As the year begins, we are starting a series of talks and conversations around the core values and beliefs at Root and Branch. We begin here with the question: What does community look like at Root and Branch? Co-pastor Tim shares reflections on how getting to know one another is the first step in getting to know God.
1:14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God,
1:15 and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news."
1:16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea--for they were fishermen.
1:17 And Jesus said to them, "Follow me and I will make you fish for people."
1:18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him.
1:19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets.
1:20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
New R&B Conver-Sermon Series:
Time to Get REorganized Religion: A Community Manyfesto
Where Is Our Solid (Or At Least Holy) Ground In These Shifty Times and In Our Blessed, Unsettled Lives?
In our first time gathering as a community in 2018, those who came to church received "R&B-Incarnation Cards," each with a unique word we were invited to ponder and seek to embody over the next year. (If you weren't there we have plenty more - we'll have them in a basket Sunday Mornings this month and next). It's our hope that these can also be the basis for soul-opening conversations, informal and formal, about what we're each living out and into. (Shout out to Anna T.)
We also want to ask: as our weird, winding lives-on-the-way-to-the-divine come together, what do we hope to "incarnate" as a community?
We who hang around Root and Branch are on the cutting edge of a growing, loosely defined movement of people who are unsatisfied both with what's been presented to us as “organized religion” and the self-serve, rootless, go-it-alone spirituality that emerges to fill the gaps left in its wake.
What is this other way we're after? Sometimes it can feel like our underground spirit mission is a lot of groping in the dark with a flickering headlamp for whatever this new/old something is. We can lose sight of the loves, longings, and truth-glimpses that brought us here in the first place.
What are the stakes of all this for our lives?
Does this soul spelunking lead to any wide gleaming places? What do we hold--or seek to hold--sacred? We're pretty sure we value conversation and openness and the quest itself--is that the most we can positively affirm? Is that enough to carry us through life's inevitable holy sh*t moments? Is it enough to bring us to love's front porch, let alone it's living room?
Over the next few months, in Sunday Morning and Welcome Table reflections and conversations, we'll be attempting together to give sharper definition to where we stand/sit/want to grow from in relation to six themes. Each is a central aspect of what we think brings most of us to be interested in co-soul-searching. Our goal with each will be to draw clearer connecting lines with Christian story and theology, and also to our tragically, hilariously tangled times and individual lives right now.
By the end, with community reflection and conversation forming an integral part of our Manyfesto, we hope to have a bolder, more fertile-grounded sense of where we grow from here:
2. Personal Transformation
3. Social / World Transformation
4. Purpose Finding
Root and Branch community member, Liz Bajema, shares thoughts on September's theme: THE FALLLL. What is the point of doing good things? Most of the reasons we have for doing good are selfish, and much of the good we do seems to lead to more problems. The very state of reality would often suggest that it isn't really worth it. So what then?
Numbers 21:4b-9 21:4b
But the people became impatient on the way. 21:5 The people spoke against God and against Moses, "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food." 21:6 Then the LORD sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. 21:7 The people came to Moses and said, "We have sinned by speaking against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD to take away the serpents from us." So Moses prayed for the people. 21:8 And the LORD said to Moses, "Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live." 21:9 So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.
