KOH2RVA: Day 364

License Plate

Today is “One Sunday” at Richmond’s First Baptist Church, with a celebration of KOH2RVA in the gym at 9:30, one wonderful worship service in the sanctuary at 11:00, and dinner on the grounds afterward. But it also marks the end of our year-long, every-member mission trip, and that’s why this will be the last KOH2RVA update on this blog.

Sigh.

But that doesn’t mean KOH2RVA is over.

Beginning tomorrow morning I hope to have a fresh post on a new blog called (wait for it) “KOH2RVA,” where I will feature pictures and stories from guest bloggers whose churches, agencies, institutions, and organizations are also bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia. If you click on this link today, you will see the following message:

NOT FOUND
Apologies, but no results were found for the requested archive. Perhaps searching will help find a related post.

But if you click on the “Follow” button you should get an email in your inbox tomorrow telling you that fresh content has been posted on the KOH2RVA blog, and you can begin to get regular updates on how people across the city are working together to bring heaven to earth in this place where we live, this place that we love.

As for this blog, I’ll probably take a few days off and then start writing about all those things I’ve been wanting to write about when this year-long, every-member mission trip came to an end.

Thank you for following the KOH2RVA journey.

I have a feeling we’re just getting started.

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p.s. If you can’t make it to church today, you can watch the KOH2RVA celebration LIVE at 9:30 on our website (http://www.fbcrichmond.org).

KOH2RVA: Day 234

black eyeYesterday’s post generated lots of discussion, and a number of important lessons:

The topic of homosexuality is red-hot. There were 1,588 views on my blog yesterday, the second highest number since I’ve been writing. It wasn’t because the post was so well written; it was because I was writing about homosexuality. I discovered once again that everybody has an opinion on this topic, and the opinions tend to be strong.

Never assign motives to another person. I did that yesterday. I said that I was trying to imagine why 15 churches were thinking about pulling out of the Richmond Baptist Association and the only reason I could come up with was fear. One of the people who commented on my blog wisely pointed out that I could have asked someone from those churches, rather than making up motives. She was right, and I apologize.

Fear is not the only factor. When I did talk to someone from one of those churches yesterday I was assured that there were several reasons a church might consider such a move. Identity was one of them: you might get to a point where—without any animosity—you simply sensed that “these just aren’t our kind of people” anymore. Fidelity was another: where, in order to be faithful to your understanding of Scripture, you might choose to distance yourself from those with a different understanding.

People can disagree respectfully. Although there were a number of different views expressed in the comments on my blog yesterday, they were expressed with courtesy, and even with Christian love. I especially appreciated the one that began by addressing a fellow commentator: “I love you. You’re my sister in Christ.” While opinions were strong, they were never used as weapons.

It’s easy to be distracted. I have to admit, I spent a good bit of time yesterday checking my blog, reading the comments, answering email, talking on the phone, meeting with people who had questions or concerns, and in all of that, I’m sure I neglected much of the other work of the Kingdom. At the end of the day I went to RVA United, in the sanctuary of First Baptist Church, where a group of young, committed Christians had been working for days to create an incomparable worship experience for 20-30somethings in our city. They weren’t distracted. They were focused. And it showed.

You would think that by now I would have learned all of life’s important lessons, but I haven’t. There’s still plenty to learn. And yesterday I learned some things.

I hope you did, too.

KOH2RVA: Day 211

argument-380x258I had coffee yesterday with a pastor from the area who said some unkind things about me in one of his recent blog posts. A friend in town asked me if I had seen it. I hadn’t, but when I read it my first thought was, “Well, this man just doesn’t know me!”

So, I called him and asked if we could have coffee sometime, and that’s what we ended up doing yesterday afternoon, at the Starbucks on the corner of Broad and Bowe.

The conversation was cordial. We spent some time talking about our families and about our ministry, but eventually we got around to the subject of his blog post, which was the recent decision by the Richmond Baptist Association to allow Ginter Park Baptist Church to maintain its membership, even though it had ordained an openly gay man to the ministry. His argument was that by speaking up for Ginter Park Baptist Church I had affirmed gay ordination.

I didn’t see it that way at all.

I told him that what I was speaking up for was missional partnership, and that it was something that had been reinforced through KOH2RVA. On this year-long, every-member mission trip I have discovered that there are a number of other churches, organizations, and agencies that have a similar mission—in their own ways they, too, are working to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia.

St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, for example, just across the street from First Baptist, has a food pantry for hungry and homeless people. St. Mark’s does church differently than First Baptist. They have some different beliefs than First Baptist. But one of the things we agree on is that hungry and homeless people need to be fed; we both see it as a way of bringing heaven to earth.

So, do we have to agree on everything in order to work together? Not at all, at least not where feeding hungry people is concerned. But I wouldn’t invite the rector of St. Mark’s to teach a class on our core beliefs at First Baptist and he wouldn’t invite me to do that at St. Mark’s. Our beliefs are different enough that it wouldn’t be helpful.

