Uber, I’m Not Impressed

app-2941689_960_720

Companies like Uber, SquareSpace, and Airbnb have been very successful lately.  Their business model works.  And yet I have to be honest….I’m not all that impressed.  I mean, as a Church, we have been doing the same thing for over 2,000 years.  Yes, we have had limited success in Europe and North America lately.  Yes there are other times in history we have struggled.  Yes, we have made some serious missteps.  But our “brand” has endured.  Let me explain.

Take Uber, for instance.  At the end of the day, their company model is very simple – connect up people with things they need.  These days it is way more than a peer-to-peer ridesharing platform connecting up passengers with drivers.  There is UberEats, and also a bicycle-sharing program in many urban areas.  In almost 800 metropolitan areas all over the globe, they have spread like wild fire!

Uber has employed this very simple model with amazing success.  In 2019 Uber is estimated to have over 110 million users.  Its platform is through a simple mobile app, which in an organic way using algorithms and fixed prices, has a way of spreading itself.

This company has been in the news lately.  What better company to study the gender pay gap than with a company that in so many ways is gender-blind, using only algorithms and mobile GPS tracking?  Anyone can drive.  Anyone can ride.  But part of the news is how companies like this are struggling with liabilities, with reaching people with disabilities effectively, etc.

But back to the Church.  When you think of it, is the Church not a vehicle to connect up people to God?  Our whole trajectory is spiritual growth and connections, and despite the goals of some local churches, the overall trajectory of the Church is to get out of the way of the Holy Spirit and let God’s community flourish.  We, like Uber, connect people up (w/ God and each other).

Oh yes, it is messy and lacks centralized organizational structure.  But I am going to stand by our metrics, and our companies’ organizational structures.  With over 2.4 Billion followers of Jesus of Nazareth, we are the world’s largest religion.  The structures also have amazing redundancy and seem unstoppable.  Not even tyrannical regimes or governments can stop us.

Our model is simple: Connect up congregants with one another, and churches to churches, and with God, so that the Holy Spirit can transform lives.

I work for a presbytery.  This means my job on a daily basis is proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ who saves, redeems, and reconciles the world to Godself through ministries of witness, justice, and mercy.  But I get the privilege of seeing this on a larger scale, connecting ministers to ministers, churches to churches, and seeing a different way of “proclaiming” than when I was in a pulpit weekly and a local church daily.  I spend my time building and equipping vital congregations so that they can reach seekers and those in need, nurture disciples, and send apostles of our Lord into the world.

And unlike Uber, whose platforms can only be accessed through websites or mobile apps, I follow the CEO Jesus of Nazareth who can be accessed through Prayer.  It is a free app that doesn’t even require a cell phone.  This has allowed us to reach even rural communities, communities that struggle with poverty, and places Uber doesn’t dare go.  In fact, our great power is that often these are the places where our “brand” is the strongest.

We are an unstoppable force in places like the rural parts of Africa and South America, and other places in the Global South.  The Holy Spirit infrastructure is strong even in places where the country’s infrastructure is faltering.

We need to stop panicking in North America.  We spend so much time and energy worrying about church growth and bottom lines that we have forgotten that God is in charge – in fact has always been in charge.  We don’t need to worry.  We need to follow.

It would also benefit us, if rather than going off our separate ways, trying to follow the competitor, that we stay the course and come to realize that our God endures through all generations, and that our power comes not from following the bright lights and allure of money, but by following the bright Light of Jesus of Nazareth, who gave his life that others may live.

So sorry, Uber.  I’m not that impressed.  When you have endured and flourished for thousands of years give me a call, and I will be sure to be impressed.  Let me know when using your app leads to radical cultural transformations of justice and mercy, when it combats racism, oppression, and violence, when it gives new life.  Top that, Uber.

-Matt

Spiritual Deepening: Prayer on the Move, Taize, & Podcasts

taize2_orig

My spiritual life has been morphing and changing these past months.  Some of you may have noticed the Morning Reflections are much more sporadic.  Well good news! I have settled into a new routine and want to share.

My normal routine used to be the Daily Office, silence, and reflection at home each morning culminating into a written reflection.

Now because of a variety of reasons, all that has needed to change.  Part of it is no longer having a backyard so the dog can entertain himself with squirrels in the morning.  When you add the dog walk, the 35 minute commute to work, and the demands of a very busy job, an extended time of reflection at dawn is no longer feasible.

The new routine includes a lot of podcasts in the car while driving to work.  Prayer on the move!  It is also a wonderful leaning on the community for help.  In a very ancient practice, I no longer read the scripture, but am read to.  I listen in a different way – a more profound way.

