Monday, December 31, 2018

Porch Story :: December 2018

porch stories 2019

Los Angeles 2018 yay

• Porch Stories host Kristin chose Faithful as her word for 2019. Will I claim a guiding star word to follow during 2019? Along with the number of books for my good reads challenge, I don't yet know. On this second day of January, I'm letting life gradually reveal itself. Like the month's namesake Janus, on this second day of January I'm glancing backward with my December photos and by pre-dating this post for the last day of December, hoping forward with a still shiny new liturgical year, with a very recently born calendar year.

• My first Porch Story of 2019 summarizes December 2018—last calendar month of the year, first four weeks of the church's New Year of Grace that included all four Sundays of Advent, Christmas Eve/Day, and the First Sunday of Christmas. As usual for my monthly roundups, I don't have much commentary or many observations, but I did collect a few pictures.

lessons and carols 2018

• From long ago at Harvard's Memorial Church when you needed a ticket to attend one of the two or three offerings, to truly truncated versions at a series of almost random local churches, to my fourth time in Current City, a Service of Lessons and Carols has become a perennial for me. I designed the cover for this year's Second Sunday of Advent Lessons and Carols.

Christmas Trees 2018

• Christmas Trees trio: in Glendale from our December 14th environmental meeting; in the bordering city of Torrance from the rehab where my landlady has been staying; {one of several decorated Nativity Trees} at the West LA church.

Christmas Eve 2018

• Although I didn't get an good enough photo of the worship bulletins stacked up in the narthex, their design and the Facebook page banner coordinated with this postcard I designed for Christmas Eve. I attended out of obligation because I'd missed the late afternoon service at the nearby church, but quietly spectacular choir and instrumental music gave me no regrets.

Sizzler Christmas Day 2018

• Since back when I lived on the Wasatch front I've been a Sizzler fan because they have one of the best salad bars, the atmosphere approaches fine dining, but it's never stuffy or formal. Plus it's perfect for a friend, friends, a group, or a crowd, For Christmas Day dinner, long-time friend A and I enjoyed a wonderfully celebratory meal at the closest Sizzler; afterwards we enjoyed conversation and much-needed dreaming.

Christmas 01 Flowers

• For the First Sunday of Christmas I played guest keyboards at church and brought home one of the bouquets of chancel flowers.

• Did you notice my L.A. Yay header banner? I still love Current City, and hope to make it work a lot better than it has been.

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Friday, December 14, 2018

Porch Story :: John the Baptist

porch stories 2019

Desert Museum 07
Sonoran Desert Wilderness near Tucson, Arizona

Porch Story host Kristin features guest Beth Johnson this week.

My long ago previous city next door neighbor Sara blogged for the first time in ages with an amazing account; today's porch story expends my comment to Sara...

"The magic in the ordinary!" This entire post is so amazing! The song "Live Like You Were Dying" has it right—if we knew this was our last day on earth, what would we do? What would our concern be? New Zealand must have been a dream come true—and the power and grace of your Dad's priesthood blessing will stay with you forever!

True about living life in ordinary, small things. I teach the adult SS class at my church; next Sunday we'll be talking about John the Baptist in Luke 3:7-18 as he instructs people (a brood of vipers who need to repent) how to get ready for the arrival of God in their midst in the person of his cousin Jesus. Do you remember John and Jesus were very close in age? J the B's official church birthday is June 25, right after the summer solstice; although Jesus's birth likely was during the season of spring, we celebrate his birthday right after the winter solstice, on December 25. Birthdays of increasing and decreasing light symbolize nicely John's observation, "Jesus must increase, I must decrease." Actions of Jesus' followers – ordinary, everyday lives of those baptized with water and with fire – become a big aspect of Jesus' presence increasing and growing on earth.

Luke 3:7-18

7John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, "We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." 10And the crowds asked him, "What then should we do?" 11In reply he said to them, "Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise." 12Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, "Teacher, what should we do?" 13He said to them, "Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you." 14Soldiers also asked him, "And we, what should we do?" He said to them, "Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages."

