“There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all.
5There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. 6God works in different
ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us.”
I Corinthians 12:4 -6 NLT
When it comes to spiritual gifts, we, as follows of Christ, are blessed by the Spirit of the Lord. It is the same Spirit, no matter the gift. It is the same Spirit, no matter how well we use the gift. The source of our gift is the Spirit which Christ promised His disciples would come and we, as the children of God have also received that Spirit when we walk in the light of Christ.
As we have learned there are different gifts. The moving of the Spirit does not leave anyone without a gift but gives to all so that we can be unified and work together for God’s glory. As Paul continues to write, he says:
“All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.”
I Corinthians 12:27 NLT
Each individual is a piece of the whole. We are one body, the body of Christ. We are one church, the church of Jesus Christ our Lord. Each gift we have is meant to be a part of the whole. It is not on one person we rely, but on everyone, whose gifts the Spirit increases as we grow together. It is the unity of our congregation that will usher in the success of Bold Hospitality.
What is being asked of you? What role will you play in the vision of Park Hill Christian Church?
The Spirit will guide you. As we learn together our strengths, our gifts, the Spirit will be moving among us, the only requirement from you is that you listen to the Spirit’s guiding. As we inventory what we as individuals bring to the table, the Spirit is guiding us to unity in the body.
Today, we may not know what roles we will be asked to play in our vision. We may not know the gift that we will exercise to bring about God’s work in our community, and that is okay. Our job today is to be open in heart and in prayer so that God’s glory will be seen. We are to be in unity. We are to join joyfully together in celebration of the One who has set us free.
Our separation is temporary, soon we will join in person and rejoice in the good works of our Lord and His Spirit. Even though it seems we are stuck, work is happening all around us. God is moving and He requires only from us unity of heart and mind. Stand together with us virtually. The greatest gift we all have at this moment is unity in the Spirit. Take this time to pray that our unity will strengthen despite the separation we face. Take this time to prepare your hearts for the miracle of the Lord.
We are one body! We are led by the Spirit of the Lord! We will overcome the forces that would dampen our vision! We will see God move in miraculous ways in the Park Hill Christian Church Community. For His glory we affirm these things!
Good people are good to their animals;
the “good-hearted” bad people kick and abuse them.
--Proverbs 12:10 The Message
Before my wife Jennifer and I adopted our children, we had dogs. We are both dog people who grew up with dogs under foot carrying slobbery tennis balls, so in creating our first home a dog was necessary. Our first dog we named Buddy, because he was the friendliest short-haired Jack Russell Terrier. His cropped tail never stopped wagging. He was completely white except for a black spot around his left eye. He ripped up the linoleum in the kitchen of the house we rented--TWICE, but he was gentle and loving. He played with us, napped with us and laid on us when we laid on the sofa watching TV. He was an energetic but loyal family member.
When Buddy had to be put down because his aged body began to painfully give out on him, I declared that I never wanted another dog. Losing Buddy was just too painful. But as I said, we are dog people and we raised our sons to be, so other dogs eventually joined our family. I decided that even though dogs’ lives are so much shorter than ours, it is a gift that their journeys entwine with our own as long as possible. The pain of loss is the price we pay for the joy they bring us. I wept as the vet gave Buddy the shot that caused his breathing to stop, but as bad as that pain was, the joy we shared together far outweighed it.
There is a good reason why the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a run on dog adoptions. Not only are people hungry for companionship, but the stress of these times results in us needing trustworthy and non-judgmental relationships. Eckhart Tolle said this about the gift dogs offer to us in an interview with a magazine for dog owners:
It's the alienation of modern society and the human need to relate deeply to another being, which they are unable to do with humans. I hope this is changing, but in the meantime, dogs offer the opportunity to relate to and to have an open heart towards another being. To be able to show love to another being which is always [reciprocated]. That's why I think dogs have a function that is absolutely vital, to keep humanity sane in this transitional period between two states of consciousness. For some people, it's the only relationship where there's no fear and where they realize they are being accepted and not judged.
Think about that for a moment. Dogs always reciprocate the love of humans. Dogs offer some people their only relationship where there is no fear, no judgment, only acceptance. What an astounding thought. Dogs reveal to us how to be better humans.
