Monday was Martin Luther King Jr. day, which always comes with mixed feelings for me.  On the one hand I’m grateful and a little shocked that our nation chooses to honor one who spoke and acted so powerfully for nonviolence and racial and economic justice.  Wonderful.  On the other hand I’m wary of how easily this slides into hero worship, elevating an individual above the community he represented, thus distancing ourselves from him and paralyzing the present generation to act in similar ways.

Over the weekend I came across an extended quote from Kayla McClurg that I find helpful.  It speaks to how MLK came to be who he was by accepting the calling of the moment.  What I especially like about it is that it connects back to the way this happens in our own lives – an idea which also ties to Sunday’s focus on Esther.  Here is the quote:

When I reflect on the life and witness of Martin Luther King, Jr., one thing that strikes me is obvious: he didn’t start out to be who he ended up being. He didn’t set out to be a visionary leader, intent on making an impact on the country and culture of his day. He allowed himself to be created. Slowly, layer by layer, choice by choice, he became himself. He didn’t choose “leader of a mass civil rights movement” from a list of vocational options. His identity emerged gradually from within as he yielded to the guidance of the community and listened and prayed and read and participated and took the risks of creativity that were uniquely his to take.

Underneath who we think we are, who people expect us to be, are as-yet-undiscovered aspects of our true identity–layers waiting to be uncovered. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the minister of a local church, husband and father, a dedicated preacher who devoted hours to preparing sermons that were theologically sound and probing. This was a good fit for him. He wasn’t searching for a new identity. But he found himself interested in the writings of Henry David Thoreau about civil disobedience and Gandhi’s thoughts about nonviolence. He became interested in some folks who were questioning the color barriers in their town and were beginning to devise ways to stand up to them. He didn’t have answers, only questions. He followed the questions, exploring the hints that came layer by layer, thus becoming more of himself.

Thus it was surprising, and yet not surprising at all, that within hours after a seamstress named Rosa Parks had “sat down for what she believed” he had been named spokesperson for a fledgling resistance movement. When he got home and told Coretta what had happened, he said he knew at a gut level that he was being asked inwardly to move beyond words and ideas and to put theory into practice. He said he knew he could no longer stand by and do nothing because to do so was to be a perpetrator of the evil he deplored.

Twenty minutes later the same young man who had a reputation for giving sermons only after hours of preparation was standing before a crowd of about 4,000 people speaking extemporaneously of the challenges and opportunities that lay before them. Part of what he said was this:

Sometimes a person gets tired…. We are here this evening to say to those who have mistreated us so long that we are tired–tired of being segregated and humiliated, tired of being kicked by the brutal feet of oppression…. We come here tonight to be saved from the patience that makes us patient with anything less than freedom and justice.

King knew he had a calling–to be a preacher and a father and a citizen. What he discovered little by little was that these dreams would be fulfilled far beyond his imagination. What about us? Are we still becoming ourselves? Are our deepest callings still unfolding, beyond our imagination? Or have we become too patient with being less than we really are?

Cited from Inward/Outward


Dead Sea Scrolls thoughts

January 16, 2013

Today we hosted a group of Central District pastors, meeting in the morning at the church for sharing and lunch, and then going together to the Museum Center to see the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit, with John Kampen as our tour guide.  The Dead Sea Scrolls include much more than just biblical writings, but my thoughts right now relate to the books we know as scripture.  Here are three areas of thought from the experience, some coming from John’s commentary, and some coming from the exhibit itself. 

1. The relationship between text and historical/physical reality.  The Bible tells a certain kind of coherent narrative of the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt through deliverance, conquest and settling in the land of Canaan, monarchy, exile, and return to the land.  When archeology is brought into the conversation, a different kind of historical picture emerges.  An example is that the archeological evidence points to a mixing of cultures in the land of Canaan and the emergence of a culture known as Israel, rather than one people’s relatively sudden conquest of others, like the Bible seems to portray.  So we are asked to look at some of these biblical stories more along the lines of identity formation and the mythology of a people rather than an exact historical account.  A good portion of scripture is about making meaning through the sharing of a common narrative rather than recounting history, in the way that we have come to think of history.

2. The way that the Bible came about.  The discovery and study of these Dead Sea Scrolls, the most ancient copies of scripture that we have, reveal a fair amount about how the books of the Bible as we now have them came to be.  Rather than this being a matter of going back closer to some kind of original, unblemished version of biblical text, what these scrolls show is a lively conversation and interpretation happening between text and scribe, within the text itself.  Scribes are actively inserting pieces of dialogue in various places, and shifting around how all the pieces fit together.  Commentary and text emerge together, within the text itself and only later, when the text is more set, is commentary seen as a separate, parallel contribution.

