I just wanted to take a moment and say a few words about tomorrow’s election.
Yes, there is an election tomorrow despite everyone’s surprise. In fact, it’s a pretty important one for two communities that are close to me. There is a catch though. Unlike the drive to get to the ballots in November of a presidential election year: there isn’t as big of a push for an off-year May election.
That doesn’t mean that the issues aren’t as important. It doesn’t mean that they have no effect on you or your community. In fact, I would venture to guess that most people have more opinions and thoughts on issues that will be on tomorrows ballot than they might have in a November election. Tomorrow is about issues pertaining to our respective communities. It’s about the level of safety and resources available to our city (Springfield, OH). It’s about the strength of our schools (Amanda, OH). It’s important.
The number of ballots cast in these local elections are less numerous and the results are often a lot closer than many other issues you might vote for. This means that your vote can make a big difference in the outcome tomorrow (Tuesday, May 2nd). That’s why I want to urge you to take the time and go vote. It won’t take too much out of your day and could mean the difference to those around you.
Tomorrow I will be voting in favor of the Springfield income tax levy. In addition, although I no longer live in the district, I am supporting the Amanda Clearcreek Local School District income tax levy. I have posted more information on each issue below.
Please, take some time tomorrow and make a difference in your community. Show up to the ballot box.
Springfield Income Tax Levy - Issue 1
The Springfield income tax levy is a 0.4% increase that will begin in July of this year. You can think of this income tax as a public safety necessity. This will not only offer ongoing support to our local police, fire, and EMS services but will allow for the re-opening of fire station #5 and the Johnny Lytle Ave. police substation. These offices are constantly overwhelmed with calls as the heroin epidemic increases while at the same time our first responders and their resources have been decreased.
In addition, this levy will allow our local roads and infrastructure to finally have funds for improvement. This is a vital concern as the community looks to attract new residents and businesses as well as to retain current residents. I’m sure you can name a few roads to think about when deciding on this issue.
Amanda Clearcreek Local Schools Income Tax Levy – Issue 5
I have moved outside of the district and will be unable to vote on this levy but would highly encourage you to vote in favor. This district means a lot to me and my wife! We hope to see it continue to be strong and offer its students the education that we received. This is the place we grew up, met, fell in love, and where our families still live. I know what the levy cuts often mean for school programming. We went through this during my time there in high school. The struggle and pain was felt by all in both day to day education, sports, band, and extra-curricular activities.
This is a 1.5% income tax levy and has been said will add $2.4 million dollars back into the schools lost income.
I realize that both are levy’s that will affect your everyday income. I usually am against tax increases of all kinds but this is for the strength of our local communities. It’s up to us to keep them strong, vibrant, and ready to serve its citizens and students.
Don’t push this election off as not important. It will have an impact for years to come.
I just finished book number 11 (The European Reformation by Euan Cameron) for this year and now am on a mission to read 15 during the year 2017. The following are the books currently on my list. Some are new while the others I have been planning to read for awhile. They span a range between poitics, religion, business/economics, and fiction. I like to think it represents a diverse range of opinions and perspectives from different kinds of areas. Below you will find the list of books in the order in which I plan to read them. Feel free to give a comment if you have read any of the books listed and have opinions about it. Also, feel free to comment with a book or two you plan to read this year!
1. Free To Choose: The Classic Inquiry Into The Relationship Between Freedom And Economics (Milton & Rose Friedman)
2. The Day The Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus's Crucifiction (N.T. Wright)
3. Insurgent (Veronica Roth)
4. The Libertarian Mind: A Manifesto For Freedom (David Boaz)
5. Luthers Large Catechism (Martin Luther)
6. Inferno (Dan Brown)
7. Leaving Microsoft To Change The World: An Entrepreneur's Odyssey To Educate The World's Children (John Wood)
8. A Nation Of Nations: A Great American Immigration Story (Tom Gjelten)
9. The Church History (Eusebius)
10. The Hundred-Year Marathon: China's Secret Strategy To Replace America As The Global Superpower (Michael Pillsbury)
11. Allegiant (Veronica Roth)
12. The Fear Of Islam: An Introduction To Islamophobia In The West (Todd Green)
13. Modern Wittenberg (William Kinnison)
14. Making Sense of God: An Invitation To The Skeptical (Timothy Keller)
15. Guaranteed Pure: The Moody Bible Institute, Business, And The Making Of Modern Evangelicalism (Timothy Gloege)
In 2016 I read a total of 11 books. Here are some of my favorites from this past year.
