Jesus is Coming! Jesus is Coming!

It Will Never Be As We Expect It To Be

Matthew 25:31-46
© Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved

In a Blaze of Glory!
With a loud blast of Trumpet!
Accompanied by a great cloud of witnesses!
In a still, small voice.

AND, how shall it really be?

Will Jesus simply appear amidst a herd of goats,
with an odd bleat we misunderstand?

Or, will he just wander along with the sheep,
casual and as lost as the rest of them/us?

Could it be that Jesus would dare come as one of us?
Would he then present himself as a Royal Grump,
haughty and judgmental, grieving the grieved,
punishing the already punished,
taking more than his share from the weak, and then judging these impoverished ones as lazy and unworthy?

Or, are we expected to be more
than our common denominator,
rising up to a call beyond our own petty instincts,
beyond our own fears,
to be ourselves this coming of Jesus the Christ?
Could it be
that it will be in this way that he shall come?

The Saga of the Play-It-Safe

Awash on a Sea of Safety

Matthew 25: 14-30
© Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved

An alternative title would be:
“The Saga of the Play-It-Safe.”
Not taking risks,
not pushing the envelope as far as possible,
not attempting the impossible,
not dreaming,
not going over the mountain,
not living full-out:
these seem, for the teller-of-parables,
to be the ultimate failure—disgrace.

So I ask you, me, what are the areas of
utter darkness in which we live,
because we are afraid of the risk?
If we have chosen comfort and security
over a dream, what is it that our
failure to live fully looks like, now?
And, if we have buried the treasure we were given,
and chosen a safety net that was really a tether,
to what are we tethered, and
how will we ever be free to soar?

CHURCH OFF THE CENTER-redefining the idea of church, Mission Clusters

A Symbol of Our Faith

The church I serve belongs to a denomination named, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  Others may have another way of expressing the nature of this denomination, I say that it is a Main Line, Liberal church.  If you know little about the Disciples, as we refer to ourselves, there is ample information  online that you can look up.

This year our Christian Church of Northern California Nevada Region has begun operating under its new by laws.  These by laws change local church fellowship from Geographic Areas to what is termed, Mission Clusters.  A significant change in the way we do our business as church and how we fellowship with one another.

Because we could no longer do church-as-business-as-usual, it became clear to me very rapidly that this was a grand opportunity to totally re-think the idea of church.  Knowing two of the other pastors in the old Geographic Area, Christine Tomascheski, of Eureka, CA,  and Cherie Marckx, of Ukiah, CA, and further understanding how our particular needs overlapped, I suggested that we form a Mission Cluster based upon our own unique and specific needs.  Several conversations with them and board Meetings in our respective congregations, we agreed upon a course of action.  I was given the task of coordinating our need, interests, conversations, ideas, and shared direction.

Below you will find how we expect to function as a Mission Cluster, but more, how we are seeking new ways of defining/understanding/doing church.  I have included the proposal as well as three defining poem-like statements.

October 12, 2011
To the Regional Office CCNC-N

Hi All,
This is to inform you of the intent of the Geyserville Christian Church to be part of the Mission Cluster, “Church off the Center.”  We see this as an opportunity to move forward in our fellowship with the Region, and with the other two churches with which we are joining in this endeavor— First Christian Ukiah and First Christian Eureka.

In truth, I have long thought that the Geographic Area Model was long over and done, so this is a very exciting and new concept.  It is a kind of design-your-own-community model that lets us truly have it our way.  Thank you for that!

This Mission Cluster was conceived out of conversations among Cherie Marckx (Ukiah), Christine Tomascheski (Eureka), and Hilary Marckx (Geyserville). Basically this is a starting point for what we have garnered from our conversations. These are talking points, a place from which to begin. We are not about any one individual or person having THE answer, but about discovering a vocabulary and syntax through which small-church might be re-understood in practical and workable terms. We have heard “small church” defined as around 100 persons, and “micro-church” to be in the vicinity 25-50, but our churches are spirit-filled communions of from 4-20 worshipers and the wider church often seems befuddled by us and to have little to offer us (I will term this size of congregation, a Mini/Micro-Small Church.  At issue here is that our congregations seem to thrive spiritually even while we struggle financially, with few resources to both build upon and/or fall back on, but it is sometimes exhausting feeling that we are out here alone.

We see this Mission Cluster as a place for us to perhaps become our own answer – a place of mutual resource, where there may be no absolute answers, but many possibilities. It is not intended to be a voice, but an ear, not a beacon but an open heart. We see this Mission Cluster to be one of mutual support, insight and prayer.

