On Hospitality: Banquet of the Absurd (Luke 14:12-24) Pt. II – Guest Blogger, Scot Miller

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This blog post is the second in a two-part series adapted from a piece originally published on Scot’s personal blog (link below). For part one, visit http://www.brethrenlifeandthought.org/2017/04/21/on-hospitality-banquet-of-the-absurd-luke-1412-24-pt-i-guest-blogger-scot-miller/. What follows is a continuation of Scot’s story about serving the water distribution effort last year in Flint, Michigan.

Over the next few weeks, we distributed water, fed children of all ages, homeless persons, and drug addicts, treated a heroin overdose, and began delivering food to folks who were marginalized to the point of being afraid of coming to the church (some distribution points were asking for photo identification). I was able to do outreach and wellness checks to families who made their only income illegally, thus preventing them from seeking some services for fear of opening excuses for home visits from authorities. We served refugees and immigrants who did not know English, and could not get help, or were scared to seek it out. The Church of the Brethren building on Stocker Avenue was a church, and it was contributing to its neighbor’s lives in many ways. The building was truly a place of welcoming and affirmation of all folks from any and every background. We were the church. We were practicing radical hospitality.

We continued to talk about the Bible and what the stories of the Bible meant to us. We also talked regularly about how the church might be relevant in the lives of our neighbors. I also believe we wanted the church to be more relevant to us spiritually. Sometimes, our church experiences left us longing. Sometimes, we felt spiritually malnourished. Mary Lorah-Hammond and Jennifer Betts had been dreaming of doing dinner church, and they also knew that the water crisis brought new nutrition needs to the forefront of everyone’s mind. It was decided that we extend our hospitality to folks at the farm market and our Facebook friends, activist, and professionals who were serving the city to share dinners on Tuesday nights. Flyers were made and distributed, invitations were extended, and preparations were made for a messianic banquet we called “Feeding of the Flintstones.”

Parker4

And nobody came.

But we had been reading the text.

The text had answers.

While Mary and Jennifer cooked, I went outside and walked around the neighborhood, inviting every individual or family I came across to come to the church on Stocker Avenue and share a meal. I believe we had 12 that first evening, certainly a number appropriate to our shared narrative. This continued every Tuesday night. Some folks followed up on the invite. More often than not, all of our guests came as the result of someone going out into the neighborhood who embodied the text of Luke 14, which invites all and sundry to experience fellowship without regard to status or ability to contribute to the “potluck” that is a staple of Midwestern hospitality for “those who belong.”

One warm evening, my son Micah and I left Mary and Jennifer to cooking and walked around the west side neighborhood looking for folks to invite for meal sharing. As we walked down Arlene Avenue, I noticed two women in a van parked on the corner of Mann Avenue. I approached the van to invite them to dinner and saw they were both crying. I asked if I could help, and they indicated to Micah and me that one of the women’s family had just moved into an abandoned house, and they had lost their food benefits card, had no cash, nothing to eat, and no electricity. I told them to bring everyone to the church for a meal.

That Tuesday evening, we had more than 20 folks eating with us, eight of them belonging to the woman sitting in the car. As everyone was enjoying food and conversation, Mary and Jennifer were talking with the women; I tried to reach out to the father of the group. He was less than interested in communicating and seemed to feel patronized by me as I served him bread and soup. He was not enjoying my presence, or anyone else’s.

As Now Ministries worked to get the whole family set up for food delivery the next day, it was evident they needed some things that night. I asked the father if he would like to go with me to Kroger to pick some things up, and I could foot the bill. Reluctantly, he made the decision to go. As we drove by ourselves to the grocery store, he began to open up just a bit. When he found out that we shared some experiences of city living, we were able to begin a conversation that, within 15 minutes, turned into a warm experience of friendship.

The fact of our hospitality was the result of reading the text and then trusting that our living out the stories would lend credibility to our actions. In fact, we acted in faith, and our faith was vindicated. But the vindication is by no means represented in a growth of church membership, or big publicity regarding our worship services, or even in miracle funding for more outreach. For the text states that it is of no use to provide hospitality to those who somehow repay you or invite you in return, but rather we are to invite and serve the poor.  We will be vindicated for our faithfulness at the Judgment, but salvation comes immediately to those in need. They are liberated from the bondage of facing the crisis in isolation. Everyone knows that sin is evident, but the opportunity to respond in new ways with new outcomes is what the church is to reveal to those in need. The apocalypse is the unveiling of how the church responds to sin that has not been properly identified as sin. If the economics of food are unjust, the church calls this sin and offers an alternative.