1. Accidental Saints: Finding God In All The Wrong People (Nadia Bolz-Weber)
2. A Public Faith: How Followers Of Christ Should Serve The Common Good (Miroslav Volf)
3. Banker To The Poor: Micro-Lending And The Battle Against World Poverty (Muhammad Yunnus)
4. I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up For Education And Was Shot By The Taliban (Malala Yousafzai)
5. On God's Side: What Religion Forgets And Politics Hasn't Learned About Serving The Common Good (Jim Wallis)
6. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration In The Age Of Colorblindness (Michelle Alexander)
Well, Election Day is finally here! It has snuck up on us. Some of you are probably excited and some of you are traveling to the polls still unsure of who you are voting for, why, and what that might mean for the country. We have been caught up in so many battles and surprises during this long election season that it seems unreal that the moment on which all of the work hinges is today.
Though I personally have ventured somewhat away from John Wesley theologically, I find that the following quote by him, reflecting an election of his time, mirrors my hope for you today and beyond. I have broken up the quote and added my own reflections.
Wesley begins by saying “I have met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them, 1. To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy…”
A lot of people have been telling us how to vote over the past year. Sometimes it seems hard to sort out the facts of the election from the propaganda. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have heard “don’t vote for Trump,” “don’t vote for Clinton,” “don’t vote for Johnson,” or “don’t vote for Stein.” That is always followed by some sort of lofty argument on why you shouldn’t cast your ballot a certain way. It often times isn’t even based on the merits of a candidate but the fear that the other might prevail.
Regardless of who you have decided to vote for, take some time today and be proud of your vote. Be proud that you have the ability to take part in an election, especially one that is as meaningful as this. Don’t worry if someone from either side might look down on you for your decision. Vote for the person that you believe in. Vote for the person that has proven themselves to you over the past year. No matter what happens in this election, it is good for yourself, for your community, and for democracy when we truly analyze our options and wholeheartedly act on those conclusions.
“2. To speak no evil of the person they voted against,”
This election and the time leading up to it has tested this piece of advice over and over. Abstaining from speaking evil is something that has been hard to do for some of us during this election. We’ve heard disgusting rhetoric and possibly even statements that could be labeled evil directly from the candidates. It has made us feel uneasy and that there is a moral obligation to speak out and rightly so. But let’s remember that there is a difference between speaking criticism and evil. One takes the high ground where the other sends a low blow. Let’s rise above the rhetoric of this election. It says a lot if a candidate can’t win on ideas and positions without denigrating their opponents very self in the process.
“2. To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.”
Let’s face it. One candidate will come out of today’s election victorious. There is going to be a night of celebration for some and a night of disappointment and maybe even anger for others. In the midst of this, one thing is true. We need not divide ourselves even further with the outcome of this election. Political parties are changing. Our country is changing. We’re more connected than we have ever been in any previous election. The role that platforms like social media has played in this election has grown drastically even from 2012. We are growing more diverse and regular portrayals of the American life are changing. If there is anything that is true going forward it is that we need each other. Whoever you are voting for is important but we will be worse off in the future if we can’t work together.
Wesley may be from another time and place but his words say something to us today. I hope that you are proud of the vote you cast today and walk out of the polls more excited about the future of this county. However, I more importantly hope that you can look at the other side and say “it was a good match. Are you down for coffee?”
*Quote from John Wesley, October 6th, 1774
If you have been around me over the past few years, you probably know that I am an avid supporter and promoter of the City of Springfield, Ohio. In fact, I talk about the city so much where I work that my coworkers recently commented “Heath is Springfield.” While I think that comment is definitely over exaggerated, it bears an honorable meaning for me. This is a city where I was educated at one of the best universities around (its ranked) in political science and business. It’s a city where I worked at the local civic engagement center and became familiar with the people, civic organizations, social services, and the government of this community. Its a city where I found my first apartment and the city where I will be getting married in just over a week. My laptop still bears the sticker that reads “I believe in Springfield.”
