Tag Archives: One Church

The experience of love

This past Sunday One Church celebrated our four year anniversary. I am grateful for both the work of those who have gone before me and for the work of those who continue today.

As part of our service (which you can watch here), we listened to several people share a little about their spiritual journeys. Most people find One Church for one of two reasons (or both). Either they are looking for a church that is open and affirming to all LGBTQ persons, or they are looking for a church that is more open and allows space to question, disagree, doubt, or see things differently. As the pastor, I hope everyone feels the freedom to disagree with me at times. I am certain of very few things in life, but one of the things I am certain of is that I surely don’t see Reality, Truth, God, or anything else through a perfect lens.

A consistent theme as people shared at One Church was the idea of unconditional love and acceptance. One Scripture that was shared is the well known John 3:16:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

There is a lot here to explore, too much for one short Lenten devotional, but one thing to point out is that when many read this they assume that “eternal life” means “going to heaven when you die,” which is does not. The message translation more accurately describes this by stating, “anyone can have a whole and lasting life.”

Like I mentioned, there is a lot here to unpack, but let’s move to the following verse, which is often overlooked.

17 Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Or, as the Message translates this:

17 God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.

While Christians are well known for being judgmental and condemning, our Scriptures instruct us to do just the opposite. As this text was shared I couldn’t help but think how important this is for us to reflect upon during Lent. As we journey inward toward greater self awareness, perhaps we should be exploring the following questions:

  1. In what ways am I critical or judgmental of myself? (We tend to treat others the way we treat ourselves. If we are critical of ourselves, this will be reflected toward others.)
  2. Who do I tend to judge? (Let’s be honest, we all struggle with judging others. The question then isn’t do I judge others, but who are those “others” that I judge.)
  3. In what ways do I feel invited or called to partner with God to help put the world right again?

 

Additional thoughts to reflect upon:

I was reading some of Julian of Norwich’s writings this past week. Julian was a Christian mystics who lived in the fourteenth century and wrote the first book written in English by a woman. Thomas Merton called her one of the greatest English theologians!

In Julian’s writings, she refers frequently to God as Mother. While this might be a stretch for some, I find her writings to be refreshing because her focus is on God’s nurturing, motherly love. This is most clearly seen in chapter sixty and sixty-one of the Showings. Below is just a couple of quotes from these chapters:

The kind, loving mother who knows and sees the need of her child guards it very tenderly, as the nature and condition of motherhood will have. (Chapter sixty)

But often when our falling and our wretchedness are shown to us, we are so much afraid and so greatly ashamed of ourselves that we scarcely know where we can put ourselves. But then our courteous Mother does not wish us to flee away, for nothing would be less pleasing to him; but he then wants us to behave like a child. For when it is distressed and frightened, it runs quickly to its mother; and if it can do no more, it calls to the mother for help with all its might. (Julian exchanges the masculine pronouns he/him with Mother to refer to God.)

It seems to me that God is beyond gender, yet I think we should be aware how our words influence our views. I think many people have rejected the masculine, domineering, demanding, Zeus-like-deity, but are still open – and perhaps longing – to receive the kind of nurturing love that Julian experienced and wrote about.

  • Have you experienced this motherly love?

Perhaps this week is an invitation to open yourself up to see God in new ways and experience God’s nurturing love. I believe it is this very experience that forms us and allows us to become less judgmental.

As we experience love, it transforms us and we are better able to extend love toward others. 

Dear One Church,

Dear One Church,

These past several months have been the most exhausting and divisive  season that some of us have witnessed.

Since the news came of our new president, I understand that some feel excited and hopeful, but we are a progressive, inclusive church, and I know many of you are struggling.

There is now a call for unity, but how can I call for unity when I have sat with and heard from people who have been deeply hurt?

Some are trying to bypass the hurt, pain, frustration, and anger by focusing on the good. I think people mean well, but I don’t think they fully understand. How can I bypass the very real feelings of myself and others by telling people to “get over it?” I cannot.

I try not to let despair win, but I have been on the verge of crying or have cried much these last several days. My heart is so heavy. Not only is our nation divided on politics, but we as Christians are divided – oh so divided!

So what do we do about it?

I am not sure.

I don’t know what the future will hold. I don’t know how hard it will be. I don’t know what this will mean for so many things I believe in and work for. I wish I had a simple answer, I do not.

I struggle to get along with people who see the world so differently than I. I struggle to get along with Christians who seem to be working for things so radically different than I. I think if I am honest, I struggle to love.