15As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." 18So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

Your entire account reminded me:

Maybe especially smart people (like us!?) imagine doing things the world will consider amazing—teaching elementary school in the inner city, serving as a mostly pro-bono attorney for marginalized populations, serving a non-English speaking mission in a semi-exotic place, parenting a bunch of kids all of whom go on to get a PhD or MD and save their corner of the world... you know! But Jesus' cousin tells us to get ready for The Coming One by living life simply where we already are and sharing essentials like clothing and food. He doesn't even advise tax collectors and soldiers who are in the employ of the occupying Roman government to quit their jobs that potentially oppress and even could bankrupt people. We basically need to bloom where we're planted, and do everything the best we can with fairness and righteousness.

Two Sundays ago in my intro to Luke's gospel, I said Luke emphasizes:

• neighborology – the word about the neighbor! During Luke's Year C the lectionary includes quite a few readings from jeremiah and Deuteronomy that also center around the neighbor, the other, living together faithfully in covenantal community.

• Starting with John the Baptist down by the riverside counseling people to share what they have with others in order to prepare for the arrival of God in our midst, we find a lot of "social gospel" throughout Luke,. However, this isn't let's see how many good works we humans can accomplish on our own; it's always about the indwelling and outgoing power of the Holy Spirit.

I added Luke's...

• Sermon on the Plain – Luke 6:17-49 – is about re-distributive justice and material well-being. Matthew's parallel Sermon on the Mount is more about spiritual well-being.

Would God among us not be an alleluia moment, a time to sing praises?! In this riverside narrative, John the Baptist has people preparing for God's arrival in their midst by starting to live as he knew Jesus would teach us to be and to act; when that happens, everyone will shout alleluias!

This scripture passage anticipates the same Luke's Acts of the Apostles where everyone has everything in common, where members of the nascent church literally provide for the common good. In the way Jesus showed us, economic and distributive justice is very spiritual! Acts includes some pretty amazing accounts of missions to fairly distant places, too, but more than anything, it's about serving the people, people, people, right here in this very place, giving of ourselves and our excess. This is the outcome of the presence in our lives of the One who baptizes with cleansing water and purifying fire. We become part of the magic of the ordinary for our neighbors.

Just as Matthew never lets up on justice and righteousness, Luke never lets up on living for the other, for the neighbor, correcting the imbalance of some having more than they need, others trying to get by with less. Early on in Acts 2:

42And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. 43And fear [the Greek here is an awe-filled type of fear, not fright] came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. 44And all that believed were together, and had all things common; 45And sold their possessions and goods, and distributed the proceeds to all, as any one had need.

Luke (and Jesus!) never let up until everyone gathers as equals around the welcome table of a bountiful eschatological feast that is the reign of heaven on earth.

Can you tell I'm preparing for Sunday?

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Thursday, November 29, 2018

Autumn & November 2018 • Porch Story

porch story 28 November 2018

porch story 28 November 2018

• Porch Stories host Kristin features a guest with another inspiring adoption story.

• It's the end of meteorological autumn; that means I'm linking up with Emily P. Freeman's quarterly List of Learnings.



• With September 2018 inactive in terms of recordable activities, for the first time in more than a couple years I didn't post an end-of-month summary, but I blogged seven times: four with my art for Season of Creation; a book review for a launch team I served on; a Green Team talk from last spring I finally transcribed; and a porch story reflections on a possible very local church inspired by April Fiet's question on Facebook—looks as if I need to find a photo or create a graphic for that one. Blogging was rich; everyday living? on a much less rich, low-calorie bill of fare than usual.


October was an active one, with LA Metro Conference Assembly, Blessing of the Animals, God's Work – Our Hands Sunday, Pacific Air Show, Reformation 501, and the fourth Boston Red Sox World Series title of this century. I know, I live in Dodger Land and can't imagine living elsewhere, but my heart belongs to Red Sox Nation.


Theodore Payne Nursery Theodore Payne Nursery

• Green Team met again in Glendale, where I talked about encouraging spring flowers into bloom by arranging their temps so they think they've experienced winter. Afterwards? A visit to Theodore Payne Foundation's native plant nursery.

Thanksgiving Day West LA

• Earlier in the month, for the first time in almost forever, I went to craft day where we made seasonal Harvest Style Swag to help prepare for Thanksgiving Day Harvest Feast IV in West Los Angeles.