I’ve argued with Christians who have precise theologies of the human soul and who declare only humans go to heaven. They say pets are excluded from heaven, because they don’t have souls. I’ve always felt like such declarations were deeply arrogant. We know so little about what existence after this life looks like, how can anyone know the limits of who gets to experience it and who and what does not.? When I look into my dogs’ eyes I see beings who live only in the present, who know only faithfulness, and who are more loyal than most human beings. If anything, they seem to embody more of whatever the “soul” is supposed to be than most of what I do every day.
So, I believe dogs do indeed go to heaven, whatever heaven is. If pressed, I guess I believe cats do too, and whatever other animals become parts of our families along with them. If we can experience love with them, then how much more does God, who is love, also value them? What would heaven be without them?
I’ll leave the theological debates to those who have energy for them. I’d rather go play with my dogs who teach me to treasure the wonder and beauty present in every fleeting moment.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not
live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed
anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.
--Acts 17:24-25 NIV
Let’s be clear about something. God isn’t confined to a church building. God is alive and at work everywhere in the world. Since the beginnings of Christianity until now, Christians have gathered in private homes, marketplaces and “down by the riverside.” If we aren’t careful, we can confuse a church building with God. It’s a dangerous habit of our mortal minds to confuse what is eternal with what is temporal.
I know of a church in the KC area that steadily declined in membership over the decades even though they had a nice church building. When their members grew too old and too few to maintain it, they chose to sell the building to another congregation. They made almost $1.5 million in the sale and could have used that money to restart the church in new ways, but they were too tired for such an effort. The building had ceased being a tool for ministry long ago, and without the building they felt they were no longer a church. We confuse being church with having a building all the time. The two are not the same.
Yet, church buildings, when understood in the right light, can be excellent tools to serve God’s children, both church members and non-members. Although we make church buildings an end unto themselves, they really are only a means to an end, namely showing God’s love to a world in need of it. This distinction between building as end in itself and building as tool to serve God and others is one of the greatest issues facing American Christianity today.
The good news for Park Hill Christian Church is that we have a good building that remains in relatively good shape. It sits at a great location and is accessible to people with disabilities. Yes, it takes money to maintain a building of this size, but those are the normal costs of owning real estate. The building is not facing structural collapse or in need of immense rehabilitation. It has the potential to be used much more than it normally is in non-COVID-19 times, and with the proper vision by church members it can be a wonderful tool for ministry to the community.
Compared with many congregations—maybe most congregations—including ones I have served in the past, Park Hill is in a good position building-wise. I am personally aware of dozens of churches who have building issues with repair costs far beyond what they can ever reasonably hope to repair. Unfortunately, most of those congregations will not be proactive about selling their property and using the proceeds to keep their church going. Instead they will “go down with the ship,” so to speak, because they have confused their church with their building. Park Hill doesn’t have to make that choice, at least not now.
A few weeks ago, you were mailed a letter informing you Rev. Dr. Larry Patterson, former minister of PHCC, will be back on Sunday, September 13. During Rev. Dr. Patterson’s time the church built the Life Center and named it in honor of him and his wife, Mary Ann. Now, the current PHCC Board chose to make this occasion an opportunity to make a bold request. They asked PHCC members and friends to pay off the remaining mortgage debt for the Life Center. If this can happen, PHCC will be in a strong position to move into the future.
It’s no secret that PHCC has like most churches a membership generally older in age. Most churches are not increasing their membership numbers and the funding which can come from more people. To the contrary, churches across the country are having to rethink what membership even means to a culture that no longer finds value in “joining” anything. So, if PHCC can pay off this debt, it means decreasing its expenses at just the right time. The money currently paying the mortgage can be used for building maintenance and ministry to the community. If this debt can be taken care of, PHCC will be in a far better position than most churches to move into a bright future.
The bright future of PHCC will depend, however, on more than removing the building debt. It also depends on church members using the building to serve the community rather than as a private club house. The PHCC Board has taken the input from the 40 Days of Prayer and Purpose and produced the idea of “Bold Hospitality.” Bold Hospitality means actively welcoming the community into our building as a means of service in the name of Jesus Christ. The beginning of this movement is happening as we open our building to groups serving adults with mental disabilities and another congregation that does not have its own building yet. Groups that can afford to pay rent will do so, and some who cannot afford it but who still meet unmet needs in the community will be provided the space as a part of our ministry. This is only the beginning of moving PHCC’s building from being just one more building people pass by as they go about their day into it being a site the community looks to for connection and purpose.
