Helping your family thrive in summer

School’s out for summer … but now what? Summer in Indianapolis presents some unique opportunities and challenges for families who want to create memorable experiences. As someone with a large family who is still relatively new to the city, I wanted to share a few things we’ve learned that might help your family thrive during this season.

Be Intentional

For many of us, summer is a great time to pull back from the chaos of the school year and get organic with our schedules. While there is certainly a place for a more relaxed rhythm during the summer (see below), we’ve found that we still have to plan intentionally to love each other well. Without a basic plan, we can fall into a reactionary pattern and miss out on opportunities to create meaningful memories for our family.

Each year, Emily and I get together for intentional conversation and prayer about our summer goals. We try to take into account how we’re doing physically, spiritually, emotionally, and socially and where we’d like to move the needle. Overall, we ask two simple questions that help shape our planning:

  • What shared experiences are God calling us to pursue that will unite our hearts and shape our kids’ desires towards what we want them to love in the future?
  • What specific resources do we need to invest (time, money, researching, friendships) to make this plan a reality?

Stay Connected

Summer is an easy time to drift away from the community of friendships that we’ve built during the rest of the year. While commitments to sports, family travel, weddings, and work may occupy a good chunk of our time in this season, I want to encourage you not to lose momentum with your community at Soma.

Consider creatively changing up, rather than withdrawing from, your rhythms of community during the summer. Play sports together. Go to the pool with the kids together. Host lunch in the park together Sundays after church. Take day trips together to nearby state parks or lakes. Walk with a group to grab dinner and ice cream off the Monon Trail.

We’ve noticed that when people “take a break” from community during the summer, it makes it extremely difficult to reconnect when school starts back in the fall. Most importantly, you miss out on opportunities to build shared memories that carry you into the next season of the year.

Rest Well

Summer is an invitation from God to break from the grind of the year and replenish our bodies, minds, and souls. Rest reminds us that we are humans and that we are dependent on God as the source of flourishing for our families.

In your planning (especially if you’re Type A), make sure that you don’t overschedule your summer in a way that eliminates the margin needed for holistic rest.

Build in time to rest your soul by reading the Scriptures, praying, singing, attending Sunday gatherings with your church family, and observing a 24 hour “Sabbath” rest each week.

Build in time to rest your body by eating well, getting enough sleep, and switching up your exercise routines.

Build in time to rest your mind by powering down technology, getting outside to enjoy nature (IMA, state parks, Indianapolis Zoo, Connor Prairie), and reading some good fiction books.

While these ideas may or may not serve your family this summer, our hope is to see families thriving, not surviving, this summer in the city. What helps your family thrive in the summer? Feel free to share your ideas on our social media pages or with others in your community. 

Image: "Tamalada," by Carmen Lomas Garza

Meditations on Receiving a New Name

I was not built to play soccer. I am what doctors would refer to as “slow." I am not merely physically slow, but I also lack any instinct for the game. My reflexes were never honed by years of practice or drills as a child. I grew up in a place where soccer did not exist. That distant land was known as Indianapolis circa 1984.

God, as he is in the habit of doing, moved me far from that strange provincial town, into the wider world - in this case to South America - where they do, in fact, play soccer. So much soccer.

When I first moved to Argentina as a church planter, I knew enough about culture as a concept to realize that I had to make some fundamental changes in my behavior if I was going to fit in. For example, Argentines eat more beef per capita than we do in the States. So I had to level up my meat consumption skills from All-Star to Elite. These are the types of sacrifices missionaries often have to make for the Cross.

Slightly more trying was my adoption of mate (mah-tay) as my go-to beverage. Mate looks like grass clippings and, depending on how it is prepared, can be a delightful hot tea shared communally or taste like the dross from a weed eater. It didn’t matter. Whatever any specific iteration of mate tasted like, I drank it with gusto. It was part of fitting in.

A new name, a new person

Changing what I ate and drank was a minor inconvenience in comparison with soccer, however. I’m a lifelong baseball fan, but I chose to live and work in a Latin American country where no one played the game at all. Polo is more popular than baseball in Argentina. But if I wanted to have any relationship with Argentines, I needed to not only follow their futbol but to develop a passion for a game that I had spent much of my life mocking (because nothing was more Hoosier in the 1980s than making fun of soccer).

At first, trying to fit in just felt like adopting external behavioral changes, and unnatural ones at that. But in time, exposure to a new culture and a new way of seeing the world profoundly altered my heart and even my sense of self. I even had a new name to go along with it. Nate Dunlevy loved baseball and never wanted to leave the northwest side of Indy. Natán Doonlaby loved mate and played soccer (badly, so very badly) and was living as a stranger in a strange land.

On a visit to Uruguay, I looked up at the stars one night. They weren't my stars. Orion’s belt wasn't shining. The Big Dipper didn’t hang upside down above me, hung on a hook by God after dishing out a bowl of creation stew. I only recognized one constellation.

“How did I get here?” I thought.

I scanned the horizon. A cross dotted the South American sky, reminding me that I wasn’t home, but I wasn’t lost either.

Living Uprooted

I’ve always wondered if God made Adam out of a tree. We humans love to put down roots and stay past what sanity would dictate. Many of us dig deep into our soil as if to say, this is mine. This is me. I’d die before I’d leave.

But throughout the Bible, God pulls men and women from their homes and sends them to new lands. From Adam and Eve to Abram and Sarai, and from Jacob to Moses and Naomi to Daniel, the Almighty digs up the deep possessiveness that seeps so naturally from our feet to the soil, breaking up our roots and sending us marching on.

Peter calls Christians "foreigners" and "aliens," which is hard to imagine if you’ve never experienced it. We derive our identity and often even our names from places and tongues our fathers left behind long ago. It’s no surprise, then, that when God moves us on toward a new land, he gives us a new name along with our new address. The land isn’t ours. It belongs to God. So does our identity

Abraham; Israel; Peter; Paul. We think of those names as giants, as pillars.

But they weren’t names given from birth. Those men all grew up thinking of themselves as something else. A father, a leg-puller, a listener, a king. But that’s not what they ended up being. They were to become the father of many, a wrestler, a rock, a humble one.

“This is not your home,” God says. “And that is not your name.”

We don’t get to decide for ourselves who he made us to be. We can kick against the goads or take up passage on a voyage to Tarshish; but if the Potter says to the clay, “Play soccer,” the vessel that emerges from the potter’s wheel, will in fact, play soccer.

Badly. So very badly.

Art to Bridge the Gap

“If we’re really all about helping the poor, why do we spend so much time talking about art?”

It’s a real question being asked by real people when they’ve hung around Soma a while and listened to us talk about our priorities. I think I know where it comes from. The implication is that art is for people who have the luxury to think about such things: for old ladies in pearls who write checks to foundations, and Millennials in torn jeans living in studio apartments like starving artists with no risk of actual starvation. It’s not for real people who have to live in the real world. If we’re making a big deal out of something as “upper-class” as the art community, does that mean we’re just pretending to care about the poor and oppressed?

Short answer? No. Not even a little bit.

A people’s art is their heart beating out where we can all hear it.

Art isn’t just for the privileged. When you walk through an urban neighborhood and hear the beat of hip-hop pulsing under your feet, you are experiencing the feeling of a people. Not just the words, with their rage and longing, but the music itself, the intense and clever and insistent fullness of it all.

When you pass a workman with his radio blaring an entirely different kind of song, a country song that drips pride and regret and determination, there’s a reason that song is what gets him through his day.

When your Mexican neighbors throw a party, and the cumbia is pumping out a call to dance and forget everything but this beat and this moment, that’s your neighbors’ bone-deep desire to make the most out of today’s joy before it’s gone. Can you feel it? Do you want to?

How do you bridge the gap between rich and poor? Between dark skin and light? Between East and West?

Certainly nothing can take the place of personal relationships. We’ve been talking about that a lot lately. It’s vital to build real relationships with real people, to look them in the eye and listen and really hear. But true understanding takes time and patience and swallowing our pride and hurt, and we’d be foolish to neglect anything that could ease that process.

You want to learn empathy for someone you don’t understand? To get past the intellectual and into their living experience? Absorb their art.

A people’s art is a window into their worldview.

When we lived in Argentina, we used to take all our visitors to the National Cathedral in Buenos Aires, not for any kind of religious experience, but just to look at the paintings that hung around the outer walls. Many Catholic churches have something of the kind, paintings that portray the stations of the cross, the events leading up to Jesus’ death. The ones in this particular cathedral are fascinating. Each portrays Jesus in a position of weakness, almost always being lorded over by “Roman” soldiers who look remarkably Spanish. He is also being helped along his way, usually by women, who all look strong and capable and also terribly sad. “Look at all of the paintings together,” we would tell people. “And once you’ve seen them all, you’ll have a glimpse of how Argentines see themselves and God and the world.”  The last thing to notice as you walked a slow circle through the quiet cathedral was that the final painting was Jesus’ burial. There was no resurrection.

You don’t need to parse that. Just let it sit.

A people’s art is a bridge to places outsiders can’t find.

I sit in my living room and open my laptop to be greeted by the pictures of a father in Syria clutching his dead children, of a black man in Minnesota gunned down in front of his girlfriend and her daughter, of Native Americans soaking wet in the freezing cold. I try to wrap my mind around the experiences of these men and women.

I want to untangle the complexities of history and culture that have brought them to the moment they’re living right now, but the task is beyond me. So I pick up books.

