The Salty Church

Last week, I headed to Austin for the annual MidWinter Lectures at Austin Seminary. Austin, the city and the seminary, have been formative places for my faith. In the seminary, I learned how to truly read the bible. I studied Greek and Hebrew, theology and mission, ethics and pastoral care. I preached in a classroom and in a chapel to get legs underneath me and breath in my lungs.  I studied, practiced, thought, and read in the safety and comfort of seminary walls, lush landscapes, and iconic live oaks.

The city of Austin was also formative to my faith. Beyond travel, I never lived beyond a twenty mile radius surrounding Tulsa, Oklahoma until seminary. I had seen the world in travel, but, perhaps, only the shiny spots. Austin was different. Austin was and is a contradiction. Democratic capital in the middle of a red state. Rampant homelessness alongside a city spotted with “McMansions”( and the real ones). Bustling college town across Town Lake from a colony of retired hippies in south Austin. Musicians, techies, politicians, hipsters, and hippies all side by side. Every race and creed blended together. People enthusiastically practicing the unofficial Austin motto of “Keep Austin Weird” next to the decidedly un-weird crowd of the Texas State Capital. (They are actually weird also, but in their own unique way.)

What Austin taught me and continues to teach me is that whatever we think and believe in the context of the seminary or church has to translate beyond the property line of our institutions. Our theology must speak to the world that exists around us. Our missiology must relate to the communities we seek to serve. What we preach and say must matter to God and humanity, particularly that humanity we call neighbor.

This is a lesson not just for me, but for Connecting Point Presbyterian Church, as well. What we think and believe matters little if it is not translated into action and effect beyond the walls of wherever it is we call home. In Matthew 5:13, it says “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” Saltiness used to be a term of derision. “Michael, you sure are being salty today.” I would take it as a compliment today for myself and our church to be called salty because of our willingness to take what we believe beyond Sunday morning. In the Kingdom of God, only the “salty” church is changing the world.

The Marathon of Holy Week

A new season has started. Spring is a week away.  Winter is just now losing its grip. With the last round of snow out of the way, running season has begun. I live in a neighborhood with serpentine running trails meandering throughout the homes and parks. Miles of paved trails lead active individuals around and around on an endless route of car-free paths. And just this week, people are beginning taking advantage of the season change. Some evenings it seems like everybody in the subdivision is out of his or her house running.

Many of those people are training for marathons. The OKC Memorial Marathon is just around the corner on April 26. In my life, I have run my fair share of races. As a child, we did a lot of fun runs. I loved to do sprints and other races in gym class. I have zero athletic skill, but I can run fast .briefly. As an adult, Kati and I have participated in 5Ks together at the Deer Creek Classic and the Remember the Ten run in Stillwater. I even had a treadmill in my house for a couple of years that received regular use. I say that to say this: I cannot physically or psychologically conceive of running a marathon.

26.2 miles is a long way. Each mile brings its own set of challenges: hills and valleys, sun and shade, wind and rain. A marathon cannot be won in the first mile or the fifth mile or even the twenty-fourth mile. It can be lost anywhere along the way. A runner can go too fast in one section and ruin another. The stress of a particularly strenuous hill climb can change the mentality for the rest of the race. Negative thoughts in the heat of day can sneak in and stay even as the cooling rain begins to fall. Runners lose track of the bigger picture because of what is happening in a moment. A marathon is as draining mentally as it is physically. Beyond all of that, it just seems like a really long way to go on foot.

Another marathon begins a little over a week from now. Holy Week is its own kind of marathon. For Connecting Point Presbyterian Church, it means four worship services of various kinds and two events in the course of eight days. It means a lot of long days and nights at the church preparing for and actually doing what we have been planning for months. Like a true marathon, the marathon of Holy Week comes with its own set of issues. Can I really make it to four services? How can I lead, participate, and still enjoy the week with so much happening? What if I am tired and worn out byWednesday?

I think that is where the marathon runner helps us. They enjoy running. They enjoy running that far. They enjoy the scenery and the challenge. It is a process and journey for them that runs all the way from training to the race itself. No one part gets all the attention or energy. No one part makes or breaks the race. Sure some parts need more effort. In other stages of the race, they may turn the pace down a little. They may be a leader in one area and follower in another.  What matters is completing the 26.2 mile journey.

Enjoy the marathon of Holy Week. Appreciate all the ebbs and flows of what is to come. This week contains the highest highs and the lowest lows of our faith. Experience all of that. Take a break where necessary too. Push on where you need to, as well. The finish line, Easter Sunday, is only over the next hill

Celebrate With Joy

Why are we not more joyful? Christians as a whole, Presbyterians in particular, why are we not filled with more joy?

This Sunday, Palm Sunday, the crowds will shout for joy for Christ’s arrival. They will praise his name and celebrate his entrance. Easter Sunday, the disciples will be happily amazed at Jesus’ resurrection. Generations to follow will joyfully share stories and sing with delight. The church will commemorate Easter Sunday and every Sunday as a day of jubilant remembrance. Men and women will dedicate their lives with pleasure to following this resurrected messiah and his teaching. They will serve Christ and others they meet with gladness.

But why are we, modern day, Presbyterian, mainline Protestant, reformed type Christians not more joyful? The low-hanging-fruit answer is that we are a faith that is mostly head and much less heart. We have been dubbed the “frozen chosen” for a reason. We do not dance and sing with hands in the air. We do not even clap well. And there might be something to all of that.

The Protestant work ethic might also get in the way. We are constantly working. We value work above leisure and joy.  We are suspicious of “down time”. “Aren’t we supposed to be doing something right now? What have I forgotten?” Or even worse, “Now that I have a break, what more can I do?” Or even worse than both of those, “What is next to do?” There is a wall of separation between us, our faith, and actually enjoying it being lived out because, in the back of our minds, we are always supposed to be some place else doing something else.

Often our faith is treated like a bad marriage: it receives our leftover time, leftover energy, leftover effort, and leftover money. There is no joy to be found because there is no joy left to give.

As we begin Holy Week and move from the joy of Palm Sunday to the joy of Easter Sunday. My hope is that we actually enjoy these moments. For a few moments a few times this week, set aside everything else, be refreshed, be reenergized, and joyfully celebrate these high points of our faith. Live into everything it means. Rejoice with the entire family of the Christian faith. Maybe even dance and clap a little ..

by Rev. Timothy Blodgett