Step 1 in PHCC having a proper theology of its building is getting rid of the building debt in order to funnel its resources towards serving the community via its building. Step 2 is PHCC actively connecting its building to the work the Holy Spirit is already doing in our community. Remember, God is not confined to a building. God is already doing saving work all around our church’s location. We only need to make our building fully available to God and it will be used to change lives for the better.
If you are planning on being present on Sunday, September 13 to welcome back Rev. Dr. Larry Patterson, please send in your R.S.V.P. (Church leaders and Rev. Dr. Patterson fully understand that many who wish to be present cannot do so because of the risks of COVID-19.) Also, now is the time to make your contribution to paying off the mortgage for the Patterson Family Life Center. Unlike your usual contribution to the church’s operating budget which pays for staff, maintenance and outreach, 100% of funds given toward this goal will be applied to paying off the mortgage. PHCC stands ready to step into a bright future.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
For who is God except the Lord?
And who is a rock besides our God?
--Psalm 18:31 NRSV
On KC sports radio this morning, the program hosts talked about how thanks to Covid their internal measures of time have been disrupted. Normally, preseason pro football happens in August but not this year. This year NBA finals are happening now instead of months from now. Major league baseball has only been playing a month instead of since May. Each of the radio guys said it didn’t feel like it usually does a week before Labor Day weekend.
I share their feelings. Usually my sons have already started back to school in mid-August. At this time in normal times, I’m watching the Chiefs preseason games and picking who I think will make the roster. Most summers I’m debating which summer blockbuster movies are the best. In every other summer, my family and I are trying to get in as many trips as we can to local pools before they close for the season. The routine of my life has been disrupted.
Maybe you feel the same way. It can be jarring when our expectations of what life will bring go unmet. We know that life potentially can be upended at any moment, but we are creatures who long for routine and the security of knowing what comes next. To live during such a time of uncertainty means living with a level of vigilance that can become exhausting after a while.
There are spiritual lessons in this time of upheaval if we are willing to take them in. These days of living with a pandemic remind us that there are no true guarantees in life. Only God remains present and secure in the many twists and turns of our lives.
The Psalmist asks, “For who is God except the Lord? And who is a rock besides our God?” In this poetic language lurks the question, “What is truly secure besides God?” We invest people, relationships, objects, governments, bank accounts, etc. with a belief they are permanent, but none truly are. Relationships change. People can be fickle. Governments come and go. Houses and money can be lost as the economy changes. Only God remains as firm as an unmovable rock but as close as a loving friend.
20th century theologian Paul Tillich wrote in his classic book The Shaking of the Foundations:
Providence is the faith that nothing can prevent us from fulfilling the ultimate meaning of our existence. Providence does not mean a divine planning by which everything is predetermined, as is an efficient machine. Rather, Providence means that there is a creative and saving possibility implied in every situation, which cannot be destroyed by any event.
No matter our circumstances, the one thing that remains constant is God’s creating and saving work in every moment of our lives. Put a different way, Jesuit priest Pedro Arrupe wrote:
"I am quite happy to be called an optimist, but my optimism is not of the utopian variety. It is based on hope. What is an optimist? I can answer for myself in a very simple fashion: He or she is a person who has the conviction that God knows, can do, and will do what is best..."
Life happens. Calamity can strike in a sudden and random manner. Our sense of security and well-being can be lost in an instant, because who or what we have invested ultimate assurance in turns out not to be God. Yet, despite life’s travails and our reactions to them, God remains with us and will do what is best for us under the circumstances.
You are not alone if you feel the disorientation of these days. Plenty of folks are right there with you. Most of all, God is right there with you, and no matter what comes in this life, God will remain constant.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
Make no friends with those given to anger, and do not associate with
--Proverbs 22:24 NRSV
Are you familiar with "Florida Man?" This internet meme is a guilty
pleasure of mine. It's been around since 2013 when somebody on the internet
noticed the outrageous news stories coming out of Florida with headlines
that always began with the words "Florida Man." If you want an idea of the
phenomenon, just google the words "Florida Man" and see what comes up.
