New blog

November 20, 2013

As is pretty clear by the dates on previous entries, I am no longer blogging at this site.  The new blog is called Phloem and Xylem and you can link to it HERE 

I once heard a development officer for Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary say that they try to say thank you six different times to those who give to the seminary.  I’m not sure what number of thank you we’re on now, but this is one more time to say it.  Thank you.

After worship on Sunday we went home full of gratitude and, frankly, a little stunned with the thought of that being our final Sunday at CMF.  We put the girls to bed that evening by flipping through the memory book you presented to us, reading through the kind notes and looking at pictures.  It will be a wonderful way to treasure these relationships.  Thank you.

Yesterday evening was the final Community Meal and there was a good turnout of friends from the neighborhood.  I shared with them that when you pastor at CMF you have two congregations.  One Sunday mornings and one Tuesday evenings.  The presence of these friends will continue to enrich CMF life.  

Today has been my last day in the office.  Just me and the boxes and some finish work on the computer.  Plus some good podcasts while packing.  This American Life.  On Being.  I look at the boxes full of books and files and feel kind of like I’m stuffing seven years of congregational life, along with my brain and its outflowings, into small containers.  The orderliness of the stacked boxes doesn’t do justice to the web of relationships, words, and actions that we have shared together.  But there they are.  Compressed together, taped up, and mobile.

Although I’ll still be checking it, this is the last day I’ll be regularly returning email from the Cincinnati Mennonite address, which will now have an automatic response with new contact info.

Keith will be sending out an Exit Covenant that Council and I have affirmed which helps outline the nature of a departing pastor’s relationship with a congregation.

Thank you for embracing, and releasing and blessing our family.  I release you into the strong and caring arms of God.

Affectionately,

Joel

Sanctuary

May 23, 2013

With the church office and meeting space being over at Peace House I often go days at a time without entering the CMF sanctuary.  But I’ve been spending more time there recently – stepping in first thing in the morning half way through the commute, or stopping by at some point during the day to linger a bit.  Our Anabaptist tradition has never ascribed anything particularly holy to places of worship – sometimes preferring to call them meeting houses rather than churches or sanctuaries.  But as our time here in Cincinnati comes to a close I feel the holiness of that space.  Holy things have happened there. 

So I sit in the silence, the empty space of the vacant sanctuary, and feel the fullness of these past years.  There’s a lot in there.  Condense time and you can see all at the same moment multiple baby dedications, baptisms, communions and anointings for healing.  The same bench holds a family that moved away years ago and the young couple who has been at CMF for less than a year.  Over my head, there is music in the air.  We are marching in the light of God.  Hugs and handshakes make connections all around as the peace is passed.    All attempts at sermonizing collapse into one word: Love.  Or, Christ. 

A space is made holy by the people who fill it with their bodies and their voices.  It is holy because it’s a place where we have together met Spirit and been changed.  We will continue to be changed in the different spaces we inhabit, church sanctuary or otherwise.

I am sitting alone in the silence and am trying to hold on and let go at the same time.  It’s not easy.

 

Pentecost 2013

May 15, 2013

This coming Sunday is Pentecost, which is a big deal at CMF.  We honor this celebration of the birth of the church in Jerusalem in the first century by renewing our commitments to God and one another in Cincinnati in the 21st century.  In place of a sermon there will be an open mic time.  You are encouraged to read over the Covenant this week and come prepared to share short (SHORT! 30-90 seconds!) reflections on how a line from the Covenant speaks to your journey in the past year personally or with the congregation.  CMF has such a rich diversity of voices and it is a special time to hear from many of you.  If you consider CMF your faith home for the year to come you are invited to sign the covenant.  We will also share in Communion, and generally have a good time singing and welcoming Spirit’s presence among us.

How about a poem…

 

Pentecost 2013

Untamed flames,

Fire falls, flares

Tongues, found

Resound

 

This summer the biennial Mennonite Church USA convention will be held in Phoenix.  Along with plenty of time for worship and fellowship, two pressing topics that will be addressed will be immigration and creation care.