I read Between the World and Me and Things Fall Apart and Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee and I look out through the words, trying to see through the author’s eyes.

I search the names of Syrian artists and see what they’ve made and what they’ve said.  It’s not about agreeing or disagreeing with their statements. It’s about stepping into their shoes. And true, it’s only for an hour or maybe two, and then I go back to my white Indianapolis life, but journeys change you if you let them.

This is why we press into the artistic community in our city. Those artists place stepping stones across raging rivers.

Participating in the arts is not just for the rich. It’s not just for people with loads of free time on their hands. It’s not just for the talented or ambitious. It’s for anyone with eyes and ears and hands. It’s for us all.

So what can you do?

Experience art. Lots of art. All kinds of art. Music. Movies. Drawing. Painting. Sculpture. Books. Poems. Dance. Theater. All kinds of artists. Those that are like you and those that aren't. Look. Listen. Read. Push yourself out of your comfort zone and try to really see. Our city is full of art made by people of all ages, races, ethnicities. A lot of it you can experience for free. Get out there. And if your life keeps you at home, thank God for the internet age. Free art for everyone.

Think about art. Think about the art you like. Your music. Your books and movies. The stuff that hangs on your walls. Why do you like it? What does it say about you and your own culture, the way you see the world? As you venture out into new art, do it with your mind open. When you listen to music that you haven’t before, pay attention to what it feels like. When you see a sculpture that jars the senses, think about why it was made. What can you learn about the artist, about the artist's culture, about the truth of the world?

Talk about art. It’s not pretentious try to figure out what other people are seeing in something, to tell them what you see and have a dialogue. Unless you’re only doing it to impress someone, conversations about art are like any conversation. They can help you understand.

Make art. Whatever kind that expresses you and your view the world. I can't tell people what it's like to be African-American. I can't express how being Cuban feels. I can't explain what the world looks like when you're born poor in Texas. But I can talk about what it's like to be a woman. I can give a sense of how the world looks to a child who moves around a lot and has no particular roots. I can find words for my experiences as an immigrant in South America. I have that to offer, so I do. You have something, too. Don’t keep it to yourself.

Support artists. You don't have to love every kind of music or every illustration you see. You don't have to be moved by all the books you read. But when you do see something that opens your eyes, consider that it might do the same for others. Consider how you can spread the understanding that comes through that. Maybe you have money to buy things or support a Kickstarter or donate to an artist. Maybe you don’t have the money, so you spread the word instead. Maybe you wear the t-shirt or give someone a ride to a show or post links on social media.

Is it possible that if you start doing these things, you’ll look stupid? Maybe. Is it possible you’ll make mistakes and get slammed for them? Most likely. The world is full of critics and mockers. No one ever learned a new language or made a new friend or built something that didn’t exist before without risking themselves. Leaping across chasms isn’t for the cowardly. The view on the other side, though? It’s worth it.

That’s why we keep bringing it up at Soma. Risks are easier to take when you aren’t alone. So we lean out, we take in that long drop, and then we grab each others’ hands and jump together.

Image: "Mother and Child," by Angu Walters

Meet Maddie Schlichter

Seeing someone baptized is one of the greatest privileges we have as a church. We love seeing someone move from spiritual death to spiritual life in Jesus; we also love seeing people make a public affirmation of their relationship with God, so that we can welcome them fully into our community.

We baptized Maddie Schlichter (soon to be Pascascio!) at Soma Downtown a few Sundays ago, and we wanted to share her story with everyone.

My Christian journey all started with control. Since I was a little girl, I struggled with always needing to feel in control. My father was a gambling addict, which often left our family in unpredictable situations. From a very young age, worry consumed my mind. I fought for control because I thought if I could control a situation, there would be nothing for me to worry about. Although that never actually reigned true in my life I spent most of my years letting worry and control effect my every action.

I grew going to church fairly regularly, but the gospel was never a huge focus in my household. When I was in high school, I got involved with a student ministry. I joined a Bible study and participated in their regular meetings, but the main reason I was there was because they had a connection to Shepherd Community Center. They brought students down each week to volunteer with youth on the east side of Indy.

After volunteering just once, I was hooked. I fell in love with Shepherd’s mission and the children they served. I volunteered there every day after school for two years. Although I loved it, I was constantly overwhelmed by the children’s situations. For a girl who struggled with worry and control, this setting was incredibly trying. I couldn’t help but take each kid’s story home and I became incredibly burdened to the point where it was really affecting my life in big ways.

Then in May of 2012, Shepherd decided to shut down the particular program that I volunteered at. A group of volunteers and I decided to swoop up the group of kids we had be working with to start a program we would call Like a Lion. As we started our program, our relationships with the families we served only grew deeper. The struggles they faced and the situations they were in broke my heart. I wanted to be able to fix everything and protect all the kids from anything that may harm them and became very discouraged when I couldn’t.

Throughout this whole process, I thought I was a Christian. But instead of believing Jesus was a savior for me, I believed that people who were stuck in these incredibly hard situations were the ones who really needed Jesus. It wasn’t until I started Like a Lion that I really began to assess what I believed. I knew that the hope of Jesus was something I really felt the kids needed to hear, but I didn’t even really know what that meant. I was about to start teaching these Bible studies to the Like a Lion kids, and I didn’t want to be a hypocrite.

So, when I started Like a lion, I really dove deep into understanding the Bible and understanding who Jesus really was. This process opened my eyes up to the fact that Jesus wasn’t a Jesus for others, but he was my Jesus too. I realized how incredibly sinful I really am. I realized that my worry and desire for control were really me wanting to be my own God and a savior to the people around me. I realized that by seeking to be my own God, I was never going to be able to succeed. I needed Jesus and I needed to let go of the self-righteous thoughts that convinced me that I was able to save myself.

The process of realizing all of this was slow and painful at times, but the joy found in understanding the true gospel and realizing that I don’t need to have everything under control was so incredibly freeing. I started taking my burdens to the Cross instead of feeling the need to carry everything on my shoulders. I let grace cover me instead of feeling like I needed to make perfect decisions in order to control things best. Although I still struggle with control and worry, I can now remind myself that I serve a God who created us, not to go through this world alone, but to rely on his guidance and love. A God who loved us so much that he sent his son to die on the cross for my sins. A God who is good and a God who I need.

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. - John 15:4-5

So today, I am excited to take the next steps in my walk with Christ by being baptized into his kingdom and diving deeper into my relationship with Him.

Settled / Unsettled

“I just thought you’d all be settled by now. I can’t wait until you’re all settled.”

That’s what my mom said to me casually in a conversation not too long ago. I don’t remember the entire context, but I do remember that part.

Settled. I knew exactly what she meant: Married. Motherhood. Homeowner. Full-time job.

None of those descriptions fit my life at the moment.

The Dream and the Nightmare

In all fairness, I thought I’d be “settled” by now too. I’m inching closer to the latter half of my mid-twenties. I feel pressure to have that all figured out by now. Aren’t these the things that I was supposed to work out in my early twenties so that I can start fully living as I transition into my late twenties and thirties?

Settled is the dream.

But there’s another side of me too. Like many of my millennial contemporaries, part of me cringes at the idea of being settled. What would my social life look like if I started a family? Surely those 10p soccer games would have to go. Nine-to-five jobs without the option of working remotely are much too constricting. Renting seems like the better option: buying a house would make it harder for me to move next year if I want.

Settled is the nightmare.

Life is lived in this tension. My single friends dream of getting married, starting families, and buying homes. My married friends with kids long to join my Thursday night indoor soccer league or tag along on summer road trips. After all, the grass is always greener on the other side. But how do we live in this tension in a God-glorifying and honoring way?

Soma has been walking through the book of Genesis and recently finished looking at the life of Abraham. I can honestly say that I have never been able to relate to an elderly man as much as I can relate to Abraham. Talk about living in tension. Abraham was settled: he was married and living with (or at least near) his father for the first 75 years of his life. But then God called Abraham to leave his home and family at the age of 75, saying that God would make him the father of a great nation. Abraham and his wife Sarah became childless nomads. They were settled in that they had each other and they knew exactly where God was leading them. But they unsettled because they had no children to show for it. So they waited. And waited. And waited some more. Finally, 25 years later they had a son, but not just any son. This was Isaac, the promised son through which Jesus would one day be born.

Interestingly enough, Abraham lived to be 175 years old, yet the Bible focuses on these 25 years of tension. We can learn a lot from how he navigated this season.

Believe God’s Promises

One of the biggest keys to success for Abraham was his faith in God’s promises. God promised to make him a great nation. He promised to give him and Sarah a son. Abraham believed. It was this faith that saved him (Genesis 15:6). I also believe that it was this faith that helped him survive the tension. It is a lot easier to live in the present mystery when we have faith in a certain future.

Do you trust God with your unsettled life? Often I feel the most anxiety when I focus on my desires instead of God’s promises. God did not promise that I would get married, but he did promise that when I placed my faith in Jesus I became part of the family of God and the bride of Christ. I can live secure knowing that I am not alone. God did not promise that I would own a home, but he did promise that one day I will live in my eternal home in heaven. Don’t let your earthly desires eclipse the greater heavenly promises from above.

Be Honest with Questions

Have you ever thought of how ridiculous the story of Abraham is? Abraham and Sarah have Isaac when they are 100 years old. I don’t know about you, but my goal is just to be alive at that age, not to give birth. Yes, Abraham had faith, but he naturally had some questions too. He brought those to God, bowing before him completely humbled and exposed.

“Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless?” (Genesis 15:2)

“Sovereign LORD, how can I know that I will gain possession of [the land]?” (Genesis 15:8)

“Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” (Genesis 17:17)

Yes, Abraham believed. But he was also human, so he experienced a lot of doubt. The doubt was a natural part of his humanity. And sometimes this doubt led to sinful decisions, like when he tried to take control and conceived a son through Hagar rather than waiting for God to provide a son through Sarah. However, God is sovereign in spite of our doubt and sin.

Abraham’s faith, on the other hand, was a choice. He had to choose to surrender his doubts to God and to believe in God’s promises. I feel this almost daily. I need to choose to believe that God is providing for me, even if I do not have a house, husband, or full-time job to prove it. I need to choose to believe that God is working things for my good, even when it feels like things are falling apart.

Whether settled is your dream or settled is your nightmare, are you choosing faith like Abraham? Are you choosing to see God’s promises over your desires? God wants you to live fully awake and alert, trusting him in the tension.

Holy Week: Into Your Hands

By Trevor St. Aubin: "Into Your Hands"

For this year's Holy Week, we've had Soma artists create meditations based on Jesus' "Seven Last Words" - seven statements the Bible records Jesus saying during his crucifixion.

Lent is all about being reminded of the human condition. We feel pain, and one day we are going to die. From dust we came and from dust we shall return. Suffering is inevitable.

For the believer, our suffering serves a higher purpose. It is for our good and the glory of God. If our suffering is for the glory of God, we should rejoice because the glory of God is the all-encompassing richness of who God is, and because of Christ we have been brought into that forever.

"And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all." Ephesians 1:22-23

Jesus was about one thing: glorifying his father. All through the New Testament, we see him bringing glory to God. Even as he hung humiliated on a tree gasping for breath, he used his last words to give God the ultimate glory: his life. Those final words teach us everything we need to know about suffering. This is God's story, not ours.

In this song, I compare my own personal "sufferings" with Christ's (I put my sufferings in quotations because I fully understand that my own experiences come nowhere close to what Christ went through. Mine are like a spoiled prom king who spilled sparkling grape juice on his pearly white tux: in other words, not a big deal). In the midst of suffering, I don't understand why it is happening. I just feel everything so deeply. It is a struggle.

I'm struck by how even Jesus struggled with God's plan. He was in the garden sweating blood, asking God to take the cup from him.

But Jesus finishes his struggle with, "not my will, but yours be done." The chorus is about submission. "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit".

Jesus modeled it perfectly. He was equal with God, but didn't even consider himself on the same level. It was all about the Father's glory.

The humility of Christ is something I will never understand.

I thank God for Jesus. I thank God for suffering (even though it is awful). I thank God that this is his story not mine (even though it is impossibly hard).

It is my hope that we as a church learn how to suffer well and rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.

Trevor's piece is inspired by the Word "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit."

Image: "The Entombment," by Peter Paul Rubens

Holy Week: Making All Things New

From Nate Dunlevy: "Making All Things New" (this is presented as an image to keep the formatting)

For this year's Holy Week, we've had Soma artists create meditations based on Jesus' "Seven Last Words" - seven statements the Bible records Jesus saying during his crucifixion.

Nate's piece comes from the Word "It is finished."

Image: He Qi, "Crucifixion"

Holy Week: Unfathered

From Joseph Rhea: "Unfathered"

For this year's Holy Week, we've had Soma artists create meditations based on Jesus' "Seven Last Words" - seven statements the Bible records Jesus saying during his crucifixion.

Words fill and illuminate concepts like candles in a cave; but how to light up a cave infinitely large? Pile on the words, stoke the fire brighter; when will they tag the back wall of eternity andsprint back giggling about what they saw?

He had no beginning; no point at which he became an “I am.” Always and always and always back, “I am, I am, I am.” Before the universe itself was set off like a firecracker, he was there. He was there when there was no there, or when the only there to speak of was him. He was there, he was then, he was everythere and everythen and any/every/omni/ubi-everything, because He Was.

And They were with him. They were him, were with him, personalities without borders. The Spirit: soft-spoken, warm, always gushing over some detail of their screenplay. “This cardinal!” “Look at this alphabet!”

And the Father.

His Father. His light, his canopy, his foundation. He’d been forever; and forever he’d been the proud Son of his proud Father. They cooked up Time itself and and all things cozy enough to fill with words like a Soapbox Derby car in the garage. Whose idea – the Everglades, the tickle reflex, quantum entanglement – was whose? Didn’t matter; they loved it all.

The Father had been there when they were all the there there was. The Father had been there for thirty-odd years of human life: there to delight over the smell of roast lamb. There to cry on, when he had feet that cut themselves on rocks, brain chemistry that could plummet without warning into the blues, a sin nature that pressed him to rip their family ties. The Father was there in the Garden, when he cried so hard his capillaries broke and asked – for the first time in all time and before – if they might rewrite the script.

Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?

They punched iron through his wrists and ankles into the tree. Hammered the thorns into his scalp. They hoisted him up so he hung suspended on his own screaming nerve cords, turned gravity into a giant kneeling on his lungs …

… And the Father was gone.

But not gone. Something worse than gone. Gone the smile, the warmth, the bright cables of joy. Instead …

Hollow, howling desolation.

The lightless silence of a trapped caver.

And the weight. The searing, world-pulverizing weight of their own wrath against the sin that had envenomed their world. Every desecration of their masterpieces. Every decision to scorn their rightful rule and establish bitter kingdoms of one. The pride, greed, and lust that shredded the tapestry of human nature. An anger sober as justice itself, with the pressure and power of the plasma at the core of suns. A red darkness that – for the first time in a history beyond time – eclipsed the face.

In that silence, he became a Son with no Father.

No Father.

There was only the wrathful absence, the furious void, the fullness of silent Nothingness. Hours passed for the body; but what was that to a mind that remembered the arcs of every electron tethered to every atom? A limitless soul filled with an anger of limitless holiness. The body would find relief before long; the self felt it to the edges of eternal wakefulness, with the clarity ofomniscience.

There was no Father. Only a Wrath, a Silence. A crushing Justice unalloyed by mercy or love.

Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?

Forsaken. God torn asunder from God. A mystery to give centuries’ worth of theologians indigestion. A gash the opposite color of logic. A scar – a new scar – on the hands and feet and ribcage of Eternity Spoken.

Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed. – Isaiah 53:4-5

Joseph's piece is based on the Word "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

Image: “The Crucifixion,” by Leon Bonnat

Holy Week: I Thirst

From Ashley Buenger: "I Thirst"

For this year's Holy Week, we've had Soma artists create meditations based on Jesus' "Seven Last Words" - seven statements the Bible records Jesus saying during his crucifixion.

A man and his son walk up the mountain.

The son bears a bundle of sticks on his back. His father carries a lit torch.

When they reach the right spot, they stop. The man plants his torch in the ground and the boy removes the bundle from his back.

The man arranges the bundle and then speaks to his son.

“Turn around. I am going to bind your wrists.”

The boy obeys.

“Sit down. I’m going to bind your ankles.”

The boy obeys.

The man picks up his son with great difficulty, since he is a man of many years. Trembling, he places his son on the bundle of sticks.

He kneels next to his son and bows his head.

Then he unsheathes his knife. He raises it up above his son. The boy does not flinch.

A great light shines, and a loud voice says, “Abraham! Abraham!”

Shaking harder, the man, “Here I am.”

“Do not lay a hand on the boy. Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

The man lowers the knife and weeps. His back heaves up and down.

The son is still.

The man stands and cuts the ropes on his son’s ankles and wrists. He lifts him up and embraces him.

“Father?” says the son.

“Yes.”

“I am thirsty, father.”

The man takes a waterskin from his belt and hands it to his son.

###

A woman cowers in the corner of her house. A crimson cord is whipped by the wind outside her window.

The spies had told her to tie it up to mark her house. They had also told her not to be afraid.

But she is afraid.

Outside her door: screams, crashes, wails of despair.

Her city is being destroyed. But that’s not what is scaring her.

She is afraid that she won’t be accepted by them — the people taking her city, the people who worship the mysterious God who made the Egyptian gods seem weak as so many pebbles.

She covers her head and prays.

She doesn’t know if she is doing it correctly, but she doesn’t care.

“I am a prostitute in this city,” she begins to say to God. He must know the truth. She hopes he accepts her anyway.

Two men rush through her door in the middle of her prayer.

“Rahab! We have to go now.”

They lead her and her family safely out of the city. They try not to look too hard around them. Destruction is everywhere.

Once they are safely outside the walls, the woman grabs the arm of one of her rescuers.

“Your God,” she says, “I want to understand him. Tell me how.”

“You will,” he says. “He was the one to rescue you. You may live among my people, and you will learn about God.”

His eyes are bright, and she sees that this man knows God well.

Rahab turns and watches her city collapse. She does not feel remorse or sadness.

She feels relief. She is no longer Rahab the prostitute.

Her new life with these people will be different. She looks at her rescuer. He is taking a drink of water from a sheepskin bag.

“Are you thirsty?” he says when he notices her watching him.

“Yes.”

She takes a long drink.

###

A man wipes the blood off his sword. He counts the bodies around him. Probably close to a hundred.

He silently thanks God for the victory.

He has had many victories. He is a man of war.

It’s not a life that he would have chosen, and the brutality of it still surprises him.

He had such a peaceful life as a shepherd. He thinks longingly of lying on the lush hills, staring at the sky.

He sheathes his sword.

