch!
  10. The average active participant in the congregation can describe in one or two sentences the congregation’s vision/mission.
    1. True. Yes. I hear it at every worship service.
    2. Uncertain.  I’m not sure.
    3. False. Nope. Don’t think I’ve ever heard it spoken. What was that slogan?

Zombie (Warm Bodies)

Finished? Great!

Click here for the scoring guide

Enhanced by Zemanta

Bitter Fruit

By The Rev’d Curtis Farr

Lent 1: Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7

draft_lens19071631module156471085photo_1327028737brick_testamentWe’re reaching way back into Genesis this week. God has already created and distributed Earth 1.0 (with many divine updates and co-creations to come with 1.1 and beyond). God created “the man,” ha adam, or Adam from dust (spoiler alert: to which he shall return).

Now God plants a garden and puts the man in it to “till and keep it.” God says to eat freely of everything but the tree of the knowledge of good and evil—if the man eats from that tree, he will die.

We skip ahead, but in the meantime God makes the woman out of the man’s rib, and the man and woman are naked together and everything is groovy. Until the serpent saunters by, that is. This crafty little thing puts some spin on what God said and asks the woman about the command from God. She repeats God’s command, but adds a little bit. She adds that even in touching the tree she will die.

Let’s pause here because God didn’t say that, or at least no one cared to tell us that God said this. Either this is bad storytelling or Eve is purposely adding to God’s command. Maybe she is merely emphasizing the seriousness with which God gave the command. Although when you think about it, the woman wasn’t even alive when God gave the command. She was still part of the man’s ribcage—so either she heard about the rule from the man, or she had memories from her time as a rib.

But let us move on because now it gets good. The serpent claims that God lied; not only will she not die from eating the fruit from the tree, she will be like God and know good and evil. Suddenly the fruit looks rather edible indeed. She eats some and passes some more to the man. Their eyes are “opened” and they realize how silly their private parts look, so they cover themselves with fig leaves—the censor bars of the ancient world.

What does it mean that the man and woman’s eyes are “opened?” The word for knowing (as in “they knew that they were naked”) is יֵדָ֑ע or “ya-da.” Usually if you’re naked you don’t want to hear anyone say “yada yada,” but there you have it. This particular word can mean a whole variety of things from knowing information, to being acquainted with someone, to sexual experience, to moral understanding. It’s important to note here that their physical state doesn’t change, but their awareness does—their relationship to their bodies, to each other, and to God changed in that act of defiance and self-aggrandizement.

Luckily, the man and woman are not alone—they acted together and they have each other…and of course God is still with them, but things will never be the same.

There are still a few questions however:

Why does the serpent talk to the woman and not the man? If God had addressed the man about the rule of the garden before Eve, why didn’t the serpent just talk to the man in the first place?

A seminary professor of mine, Judy Fentress-Williams, writes in Feasting on the Word that, “it can be argued that the serpent speaks to the woman because she is culturally associated with the characteristics that separate humans from animals: wisdom and desire.” There were many similar ancient myths about the first created ones, and in the epic of Gilgamesh the female character has a sexual liason with the animal “Enkidu.” This liason forever separates the Enkidu from the rest of the animals…he becomes the man. Stories like these would have been present in ancient Near Eastern cultures, and the woman’s culturally-associated characteristics would have been well known. Think gender roles.

That leaves us still with one more question, and that is what is the point of all of this? To know where we’ve come from? To have a fun story to tell? To hate on manipulative serpents, bendable women, and even more bendable men? Or does this story have some fruit for us (the intellectually and spiritually edible kind)?

One thing we might suspect is that if we seek divine answers more than we seek a deepening relationship with God, we may realize how vulnerable we are; we may have a deeper understanding, but with that knowledge comes more questions. This is where what we do comes into play—what we do with our relationships and with ourselves.

Maybe we read about the man and woman coming into a newfound knowledge at the beginning of Lent as a way of calling us to mindfulness and subsequent action that seeks to deepen relationships rather than store up treasures for personal use. Maybe we read this to remind us, once again, that no matter what sneaky maneuvers we might imagine, we cannot escape death. As God says to the man in 3:19, “you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

The Rev’d Curtis Farr is the assistant rector of St. James’s Episcopal Church. He blogs for St. James’s every Wednesday, offering reflections on the readings of scripture from the upcoming Sunday. His personal blog is entitled Bowing to Mystery, on which he posts sermons, articles, pictures, videos, etc.

This is a weekly contribution to the creative and imaginative process of interpreting the black and white fire of Scripture. Sometimes using an adapted process of Midrash, the author includes historical/cultural information, personal anecdotes, and other theologians’ ruminations on selected passages from the upcoming Sunday’s lectionary readings. All are welcome to journey into the fire by using the comment sections on the blog itself, or on Facebook or Tumblr.

Image Source: The Brick Bible