Emily P Freeman What I learned Fall 2018

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Monday, November 19, 2018

green team talk :: bulbs roots beauty

• The Lord is with you!
• And also with you.

crocusThe church's year of grace will conclude nine days from now, and then we start another season of Advent anticipation. We count each day as we look forward to winter solstice and to the birth of the Son of Light we know as light of the world a few days later. People who follow the practical and spiritual way of the wheel of the year also yearn for light and excitedly anticipate the winter solstice; their celebration of the festival of Yule coincides with our festival of Noël.

For several years I've been following the 2-year standalone daily lectionary that's separate from the Revised Common lectionary. Specifically, I've been enjoying the Presbyterian Church (USA)'s daily office app that draws upon the daily lectionary for its scripture readings; this is the week of the prophet Joel. Most likely Joel wrote after the Babylonian exile. God's people already had escaped bondage and slavery to empires of Egypt and Babylon; now yet another empire, Persia, impinged on people's lives and freedom. Whether nation-state or trans-national industry, empires appear to be here to stay, so we need to learn ways to counter them.

21Do not fear, O soil; be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done great things! 22Do not fear, you animals of the field, for the pastures of the wilderness are green; the tree bears its fruit, the fig tree and vine give their full yield. Joel 2:21-22

In Joel 2:21 we hear the constant biblical admonition, do not fear, don't be afraid! This time Joel addresses what the NRSV interprets as "soil." The Hebrew language uses the same word for earth, land, soil, dirt, ground; which one it refers to depends upon context. In Genesis God gives earth to humans as a gift and as a charge.The earth of Genesis becomes the land of Deuteronomy. The land of Deuteronomy becomes the heaven under our feet of well-tended, carefully stewarded turf in promised land Canaan, and in our cities and towns, as well. Joel assures the land and the residents upon the land prairies will be green again, trees will flower, vines will yield abundance.

Maybe especially as days become shorter, nights get longer, we long for light that brings life, for beauty that's evidence of life. Did you know flower bulbs including daffodils, amaryllis, jonquils, tulips. crocuses, hyacinth, grape hyacinth {a green team member added iris, and then there's narcissus}, carry anticipation of new, eastered life within them? Those bulbs contain everything necessary for new life! That is, they contain almost all the essentials for new life. Everything except winter. We can provide winter for spring bulbs by placing them in a cold place for six or eight weeks. In the LA coastal basin or one of our inland climates, a fridge probably is the best option, though if you're in mountains or desert, the garage or an unheated basement might get chilly enough long enough. crocusHushed, quiet, still, chill of winter is essential to make roots that literally give the bulbs power to make flowers; winter temps allow bulbs to grow long, deep roots. When bulbs spend enough time in the cold, they think they've experienced winter, and they grow life-giving roots. Empires and struggles are here to stay; surrounding ourselves with beauty is one way to counter them.

In scripture, well-cared-for land becomes a heaven under our feet and produces food for human and critter consumption, flowers and trees for beauty and overall planetary health. Especially in the wake of out of our control disasters like the recent night club shooting and state-wide forest fires, we need beauty to keep going on with our lives. I'm going to chill some crocus bulbs so I can anticipate and enjoy eastered new life before the season of winter's technically even over. What's your plan?

To God alone be glory; amen!

Friday 16 November 2018 • Glendale

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Porch Story :: October 2018

October Days 2018

desert spirit's fire October Happenings

porch story 31 October Happenings

• Porch Stories host Kristin had a wonderfully full month with her family. Unlike September, the tenth month gifted me with several interesting activities.

LA Metro Conference Assembly

• Very early in October some of God's people from congregations in the Los Angeles Metro Conference (basically a local division of Southwest California Synod that's our mid-level judicatory) met for worship, breaking of bread, fellowship, conversation, and a view into a possible future.

• Artistic skies make early nightfall worthwhile.
• How do you like the cross of hands on the door?
• As at many church gatherings, we had Subway subs for dinner.

early October night skies hands cross subway sandwiches

Second Annual Critter Blessing

• With Annual Blessing of the Animals Take 2 incorporated into Sunday morning worship, a few people brought their pets, but more of us went with pictures of our companion critters along with endangered parts of creation that especially concerned us.

blessing of the animals blessing of the animals blessing of the animals

God's Work Our Hands

• We went very local in the church campus backyard for an installment of the denomination's God's Work Our Hands initiative and put together several hundred nutritious lunch bags to help feed the area's transient population.