He is a man of obedience, and the God he loves calls him to battle. It is in the name of God that he fights. That he wins. But he would choose the life of a shepherd if he could. He would dance and sing and write poetry, only responsible for his sheep, not for the thousands of men in his army.

He longs for a drink of water from the well near his hometown of Bethlehem. But his enemies have captured the city, so it’s impossible.

The man looks down at his calloused hands. He is thankful.

He gets on his knees and raises his hands up to the heavens. He cries loudly, a cry that turns to a song that turns to tears falling down his face.

His soldiers begin to gather and look at their king. Some of them join him in his song.

Once the song is over, many of the men leave. Three remain with him.

He says aloud, “I am so thirsty, I wish I had a drink from the well of the gate near Bethlehem.”

Then he falls asleep.

The three men fasten their swords. They turn toward Bethlehem, David’s hometown.

Their king is thirsty. They will bring him a drink.

###

A woman groans. Her face contorts as the waves of pain wash in and out.

The man with her gently rubs her back. He is trying to hide the fear on his face.

They are surrounded by animals. They watch the scene with empty eyes.

The woman yells. The man rubs her back faster. Whispers to her.

“It’s close now. The baby is close now,” he says, even though he has no idea if what he is saying is actually true.

Her eyes meet his, looking for reassurance. The man smiles and nods.

The woman yells again and closes her eyes against the pain.

She is sitting on straw with her knees drawn up near her elbows. The man comes around her to watch for the baby.

“I can see his head,” the man says. The woman doesn’t seem to hear him; she groans again.

“Now I can see his shoulders, keep pushing.”

A final cry, and the man catches the baby in his arms.

The baby cries.

The man trembles while slowly counting the baby’s fingers and toes. All twenty. He smiles.

The woman holds out her arms for the baby. The man gives the baby to her.

“Jesus.” The woman says to the baby. “That is your name.”

She nuzzles her face close to the baby’s.

The man gets up and retrieves a small satchel.

“Mary, are you thirsty?” he says.

She doesn’t hear him.

###

A man looks up at the sky as if he looking for rain. The sky is a sickly wash of gray and green, much like a storm is coming.

The people standing around the man look up at the sky when he does, following his line of sight.

They are waiting. Time is moving slowly.

The cross on which the man hangs creaks under his weight. His head droops forward.

They are waiting for death, not rain.

It’s a matter of minutes now.

The man on the cross looks down at the woman near his feet.

She is his mother, and she has not moved since he was first hung. He already made arrangements to ensure she will be cared for. Because even in death, this man is thinking of others before himself.

He is ready to die.

He knew that he would.

He knew that this would be the way that it would happen.

He looks at the sky again. Everyone around him looks at the sky too.

The man on the cross is not expecting angels. He is not expecting earthquakes. He is expecting peace.

“I thirst.” He says to the guards nearby.

One of them puts vinegar water on a sponge and raises it to the dying man’s cracked lips.

Image: "Crucifixion" by Ang Kiukok

Holy Week: Behold Your Son

From Deb Dunlevy: "Behold Your Son"

For this year's Holy Week, we've had Soma artists create meditations based on Jesus' "Seven Last Words" - seven statements the Bible records Jesus saying during his crucifixion.

God the Son was alone.

Suspended in suffering. Overpowered by pain. In a haze of blood and suffocation and thirst, his agony was only his. No one to ease it. No one to share it. No one to help him bear it.

Into an eternity of perfect, joyful unity with his Father and his powerful Spirit had come this hour of piercing isolation.  

Cut off. Abandoned. Left by his own Father to die.

The one Person who could have stopped it turned away and left behind only the helpless.

--

She stood alone in the crowd.

Watching her heart, the son of her body, out of reach. Feeling his pain in her bones but powerless, as she had always been powerless, to do anything to stop it. Unable to bear it for him, unable to share it, unable even truly to understand.

He had lived inside her once, a pale imitation of the oneness he shared with his Father, but a oneness just the same. She had knit the web of his earliest memories. In years since, that connection had weakened, but now … now it was severed.

Cut off. Abandoned. Left by her own son to live a mother’s worst nightmare.

--

Then, somehow, impossibly, he looked down through the veil of his desolation and suffering, and he saw. His mother.

In that moment, when his own loss should have blinded him to anything else, his eyes fixed on her. In that moment, when any man would have thought only of his own pain, he proved that he was God: he thought of hers.

“Woman,” he said, “behold your son.”

--

He had come alone.

Standing among the women, cloaked in his shame, reliving the moment when he'd panicked and fled. And now, oh even now that he had steeled himself to return, he watched his master gasping for breath, crying in agony, and John shuddered with fear that he might share such a fate.

Weak. Cowardly. Faithless.

Still, he watched. This teacher who had taken him out of his boat and unlocked the mysteries of the ages. This prophet who had denied him the promise of powerful position but had poured out a new kind of love instead. This God whose glory had shone out on a mountaintop. Even in that moment, he had not seemed so far away as now.

Cut off by his own unworthiness. Abandoned by the rest of his friends. Left with only the weakest offering of devotion: bearing witness.

--

The disciple that he loved, his true friend. The best gift that he could give her.

“Behold your mother,” he told him.

The ultimate act of forgiveness. No matter that you ran away with the rest, I will entrust you with my most precious responsibility.

Now neither of them would be alone. They would have someone to lean on, to weep with, to care for. They would have someone who needed them to be strong, and so they would be stronger.

He was taking their sin and their suffering and their pain and their death, and now he took their isolation, too.

The Son of God died alone, so those he loved would not.

And the earth trembled.

“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” - Isaiah‬ 53:5‬, NIV‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Deb's piece is based on the Word "Woman, behold your son ... Behold your mother."

Image: Hendrick Ter Brugghen, "Crucifixion with the Virgin and St. John"

Holy Week: Paradise

By David McKissic, aka Davey ASAPH: "Paradise"

For this year's Holy Week, we've had Soma artists create meditations based on Jesus' "Seven Last Words" - seven statements the Bible records Jesus saying during his crucifixion.

To be fully known yet fully loved and accepted is what the human heart desires above almost everything. When Christ declared, “Today you will be with me in paradise,” it was comfort for the worst sinner that trusted Christ that rang out through the universe and for eternity. The thief that hung on the cross – a bloody, guilty mess - looked our suffering savior in the eyes and bet his eternity on the sinless man. If that man was actually God, he’d know everything the thief had ever done. Every part of him: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Yet Christ desired him.

So I wrote “Paradise” in the reality that Christ laid his life down for the worst, most undeserving sinner that would turn to him and trust him.

If that idea of “the worst, most undeserving” makes you start thinking out names … Stop and look inward. We are the worst, most undeserving sinners we know. This should produce praise, worship, gratitude, obedience, and humility.

I wrote this from the perspective of the thief, who is now our brother in the faith. But it’s also from my own perspective, because I got lost in the narrative of Luke 23:39-43 and the overflow of grace and love that was offered from our King to the thief. He was a thief, used to taking and not paying; yet the savior was hanging there paying for his life. I felt his perspective was so unique and deserved communicating, as we all can relate to it.

Lastly, one line sums up the song for me. It is “I’m the prince of thieves loved by the King of kings.” We should all weep singing those lines! I hope you enjoy it and reflect on the grace that Christ gave and gives for the worst parts of you! 

David's piece is based on the Word "Today, you will be with me in Paradise."

Image: Titian, "Christ and the Good Thief"

Holy Week: View of the Point

By Em Bricker: "View of the Point."

For this year's Holy Week, we've had Soma artists create meditations based on Jesus' "Seven Last Words" - seven statements the Bible records Jesus saying during his crucifixion.

Is it our view of the point
or the point of view that matters?
in our best attempts at good
we shred the world in tatters
cuz’ no matter if we’re orphans,
saints, liars or ISIS
the human eye can’t perceive
the vast extent of our vices.
the damage ain’t done,
it’s doing, doing,
spewing consequences far
outside of our viewing
but in hindsight we point the finger away
say “they were to blame!”
like we aren’t capable of the same thing

we’re doin’ the right thing

we’re doin’ the right thing

we’re doin’ the right thing, they said
as they thrust the crown of thorns
on God’s head.
navel-gazin’ eyes raised just high
enough to see him
on a chopped-up-tree-turned-crucifix
turned God’s new paradigm of freedom
while these pride-drunk soldiers
lickin’ soul-wounds
exposed the heart of humankind,
a portrait of depravity
‘neath the shadow of the divine
innocent convict hung high
on the brink of extinction
breathin’ deep of the lingerin’
vinegar concoction he’d been drinkin’
then the phrase that grazed his lips
revealed the sole omniscient point of view:

Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.

they know not what they do

they know not what they do

the King of the Jews,
mutilated and scorned
adorned with whip-slashes
and deep gashes they’d torn,
fresh wounds bore the story
of rebellion and disease
affliction and wrath,
poured out to appease
not from without
but deep from within
for the climax of creation
now soiled with sin
and in this dark hour,
our redemption in mind,
a cry reached the heavens
from the man who would die
for us
who would buy
salvation,
make propitiation
for us.

then as God Almighty
turned his face
forsaking the Christ
for us to embrace
he answered the prayer
and extended his grace
forgiveness is ours,
come see and taste.

Em's piece is based on the Word "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

Image: Caravaggio, "The Crowning with Thorns"

"Better Than:" The Spirit of Fasting

If, like me, you didn’t grow up marking Lent, the whole practice of fasting may seem strange to you. I want to love God more, so, I don’t eat? Or maybe I do that juice cleanse I’ve been thinking about, because hey why not? It was kind of a New Year’s resolution and I bombed it in January, so I can try it now.

