Galileo Church

Quirky church for spiritual refugees. Who would Jesus love?

Weekly worship, Sundays at 5 p.m.
at the Big Red Barn
5860 Interstate 20 service road
Fort Worth 76119
(use the zip code in your GPS for accuracy)

Mail comes here: 6563 Teague Road, Fort Worth, TX 76140

Contact us: 817-773-3147 | info@galileochurch.org

Our missional priorities:
1. We do justice for LGBTQ+ humans.
2. We do kindness for people with mental illness and in emotional distress, and celebrate neurodiversity.
3. We do beauty for our God-Who-Is-Beautiful.
4. We do real relationship, no bullshit, ever.

Overspend, Overspend! For the Love of God, Overspend!

September 2017

We need your help. We overspent, by a lot. And we’re still spending.

Here’s what happened. In our 2017 Ministry Finance Plan, we budgeted $1,800 on “justice for LGBTQ+ people.” It should have been enough.

But who knew 2017 would be like this? Who knew the Texas State Legislature, in particular, would devote so much energy to stripping the rights and dignity of LGBTQ+ people (heavy emphasis on “T”)? Who knew the national environment of acceptance and fairness would melt so quickly under a new administration? (Okay, maybe you knew, but we didn’t.)

So we have spent more money that we planned. Like, a lot more. On things like these:

•    January: We took rainbow-frosted donuts to protest (sweetly) the anti-LGBTQ meanness mailed from a nearby church to every household in that town.

•    January: We sent two learners to the Gay Christian Network conference in Pittsburgh.

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•    January: We sent six learners to the Texas Tribune's Race & Public Policy conference in Austin.

•    February: We hosted a visit, a seminar, and a sermon from Rev. Allyson Robinson, pastor-preacher-trans-activist.

•    February: We sent one learner to ClexaCon in Las Vegas, a conference advocating for queer women in TV and movie storylines. (We're pretty sure she was the only one whose church paid her way...)

•    March: We offered free tae kwon do self-defense training for vulnerable LGBTQ+ people.

•    March: We showed up for local parade and booth activism in our suburban home base.

•    April: We hosted a big screen viewing of Gender Revolution, the National Geographic documentary on gender, in partnership with Transcendence Int’l.

•    April: We hosted an anti-racism / intersectionality workshop (and preaching!) by Sandhya Jha, co-sponsored with the Trinity-Brazos Area.

•    May: We sent three learners to the Contemporary Relationships Conference in Houston, a weekend with special emphasis on strengthening LGBTQ+ couples.

•    June: We hosted Trans Ally Training with Transcendence Int’l., and provided free dinner for all.

•    Spring & Summer: We paid for numerous trips – so many! – to Austin to lobby, protest, challenge, enlighten our Texas State legislators concerning discriminatory legislation, including several G-people who testified before the Senate and House Committees concerning the “bathroom bills” that threatened all summer long.

•    June: We delivered homemade cookies to our local legislators as they prepared to return to Austin for the special session, asking that our Christian witness to God’s inclusion of all people be allowed to “complicate your vote”.

•    September: We set up a booth presence at the UTA at Activities Fair and Rainbow Reception for LGBTQ+ students.

•    We supply monthly rental and refreshment costs for It Gets Better, a peer-to-peer conversation group for young adults around LGBTQ+ identity, going on three years now.

•    We incurred a few printing costs for the “justice table” in the Big Red Barn, helping people stay aware of current threats to civil liberties for LGBTQ+ persons, with ways to reach out to legislators at every level.

And there’s still more on our calendar for the remaining months of 2017. We’re christening a brand-new float for the Tarrant County Pride Parade in October, laying hands on it to bless its witness during worship the weekend before. (We’ll roll it right through the big garage door into the barn.)

Bottom line: our total spending for the year, against that budget of $1,800, is closer to $5,200 at this point, the treasurer tells me. Almost three times what we planned. 300%. With more to come.

So… don’t these things sound like the kinds of things a church should be overspending on? If we’re gonna blow the budget, isn’t this the way to do it – by announcing loudly, proudly, everywhere we can think of, that God’s love is the only law, the realest thing in the world, the beginning and ending of every conversation about what really matters?

And if you think that’s true, can you help replenish our coffers? We’re not broke, but it’s tight. And frankly, we think there are people out there who would love to fund this kind of ministry, specifically and strategically. We think it’s good work, and exactly the work God has called and equipped us to do. You could help with the “equipping” part by clicking the “donate” button right down there. Thanks for considering. Peace of Christ to you and yours.

David's Journey

David Grogan shows up with enthusiasm for most everything Galileo Church does -- and now he's reflective about what showing up signifies. The occasion? The 2017 Pickle Palooza Parade in Mansfield. We can't say for sure, but we think this may be one of the more serious reflections to come out of that event...

I am not ashamed to speak aloud about my faith or my church. I have moved decidedly left, after years of being pretty moderate, theologically speaking. The church we are attending makes justice for LGBTQ people a priority. I'm not, by nature, an activist, but I have been more challenged by this church, and more engaged in scripture in this church, than I have in decades. Today, as I walked in a parade with my church, I experienced some things for the first time.

First, let me say that I am the embodiment of privilege. I am a white, heterosexual, cisgender male (if you have to look up cisgender, you're probably privileged, too). So I have never really experienced people being "against" me just for being myself.

