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1 | “Sacred Objects/Deadly Desires”

Genesis 2:15-17 & 3:1-13


May 4, 2019 – Giddings–Lovejoy Presbytery Meeting

Genesis 2:15-17 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

15
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden

to till it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man,

“You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17 but of the tree

of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the

day that you eat of it you shall die.”

Genesis 3:1-13 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

3 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal

that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God

say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” 2 The

woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees

in the garden; 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of

the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it,

or you shall die.’” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You

will not die; 5 for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes
2 | “Sacred Objects/Deadly Desires”
Genesis 2:15-17 & 3:1-13
May 4, 2019 – Giddings–Lovejoy Presbytery Meeting

will be opened, and you will be like God,[a] knowing good and

evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food,

and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be

desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she

also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he

ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that

they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made

loincloths for themselves.

8
They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at

the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid

themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees

of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man, and said to

him, “Where are you?” 10 He said, “I heard the sound of you in

the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid

myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have
3 | “Sacred Objects/Deadly Desires”
Genesis 2:15-17 & 3:1-13
May 4, 2019 – Giddings–Lovejoy Presbytery Meeting

you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to

eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with

me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then

the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have

done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”
4 | “Sacred Objects/Deadly Desires”
Genesis 2:15-17 & 3:1-13
May 4, 2019 – Giddings–Lovejoy Presbytery Meeting

The story of Adam and Eve has been called “The Fall” ever

since Augustine, and serves as the basis for his theology of

“Original Sin.” It’s one of the texts that John Calvin uses to refer

to the “Total Depravity” of humanity. Personally, I’m not a fan

of the theologies of “Original Sin” or “Total Depravity.” I’m not

even a fan of referring to this story as “The Fall.” Because, I’m

more concerned about the way the story reveals about humanity,

specifically humanity’s internal drives and desires that lead us to

sin. And in doing so, how this text can reveal the internal desires

of our congregations that drive the decline of our churches, and

thus help us to transform ourselves and ours ecclesiology and

missiology for the Great Emergence.

And so I will not be reading this text from a Reformed or

traditional or conservative or even progressive hermeneutic.

Instead, I’m reading this text through the lens of radical


5 | “Sacred Objects/Deadly Desires”
Genesis 2:15-17 & 3:1-13
May 4, 2019 – Giddings–Lovejoy Presbytery Meeting

theology – specifically, what is known as pyrotheology as

developed by Irish theologian Peter Rollins. Radical theology is

part of the Emergence movement in Christianity and applies

other philosophical and critical theories – such as

psychoanalysis and existentialism – to provide a hermeneutic

that allows us to discover what it means to be human,

specifically the human drives and desires working within these

texts that are still affecting us and the Church today.

God tells Adam and Eve, “You may freely eat of every tree

of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil

you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

If you want to guarantee that a child will WANT a toy, tell them

they CAN’T have it. Because once something is prohibited it

immediately becomes desired, and we are develop this drive to

obtain it at all costs. For Adam and Eve, their drive for the fruit
6 | “Sacred Objects/Deadly Desires”
Genesis 2:15-17 & 3:1-13
May 4, 2019 – Giddings–Lovejoy Presbytery Meeting

of the tree is established the minute God forbids them to eat it.

And then the serpent comes along and calls into question the

trustworthiness of God, causing Adam and Eve to be more

aware that there is something they cannot have despite all the

freedom they DO have. And as soon as they consider the

possibility that God is NOT telling them something, Adam and

Eve become insecure. And it is this “original insecurity” that

points to their Lack – this feeling that there is something missing

within themselves that can only be fulfilled by something

greater than themselves such as the fruit of the Tree of the

Knowledge of Good and Evil. And the things which we believe

will fulfill our lack are sacred-objects. The problem is, even

though the sacred-object of the fruit promises to take away the

Lack within them, once obtained, the sacred-object creates

greater insecurity and increases their awareness of how much


7 | “Sacred Objects/Deadly Desires”
Genesis 2:15-17 & 3:1-13
May 4, 2019 – Giddings–Lovejoy Presbytery Meeting

more Lack is in their lives. For it is only after they eat of the tree

that Adam and Eve “know they are naked” and began to feel

shame and guilt. Gaining knowledge does not make life easier –

and this text shows us just how painful knowing the whole truth

can be. That’s why ignorance is bliss. But ignorance is NOT the

mark of human maturity. Running from or avoiding your inner

issues isn’t going to make them go away.

