Next Monday, restaurant owners from around the Durham community will do something extraordinary.
They will tithe.
October 16 is Neighbors Feeding Neighbors Day at the Durham CROP Walk, and participating restaurants will donate 10% of their proceeds to hunger relief in Durham and around the world.
For some of us, giving the first fruits of our labor back to God and neighbor seems like the most ordinary thing in the world. For others, tithing to our community of faith is a novel idea, a habit we haven’t quite mastered, or maybe even a luxury in a season when we barely make enough to provide for our own families.
Our temptation is to make giving back to God something that is so automatic we forget why we do it, or to allow feelings of shame or embarrassment about our giving to separate us from God.
And that is what I find most extraordinary about the tithe local restaurants will offer next Monday. Their offering comes not out of a sense of habit or obligation, and isn’t driven by shame or fear of judgement.
Instead, I imagine that the generosity we see in Neighbors Feeding Neighbors comes from a belief in abundance, a conviction that by sharing what we can, there will be enough for all. We have all that we need to sustain our community—if only we can see it.
We see that abundance perfectly embodied in Jesus Christ, who took a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish offered by a young person, and made enough to feed 5,000. Scripture even tells us there were 12 baskets left over, an extraordinary abundance!
During this season of thinking about how we sustain our community at the Congregation, let’s begin our conversations about money from a place of abundance. Let us look to the example of our neighborhood restaurants who offer a tithe on what they make, not because they have to, but because they know there is an extraordinary abundance—enough for all to share.
Will you join me in doing an extraordinary thing: trusting so much in God’s extraordinary abundance that we tithe because there is enough to sustain our community, not just because we should?
If you can, eat out next Monday, and allow God to make an ordinary meal an occasion of extraordinary abundance, just as Jesus did on that beach in Galilee.
Grateful to share in God’s abundance with you,
They go hand in hand.
Two books groups are currently reading The Paradox of Generosity by Christian Smith and Hillary Davidson. The book is a sociological study which stems from the Science of Generosity Initiative at the University of Notre Dame. The book claims, unsurprisingly, that generous behavior correlates with well-being. All forms of generosity lead to multiple forms of well-being. Specifically, the book explores the connections between patterns of financial giving, volunteering, neighborliness, and relational generosity with happiness, physical health, sense of purpose in life, and personal growth. Generosity and well-being go hand in hand.
I believe that healthy generosity also correlates with sustainability. The Paradox of Generosity claims that giving is good for us, that it helps to sustain us in health and wholeness. Beyond this, however, our generosity helps to sustain the church, our neighborhoods, and our communities. Generosity enables us and our communities to thrive. Our congregation is entirely dependent on the contributions of time and money given by our members and friends.
Is it a surprise that these things go hand in hand? No, for we follow Jesus who taught us that when we lose our lives, we will find them. We worship a God who created a world of abundance and beauty. We are sustained daily by God’s ever-present Spirit. Can we be generous with our love and resources, even when the world is filled with violence and chaos? When we have received so greatly from our Triune God, how could we refrain from generously giving of ourselves and our resources?
During the month of October, the Council, staff, and I invite you to prayerfully reflect on how you will be a part of sustaining the Congregation. Further, we invite you to go above and beyond your contribution to the Congregation with special support of "Empowerment Ministries." Please watch for detailed information.
May the peace of Christ be with you.
A few weeks ago in Sunday morning worship, we sang the hymn "My Hope Is Built." Whenever I hear this hymn, the sound of my mother’s voice still resonates in my head, and in my heart. I hear her pure soprano voice, just as if she is in the pew beside me, singing:
…On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.
I sat beside my mother on the pew in church on Sunday mornings since before I can even remember. There was no nursery in my small, rural North Carolina church at that time and for that I am grateful. I can remember getting restless at times, especially during the sermon, but whenever there was singing, it fed my little soul.
The Duke Chapel Service of Worship bulletin proclaims, “The Chapel welcomes families with children.” It also goes on to let families know, “If at any time during the service your child needs a place for active play, please know there is a nursery in the Chapel basement.” Please note this is not a mandate for all children younger than five-years-old to stay in the nursery. It is my firm belief that children belong on the pews beside their parents, as this is where they learn. On the other hand, there are definitely children that need “active play” as the Bulletin states. Forcing them to sit in church when they are not ready could be detrimental to what they learn about church. Since every child is unique, the delicate balance of attending “big church” versus the nursery should be made individually by each family.
Please welcome any children who worship with us on Sunday mornings. Be supportive to their parents who are nurturing their children’s spiritual growth. All of us are the face of Christ to these children and families. Someday, they may look back and remember their mother’s sweet voice singing and praising God on Sunday mornings as they sat beside her on the pew. Or, maybe they will remember that special person in church who always greeted them with a kind voice and a smile. Let us all be a ‘solid rock’ for the families and children in our midst.