As we walked through the parade route, many people cheered. Some looked at us askance. But some were a little rude. We heard, "Sinner!" We heard, "I'll pray for you!" to which I replied, "Same." We had people throw back the really cute rainbow bracelets we were handing out. It was a little bit uncomfortable.

But that was it. Uncomfortable. No one attacked us. No one tried to stop us, or hurt us. We, in my counting, had so many more people cheering us on and thanking us than we had disparaging us.

This is progress. It's slow and painful. But it's moving forward. And sometimes that's the best you can do. I salute all the people who have fought for ungiven rights, and I join you, as best I can.

Melina's Testimony, SB6

Melina Madolora Wikoff

Melina Madolora Wikoff

March 2017: The Texas State Senate is considering Senate Bill 6, which would require transgender students in Texas schools to use the bathroom designated for their assigned gender at birth, rather than their gender identification. Galileo co-conspirator Melina Wikoff testified against the bill before the Senate State Affairs Committee at the capitol, March 6, 2017, with these words:

Good evening, Madam Chair and members of the committee. My name is Melina Wikoff and I am from Arlington. I am here to testify in opposition to SB6. As the mother of a transgender woman of color – whom you now know is among the most vulnerable in the transgender community – one of my most important jobs is to strengthen my daughter against and protect her from a world that has only in recent years begun to understand her reality but is still far from full acceptance. This is evidenced by the introduction of discriminatory bills such as SB6.

But even more important than my job as a mother is my role as a woman of faith, who is called to love God with all of my being and to love my neighbors. The Bible, from beginning to end, is the story of God at work in the world, teaching humanity God’s grace, mercy, and compassion, in a world that is bent toward self-glorification at the cost of injustice toward and the oppression of others.

History reveals that we fail to meet the mark over and over again. And so, as a woman of God who yearns to bring glory to the One who creates all life, I need only look at the example of Jesus Christ, who specifically reached out to those that the religious people of his time looked at as “other” – those that were kept from participating in the fullness of life by discriminatory, human-made rules. Jesus accepted them just as they were and loved them with a perfect love.

The history of God’s work in the world is one of progress that people of faith are called to continue. In Micah 6:8, God answers the question of what is required of us. And that is to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God. And so it is with great humility that I ask you to stop SB6 today. The neighbors that you and I are called to love include our transgender Texans. I ask that you would love them as you love yourselves and the God who loves us all.

We’re not sure that she dropped the mic after that, but that’s how we like to imagine it. 

A Giant Pool of Money

If I Had a Giant Pool of Money to Benefit Young Adults…

Katie Hays • November 2016

I don't have a giant pool of money to benefit young adults. But I can imagine one -- the liquidated assets, perhaps, of congregations that have faithfully served their purpose in their specific geographies and are ready to extend their legacy into the church's future. Please read these recommendations in the spirit in which they’re intended: as an imaginative exercise in how the wider church might help specific congregations that are ministering to and with young adults.

Imagine the giant pool of money -- a life-sustaining fund created by the established church for young congregations created by and for young adults. Here's how such a congregation could dip its foot in that pool. 


1.   Grants from this fund are for congregations that:

a.   are recognized as “congregations in formation” by the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ);

b.   are at least three years old from their date of formation, and not more than ten years old;

c.   employ and pay at least one full-time staff member or two part-time staff members;

d.   meet weekly for worship;

e.   practice sustainable and scalable forms of ministry;

f.    consist mainly of young adults (under 30 years old) with a healthy generational mix, with young adults in significant positions of servant-leadership.

2.   Leadership from such a congregation may apply for grants to supplement their annual operating budget in the amount of $10,000, $20,000, or $30,000. Congregations may reapply every year, potentially receiving grants through their tenth year.

3.   Applications are collections of short essays demonstrating significant strength in the following areas:

A.   Missional Clarity (write <500 words each on two of the following)

(1) The congregation has specific missional priorities that most people in the church can articulate from memory.

(2) The congregation has a significant footprint in their community – i.e. people outside the church would miss them if they were gone.

(3) The majority of individuals in the congregation are called into consistent participation in the congregation’s ministry.

B.   Leadership Health (write <500 words each on two of the following)

(1) Congregational leaders practice transparency in open meetings, involving the congregation in decision-making.

(2) The congregation has processes in place for preserving the health (and preventing the burnout) of the pastor/s and servant-leaders.

(3) The congregation’s servant-leaders have proactively identified the next hurdle in the church’s journey – i.e. they are looking ahead to the next challenge and making plans accordingly.

C.   Buy-In (write <500 words each on all three of the following)

(1) The congregation has a strong core of congregants with longevity (participation of two+ years) and a healthy inflow of brand-new explorers; and has an idea of what makes a healthy ratio for their life together.

(2) The congregation has a successful record of fundraising from sources outside the congregation.

(3) The congregation is growing in stewardship – self-funding their operational costs at roughly 30% in their third year, 40% in their fourth year, 50% in their fifth year, and so on.

Thank you for thinking so hard about your good work, and for sharing what you've learned by doing it. We who are swimming in the pool will let you know as soon as we can. 


Take Action; Don't Wait

Micha with one of her favorite relatives.

Micha with one of her favorite relatives.