So we avoid the painful truth about ourselves by

scapegoating. In scapegoating, we believe the reason why we

can’t obtain the sacred-object we desire is the fault of another

individual or group of people (often marginalized people such as

the poor, racial/ethnic minorities, LGBTQI+ community, etc.).

So instead of OWNING our Lack we PROJECT our Lack upon

the scapegoat. Blaming it for our sins and our failings. Adam

scapegoats Eve for his desire to fulfill his lack with the fruit of
8 | “Sacred Objects/Deadly Desires”
Genesis 2:15-17 & 3:1-13
May 4, 2019 – Giddings–Lovejoy Presbytery Meeting

the tree. Eve projects her lack on the serpent’s deception. We do

the same thing when we come across the poor in our streets,

saying things like, “Don’t give them any money, they’ll just

spend it on booze and drugs.” Or “Why should my hard-earned

money pay to support lazy welfare queens?” We project our

own spiritual and moral poverty onto them – blaming them for

our immoral desires and sinful laziness. This is why Jesus says,

“The poor will always be with you.” Because you cannot

alleviate economic poverty until you address the spiritual and

moral poverty within yourself.

And when the drive for our sacred-object proves too

challenging, we pursue substitute objects instead – wealth,

power, fame, success, status, etc. – hoping they will be able to

fill the lack within us. Yet, as soon as we obtain these substitute
9 | “Sacred Objects/Deadly Desires”
Genesis 2:15-17 & 3:1-13
May 4, 2019 – Giddings–Lovejoy Presbytery Meeting

objects, we quickly realize how futile they are, and our drive for

the sacred-object grows stronger.

So, how does this work in the Church? Do we have sacred-

objects in the Church that we are driven to attain – believing that

once we do, we will feel whole and complete again, that all our

problems will go away? Now I’m sure most of us can agree that

every church has its idols, its sacred cows. The things that if you

touch them or move them or (God-forbid) RE-move them,

heaven and earth will collapse! They often have a plaque on

them with some dead person’s name. Or they are traditions that

we repeat over and over again even though we have NO idea

why we are doing them. (“It’s just how we’ve always done it.”)

Or it’s that person or family who’s always in charge of a

particular event, small group, committee, or always on Session.


10 | “Sacred Objects/Deadly Desires”
Genesis 2:15-17 & 3:1-13
May 4, 2019 – Giddings–Lovejoy Presbytery Meeting

Sometimes these idols are programs, annual events, bible

studies, kitchens (don’t get me started on kitchens!), cliques,

worship styles, decorations, familiar hymns, and even pews. But

while many in the Church desire these things, they are not

sacred-objects. They are merely the substitutes for the sacred-

object that truly drives everything we do in the Church. And we

create all kinds of scapegoats to blame for why we haven’t

attained it. Because it’s much easier to create scapegoats for the

death of the Church. Like Adam and Eve we would rather blame

others than take responsibility for our dying church. Blaming

things like: the community for not making the church a priority.

Millennials for not taking their faith seriously. Lack of financial

resources and/or volunteers for why we can’t start new programs

to attract the idolized “young families with children.” But


11 | “Sacred Objects/Deadly Desires”
Genesis 2:15-17 & 3:1-13
May 4, 2019 – Giddings–Lovejoy Presbytery Meeting

remember, we always project onto the scapegoat what is true

about us.