Recent "Florida Man" headlines include:
"Florida man accused of climbing onto semi in traffic during road rage
"Florida Man Arrested for Cashing in Lottery Ticket at Gas Station He Stole
It From, Cops Say"
"Florida man arrested after living in luxury suites in pro soccer stadium."
You get the idea.
Dave Barry likes to joke that the wackiest people in America all roll down
into Florida. The Florida Man phenomenon got so bad that the humorist wrote
a book called "Best State Ever: A Florida Man Defends His Homeland." Barry
isn't the only one whose made a living poking fun at their home state,
satirist Carl Hiaasen has another novel out right now about the over the top
events in Florida.
To be fair, I'm told there are plenty of law-abiding and normal people who
live in Florida. Also, the reason the whole Florida Man thing is a guilty
pleasure for me is because most of the wildest headlines are people with
real problems. If you look beyond the headlines, the stories are often sad
ones. An article in Columbia Journalism Review pointed out the Florida Man
phenomenon is "one of journalism's darkest and most lucrative cottage
industries" where "stories tend to stand as exemplars of the mythical
hyper-weirdness of the Sunshine State, but more often simply document the
travails of the drug-addicted, mentally ill, and homeless." This raises the
question if there could just as easily be a "Missouri Man" or "Kansas Man"
phenomenon as well. If journalists were to frame the stories of
drug-addicted, mentally ill, and homeless people in our two states in
similar ways, we could have our own internet memes too.
Recently, I've noticed a change in Florida Man stories that are probably
true of Missouri Man and Kansas Man too-not to mention Missouri Woman and
Kansas Woman. The stress of COVID-19 combined with an election season has
provided plenty of opportunities for wild and wacky headlines. Here are a
"Florida man accuses of threatening grocery store employee with ax after
being told to wear a mask"
"Florida man accused of firing shots inside Miami Beach hotel lobby over
"Florida man accused of punching neighbor over Biden campaign sign: police"
I'm pretty sure you could find similar stories in Missouri, Kansas and all
over the country.
It's a tough time with more reasons than normal to be upset and to react
badly. As I scan this weeks headlines as college students are back in
school and elementary through high school students soon to start back one
way or another, I see lots of upset people on all sides of what to do about
COVID-19. I also see plenty of conflict over politics on social media. I
certainly admit that there are legitimate injustices in our society that are
worth getting upset about, but I'm also pretty sure that most of us need to
just calm down and take some deep breaths.
The book of Proverbs in the Bible has a lot to say about anger. I know
sometimes these Bible verses can oversimplify complex things. Sometimes
anger can be a healthy thing when we are mistreated, oppressed or abused.
Anger can be a means of claiming one's own power. The kind of anger I think
Proverbs is generally talking about is one that is destructive in all the
wrong ways. This is the kind of anger that sensible people have to
apologize for after they calm down-you know the kind of anger that happens
when a teenager working in a drive through messes up your order and you then
take it out on your kids. Not that I know anything about that from
Proverbs 22:24 says, "Make no friends with those given to anger, and do not
associate with hotheads." What? If I followed that advice, I'd have to
stop watching the outrage machine on cable news. If I didn't associate with
hotheads, I'd have to un-friend all my "friends" on social media-and they'd
have to un-friend me as well. If I backed away from people who are "given
to anger," I'd have to socially distance myself from most everyone in our
culture. Oh wait. . .
Don't be the Florida Man or Missouri/Kansas Man or Missouri/Kansas Woman.
Step back from your computer keyboard or smart phone before you fire off
that reply to somebody with whom you disagree. Turn off the news when you
find your blood boiling. Take a deep breath and count to ten when you are
about to lose control over a person not wearing a mask at the super market
or depending on your point of view, when you are about to lose control
because a minimum wage employee asks you to wear a mask when you enter a
Do whatever you need to do to calm down and chill out.
Ask yourself if this is really worth getting angry about?
Ask yourself if your anger really accomplishes something or if it is just
self-indulgent bad manners?
