Passion

Here you come, making your grand entrance into Jerusalem
Sitting on a donkey
Weeping over the Holy City
Emptying yourself
Letting the crowds hail you
Holy Week … Passion Week
Passion: from the Latin pati, meaning “to suffer or endure”
If you knew all that was to come, would you have turned around?

Active early in the week
Chasing moneychangers out of the temple
Cursing a fig tree
Honoring a widow’s generosity
Foretelling the destruction of the temple
Playing verbal cat and mouse with the chief priests
Radical love and righteous anger
Two sides of the same coin
My kingdom is not of this world
Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God
A passion for justice nailing your coffin.

At night retreating to the safety of Bethany
Staying with Mary, Martha and Lazarus
Accepted and loved as you are
Allowing a woman to anoint your head with oil
Let her alone; why do you trouble her
She has done what she could
Anointed my body beforehand for burial
Passive: being the object of action rather than causing action.

A last supper with your disciples
Sitting next to the one who would betray you
How could you keep your composure?
A fight breaking out: who is the greatest?
Have I not taught you anything?
Bread and wine: offering your own body and blood for the sake of the world.

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Great drops of sweat pouring out of you
If it is possible, let this cup pass from me
Everyone sleeping
Would I have done the same?
Friend, do what you are here to do
The hour is at hand
No turning back
Passive – derived from “passion”: suffering without resistance.

Three years of action, now only passion
Tell us if you are the Messiah, the son of God
You have said so
They spit, strike, slap
No response
Peter sitting outside, the only one
Certainly you are also one of them
I do not know the man
The cock crows for me, too
Jesus’ last night on this earth spent in prison.

Are you the king of the Jews?
You say so
Don’t you hear how many accusations are made against you?
Passive
Who should I release for you?
Barabbas!
What should I do with this Jesus?
Let him be crucified!
Pilate actively washing his hands
Jesus passively putting himself into God’s hands.

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Crucifixion
Passion
Submission
Let it be to me according to your word
Women beating their breasts and wailing
The disciples: where are they?
This is Jesus, the King of the Jews
He saved others; he cannot save himself
Remember me when you come into your kingdom
Forgiving a thief on the cross
One last action
Today you will be with me in Paradise.

Passion: It is finished
Action: The curtain of the temple torn in two
Earth shaking, rocks splitting, tombs opening
The centurion and those watching over Jesus
Truly this man was God’s son
The first converts
Resurrection before resurrection.

Lord Jesus, I give myself to you
Passive, waiting
I want to begin a new life now
I give to you all of my fears and failures
I release them into your hands.

Fill all of me with all of you
Resurrection power
Offering all that I am and hope to become
A pure expression of your love
All you want is love for you
For my neighbor
And my world
Passion.

If You Just Stay With What You Have

The end of an era has arrived. Northland Center in Southfield, Michigan, an inner-ring suburb of Detroit, was the nation’s first regional shopping mall. When it opened in 1954, Northland Center Mall was also the world’s largest shopping center, including a four level Hudson’s with a ring of stores around it. Yesterday was the final day of business for Macy’s, the one remaining anchor store. By April 1 all but a handful of tenants must close their stores, and the Farbman Group has a contract to market the 121 acre mall site for redevelopment opportunities.

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Malls all across the United States are experiencing similar challenges. A week ago a headline in USA Today read, “As Anchors Close, Aging Malls Fizzle.” The article highlighted that Macy’s and J.C. Penney, two of the four anchor stores in the Upper Valley Mall in Springfield, Ohio, a small city northeast of Dayton, Ohio, announced their imminent closure.

The Upper Valley Mall opened in 1971, the year before I became a freshman at Wittenberg University, which is located in Springfield. I don’t remember shopping at the Upper Valley Mall even once, but it was a popular destination for college students. Today the mall is mostly quiet. Deb Shops and Radio Shack, which filed for bankruptcy on February 1, are also closing, and the only anchor left will be Sears. Deb Shops is one of 300 stores shutting down this year. Macy’s is closing 14 stores and J.C. Penney is closing 30 stores. One person who works at the Upper Valley Mall described it as “imploding.” It is not alone.