We blame the community for not making the church a

priority because we don’t make Discipleship a priority. We want

church to be a simple obligation for us – a weekly euphoric

experience of “feel good” worship that doesn’t challenge

anything we believe, doesn’t force us to change anything about

ourselves, and numbs our pain long enough until we can return

next Sunday to get another fix at our spiritual crackhouse.

Meanwhile, those who pursue true Discipleship don’t play the

blame game. Churches that accept responsibility for their

problems and confront them head on are doing Discipleship

right.

Millennials are often blamed by older generations –

especially Boomers – for not taking their faith seriously. Yet,


12 | “Sacred Objects/Deadly Desires”
Genesis 2:15-17 & 3:1-13
May 4, 2019 – Giddings–Lovejoy Presbytery Meeting

who do they think raised them? The National Study of Youth

and Religion – a 20-year longitudinal study of Millennials –

found that the number one influence on a youth’s future faith

commitment is their parents (pastor’s and youth ministers rank

at the bottom of influence). Millennials don’t take faith seriously

because growing up they never saw their Boomer parents taking

their faith seriously. Young people know the difference between

following Jesus, and just showing up for an hour lecture on

Sundays. And we, as the Church, don’t take our faith seriously,

because we lack the ability to take God seriously. Meanwhile,

churches that do take God seriously also take the discipleship of

their children and youth seriously – fully integrating them

throughout the life of the congregation instead of isolating them

into their own silo ministry away from the rest of the

congregation.
13 | “Sacred Objects/Deadly Desires”
Genesis 2:15-17 & 3:1-13
May 4, 2019 – Giddings–Lovejoy Presbytery Meeting

We blame others for not volunteering meanwhile, what are

you volunteering for Becky? When was the last time you

ushered? When was the last time you helped teach Sunday

School? What do you mean you’ve already “served your time?”

I didn’t realize being a servant of Christ had a time limit. We

lack volunteers because we lack the experience of being a

servant. We pay people to do everything for us nowadays. Uber

drives for us. Uber eats will deliver fast food for us. We pay a

pastor to develop our spirituality and outsource our children and

youth’s faith development to the youth pastor – as long as they

make sure our kids graduate nice, sober, virgins who identify as

Christian, but not so much that they would jeopardize their

future by doing something crazy like being a missionary in a

foreign country.
14 | “Sacred Objects/Deadly Desires”
Genesis 2:15-17 & 3:1-13
May 4, 2019 – Giddings–Lovejoy Presbytery Meeting

We blame others for the lack of our financial resources –

meanwhile every pastor who’s seen the stewardship rolls knows

that the people who complain the most give the least – if they

even give at all. That often the people who earn the most give

the smallest percentage. That many of our congregations are

literally being supported on the backs of the poorest and oldest

members of our congregation – because they are the ones who

understand sacrificial generosity. Meanwhile the rest project

their lack of sacrificial generosity upon others. And they do so

because of the serpents in our world. The serpent of capitalism

who tells us that you are nothing without the next best thing.

The serpent of scarcity who tell you that that other marginalized

group is coming for your resources, so you better do something

or you will starve. The serpent of independence who tells us we

can’t trust each other for help if something happens. The serpent
15 | “Sacred Objects/Deadly Desires”
Genesis 2:15-17 & 3:1-13
May 4, 2019 – Giddings–Lovejoy Presbytery Meeting

of privilege who tells us we deserve what we had and others do

not. The serpent of socio-economic status tells us we can’t be so

generous that we sacrifice the status that material things give us.

We lack understanding of sacrificial generosity because we lack

understanding of the sacrifice of Christ. And so our collect drive

towards the sacred-object keeps growing.