The strict and controversial 2010 immigration law in Arizona was cause for much discussion across the church as to whether or not we should be holding a convention in that state in the first place.  Rather than go the route of a boycott, denominational leadership is taking it as an opportunity to bring our focus on the realities of immigration policy and its effects on families, many of whom are in our congregations across the country.  One of the beautiful things about the church is that even if issues do not affect our personal lives on an everyday basis, through our fellowship we are connected with brothers and sisters for whom this is very much the case.  So it becomes a family issue.  In Cincinnati, there is a rally today, May 1, starting at 5:30, at Washington Park titled “Workers and their families for citizenship.”  The rally will call for comprehensive immigration reform on the national level, and will include a walk to Cincinnati City Hall to celebrate City Council’s recent passage of Cincinnati being an immigrant friendly city.  It’s late notice, but perhaps we will see you there!  Keep tuned in to denominational publications to hear stories and editorials on the experience of immigrants in our country.

In Phoenix delegates will also be voting on a creation care resolution, calling for study of and consciousness raising with our broken relationship to creation.  I’m thrilled this is happening and am hopeful for what can come out of it.  I have also been in discussion with a number of pastors who believe that simply focusing on the personal aspects of education and what we can do as individuals and congregations is not enough.  The nature of the crisis calls for a systemic approach.  One of the most compelling movements I am aware of these days is a call for divestment from oil companies.  The basic argument is that oil companies have made it their business plan to release enough carbon into the air to wreak havoc on the planet’s biosphere for generations to come.  The underground “assets” of oil reserves are already on their books.  In THIS article in Christian Century, Bill McKibbon makes what I find to be a quite compelling argument why divestment is a necessary move at this time.  Our denominational stewardship organization, Everence, does have holdings in a number of oil companies, including ConocoPhilips, BP, Marathon, and Shell, and there are a number of us who will be calling into question whether this is a wise use of our resources.

As diverse and strained as we are on various issues, it’s good to be a part of a denomination that confronts these difficult issues together.

Passing on your genius

April 17, 2013

Musing: Passing on your genius

April 17, 2013

Perhaps this is too much information…but here goes.  Yesterday, I was, as Abbie and I have referred to it, “certified sterile.”  In other words, I got a vasectomy a few months back, and all the swimmers have officially exited the pool.  I apparently had a ‘girls only’ sign above my pool!  No more babies.  No more reproduction from me.

I have no second thoughts about the decision, and it means, in many ways, that I am entering a new phase of life – a phase in which passing on genes is no longer an option.  So what’s the task of life from here on out?

I forget where I heard it (that happens often), but right around the time of the procedure I heard someone make a connection that I like a lot.  The connection was between the words genes and genius, and my interpretation of what I remember is this: it is one thing to pass on your genes to the next generation, it is another thing to pass on your genius.  Some people have that window of life in which they pass on their genes, all people have all of life in which they are able to pass on their genius.

Genius here doesn’t mean smartness, cleverness, or any kind of exceptional ability.  It’s meant more along the lines of the ancient Roman sense – the guiding spirit of a person, the unique creative flow each person channels.  Or, in the Hebrew sense, the image-of-Godness we all bear, the manner in which each individual can enrich the world and reveal the divine.  Everybody has a genius.  We all benefit from the genius of others.  To make another biblical connection, we could say that one of the Apostle Paul’s major themes was the revelation that we all have access to the genius of Abraham – faith – even if we don’t have his genes.  Jews and Gentiles are both in on it.

So, I find it kind of exciting to think about a deeper discovery of the genius of this particular life I’ve been given, and the sharing of that genius being what defines life from here on out.  This also feels like a potentially freeing thought for those who have chosen not to or are unable to have children.  I’m grateful to the genius the Spirit has implanted in each of you, which gets shared among the community, young and old.

Mountaintop evening

April 3, 2013

Forty five years ago tonight, Martin Luther King Jr. gave his Mountaintop speech in Memphis, Tennessee, preparing to march with sanitary workers in that city.  He was killed the next day, April 4, 1968.  He knew he was pushing the boundaries of what people could tolerate in solidarity with all suffering people – not just blacks, but the working poor, victims of war, and more.  His speech reflects his awareness that the powers and principalities were closing in and that he did not have much longer to live.  His message was that the movement would go on and that, even if he didn’t get to the Promised Land, that ‘we, as a people’ would get there.

It’s a speech I listen to every year at this time.  It’s a reminder to me of the struggle of that time – and our time.  It just about always makes me cry.  It’s a chance to lament our persistent failure to heed the prophets.  It’s another version of the cross – and another occasion for resurrection.

The last two and a half minutes of the speech can be watched here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oehry1JC9Rk