Don't be a headline-although if you do, make sure it's funny, because I need
a good laugh.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
“19See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” Isaiah 43:19
In this moment we are in the wilderness, but God is doing a new thing for us, of this much we can be certain. Since February we have been listening and praying for guidance for our community of believers. We have come to a vision of Bold Hospitality. In July, a letter was sent out from the church Executive Committee to all members of the congregation, both present and former. The letter was a moment to reminisce and to look to the future.
Our future lies in the vision of Bold Hospitality and the July letter explained that in the following way:
On Thursday evening, August 20th the board met and approved our first steps toward this vision.
On August 30th, the Athens congregation will hold its first meeting in the Life Center.
This small church is a start-up of one of our Merry Moments families. God has moved in an amazing way bringing us together through the preschool. In the near future Athens would like to explore using our sanctuary for their own services. This meets the portion of our vision of sharing space with another congregation. Thanks be to our Father and Lord for the circumstances where we are able to offer our space for the furthering of His work!
The board also approved moving forward with partnering with Behavioral Innovations and Mondays with McDaniels to use our building for events with special need adults. These two organizations were brought to our attention by member Cheryl Stone. They fit very well into our second part of our vision.
With these organizations we will be sharing our space while they are responsible for all activities. One of the concepts is a “day-out” option for care providers of adults with disabilities. All staffing and upkeep will be handled by the organization. While it doesn’t require anything special from our membership, it is filling a vital role in the community. Cheryl spoke of how there are few places in the Northland available to people with these special needs. In our offering up our facility to these groups we are providing our Northland community a nearby meeting place for socialization and training of a vulnerable segment of our community.
These are just the beginning of our vision, but they give you an idea of what God has instore for us here at PHCC. Whether it’s sharing with another congregation or an organization we are using the gifts we have been granted to further God’s plan for our community.
Together we are a part of this “new thing” God is doing. To Him we give all thanks and glory!
Thus says the Lord:
Maintain justice, and do what is right,
for soon my salvation will come,
and my deliverance be revealed.
--Isiah 56:1 NRSV
One party’s political convention just ended and another is set to begin in a few days. As I listen to the media coverage of this political season and the varied opinions of pundits, I find myself hungry for something deeper than political conventions can offer. I believe these conventions matter, in spite of their manufactured nature, because they hold up a mirror to where we are as a society and the offer competing visions of where we can go from here. I also believe this coming election matters greatly—more than any election in my lifetime—in terms of what kind of nation we will be now and in the future. Yet, I am reminded every election season of the limitations of politics when it comes to offering us a vision of what humanity should look like and why our individual contribution to the complex web of humanity matters
Walter Brueggemann is a scholar of the Hebrew Bible (what Christians dare to call the Old Testament). His work on the Hebrew prophets has set the standard for understanding the biblical vision of how faith and politics mix. He writes in his classic work The Prophetic Imagination that prophets exist to offer an alternative reality to what he calls "royal consciousness. Royal consciousness, the worldview of the powerful elite, was marked by three characteristics:
“Royal Consciousness” sounds an awful lot like the culture we live in. No, we do not have a king, but I believe it is fair to say that in our culture those in power are out of touch with their own pain and the pain of the world, especially the cries of the oppressed. I think it is also fair to say that those in power think of God in terms that are too “immanent.” God is not holy and cause for humility and self-reproach. Instead God is a means to political power and merely a rhetorical tool under their control.
Our image of the biblical prophets may be one where we see them as only pronouncing doom and gloom. Yet, they also offered amazing visions of hope and beauty. Brueggeman called these wondrous visions "the language of amazement." He writes: "It is a language that engages the community in new discernments and celebrations just when it had nearly given up and had nothing to celebrate." The prophets’ job was to not only critique the dominant worldview in order to point out its inadequacy but also to point towards an alternative worldview more awesome than human institutions can offer on their own.
Right now I’m looking for more than political campaigns, as important as they may be. I am looking for present day prophets who not only reveal the shortcomings of our society but s how us that a better one is possible.