So, what is the sacred-object of the Church? I argue that

our true sacred-object is the belief in Church Growth –

developed out of the nostalgia for a church full of young

families like believe we had back in 1950/60/70/80/90-

something. How many pastors, during PNC interviews were

asked, “What can you do to grow the church?” (raise your

hands) And it’s because our biggest anxiety is that the Church is

declining, the church is dying, and our particular congregation is


16 | “Sacred Objects/Deadly Desires”
Genesis 2:15-17 & 3:1-13
May 4, 2019 – Giddings–Lovejoy Presbytery Meeting

going to close if it doesn’t grow. And if God can’t save the

church, then can God save me?

But instead of moving forward, we keep falling back into

patterns, programs, and polities of 30, 40, 50+ years ago. This is

our “original insecurity” – believing that unless we use the

patterns, programs, and polities we already know, we can never

trust there to be the outcome we desire – Church Growth.

Therefore, we have a choice to make in confronting this

“original insecurity.” We can either 1) cowardly create

scapegoats to project our lack upon and blame for our church

decline (and watch our church die anyway) or 2) do the messy

work of courageously facing ourselves, owning our lack as a

community of faith, and seeking total transformation. And while

we all know what we should do, and we also know we prefer to


17 | “Sacred Objects/Deadly Desires”
Genesis 2:15-17 & 3:1-13
May 4, 2019 – Giddings–Lovejoy Presbytery Meeting

do. Fortunately, the Good News in the midst of this is found in

the crucifixion – just not in the way you would think.

Traditionally, the crucifixion provides the ground of

meaning for Christian soteriology (theology of salvation). And

while the traditional, “Jesus died for you”, penal substitution

model rallied by John Calvin promotes an intellectual

understanding of the crucifixion and the atonement, it does not

provide an existential understanding. An understanding that gets

within your very being and transforms the way you see the

world, causing you to “repent” – “to turn around” as the Greek

word metanoia implies – and to live your life radically different.

As I tell my congregation, “Repentance doesn’t mean to say

you’re sorry. Because if you ask God to forgive you for

something you’ve done without changing your way of life that

lead you to do it, you are an unrepentant sinner.” We need to


18 | “Sacred Objects/Deadly Desires”
Genesis 2:15-17 & 3:1-13
May 4, 2019 – Giddings–Lovejoy Presbytery Meeting

understand the crucifixion in such a way that it is no longer an

intellectual exercise, but a transformation of our total selves:

heart, mind, body, and soul. So that we can become repentant

and walk away from our sacred-objects and walk towards the

direction that Jesus is leading us – which, I hope we remember,

is always to the cross.

And so a radical reading of the crucifixion is one in which

the crucifixion does not GIVE meaning to life or religion, but

instead represents the LOSS of all meaning. For Jesus to be

crucified meant two things: 1) it religiously meant that Jesus was

cursed of God because Deuteronomy 21:23 (and later Paul in

Galatians 3:13) states that anyone hung from a tree is cursed of

God. And 2) socio-politically, crucifixion was meant to erase

your identity and your existence to the state. So in his

crucifixion, Jesus’ life no longer has any meaning on both a


19 | “Sacred Objects/Deadly Desires”
Genesis 2:15-17 & 3:1-13
May 4, 2019 – Giddings–Lovejoy Presbytery Meeting

religious and socio-political level. Jesus cries out “My God, my

God! Why have you forsaken me.” because he has become

totally meaningless to heaven and earth.

And at that moment of total meaninglessness, the curtain in

the temple rips in two from the top to the bottom. The curtain –

the prohibition that kept everyone else out of the Holy of Holies

– the place where the very presence of God, the ultimate sacred-

object, was said to dwell – rips open to reveal… NOTHING.