In fact, we are sharing or extending the blessings of faith in a manner that makes the kingdom of God a credible alternative to systematic corporate sin for those most in need of God’s grace and mercy. It is our voluntary sacrifice of privilege and our sharing of resources that makes our claims of the Kingdom of God credible. We embody faith at our expense, and not for reward. This is faithfulness. This is apocalyptic witness. This is the eschatological “end-times” that marks not the end of the world, but more importantly, the end of an age that witnesses the collusion of the so-called Church and State to promote wealth and power rather than the victory of the Lamb over the devil, sin, and death.

An apocalyptic unveiling is not God’s new response to sin, but the church’s identifying and uncovering the fact of corporate sin which has been sold to Christians as conservative religion. Civic Christendom is far from conservative. Rather, it is liberal democracy costumed as Christianity in order to the hide selfishness, racism, and exclusivity that has victimized those who need the church the most. The church has not only colluded with the State, but indeed has colluded with the Accuser. We accuse those left behind as being responsible for the products of our own economic, racial, and militant sin. This heresy is a Satanic reversal of the Gospel call to love one another as ourselves.

The folks of Flint have been left behind, but they have not been left behind to suffer through some apocalyptic Armageddon. They have simply been left behind as “the least of these.” Flint and other places like it have been left behind by Christians who keep promising that heaven awaits them, preaching that if the victims of sin don’t clean their act up, God will leave them behind just as the economy, the judiciary, and education has left them behind.

Indeed, if these so-called spiritual warriors read Revelation more closely, they might see passed the plank in their eyes to see that Christ judges them. The biggest sin of Christendom is the Laodicean error – the error that Jesus would not overlook.

Revelation 3:15-20 (HCSB)

15 I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were cold or hot. 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of My mouth. 17 Because you say, ‘I’m rich; I have become wealthy and need nothing,’ and you don’t know that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked, 18 I advise you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire so that you may be rich, white clothes so that you may be dressed and your shameful nakedness not be exposed, and ointment to spread on your eyes so that you may see.19 As many as I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be committed and repent. 20 Listen! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and have dinner with him, and he with Me.

10271482_694810043912301_8536081974303114262_nScot Miller, of Hastings, Michigan (by way of Flint and Detroit), is a passionate and tireless worker for justice – passions that led him to seek degrees in social work. Having been a member the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) for 15 years, he now serve as Pastor of Education and Outreach for Common Spirit Church of the Brethren in Grand Rapids. Scot spent most of 2016 ministering in Flint, Michigan, as a responder to the water crisis there. He served under the auspices of Common Spirit at First Church of the Brethren in Flint, in the neighborhood of his birth. He served as an adjunct professor of social work at Kuyper College for four years, and more recently served as an adjunct professor at the Earlham School of Religion during the 2017 January intensives. He is particularly drawn to Anabaptist theology as well as apocalyptic expressions of early Quakerism. You can read more of Scot’s work at http://www.gospeloftheabsurd.net/.

Image Credit: 2×2 Vital Church

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On Hospitality: Banquet of the Absurd (Luke 14:12-24) Pt. I – Guest Blogger, Scot Miller

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If the end-time fallacies of Tim LaHaye have any interpretive value, I propose a compare and contrast exercise with the city of Flint, Michigan. Flint is home to a people that have been “Left Behind.” While LaHaye’s apocalyptic lack of theological imagination is little more than a lie, the opportunity for the church to recognize our error and reorganize into a truly apocalyptic assembly is fully represented in the reality of living in Flint. The Body of Christ has been lost in the violent maladaptive literary world of dragons and super-whores for far too long, failing to recognize our obligation to embody the gospel in a manner that reveals something far more important than the end of the world; that being the rebirth and a restoration of God’s creation to wholeness.