Ouch, that last one stings a little.

How do I love those who are so different than I?

Let me be clear, love does not require us to agree, but it does require us to be kind, patient, and open. How many times have I said something unkind? How many times have I posted something on facebook before taking the time to reflect and I regretted it later? How many times have I been in an argument and realized that the more I argued, the more closed off I became? Too many times.

If your like me, you find it all to easy to speak your mind, your opinions, and your thoughts and feel fully justified in doing so. Yet, how often do people on the other side feel the exact same way?

If you are struggling, I invite you to a special contemplative service at One Church this Sunday November 13th. We will not ask you to agree. We will not tell you to get over it. We will not tell you it is wrong to feel what you feel.

Instead, we will provide a safe place to come with whatever feelings you have as we stand together, pray together, and worship together.

If you are not struggling, I invite you to stand with those who are. I invite you to share in our hurt, pain, confusion, and anger. To me, this seems to be the loving, Christlike thing to do.

And then, we will break bread together.

When you don’t know what to do, I cannot think of a better thing than to be reminded that Jesus sat in the midst of pain, suffering, confusion, and loneliness.  Somehow this reminds us that God is in the midst of our own pain, our own confusion, our own anger, and our own loneliness.

We have much healing to do, for ourselves, for our country, and for the world. Healing begins by sharing together in the pain and struggle, and somehow we believe we will find God in the midst of all this.

My heart is with you,

Your Pastor,

Aaron Strietzel

contemplative-service

 

 

 

An open letter to the founder of One Church

This Sunday at One Church there will be a special ceremony where I will be ordained and installed as the Lead Pastor. This will be a special day for me, but I wanted to take a moment to share an open letter to Pastor Ryan Gear, the founder of One Church who has shaped my life in so many ways.

Pastor Ryan,

We first connected through facebook when a mutual friend introduced us. You reached out and made sure we scheduled a lunch. We met at Thai Basil in Tempe and I shared my story with you.

At that time, I was in a very liminal space as I had become theologically open and progressive, but was currently struggling with the high liturgical church we were a part of. I found the liturgy beautiful, yet culturally very different from the evangelical tradition I was raised in. I was frustrated and lost, seeking a way to be theologically progressive and yet wanting to hold onto the evangelical feel of the tradition that formed me so much.

I found all that and more at One church, the church you planted and worked so hard to see flourish.

When I first started at One Church, I was wrestling through a sense of calling. I was frustrated with organized religion and wondering how I could be a pastor – all this while in the middle of seminary. I had experienced so many negative aspects of religion and church and had little motivation to continue. You listened patiently and empathized with many of my concerns which, I believe, is a huge part of what it means to be a good pastor.

After listening, you asked several clarifying questions, again the mark of a good pastor, and then asked a question that has stuck with me and one I go back to on almost a weekly basis.  You asked:

Is the answer to unhealthy religion no religion or healthier forms of religion?

This was the exact question I needed to be asked and I need to ask myself on a regular basis. Thank you!

Now, I’m not an overly religious person and I have great respect for those who seek to bring about a just and generous world outside of religion, but have come to realize that I feel called (at least that seems to be the best word to explain it) to work toward bringing about a more just and generous world by promoting more healthy forms of religion – at least as best I can. I owe a lot of this passion to you.

Not only did I wrestle with that question, but at One Church have experienced how healthy religion can be helpful for people. I have heard many stories of people seeking a community that is a safe place to wrestle with faith and not feel coerced or pressured to see things a certain way. I have had people come up to me after a church service, so thankful that they found a community that was open and inclusive where they would feel not only welcomed, but affirmed for who God created them to be. I have seen many serve others and see God work in and through them. I have seen how the church can serve the community without the pressure to convert everyone, but to simply work toward bringing God’s kingdom to earth. At One Church people discover Jesus in new and refreshing ways.

If it were not for you and your hard work, I would not have experienced this!

You have also encouraged me through many doubts and fears I have had. Not only have I experienced being part of a community that seeks to create healthier expressions of religion, I have felt more confidence to step out in my gifts as you have encouraged this in me. You have been patient and so very encouraging every step of the way. Thank you!

I know that planting a church and nurturing it is no easy task. Your heart, passion, courage, and perseverance are inspiring! If it was not for your determination to work so hard, to sacrifice so much, and to continue to persevere, One Church would not exist. This community exists because of your faithfulness to God’s leading in your life. Thank you!