Guest writer Micha Sampson sojourned to Wild Goose 2016 with the Galileo group — most of whom she didn’t know well or at all. Nothing like tent-camping to get to know your church. Here’s her one big take-away from the festival.

I attended the Racial Justice Seminar on Thursday before the festival and spent most of my time at the festival attending various discussions on social justice issues (subjects ranging from feminist activism in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, to queer inclusion and reconciliation in the church, to how to be a revolutionary ally in matters of racial justice, and many others in between). Intersectionality was emphasized over and over throughout.

Learning of the murders of Alton Sterling followed by Philando Castile in the wake of these experiences was deeply unsettling for me, particularly that of Philando Castile. I had a visceral response to this news and could hardly contain myself. Anger. Sadness. But mostly…fear.

My thoughts immediately went to my teenage cousin, B—, a wonderful young man who will soon be 16. He also happens to be bi-racial. He and his sister are being raised by my aunt and uncle, who love them very much but still maintain less than progressive ideas about why events like these occur over and over in society, which means they are never going to have “the talk” that parents of color typically have with their teen children.

My mom and I have spent a lot of time with B— and his sister over the years; and B— and I have developed a special bond. Because of that, I have been preparing to have that talk with him myself since the murder of Trayvon Martin nearly four years ago. I’ve wrestled with what to say, the delicacy of how to say it, and the appropriateness of me being the one to say it. Despite my many doubts and concerns, I always come back to this one thing…his safety overrides any discomfort on my part or resentment on his grandparents’ part. I’ve known this for a long time, but have been waiting for the “right time” (and the right words). Thankfully, I received some much needed guidance and affirmation from racial justice leader Micky ScottBey Jones, who agreed it’s definitely time.

My big take-away from Wild Goose? We must take action. I must take action. It is not enough to bemoan the system that allows people of color to be unfairly searched, imprisoned and killed without consequence. It is not enough to say we want change. We must actively work to dismantle the racist system that makes these injustices possible. It won’t be easy and it won’t be comfortable. If we truly want to change the system, then we must be willing to risk and deny our own comfort, privilege and power by speaking out against injustice and racism in all its forms and surrendering positions of power to people of color, women, etc. More than anything, I left Wild Goose knowing I can’t sit on the sidelines while injustice continues.

I Saw the Kin-Dom of God Last Night

I saw the kin-dom of God last night. I’ve been busy today, no time to write, but I thought you’d be mad if I saw it and didn’t tell you about it.

(Sometimes these days I experiment with saying “kin-dom” instead of “kingdom” because while I believe God’s sovereignty is a Big Deal, I’m almost sure God is always using God’s power to draw people together, like family, like love, like kin.)

Last night there was an “It Gets Better” meeting. You know, people a lot younger than I getting together to talk about their lives. Specifically, about their lives as LGBTQ+ people – the queer and beautiful people of God – though they are sometimes not so sure about the “beautiful” or the “of God” part of that. So they talk about it.

I guess they talk about it. I never actually go in there; that meeting isn’t for me. I have to be there because I’m the one with a Mansfield address so I can rent that room in that place. Galileo pays for the room. Galileo pays me to go sit in the lobby and work a little and pray a little for the group that is meeting behind a closed door a few yards away.

And somebody else from Galileo sent homemade cookies last night, cookies of a kind I cannot get out of my head. Yes, they shared one with me. Sweet baby Jesus, those cookies were good, and the milk that came with them. The cookies were not the point, but they could have been. They were that good.

But the people. The people were the point. They met for the 90 minutes that we were on the books for that room, and then they shambled into the public space where I was, only they weren’t ready to leave. By accident they formed themselves back into a circle, standing now, and talked some more. Laughing. Bending at the waist from laughing. Heads thrown back, laughing.

And oh, I wish you could have seen it. They were dark brown and light brown and peachy-pinky-yellow. They were all the colors, a rainbow of God’s beloveds. They were Christian, Muslim, decidedly non-religious. Students, workers, wishing for work. In relationships. Alone. Lonely. Content. Depressed and joyful, anxious and brave. Women and men, all along a spectrum, just themselves.

Laughing.

Their departure from the building and the parking lot took another 45 minutes, I’m guessing. 45 of those kin-dom of God minutes, precious minutes during which every single person knows for absolute certain that they are God’s children, beloved by God, with whom God is well pleased. Transfigured, bright shining as the sun.

I know, because I saw it. With that vision in my recent memory, I am the luckiest person on God’s green earth today. So I thought I would share it with you, so you could feel lucky, too.

How is this church different?

Spiritual refugees can’t always see why Galileo Church is any different than the boring, irrelevant, exclusive, and painful experiences of church they’ve come from. They’re right to insist that stylistic differences – a guitar instead of an organ, jeans instead of Sunday dress-up – are not sufficient to earn their trust. They challenge me to articulate something more than our snarky resistance to vocabulary like “committee” and “fellowship,” and our now passé commitment to the inclusion of beer for church events. Here’s what I say when they ask:

1. About God: we trust that the Deity is ahead of us, not behind us. God is the God of the future, not the past. God didn’t just used to do stuff, a long time ago in a Bibleland far, far away; God is still doing stuff, always a little further out from our comfort zone than we would like. And thus getting a handle on exactly Who God Is is not something we imagine we can do. We just try to keep up and stay amazed.