3. The difference between faith in the Bible and faith in God.  Learning about some of this scholarship can be jarring or upsetting to people of faith who have a particular view of the Bible and its role as the word of God in our lives.  A threat to this view is seen as a threat to faith itself, and there can be a fair amount of defensiveness (I was not seeing this from CDC pastors, but am aware that it happens!).  So, there’s a difference between faith in the Bible and faith in God.  The Bible as we have it today is not a historically infallible word directly from heaven, but testifies, is a witness to, a people’s journey with God and their unfolding discovery of who God is and what that means for them.  It’s a journey that grounds and orients our own journey today.

The exhibit is highly recommended, all the more if you can go on a day when John Kampen is there!


Prophetic voices

January 9, 2013

Thursday and Friday of last week I was able to attend a gathering of pastors, faith leaders, and community organizers coming together in the forming of an emerging group called Ohio Prophetic Voices.  In a nutshell, the group’s goal is to elevate the voice of faith communities to affect real change in the public sphere around pressing social issues, with an emphasis on racial equality and economic justice.  The organization is well-supported by the largest national faith based organizing organization, known at PICO, and Ohio Prophetic Voices already has five staff people.  The short term emphasis is going to be on immigration reform, which folks in-the-know believe has a six month window for significant action on the national level.  One of the long term emphases will be on addressing mass incarceration, which disproportionately affects blacks and Hispanics.  Gun violence, and the Immokalee Workers’ campaign with Kroger and Wendy’s for a penny-per-pound increase for tomatoes picked are also being addressed.

One of the main speakers at the event was Walter Brueggemann, who, basically, rocks.  What a treasure to have one of the world’s leading biblical scholars, and strong advocate for social justice, living in Ohio, right here in Cincinnati.  One of the teachings he presented to us, taken from the Hebrew Prophets, is that newness will not arise until loss is grieved.  Grief and lamentation are inherent to the prophetic imagination in that they openly name and properly express the devastation of individuals and communities.  Only after openly naming and lamenting our losses, experiences of injustice, and powerlessness, is a way opened to welcome God’s making all things new.

It’s good stuff, and it’s also very challenging.  One of the most powerful experiences for me was watching a film about mass incarceration, called The House I Live In, and then discussing it in small groups afterward.  In my group all of the African Americans had close family members who either had been in or are currently imprisoned, often for minor drug offenses.  It’s powerful when an issue that has barely touched my life comes to the fore as one that is front and center for others.  It would be great if we could have a viewing of the film with CMF and friends sometime soon as a way of widening the conversation.


2012 in review

January 2, 2013

2012 was a good year for the congregation.  Although it’s bound to leave out some important events, below is a list of some of what happened throughout 2012, roughly in chronological order:

Youth paired up with mentors + Mennonite Arts Weekend has record turnout + Bible presentations to nine year olds + Tom Kauffman visits, saying farewell to Ohio Conference + Ash Wednesday and Maundy Thursday services + Congregation affirms plans for building improvements + HOPE Committee goes to work + New MCC Great Lakes Director, Zenebe Abebe speaks at CMF + Earth Day worship service + Inquirer’s class welcomes new members + Madriver Theater Works presents “Anabel” + Baptism of Emma Patty + Becca Lachman shares poetry + Pentecost celebration and covenant signing + New AV installed and church basement waterproofed + 12 Scriptures Project and summer worship series + Community Meal goes strong + Farewell to Headings family + Hyde Park Farmer’s Market donates fresh produce to Oakley Food Pantry + Central District Conference in Normal, Illinois, passes Peace Pledge + CMF MUSE members participate in World Choir Games + Peace Churches (Quaker, Brethren, Mennonite, UU) meet for quarterly brunches + Prairie Voices choir sings for worship + youth from Chicago Community Mennonite Church stay at CMF for service trip + memorial service for Jay Garland, Community Meal friend + Ten Thousand Villages welcomes new executive director + five youth begin Catechism class with retreat + Safe sanctuary training + candy offering for gifts to inmates + Peace Sunday and Daniel Hershberger sharing about counseling with soldiers + Election Day Communion + People Working Cooperatively Prepare Affair + Hosting MCC alumni gathering, Lorraine Stuztman Amstutz speaks + Thanksgiving service, meal, and canned good offering + CMF choir sings for Thanksgiving and Christmas services + Baby dedications for Eli Swartzendruber and Holden Beighle + Fundraising for building improvements begins + Christmas Party

Thanks be to God for the gifts of the past year.  We carry good hopes for what 2013 has in store +++