Nothing is there. Now while there are many traditional

interpretations of this, a radical reading argues that the presence

of God was never there to begin with. The presence of God was

only there virtually. It was all in our heads. It didn’t exist. And

the only reason we desired it was because we were prohibited

from attaining it like a child’s much wanted toy. The absence of

the sacred-object reveals the meaninglessness of the whole


20 | “Sacred Objects/Deadly Desires”
Genesis 2:15-17 & 3:1-13
May 4, 2019 – Giddings–Lovejoy Presbytery Meeting

system of unattainable sacred-objects. It’s a traumatic and

shocking realization that is not just intellectual – but also

existential. We feel it in our entire being. It forces us to no

longer view God as the object of intellectual study, dogmas, and

devotion. It forces us to abandon the idea of God as some

subject of mystical contemplation and mystery we can never

know but try to seek union with. Instead God is an

uncontrollable event that changes our perception of the world,

which in turn, transforms how we interact with the world, thus

changing the world.

This is the Good News of Christianity. The removal of the

prohibition – the tearing of the curtain – confronts us with “the

ridiculous nature of our stubborn attachments” to sacred-objects

that simply are not there. The Good News is that the absence of

the sacred-object reveals the meaninglessness of the whole


21 | “Sacred Objects/Deadly Desires”
Genesis 2:15-17 & 3:1-13
May 4, 2019 – Giddings–Lovejoy Presbytery Meeting

system of unattainable sacred-objects that can never fulfill our

lack. The Good News is that we are saved FROM the sacred-

objects of our desire – which would eventually become a Hell of

our own making. We are saved from the oppressive substitute

desires that take us from one meaningless moment to the next.

We are saved from religious and socio-political serpents that

instill insecurities to point out our lack in order to control us. We

are saved from the rules of religion so that we can trust the

promises of God. We are saved from the need to constantly

pursue wholeness and perfection.

And as Peter Rollins says, “we discover that what lies on

the other side of the [curtain]…isn’t qualitatively better…this

insight… invites us into a different form of life, one in which we

experience the disappearance of the sacred-object and the

problems it creates for us” (71). We are saved to different form


22 | “Sacred Objects/Deadly Desires”
Genesis 2:15-17 & 3:1-13
May 4, 2019 – Giddings–Lovejoy Presbytery Meeting

of life – not so we can attend feel good worship on Sundays. But

so we can step deeper into life – with its pain, loss, and suffering

– and discover the beauty and meaning that it already has. We

are saved so we can love.

Love is the only experience of desire that is NOT

oppressive. To love a person or a cause is to discover something

that is both IN our world and gives weight TO our world. In

love, desire is not consumed on the object of our love. Instead,

our beloved fuels and sustains our desires. While this all sounds

wonderful and ideal, the reality is we avoid love because it

comes hand-in-hand with pain and suffering. Love requires

vulnerability. And vulnerability puts you at risk of pain and

suffering. Therefore, we have domesticated the Gospel into

nothing more than a means of alleviating my pain and suffering

and achieving my personal salvation. We avoid things in the


23 | “Sacred Objects/Deadly Desires”
Genesis 2:15-17 & 3:1-13
May 4, 2019 – Giddings–Lovejoy Presbytery Meeting

Church that make us uncomfortable, that force us to face our

own lack, and exchange it for false gospel of shallow,

superficial, “niceness.” The only way to completely shelter

yourself from pain and suffering is to avoid love. Churches that

focus on being nice and keeping their members comfortable are

Churches without love. And since God is love, they are also

Churches without God.

The sacred is still there, but it returns in the form of a

tangible depth – not some intellectual fiction. The sacred no

longer shelters us from the secular, but instead springs forth

from the secular. It’s a way of life in which we live as though

everything has meaning instead of trying to seek meaning in

everything. We discover the sacred is not about experiencing

something positive, but about experiencing depth and density in

all things. This causes us to shift from a desire for things we


24 | “Sacred Objects/Deadly Desires”
Genesis 2:15-17 & 3:1-13
May 4, 2019 – Giddings–Lovejoy Presbytery Meeting

don’t have to a desire born out of loving what we do have, the

things and people we’ve already encountered. Those who

experience the sacred in this way are truly gracious and grateful

for what they already have rather than concerned for what they

don’t have.

