Unravelling Grace

robodread / Shutterstock

"I am entangled and grace comes and unravels all of that — whatever 'that' is — and sets me free." robodread / Shutterstock

Autumn in Berkeley is not what lovers of changing seasons might recognize as autumn, but it is upon us no less. Days are are shorter. Television programming has changed. The air is a little crisper. The currents in the Pacific have shifted and that great body of water tinkers with our meteorological hopes somewhat differently every day. The leaves don't change so much as drop. And, as usual, there are flowers in bloom. 

As someone who loves the northeast coast change of seasons, I find it challenging to unravel my expectations from reality. I find the two so intertwined that I may be tempted to try to change my environment to suit my expectations rather than paying attention to what is actually going on in the world around me.

I am reminded of my neighbors who will be spraying fauxsnow on their windows to celebrate the winter holidays. "It's just not Christmas without snow," some will proclaim. This is an obvious example of what it may look like to insist on our expectations being met all the while our world around us is trying to show us something different. We literally paint the windows to the world around us so we see what we want to see. 

We push our environment around and in the process run the risk of missing the grace being offered up in new and rich ways.

Calatrava Unveils Designs for Ground Zero Church Destroyed on 9/11

RNS photo courtesy of Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church

The church as it stood before it was destroyed in the 9/11 attacks. RNS photo courtesy of Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church

Twelve years after falling rubble from the World Trade Center towers destroyed St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, images have been released showing the design for an elaborate new building.

“We want people to feel like this is their house,” said the Rev. Mark Arey, spokesman for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. “I do believe what Jesus said, ‘My house will be a house of prayer for all people.’ Even though it is a Greek Orthodox church, it will be open to all people of all faiths, a place of solace for them.”

Santiago Calatrava, the renowned Spanish architect who designed the new World Trade Center Transportation Hub, is designing the new St. Nicholas Church, which will include a nondenominational bereavement center as an open place for rest and meditation.

Originally housed in an old row house, the original St. Nicholas Church was a narrow, largely unadorned building. The new designs, however, show a luminous domed building modeled partly on the Hagia Sophia and the Church of the Holy Savior in Chora, both in Istanbul.

The designs had to meet two criteria, Arey said. First, the church had to look like a Greek Orthodox church. Second, it had to fit in with the environment surrounding Ground Zero.

Supreme Court to Consider Religious Prayer At Government Meetings

Photo courtesy of RNS

Supreme Court building in Washington, DC (2009). Photo courtesy of RNS

WASHINGTON — In a case that could determine restrictions on expressions of faith in the public square, the Supreme Court on Wednesday will consider religious prayers that convene government meetings.

At issue in Greece v. Galloway is whether such invocations pass constitutional muster, even when government officials are not purposefully proselytizing or discriminating.

Can a town council, for example, open its meetings with prayers invoking Jesus Christ, as happened repeatedly in the town of Greece, N.Y.?

“There’s a whole lot at stake here,” said Ira Lupu, a law professor at George Washington University who specializes in the First Amendment’s religion clauses.

“This case is about first principles: whether the government of a town, acting through its town board, can advance a particular brand of Christianity or any other faith,” said Lupu.

On the other side of the question, Jeff Mateer of the Texas-based Liberty Institute invokes free speech rights and hopes the court will reason that government has no business parsing the words of those who wish to pray in a public forum.

Do Churches Alienate Intellectuals?

SNEHIT & hxdbzxy / Shutterstock

Academic on the outside looking in. SNEHIT & hxdbzxy / Shutterstock

In a world where people are craving inspiration, growth, and information, many churches maintain a cyclical pattern based on redundancy, safety, and closed-mindedness. Unfortunately, many pastors and Christian leaders continue to recycle old spiritual clichés — and sermons — communicating scripture as if it were propaganda instead of life-changing news, and driving away a growing segment of people who find churches ignorant, intolerant, absurd, and irrelevant.

As technology continues to make news and data more accessible, pastors are often failing to realize that they're no longer portrayed as the respected platforms of spiritual authority that they once were.

Instead of embracing dialogue and discussion, many Christian leaders react to this power shift by creating defensive and authoritarian pedestals, where they self-rule and inflict punishment on anyone who disagrees, especially intellectuals.

If You Build It, Mean It

Worship illustration, orestpath /

Worship illustration, orestpath /

We're all exploring and asking, "What's next?" This particular question serves us well when we ask where our young people are.