I know there will be those that might comment or think that I just don’t understand the challenges of this city. Well, I do. I’ve heard and seen about some of the most pressing issues this community faces. It goes from the incorrect transfers of property deeds in the struggling neighborhoods to the hardships for companies that need a skilled workforce but find the local market lacking. I’ve seen the north south divide, the struggle to update the city water treatment facility, and even the fountains that have been turned into flowerbeds at city hall. But with all of these problems, I am confident. The good news outweighs that bad. I have faith that this community is strong enough and capable of taking on these problems.
There are not many communities our size that can boast about the culture, amenities, and offerings of this city. We have an art museum, a local history museum complete with artifacts from the national road, an extensive park system through NTPRD, and beautiful architecture. We have events such as culture fest, the summer arts festival, and even regular concerts by our local symphony orchestra. This community is alive and moving along. But it doesn’t just stop at what we already have. It goes on to the plans that excite us all for the future.
In the past year, there has been so many great news stories that should bring all of us hope. $2.9 million was allocated by companies to open brand new stores on Bechtel Avenue (read here). My alma mater, Wittenberg University, announced its plans to build a new $40.5 million dollar expansion to its health and wellness facility (read here) further increasing its ability to recruit and gain students who will impact this community through service, the local economy, and simply their presence. Even the downtown area, which was thought to have been dead for good, has come back with local entities announcing upwards of $4.5 million in economic development (read here). The downtown strip of Fountain Avenue has come alive with pizza shops, art galleries, new clothing line launches like Vanguard 937, and companies moving into renovated office space. Even the struggling parts of Springfield are receiving aid (though they could use more) through organizations like Springfield Promise, The Rocking Horse Community Health Center, and The Fuller Center for Housing.
So to all the people with a distaste or previous notion of Springfield, I ask that you look again. Find the good in this community. I guarantee that once you catch a glimpse of the Springfield of today, you will feel more excited about its direction and more proud to call it your home. We live in a society that likes to point out the bad and the hardships. We like to yell doom and gloom at the slightest sight of trouble. But Springfield is a promising place. A place where families, single parents, people from all social standings, and all religions work together in peace and mutual assistance. We are a city that is truly making its return and I challenge you to find anew its beauty.
Developing a congregation that has an “extravagant welcome” has become the new term in progressively Christian churches these days and I would have to say it’s a good one. I love the idea of a congregation that despite all other things will welcome a person and make them feel at home in the community of Christ no matter who they are or where they are from. This type of community is what originally drew me to the United Church of Christ and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Both of these denominations place a huge emphasis in different ways on creating a space for everyone at the table. Over the past year or so there have been countless articles about the art of welcoming and there have been just as many in opposition to it. As I was sitting today pondering the effectiveness of welcoming congregations I had a thought, and this question is to those congregations and people like me who try to extend this extravagant welcome to all people to join Christ’s table. What’s the next step? What’s after the welcome?
The art of extending an extravagant welcome can be a very restorative move for people who have been hurt by being rejected or told to leave part of who they are at the door before entering the church. It can restore them to community of both the church and that of Christ. They can finally feel like they have a role to play in the work that God is doing in the world. However, an extravagant welcome can also be a reason for the rest of the church to be passive. We can welcome people in and give them a place but when it comes to standing with them in that place, it is a whole different story. It’s easy to think our work is finished after we welcome them in and that restoration begins but it’s not. It is imperative that we move beyond just the extravagant welcome to a place of extravagant support. Martin Niemoller once said a quote that I think resonates with this very well. He was a pastor in Germany during the Nazi era and was able to see the atrocities that were taking place to different groups of people. The magnitude of that time in no way compares to the struggle for inclusion today but it does give us a sense of urgency to stand with people because one day they might have to stand for you. The quote that Niemoller gave says:
“First they came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for me – and by that time there was no one left to speak up.”
We need to stand up and with the people we are welcoming in. Being a church with an extravagant welcome goes further than just making sure they are accepted in the pews. It means that on their good days and their bad days we are here for them. We will stand beside them when others come throwing insults their way. We will support them and show others that support because you never know when you might need someone to come and stand by you.
We need to start having a conversation about how we can welcome extravagantly and show our support extravagantly. How do we stand beside the poor and outcast proclaiming truth to their injustices and peace to their community? How do we stand beside our LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) brothers and sisters in Christ and show the love we have for all of God’s children. How do we act on behalf of African Americans who still face the threats of aversive racism many years after the Civil Rights movement? How do we move ourselves from opening the doors for people where we celebrate the diversity in the Christian community to standing up for those that need a voice outside of their community?
