October 2017
Greetings Gayton Road—
Fall has arrived. For me, it arrives with a host of memories. I remember, for instance, how a pile of chopped wood would appear in our driveway around this time of year. My brother and I would hollow the heap out into a fort. Splinters, of course, were inevitable.
Fall was real. So real it lodged itself into my skin every year. How was fall real for you? Perhaps you have other memories. Picking apples, carving pumpkins, throwing on a sweatshirt for the Friday night football game, gorging yourself on candy, screaming through a scary movie, crunching through the leaves in the park, or drinking hot cider—these are just a few that spring to mind. Each memory is somehow embodied. In other words, fall was real. It “touched” you. It left its mark on your body: the way your hands would get covered in the slimy, sticky guts of the pumpkin; the way the heavy, warm cotton weighed comfortably on your shoulders; or the way the cider would scald your tongue when you took a sip too soon.
Is God as real as the fall? Does God touch us, leave a mark on us?
Traditionally religion divides things up and keeps God separate: God above, us humans beneath. Heaven on high, earth below. Sacred, secular.
When Jesus came, he made a right mess of these nice, neat boundaries. God above took on flesh beneath.
The kingdom on high was proclaimed to be arriving here below, “on earth as it is in heaven.” The sacred was no longer the private property of the temple, but something that touched the sick and the poor, the unclean and the sinners—literally touched them.
In other words, God was real. Whereas religion would have kept God separate—somewhere above, away in heaven, or safe and secure at some sacred site—Jesus firmly lodged himself into our world.

One of the divisions that the modern church often makes is between Sunday and other days. One day is holy, the others are ordinary.
But I have a suspicion that this boundary is just like the rest, at least in the eyes of Jesus. Can holiness be contained in a day? A place? A special hour?
When I read the gospels, I cannot help but conclude that the most special time and place for Jesus was not the synagogue or the temple. It was the table. For Jesus, holiness could not be contained within an exclusive time or place. Instead it broke loose and lodged itself in one of the most common events of the day, something that happened everyday, everywhere: eating and drinking.
The table was holy. Not only the last supper, but all his suppers. The table was where Jesus welcomed outsiders, where he befriended sinners, where he gave pride of place to the last and the least, where he fed the hungry, where he washed his followers’ feet, where his love was blessed and broken and given for all.
The table was where he celebrated the kingdom and proclaimed its arrival. People often make a big deal about Jesus turning the tables over in the temple (which he did once), but perhaps an even bigger deal should be made about how Jesus overturned the world at the table everyday.
Next Sunday we will gather at Deep Run Park at 11 am to share lunch together. There will be no formal service. But let it not be said that we are not having church, or we are not having worship. For we will be gathered together with Christ at one of the most sacred places in the world: the table. There God’s love is made real. It touches us. It leaves a mark. Strangers become friends. The lowly are lifted. The hungry are fed. There at the table, if Christ’s words and deeds are to be believed, the world is overturned—and saved.
Fall blessings to you all. And may God be as real to us as pumpkin guts and comfy sweatshirts. May God’s tables leave a mark on us all.
Yours,
Jonathan

September 2017

Greetings Gayton Road,
For me, this time of the year has always been tinged with bittersweet feelings: sadness to see the summer end but excitement for the new school year ahead and the adventures that it will bring. I find it a little bit odd that the rhythms of the school year have never really left me, even though I have left school. Do you still feel these rhythms? I sense that many of us do. Is it because of our memories of school? Do those memories invite us to relive old and familiar feelings? I think that must be part of it. But I wonder if it’s not also because there remains within us a “student.” Even though many of us will not be returning to school in the strict sense, we all recognize that life’s lessons never end.
I’m a biased source, to be sure, but I’d like to think that if we’re all still students, then church is a little bit like our school. One of the fundamental experiences of faith is what Jesus and Paul and other Christfollowers called metanoia, or “repentance.” Literally it means “a change of mind” or “a new mind.” In other words, faith is not about already knowing the right answers. It’s about learning and growing and being transformed—having our hearts and minds stretched and shaped by love.
This coming school year, our Common Table gatherings on Wednesday night will look a little bit different. Instead of dinner followed by worship, dinner will be our worship (the gospels attest that this was true for Jesus!) and then afterward we will welcome “outside voices” from our community. We will listen to and chat with folks who have different histories and perspectives and experiences than many of us. We will learn and perhaps grow as well.
I would like to offer one thought from the start. I anticipate that our instinct will be to respond to each of these “outside voices” with concern and a well-meaning desire to help. But sometimes “help” is a way for us to feel better about ourselves while keeping our distance. I recently read about a woman who taught English to a group of refugees. The vast majority of her students, she said, were women who had never had an American into their homes. She suggests that what these women really need is not “help” as much as it is relationship. “They need someone to come over, drink tea, chat about their lives, and just be,” she says. Or as she calls it: “The ministry of sitting on couches.”1 Is that not also the gospel? John doesn’t proclaim that God saw the hurt of the world and offered a handout from on high. He says that God “became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood” (1:14; the Message).
As we welcome these “outside voices,” I would encourage us simply to have the minds of students. Minds that are “changed.” Made “new.” So that instead of carrying on in our separate world, we might in fact enter into the world of others. So that we might start sitting on new couches. Maybe just the couch of our neighbor. Or maybe just a good friend, who is enduring an experience foreign to our own. Or maybe someone else in need, whose experience we feel called to share.
I wish you all a happy Labor Day weekend! And may God bless this new “school” year—for us as well as our children—with learning and growing and “new minds.”
Yours,
Jonathan
1 These are the thoughts and words of D. L. Mayfield, as expressed on Twitter on August 28, 2017. Mayfield writes inspiringly
about how living with refugees transformed and renewed her faith in Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on
Rediscovering Faith (New York: HarperOne, 2016).