Martin Luther, the 16th century reformer, claimed that there were three conversions necessary for the Christian life: the conversion of the heart, the conversion of the mind, and the conversion of the purse. In the church, we talk about the first two, but rarely do we speak of the third. That is when some are moved to say to their pastor with concern, “You have moved from preaching to meddling!”
The rules of polite conversation steer us away from speaking about money. We don’t talk about the cost of items, the amount of our debt or savings, nor where and when we spend money. We do, however, argue about money. One researcher found that conflicts about finances are a top predictor for divorce. Why is it that money causes a “flight or fight” reaction for many of us?
Jesus talked a great deal about money and possessions. Those who count verses claim that Jesus spent more time talking about money than about heaven or hell. Perhaps it is time to explore what the scriptures teach us about this sensitive topic. I invite you to attend the Congregation’s Fall Retreat on Saturday, October 14 when The Rev. Dr. Will Willimon will lead us in a reflection on “Money and Christians.” This is not a fund-raising event. This is an educational retreat – an opportunity to think deeply about one aspect of our Christian lives. Retreat details are here .
I hope that you will be able to attend so that we may learn from one another and grow together.
May the peace of Christ be with you.
Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Romans 13:10-12
In eNews a few weeks ago, I shared some of my spiritual journey toward owning my racism and how a class in Divinity School helped me to wake up to the ways I participate in a culture of white supremacy. It was, and continues to be, a rude awakening: one that requires me to repent again and again as I am confronted by my sin of silence and complacency.
So when I sat down to read the passage above from Romans, one of the lectionary texts from this past Sunday, St. Paul's call to "wake from sleep" grabbed me, and would not let me go.
My mind went immediately to an image, the icon of Christ pictured here, that had caused another rude awakening in my life. It was my wife Sarah who first showed me this icon, written by a Franciscan friar, as she was praying for her patients, many of whom are undocumented migrants. While I had long known the biblical mandate to welcome the sojourner and stranger, there was something startling about seeing Jesus depicted as an migrant. The imagine shook me awake, and I began to see debates about immigration policy not as abstract conversations about borders and quotas, but as decisions of flesh and blood, life and death.
In the coming days and weeks, there will a national conversation about immigration, especially in light of a recent decision to end deferred action for DREAMers, children of undocumented immigrants who came to the United States and have been allowed to remain. Immigration policy is complicated and a solution is unclear; our representatives need our prayers for wisdom and compassion now more than ever.
Yet this is clear: now is the time to wake from our sleep, lay aside the darkness of fear and violence, and put on the armor of light that allows us to welcome the stranger and protect the immigrant. We must be awake to this: the deportation of flesh and blood people in whom we meet Jesus is part of the dark night which is far gone. As Christians, we live in the bright day of welcome for all, and look for the coming day when justice will roll down for all God's people.
As we enter this time of conversation and debate, will you join me in staying awake and helping others wake up? Keep up with the news, talk with your neighbors, and if you feel so led, call your members of Congress. Tell them this: "love is the fulfillment of the law."
Together, we can remind each other what time it is.
A member who had been absent for a while, attended worship. Upon seeing this, I smiled and thought “the body of Christ is now more complete.”
It won’t surprise you to learn that I am a Protestant. I have become aware of this in a new way. Our Catholic friends, in partnership with the Chapel, have recently placed a tabernacle in Memorial Chapel. This is a beautifully crafted piece which contains consecrated bread, which for Catholics is mysteriously and truly the body of Christ. Catholics will now have the opportunity to visit the tabernacle in Memorial Chapel to reverence the Blessed Sacrament. I appreciate and honor the sacrament of communion, but do so in a way different than Catholics. Further, there is another body of Christ upon which I place great value. The people of God, you, are the body of Christ.
Whether I am sitting in the back of the sanctuary or the front, when I see the faithful gathered for worship, I see the body of Christ. We are a diverse, imperfect, motley crew that God has claimed as God’s own. And we are part of a much larger body that spans both the globe and the centuries, called to live our lives in faithfulness to Jesus Christ. We follow our calling imperfectly, and yet still, we are united in Christ, one body. When our worship service concludes and we scatter across the Triangle, we are still the body of Christ, still connected to one another, still following our Lord and Savior.
The people who are the body of Christ make me smile, especially when one more person connects or reconnects with this body because it makes us more complete.
May the peace of Christ be with you.
A common question this time of year is “How was your summer?” It is a reasonable, friendly, and honest question – yet one for which I find I have no good answer.