And with the help of the community from Taize, I feel connected to the one, universal Church in deeper and profound ways as well.  My morning with the Taize podcast, often Monday, is a time of being showered by different languages, accents, and sounds.  I am gently reminded our community is so far greater than that which is understood.  I learn about the mystery of God at work.  Speaking a bit of French also has helped me, but when they read in German or whatever, I am not only transported in mind and spirit, I am  reminded about their aim to simplified readings that barely need a translation for the Spirit to shine through.

While I use a variety of podcasts during the week, including the Compline Service from St. Marks Cathedral in Seattle, the sermons from Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, Westminster Abbey, and the Audio Daily Office from the Trinity Mission, it is my time weekly with Taize that often opens up the world in a whole new light.

One of the joys of the Taize community, and it is reflected in the podcasts, is their commitment to inclusive worship that includes a very diverse and international set of visitors on any given week at their monastery in rural France.  This means that most of the readings are in multiple languages, normatively French, English, German, and then either Portuguese, Spanish or Korean, depending on the visitors that week.

The singing is often kept simple for the congregation with us singing in Latin or Greek, with repetitive sung phrases like “Alleluia” for the congregation as the verses are offered in different languages by the brothers.  The music actually is quite complex, but that is added in layers over time, broadened by the brothers themselves, who sit at the center of the congregation at worship, and almost function like a choir leading the people deeper into the heart of Christ.

And yet the simply responses allow and encourage me to join in, and I find myself singing along with them as I hurdle down the highway from Perrysburg to Findlay.

Below (I am hoping this works) I embedded the podcast from taize.fr for June 5, 2019.  It is a good example of these worshipful elements that transport me.

If you have any podcasts that have become spiritually enriching to you, or other spiritual practices you or your church are using, I would encourage you to share that in the comment section (or my replying to this email).

May God enliven your summer mornings.  And may the scripture come alive in you in whatever way God is calling you.  Find a rhythm that works and gets you in rhythm with God, and then share it with others.

-Matt

More than 500 Tornadoes

tornado-1193184_960_720

Ezek. 1:28-3:3Heb. 4:14-5:6Luke 9:28-36

Some of you may have seen the coverage of the recent tornado in Celina, Ohio, part of the jurisdiction of Maumee Valley Presbytery.  We begin recovery efforts to the devastating effects of the tornado, like they have been in Shelby, and similar to the recovery from flooding at the Delphos church.

The storms are widespread.  Climate extremes are saying it lightly.  The flooding across the country is almost too much to imagine, especially in places that hold special people and a special place in my heart like Oklahoma and Arkansas.

I was recently written up in the Presbyterian News Service as they covered the recent disaster in our area.  https://www.presbyterianmission.org/story/pda-is-sending-teams-and-resources-in-wake-of-severe-weather-outbreak/

One phrase jumped out: “More than 500 tornadoes have been reported in the past 30 days across the country”

Creation is crying out.  None of this extreme weather is normal.  We have failed to be good stewards of the earth that was entrusted to our care, and now the earth is moaning.  May God grace us the grace not only to respond to those caught in the recent storm chaos, but to look beyond our immediate needs to the greater challenges of climate change.

The passage today from Ezekiel paints a graphic picture – the vivid picture of someone with a wide-open mouth eating a scroll from God.  The rebellious house of Israel, refusing to hear the words from God, is now given a prophet that is having to eat God’s own words.

Upon first reading this may sound a lot like “eating one’s own words” but by story’s end we realize the words taste sweet as honey, and it turns out for Ezekiel this may be a comforting image.  He is given God’s word.  He is not alone responding to the deep failings of the people.

Even more so, God’s Word is able to spread, and he is presented with the comfort of God’s abiding presence – given words to say to this rebellious and disobedient people.

I pray that we wake up to the catastrophic effects of climate change, and we start speaking, with the boldness of Ezekiel to our rebellious and troubled times.  There is no time to be a climate denier and stick your head in the sand.  Now is the time to listen to the experts, trust facts, and listen to what the earth is telling us, a planet that in the second creation story was given and entrusted to our care.

We can no longer turn a blind eye to the groanings of the earth on which we live.   We can no longer be satisfied with cursory readings of God’s Word, but need to read deeply and be profoundly moved daily to action.  We can no longer hope that others will act while we sit idly by.

Sometimes I hear people offer their “THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS” on social media.  And while I am not saying we shouldn’t pray, I am going to point out that all good prayer leads to action.  And if no action was taken, I am suspecting there was no real prayer to begin with.  It is “thoughts and lies”, not “thoughts and prayers” that were offered.

May each one of us eat the scroll that is offered to us today.