God's Work Our Hands

Air Show

• This year I enjoyed the Huntington Beach Pacific Air Show from a friend's front yard, with some gorgeous trees as a backdrop; her kittehs stayed inside. Before visiting the website, I hadn't realized it was the biggest air show in the country!

air show 2018 air show 2018 air show 2018

Reformation 2018

• The year 2017 was Reformation 500, a major worldwide celebration. I designed my worship folder cover for Reformation 501 to convey a sense of continuing faithful re-formation and revitalization in the power of the Holy Spirit of life.

Reformation 2018 narthex scene

Red Sox Nation 2018

• I've belonged to Red Sox Nation almost forever; this year (my City of History, as this blog refers to it) Boston's American League team won their fourth world series title of this century! Living in Current City 3+ years means I'm no longer a Previous City transplant, so technically the Dodgers are my team, but you know... no illustrations because I wasn't at the game.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Write31Days2018 • October 17 Pause • Porch Story

day 17 pause

porch stories 17 October pause

Edited later to say I quit the October 31 days writing challenge (and may or may not retrieve and finish it), but I'm republishing this episode because it's a Porch Story.

Kristin's Porch Story for today is a wonderful one about her family's recent Caribbean cruise.

Whether or not you're a musician, you may realize pauses and rests or are as important to the overall effect of a piece of music as are individual notes, harmonies, instrumental timbres, and venue acoustics. On my porch story icon I very lightly wrote "Pause" in barely there Helvetica Neue Ultra Light Condensed (but increased the tracking some). Seems as if sections of my past couple of decades mainly have consisted of long pauses. How many times have I observed on this blog Life Has Seasons? Similar to music, life includes times of high productivity and intense engagement with the world interspersed with months and years as fallow as ground in winter—or maybe that's as still and hope-filled as farmland settled into jubilee sabbath?

When I wrote, "sections of my past couple of decades mainly have consisted of long pauses," that had to mean discoverable audible music between the pauses, because without the main music there can't be any pauses, rests, or other interruptions. I'll easily admit there has been discernible activity and literal music. Quite a lot of it.


People realistically expect skills, education, and experience partly to determine the extent they contribute to the greater good. But overall, have my past decades been as lightly inscribed into my surroundings as a word in ultra light Helvetica Neue?

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write 31 days 2018 potpourri graphic

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Write 31 Days 2018 • October 10 Boots • Porch Story

write 31 days 2018 Boots

porch stories 10 October But I like boots

Edited later to say I quit the October 31 days writing challenge (and may or may not retrieve and finish it), but I'm republishing this episode because it's a Porch Story.

Porch Stories host Kristin writes a long one about her daughter Rachel wanting to do, wanting to get almost everything that occurs to her because... "but I like it!". As Kristin explains, our self-willed impulses generally even out as we grow older, closer to God, and seek to align our actions with what's best for everyone.

When I chose my daily prompt from the lists Crystal provided, it had to be boots for today! Though at times I've enjoyed shorter and taller ones, most days I wear one of my pairs of what they (actually!) call combat boots. They look fun and urban with most skirts, pants, and dresses; they even go okay with shorts, though if I won't be walking much, usually when I wear shorts I rock sandals—either flip-flops or huaraches. In a cityside stroll, boots support my ankles better than tennis shoes/sneakers. Despite the firmness plus the comfort they provide, I don't wear boots because I like them!, but I've discovered a lot of other people really like my boots, so I want to wear boots because other people like them! Yay! I can't count the times people on the street, at an event or meeting venue, on the subway, in the park have complimented me because they like my boots!

On the other side of likes and preferences, I'm currently highly stressed and very distressed; I need to figure out how to regain my life, which means daring not to do optional things I'd rather not do if and/or when they're not essential to my economic or practical survival or that of others. This year's Write31Days is an example... unlike last year's Celebrating Place I'd wanted to do almost forever, I had no series topic in mind. Unlike the previous year of five minute free writes, I had no impulsive desire to illustrate every post. But I like boots, so I'm writing about them for this day 10.