A few years ago, I came across a psalm that transformed my understanding of what fasting is supposed to accomplish.

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
in your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
when I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me. (Psalm 63:1-8)

David wrote this psalm “in the wilderness of Judah” – during one of the times he was on the run for his life. The “wilderness diet,” so to speak, would have been pretty lean: scarce water, scrubby plants, no fruit, maybe the occasional lean and gamey deer if you’re lucky. David is likely spending his days with the hollow feeling of not having enough to eat.

That makes the visceral imagery he uses to describe his longing for God all the more powerful. Instead of asking for a no-longer-dry tongue, “my soul thirsts for you.” Instead of asking for a full belly, “My soul will be satisfied [in you] as with fat and rich food.” He’s letting his hunger turn his heart to long for God more.

The emotional crescendo is verse 4:

Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.

That’s where the light came on. The spirit of fasting – what we’re supposed to understand when we give things up for God – is captured in the phrase “better than.” God’s love is better than life. God’s spirit is better than a spring of water. The memory of God is better than a steak dinner.

Fasting is giving up a good thing to remind ourselves that God is better than that. It’s temporarily depriving ourselves, not to practice self-control or feel like dirt, but to try to direct that longing to the ultimate good. As Augustine said, “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.”

That means that instead of just depriving ourselves, fasting accomplishes its fullest purpose when we replace that lack with something of God. We replace a meal with time meditating on the Bible. We spend time in prayer instead of with Netflix. We practice silence and solitude one evening instead of time with friends.

The good things in life are good; but God is better. If you’ve never practiced fasting before, consider these questions:

1. What is one “good thing” in my life that I think I need more than I do? (that I’m afraid to give up for a time)

2. How can I let go of that thing and “replace” it with God, to remind myself that God is better than that?

Image: "St. Jerome," by Leonello Spalla

Glory and Dust: Why We Observe Lent

Lent is a season of preparation and repentance prior to Easter Sunday. In the ancient Church, new Christians were only baptized on Easter Sunday; just as Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness before he began his public ministry (Matthew 4), so those about to make the public step of baptism were asked to fast and prepare their hearts for a life of trusting in and living for Jesus rather than themselves.

Even though we baptize more often than that, we see value in taking a special season to focus on two deep truths of the Christian life:

1. We make way too much of transitory things

The most public practice of Lent is fasting, which is giving up a transitory good to drink deeper of an eternal one.

Because we live in the most materially prosperous society that has ever, ever existed, we're generally out of the habit of telling ourselves "no." We get so absorbed with the things around us - 3+ meals a day, a social media feed, another new pair of shoes - that instead of enjoying them to God's glory, we crave them and think more about them than about God.

Fasting is letting go of one of those goods and giving that time, attention, or emotional energy to God for a season. "Feasting" on God through prayer rather than a sandwich for your lunch break. Reading the Bible when you would normally read a news feed. Memorizing Scripture in the time you'd normally watch Netflix.

Fasting isn't about the giving-up as much as it's about the filling: reminding ourselves that God is even more satisfying than those good things.

We'd invite you to consider some good thing you may be holding to a little too tightly, that you'd benefit from letting go of for this season.

2. We are mortals whose only hope is an immortal God

We begin Lent with Ash Wednesday (join us for services!), which commemorates the fact that, as God says to Adam, "You are dust, and to dust you shall return." Our culture worships youth to the point of neurosis, but we die, and the Bible tells us that wisdom requires owning that we die. Our life on Earth has an ultimate limit: our existence is bounded.

In Lent, we pay attention to that reality because we should always be looking at life through the lens of mortality. We should ask ourselves, "Is this preparing me to die well? Is this worth hours that I'll never get back? Is this making me more or less ready to meet God as the judge of all creation?"

That would discolor everything we experience in life, were it not for the fact that death is an end, but isn't the end. Instead of diminishing our life now, reflecting on mortality reminds us that the better life isn't on this side of eternity, but on the other one. The happiness there is richer than the happiness here; the virtues there trump the virtues here.

And that future is certain for anyone whose hope is in Jesus. Lent is a 40-day reminder that we're living for a better world than this one.

Jesus' resurrection - the victory over death we mark on Easter Sunday - is the sealed promise that we have hope of a life to come. Lent prepares us to see Easter with all the glory it deserves.

Talking It Out: Mike Lockett and Ryan Lambert on learning to discuss race and culture

At our All-Congregational Gathering in January, Ryan Lambert and Mike Lockett shared about how they began having intentional conversations about race - initially in the context of their missional community, and then on into a growing friendship. We thought their story was so powerful that we wanted to share it, along with some followup words from Mike, with our congregation:

Ryan

Just about seven months ago, in July of 2016, police killings of African American men in Louisiana and Minnesota made national news. Subsequently, a peaceful protest in Dallas became violent, leading to the deadliest single incident for law enforcement officers is the U.S. since 9/11.

Here at Soma, these events led our leadership to hit the pause button on a Sunday message to address these issues lament the loss of life and to consider our response as Christians in our community, our neighborhood and our own church family.

I walked out that day feeling burdened, without a clear understanding of how I could become engaged and involved in these issues and what an appropriate response looked like. I wanted to say something that day to my friend Mike, but I didn’t know what to say, how to say it or if I was even allowed to say anything for fear of offending him, appearing trite, or disingenuously forced into it by the emotion of what we had just heard. So I couldn’t bring myself to say anything of substance and left.

A few days later, Mike sent an email.

Mike

After the two police shootings of unarmed black men happened in July, and soon after the police shootings Dallas, I was very burdened and grieved the days following. As a black man living in this country, not only was I saddened by the shootings that took place, but also by the divide that I was beginning to notice within the body of Christ between whites and blacks (and other minorities). After processing these events for a few days, I decided to send an email to everyone in my Missional Community. My goal in sending this email was to share my heart surrounding those recent events, my experiences as a black man in this country, and how those events affected me personally. My goal was to open up dialogue within our group, and to let them know that I was willing to dialogue further within anyone who was interested in stepping into the conversation.

After sending the email, I quickly received a lot of positive feedback from members of my MC, thanking me for opening up and sharing my heart. One of those emails was from Ryan Lambert. He told me that he very much appreciated me opening up to the group and for sharing my personal experiences. He said that he would love to get together for coffee or a meal, and have a time where we could dialogue more and share our experiences surrounding race. About a week later we did just that. We met up for dinner and had a chance to have a deeper dialogue, ask questions, and share our stories regarding race.

Ryan

Two guys from a Soma MC having dinner at Twenty Tap doesn’t really seem like much of note, but I was definitely apprehensive. On one hand I was excited to have the opportunity for this type of conversation but on the other hand, this was something brand new to me.

I think to fully understand this story, some context is appropriate. When we started the night, one of the first questions I asked Mike when we sat down was, ‘as an African American, when you were growing up, or even now, what areas around Indy were you taught to avoid?’ The reason I asked this question was because I was confident that I already knew the answer. I knew my hometown, the place I was born and raised, was going to be on his list. In fact, it was one of the first places out of his mouth. I grew up in Morgan County, on the southwest side of the city; and for those who lack education in historical Central Indiana race relations, I’ll simply say that Morgan County has a race reputation and history, and I mean that in the least positive way possible. To say the least, entering in to this type of conversation wasn’t something I had done or felt like I had the opportunity to do before.

By the end of the night, I was so appreciative of Mike’s openness to my history, and to sharing his own personal experiences, concerns and fears. He basically gave me a green light to ask questions and to try to better understand a community that I had never really had to intersect with in my life. On the other hand, he had the go ahead to challenge me when he thought I was off base on a topic or needed to see another perspective, which fortunately, he was willing and comfortable to do.

Mike

Leading up to meeting Ryan for dinner, I was excited but also a little nervous. This would be the first time that I was having an intentional conversation pressing into the topic of race with someone from within the church (outside of a few conversations here and there). God would quickly show that he would bear much fruit from this time together. Overall, it was a great time of learning from one another. Ryan asked lots of intentional questions wanting to know my experiences as black man, both in society and in the church. He also shared with me his experiences growing up in his hometown, and how these experiences shaped much of his view of race. I made a point to let Ryan know that he could be open to ask any questions that were on his mind, and that he shouldn’t hold back from fear of offending me. My hope is that this freed him up to ask questions and learn new things that he might not have had the opportunity to know in prior experiences. Looking back on that time, one of the biggest blessings from the meeting was simply having a brother from a completely different racial context pressing into this issue, and showing care and concern. Ending that meeting, we made a commitment to not let the talks end that night, and to continue dialoguing in the coming weeks and months.

Ryan

From our initial conversation until now, one of the biggest things I’ve gleaned from this relationship is the opportunity to view things from a new reference point, which has led to the ability to see or hear things through a different perspective. Today, instead of taking news stories or clips and thinking about my own point of view and how it impacts me and my family directly, I think about Mike, his family and how the impact of that very same thing may look different in his life or the lives of others in the black community.

Mike

In the weeks and months following that initial meeting with Ryan, God continued working in our own lives and in the lives of others in the church. Ryan and I were able to meet up a number of times in those following months, and have continued a dialogue on racial reconciliation. We began to ask the question of what it would look like for our church to truly begin pursuing racial reconciliation with one another. This dialogue has also sparked conversations with others in church, and it has been encouraging to see what God is starting to do in within our body.