Someday, we trust, God will get everything God wants. (“The arc of the moral universe is long, and it bends toward justice,” somebody said.) If we want that, too, God’s future will feel like heaven to us! If we don’t, if we’re invested in the status quo, well, God’s future will hurt like hell. We find images of that future in the Bible – mountains demolished, valleys raised up, the last made first, the first made last, the despised and forgotten sitting happily with Jesus. We want to want what God wants, because in the future of God’s imagining, it will all be true.

2. About Jesus: we trust that his life of ministry was as significant as his death, and that you can’t appreciate one without the other. His life was the fullest expression of God-Among-Us, God’s Logic, God’s Own Self ever. We are much more likely to share stories of his shocking, inclusive, earthly life spent among friends and enemies than we are to dwell on the bloody details of his atoning death.

We’re not even sure what “atonement” means, except that God routinely takes the crap we’ve got (crucifixion, anybody?) and makes beautiful stuff out of it. We insist: If Jesus had not lived the kind of life he did, they wouldn’t have killed him. Thus his resurrection becomes a vindication of his choice in life to love beyond the borders of religious propriety; and thus we are saved, because he loved us beyond the borders of religious propriety. Boom.

3. About the Holy Spirit: we trust that it’s the Spirit of Living Jesus inhabiting us, so that we are kinder, bolder, and more imaginative than we would be on our own because Jesus was the kindest, boldest, most imaginative person ever. And we’re pretty sure his Spirit is at work in people who don’t even know it’s happening, which is delicious. We feel strong and smart and gutsy with this Spirit weaving us together.

4. About people: we trust that people are beautiful and beloved. All people. Even us. So we try to act like beautiful and beloved people, even when we don’t feel like it, interacting with the beautiful and beloved people in our lives and in our world. This makes us happy, because people are fantastic. We are fantastic. You are fantastic.

This requires constant attention to the flattening of hierarchies, so that race and money and religion and gender and sexuality don’t prescribe how we relate to each other. This is the morality we lean into – the corporate morality of Christ’s (metaphorical) body (that’s us) living into the promise of the dissolution of human distinctions. Whew. That’s a mouthful.

So you can see that we’re aware that the beautiful and beloved people of God are also broken. We’re much more concerned about the deeply systemic brokenness in our world – the way power is used and abused, sometimes to our benefit without our even knowing it happened – than we are in each other’s individual little sins. Most of us are pretty good most of the time, and God is merciful; but all of us are caught in sticky webs of systemic sin from which the whole world, even the dirt we walk on, will one day be redeemed, because God is just. Thanks be to God. (Redeemed = set free. The churchy language sticks with us sometimes.)

5. About the Bible: we attend to the Bible as one, continuous story about God and how the beautiful, beloved, broken people of God relate to God. Sometimes they get it right. Lots of times they don’t. Everything in the Bible points to the God Who Is Ahead of us, calling us forward, never back. Nothing in the Bible is a stopping place. We take the Bible quite seriously, letting it show us how patiently God waits for us to figure stuff out and take the next step toward God.

Oh, and: the Bible is never boring. If it seems that way, you’re doing it wrong.

**************************************

So that’s how I explain it, for now. I’m aware that these things could change over time – I couldn’t have written this essay at 27, or 37, so what makes me think it’ll still be true at 57?

I don’t know if these words resonate with you, friend refugee. Do they feel true enough (and distinct enough) to make a difference in your experience of our church? Is there balm here to heal your wounds, nourishment here to strengthen your bones?

I guess the last difference in our church from your last one that you might be interested in is this: we believe that the church is for you. You, the skeptic; you, the cynic; you, the wounded; you, the strong one working to keep your head above water for another day. God is for you, so we are for you. You are why we exist. Come and see. 

Why I Church Where I Church

A guest post by co-conspirator and Mission Logistics team member Kyle Moeller, originally published at kylemoeller.wordpress.com.

For many years of my early adulthood I searched for a church home. I would scour the internet looking for a faith community I could call my own, but truthfully… none of them appealed to me. Dallas is home to Cathedral of Hope which is said to be the world’s largest gay congregation, but I just couldn’t get on board with that. I recognized the necessity of this community for a number of people, but it wasn’t what I needed. I didn’t feel different. I didn’t feel as if I needed a gay church. I wanted a community that reflected my actual life and though a number of them are, most of the people in my life don’t identify as LGBTQ. I wanted a place where these issues were important but not the main identity of the church. I would frequent gaychurch.org in hopes that I would find something that suited that need and finally in the summer of 2013 I saw a church on the list that had previously not been there. I found Galileo Christian Church, a Disciples of Christ community in Mansfield, TX. After months of liking facebook updates and a few messages to and from the pastor, I found myself in a dimly lit place in my life and worked up the courage to go to church. Quite literally as I was looking up directions, Katie (the pastor) sent me a message on facebook saying “Kyle, come to church, dude!” So I did. And nearly two and a half years later, I’m still there. So, here are just a few reasons why I church where I church.