For the Church, the Good News of Christianity is that the

thing that we believe will save the Church and us – the sacred-

object of Church Growth DOES NOT EXIST! It doesn’t

currently exist because it’s 2019 NOT 1950/60/70! It NEVER

did exist because it was the desire for Church Growth that got us

to this moment of death and decline. That’s why sin results in

death. Sin is the death drive towards the sacred-object.

Forgiveness of sin is the removal of the sacred object, freeing us

from that sense of lack within ourselves, and stopping our drive

towards death. Churches that continue driving towards Church


25 | “Sacred Objects/Deadly Desires”
Genesis 2:15-17 & 3:1-13
May 4, 2019 – Giddings–Lovejoy Presbytery Meeting

Growth instead of living into sacrificial love will be judged by

the law – the law of natural selection – where failure to adapt

results in death.

But the Church will thrive in places where the community

embraces its Lack. Where the community confesses its flaws,

faults, and failures, and seeks actual repentance – turning away

from their sacred and substitute objects (including their church

buildings) and turning towards the direction that Jesus is leading

them. The direction of ministry over institutionalism. Of people

over patterns, programs, and polities. Of love over buildings.

The church that stops desiring the things they don’t have – such

as members and money – and that is thankful for what it does

have – their local community, compassionate love, and

confidence in God’s promises – will experience eternal life – life

in the fullest – even if the church closes.


26 | “Sacred Objects/Deadly Desires”
Genesis 2:15-17 & 3:1-13
May 4, 2019 – Giddings–Lovejoy Presbytery Meeting

The most powerful experience of “Church” I’ve ever had

was when I was required to attend an Alcoholics Anonymous

meeting for a seminary pastoral care class. AA is a community

that embraces their lack. That acknowledges what is actually

wrong. They know their alcoholism is “a manifestation of their

own internal antagonisms.” And as such, “acceptance of one’s

own issues…helps provide the atmosphere in which…positive

transformation…can happen” (Rollins 46). Can you imagine a

church like that? A church where acceptance of your own issues

– your lack – creates an environment of love where you can be

transformed – where you can truly repent and turn your life

around? Where you can turn away from the sacred-object of

your desires and turn towards the path in which Jesus is leading

you. A church where the response to “How are you?” is the truth

instead of the socially acceptable lie of “I’m fine.” Can a church


27 | “Sacred Objects/Deadly Desires”
Genesis 2:15-17 & 3:1-13
May 4, 2019 – Giddings–Lovejoy Presbytery Meeting

do that? Can a church actually admit to its flaws and failures?

Can a church confess its scapegoating of others? Maybe

someone should create a 12-Step program for the Church.

Maybe we don’t have a choice but to do so.

While it’s been a LOT more than 12 steps, embracing our

lack is something we’ve been working on at Grace Presbyterian

in Crystal City. We’ve been working on naming and embracing

our lack. On accepting that we are not perfect. Of claiming our

failures instead of scapegoating others. This has been a long and

difficult journey, and we are still a work in progress. Some

people easily embrace this. These people are typically more self-

aware and emotionally intelligent. Other people, meanwhile,

simply cannot go along with this because they can’t deal with

the pain of confronting their own lack, their own inner issues.
28 | “Sacred Objects/Deadly Desires”
Genesis 2:15-17 & 3:1-13
May 4, 2019 – Giddings–Lovejoy Presbytery Meeting

They can’t accept the reality that maybe, just maybe, they are

not the “good Christian” they claim to be.