I truly believe that this is our next step. We need to start having these conversations with each other and putting them into action. I know some will counter this by saying that they don’t agree with certain lifestyles or think they should be a part of the church and I understand that. I write this however to those that do embrace these things and call for an open environment of worship where no matter who you are, you are welcome to join us at the communion table and share in the body and blood of our Lord together. It’s taken some time to build a network of welcoming churches but now it’s time to stand with our community and see how blessed that act will be!
There is a great chance that what I am about to say is just a hunch but I choose to think that it is more than that. I have been in church my whole life and have been in many different types of churches. This article is not to say one way of church is wrong and another right. It’s not to say that one size of church is wrong or to say what size is too big. I have just noticed a trend that I think is worth talking about.
I hear so much talk about how America used to be filled with small businesses. These are your local corner grocery stores where you knew the owner and he would always be there to have a great conversation. It’s that local barber that always would bring up the latest political scandal. It’s a drug store where kids could always be sure that they would get a lollipop before leaving. They were places that people loved to go to. These local businesses ended up being put out because larger companies started to take over the markets. Stores like Walmart, Speedway, and many others started to dominate the market.
It really doesn’t matter how you view these big stores. All you need to know is that they took over. They were much more efficient. They were large corporations that were able to offer many more products at a lower price. They combined grocery and home stores. They combined rewards and shopping points that simply couldn’t compare to your local venues. Communities were left with downtown areas that consisted of empty storefronts and deserted buildings while newer commercial areas were filled with buildings that looked much more like warehouses than friendly stores. For the most part, we still like these large stores because of the many benefits they provide us. However, the smaller businesses did suffer and ended up on the losing side.
Today I have seen a similar comparison with the church as a whole. The megachurch movement and style has attracted so many worshipers and has seen so many come to believe. They are very affective at presenting the Gospel. At the same time, smaller churches have become less attractive and have been losing members. Some of the same arguments can be made about these larger churches. They simply are more efficient. They can offer more exciting youth programs, mass market evangelism to their communities, and have much more resources to create a more desirable church environment. You can’t lie that they are able to make a great impact and are growing at a very fast rate.
In the midst of all the growth and expansions of both the corporate retail market and the megachurch movement, people have been realizing that we have lost something very important. We have grown more efficient but at the same time we have grown much more impersonal. We have lost the art of community. I think that there is a great deal of people that desire a firm relational community. I don’t want to even compare the relational community of a small business to the church. However, the similarities between what is happening in these two communities are very similar.
Today, I have seen hundreds of small businesses pop up in just about every larger city. These range from smaller coffee shops to locally made clothing. Arts districts are flooded with local products that are not mass produced. These shops seem to be drawing an audience of people that have recognized the value in the small business culture. They can form relationships with store workers and owners. They have much more personal service from these small businesses than they could ever get in a store like Walmart. People have come to recognize that value is not just in the money but in the relationships and culture in which you associate.
In the church I have seen people yearn for more personal relationships with the body of Christ. They want to feel more connected. They don’t want to be simply connected to a small group but to their pastor. They want to be connected to the usher in the aisle, the preschool school leader, and Mrs. Wilkers that plays the piano. They want a relationship with the person that feeds them the word on Sunday morning and not just their little group they have strategically been placed into. Megachurches spend so much money on how to get people connected and involved. For some people being connected and feeling right at home is easy in a megachurch. For others it is complicated and leaves them desiring more than what they have found.
This is my hunch. I think there are a large number of people who desire a type of relational and communal based church. These members are moving to smaller congregations and are finding a much more vibrant community from their perspective.
I also think that along with moving to smaller congregations there has been a move to a more liturgical service style. When I use the word liturgical I am not referring to a style of “modern” or “traditional.” I am simply referring to the church liturgy used in whatever musical content in which it is presented. It’s a collection of readings, chants, and other ancient church pieces. Along with being connected in a much more relational way to your church, the liturgy seems to connect you to the church historically. There is nothing like feeling the connection to the church when you are singing and saying the things the church has said for centuries. It is a surreal experience and I think is another great aspect that draws people to the small church movement.
This is neither an attack on the megachurch movement or an advertisement for small liturgical churches. I simply think that there are trends in people moving back to a smaller more connected environment that lends itself to relationships not only with current members but to the church historically. There is a style of church for everyone! The small church movement is alive and well and I believe it is going to become even a greater movement in the future.