Ryan

Within these expanded conversations, God has opened my eyes to experiences I never realized I didn’t have in my life.  After a race conversation with Mike and some other guys from Soma a few weeks ago, it got me thinking about a couple months back when my family went to the Lockett’s home for dinner. It was so within the normal of our lives and friendship that it didn’t dawn on me until that later point, that in 38 years, I had never been invited to, or had dinner in, the home of an African-American family.  That fact, as surprising as it was to me, made me think about the rest of our Soma family. I wondered how many others might be able to say the same or similar things and how this story could be used as a way for them to take a step into a new experience.

Mike

I have also been able to meet up consistently with two other brothers in the church in Max Goldenberg (who initiated these meetings) and Jingo de la Rosa. These meetings have focused on talking about our experiences surrounding race, and ways that we can press into this topic as well as encourage others to do the same. These ‘meetups’ (as we like to call them) with those brothers have sparked conversations with others that have joined us in those meetings. Others who have been able to join these meetings have been Pastor Phil Edwards, James Pascascio, and James Armstrong, who have all offered their wisdom and encouragements on how we can continue to press into this topic as a church. It is clear that God is moving within our body, and I am looking forward to seeing all that He does in the months and years to come.

I would like to leave those reading this with two encouragements. The first would be to not let fear or discouragement prevent you from entering into this conversation with others. I believe that God desires His church to pursue deeper relationship within community, and entering into this conversation is a major, if not vital, part of this. My second encouragement would be to stay committed to this for the long haul. It will not take only one or two conversations to then move on from it. Instead, what is needed is lasting commitment from those of all ethnic backgrounds to continue to press in and seek true unity. As we continue to be intentional in pursuing racial reconciliation as a church, I am confident that God will use our church to impact our city in helping to bring restoration and unity among all people groups.

Image: Norman Rockwell, "Moving In"

Our Priority for 2017

Yesterday, we celebrated our third All-Congregational Gathering at Broad Ripple High School. It was a fantastic time of worshiping God and celebrating what we've seen at Soma. We also shared the elders' vision for a ministry priority for 2017; the one way we'd like to focus our attention as church leaders this year.

If you didn't get a Priority Card yesterday (don't worry, they'll be at your congregation's Connect Table this Sunday!), the text is below. We're excited to be working with you all in this coming year!

We are deeply grateful for the work God has done in and through the Soma community over the last several years. In light of where we are and where we feel God leading us as a church, we want to focus our vision on one key priority for 2017, with five strategic goals growing out of that priority.

Elder Priority

 

Increase Ownership of Soma’s Vision: We want to see even more of our people “live like an owner” - embrace, articulate, and embody our vision to see the gospel change everything in the places and the people to which God has called them.

Strategic Goals

Specifically, we plan to increase ownership by...

  • Simplifying our language, systems, and expectations
  • Launching Soma Northwest in the fall of 2017
  • Practicing authentic racial reconciliation through hospitality
  • Equipping people to better care for one another in community
  • Casting vision for a new citywide student ministry

What a "New Family" has meant to me

This weekend I had the pleasure of traveling back to my hometown to spend the day with my extended family. It was so refreshing to be in one room with so many loved ones. I love knowing them and being known by them. We share more than a bloodline: we share memories, inside jokes, and a deep love from Grandma’s home cooked meals.

For the past seven years, I’ve lived over 100 miles from my family. I am able to see them about once a month, but that is a radical change from living life with them daily. However, God has not left me deserted on a relational island. He has called me to a new kind of family: my church family.

Church as family is a relatively new concept for me. Growing up, church was a building. It was a service I went to on Sunday. I’m not exactly sure where that connotation of the word came from, but I can tell you it was not from the Bible. Can you imagine what would have been going through Peter’s mind when Jesus said, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18)? He may have taken issue with the idea of a building being constructed over top of him. I also think everyone would have thought Paul was crazy if he said hello to a building, not people, when he greeted the church in Jerusalem (Acts 18:22).

When I say that I am part of Soma Church, I am not pledging my allegiance to a building (which is fortunate, since Soma Downtown doesn’t own one). Rather, I am saying that I am committed to my Christian brothers and sisters in this community. When we placed our faith in Christ, we became children of God. Like it or not, we are bonded together as adopted brothers and sisters.

A bond that doesn’t break

Like all families, the church is both beautiful and messy. We experience seasons of joy and seasons of sorrow. But no matter what, we experience it together. Our commitment to one another is grounded on our covenant with Christ. The covenant is God’s promise that when we place our faith in him, we are adopted and become his children forever. He gives us eternal life because of our relationship with Christ.  No matter how much we sin, no matter how much we run, no matter how much we hurt one another, our bond cannot be broken. Just like I cannot change the fact that I have a biological sister, I cannot change my brothers and sisters in Christ. Like it or not, we’re stuck with one another.

Responsible to our family

Because there is nothing we can do to break our familial ties, we are responsible to our church family. One way in which we're responsible is reconciliation. We must pursue repentance when our sin hurts them, and we must forgive when they hurt us. The story of the prodigal son is a beautiful example of this. After squandering all of his father’s inheritance, the son humbled himself, went back to his father and said, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (Luke 15:21). The son acknowledges his sin and its consequences, and his father is quick to forgive and welcome him home. As children of God, we are called to both seek and extend forgiveness to one another.

Another way we are responsible to our family is caring for them. Paul urges the church to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15) and to carry one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). That is why we provide childcare, dinner, and even finances for our brothers and sisters walking through hardships. That is why we wake up early on Sunday mornings to hold babies in Soma Kids. That is why we make meals for families that are welcoming a new baby into the family. We are a family; when one hurts, we all hurt. When one rejoices, we all rejoice. We give and sacrifice our own comforts for the good of the group.

Experience the love of family

One of the most beautiful blessings we experience as a church family is love. No one puts this affection into words better than Paul in his letter to the church in Philippi:

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:3-8)

Paul loved his brothers and sisters. He longed for them.

I tangibly felt the love and care of the church this past fall when I was in a car accident on I-65. Thankfully, no one was hurt, but my car was totaled. I couldn’t call my biological family to come help me: they were a two-hour drive away. But my church family surrounded me with care. Gina picked me up off the side of the interstate. Mary brought me flowers, cookies, and tension-tamer tea. Brianne gave me a ride to get my rental car. It was vulnerable to ask for help, but in a way I am thankful that I wasn’t able to ask my biological family. It gave God the opportunity to display his love in and through my church family.

Nothing will ever replace the families we are born into. Whether your family is very close with one another, or very broken, God placed you there for a reason. But he placed us in a church family as well. In this family, we all have a place; we all have a role. Nothing can break the love and bond we share through Christ.  

Image: "Surrounded by Ordinary Saints," by Emmanuel Garibay

Make a Plan, Man

I am not by nature a planner. My default mode is either to amble into the future with a vague goal in mind, or just to assume life will happen to me and I’ll make the best of it.

That means my new year’s resolutions, when I’ve made them, have tended to never happen. The half-baked plans I share in my obligatory goal-related small group meeting never come to fruition.

I’ve comforted my unplanful self with passages like the one from James that warns against prideful planning; but, like Brandon said in his sermon on planning last summer, Scripture has a lot of good things to say about the right kind of planning. “To plan is to love,” he said, and there’s a lot of truth in that. To plan pridefully is to be prideful; but to never plan is to miss opportunities to love others and see God in fresh ways. It can be an act of worship.

My wife should really be the one writing this piece, because she’s way more acquainted with wise planning than I am; but I’d like to share some of the wisdom I’ve picked up from her on how to plan more effectively.

Why plans fail

There are some common reasons why new year’s resolutions tend not to pan out:

Too vague: “Love my wife more” is a great aspiration, but if it doesn’t lead to me doing something it’s never going to happen

Not connected to a “why:” “I’d like to eat better” is a nice idea, but if I don’t have a good reason for it I’m not going to stick with it

No accountability: Sharing it once or writing it down and losing it are not recipes for success.

I don’t build it in my calendar: “Write a chapter a month” is good; but if I’m already not writing, what am I going to clear out of my life each week so I can actually write that chapter?

Too ambitious: Those eight goals that combine to 20 hours of new activity each week ain't gonna happen.

Generally, our Island of Unmet Goals is populated via one of those five ferry-boats.

Planning that has a shot

There is no magical formula to ensure your goals will work out. You may set out with wise goals and have render it impossible; you may start on a goal and realize that you want something different. But that being said, here are some suggestions (again, almost entirely from my wife) that can help you set goals that can stick:

Plan from a “why”

Before you make goals, start by setting a vision for who you want to be – even if it’s only for this year. What do you want to define you as a person? What do you hold most dear, in your best moments? “Eat better” is a fine goal; but which of these “whys” will make you more likely to actually eat better?

  1. I want to eat better because I feel guilty about overeating this Christmas
  2. I want to eat better because I want to be healthy enough to love and disciple my grandkids one day

Start small

Part of what led Allison into her research on goal-setting was realizing that every year she set more or less the same large number of goals, and then by the next year realized she hadn’t met any of them. She was setting too many goals to keep in her mind, let alone work into her calendar.

This quarter, I have only three goals I’m intentionally working on (outside of work). Three things I’m pushing myself to achieve. All the other things I’d like to see – good things – I’m giving myself permission to pass on this quarter, because I know I can’t really handle more than these.