There are several things that we have been repenting and

transforming what it means for us to be the church in the Great

Emergence – but I’ve already preached too long for a

Presbyterian pastor. So I want to acknowledge our newest

missional endeavor called The Welcome Table. This idea is

spearheaded by Suzanne & Diane DeWitt Hall, a married couple

new to the congregation. Every Tuesday night from 5:30 to 7:00

pm, The Welcome Table serves a FREE community meal to

anyone who wants it. This meal is NOT just for the homeless or

poor – hungry for food. It’s also for the lonely widow – hungry

for fellowship, the tired caregiver or parent – hungry for a break

from cooking for one night, the spiritually lost – hungry for the

presence of God, the marginalized – hungry for love and


29 | “Sacred Objects/Deadly Desires”
Genesis 2:15-17 & 3:1-13
May 4, 2019 – Giddings–Lovejoy Presbytery Meeting

acceptance. Since the first night, seven weeks ago, we average

over 40 patrons a night, – only 6-7 are members of Grace – and

we average between 6-10 volunteers – several of which are

members of the community. There are around 10 to 15 children

and youth who both attend and help serve and clean up. The

spirit of authenticity, of grace, of mercy, of generosity, of

discipleship, of love during The Welcome Table is a powerful

witness to the Good News. There is no desire for sacred-objects

here – for praise or accolades. Our faults and failures are openly

discussed. And there is a willingness to sacrifice one’s time and

resources to offer love in the form of food, fellowship, and

relationship.

Recently a thin, frail, young woman, fighting bone cancer,

came in cautiously questioning if she could take a meal home to

her mentally disabled grandmother for whom she is the


30 | “Sacred Objects/Deadly Desires”
Genesis 2:15-17 & 3:1-13
May 4, 2019 – Giddings–Lovejoy Presbytery Meeting

caregiver. The young woman was shocked when she

experienced the love and generosity of the volunteers in the

program. Then Diane DeWitt Hall herself gave me the

opportunity to witness Christ at work, as she graciously sat

down with this young woman and showed her the genuine

Christian love and hospitality that she needed. When the young

woman said she couldn’t believe that anyone at the church

would be that kind to her, Diane simply replied, “But that’s

what love does. Love gives without expectation. And God is

love.” For this young woman, the curtain was torn on the

judgmental, patriarchal, and wrathful God that she had always

known, revealing it was never there all along. Instead, she was

able to experience divine love, that welcomed her and

transformed her view of the world.


31 | “Sacred Objects/Deadly Desires”
Genesis 2:15-17 & 3:1-13
May 4, 2019 – Giddings–Lovejoy Presbytery Meeting

It’s time for us to repent of our sinful death drive towards

Church Growth – because it doesn’t exist, it never did exist, and

it never will exist – and free our minds of its virtual existence

otherwise it will continue to insist that we distract ourselves with

shallow substitute objects that will only turn us into the walking

dead. To experience eternal life in Christ – not just a

continuation of life later but a fullness of life in the here and

now – we must learn from communities like AA and embrace

our lack. We must stop retreating from life and begin diving

deeper into it. That’s what salvation is about: freedom from our

meaningless religious, social, political, and economic desires so

we can experience the tangible, incarnate, and meaningful forms

of the sacred immersed deep within the creation – especially

among the marginalized. And in doing so, we live into love and
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May 4, 2019 – Giddings–Lovejoy Presbytery Meeting

discover – not the secret to Church growth – but the Christian

faith for the first time. AMEN


33 | “Sacred Objects/Deadly Desires”
Genesis 2:15-17 & 3:1-13
May 4, 2019 – Giddings–Lovejoy Presbytery Meeting

