Sunday, October 25, 2009


In our worship celebration this week, we read a classic from the Gospel of Luke.
It’s the Good Shepherd Story. Rather than try to re-tell it myself, I’m going to just give you it out of my favorite Bible translation - The Message (a retelling of the Bible in more modern language, no begats here):

Luke 15
1-3By this time a lot of men and women of doubtful reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently. The Pharisees and religion scholars were not pleased, not at all pleased. They growled, "He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends." Their grumbling triggered this story.
4-7"Suppose one of you had a hundred sheep and lost one. Wouldn't you leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the lost one until you found it? When found, you can be sure you would put it across your shoulders, rejoicing, and when you got home call in your friends and neighbors, saying, 'Celebrate with me! I've found my lost sheep!' Count on it—there's more joy in heaven over one sinner's rescued life than over ninety-nine good people in no need of rescue.

I don’t know about you, but I have had plenty of times in life where I would have thought of myself as having a “doubtful reputation”. Believe me, I am the worst critic of Kurt Young on the planet. If there is something I’ve done wrong, I’ve noticed it. Anything I’ve failed to do, humanly possible or not, I’m on it.
Leave it to Cheri to come up with a few ways to get me off of the I’m not worthy recording in my head. First, the more serious, she had us all repeat a simple, but effective phrase to start her message, “God really loves you, so I’m going to try too”. Then she went to the wacky. She had us all stare at the video screens to see if we could recognize the new United States Senator and former comedian. The screen sprung to life with “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and gosh darn it, people like”.
In case you were not a fan of Saturday Night Live, that’s Stuart Smalley, a self-help guru spoof created by Al Franken, the now junior Senator from Minnesota. As Cheri pointed out, and I agree, we live in a pretty amazing world where Al Franken is a senator and Cheri is the Pastor of a Methodist Church with a beer cooler in it. Yes, if you have not joined us yet, the Village has a beer cooler running, unfortunately filled with milk & creamer. It does make a great way to the break the ice on inviting people to visit.
Recently, We’ve seen a lot of the world valuing good people whose lives were cut short. Jasper Howard is a prime example of that. Jasper was a young man who worked hard to leave the seemingly unsafe streets of Miami’s Little Haiti behind to go to school and play football in suburban Hartford, Connecticut at the University of Connecticut. Seemingly a safe place to be. But on October 17th a day that started with Jasper having 11 tackles in homecoming win, ended with Jasper stabbed to death at the Homecoming Dance. Such a wonderful young man was a common theme in the words of who lost him. Fitting tributes have followed in the media and even from his team’s opponents this week. Jasper was someone who mattered to the world.
It reminded Cheri and I of a recent loss, near us, not treated with nearly as much coverage. Victor Johnson was 34 years old and lived a few blocks away from us. He was walking down his street when a gunman or gunmen shot him. Hearing the shots (sadly not that uncommon near our home) and not having Victor return home, his family and friends feared the worst and called 911. The Toledo Police came, but were unable to find a body where they were told the shooting and went back on patrol. Hours later, the family found the body. Victor Johnson was someone who mattered to God, just like Jasper. Just not as much to the world. Our scripture this week was about a simple message, EVERYONE MATTERS TO GOD. No exceptions
Cheri told us about a time where this was driven home to her. Cheri’s family is from Texas, the family home is DeLeon, Texas, which believe me scared the daylights out of this big city Yankee. She grew up in Abilene, Texas, which she described in the heart of redneck country. But she found herself in Atlanta, hired to be the youth pastor for an inner city youth group. Somehow, the naive West Texas white girl connected to the young, African-American men. Leading a communion Sunday, where Tony asked Cheri to join her as his family saying “is there room for me here?”
Jesus message in this week’s scripture is “There is always room.” In fact, if you’re not here – I’ll come looking for you. God isn’t worried about the 99 “worthy” folks out there, but the 1 of us that is not worthy, at least in our eyes. In God’s eyes, we all matter, this is non-negotiable, no exceptions, no questions.
Of course, there is a problem with mattering. You have to find it out for yourself. It’s not easy. Even for me, who has been told I was God’s beloved child since birth. Sometimes that voice is hard to hear, but you need to hear that. You are God’s child and you matter. But when you, when you do you’re going to hear a new voice. Others matter too and need to hear that.