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write 31 days 2018 potpourri graphic

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Write 31 Days 2018 • October 03 Sweet Spots

write 31 days 2018 sweet spots

porch stories 03 October Sweet Spots

Edited later to say I quit the October 31 days writing challenge (and may or may not retrieve and finish it), but I'm republishing this episode because it's a Porch Story.

It's Wednesday, so it's blogging doubles with Write 31 Days and Kristin Hill Taylor's Porch Stories, where this week Kristin writes about The sweet spots of Washington, D.C. she and Greg discovered on their recent trip. I'm picking up Kristin's topic.

With double faults and sweet spots, tennis can get challenging, tennis can be fun when you let it be by not taking it too too seriously. We all seek that best results, least effort sweet spot on our rackets. We look for sweet spots in relationships and activities, too. Relationship sweet spots happen when your conversation partner gets what you're telling them and does not offer an analysis or a solution, when you're in a lovely natural setting and know you're both (or y'all y'all) part of creation with a common dream of keeping the good good, helping making the less good better.

You can read about some of my sweet spot places and spaces in my Write 31 Days 2017; it even includes pictures! Short version? The Desert that revives and restores me, The City that holds my heart top my list of geographical sweet spots.

From a magazine ad for illustration board:

In the beginning, a small bell chimed. Creativity! It chimes at the heart of the human spirit. Remember the first time you spoke to the world...?

The literal full-body, mind, and spirit excitement of drawing, painting, or laying out a design that's going well is my ultimate sweet spot. Maybe as a writer. a cook, a baker, a musician, a knitter, or any other kind of artist, you know that sweet feeling and that sweet place? Nothing better ever!

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write 31 days 2018 potpourri graphic

Monday, October 01, 2018

Jeannie Marie • Across the Street and Around the World

Across the Street and Around the World: Following Jesus to the Nations in Your Neighborhood…and Beyond by Jeannie Marie on Amazon

across the street and around the world book coverYou don't need to be either Christian or considering local or international travel to a culture different from yours to benefit immensely from Across the Street and Around the World, yet if you're in either situation, and supremely if you're Christian and venturing into a nearby or across the globe community of mostly immigrants or refugees or permanent residents unlike yourself, so much the best.

Jeannie Marie reminds us everyone is not "all the same," so don't ever assume they are. Her experiences with people in Eastern – primarily Muslim – countries held high value and interest for me. I have enough basic western smarts to know (for example) despite North American culture possessing a sameness, every state and each province has quirky distinctions we need to watch out for and may not understand at first encounter. Hey, we may not even understand their regionally accented English!

Everyone everywhere is not all the same, so don't ever assume they are. "In the Gospels Jesus didn't offer the same good news [gospel] in the same way to everyone. How he offered good news always depended on the person's immediate visible need—and his or her inner felt need." (page 88)

Jeannie Marie explains Muslim culture ("culture" encompasses people who practice the religion of Islam and those who aren't necessarily religious but go along with ethnic Muslim culinary and social habits) is honor and shame based with almost no notion of sin and guilt. Although I've never been much concerned with guilt or sin, either, most Western Christians emphasize Jesus obliterating sin and guilt. That absolutely comports with many passages of scripture, and with Jesus' words recorded in Matthew 26:28, "this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured our for many for the forgiveness of sins," (though best guess is "for the forgiveness of sins" is a gloss by a later redactor to align Jesus' words and actions with passover), but the author makes clear Jesus' birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension led to a full, abundant life in every way for the entire world, all the people, all creation, and wasn't simply a near-static cancellation of sin and guilt many assume. As we reach out to previously unreached / unengaged people, we need to be like the bible as the written word of God that brings us gospels by Luke the Physician and by John the Beloved, that provides thought-filled practical counsel by James, vivid apocalyptic by John the Revelator, and not offer the same pictures and words about Jesus the living Word of God to everyone.

In the author's world, "field worker" rather than "missionary" is the current term for anyone who lives cross-culturally in order to make disciples for Jesus. Because they contain the "sent" word root, I prefer the old-fashioned missionary and missioner we still use in the protestant mainline, but that's simply an aside.