Be specific and measurable

Again, “Love my wife more” is a great aspiration; but it doesn’t mean anything in practice. However, “Plan one date a week with my wife” is measurable. I can get my hands around it, which means I can move a lot closer to loving her more.

Put them in the calendar

If I’m going to change my actions – to do something I haven’t been doing already, or stop doing something I’m already doing – I have to plan ahead. My current self has already filled my calendar for 2017: by default, I will sleep until my kids wake up, and I will probably watch at least an hour of TV a night.

To accomplish something new, I have to preempt my current self by intentionally blocking out he time I need to accomplish it. I have to make Wednesday night a writing night; I have to make Sunday evening my date-planning time.

Don’t think you’ve made a goal until you know beforehand when you’re going to work on it!

Get accountability

Get someone to hold you to your plans. Find someone who won’t forget, and who won’t let you forget about them either.

Give yourself grace

Finally, be ready to forgive yourself and try again when you fail to meet your goals. Missing a goal in the first month (or week) doesn't mean you'll never get it; it may mean you need to adjust your efforts or recalibrate your expectations. Dust yourself off and try again!

Image by Joe Forkan; accessed on his website.

 

Soma Women's Conference 2016: "Because of Christ"

Last Saturday, 110 women gathered together to hear teaching from God's Word and stories of God's everyday faithfulness in the lives of sisters within our church community. The theme was "Because of Christ," from Paul's letter to the Philippians. The event was entirely planned by the women of Soma, with the support and encouragement of our elders and staff.

We started the day grabbing coffee and breakfast in the gallery. Ladies from both the downtown and midtown congregations reunited, and some of our relatives joined us for the day, too. We headed into the sanctuary where we were greeted by Emily Shields, wife of Pastor Brandon. (You'll often find Emily behind the scenes in Soma Kids or just talking with folks in between services, so it was a pleasure to see and hear her heart for our women!) Traci Stahley, wife of Midtown elder Josh, also emceed throughout the day. You could hear the Lord stirring in Traci's heart as she introduced speakers and storytellers. Each lady took the stage with contagious excitement and humble confidence.

Robin Mackinnon, who serves as the Director of Soma Kids at Midtown, spoke from Philippians 1. She introduced the book to us by explaining some of its background. She stirred our imaginations and helped us appreciate the thrill of receiving a letter – especially from the apostle Paul. As we understand the significance of the book to its original readers, we can understand its significance for us today.

However, Robin didn't merely get us excited about hearing the rest of the book; she showed us that "because of Christ, we can live in a manner worthy of the gospel." She helped us remember that we represent the gospel we've been graciously entrusted when we stand in bold, unified strength in the face of suffering. In her concluding statement she said, "Suffering is like a grace in disguise." What a truth to ponder as we each experience our own kinds of suffering– from constant car problems to uncertain political times and beyond!

After Robin introduced us to Philippians, Mollie Hall shared how God has continued teaching her to rest in who he is, rather than fret about what she's not. Her words resounded with ours when she said, "'I'm not enough, but I should be' is a lie that can only be replaced by the truth that 'I'm not enough, but I don't have to be.'" As we heard more from Philippians, we learned all the more that this is true because of who Christ is and what he has done for us.

Jodi Sarver spoke with the efficiency and compassion that comes from being a mother of four children and her years of experience working with college students with Cru. She confronted our selfishness, our uniquely feminine way of struggling with rivalry and conceit (namely, comparison), and our insecurities that often turn into idols. She ended her talk by reminding us that "out of God's love we love each other and we love the world." We learned from Jodi that "because of Christ we can love differently."

Adrienne Evans shared her story of God redeeming her life from unhealthy eating and exercise habits. She told her story honestly, and reminded us that often God's work in our lives is over the long haul, and that we must continue to cooperate in his work. Because of Christ we can be victorious even as we continue to fight strongholds in our lives.

We had so much truth to digest over lunch, which included an amazing spread of soups, salads, and mini pies from Soma’s very own Lauren Wiley, founder of Ruby’s Bakehouse. It was a great time to relax, connect, and of course visit the photo booth!

To kick off the afternoon, Mary Buente recounted the story of God's faithfulness in the mundane as she moved from living on her own and into a house with several roommates. At the time, she saw no reason why she was doing this, and the only perk was that she saved some money. Shortly into life with her new roommates, she came to realize that she needed to use the money she was saving to help her mom. As Mary told her story, we saw a God who gives grace for transitions in life, who continues to heal broken people and relationships, and who gives joy in every season of life.

Jody Barbour, wife of Bobby, mom of three crazy kiddos, and friend to each person she talks to, shared the hope we have when we truly rest in Christ. She reminded us to embrace the reality of being a struggling saint, and to focus on the goal of living out our trust in God. One way we do this by staying in healthy community where we call out sin and call each other to fix our eyes on Christ.

Tara Gornik shared God's grace in her family's move overseas as missionaries and then back stateside. Through culture shock, reverse culture shock, and doing work she'd never imagined doing, Tara showed us a God who is faithful when life starts taking a course you never mapped out.

Deb Dunlevy spoke with a rawness you'd expect from someone of the previously-Grunge-styled and deconstructionistic Generation X. We saw the hope of Christ shine through her as she pointed out the things that steal our joy. She admonished us to, like the psalmists, be frank with God about our anger, our despair, and our brokenness. She encouraged us to come to our good Father with the things we want, trusting his heart to deny us the things that are not good for us and to give only what's best. She reminded us that life in Christ is free.

At the end of the day, we had so many truths to ponder, so much to be thankful for because of Christ. The best part is knowing that the journey doesn’t end here. We were encouraged to continue learning and growing in the context of community, specifically through discipleship groups.

 

Empathy and Charity: How Christians can Respond to Election 2016

This piece from the blog of Pastor JD Greear was so helpful that we're posting it here: it's on processing and discussing the presidential election charitably.

On Tuesday night, the long road toward Election Day finally ended, as Donald Trump won the office of United States president. Generally, the day after a presidential election, people are left feeling either elated (because their candidate won) or disappointed (because their candidate lost). But this has been a strange year, so the usual post-election emotions aren’t what they’ve been in years past. Clinton voters, we’ve already seen, feel angry and afraid. Many women and minorities are understandably concerned about what this means for their future in our country. And while many Trump voters are certainly excited, I know that the Christians who voted for him aren’t completely thrilled at the prospect of President Trump. They’re more relieved at avoiding President Clinton.

The purpose of this post is not to weigh in on the relative merits or dangers of President Donald Trump. Many people have already pointed out Trump’s significant deficits in the past few months, ourselves among them. This discussion should go forward in the days to come. But for now, I want to consider how Christians should respond to this new reality. Whether you voted for him or not, we need to approach this new season with gospelized lenses.

So what should Christians do in the days and weeks to come? Here are seven brief thoughts:

1. Show empathy for the confused and fearful.

While some Christians voted for Trump because they thought that, given the two options they had to choose from, he was the better of the two, every Christian should be outraged by demeaning comments made toward certain groups in our society, whether we are part of that group or not. And we should stand against injustice and discrimination wherever we see even a hint of it. Christians who voted for Trump must seek to understand (if they don’t already) why many immigrants, women, some minorities, and members of the LGBT community feared a Trump presidency. We must speak out against injustice, bigotry, and demeaning comments as loudly as those directly affected.

This will be a test for those evangelical believers who felt like Trump was the better choice. Will they have the courage to stand boldly against him—and the Republican party—wherever they perceive them pursuing an uncharitable agenda? (Had Clinton won, we would be asking the question in reverse: Would believers who supported her be willing to publicly work for justice in those areas where she falls short?)

I do know that many of our black and Hispanic brothers and sisters are fearful and confused this morning. These are our brothers and sisters in Christ, made in the image of God like us. Ask questions, acknowledge their hurts, and above all, listen. Whatever else this moment calls for, it calls for empathy towards the hurting and afraid.

Conservative evangelicals have to demonstrate that they are fighting for, and truly care about, the empowerment of the disenfranchised. Many conservatives will argue that the best tools for empowering the disenfranchised are found in the conservative, limited government view of economics. If so, they should demonstrate that–that they believe in their economic views not despite their care for the poor, but because of their care for the poor. Furthermore, conservatives (and evangelical conservatives in particular), must demonstrate in this season a willingness to fight against injustice and discrimination wherever they see it–in the judicial system, the workplace, or anywhere else.

2. Show charity for believers who voted the other way by assuming the best about their motives wherever you can.

As we have explained before, mature, gospel-loving, reflective Christians were genuinely consternated about which was the better choice in this election. Some felt that even with all her flaws, Clinton was the better overall choice for the country—usually because of the attitude she displayed toward the poor and disenfranchised. Others thought that, despite his flaws, Trump was the better choice. And many could not vote for either.

At this point, I’m not trying to persuade you one way or the other (I never was). What I want to encourage you here with is this: Don’t assume the worst about those who voted the other way. Don’t assume that fellow believers who voted for Trump did so because they are utterly insensitive to minority struggles or unconcerned about misogyny, xenophobia, or sexual assault. Many voted for Trump despite their disgust at those things, because they thought the things Clinton stood for were at least as dangerous to the country. So as you engage those who voted differently, do so with charity.

In the same way, don’t assume that those who voted for Clinton (or didn’t vote for either) are naïve about the threats to religious liberty or too cowardly to oppose abortion. Many believers were very aware of those things but just couldn’t support a man who displayed the significant character failings of Trump.