We, as a congregation, are year-round ministry. Our Sunday morning classes continue through the summer with strong attendance. Mission service projects, including Urban Ministry dinners, Families Moving Forward meals, and Saturday morning projects, maintain their usual schedule. Fellowship opportunities actually increase in the summer, from monthly events, to weekly Lemonade on the Lawn. Behind the scenes, the Altar Guild, Stewardship and Finance Committee, and a host of other volunteers quietly do what they are called to do without interruption. Even on a holiday weekend, this coming Sunday, our patterns of ministry stay the same. Yes, some people will travel for the holiday, but many of us will be here. So, we come for worship, education, mission, and fellowship.
We are part of an academic community, so, of course, we notice the rhythms of the academic year. And, in part, it is because all students will be back on campus this Sunday, that I thought it was particularly important that we offer our Sunday morning classes and Ministry Fair this week, despite the fact that it is Labor Day Weekend.
I delight in stumbling over the question “How was your summer?” The question is usually posed in relation to the life of the Congregation, so I often respond with the description I have given above. The reason I like stumbling over this question is because it reminds me that in some small ways, we are striving to reflect the steadfast love of God.
The refrain of Psalm 136 is “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.”
Hebrews reminds us that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)
Second Timothy tells us to share the gospel “in season and out of season”. (2 Timothy 4:2)
Drawing our strength from the Eternal One, may we strive to be steadfast and faithful, both as a congregation as an individual disciples.
May the peace of Christ be with you.
On Monday, I observed a little slice of heaven – both literally and figuratively.
I found myself in Finlay Park, Columbia, SC, on the afternoon of the solar eclipse. A large crowd had gathered and from what I could tell, consisted of all ages, races, and walks of life. Everyone had their eyes to the sky.
An air of excitement and openness that isn’t usually present in our everyday world was palpable. People smiled, children ran and laughed, friendliness abounded. Those who had concocted unusual viewing apparatuses were approached without concern and gladly shared their knowledge. We were all in this together.
A lady from Boston with terminal cancer drove to SC to watch. A three-year-boy kept asking his mom if the eclipse was here yet, then proclaiming, “I think I hear it coming!” And, when totality occurred, the boy DID hear it, because a joyful cheer erupted from the crowd. During the eerie, grayish darkness, which lasted only minutes, I looked around and soaked in the oneness. And, then there was that view in the sky. The light from the sun was as completely blocked as it ever could be, short of being extinguished, but still it was visible.
As light again overtook the unusual darkness, the people began to disperse. The literal slice of heaven was over, but the figurative remained. I had the feeling we were all at least refreshed, and maybe even changed, by spending that time of darkness together with our eyes to the sky.
Racism, white supremacy, and any other ideology which claims one group of human beings is inherently superior to another is sin. Whether racism appears in a bold, public display or a private, unintended act, it is sin either way. When the sin is ours, our response is to confess, repent, and seek God’s mercy. What do we do when we see sin in others? How do we respond to those whose words we find offensive, whose beliefs are incompatible with our own, or whose actions we find offensive?
Our faith repeatedly calls us to respond to hate with love, and evil will goodness. We are challenged to avoid self-righteousness. Instead, we are to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God. For some of us, that may mean we are called to patient, quiet acts of love and kindness. For others of us, it may mean running for political office. The possibilities are as diverse as we are.
May God grant us wisdom and courage for the living of these days.
May the peace of Christ be with you.
“This was the most important class I took at Duke. And the most painful.”
Those words, or something like them, were what I wrote on the course evaluation for my last class at Duke Divinity School.
“Christian Identity and the Formation of the Racial World” was challenging not only because of the reading (heart-breaking accounts of racial violence) and the exams (case studies of real life situations involving racism and the church) but also because of what the course demanded of us spiritually.
For reasons that require more time and space than this article can give, every student in the course had to come face to face with the reality that our identity as Christians (particularly as white Christians) was bound up in the history of slavery and the structural racism that continues to oppress people of color.
Allowing God to use this truth to transform my mind was the real work of the course, and even when the semester was over and my final exam turned in, I felt I had just scratched the surface. There was so much more work to be done.
I am deeply grateful that both Dean Powery and Congregation leadership have committed to this hard and painful work by inviting Chapel and Congregation staff to attend racial equity training. In September, I’ll be attending a 2-day workshop on dismantling racism with others from the Chapel community. Some staff have already received this training, and others will attend in upcoming months.
I invite your prayers for the Chapel and Congregation staff as we enter a season of this important and difficult work; pray that God might use this time to transform us, to transform the Chapel community, and continue the work of dismantling racial oppression.
This important and painful work is not for staff and pastor-types alone; it takes all the people of God. Consider signing up for a workshop , or sharing your own experience of racism and resistance.
Together, God is using us to do this important and painful work.
On the journey with you,