"What's next?" and the related, "Who will take us there?"

So, this morning I was primed and ready to read "What Millennials don’t want from the church" by Rachel Sloan. It's a quick and worthy missive in which she says, "The most frustrating part of being a Millennial is that my church does not understand me." What specifically doesn't the church understand? Well, "Millennials (despite the terrible things you are told to believe about us) want real authentic, worship and real, authentic churches. We want churches that want to have a relationship with us."

Having made the same mistake many, many times, this time I decided to get my Millennial friends to chime in on the post. Some rightly reminded me that speaking on behalf of any one generation is an impossible task and presents certain rhetorical problems.

Have Churches Abandoned the Elderly?

Hands of senior citizen, HixnHix /

Hands of senior citizen, HixnHix /

In an evangelical Christian climate obsessed with change, cultural trends, and trying to stay up-to-date and relevant, it's easy to undervalue the elderly. The bestselling authors, the hottest worship bands, the superstar conference speakers, and megachurch pastors are all youngish, or at least certainly not elderly, and they’re mainly marketed towards younger to middle-aged audiences.

In many ways, Christians have suffered from the sin of apathy, being guilty of ignoring a large segment of believers — the elderly — who are continually forced into the shadows of our ministries, leadership structures, publicity campaigns, vision, and dialogue.

In an era where fast-paced technology rules the world, elderly Christians are losing their platforms for communication — and the rest of us are too busy to reach out to them. Social media, blogs, websites, tablets, and smartphones continually shrink access to an elderly population that is unable to keep up — and we aren’t waiting for them.

Why I Cry in Church

Image via /Shutterstock

Skeptics might say that as a perimenopausal woman with a teenage daughter, I’m apt to cry at the slightest provocation, which may be true. But I believe something different happens when we expose our vulnerabilities in a community of faith.

A close friend told me her theory that we are being “seasoned” in church each week, preparing to be broken open in ways we cannot anticipate. So we pray the liturgy, sing the hymns, go through the motions. Yet this seasoning of our spirits prepares us to be tender-hearted, open to prayer working on us.

This makes sense to me. There are so few places where we can bring our raw emotions without a self-conscious need to explain or escape to the nearest bathroom, which happens when we get teary-eyed at work or in line at Home Depot. Perhaps church is one of those last safe havens, where we can cry in public for no reason.

Challenge and Disruption

The path ahead. Photo by Elena Schweitzer / Via Shutterstock

I had the privilege of teaching a pastoral theology class at Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas, last week.

I had the entire senior class: 13 young, promising, enthusiastic, veterans of church wars, and yet eager to get started.

Like any speaker with a full deck of PowerPoint slides, I probably said more than was needed. But I wanted to make, reinforce, clarify, and leave no mistake about my main point: Business as usual is off the table.

After nearly 50 years of relentless decline in mainline churches, business as usual is a sinking ship. The way forward lies in fresh ideas, turnaround strategies, entrepreneurial enthusiasm for risk, and learning from failure.

An Open Letter to the Evangelical Church: I Am Not Your Punch Line

Church with cross in the foreground, sunfun /

Church with cross in the foreground, sunfun /

There are few things as exhausting, draining, and disheartening as family drama. I’m not talking low-level sibling rivalry over who gets shotgun all the time. I’m talking deep-rooted family issues that go generations back. That kind of family drama shows up in the most inopportune times in the most inappropriate places — at someone’s wedding or funeral, at the family reunion, or while grocery shopping.

But when family drama shows up in the church, it grieves me. It riles me up like nothing else does because it is in my identity as a Christian and Jesus-follower where I am all of who God created me to be and has called me to be — Asian and American, Korean, female, friend, daughter, wife, mother, sister, aunt, writer, manager, advocate, activist. The church is the place where I and everyone else SHOULD be able to get real and raw and honest to work out the kinks and twists, to name the places of pain and hurt, and to find both healing and full restoration and  redemption.

So when the church uses bits and pieces of “my” culture — the way my parents speak English (or the way majority culture people interpret the way my parents speak English) or the way I look (or the way the majority culture would reproduce what they think I look like) – for laughs and giggles, it’s not simply a weak attempt at humor. It’s wrong. It’s hurtful. It’s not honoring. It can start out as “an honest mistake” with “good intentions,” but ignored, it can lead to sin.

Fortunately, there is room for mistakes, apologies, dialogue, learning, and forgiveness.