  1. Galileo is non-traditionally… traditional. What I mean by that is that while you may not have ever experienced a worship service like ours, there’s still a strong emphasis on liturgy. We read the Bible. We say the Lord’s Prayer. We take communion and say words of institution. We just do things a little differently. We sing traditional hymns followed by some Johnny Cash. You’re likely to hear a “four letter word” in any given sermon. We don’t shy away from hard texts, in fact, we embrace them (we once had a series called “Monsters in the Dark: the Ugly Psalms”). Worship with Galileo is a truly unique and beautiful experience that provides a renewed idea of what worship looks like.
  2. When I’m not feeling worshipful, that’s fine. From the start of the worship service we encourage everyone to do what feels right for them. Whether that means participating fully in the service, walking around outside, holding a baby, or whatever else it may be that connects a person to God. There have been days when I’ve found myself in no mood to sit through song, scripture, and sermon. Days when I’ve had to walk out multiple times because my thoughts were too loud or my heart too heavy. But every time I’ve had one of those days where I show up knowing I can’t commit to being fully present in the service, God has sought me out and met me where I am (if you don’t already know the story, ask me about the time I planned on skipping communion).
  3. We take social justice seriously. I have personally had the amazing privilege of representing Galileo at a number of conferences pertaining to LGBTQ inclusion in the church. We march in pride parades. We show up for Black Lives Matter rallies and we truly believe that with all of our being. Our pastor has participated in an interfaith peace panel and we will soon host a discussion where two Muslim women will share with us what their faith means to them and how they experience life. We firmly believe in equality and justice for all people, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexuality, disability, income level, education, etc.
  4. We know how to throw a party. I’ll just leave these two links here. The Theology of Parties and Why we Play Cards Against Humanity. But seriously… We like to party. We’ll find any excuse to do it. Dos de Mayo. We survived the holidays. After church surprise dance party. Those are literally just a few of the parties we’ve thrown.
  5. I’m not required to check my brain at the door. That’s one thing you hear a lot if you come to Galileo, but it’s the truth. I’m free to explore my relationship with God with the confidence that I’ll be supported in my faith journey, regardless of where I’m at. I’m not asked to sit quietly and go along with everything that’s said and done. We encourage exploring the hard parts of life, questioning God, and developing our own understanding of the world. Growth requires learning, but not much learning is done when you’re told what and how to believe, which is why Galileo Church does its best (we’re not perfect) to remain open in how we receive others.

I feel so incredibly lucky to have found a faith community that allows me to be who I am and whose priorities align with my own. I know Galileo isn’t for everyone but it’s my hope that those who are seeking will find a place where their needs are met and where they are loved unconditionally. If you’re searching for a church home or resources that align with a progressive nature (I hate that term. Why is it progressive to view all of God’s people as equal? I digress…) I recommend checking out gaychurch.orgthe Gay Christian Network, and the Convergence Network.

We're Not Okay Without You

March 2016

Dearly beloved human, who used to come around our church a lot but now doesn’t, mostly,

We are not okay without you.

I know it looks otherwise. If you’re following us on Facebook and Insta and reading our tweets, you probably believe we’re fine. God keeps us thinking great thoughts and doing amazing stuff and loving our life together. That’s all true. Galileo Church is still Galileo Church; the ethos and the people you fell in love with haven’t changed.

Except that we have, because you’re not here. And what I want to say, without pressing you to feel one iota of guilt, is that we really wish you were. Here are my three best reasons why:

1. Galileo Church is about helping people know for sure that God loves them, which some folks among us have a hard time believing. The only way we can prove it is by being here ourselves. Every single time we show up, just by putting our bodies in proximity to each other, we are communicating acceptance and community and love. It’s the easiest act of kindness we ever do: sharing love by simply being here. When you were here, you were helping us with that, and we appreciated it so much. I’m worried we never told you how important it was.

2. When you were here, you shared significant parts of your life with us, and we feel responsible in no small way for your health and wholeness. It’s not that we have a messiah complex – or maybe we do, because we are, after all, the body of Christ. We say we exist to “shelter spiritual refugees,” and insofar as you were (are?) one, we intended to be of actual help. And now you’re gone, and we don’t really know how you’re doing, and that worries us. We still pray for you. We still give thanks for your amazing and beautiful life, and we still worry about how easy it is for you to think otherwise if no one is around to tell you the truth about that. We wish you’d come back so we could tell you to your face.

3. Because the thing is, we love you. I know it’s weird; in some important ways we barely knew you. But nobody crosses the threshold of Galileo Church by accident; we have learned to respect the deeply felt reasons each person brings, and we have learned to love people for their vulnerabilities and brokenness. So when we don’t see you, it hurts – not because we need your ass in a chair, or because our numbers are falling (they’re actually not, there are always new people coming around), or because our ego is suffering (though we would confess that we’re not above that, just working to make it less true all the time). It hurts because losing a part of your body hurts. It hurts because letting go of someone you care about hurts. It hurts because we love you. You can stay away, but you can’t make us love you less.

This is a letter I want to print and put in the mailbox with your address and a stamp on it. But I won’t, because there’s just no way to unattach it from the potential for shame. That is the very last thing we want for you (see #3 above). So how do we convey that we’re not okay without you, and that we would love to see you and catch up on your life and welcome you the way God has welcomed all of us? How do we communicate how good that would feel to us, how grateful we would be, to you and to God?