Field workers, missionaries, Jesus people interacting with other cultures also need to be aware of different life styles and worship styles amongst Christians. An individual's post-baptismal apparel isn't necessarily a white shirt and black pants for guys, long skirt and long-sleeved blouse for women. The worshiping assembly may or may not meet in a rectangular room with stained glass windows, a cross, and a plushy red carpet. Friends of Jesus may or may not gather around a round kitchen table for praise, scripture study, breaking bread and drinking wine. Particularly in terms of worship we need to remember worship and hymn-singing in both the spoken and the cultural vernacular languages of the people was one of Reformer Martin Luther's seven marks of the true church.

Although you could describe Jeannie Marie's Christian perspective as conservative evangelical rather than my own more liberal mainline, in the end all of us are about helping lead people to Jesus and thus replace life-denying practices with life-engendering ones. As my review title states, Across the Street and Around the World is solid evangelism and solid anthropology. It's impossible to cite any part of the book as more valuable than any other.

I ordered Jeannie Marie's book especially because the urban church where I'm active is in an ethnically exceptionally diverse urban area and has been successfully reaching out to nearby Iranians; more than a dozen have been baptized and have become active in worship and other activities. As an amazon vine reviewer, I read it as interested individual so didn't do anything with the Small Group Plan, Small Group Bible Reading list, or Recommended Resources for Further Exploration at the end.

my amazon review: fabulous anthropology and evangelism resource

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Porch Story :: Church

porch story 26 September nearby church


Last Saturday was the autumnal equinox; in southern California, September and October tend to be our hottest months, though this has been the third overcast day in a row instead of fulfilling predictions of near 90 along the coast and beach, close to 100 inland. As much as I love the poetic light and shadows of late summer and early fall, shorter darker days affect me physically and psychologically as they do most people. I've begun my dance of almost October ... Reformation again ... Advent's near ... then the shortest day ... followed by Nativity's bright winter lights. Then days get longer!!!!!

For her Wednesday blog, Porch Stories host Kristin reveals her September Highlights. For the first time in almost forever, nothing bloggable happened during my September, but I'll post an October summary because at the end of October we'll celebrate Reformation 501, and I anticipate other eventful activities, so stay tuned.


April asked the question on her Facebook page; she also has a standalone site—April Fiet. What question?

If you had a church located in your immediate neighborhood, what kinds of things would you love to see that church doing? What might a church in your neighborhood do that showed the church was present and cared about the people around them?

Immediate neighborhood. When I read Kosuke Koyama's Water Buffalo Theology and discussed the book on a long-ago iteration of the United Church of Christ forums, little did I know the neighborology concept would stick closely to me as I later (that later is this now) facilitated the mostly-lectionary adult forum, a.k.a. "Sunday School" at the church I attend. That word – the logos – about the neighbor was central during Luke's lectionary year C that included so much Deuteronomy and Jeremiah. For the past few Sundays we've had a semi-continuous reading through the epistle of James, though last Sunday, Pentecost 18, was my first time talking about it because we have time to consider only a single lection each week. James wrote to an experienced Christian community, and despite popular impressions of Martin Luther's not liking James because he emphasized works rather than grace, Jimmy's not about works-righteousness, but about walking the talk, living the word about the neighbor out loud. Remember, he wrote to mature Christians.

Mr. Rogers always asked the question and offered an invitation, "Won't you be my neighbor?"

The guy asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"

Where We Live

Everywhere you look they claim the year 2018 is post-Christian; stats all over the place show a low rate of weekly worship attendance, despite people continuing to check the "Christian" box on surveys and questionnaires. You've heard a one-on-one invitation most often gets people to at least visit a church? Not the pastor, not the building, not the programming.

Before saying more about what I'd want a church to do to prove its interest to the surrounding community, I'll describe how the first church of my involvement achieved local creds. Because it was very small, everyone could hold each other accountable. A person pretty much had to attend worship, go to bible study, participate in "Holy Club"—a small group that studied a book, chapter, sermon, or other document and met at someone's home with all of us taking turns hosting and providing yummy snacks. We casually called it holy club because activities for kids and teens all had the "club" designation. In addition, we got involved in local civic affairs, sometimes with more than one entity. They expected everyone to choose a political candidate or broader cause and get their feet on the ground or hands on the keyboard for whomever or whatever it was; Christianity was a lifestyle. Being a Christian meant being a neighbor by walking the talk. Their worship and study informed their public witness, so it wasn't a matter of glancing at the 'hood and deciding to do something random. I'll end this paragraph by adding that church met some of my unique needs by giving me a chance to teach piano as part of the affiliated multi-service center's programming and design some event posters and fliers.