And may that dose of God’s Word awaken our spirits and transform our lives, activating our hands and hearts into action.

-Matt

Submission and Selflessness

rice-plantation-1822444_1280

Wisdom 4:16-5:8Col. 1:24-2:7Luke 6:27-38

For those who dislike Paul, your cure may be today’s reading in Colossians.  This is a man who is completely dedicated to the task at hand.  His commitment to Christ almost brings tears to my eyes.

Not only does he “rejoice in [his] sufferings” but he offers an image of complete surrender: “in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body.”  He sees his life, not as his own, but that of the Church’s – the body of Christ.

As I travel throughout Maumee Valley Presbytery, I encounter many who are pouring their heart and soul into building up the body of Christ.  It is overwhelming some days.  To me it is a sign of the resurrection.  The dedication, the commitment, the submission to Christ that is see gives me hope in the human race, and in Christianity for the 21st Century.

The church is growing by leaps and bounds in South America and Africa.  It will not surprise you to hear the same has not been the case in North America.  And despite the rumors, the “mega” churches are not growing either.  They come.  They go.  The data supports they are similar to mainline churches – slowly trending downward.

But not so in South America and Africa!  The Church is experiencing growth – profound growth.  And no, it is not “contemporary worship” that gets the headlines.  Which churches are growing?  It is the Roman Catholic Church.  It is the Presbyterian Church in Africa that is growing.  Joel Olsteen is not the face of the growing Church in Africa, it turns out.  Pentecostalism is on the rise – hardly an expression of the prosperity gospel phenomena we see in America.  The Orthodox Church in the USA is growing.  Megachurches are in slow decline.  Those are the facts. 

I believe much of this has to do with commitment to the Holy Spirit at work.  We have a culture that simply does not value submission and dedication.  Many in our culture value individualism, adventure, and the taking of personal risk.  This has little to do with submitting to the body of Christ, or building up something other than one’s self.

So when I reflect on the decline of some of our churches in North America, I don’t get too upset.  Perhaps God needs to prune us a little.  Perhaps the wheat and the tares need to be separated a bit.  It also becomes a fair challenge that God has given us.  It is not a time to lament, but a time to work – and submit – for the Holy Spirit.

I see that happening in Maumee Valley.

I see a number of our churches flourishing in ministry and mission.  That is what happens when a church commits deeply to the Holy Spirit’s work in its neighborhood, and the lives of its members.  I am thankful – not for the daring and bold new initiatives – but for the submission and selflessness that I see.  I am most thankful when I see servanthood.  I am thankful for those who consistently put themselves second, and dedicate and commit their time and talents to something greater – God’s commission and they mystery of Christ’s revelation to the world.

At the presbytery meeting we will hear some of the stories of this daring dedication.  Come and see!  3pm.  Tuesday.  Waterville.

-Matt

CHOSEN and Thankful

food-4185324_1280.jpg

Wisdom 3:1-9Col 1:15-23Luke 6:12-26

Presbyterians baptize children.  In doing so we talk constantly about how God has CHOSEN us.  It is God who chooses, God who directs, God who initiates our welcome to a new life, God who claims us in baptism as his own.

God choosing to be our God is a constant theme in the Bible.

Today in Luke, Jesus chooses the twelve disciples.  Already our ears should perk up.

Jesus goes to the mountain to pray, spending the whole night in prayer.  When day breaks, he calls all the disciples together and chooses from among them twelve, and he names those twelve apostles.

What has God chosen you for?  What spiritual gifts intersect with the world’s needs, and where are you serving God’s kingdom?  How are you a disciple?

There are a couple of details that jump out at me in this story.  The first is the altering of the name from disciple to apostle.  It becomes clear that those who are “apostles” have special spiritual gifts, perhaps for leadership.  One can still be a disciple!  There is no “NO” in this selection.  Yes to some, and a double Yes to others.

Another curious element of this passage is its reliance on the sovereign judgment of God.  This passage is very Presbyterian!  In many non-Presbyterian churches the preaching these days focuses on how we have to “choose Jesus”.  Time and time again, scripture attests to God choosing us.  Being a Jew wasn’t something one chose, but something one was born with.  “These are my people…this is my story.”

Here Jesus chooses.  There is no indication of how or why, but we come to know why.  They do not possess amazing integrity or character.  They are not rich and do not particularly have deep connections in top places, able to get good underwriters for their ventures.  No, they were ordinary men.  They were much like you and me.

But God saw something special in them.  Mass appeal.  Future leadership potential.  Ordinary folk from ordinary walks of life who could reach out to others.  Whatever you want to call it.  Heck, it could have been you and me.  Oh my goodness….it is!