“The Doer of Good” by Oscar Wilde
It was night-time and He was alone. And He saw afar-off the walls of a round city and went towards the city. And when He came near He heard within the city the tread of the feet of joy, and the laughter of the mouth of gladness and the loud noise of many lutes. And He knocked at the gate and certain of the gate-keepers opened to Him. And He beheld a house that was of marble and had fair pillars of marble before it. The pillars were hung with garlands, and within and without there were torches of cedar. And He entered the house. And when He had passed through the hall of chalcedony and the hall of jasper, and reached the long hall of feasting, He saw lying on a couch of sea-purple one whose hair was crowned with red roses and whose lips were red with wine. And He went behind him and touched him on the shoulder and said to him, 'Why do you live like this?' And the young man turned round and recognised Him, and made answer and said, 'But I was a leper once, and you healed me. How else should I live?' And He passed out of the house and went again into the street. And after a little while He saw one whose face and raiment were painted and whose feet were shod with pearls. And behind her came, slowly as a hunter, a young man who wore a cloak of two colours. Now the face of the woman was as the fair face of an idol, and the eyes of the young man were bright with lust. And He followed swiftly and touched the hand of the young man and said to him, 'Why do you look at this woman and in such wise?' And the young man turned round and recognised Him and said, 'But I was blind once, and you gave me sight. At what else should I look?' And He ran forward and touched the painted raiment of the woman and said to her, 'Is there no other way in which to walk save the way of sin?' And the woman turned round and recognised Him, and laughed and said, 'But you forgave me my sins, and the way is a pleasant way.' And He passed out of the city. And when He had passed out of the city He saw seated by the roadside a young man who was weeping. And He went towards him and touched the long locks of his hair and said to him, 'Why are you weeping?' And the young man looked up and recognised Him and made answer, 'But I was dead once, and you raised me from the dead. What else should I do but weep?'
Oh God said to Abraham, “Kill me a son”
Abe says, “Man, you must be putting me on”
God say, “No.” Abe say, “What?”
God say, “You can do what you want Abe, but
The next time you see me coming you better run”
Well Abe says, “Where do you want this killing done?”
God says, “Out on Highway 61”
-from Highway 61 Revisited by Bob Dylan
The first conversation on series about GOD (July 2017):
The story of God asking Abraham to sacrifice his son, from the book of Genesis (Ch. 22), usually elicits a strong response and by golly it should! There’s no getting around a God who asks a father to kill his son. Open the lens a little wider and we see a picture of God who does a lot of things we find strange and looks like a walking contradiction of violence/peace, vengeance/compassion, and so on. One way to try and understand who God really is amongst these confusing opposites is to ask ourselves whose voice we actually hear giving the request.
A lot of people think revelation means hitting the pause button on the natural ordinary functioning of things as a miraculous event appearing out of nowhere like a godly pop-up ad.
BUT what if revelation was a surprising, life-changing uncovering of a pattern, purpose, perhaps even personality hiding from our everyday anxious ways of looking at the ordinary? Revelation then becomes a lens showing the ordinary for what it really is: always potentially a benevolent trojan horse for the extraordinary.
Listen as we continue to examine the religious way of knowing what's true and what matters: revelation. Neil reveals the ultimate truth about revelation with reference to the alt-right and Holy Laughter. Readings: Genesis 18:1-15
Co-pastor Keri Anderson's final sermon to the Root and Branch community on Pentecost Sunday. Pentecost Sunday marks the story in which the Holy Spirit (in wind and fire) was bestowed upon Jesus' disciples, and Keri breathes some fire on us about the feminine Spirit of God.
A reading from the Book of Proverbs about the Feminine Wisdom of God:
God created me at the beginning of creation,
the first of the creative acts of long ago.
23 Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
24 When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water.
25 Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth—
26 when God had not yet made earth and fields,
or the world’s first bits of soil.
27 When God established the heavens, I was there,
when God drew a circle on the face of the deep,
28 when God made firm the skies above,
when God established the fountains of the deep,
29 when God assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress the Lord’s command,
when God marked out the foundations of the earth,
30 then I was beside the Lord, like a master worker;
and I was daily God’s delight,
rejoicing before the Lord always,
31 rejoicing in God’s inhabited world
and delighting in the human race.
A reading from the Book of Acts:
When the day of Pentecost came, the disciples were all together in one place.2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a fierce wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them.
5 Now there were devout Jews in Jerusalem from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard the sound of the disciples speaking, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”
14 Then Peter stood up with the eleven other disciples, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
17 “‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit.
Easter 2017. A sermon on truth in a "post-truth" America. What does it mean to be a witness to the resurrection, to give testimony to what has taken place? Sometimes you gotta go see for yourself.
From the Gospel according to John
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
From the Gospel according to Matthew
After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
This essay was talked about in a recent sermon and the preacher promised it would be linked on this blog. So here it is: James Alison - Some Thoughts on Atonement.