In the early 60’s my mother often took us four kids shopping for school clothes at Strawbridges’s, a large department store in suburban Philadelphia. Fall clothes shopping was an “event,” and my mother was a hero for putting up with us. Our family shopping patterns changed forever, however, when the first mall opened at King of Prussia in 1963, just thirty minutes from our home. Today it is the largest shopping mall in the U.S in terms of leasable retail space with over 400 stores.

Malls all over the country are struggling to survive. The average net operating income for U.S. malls has gone down each of the last four years. In 2014 it declined 4.8%. In the past, malls have been built around anchor stores, so when they no longer bring in shoppers, the other stores suffer. A representative from Urban Retail, which specializes in overhauling depressed shopping sites, including the Springfield, Ohio mall, was quoted as saying, “If you just stay with what you have, eventually you become irrelevant… So it’s important to look at ways to repurpose and re-energize your shopping center.”

Malls and churches in the United States – they’re more alike than you might think. All organizations have a lifecycle, and if they do not continually reinvent themselves, they will one day die. Why do some malls and churches make it and others don’t? Because if you just stay with what you have and what you’ve always done without repurposing and re-energizing, you simply won’t survive. What factors affect the vitality and sustainability of both malls and churches?

1.  Malls and churches are often located in communities that are trying to revitalize in the face of slow job growth, declining population, changing neighborhoods and economic setbacks. When population shifts take place, malls and churches can’t simply pick up their buildings and move to where people now live.

  • Malls must adapt to current demographic contexts and offer shopping experiences that are attractive to their clientele.
  • Churches that are not able or willing to engage their changing neighborhoods by rethinking ministry and doing a new thing will not remain vital.

2.  Buying patterns have changed over the past fifty years.

  • Enclosed malls are facing stiff competition from strip malls and big box stores. Target, Bed, Bath and Beyond, Walmart, Home Depot, Costco and Sam’s Club are usually located in these areas and focus more on necessities.
  • In the same way, people seeking out a faith community today are consumer-oriented in their desire for quality, spiritual growth and relevance. In addition, the current well-attested decline in Sunday morning attendance in churches of all denominations demands a rethinking of how we “do church” during the week.

3.  Many consumers find new malls and churches more attractive than existing malls and congregations.

  • New and redeveloped malls attempt to create destination environments, which can include gyms, health spas, play areas, spacious atriums, varied dining options and specialty retailers who sell items that cannot be bought online. The King of Prussia Mall served as the home of the Philadelphia Freedom tennis team and constructed a temporary tennis stadium in the parking lot in 2008-2009 whenever there was an event.
  • New churches understand that families today are seeking a variety of worship and small group experiences, vital children’s and youth activities, and many opportunities for mission and outreach. They also expect attractive spaces, welcoming faces and the opportunity to take part in leadership. Long established churches that cannot “see” the drabness of their building, cling to power and refuse to consider the needs of “outsiders” are doomed.

4.  “If you just stay with what you have, eventually you become irrelevant… So it’s important to look at ways to repurpose and re-energize your shopping center/church.”

  • With the right leadership and the will to be relevant, existing malls and congregations can sometimes reinvent themselves and start a new lifecycle. When local churches are honest about their inability to reverse their decline yet desire to keep ministry alive in that location, they might choose to gift their building and assets to a larger congregation that is able to repurpose the site with a new worshipping community. Still another option is to close the church, sell the building and property and allow the proceeds to be used for new ministry in a more desirable location.

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Gary and I walked into a brand new mall a few weeks ago in Sarasota, Florida with our six-year old grandson. University Towne Center made a huge splash with its fall 2014 opening, and it is amazing. As we explored the entire mall, Ezra pointed out the cars displayed in the center of the mall, the playground for children (“I’m too big for that”), and was particularly fixated on a store that sold the “best smoothie I ever had!” The mall was filled with light, lots of attractive seating and one-of-a-kind stores as well as several anchors.