In my opinion, we can find an example of a present-day prophet offering up an alternative vision of our society in Rev. William Barber II, a Disciples of Christ minister and leader of The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. This movement intentionally echoes the “Poor People’s Campaign” of Martin Luther King, Jr. which sought to address issues of poverty for people of all races and skin colors. Barber declares, “There is not some separation between Jesus and justice; to be Christian is to be concerned with what’s going on in the world.” Although often pigeonholed by critics as “liberal," Barber says, “Republicans have racialized poverty, and Democrats have run from poverty, And we’re forcing them to deal with the reality. We are very political, but we’re not partisan.” He offers a form of advocacy rooted in the tradition of the biblical prophets. You can find more about Barber’s work at www.poorpeoplescampaign.org.
I’d love to hear examples of who you see as a present-day prophet.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who
sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up
your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God
is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough
of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.
--2 Corinthians 9:6-9 NRSV
A major effort in my spiritual journey has become learning to trust in God’s abundance. We are bombarded in our culture by messages that declare what we have is not enough. Unless one is living without a stable source of the essentials of life—shelter, food, medical care, etc., then what one has is enough, no matter what the advertisements say.
It is so easy to fall into a mind trap of living as if you do not have enough. For me, the loop can run nonstop playing the same songs of anxiety regarding saving enough for retirement, having enough for my kid’s educations, making enough for vacations with the family, etc. If I’m not careful, these fears turn into messages of “I am not enough.” I don’t make as much money as friends and acquaintances. I’m not as successful as I should be. I don’t possess enough of the things that prove I amount to something that matters. The tricks of scarcity-thinking lead nowhere but to jealousy, dissatisfaction with life and misery.
Trusting that as a middle class American I have enough—really, more than enough—seems, well, un-American. Yet, God promises that there is enough, and when there is not enough, it is because somebody who has more than they need is not on board with God’s abundance. It’s that simple.
In these days of declining church budgets and slowing church attendance, I have often been asked, “Why does our church give its money away, when there are so many needs within our congregation?” My answer is that there is more than enough money among the people of the congregation to meet its own needs and give to needs outside the church. If the budget doesn’t reveal that, then we haven’t done a good enough job of talking about God’s abundance.
Park Hill Christian Church remains an exceptional church when it comes to its Outreach giving. You are exceptional, because you are a church that gives 10% of your budget to needs outside of this congregation. Why 10%? Well, there are Bible verses that are often used to justify a “tithe” of 10%. I’ve never found them convincing. Instead, I think 10% is a nice number for any church, family or individual who claims the name Christian to shoot for. It’s enough that for most people it’s a sacrifice, but it should be only a starting point for a life filled with generosity. PHCC deserves credit for giving 10% to other groups—that’s more than most churches these days, but 10% should be a starting point not an end goal.
I asked Outreach chairperson Rob Robinson to fill me in on the Outreach of PHCC, because it is important during this time of COVID-19 to remember that our church’s giving is still going on. Here is some of what he shared:
World Outreach--We send half our tithe (5%) of pledged and non-pledged income to support Disciples Mission Fund (DMF) which supports Christian Church, Disciples of Christ ministries around the world. Monthly gifts are $800 to $1,400 on average.
Local Outreach-- the other 5% of our pledged and non-pledged income goes to three local organizations.
In addition to these financial gifts, PHCC members volunteer weekly with Hillcrest Ministries, SPEAC food pantry and other organizations. Of course, CWF groups hold other collections and drives throughout the year (see the current school supply drive led by Deborah Group in this newsletter), and there are many other organizations PHCC has supported over the years.
Rob’s report went into greater depth than my highlights, but they are enough to remind us of the good we are doing at PHCC. Giving to groups outside the congregation reminds us that PHCC is a part of the community around us rather than an island unto ourselves. The pandemic has shown us the needs in our area are much greater than we ever realized, so now is not the time to hold off giving what we have out of a fear of scarcity. Now is the time to trust God’s abundance more than ever and give freely out of what we have more than enough of to those in need.
When Paul raised money for fellow Christians living through a famine, he wrote these words in 2 Corinthians 9: God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. Trust in God’s abundance. Trust that you have enough, more than enough. Believe that you are enough as you are right now, and accumulating more stuff is not the answer to any feelings of inadequacy you may have. Live freely knowing God has already created you as good, and more money, more stuff has not and never will prove your worth.