Agree or disagree with him, it is a worthwhile read. Here is an excerpt to get you going:
The first thing that I ought to do, therefore, is to give you a brief account of what is traditionally called the substitutionary theory of atonement; of what we are up against; of what a certain crystallization of texts has thrown up that has kept us captive; and how we are going to try and move from a two-dimensional account to a three-dimensional account and see that actually all the creative lines in that story flow in an entirely different direction. So, here's the standard story, which I'm sure you've all heard before:
God created the universe, including humanity, and it was good. Then somehow or other humankind fell. This fall was a sin against God's infinite goodness and mercy and justice. So there was a problem. Humans could not off our own bat restore the order which had been disordered, let alone make up for having dishonoured God's infinite goodness. No finite making up could make up for an offence with infinite ramifications. God would have been perfectly within his rights to have destroyed the whole of humanity. But God was merciful as well as being just, so he pondered what to do to sort out the mess. Could he simply have let the matter lie in his infinite mercy? Well, maybe he would have liked to, but he was beholden to his infinite justice as well. Only an infinite payment would do; something that humans couldn't come up with; but God could. And yet the payment had to be from the human side, or else it wouldn't be a real payment for the outrage to be appeased. So God came up with the idea of sending his Son into the world as a human, so that his Son could pay the price as a human, which, since he was also God, would be infinite and thus would effect the necessary satisfaction. Thus the whole sorry saga could be brought to a convenient close. Those humans who agreed to cover over their sins by holding on to, or being covered by, the precious blood of the Saviour whom the Father has sacrificed to himself would be saved from their sins and given the Holy Spirit by which they would be able to behave according to the original order of creation. In this way, when they died, they at least would be able to inherit heaven, which had been the original plan all along, before the fall had mucked everything up. My guess is that you've heard something like that before. This is a familiar story.
Now, rather than make mockery of it, I want to suggest that the trouble with it is that it is far too little conservative. I want to put forward a much more conservative account. And the first way I want to be conservative is to suggest that the principle problem with this conventional account is that it is a theory, and atonement, in the first place, was a liturgy...
Longtime Root and Brancher, Dorian, speaks on love, empathy, people that drive you crazy, and how we might do more than clang a cymbal while creating an inclusive world.
He drew a circle that shut me out--
Heretic, a rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!
-Outwitted by Edwin Markham
1Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal. 2And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing. 3And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profits me nothing.
-1 Corinthians 13:1-3
*This week, our community will participate together in R&Bs first official baptism, which is a ritual that may be foreign to many. Part of our DNA is to inspect, dissect, and rebuild traditions, and in that spirit, here's a little primer on what baptism might mean:
The Ineffective Power of Baptism
Like a lot of religious stuff, baptism is odd. Therein lies the secret of its beauty and power. Baptism is done once and only once. It doesn’t in fact “do” anything. Unlike communion where we return over and over to practicing community with God and others, sprinkling or dunking someone in water is a sheer, unnecessary plunge into what is just straight up given to us.
If we get too worried about what it all “means,” we get it backwards. Then it becomes “I need to go through a ritual with this specific meaning in order to get a spiritual payoff.” But the whole point of baptism is that no action, no process, can make us worthy of love. The glaring ineffectiveness of the make-believe washing reminds us of the “here it is” quality of God’s love for us. It’s a subversion of an actual cleansing, which would imply that we need to be buffed up and polished before deserving total love.
The gathered community is also central to baptism. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are entering into a commitment with the person being baptized, to reflect in our own imperfect ways the same love we are coming to know and trust. We are for one another a real, radical, tangible, day-to-day reminder of God’s overflowing, surging, sustaining love.
Co-pastor Tim asks whether or not there is such a thing as a "Christian" response to the election of Donald Trump and compares our current political climate to everything from the first king of Israel to Nazi Germany (but like, without trying to be all sensationalizing).