So, whether the voice you need to hear is You Matter to God, or Make Others Know They Matter to God, we’re here every week waiting for you. Come visit the Village, our worship celebrations are Sunday at 10:30. See you there.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Waiting On The World To Change

I’ve got a real problem. I have a Superman Complex. There are times I believe that if I try hard enough, I can fix anything. Of course, I can’t fix everything, it only took a few therapy sessions to get there. But I can take off the cape, I don’t have to change the world alone.

In our scripture for the worship celebration this week, John 5: 1-9, we read about a man who spent most of his life, 38 years, at the Bethesda Pool. He was unable to walk and the pool at Bethesda was supposed to have healing properties. The problem is that you have to get someone to put you at the right time, after it had been properly stirred up. Jesus walked up to the man and said “do you want to be healed?”. Seemingly a silly question, but the man had spent his life waiting on this, without making it happen. When the man said yes to this, Jesus said simply pick up your mat & walk, and so he did. Sometimes, it’s just that simple, choosing to make it happen.

Part of our progress towards turning the old Colony Restaurant, Pancho’s Mexican Restaurant, the Doctor’s Inn, etc into the Village has been thanks to our sister UMC & UCC churches. Last week I spoke about a UMC, so this week let me tell you about a UCC church, North Congregational Church in Columbus. We had a great group from North Congregation join us thanks to the work of Lesle Eppler at a UCC Conference. She met Skylar, a member of North Congregational.

Skylar is a member of one of the teams at North Congregational. He and his team met with me, heard further about this crazy adventure of ours, and decided to come north a couple of hours drive and help us. As I met with this group, I met Skylar’s wife Angie. Angie was very enthusiastic about the project and ready to help. But Angie had a concern. She did not want to slow down Skylar and the other handy members of the team.

Angie is not that terminally unhandy like I am. No, she’s in a wheelchair. But Angie did not have to worry about slowing anyone down. She worked for hours painting our children’s room. In addition, she and another member of the team, Marilyn, solved a problem we had been agonizing about, how to turn an inaccessible bathroom, into an accessible one. The group wanted to help change the world by helping get the Village off the ground. Angie didn’t wait 38 years for healing, she just rolled into it.

Cheri faced a similar decision in her career. When Cheri was growing up, she couldn’t decide if she really wanted to be a minister. She never doubted she wanted to serve God, it was not that. It was fights about what color the choir robes should be, arranging chicken bar b cues, and whether to use inclusive language or not. But she went to seminary anyway, and then had the experience that convinced her she could.

During seminary, she got a job at Trinity United Methodist in Atlanta, Georgia. Trinity is a mission center for all of Atlanta. It is a place where the poor and homeless get some of the help they vitally need. It is also a place where all are included, one of the first fully inclusive United Methodist churches in the south. There is where she fell in love with urban ministry and welcoming all.

Cheri decided if Trinity could be a United Methodist Church, She could be a Methodist pastor. She could have waited for the Methodist Church to heal itself of it’s various wounds on not including all, but that would still be happening. Instead, she decided to help heal the Methodist church from inside.

Many of us who are progressives have had our share of concerns about organized religion. I know that I have had struggles with the denomination that I grew up in. To not fully include women, even those clearly called to ministry, to demand celibacy of clergy, to tell couples not to use available technology to control the size of their family, or to tell couples they should be open to having children but can’t use the technology available to help, was just the start of my problems.

Jim Wallis is an activist and writer who help found Sojourners, an organization that works for the poor and outcasts of our society. Jim has seen the “Religious Right” dominate the political discussion for a long time, while the “Religious Left” remain ignored. But Jim has given us all an interesting call. He has suggested that the alternative to bad religion isn’t no religion, it’s good religion. He has called on us all to reclaim the faith that led to some of the great social justice movements of our nation’s history; the Abolition of Slavery, Voting Rights for Women, and the Civil Rights of Movement; and start changing the world with it again.