I’ve also done the hard work of simply telling the truth, even when it doesn’t want to be
heard. I’ve spoken to people in the community about the church – specifically when I first
arrived and no one knew who I was – and shared from the pulpit how much the community saw
us as “the stuck-up, better-than-you, church.” I shared data and research on how churches that
focus on the community over its members grow while churches that focus on the members over
the community die – and the pointed out the systems and programs at Grace that were all
member-focused. When the congregation tried to scapegoat the changes in society and families –
such as the minimized importance of Church, family events on Sunday, etc. – I also pointed out
that other churches in the community seem have no problem drawing in new members. The only
thing our “problems” have in common is us. I preached a LOT of social justice – which of course
gets you accused of preaching politics – to which I responded: “What you call ‘politics’, I call
biblical ethics. ‘Political’ just means I said something you didn’t agree with and/or made you
uncomfortable.” I’ve even been accused of making people feel “guilty” – to which I point out the
wisdom of sociologist and researcher Brene Brown who says in her blog that “guilt is adaptive
and helpful – it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling
psychological discomfort.” So, I can’t make you feel guilty unless I’ve made you confront the
reality that you did or failed to do something that conflicted with your own personal values. You
know you’re wrong, you just don’t want to feel bad about it. I also made sure the congregation
knew if visitors felt welcomed or not by reading reflections about the congregation’s hospitality
written by my World Religions students who attend worship for extra credit. Their criticism is
often harsh and to the point – but it’s also authentic truth that must be said.
There has been a LOT of difficult change at Grace. There are a LOT of people who left.
There are a LOT of people who continue to scapegoat the community and/or me. There are a
LOT of people who have voted with their feet – and each time they do, the Session – which is an
incredible group of mature Christian leaders – contacts them and asks them to come meet with
them to discuss their concerns. So far, no one has volunteered to do so. Because they don’t want
to face the lack within themselves. But the Session has grown spiritually enough to be able to do
what Brene Brown calls “embrace the suck.” Do the hard, painful work because in doing so,
love is able to grow
This process of naming and embracing our lack began with reflective worship services –
specifically two summers of worship series centered around Job and the Psalms. Each series
involved a major art installation – thanks to the help of a sculptor in the congregation – that
evolved as the series moved forward. In the Job series, a sculpture of Job fell apart as each week
we wrote responses on yellow sheets of paper to challenging questions such as “What is
something someone said to you during a difficult time that was hurtful, even though they thought
they were being helpful.” And each time, the congregation came forward and threw the waded
up yellow sheets at the base of the broken Job sculpture – creating the ash pile Job sat upon. By
the last day, the yellow papers – the pain and lack in our lives that we confronted – were
transformed into the glue that brought Job back together – not denying the pain, but transforming
it into something new. On the last Sunday, as the artist put Job back together, the congregation
broke the bread of Christ’s body – for out of brokenness comes healing – not wholeness, for the
scars are still there, but they are now illuminated by the Good News of the transforming event of
God.
Since then, we have also done the hard work of throwing out old patterns, programs, and
polities that simply sought to maintain status quo and earn people praise instead of seeking
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May 4, 2019 – Giddings–Lovejoy Presbytery Meeting

transformation. We dropped our committee structure for a Seasonal Team model that focuses the
entire church around a theme for all its worshiping, sharing, and serving. Each team studies the
season’s scriptures, discover a common theme, and develop ideas for the various ministries of
the church around that theme. This accomplishes several things: 1) forms a small group of people
who don’t normally spend time together, thus building new relationships and breaking up
cliques, 2) gives the Spirit freedom to form new and creative ideas for the church’s ministry
while pastorally removing power from individuals who simply cannot let go, 3) develops
discipleship because the team members are intentionally coordinating ALL of the church’s
ministry, (Someone on the first team asked, “This is a LOT of work! Who was doing all of this
before?”), 4) forces the congregation to confront their fellow members for changes in the church
– something they’d rather avoid.
We began exchanging our many disembodied and distant mission projects for mission
that engages people in our immediate community, face-to-face. We help our local elementary
school by providing volunteer to run the “Hornet Store” for our already overworked teachers.
We host the Kindergarten’s annual Easter Egg hunt on our campus, that was previously planned
and implemented by the teachers. We showed the teachers our appreciation by feeding them
breakfast during teacher in-service. And we welcomed the kids and their tired, stressed parents
back to school by offering free drive up coffee as they came through the car line.