Of course, we dare not forget that churches and malls are different at the same time as they are alike. While both malls and churches hope that we will part with our resources to support them, what we are ultimately selling in the church is not success, wealth or status. What we offer is the opportunity to practice radical love for all, lose our life in order to save it and bring in the kingdom of God where all people can become who they were created to be.

And, unlike malls, people don’t want the church to be too slick. They want to be challenged to grow in their love of God and one another. They want to find compelling preaching and a place where they can repurpose and re-energize their spiritual life. They also want the church to be relevant to the 21st century by offering online giving, social media, attractive and engaging websites, intentional community and honest dialogue about difficult issues.

Yes, many churches will not survive because of their location, history and congregational culture, but many more are able to become vital again and reverse their lifecycle decline. So what will it be? Just staying with what we have? Or having the courage to reinvent ourselves? The future of our malls … and our churches is at stake.

Blessings,
Laurie

The Courage to March

I thank God that our forefathers deemed the constitutional right to free assembly and peaceful protest as critical to a functioning democracy. On November 15, 1969, I participated in the Moratorium March on Washington D.C. along with a busload of youth and adults from my local church. 500,000 people traveled from all over the country to march on the nation’s capital in protest over U.S. involvement in Vietnam. I was just a young teenager, but my Mennonite faith taught me that Jesus was a peacemaker and never advocated violence. The Jesus I followed changed the world by radical, suffering love. I remember protesters singing over and over, “All we are saying … is give peace a chance.”

1969 March on Washington DC Vietnam Moratorium

As a youth, I did not fully understand the complexity of the Vietnam War, and I have only the utmost admiration for our soldiers who fought and even sacrificed their lives in this war. Yet my experience in Washington D.C. taught me that having the courage to march and protest nonviolently and respectfully is one of the most effective ways to bring about positive change. In the same way, I don’t remember much about “Bloody Sunday,” March 7, 1965, when over six hundred non-violent protesters were attacked by Alabama state troopers as they attempted to march from Selma to Montgomery for voting rights. Yet I have clear memories of April 4, 1968, when Dr. Martin Luther King, the prophet who insisted that only love, not hate, will change our world, was assassinated.

I also thank God that the courage to march peacefully is not a thing of the past. University of Oklahoma students marched last week after SAE fraternity members were videoed singing a racist chant on a bus, “You can hang ‘em from a tree but they’ll never sign with me. There’ll never be a n— at SAE.”

As the university community and country rose up in protest, OU president David Boren kicked the fraternity off campus, giving them twenty-four hours to remove all of their belongings. Declaring that real Sooners are not bigots, he said that the school will become “an example to the entire country of how to deal with this issue. There must be zero tolerance for racism everywhere in our nation.”

The fact that this deplorable act took place on the fiftieth anniversary of the march on Selma only served to fuel the fire of those who had the courage to speak out. The day before, an unarmed biracial teenager, Tony Robinson, was shot by a white police officer in Madison, Wisconsin, sparking a series of protest marches. Robinson’s uncle said, “I encourage everybody to show support regardless of race because this is truly a universal issue… We don’t want to stop at just ‘black lives matter,’ because all lives matter.”

Cornel West

Then, last Wednesday, a Department of Justice report revealed widespread and long-standing racial bias from both the police department and courts in Ferguson, Missouri, including boosting city revenue through tickets and fines directed at African Americans. Among others, a Ferguson city judge, city clerk, the city manager and the chief of the Police Department either resigned or were let go. The release of the report and revelations of widespread malfeasance occasioned more marches in Ferguson on Wednesday night. Unfortunately, the shooting of two police officers cast a pall over the marchers, the vast majority of whom did not display violence.

A few days after the SAE chants, the SAE Board of Trustees admitted that fraternity members had been chanting racial slurs for years. They issued a statement that they had “discovered that a horrible cancer entered into the OU chapter of SAE three to four years ago and was not immediately and totally stopped. It should have been… We are sincerely remorseful for the pain that this terrible chant has caused and would ask for forgiveness.”