MISSION CLUSTER GROUP
CHURCH OFF THE CENTER #1
(doing progressive/liberal ministries
in sparsely populated
and religiously conservative areas)

What does it mean for a church
with few resources,
to do church like it has never been done before?
Ask Jesus!
Jesus looked at church in his own time
and challenged its center of being,
and its being in the center,
in a way that is still shaking the earth.
The church in the center
is a church of much comfort

little challenge, and much tradition.
The Church off the Center
is a church re-defining “small church”
without using numbers as a watermark,
and asks hard questions of itself,
while reaching out in unconventional ways,
and living it’s life looking from the edge inward.
This Church off the Center identifies with those on the margin, and seeks  not so much balance, as justice,
choosing life a guided by Spirit and faith
over the safety of convenience.
A Church off the Center
worships in new ways at different times and days,
and follows Jesus’ lead as it asks itself,
What will it mean to be future church
and not past or present church?

CHURCH OFF THE CENTER #2

And…
So what kind of church shall we be?
Each week we arrive.
Each week we come in the door.
Each week we sit down.
And we pray, worship, sing, praise
in a church that has come to us
from past generations of people
almost just like us, but not quite.
This church has been formed out of, and by,
accidents of antagonism and victory, and faith and love.
The question is always this:
Will this church, any church,
continue to allow its change
to be accidental and random,
or will it seize this moment and
replace the accident with purpose
and the random with intentionality?

CHURCH OFF THE CENTER #3

A Church Off The Center
Matthew 13:33-34
© Hilary F. Marckx

What is a Church Off the Center?
It is a church not expected,
not worshiping out of some misplaced
vision of the norm, and
not doing its business in the same old way.
A Church Off the Center
recognizes its roots and heritage
but neither worships its own history
nor its present or future–
A Church Off The Center
finds its Off-Center in
Christ who has never been
at any culture’s center.
It glories not in its mission or
programs or activities or its pastor,
but in the One who has called it into being.
A Church Off the Center does not
seek to elevate a vision of Gospel
that finds refuge in the social values,
community mores, and conveniences
of a religious story of safety
and the communally expected.
A Church Off the Center
is a church of challenge and of parable.
This church not a safe place for
those who seek protection for their
prejudices and biases in their religion.
A Church Off the Center is, itself,
a story told as Jesus did in his parables—
one that ends with an unexpected twist,
and becomes leaven to the bread of our lives.
This Church Off the Center is a church of surprises.
Common knowledge holds that church
cannot thrive with so few members,
such little income, and yet it does.
Out of the reach of the bright lights of the
main-stream neon, glossy, franchised churches,
on the verge of the chaos of life,
and in the midst of flabbergasting Mystery,
this Church Off the Center,
warts, bumps, and all,
and with few resources,
finds its strength in its smallness,
and thrives.

God’s Story/Our Story—Not Your Story!

Every Note Has a Place and a Purpose

Matthew 22:34-46
© Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved

What are the stories we can tell?
By what small altars do we mark
the passages of our lives?
What songs sang the brightest
and the darkest
moments of our journeys,
and do we still sing them?

In some way our stories are God’s story.
Me ‘n’ God/God ‘n’ me,
concatenate—
meaning inextricably linked,
meaning inseparable,
meaning not apart.
It is how we are.
Uncomfortable sometimes,
comfortable other times,
but always blessed,
always, just always.

And always our stories
are commingled with God.
Always an admixture of sacred and profane.
Always us ‘n’ God.

I recently read an article that panned anyone who believed in God, in the Historical Jesus, or the efficacy of prayer.  I think it is just OK that they do not believe, but the crux of the article was about how dumb/slow-witted/ignorant liberal/progressives are who don’t eschew any view that disagrees with the writer’s point of view.  Yikes!!!

To my way of thinking, this is simply another form of fundamentalism, pure and simple.  It is a “My way or the highway” point of view, and it just doesn’t work with me at all!  That author did not get that all the notes in the scale have a place and a purpose, and can work well together.

If you think about it at all, there is actually nothing anyone can say about God that is definitive, or universal.  God is just too big to do something like that.  Thinking out of a mathematical model with negative and positive numbers centered by a zero, we could say that God is all that is as well as nothing that is.  And that works for me up to a point, but all we can really say, all we can actually proclaim about God are images that come out of our own limited points of view, that are based on our own , very personal experience of God.  I can explain my experience and my own point of view, but that is all it is.  Neither me nor that author has any right to judge another’s experience of the Divine Being.

What we can do is discern whether it works for us or not, and then either claim and use the parts of it that do work, and discard the rest, or move on along.

I do want to go on record and say that fundamentalism, whether it is, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Atheist, Conservative, Liberal, Progressive, or whatever, it just that–fundamentalist and as such is fraught with ignorance, limitations, and control issues.

To say this another way—DO NOT TRY TO SHOVE YOUR CRAP DOWN MY THROAT AND TRY TO TELL ME THAT IF I DON’T BUY INTO YOUR PROGRAM, I AM EITHER GOING TO BURN IN HELL, OR I AM STUPID!!!  I hope I am clear.

I wanted to make this point strongly because that are many who do not have big degrees in theology, and give their good sense and personal power of choice over to those who do.  And to those who have the really big mouths and try to talk down any opposition by loud clanging proclamations, screw off, and grow up.  This ain’t the eight-grade.  It could well be that people are not dumb, because they don’t fall into lock-step with you, it is probably because they are smart.