Flint is the place where the sins of unjust economics, whiteness, and electoral politics have come home to roost. In the midst of a water crisis that has had a catastrophic effect on residents of the city and resulted in corporate trauma, the failure of the church is as evident as the failure of the water system. The residents of Flint were left behind to suffer the consequences of state-sponsored sin, when their water was poisoned, and and when this poisoning was denied by authorities. The people of Flint were left behind to suffer the consequences of institutionalized racism. They were left behind by a changing economy that no one prepared them for nor explained to them, despite promising them new jobs and new prosperity every election cycle. The people of Flint were left behind by the very people who promote Heaven as a reward for worldly suffering while reaping the benefits of wealth accumulated in the midst of such suffering. Flint is far more indicative of the end-times than LaHaye fans want to admit – it marks the end of the church as a relevant institution as we know it in the here and now.

I felt a call to return to Flint, the hometown my parents were forced to leave behind when the recession of the late ‘70’s drove us to Detroit so they could find work. When I heard about the water crisis and thought of the biblical call to deny privilege and serve the least of these, I turned a deteriorating job experience into an opportunity for ministry. I made a decision to go to Flint three days a week and contribute resources to the water crisis response. I was welcomed by First Church of the Brethren in Flint to work with their congregation and the African-American congregation they shared the building with, NOW Ministries.

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B.B and Scot taking a brief reprieve while serving in Flint.

Working with First CoB and Now Ministries, we went from distributing three pallets of bottled water a day to 18 pallets of water a day, three days a week. We also found the resources to provide fresh food to our neighbors, diapers and hygiene products, and provide neighbors with up-to-date information about the water crisis. Along with the work that was being done at the church, we shared with one another our understandings of God and the Bible and talked about what it is that we must do to reflect the love of Christ to our neighbors.

Importantly, the number of folks volunteering allowed for the church to keep its doors open almost every day of the week. As such, the building on Stocker Avenue became much more than a place to pick up water. It became a central location for adults and children alike to experience community. The building’s social significance became evident one night when my 70-year-old water distribution partner B.B. and I were struck with a dilemma. We were the only two folks (left behind) at the church one afternoon, waiting for hours for a water delivery that never came. The state was not sending enough truck drivers to help with water distribution, and deliveries were being held up because the food bank drivers were pressed into double duty. They delivered loads of food to locations around the east side of the state, and then came back to Flint to deliver pallets of water. We received our delivery at 5 pm.

Importantly, the number of folks volunteering allowed for the church to keep its doors open almost every day of the week. As such, the building on Stocker Avenue became much more than a place to pick up water. It became a central location for adults and children alike to experience community. The building’s social significance became evident one night when my 70-year-old water distribution partner B.B. and I were struck with a dilemma. We were the only two folks (left behind) at the church one afternoon, waiting for hours for a water delivery that never came. The state was not sending enough truck drivers to help with water distribution, and deliveries were being held up because the food bank drivers were pressed into double duty. They delivered loads of food to locations around the east side of the state, and then came back to Flint to deliver pallets of water. We received our delivery at 5 pm.Cars were lined up for water, and B.B. and I were having great difficulty keeping up.We were two men over the age of 50, we were wearing down, and our instructions at that time were to not leave water outside. The line of cars grew deeper, and we were exhausting ourselves. As the sun was setting, our neighbors were not unaware of what was happening. First, one teen came over to the church to volunteer help. Then a second. A third came with his sister, who set up a candy and Kool-Aid stand, using bottled water to make the drinks with sugar from her house. It was this evening that we recognized we were making an impact on our block. We had folks from the block, ages eight to nearly 80, distributing water and having fun. Together, we had a purpose.

Cars were lined up for water, and B.B. and I were having great difficulty keeping up.We were two men over the age of 50, we were wearing down, and our instructions at that time were to not leave water outside. The line of cars grew deeper, and we were exhausting ourselves. As the sun was setting, our neighbors were not unaware of what was happening. First, one teen came over to the church to volunteer help. Then a second. A third came with his sister, who set up a candy and Kool-Aid stand, using bottled water to make the drinks with sugar from her house. It was this evening that we recognized we were making an impact on our block. We had folks from the block, ages eight to nearly 80, distributing water and having fun. Together, we had a purpose.

This blog post is part one of a two-part series adapted from a piece originally published on Scot’s personal blog (link below). 