That is the good news in all of this: YOU TOO ARE CHOSEN BY GOD.  To what I am not sure.  But you are chosen and loved by God.  The question is what are you going to do with it?

-Matt

A New Lens

streets-2278471_1280

Wisdom 1:16-2:11,21-24Col. 1:1-14Luke 6:1-11

After an extended gap for Morning Reflections, I return.  Part of the issue has been settling into a new morning routine – living in a small apartment with a dog, extended morning walks, commute to work, etc.  It is also the demands of a new job, relationships to foster, procedures to get to know.

With normal routines out the window, it is not going to surprise you that observing a Sabbath day was getting more and more difficult.  It was moving around, sometimes not happening very well, and generally my schedule was all over the map.

I had to laugh then when I turned to our passages this morning only to discover Jesus breaking the Sabbath – and quite deliberately to make a point!

Jesus cures on the Sabbath.  He teaches on the Sabbath.  He allows his disciples to pluck heads of grain and eat the grain.  All this is considered work.

Jesus ends one of the conversations with: “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

Jesus also reinterprets the entirety of the Law.  No longer is the Law meant to restrict, but to set free.  It is not that the Law is obsolete, but must always be read through the lens of love.  And so, in that respect, we are not to focus on the fact that these heads of grain are being plucked (i.e. work) and that they are most probably stolen from a field that is not theirs.  Instead we are to focus on their hunger, and God’s desire to provide for us in times of need.

It is with this spirit that Colossians begins.  “We have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord.”

In our culture of instant gratification, patience is not much of a virtue.  But the Christian life demands it.  Coming to a knowledge of God’s will and cultivating wisdom are lifelong endeavors.

More than that, we are not asked to pick up our Bibles and check our minds at the door, but to wrestle with the struggles of the Law and love.  We are meant to breathe it in deeply and come to wisdom and understanding.

This is not an easy endeavor, but one that requires patience and fortitude.  It also requires a certain counter-cultural deliberateness.  Looking through a lens of love changes things!  To lead lives worthy of the Lord means turning from what the world says is important, to what God deems important.  

I wonder how this is true in your life.  From what do you need to turn to find spiritual health?  Money?  The tyranny of the clock?  An abusive relationship?

Whatever it is, I pray that God dwells in you richly, and that your hunger is satisfied by the Bread of Life.

-Matt

God’s YES Will Overcome

crown-of-thorns-2641239_1280.jpg

Jer. 17:5-10, 14-17Phil. 4:1-13John 12:27-36

Notre Dame Cathedral burns.  Damaged.  But still standing.  Many of us were deeply moved as we watched, and relieved to find out the organ is intact, much of the structure, some windows, etc.

Dan Rather put it well: “Why has the burning of Notre Dame moved so many?  Because we believe in beauty, majesty, faith, art, history, and the human expressions thereof.  We recognize in this cathedral our common humanity.  A scar now emerges in our connection to our past, our future, and each other.”

And yet I grieve that the 3 burning black churches in Louisiana recently did not get nearly the news coverage.  And why?  One struck at the beauty and majesty that we know humanity can achieve.  The other highlights the hideous hate crime of one, but the racial underbelly of our culture.  We turn from images of our own destructiveness and as we bury it, it only serves to emerge as another layer to our racist past/present.

I think coming to terms with our past and God’s new future that he intends for us remains elusive.

In John’s gospel, Jesus cries out, “And what should I say – ‘Father, save me from this hour’?  No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.”  Then later: “Now is the judgment of this world…And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”  Judgment is promised.

And yet today the heart of the Good News comes.

Here we are in Holy Week, but already seeping through the cracks of the story are very powerful indicators of God’s GOOD NEWS.  Despite our shortcomings, it appears that by being washed in the blood of the lamb, we will be drawn into favor with God.  And not just us….but all people.

In today’s story we discover that hope is present.  Love will reign.  And God’s broad net of inclusive love will touch us all, and wipe away our tears.  That goes for Judas.  That goes for the white terrorist in Louisiana.  That goes for all people as we seek to move past the racial injustices of our land.

In Philippians we hear one of Paul’s famous exhortations: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice….  Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

And so here we are in Holy Week.  And we turn to the heart of the story to deeply listen for God’s Word to us again.  This week is ALL ABOUT listening to the Spirit, and trying to not listen to what society is telling us.  That is why Paul insists, “guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”  This is a battle!  Coming to know and understand God’s “Yes’s” in a world of “No’s” is not easy.

Moving in that direction is a challenge.  But with the power of God’s YES, we too can overcome hatred, heartbreak, cynicism, and injustice everywhere.  We can witness to our common humanity, and experience the power of God drawing us together into a New Body.

-Matt