When we start to live out of the truth of God’s abundance instead of our culture’s lies of never having enough and never being enough, we understand the freedom and blessings that come in sharing “abundantly in every good work.”
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let
anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture
has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’
--John 7:37-38 NRSV
How many times have you washed your hands today?
In these days of pandemic, maybe you have lost count of how many times you have moved to a sink, gotten soap from a dispenser or a bar of soap and washed your hands. Did you wash your hands for 20 seconds as health experts recommend? Maybe you sang “Happy Birthday” to ensure you washed long enough?
I confess to still viewing hand washing as a chore. I’m doing it, but I don’t like it. My habit of washing my hands obediently yet begrudgingly goes way back long before the days of COVID-19. I was a boy after all. I dislike making generalizations about gender, but many boys seem genetically predisposed to resist washing themselves. I was especially terrible as a teenager, and now raising two teenage sons I’m experiencing payback for what I put my parents through. My house smells more like a high school boy’s locker room than I care to admit. As I try to enforce basic hygiene, I try to remember I was once that way too.
I certainly never thought there was anything spiritual about washing my hands. I grew up among “free church” Christians, the type of Protestants that includes Baptists, Christian churches (of which Disciples of Christ belong), Congregationalists and others, who originated as dissenters from official state churches that were most commonly Anglican or Roman Catholic. In these traditions, rituals and traditions are viewed with suspicion. After all, Jesus criticized the Pharisees for their empty rituals (such as washing hands!), so we were to avoid them too. Never mind that we had our own unconscious rituals and traditions in how we did church.
Faith was a thing one believed rather than experienced. Finding God in nature and every day activities seemed to err into the territory of the New Age movement. Strict boundaries between what is spiritual and what is “worldly” were necessary. In hindsight, I wonder why we talked so much about God being omnipresent, while at the same time we acted as if God was only present in the church building or at sacred spaces like church camp. We missed out on a lot of opportunities to experience God in the ordinary moments of life.
Maybe God is present in the ordinary “rituals” of life, even in the ones we’d rather not do. Maybe God is to be found especially in the moments when we do the necessary chores of life. In seminary, I was assigned The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence, a medieval monk who was famous for saying, “God is among the pots and pans.” I’ve been wondering lately if I’m missing out on experiencing God’s presence among the many inconveniences of life during the Coronavirus, such as the times when I wash my hands.
I came across the following prayer from the spiritual writer Gunilla Norris and it caused me to think differently about this oh so common activity of washing hands.
Inside, my body consists mostly of water, the way the globe, too, consists mostly of water. I came to be within the waters of my mother’s womb. So when I wash I like to remember that I am in my element…Your water…Your living water. Help me scrub my face free of its masks so I can return to the true self You gave me.
The prayer from Gunilla’s book Being Home inspired me to look her up. On her web site, she shares about writing the book. I love what she says.
When I published Being Home in 1991 I did not know that I had begun a series of books on what I now call household spirituality, or the practice of spiritual awareness in the most mundane and simple of circumstances. Together these books seem to me to be like a crystal with many facets. They are part of one thing and yet shed light from different perspectives on the humblest of our day-to-day tasks. It has always been my understanding that when we are really present in our daily activities, our lives become more luminous, filled with love and grace.
Whether we are living in the present days of confusion brought on by COVID-19 or some blessed future post-vaccine time, our ordinary day-to-day tasks, even the ones we may grudgingly do for our health and the health of others like washing hands, contain the possibility of “our lives becoming more luminous, filled with love and grace.”
May your daily “rituals” be filled with the blessed presence of God.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for
many false prophets have gone out into the world.
--1 John 4:1 NRSV
I was a relatively new minister serving in a church in New York still reeling from the 9-11 attacks which had happened only months earlier when it happened. I met with a church member who was eager to talk with me about something important. I had expected to talk about some personal struggle or perhaps the collective trauma of the attacks on the World Trade Center. Instead, the church member launched into a long explanation of the research they had been doing online which revealed a conspiracy secretly running the world.
The church member handed me a binder full of information printed off the internet with charts connecting the Illuminati to the United Nations to the New World Order. I was stunned, to say the least, that this well-educated successful suburbanite was invested so deeply in the conspiracy theories they presented me. I tried to steer the conversation towards the person’s own internal struggles, but it was apparent they were disappointed I didn’t buy into the secret knowledge they possessed.