10271482_694810043912301_8536081974303114262_nScot Miller, of Hastings, Michigan (by way of Flint and Detroit), is a passionate and tireless worker for justice – passions that led him to seek degrees in social work. Having been a member the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) for 15 years, he now serve as Pastor of Education and Outreach for Common Spirit Church of the Brethren in Grand Rapids. Scot spent most of 2016 ministering in Flint, Michigan, as a responder to the water crisis there. He served under the auspices of Common Spirit at First Church of the Brethren in Flint, in the neighborhood of his birth. He served as an adjunct professor of social work at Kuyper College for four years, and more recently served as an adjunct professor at the Earlham School of Religion during the 2017 January intensives. He is particularly drawn to Anabaptist theology as well as apocalyptic expressions of early Quakerism. You can read more of Scot’s work at http://www.gospeloftheabsurd.net/.

Photo Credits: Scot Miller

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Sabbath as Creation Care – Guest Blogger, A.J. Swoboda

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Creation was created perfectly. Everything that it needed to function properly was included. God created an environment perfectly suited for life to thrive. Examining the biblical account, we see the Sabbath is an integral part of God’s creation. Although on the final day, Sabbath is as much a part of creation as light, water, the sun, food, livestock, germs, chickens, the garden, and people. Can you imagine, for a brief moment, what our planet would look like if we no longer had water? Or light? Or food? What if we decided trees were unnecessary and cut them all down? In the end, cut any of these elements of creation out of creation and assuredly creation would not continue as a place suitable for life. Why do we think Sabbath is any different to the well-being of creation than sunlight, water, and food? In creation, everything is affected by everything else because the perfect Creator knew what he was doing when he made the planet. By ignoring the Sabbath, the world suffers tragic consequences. Let us examine how keeping a Sabbath helps heal a creation that is “groaning” (Rom. 8:28).

Like any living entity, the earth is cWhat-is-Sabbath-Should-We-Keep-The-Sabbath-Day-or-The-Lord’s-Day-672x372reated to have rhythms of rest and respite. The land needs a break from productivity. Certain animals need to hibernate. The ocean needs breaks for fish populations to be replenished. Like human beings, when creation is robbed of a chance to rest, it quickly begins to communicate its exhaustion to us.

As the Psalmist writes, God actively “causes” the grass to grow for the cattle God has made (Ps. 104:14). [1] God does not create accidentally. He creates intentionally. God made a system for life, not just a system of life; an intricate system with Sabbath built into it. In this system of life, everything is dependent on something else to thrive. The system must be protected—or, tragic things begin to happen.

Cows are beautiful creatures. Sadly, our economic system has grown an unhealthy dependence upon them—and their abuse. In the natural order, cows get pregnant when they are in heat. But in modern agricultural practice, cows are artificially inseminated while still secreting milk from their last pregnancy. Why? So they can be milked nearly without break. In industrial dairy practices, cows are milked for ten months out of the year compared to just five to six months in places where traditional dairy farming is practiced. Our cows are given almost no rest between pregnancies and they are being milked during most of their pregnancy; and it turns out that when cows are not allowed to rest, human health is put at risk. Pregnant cows’ milk contains significantly higher amounts of sex hormones than milk from cows that aren’t pregnant. Studies have indicated that the increase in sex hormones may affect cancer rates, as well as human development. [2] Additionally, livestock are often given steroid hormone implants used for growth and increased milk production.

One of these, estradiol, is listed as the naturally-occurring sex hormone estrogen on the Food and Drug Administration’s website. [3] This is a misnomer, however, as estradiol is a synthetic sex hormone which is an endocrine disrupter by nature. [4] These steroids, which regulate hormones and the reproductive system, are given to livestock to increase dairy production. As a result, large amounts of synthetic estrogens are excreted in manure, then spread on fields and eventually end up in our water supplies. [5] Because sex hormones are not removed from wastewater before it heads to our rivers and seas, fish populations are harmed. [6] Along the Potomac, Columbia, Colorado, and Mississippi rivers, fish are found to be “gender-swapping” as a result of the presence of sex hormones. [7] These intersex fish exhibit sex traits of both male and female fish, which in extreme cases are found to have been made sterile. [8] If this is the effect endocrine disruptors has on fish, one might wonder what effect they could have on humans. [9]

However, when a cow is given the rest it needs, these large doses of dangerous sex hormones do not end up in our milk, our water, or our streams—everyone, from fish, to humans, to the cows, are protected. It’s remarkable how the Sabbath is integral to the well-being and flourishing of the “critters” in the animal kingdom. “Remember that Sabbath … On it you shall not do any work … nor your animals” (Ex. 20:8; 10).