From the Book of Jeremiah:
As Jehudi read three or four columns, the king would cut them off with a penknife and throw them into the fire in the brazier, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the brazier. Yet neither the king nor any of his servants who heard all these words, was alarmed, nor did they tear their garments. Even when Elnathan and Delaiah and Gemariah urged the king not to burn the scroll, he would not listen to them. And the king commanded Jerahmeel the king’s son and Seraiah son of Azriel and Shelemiah song of Abdeel to arrest the secretary Baruch and the prophet Jeremiah. But the Lord hid them.
From Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates:
You must resist the common urge toward the comforting narrative of divine law, toward fairy tales that imply some irrepressible justice. The enslaved were not bricks in your road, and their lives were not chapters in your redemptive history. They were people turned to fuel for the American machine.
From Letters and Papers from Prison by Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
There is a very real danger of our drifting into an attitude of contempt for humanity. We know quite well that we have no right to do so, and that it would lead us into the most sterile relation to our fellow-human beings. The following thoughts may keep us from such a temptation. It means that we at once fall into the worst blunders of our opponents. The one who despises another will never be able to make anything of him. Nothing that we despise in the other person is entirely absent from ourselves. We often expect from others more than we are willing to do ourselves. Why have we hitherto thought so intemperately about people and their frailty and temptability? We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer. The only profitable relationship to others - and especially to those weaker - is one of love, and that means the will to hold fellowship with them. God did not despise humanity, but became human for humanity’s sake.
Keri talks about the story of Jonah (dude in who ends up in the belly of a whale) and tries to figure out where the @#$%^&*() God is in all of that. She also talks about what we might do with Bible stories that portray God as the oppressor and whether God has a plan for our lives (easy enough!).
The Story of Jonah (look it up!)
“For I know the plans I have for you,”
declares the Lord.
“Plans to prosper you and not to harm you.
Plans to give you hope and a future.
Then you will call on me and come and pray to me,
and I will listen to you.
You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
I will be found by you.” -Jeremiah 29:1-14
i found god in
and i loved
i loved her
fiercely. - Ntozake Shange
Tim talks about the Exodus story where the Israelites, freshly freed from the bondages of slavery, create an idol to worship, which makes God upset. Somewhere in this is something to be said about waiting and distraction and technology.
1 When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, "Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him." 2 Aaron said to them, "Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me." 3 So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. 4 He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!" 5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, "Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord." 6 They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel. 7 The Lord said to Moses, "Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; 8 they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!' " 9 The Lord said to Moses, "I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. 10 Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation." 11 But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, "O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, "It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth'? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, "I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.' " 14 And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.
Neil talks about the story of the Israelites escape from Egypt, a story that depicts liberation from bondage as well as a God who seems pretty brutal.
Exodus 12:1-13; 13:1-8
12:1 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: 2 This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. 3 Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. 4 If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. 5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. 6 You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. 7 They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. 8 They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.9 Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. 10 You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. 11 This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the Lord. 12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. 13 The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.
13:1 The Lord said to Moses: 2 Consecrate to me all the firstborn; whatever is the first to open the womb among the Israelites, of human beings and animals, is mine. 3 Moses said to the people, "Remember this day on which you came out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, because the Lord brought you out from there by strength of hand; no leavened bread shall be eaten. 4 Today, in the month of Abib, you are going out. 5 When the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, which he swore to your ancestors to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey, you shall keep this observance in this month. 6 Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a festival to the Lord. 7Unleavened bread shall be eaten for seven days; no leavened bread shall be seen in your possession, and no leaven shall be seen among you in all your territory. 8 You shall tell your child on that day, "It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.'
What We Sang:
Moses Take Your Shoes Off (Conrad Cook)
He Was a Friend of Mine (Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan)
Ya Hey (Vampire Weekend as covered by Phosphorescent)
I'll Be Glad (Bonnie Prince Billy)
I Saw the Light (Hank Williams)
Check out this piece, published in Religion Dispatches, by Root and Branch co-founder, Neil Ellingson.
"A lot happened to get me to the point of wanting to start a church, and at this point I’m in pretty deep as far as Christianity is concerned. However, something I’ve found hard to admit is that the real, physical space of the Christian church—which has become important and life-changing for me—is nonetheless full of people, stories and symbols I can still have a hard time seeing as real. I have a hunch I’m not the only one for whom this is the case."