When a sibling in Christ votes a different way than you, choose to believe the better narrative about why they might have done so. Be humble and charitable enough to realize that many mature Christians came to different conclusions about what the right posture was, and give them the benefit of the doubt where you can. You don’t have to agree with their conclusions, but in the church we can and must demonstrate a humility, forbearance, and civility usually absent from public discourse.

Jesus told us to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Surely this includes assuming the best about the motives of others and giving them the benefit of the doubt, which we always want others to do for us. We tend, however, to attribute the best motives to our own actions and the worst to those who disagree with us. Can we respect our brothers and sisters who disagreed with our political choices, assuming the best about their intentions? This is another crucial test for believers on both sides right now, one that—based on social media—most seem to be failing.

I have often pointed out to our church that one of Jesus’ disciples was “Simon the Zealot.” Zealots were those Jews that thought Judaism should revolt against Rome, driving out all Roman influence. Included with him in that circle of 12 was “Matthew the Tax Collector,” who had worked for Rome collecting taxes. One disciple thought war with Rome was the best course of action; the other thought complicity with Rome was wiser. I’m sure they had some incendiary political discussions by the campfires in the evening. (I’d love to see Jesus’ posture as he listened to them.) But at the end of the day, they found in their love for Jesus a unity greater than the political questions that divided them.

3. Honor and pray for our president.

Regardless of how you voted, we as Christians must be committed to honor, pray for, and respect all of our political leaders. The Apostles Paul, Peter, and even Jesus himself command us to do so (1 Timothy 2:1-4; 1 Peter 2:17; Mark 12:17). You do not have to like your president to seek his good, honor him, and love him well. You need not have cast a ballot for him to recognize him as president and support him. Loving our neighbor applies to our leaders, too. (By the way, this is not a command simply for Republican presidents. This should characterize our attitude toward President Obama as well.)

Honoring your president does not mean sparing criticism where it is warranted. Just the opposite: We honor people by telling them the truth, even when that truth is uncomfortable. We can do so, however, from a posture of honor and respect and with an olive branch in our hands, as Peter commands us (1 Peter 2:17).

The church must continue to be a voice “speaking truth to power,” respectfully calling President Trump to a higher standard. We do not represent our Savior well or love our president well if we ignore sin. We must continue to hold Trump accountable for the ways his public words and deeds are both dangerous and potentially harmful.

We must do more than simply call out Trump’s sin, however. We should pray for him. Trump is not the Enemy, just as Clinton was not. We need to be praying and asking God to give Trump wisdom, so that he may help the cause of justice and righteousness. God puts kings on their thrones, and he tells us that he can turn their hearts like water in the palm of his hand (Proverbs 21:1). He can use any leader, and we should pray that he will use President Trump to further peace and preserve religious liberty in the days to come (1 Timothy 2:1-4; Jeremiah 29:7). The effectual fervent prayers of righteous people have great effect, even in the midst of impossible political circumstances.

4. Be cautious about appointing yourself God’s spokesman.

I’d encourage us to be cautious about declaring definitively God’s intentions in this election. I’ve already seen social media filling up with some declaring Trump as “God’s answer to the prayers of his people,” and others declaring him to be the “judgment of God on America.” A better posture is to encourage Trump where he works for justice and pursues righteousness, and speak against him where he promotes injustice. It is almost never wise to appoint yourself God’s spokesman about contemporary events. (That has led to several devastating chapters in history!) Based on what you see in Scripture, stand with righteousness and against injustice wherever you see it.

5. Don’t abandon politics, even when it’s impossibly messy.

Don’t let the next time you care about politics be the year 2020. Part of the reason we ended up with two candidates that most of the country disliked (and that were unfit for office) is that so few people involved themselves early on. Only 14 percent of registered voters came out for the primaries, with only 9 percent of them casting a ballot for Clinton or Trump. Our turnout for local elections is even more dismal, even though the impact is often more immediate and more influential.

I know the past year has left you wanting to disengage from politics and run away. Don’t do it. As G. K. Chesterton said, when you love something, its goodness is a reason to love it—but it’s “badness” is a reason to love it all the more. It is because we love our country that we should continue to pay attention to politics, even if it becomes increasingly messy. For many of us, God may even want us pursuing politics as a calling.

6. Repent of making politics an idol.

This is always the danger of politics. So at the present moment, you’re liable to think Trump will save us. Or that he will completely destroy everything. But he doesn’t have the power to do either. He may make the United States great, or he may ruin our country, but he can never save and he can never truly destroy. Don’t make the mistake of elevating politics to the throne of your life. If you do, you’ll be utterly crushed when things don’t go your way. It’s fine for you to be disappointed right now. It’s not okay for you to be dismayed.

For many of us, politics has become an idol. It is too important to us. It consumes our emotions and dominates our agenda. We think of it as ultimate power. Yesterday I heard a Republican pundit on Fox News fret about the possibility of Hillary Clinton gaining “ultimate power.” Ultimate power? How absurd. Our president can’t lift a finger without the permission of Almighty God. The powers of the most powerful nations are, as Isaiah says, a drop in the bucket, working according to the overarching purposes of the Almighty God (Isaiah 40:15; Ephesians 1:3-21). As John Piper says, one day America and all its presidents will be an obscure footnote in the annals of history; but Jesus will reign on his throne forever and ever. To adapt a phrase from Martin Luther King, Jr., the arch of history is long, and it tilts toward Jesus.

Don’t let politics dominate your agenda. We in the church have a mission far greater than politics. We are building a kingdom that can never perish, making investments in the souls of people that will last longer than any political kingdom. When we show more concern over politics than evangelism, we have gotten off course.

As our friend Joby Martin says, “If you are more concerned over who won this election than you are lost souls being saved, you are probably a citizen of the wrong kingdom.”

Don’t let politics determine your most binding allegiances. In the church, we have a unity that goes deeper than divisions in politics. The only way to find unity amidst division is to have something that unifies you that is deeper and more significant to you than all that divides you. For us, that “thing” is Jesus and his mission. He died to save sinners in every nation, starting within our families and communities, and our job is to preach his gospel and extend his kingdom irrespective of the political climate of the nation we happen to live in. This nation is not our true home; the United States has never been, and never will be, our primary kingdom. Thus, our unity goes way beyond a theory of taxation or strategy to fix the economy. Disunity happens in the church not because we care about politics too much but because we care about Jesus and his church too little.

7. Rejoice in signs of hope in this politically discouraging time.

Like many, I am gravely concerned about where our society is. But I find a lot to be encouraged by, as well, and it has nothing to do with Trump’s election.

Many evangelicals demonstrated in this election cycle that they are not mere partisan pawns of the Republican Party. Many broke ranks and spoke publicly against Trump’s deficiencies of character and his carelessly heinous statements. Even though they believed in certain principles often associated with the GOP—such as limited government, religious liberty, and a pro-life platform—they found Trump so distasteful in his character and so poor a champion of those very ideals, that they either could not support him or did so with a great deal of reservation. This has to be a good development.

I think this season also allowed many black and white evangelicals to begin some conversations they really need to have . Something about the circus of Trump’s candidacy allowed black evangelicals to explain to their white brothers and sisters what bothers them about latent racism in America in a way they could understand. And because of their inability to get excited about Trump, many white evangelicals were able to explain what it is about the traditional Democratic platform that they find so objectionable without looking like mere Republican shills. This is an encouraging conversation, and needs to continue.

What black, white, and Hispanic evangelicals have in common in Christ is greater than any political perspective that divides them, and in this election cycle, this unity has enabled them to have some of these conversations with the comfort that comes from knowing you are safe with a beloved brother and sister in Christ. We’ve just watched a political season marked by by radical division. We in the church have the unique opportunity to show the world supernatural unity.

I was really encouraged by an article that Rick Warren posted recently, “Why I have hope for America’s Soul.” He lists five things:

1. Faith flourishes in bad times: “People turn to God when everything else has left them empty, disappointed, and betrayed. Inevitably materialism, hedonism, and the worship of self is a dead end … America has had two Great Awakenings and many smaller spiritual revivals in our short history. All of them happened in times of difficulty or rapid cultural change … The most recent revival occurred when tens of thousands of ‘60s hippies became Jesus People in the ’70s, launching thousands of new churches across America.”

2. The Millennial generation is asking the right questions about life. Like Rick Warren, our church is flooded with millennial spiritual seekers—over 40 percent of our attendance each weekend are millienials.

3. America is still filled with tens of millions of God-honoring people.

4. The world, as a whole, is becoming more devout, not more secular. “The recent Pew Research Center study revealed that around the world the ‘unaffiliated’ group will grow by about 100,000,000 people between 2010 and 2050. But the Christian Church will grow by 750,000,000 in the same period— seven times faster — which will actually decrease the percentage of ‘nones’ on the planet. The future of the world is not secularism, but religious pluralism with one out of three people identifying as a follower of Jesus.”

5. God (still) promises to hear humble prayers.

Amen. Let’s be excited about what God is doing in our generation and what it means for the future of our country.

In the days to come, we at The Summit Church plan to keep doing what we’ve always done—preaching the Word, loving our world, and reaching people with the gospel. Because the everyday work of God’s people is always the most important and enduring work there is. When the church trusts God, hearts are changed, walls come tumbling down, and impossible things become possible. The early church, after all, had no budget, no political power, no buildings … and they turned the world upside-down. We have the same power of the Spirit that they did, and I, for one, intend to follow God boldly into his mission.

May God lead our nation to repent and turn to him. But more than that, may he purify and send out his church into the world.

Image: "A Theological Debate," by Eduard Frankfort