So I was telling this pastor as we had coffee yesterday that I didn’t think we had to agree with everything Ginter Park did in order to partner with them in mission—sending inner-city kids to Camp Alkulana in the summer, for example, seemed like something we could both get behind.

But he didn’t see it that way.

He talked about tribal identity, and said that what Ginter Park had done really put them outside the boundaries of the Baptist “tribe,” and that they could no longer be considered part of us. For that reason we could no longer work together; we were too different.

He had a point. I’m guessing he wouldn’t invite the pastor of Ginter Park to teach a class on core beliefs at his church, and the pastor of Ginter Park probably wouldn’t invite him to teach that class at hers. But couldn’t they agree that inner-city kids need to go to Camp Alkulana in the summer, and couldn’t they pool their resources to that end? Do we have to agree on everything in order to work together?

I’m afraid that what’s going to suffer in this dispute is not his church or her church, but those inner-city kids. And isn’t that always the way it is? We Christians start arguing about doctrine and neglect our mission,

And children suffer,
And people go hungry,
And the good news isn’t shared,

And Jesus sighs.

KOH2RVA: Day 188

Colourful preschool numbersThe tiny little robot who keeps track of statistics on WordPress tells me that yesterday I surpassed 500,000 total views. That means that since I started it back in September, 2008, more than a half a million people have visited my blog.

Well, let’s be realistic.

It means that since September, 2008, my blog has been viewed more than half a million times. And WordPress itself recognizes that I’ve had more views than visitors—you know, the kind of people who come back for a second look just because they can’t believe what they read the first time (many of those people wanted to know, “Will the World End on December, 21, 2012?” the title of one of my posts. In fact, the most views I got on any single day was 1,407 on that post on December 20, 2012).

Still, I’ve written 501 total posts, for an average of almost 1,000 views per post. And people have commented on what they’ve read. WordPress tells me I’ve had 1,817 total comments from people who like the conversation to go both ways, which I appreciate.

I’m hoping that conversation will continue.

But lately I’ve thought about starting a new blog in September called “KOH2RVA,” and asking church members, friends, and partner organizations to contribute, freeing me up to get back to my own blog and my own occasional postings on other topics. I was looking back through some of those old posts yesterday and found this one, the one that started it all. As I re-read it I began to believe that Jesus has been inviting us to help him bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, all along.

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The Central Task of Ministry
September 30, 2008 by Jim Somerville

On page 99 of a book called The Hopeful Imagination, Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann claims: “The central task of ministry is the formation of a community with an alternative, liberated imagination that has the courage and the freedom to act in a different vision and a different perception of reality.”

I love that quote, not only because it gives shape to my own ministry, but because it reminds me so much of Jesus’ ministry. Do you remember how he started? He called some disciples, or, in other words, he formed a community. And then he started teaching them about the Kingdom of Heaven, saying, “the Kingdom is like a mustard seed, a treasure, a pearl.” He did his best to inspire in them an alternative, liberated imagination. And then, through his own example, he showed them the courage and freedom to act–to preach the Gospel, to heal the sick, even to turn over tables in the Temple. He did it to bring in the Kingdom, because when he looked at the world around him he saw not only what was but what could be. He had a different vision, and a different perception, of reality.

When his disciples said, “Teach us to pray,” he taught them something that sounds very much like the kind of prayer a soldier might pray before going onto the battlefield, or maybe it’s what a disciple prays before going onto the mission field: “Thy kingdom come!” it says. “Thy will be done!” it says. But then (don’t miss this part) it says, “on earth as it is in heaven.”

To put it simply, I think Jesus wanted his disciples to bring heaven to earth. I think that’s why he spent his time forming a community with an alternative, liberated imagination that had the courage and freedom to act in a different vision and a different perception of reality. I think he still wants his disciples to bring heaven to earth, and the question is, “How do we do it?”

It’s not so hard. You look at the world through his eyes. You look for anything that doesn’t look like heaven…yet. And then you roll up your sleeves, and go to work.

Ellie’s Home!

My daughter Ellie came home for a surprise visit this weekend (that’s her on the left in the picture above).  It’s a long bus ride from New York to Richmond, but if you get on the bus in Chinatown at 10:30 p.m. you can sometimes get your parents to come pick you up at Parham Road at 4:00 in the morning.

It was just about this time last year that she got on a train to New York with a couple of suitcases and no idea where she was going to spend the night.  Now she is living in an apartment in Manhattan and working at Lonny, an online interior design magazine, where she’s been since the beginning.  She started as an intern, quickly moved up to editorial assistant, and now has a major role in the production of the bi-monthly magazine, blogs on the Lonny site, and makes an occasional guest appearance at Etsy (which everybody seems to know about but me).

I’m proud of Ellie.  It’s no secret.  Not only for what she’s done but for who she is.  Some people say pride is a sin, but I think there’s a special exception for parents, don’t you?