How many years does it take for an ongoing sickness to be exposed? How many people will have to die before disciples of Jesus Christ have the courage to rise up and march in protest? The obvious place to start is with our homes, schools and religious institutions. It is incumbent upon all of us to teach our children and teenagers how to treat every human being as a precious child of God. Our faith calls us to develop cultural competency, cultivate a non-judgmental attitude and demonstrate tolerance.

The future of our world depends on our commitment to follow the One who asks us to take up our cross and follow him. I had a conversation last week with someone who is trying to make sense of all the evil in our world. He said, “My parents were both racist and homophobic. Not only did they teach me to hate, but they tried to control my every action and thought. My parents are gone now, but I can’t get rid of those tapes. I know how Jesus wants me to live, but I never had any positive role models. I want to love and accept all people for who God created them to be, but it’s really difficult to find the courage in myself to march.”

Certainly, not all Christians are called to be prophets, marching out in front, risking life, reputation and health in holy protest over the evils of this world. Yet whenever individuals become a member of The United Methodist Church, are confirmed or present a child to be baptized, they are all asked the same question, “Will you resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?”

We are not all called to physically march. However, each one of us has opportunities every day to demonstrate courage in how we treat other people. Each one of us can be self-reflective, honestly assess our thoughts and actions and become more Christ-like. We can all do something that will change our small corner of the world for the better.

Can’t you see the marchers? They’re everywhere, marching all over the world for kindness, cooperation, grace and hope. Last week I visited a 98-year-old woman in the hospital who had fallen in her home and broke some ribs. She looked me in the eye and said, “I am starting to feel better, and I need to get home.” “Why? You’re getting such good care here.” “Because I have church work to do! I am in charge of callers for Sarah Circle and need to recruit callers for the next meeting.” She wanted to march right on home.

I saw our mail carrier out on the sidewalk and said, “Hi, how are you doing?” “Not so good. My back hurts.” “What happened?” “I slipped off a porch a few weeks ago delivering mail.” “Did you get it checked out?” “Yes. I was on vacation last week. Now I’m back walking all day for the first time, and I hurt. Plus, there were problems with the substitute carrier, so I am delivering Saturday’s mail as well as Monday’s.” “Thank you for your faithfulness. You’re amazing! I hope you’re feel better soon.” “Don’t thank me. It’s a privilege to serve my customers.” Our mail carrier had the courage to march.

The rented home of a family from the church I serve was ravaged by a fire last week. It broke my heart to see the family shivering in the frigid cold air, watching all of their belongings go up in smoke. Yet so many people had the courage to march into this situation and offer help. Paramedics tended to the family and offered them water and shelter in a medical vehicle. Late at night, a police officer went out of his way to contact the family vet of a beloved dog who died in the fire. The vet not only cremated the dog right away but did not charge the family for his services. A fire fighter went back inside the house to recover the only possession asked for, a grandmother’s ring. Church members sprang into action. Everyone was marching.

I was in the room of a man on the Hospice Ward of a local hospital and noticed a worker quietly sweeping the floor. He seemed very mindful of the patient. When I thanked him for his quiet ministry, he said that he was a teacher for thirty years in Detroit but could no longer teach because non-stop classroom discipline robbed him of his health and energy.

He retired early and decided to be a housekeeper on the Hospice ward because he is blessed by being able to comfort people through his work. “This is a holy place,” he said, “and all of us together care for the patients. We are all created to serve God.” And off he went, courageously marching in and out of rooms, sweeping out fear and welcoming grace and peace.

In a few weeks we will march toward Jerusalem with Jesus, offering a cup of cool water, a word of love and a helping hand to those in need. We will march with Jesus down the Palm Sunday path, pausing to weep over Jerusalem. We’ll march into the temple where Jesus protested against those who would diminish, marginalize and oppress the very least of God’s children. Then we’ll march with Jesus to Golgotha, carrying not only our own cross but the crosses of the forgotten, the dying, the hopeless, and the helpless.

“Teacher, order your disciples to stop,” some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus on Palm Sunday. He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” And Jesus kept on marching. May God grant all of us the courage to march.

Blessings,
Laurie