In his book, “God’s Politics”, Jim tells the story of Lisa, a community organizer he worked with at Sojourners. Lisa died relatively young, but she made a huge difference. She spoke once about the struggles of her generation to make a difference. Her peers bemoaned the lack of the great leaders of generations past. They want to know when the Martin Luther King, Jr’s; John F. Kennedy’s; the Robert Kennedy’s, etc. are. Lisa’s eloquent response was simply, “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for”.

So, if we are the ones we’ve been waiting for, how are we working to change the world? It doesn’t have to be huge. One of my favorite poems “Success”, talks about how we can change the world, by the simple things we’ve done and said. Now, imagine what you need to let go of to start making that change. Today in worship, we poured a cup of water, prayed about what we needed to let go, then poured into a larger container, releasing those things. That water is helping grow the beautiful flowers outside the Village as I type.

If you’re ready to start letting go of what is holding you back and find others who will join you in making the world a better place, come to the Village. Our worship celebrations are Sundays at 10:30. We’ll help you find that first step to pick up your mat and starting walking down the path to changing the world, from the corner of Central & Monroe.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


Do you ever have those days? The days when hope is the last thing that is on your mind; when all seems lost. Usually it is on a Monday for me in the Football season, but we’re not talking about the pains and joys of being a football fan of a team known for losing now, we’re talking about the really important things in life. Believe me, the man known as Eeyore to his wife, knows those days.

Let me share one of them with you. A few weeks ago as we were rehabbing the space that will become the Village’s home. One of our work crews could not come. There were illnesses, chaos of life, etc. As it was, the project was a daunting one to begin with. Then we had contract/lease snafu’s and lost a weekend, a holiday weekend when we had lots of volunteers lined up and lots of energy. Enter tons of a little problems, nothing we should not expect rehabbing an old building that sat vacant for five years. Another group came up with a fraction of their volunteers (mind you they made huge contributions with a small group). Then nobody shows. No work group and very few folks from the Village either. And the work went horribly that day. A few dozen light bulbs changed is all I had to show for my aching, throbbing body & day.

I going to tell you, hopeless was where I was. I came home from that day, curled up in a ball and cried. But as Cheri made us repeat several times in worship this week “Some days, I feel hopeless, but Jesus never loses hope.” That really is what we are trying to do with the Village, spread this message. That’s what are logo shows, hope growing in the city. And we are all about that, hope from hopelessness. I mean, come on, who else but a bunch of people who are crazy about hope would start a church during the “Great Recession”.
Thankfully we have some great models of hope. We have a president who started out as a community organizer in Chicago. He knows something about hope. This week he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace. Prematurely many say, but in the words of the committee, "[o]nly very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future”. By the way, in case you’ve not heard this, it is not unusual for the Nobel Committee to award the peace prize to those whose work is just beginning or incomplete as a way to encourage what they believe to be worthy efforts, but we’ll leave defending their decision to them.

Also, while I am glad to have helped gotten President Obama elected, we are going to focus on a little bit different leader here. Another leader who people choose to follow. Another leader that caused people to have hope. Let’s see him in action from our scripture this week, from the Message Translation: Mark 1:16-20 (from The Message) 16-18Passing along the beach of Lake Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew net-fishing. Fishing was their regular work. Jesus said to them, "Come with me. I'll make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I'll show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass." They didn't ask questions. They dropped their nets and followed. 19-20A dozen yards or so down the beach, he saw the brothers James and John, Zebedee's sons. They were in the boat, mending their fishnets. Right off, he made the same offer. Immediately, they left their father Zebedee, the boat, and the hired hands, and followed.

So the question is why did these men literally drop everything and follow Jesus? Did they have a need. Well that’s part of it. Being a fisherman is not an easy life now, and it was even harder back then. Did they sense a leader who could give them hope and whom they could trust. Probably true. Did they just have incredible faith? Or did they choose to say yes, knowing they could change the world?