Finally I admire your sensitivity to know when the time has come to step down and to follow God’s leading in a different, but similar way. Many people stay at a place far too long and struggle to release what they have worked so hard to create. It takes just as much or perhaps more courage to entrust this to someone else.

You have become such an encouraging part of my life and it will be hard for me to see you go from One Church. Yet, I am so very excited for the future of One Church as we continue to move forward as God leads us. I know you desire to see One Church flourish and it means a lot that you have entrusted this to me (or trusted God to work through me). I am fully confident that God is working and will continue to work through One Church in great ways.

Thank you for pushing through all the obstacles and overcoming the barriers in order to create such a wonderful community. Thank you for allowing me the place to learn, grow, and develop as a pastor and leader. Thank you for all your encouragement. One Church would not exist without you, and I would not be here without you. You will be missed, but are so greatly appreciated!

with love,  admiration, and appreciation,

Aaron

 

 

A Christian response to Orlando

This morning I awoke to the news of what is now being called the deadliest shooting in American history.

There are 50 known people who have died and 53 injured as a result of the shootings in Orlando at a Gay nightclub.

As most people, I was horrified, shocked, and deeply angered. This shooting has been on our minds all day as we try to make sense of it.

I am part of a wonderful church community called One Church located outside of Phoenix in Chandler AZ. We are a church that includes all and tries our best to follow the life, teachings, and path of Jesus in ways that make sense to 21st century people. We are also a part of a larger movement called Open, which focuses on bringing about a more just and generous expression of faith. (We are not alone in this!)

Some have thought our church to be watering down the truth, the Bible, or the gospel. I  get this picture that they believe we have a sort of hakuna matata attitude that thinks all we need is love and we do very little work in the world. Usually this mindset is reflective of fundamentalist and conservative Christians who think that because we are open and affirming and focus on relational work in the world instead of a transactional salvation message where we escape this world, that we somehow don’t take the life and teachings of Jesus seriously.

I actually take the life and teachings of Jesus very seriously and I believe they are more difficult and challenging then I have ever before imagined!

When someone steals from me, my automatic response is to want to steal from them. When someone steps over me, my response is to want to step over them. When someone mocks me, my response is to want to mock them back. When someone belittles me, my response is to want to belittle them back. When someone hurts me, my automatic response is to want to hurt them back.

Violence begets more violence.

To think that violence will somehow put an end to violence is, as Walter Wink has said, the myth of redemptive violence. It is easy for me to paint with a broad brush and condemn a whole group of people because of one person’s actions. It is easy for me to judge others for something someone else did. I have done all of these and more plenty of times, but when I act out of violence, hatred, or bigotry I create more violence, hatred, and bigotry.

According to the gospel account of Matthew, Jesus states:

 Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.  – Matthew 7v14-15

The way of Jesus, the way of love, forgiveness, and compassion is a very narrow and difficult way. My automatic instinct is to take the wide, easy way and react out of hate or violence. In the same gospel Jesus says that we are to love our neighbor and our enemies. No one can tell me that this is an easy task!

One of the biggest ways we do this at my church is to learn from others. As someone told me today, it is easy to throw darts at people from the outside. In other words, it is easy to cast judgment and to view the other as wrong, violent, or “sinful” when you don’t actually know them and haven’t heard their story. Because of this human tendency (of which no one is exempt), our church has invited a Rabbi, an Imam, and many other religious leaders to speak and share not only wisdom and insight, but also their stories and experiences. Not only does this begin to break down walls that divide us, but we actually find they have so much to offer and so much to teach us!

In light of the shootings in Orlando, as a religious leader and as a Christian I must state the obvious – this is an unjust act of evil. Yet, I must also state the less obvious – hate and violence will only perpetuate more hate and violence. My hope is that this act of evil only exposes this truth.

Darkness-cannot-drive-out-darkness-only-light-can-do-that.-Hate-cannot-drive-out-hate-only-love-can-do-that.-9

When we take the words of Jesus to love our neighbors and our enemies seriously, this leaves no one to hate. We cannot hate Muslims, Gays, Atheists, or even people we disagree with inside our own tradition.

I believe the way forward can only be through love and compassion and that begins as we better understand others.

Instead of judgment, hate, violence, or bigotry – something we all struggle with at times – Jesus invites us to take the narrow path – the way of love, forgiveness and compassion. It is a narrow, more difficult way, but it does lead to life.