So he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" A guy was going down to Jericho.... Technically and theologically, every human, every creature, every part of nature is our neighbor, but practically and realistically, we need to concentrate on people God's places physically closest to us. My current church doesn't remotely meet my needs to work with youth and kids or to teach art; in fact, a couple of families with young kids (young kids aren't my specialty, but all of us get older) moved far out of the area because of high housing costs. My current church can't respond to my sense of call to do any of the pocket of poverty inner-city ministry I've prepared to do, so I need to continue looking elsewhere for those things.

As examples of what a local church can do to demonstrate their presence and their care about the people around them, I'll cite my Current Church's outreach to surrounding ethnic communities, particularly several families from nearby Little Tehran. The church has provided scriptures in farsi as well as (English-language) instruction in Christian basics with an overview of the apostle's creed and the commandants, has explained why we follow Jesus, what it means to be Christian and counter cultural in twenty-first century southern California. Every other Wednesday evening they host a pro bono immigrant law clinic with legal counsel in Persian, Spanish, and English languages. Those actions directly meet obvious needs and will attract people who have those needs. Kosuke Koyama asks, "How can anyone be a teacher of religion unless he is at home with the language of the people?" It doesn't take many if any semesters of cultural anthropology to realize languages go beyond words spoken and read.

In a pocket of poverty urban or rural setting, it would be wonderful if a church could provide more than occasional fill in today's hunger food, if it could offer tutoring for students and recreational, social opps to help connect humans with other humans, to help individuals belong to community. Needless to say, wherever they are, people need to abolish typical church insider activities and insider language, to invite newcomers to take part in all aspects of ministry, even to join committees that have consisted of the same people for eons. I'd specifically like to see a church in my neighborhood say "yes!" to my offer to offer some art classes or workshops, but at least current church has been happy with my posters and bulletin covers—a distant second.


However, we're talking about church, and cannot stray so far the church turns into another social service agency. Claiming the authority of scripture, the Reformers insisted the church was the assembly gathered around Word and Sacrament, so that's where we need to begin, that's where we'll always return. If there's not sufficient energy, time, personnel, or budget for anything else, available resources go to worship. This liturgy – laos ergon, literally work of the people – models the words and the actions we need to repeat when we venture into the world after the Sunday assembly.

April asked how we in the church, we who are the church, can convince our immediate neighbors we care about them? How do we offer the invitation, "won't you be my neighbor?"? We need to acknowledge, maybe learn their spoken and written languages. We need to learn how some of their cultural habits and symbols speak a vibrant language of communication and meaning. Food, anyone? Of course!

I'm an Amazon Vine reviewer and get my choice of cool products I can keep for the cost of a timely, intelligent (whenever possible) review. A few days ago I received a copy of Across the Street and Around the World: Following Jesus to the Nations in Your Neighborhood…and Beyond by Jeannie Marie. I'm excited to start reading, and I'm excited my church invited me to serve on their newly-formed evangelism committee. With my lifelong passion for cities and The City, I tend first to think of street evangelism, but there are other-than-that approaches and I suspect Across the Street and Around the World will be inspiring.

More Chances

The font I used for the word Church in my header porch picture is Second Chances Solid by Kimberly Geswein. She has a lot of theology-tinged font names; I used her "Be Still and Know" for my Reformation Sunday 2016 worship bulletin cover. Be still and know is verse 10a of Psalm 46 Martin Luther loosely paraphrased for his hymn, "A Mighty Fortress." The Revised Common Lectionary that provides the Sunday scripture readings we use most weeks always appoints Psalm 46 for Reformation Day/Sunday, so Be Still & Know {the font} added up to a theological, liturgical, ecclesiastical triple win.

Will we as the church provide those second chances, a third chance, sixth and tenth chances just as Jesus did, those chances to reclaim disarticulated lives and fragmented humanity and show our neighbors we are with them and we care for them? It's not about scoping out the scene, picking an interesting activity off a menu, and trying it out. We faithfully can provide second and eleventh chances to our neighbors and for ourselves when our worship and study inform our public witness.

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