August 2017

Greetings Gayton Road,
As I write this (on Saturday), the temperature outside is 68 degrees and there’s a snappy breeze. The high today is projected to be 70. Rainy or not, I’m loving it! Summer affords us refreshment in different ways. Time outdoors, reunion with family and friends, road trips, vacation—or simply the gift of nice weather.
I wish you refreshment this last full month of summer.
Lately the drama of our nation’s government has led me to contemplate a simple question. What is authority? Is it a loud voice? An iron fist? The force of law? Is it control—getting what you want? If we defined authority by what we see at our highest levels of government, I think these terms would suffice.
But I recently learned that the word itself—“authority”—preserves an ancient secret. Buried under hundreds of years is a very different meaning. The word “authority” comes from the Latin word augere—“to grow.”
This presents an entirely different picture of authority. It brings to mind images of growth: a gardener sowing and tending. A shepherd caring for a flock. A source of water bringing life. A parent who loves her child and leads her and lets her grow into the fullness of life. Is it a coincidence that we find these images in the Bible as metaphors for God?
As I reflect on our church, I catch glimpses of a similar sort of authority. Recently the church selected a new set of officers—leaders. What have they been doing in the last month? From what I’ve seen, they’ve been asking, listening, and caring; they’ve been inviting, encouraging, and calling; they’ve been inspiring, empowering, and equipping. They have not exercised force or compulsion as the world does (cf. Matt 20:25). Quite the opposite. They have looked not to their own interests but to the interests of others, thinking carefully and creatively about the unique gifts of individuals and how these gifts might be cultivated.
I wonder if this kind of authority isn’t more radical and revolutionary than we realize. I wonder if this kind of authority isn’t what our hurting and divided world needs. I wonder, in fact, if this kind of authority might not be the kingdom of God on earth “as it is in heaven.”
Whatever it is, what I see at Gayton Road gives me hope for our world. May the life and love of God continue to growamong us, and may we shine on this earth with the witness of God’s kingdom.
Yours,
Jonathan

July 2017

Summer has arrived! It is hot and humid out, but also full of life. The scuttling about of critters, the song of birds and crickets and cicadas, the heavens crackling with stormy energy—it is as though all of creation has risen to life together, sky and stream, cattle and creeping thing, all together in chorus with one another.

I cannot help but be reminded of the creation story that we read a few weeks ago (Genesis 1:1-2:4a). There God called, and things responded. God called, “Let there be! Let there be!” and things responded. They grew, they bore fruit, they moved this way and that in a beautiful dance. Whereas much of the world thinks of creation as a solitary construction project, Genesis presents it as a call and response.

How deeply creation echoes in the summer! Right before our eyes, we see all sorts of responses to God’s call to life.

What about in our own lives? Do we hear God’s call? How do we respond?

Unfortunately, much of the church has lost a sense of wonder and holiness for the most mundane and earthy things. Sometimes we may get the feeling that God only lives at church, or only visits us on Sundays, or only works through ordained clergy. But these ideas could not be further from the story that the Bible tells. In the Bible, we see God most often not in the temple or on the holy days or in the priests. We see God instead in the daily lives of family and friends and coworkers. Who are the heroes of the Bible? They are not priests. They are shepherds and kings, farmers and tentmakers, carpenters and tax collectors. Which is all to say: God’s call reaches every one of us, everywhere, everyday. God’s call reaches all of us as surely as God’s call reaches the birds of the air and the fish of the sea, the lights in the sky and the plants yielding seed.

How do we hear God’s call in our own lives this summer? How might we respond?

I wish you all a good summer. May the dance of this season bless us with renewal, and may God’s call bring us life as we respond.

Yours,

Jonathan