With The Village our Vision is simple: “Follow Jesus and Change the World”. It’s on our sign out front of the building. It’s on our advertising. And, most importantly, it’s in our hearts. We ARE going to change the world. It’s going to start with this one corner, Monroe & Central. We’re going to bring back a historic building. But it’s not going to end there. Our church is not a building. Church is not supposed to be a building. It is a verb. It is going out into the world and changing it.

And right now is a time where hope is needed: two very difficult wars are being fought by our country’s military at a time they need a rest; Our economy may be turning the corner, but it’s not there yet and we live in one of the bottom ten poorest towns; we have so many angry, hopeless people here, we are seeing gunfights like the Shootout at the OK Coral in our local bars.

Do you know someone who needs hope? Is that you? A friend? A co-worker? A neighbor? A relative? We all need signs of hope. We can be that sign of hope. We can be that hope by changing a building, by feeding the hungry, but raising some money, or just giving some inspiration. Come join us a get a little hope, then reach out to others invite those other people in need of hope. Come become a fisher of people.

We don’t have to give in to despair and hopelessness. It’s not what God wants for us and it’s not what followers of Jesus are all about. So, are you ready? Are you ready for this great adventure? Join us on Sundays at 10:30, starting October 25th, and become part of putting Hope back into the world.

And those building issues? Well, thanks to 13 new friends from Ginghamsburg UMC in Tipp City, Ohio, we’ve got a chance to make this great adventure happen. And that silly football team. Well, even they’re winning. Come see hope come alive in all kinds of ways, especially the important ones.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Where The Rubber Hits the Road or WHAT YOU DOING SATURDAY?

My apologies for not updating sooner loyal readers. We are hitting crunch time here with the Village. Our launch months of October & November has hit and things are getting really exciting. Dozens of hours of volunteer work were done, by Villager and non-Villagers (I'm not falling for the Village People tag some of you want) alike today alone. We had tile & carpet installers, electricians, handy men & women, etc all over Cheri's office, the kids room and the main room, we are now calling the Village Commons. The Launch Team and the Worship Team met today and the band had practice to warm up for Sunday, our first just for us preview service, yesterday.

Things are shaping up great for our new faith community's home, which if you aren't in our Facebook or email group, is going to be at the Old Colony Restaurant, later known as the Doctor's Inn. This was Toledo's original shopping mall at the turn of the Century. We are all getting very excited for the start of our next phase, weekly worship together. Our worship center is going to be like nothing else out there in Toledo. Imagine the experience of sitting at comfortable table or booth, listening to incredible music, drinking great coffee or tea, watching great video presentations, do art and discussions, and hearing an incredible message of God’s love and call on us all to change the world. I’m very excited for this to get started. This is the church I have dreamed of attending for years.

But that also means we are that key point, where the rubber hits the road, crunch time, insert your own appropriate cliche' here. This Sunday we have our first “preview” service at our new home. This is not something we are publicizing. You can bring friends, but this is not the one for the public. It’s going to be rough. Running sound in a new space, etc is a rough process. The walls WILL NOT be painted, there will be rough spots in the bathrooms, exterior of the building, etc. Call this a dress down rehearsal, cause we don’t want you to dress up.

To get ready though, we need a big push. One of our sister churches, which was supposed to send a work crew up, has had a crisis or two and can not come this weekend. So we have just lost dozens of volunteer hours to clean tables and booths, sweep floors and apply other touches to make sure we are ready to roll.

So, if you have even vaguely considered volunteering to help. Now’s your time. We will be there Saturday morning at 9 AM and hope to have volunteers going from 9 AM to 5PM or more. Grab your work clothes, any tools for things you like to do like paint or clean, and come to the Village. We’ll put you to work helping to create not just a new church home, but hopefully a model for a faith community for the 21st Century and a movement to create welcoming, progressive, world changing churches around the area and beyond. I hope to see you there. I’ll be the guy in the old, black Bengals hat. If you know you can come, please call Cheri at 419-297-8031 so we can make sure we’ve got work waiting for you.