This encounter happened when the Worldwide Web was still relatively new, before social media and smartphones, but it is a phenomenon that has been common in American Christianity for centuries (witch hunts, vampire scares, Jewish cabals, Catholic plots, Freemasons, etc.). For that matter, conspiracy theories and claims of “secret knowledge” have been a part of Christianity from its beginning. Maybe they have been a part of religion since humanity first began walking upright. The allure of being among the chosen few who know what lurks behind the veil of reality as perceived by the masses is addictive.
My attention was drawn today to an editorial at Religion News Service titled “QAnon: The Alternative Religion That’s Coming to Your Church.” The author is a former editor at Christianity Today, not exactly a liberal alarmist publication, yet she laid out the dangers of this online conspiracy movement for local congregations—especially conservative evangelical ones.
If you’re not familiar with QAnon, be careful when you google it. You’ll quickly go down a rabbit hole of conspiracies that has no end. In general, this conspiracy theory began on a site known for racist and far right content called 4chan. An anonymous user named “Q” began posting claims of inside knowledge about high level Democrats running a child sex ring and elements in the Trump administration working to stop it. In cryptic language that is often religious in nature, the posts implicate the media, Hollywood movers and shakers, and Democrats. Sharing QAnon-related conspiracies has grown exponentially in the age of COVID-19; one study showed posts sharing QAnon conspiracies increased by 71% on Twitter and 651% on Facebook since March of this year.
Once upon a time, conspiracy theories were only things your “crazy uncle” spouted at family gatherings or shared in late night dorm room discussions. Yet, now they are common and rampant among White Evangelical Protestant Christians who generally distrust the media and question scientific consensus on things like evolution and climate change. Of course, left-wing conspiracies have been common in the past as well. What they all have in common is the promise of granting a select few the satisfaction of knowing the “truth.”
Scholars generally credit the appeal of conspiracy theories to the need for people to cope with a disorienting world where ordinary people are buffeted by complex forces lacking easy explanations. It’s easier to believe COVID-19 is a plot by evil left-wing industrialists than it is to accept that there is a fatal disease that doesn’t seem to affect some people but kills others. It’s easier to believe a pedophile ring is killing the job market than it is to make sense of an impersonal global economy that ships jobs overseas. In the same way, it was easier for the Puritans to kill witches when illness struck villagers in the 18th century than to believe in things like germs, hereditary and sanitation.
Katelyn Beaty, the author of today’s editorial, along with the great religion journalist Jeff Sharlett and others have equated the recent QAnon conspiracies with the early Christian heresy Gnosticism. Like QAnon, it had cryptic texts that promised enlightenment to its adherents. Christians combatted the heresy by turning back to scripture and pointing to the incarnation of Christ, who was not an esoteric spiritual being but an actual human being who demonstrated love of neighbor, caring for the least in society and a message based on concrete examples of lost sheep, parents and children, day laborers and landlords. Jesus taught a Gospel of love that was difficult for the masses to accept, because of its demands of self-sacrifice. The promises of Gnosticism offered the exultation of humans through secret knowledge, while the Gospel of Jesus offered the exultation of God through easy to understand acts of every day love.
The author of the First Letter of John told their readers to “test the spirits,” and urged them to believe that Jesus Christ had come in the flesh. Why this emphasis upon the incarnation? Because Jesus was not just a ghost passing through this material plane, but a human being who knew what it is to suffer and gave his life for the sake of others. The author of the letter goes on to offer some of the most beautiful language about God ever written: “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” In other words, the way to test a belief system is to ask, “where is the love?”
Whether the conspiracy theory is QAnon, the Illuminati, the Freemasons or ancient Gnosticism, a simple way to “test the spirits” is to ask where is love in this system of belief? Does this worldview result in people forsaking their own ego to show love to others around them or does it exalt the ego by declaring its adherents are superior to others because they alone know what is really going on? QAnon may be the latest false religion to invade Christianity, but it’s the same song different verse. It’s just another selfish attempt to declare some are better and more spiritual than others. Jesus didn’t have much patience for religious know-it-alls. We shouldn’t either.
Grace and Peace,