Maybe we don’t. Maybe we just write it down to keep our hearts soft, so that if our People-Whisperer God whispers you back to us, in such a subtle way that you’ll think it was your idea, we’ll be ready to receive you with open arms. And then we’ll all be okay. 

Peace -- KH

It's Not Binary

February 2016

You already know that sexuality is on a spectrum, from super-gay to super-straight, with lots of people falling somewhere along the spectrum on one side or the other, and a couple of oddballs in the exact middle. (Just kidding, my bi friends. Chill.)

And you are learning that gender itself is on a spectrum, from all-the-way-male to all-the-way-female, with so many degrees of biological and emotional and social expression in between that it makes sense when some people identify as a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth.

Now here’s a third spectrum that you probably want to know about: the range of responses to LGBTQ+ inclusion among people of faith. It turns out that there are not two kinds of people in the world, the homophobic, non-affirming nitwits and the purely good, #allmeansall advocates. Imagine that.

 

William Stacy Johnson points out in his book A Time to Embrace: Same-Gender Relationships in Religion, Law, and Politics (Eerdmans 2006) that individual Christians and churches locate themselves all along a spectrum of acceptance to which he assigns seven numbers and descriptions. Here they are.

1.   Prohibition does not approve of and seeks to ban same-gender relationships (and trans identity, etc.) in church and culture.

2.   Toleration does not approve of but would not prosecute or reject LGBTQ+ people. A “don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude prevails here.

3.   Accommodation does not approve of LGBTQ+ identity generally, but allows for exceptions, especially if someone they love comes out. “Hate the sin, love the sinner.”

4.   Legitimation wants to include LGBTQ+ persons in the community and church, and wants to protect individuals from being singled out or condemned. “They’re people, too.” “We’re all sinners, you know.”

5.   Celebration believes that same-gender relationships and marriages should not be scorned but affirmed as good for individuals and for society.

6.   Liberation views LGBTQ+ acceptance in the context of wider injustices in society, and seeks remedy for injustice generally.

7.   Consecration argues for the full religious blessing of LGBTQ+ identity, including the sacrament of marriage.

I identify as a 7 on this scale, but it was not always the case. I remember being a 1, and a 2; and I remember the person I met who converted me to a 3. The ascent through 4, 5, and 6 was rapid and smooth, thanks be to God and the brave LGBTQ+ people who helped me figure it out. 

So, when we’re thinking about people we love who have not figured out how to love all people exactly as they are, can we imagine them as something other than hopelessly homophobic and hate-filled? Of course we can. With practice, and patience, and prayer, we can.

And maybe you find yourself somewhere on this spectrum, somewhere short of #7. And you’re wondering whether <7 persons have a place at Galileo Church. Well, sure you do. Because you have a place in the heart of God. That’s always been true, and it always will be.

God, as it turns out, is pretty good at this spectrum thing. And we’re getting better at it all the time.

Ryan Felber, on Generosity

Ryan and Emma.

Ryan and Emma.

A guest post by Ryan D. Felber, a member of Galileo's leadership team who recently moved to California for an internship with XPLOR, the NBA's vocational discernment program for young adults.

Katie Hays once told me that I was one of the most relaxed and generous people she had met when it came to money. I'm not sure that's totally true, but I have learned something over the last year or so at Galileo Church: mainly, that no matter how little you have, you always have enough to give back. 

Basically I believe that we as Christians, or followers of Jesus as someone told me recently they like to say, are called to give without expectation of payback and without worry for tomorrow. We are called to give of ourselves because everything we have has been given to us. So while I don't make a lot of money (seriously, I'm an XPLOR intern!), I know that I am called to give to causes I feel passionately about, whether that's Galileo's crowdfunded worship album, my church, or the AIDS Walk Los Angeles.

Scripture actually tells us that we are not to worry because we are loved and cared for. Well, I'm not great at the "not worrying" yet, but I'm trying to hold loosely what I have and give graciously to those in need. For you see, I was once in need and someone gave to me; I was hungry and somebody fed me; I was homeless and I was sheltered; I was broken and I was taken in and healed.

So for everyone out there who has ever supported, given to, or loved me, I want you to know that I have learned from you. I'm doing my part as well, being as generous as I can every chance I get.

How to Invite a Friend to Church

It's not always easy. You don't want to seem pushy, or opportunistic, or (ugh!) too religious. But it's true: you have a church you love, a community of faith that is actually making your life better; and you want to share it with people you love.

Here's how Caroline A, whose friend posted on Facebook that she was looking for a church, did it. Rather than join in the FB comment stream that looked like a lot of recruiting for big-church programming (not that there's anything wrong with that!), she sent a private message to her friend. And this is what she said:

Hey A—! 

First off I just want to say what a beautiful family you have. I remember when you first started dating your hubby... 😊

Okay! About this church thing. Galileo has changed my life. Me and my wife are moving in the summer and one of the reasons we don't want to go is because we don't want to leave Galileo. 

My reasons for loving it may be different from yours. That's depending on what kind of church your looking for. We have 4 main priorities:

Caroline A with Jenn M, inviting thousands of UTA students to "test our welcome."

Caroline A with Jenn M, inviting thousands of UTA students to "test our welcome."

1. Justice for LGBTQ

2. Kindness for low wage workers

3. Beauty for our God who is beautiful. 

4. Real relationships no bullshit ever. 

We have an amazing children's ministry. We believe that they are the vessels for God's kindness to the world. 

