Friday, July 17, 2009


I saw this on a banner on the front of a church in the Midtown neighborhood of Kansas City. It got me thinking...

SIGNS, SIGNS, EVERYWHERE SIGNS. Right in the heart of the old city neighborhood, just off Main Street but clearly visible from the thoroughfare, I read this printing on a stark banner: “Revolution Is Here Sundays 11am.” I turned off Main Street where I was riding my bike as a visitor in Kansas City and pedaled to the old but cared-for church building. It was a United Methodist Church. I saw some folks carrying boxes of food from an old passenger van into a side door, something I figured was part of the church food pantry. I snapped a picture of the church with the banner prominently displayed. I uploaded the photo to my laptop and posted in on bikehiker blog. And I’ve been mulling over the message.

WHAT REVOLUTION? Actually, I would like to return to that church at 11 am on a Sunday. I want to find out what they mean. I want to see if it’s just a slogan. I hope it’s not. I want to see if revolution is there. If it is there, I want to observe it, even experience it. I may even want to be a part of it. It depends on what it is. What revolution is the United Methodist Church in Midtown Kansas City, Missouri declaring? You should go there some Sunday and find out. Let me know when you do.

AS ADVERTIZED? I wondered if I would have put that banner on the churches I have pastored? Would it have been false advertizing? Or is revolution what is happening—subtly, powerfully—at a deeper level, beneath and above every effort to do the right things and to do things right? Is it possible that revolution is working beneath the surface, in spite of our efforts to look calm, cool and collected, in spite of our penchant for trying to appear middle-of-the-road, middle class American? Maybe. But it seems like we would know at least something of it if revolution was working in us and through us. Do we co-opt revolution with religiousness?

RADICAL HOSPITALITY. I once put on our church message board what I saw on the front of a Quaker meeting house: “Friends Welcome; Strangers Expected.” I certainly expected and hopefully anticipated strangers to come into our midst and find us open-hearted and open-handed, welcoming and warm. Not sure if most in the congregation felt the same way. I worried what might happen if some of the surlier-looking strangers I’d seen walk up and down the street our church building was located on actually took us seriously and came inside. To me, it would be a revolution if all of us who’ve been surly and have yet been welcomed by someone and embraced by Jesus and engrafted into a fellowship we don’t deserve would, in turn, offer a radical hospitality to strangers—not just on Sundays at 11 am, but intentionally, purposefully, in a lifestyle of grace.

DON’T SLEEP THROUGH IT! I have a book on my shelf by Paul S. Rees that’s titled “Don’t Sleep Through the Revolution.” I wonder if anyone at the church that proclaims or embodies revolution sleeps through the pastor’s sermons. I know that “Don’t Sleep Through the Revolution” is the title of a lecture Martin Luther King, Jr. gave to an academically-astute audience. In it, he challenged stoically unflappable and socially disengaged people to wake up to the reality of glaring injustices, to see the breakthroughs that were emerging, and to become part of the changed future that was on the horizon. I wonder what percentage of his listeners in that lecture took him seriously--took off their jackets, loosened their ties, rolled up their sleeves, opened up their wallets, got down on their knees, took to the streets, and marched into a new day of hope for race reconciliation and equal opportunity. What percentage walked away entertained, their imagination tickled, but essentially unchanged?

REVIVAL AND REVOLUTION. I grew up in a revivalist church environment. Our church talked revival, prayed for revival, told stories about revival, and conducted revival meetings—campaigns, they were called. God wasn’t interested in empty forms of worship and going through the motions of religion, we said. God wanted to change lives—inside and out. God could make you holy—heart and life. Even when we weren’t in revival meetings, every Sunday that we gathered I think a significant number in the congregation expected some lives to be changed. I’ve never thought anything else or expected anything less. Even as our revivalist churches have morphed away from mere revivalism, a revivalist ethos remains, I think. Whatever is planned in the worship service is interruptable if the Spirit so stirs and moves hearts in sin-convicting, love-convincing, forgiveness-bearing, relationship-reconciling, compassion-sharing, injustice-challenging ways. But revolution?

SOLIDARITY AND LIBERATION. My revivalist and Wesleyan-holiness upbringing set me up to embrace liberation theology. Liberation theology simply takes holiness of heart and life to a lived-out level in settings where people are unwittingly held captive to systemic evil--exploited by multi-national corporations, intimidated by corrupt governments, held captive to ancient tribal norms, and immobilized by crushing poverty. Instead of offering a religion of pie in the sky, liberation takes the Bible at face value and invites folks into a living Exodus—here, in this world, now. The same God who led Israel out of bondage is leading today—not just to an altar of confession and forgiveness, but into solidarity with all oppressed people and an ongoing nonviolent confrontation in social settings that exploit people, prey upon the weak, take advantage of disadvantage, enslave, shame, and kill. That’s King’s revolution, dismantling segregation and opening up equal opportunity. That’s South Africa’s revolution, dismantling apartheid and giving black majority its due. That’s urban ministry’s revolution, standing with the poor, offering hospitality to strangers, and laboring for community renewal in the face of flight, blight and fright.

CRASH HELMETS REQUIRED. “Revolution is here. Sundays 11 am.” I wonder: Is the church too tame? Do we expect revolution? If so, do we expect it just on Sundays at 11 am? Pray that a revolution of heart and mind begins there. Pray that it manifests in passionate action beyond the walls after the benediction. Pray that it pervades our lives in daily loving service, seeking justice, and bearing peace. Let revolution happen here, now, in our hearts, through our lives...even through all-too-tame churches. Perhaps Annie Dillard's suggestion that we wear crash helmets in worship will someday be necessary. And when we walk out, we engage in the spiritual struggle that everywhere presents itself—full of the revolutionary love that has power to change the world.

I snapped this photo on a very rainy summer day in Kansas City, Missouri. It's a United Methodist Church right off Main Street in Midtown.

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