When humans Sabbath, they intentionally immerse ourselves, as God did, into the creation order. This is reflected in the fact that Sabbath was not for humans alone, but the livestock, land, vineyards, and fields. Sabbath had far-reaching implications beyond humans all non-human creation. Sabbath is, at its core, an ecological principle. This is not accidental. God intentionally designed and created the world in a pattern that would allow for the flourishment of all. Long before we started burning out, long before the land started dying, long before disaster struck—there was God! And God created this world beautifully, intricately, and interconnected. And part of that interconnected beauty is located in the need for rest.

Swoboda (105 of 106)Dr. A. J. Swoboda is a professor, author, and pastor of Theophilus in urban Portland, Oregon. He teaches theology, biblical studies, and Christian history at Portland and Fuller Seminaries, including a number of other universities and Bible colleges. He is the lead mentor of a Doctor of Ministry program on the Holy Spirit and Leadership at Fuller Seminary. Additionally, he is the founder and director of Blessed Earth Northwest, a center that helps think creatively and strategically around creation care issues in the Pacific Northwest. Alongside this work, he serves as the national director of the Seminary Stewardship Alliance—a consortium of Christian higher-ed schools that are thinking strategically about Christian training in creation care. Previous to this, A.J. served as a campus pastor at the University of Oregon. His doctoral research at the University of Birmingham (U.K.) explored the never-ending relationship between the Holy Spirit and ecology. He is a member of the American Academy of Religion and the Society for Pentecostal Studies. A.J. is the author of The Dusty Ones (Baker), Tongues and Trees: Toward a Pentecostal Ecological Theology (JPTSup, Deo), and Introducing Evangelical Ecotheology (Baker Academic). You can find his website and blog at www.ajswoboda.com, or follow him on Twitter @mrajswoboda.

1 It should be pointed out that the Hebrew text uses a causative verb “to grow” implying that God is not passively making the grass grow—God himself actually makes it sprout and grow so that the cattle can survive.

2 Josh Harkinson, “Turns Out Your ‘Hormone Free’ Milk Is Full of Sex Hormones,” Mother Jones, April 20, 2014. http://www.motherjones.com/media/2014/04/milk-hormones-cancer-pregnant-cows-estrogen

3 “Steroid Hormone Implants Used For Growth In Food-Producing Animals,” 2015. Fda.Gov. https://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/SafetyHealth/ProductSafetyInformation/ucm055436.htm.

4 Holly Grigg-Spall, Sweetening the Pill: or How We Got Hooked on Hormonal Birth Control (Alresford, Hants, UK: Zero Books, 2013), 46.

5 Darryl Fears, “As more male bass switch sex, a strange fish story expands,” The Washington Post, August 3, 2014. https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/as-more-male-bass-switch-sex-a-strangefish-story-expands/2014/08/03/89799b08-11ad-11e4-8936- 26932bcfd6ed_story.html?utm_term=.2750181679e8

6 Jessie Black, “Hunting Ways To Keep Synthetic Estrogens Out Of Rivers and Seas,” NPR, June 19, 2015. http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/06/19/415336306/hunting-ways-to-keep-syntheticestrogens-out-of-rivers-and-seas 7 Darryl Fears, “As

7 Darryl Fears, “As more male bass switch sex, a strange fish story expands.” It should also be noted that there are several other endocrine disruptors at play here such as the pollutant BPA.

8 Lindsey Konkel, “Why Are These Male Fish Growing Eggs?,” National Geographic, February 3, 2016. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/02/160203-feminized-fish-endocrine-disruption-hormoneswildlife-refuges/

9 I wish to thank Madalyn Salz and Alec Eagon for bringing these to my attention. There are alarming connections between these issues.

Image Credits: True Jesus Church SG and Portland Seminary

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