Check out our website and really look at what we stand for and what you and your family want in a church. Galileochurch.org

If you have any questions let me know. Sorry about my rant. I just love Galileo.

See what she did there? She got really honest about how her church has changed her life for the better. She said what her church is about. She admitted that it's not for everyone. She remembered that her friend has kids. She provided a way for her friend to look deeper. She said again how much she loves her church and she can't help talking about it. 

That's brilliant, Caroline. I'm so frickin' lucky to be in ministry alongside you.

Church On the Move

Galileo Church creates a new, unique worship space in Kennedale

[This post is contributed by our friend Sarah Martinez, who intended to publish it in a local magazine. The magazine changed its mind -- more on that later -- so Sarah shared it with us. And we're glad she did!]

Galileo Church (galileochurch.org) seeks out “spiritual refugees,” so it’s fitting that the church itself tends to do some geographical wandering. For quite a while the church was housed in Mansfield’s Farr Best Theater until a dispute between the property’s management and owner necessitated an abrupt move.

“We got a call one day that we had a couple hours to get our stuff out of the Farr Best,” said Pastor Katie Hays. “With one quick post on Facebook, we had 30 people at the theater on a Thursday afternoon to move all our worship furniture, candles, dishes, etc. to my garage — including church people, but also local neighbors who wanted to help.”

Galileo Church was only momentarily homeless, thankfully. A Higher Power was at work behind the scenes.

“By the end of the day, the owners of Steven’s Garden and Grill [Mansfield] had offered us temporary space till we could find the next long-term space,” Hays recalled. “Thanks be to God!”

The sojourn at Steven’s gave Galileo time to regroup and arrange a long-term lease with Reds Roadhouse in Kennedale, where the church gathers for worship at 5 p.m. on Sundays.

“The new space at Reds is a large, flexible room,” said Hays. “The furniture can be reconfigured for different worship services so that we can highlight different things — a baptism, for example, or communion, or a music performance, or a shared meal. And when worship is over, we can walk right out the door into the restaurant and order an IPA [India pale ale] that is brewed on-site. How many churches can say that?”

Room for all God's children at Reds Roadhouse in Kennedale.

Room for all God's children at Reds Roadhouse in Kennedale.

The relocation drama Galileo Church experienced was a bit distressing, but it comes with the territory.

“We’re especially trying to break free of traditional church necessities like building ownership, because it seems like buildings and property take up a lot of the time and resources of traditional churches,” Hays said. “If we don’t own anything, we don’t have to spend a lot of time and money taking care of it.”

Not being tied to a space has other pluses.

The church works each week to turn Reds Roadhouse into sacred space.

The church works each week to turn Reds Roadhouse into sacred space.

“There’s also a theological advantage to being renters: we are dependent on the hospitality of others, which is a real subversion of the usual church paradigm,” Hays said. “We’re usually saying, ‘Y’all come on in here and let us welcome you to OUR space.’ Which gives us the power, see? But what if we flip it, and the church says to its neighbors, ‘Will anyone welcome us in? We could use a little hospitality.’ Now we are the guests, and the power is flipped, and we can take our place in humility.”

“Kids stay in worship with the grown-ups, and there’s a play area in the back of the room if they need to wiggle,” said Pastor Katie Hays. “Services are about 1-1/2 hours. And if we don’t invite you to share dinner and a beer after services, we’re off our game."

“Kids stay in worship with the grown-ups, and there’s a play area in the back of the room if they need to wiggle,” said Pastor Katie Hays. “Services are about 1-1/2 hours. And if we don’t invite you to share dinner and a beer after services, we’re off our game."

Another thing: being a “homeless” church eliminates many closed doors.

“We do most of our churchy things in public,” Hays said. “Bible study, worship planning, business meetings — you’ll find us doing all these things in restaurants, bars, and coffee shops around town. And that, I guarantee you, changes the conversation. When your neighbors can hear everything you say about what’s important, what’s true, what’s good, what’s needful, you get real focused on talking about things that actually matter.”

My Mother's Body, When I Was Young

August 2015

My mother has a beautiful body, and strong.

When I was a child she worked as a lifeguard in the summers. Her limbs were long and powerful and brown, and her curves made her buoyant, and she could swim like a fish. A confident, muscular fish.

Twice in my clear memory, I saw her pull drowning people from the water and bring them back to life. A tiny girl named Sherry got in too deep, lost her air, sank to the bottom of the swimming pool. Mom dove to the bottom, pulled her out, pushed the water from her lungs, held her while she coughed and sputtered. Sherry’s mother cried and cried; I thought she was weak. I thought how lucky I was that my mother was my mother. Nothing could happen to me; she would save me.

Mom with a couple of grandkids, 2011.

Mom with a couple of grandkids, 2011.

Another time a high school boy, a full-grown kid, horsed around on the diving board, jumping up high and banging the board with the back of his head. He was unconscious before he hit the water. Mom dove from the lifeguard stand and hauled that young man up from the deep end, pulled his dead weight out of the water, gave him mouth-to-mouth till he came back. His name was Ben. He looked so weak on the hot cement, panting and vomiting. My mother looked so strong, kneeling over him in her sensible bathing suit with the wide straps. I thought how stupid boys could be, and how smart my mother was. How tan, how competent, how beautiful.

But on Sundays. Oh, mercy, on Sundays my mother’s body was punished for its size and power and beauty.

On Sundays Mom got up earlier than anybody else and started Sunday lunch. Bread that would rise twice before church. A roast, seared and slow-cooking with root vegetables. Kids dressed and groomed. The table set for family and guests who would come for lunch. All of this, she did in her housecoat alone – a loose cotton garment that let her move and breathe with grace and efficiency in the kitchen, just as she did in the water.

In the last minutes before we had to leave for Sunday school, she would hustle to her room and squeeze into the elastic garments that held her flesh together: the girdle, the bra, the control-top pantyhose. These were barbaric raiments with hooks and snaps and straps. They squeezed and pulled and smoothed and constricted. The shoes were equally torturous; narrow pumps into which her toes were crammed and over which her ankles swelled. Even her earlobes suffered; the clip-on earrings pinched painfully and she didn’t put them on till very last. Her modesty required all of it; it would not do to let her body loose in church.

Thusly poured into her Sunday best, Mom sat erect in the passenger seat of the car and equally upright in the pew. I don’t think she could comfortably slouch if she wanted to. She poked at us kids to get us to sit up straight, too, but without all the elastic we didn’t stand a chance.

After church she served lunch, still cinched tight. Mom is a generous host who also very much enjoys the food she makes. When everyone else’s plates were filled on the Sundays of my childhood, I would look up from my peppery, gravy-covered plate to catch her spooning small portions on to her own dish. She would take a bite of ambrosia salad, her favorite, and she would smile a little smile of private satisfaction. And I thought how amazing it was that she had produced the wonder of that table, and about how soon I could ask for seconds.

After the guests had gone and the dishes were done, Mom would pick up her shoes and earrings (which had usually not lasted through the entire meal) and head for her bedroom. I accompanied her there to watch the getting-dressed procedure in reverse. The earrings would go back in the special box, and then the peeling of layers would begin. The dress, and then the various elastic modules until, at last, she was free. The housecoat would go back on.

And then, I swear to goodness, my mom would do something she hadn’t done since early that morning. She would close her eyes and take a deep, full breath. She would draw in air all the way to the bottom of her lungs, as if God’s own Self were giving her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. As if she had been drowning, her breathing constricted as it was by all the wrapping. She would exhale just as fully, emptying herself of all the poisonous carbon dioxide she couldn’t quite get rid of while she was bound. On Sunday afternoons, when church was all the way done, my mom could finally breathe again. My mom came back to life.

Someone asked me today why I am a feminist. Because of my mother’s body, when I was young.

That Night re: Ferguson

August 7, 2015

I told this story a few times when it happened, and then I sat with it for eight months. Some stories are like that.

On August 9 one year ago, I was preparing for a family vacation. I packed a book to read: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. And then we heard that things were indeed falling apart: Michael Brown had been shot dead by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.

On December 3, a grand jury in New York failed to indict the police officer who presided over the arrest of Eric Garner. Garner suffocated to death during his arrest and did not receive CPR or other emergency treatment.

There were other stories, other names, in between Michael and Eric.

I was beginning to understand that we were not talking about isolated incidents or rare accidents. We were opening our eyes (having our eyes opened) to recognize a pattern in a system that perpetuates the pattern. Disbelief had been my first response but repentance was mine to eat now. I felt like I was slowly waking up to a reality that was new to me, but had been true all along. Like waking up groggily from a dream into a nightmare. Before, it was somebody else’s nightmare, not really mine. But more and more, it felt like a truth I should know better.

On December 4, I went to my first #blacklivesmatter protest. I carpooled with my friend Wil; we met another couple of friends there. We ate an awkward dinner before the protest began. We listened to some short speeches yelled through a bullhorn, and then we began to walk. March? Maybe. We were walking with purpose, I suppose. But I did not yet understand what the purpose was.

There were police officers nearby. They rode bicycles on the edges of our group, returning our (my?) friendly smiles. They had set out cones to reroute traffic for our walk. They were helping us. I thought, This is going just fine. This will all feel better soon.

After we had walked for about an hour through the streets of downtown Dallas; after we had lain on the ground in a peaceful, four-minute “die-in”; after I had marveled at the city lights and the beauty of the night and the camaraderie of the crowd; this is what happened.

Somehow I got the sense, along with everyone around me, that something was suddenly and definitely wrong. There was a rustling in the herd of walking people, consternation on furrowed brows ahead of us. We felt nervous, all together. The police officers on bicycles had disappeared — when did they go? Now there were police cars beside us, and look! behind us, too! The cars had their red, spinning, rooftop lights on. The officer-drivers were not outside with us now; they were behind glass. They were not returning our (my?) hopeful smiles.

My friends and I realized together that we were no longer being protected by the police; we were being herded. The loose crowd of protesters was squeezed into a narrower and narrower space. The police cars with their dizzying lights multiplied, came closer, nudging us with bumper and horn into a kind of roadway chute. There were no more city lights; we were in near-darkness except for the nauseating spinning reds on the cars. We realized slowly that we had been corralled under an overpass, with concrete pylons towering over us, no way out on the other side, no streetlights to see by. That’s when the sirens came on.

The Rev. Wil Gafney, Ph.D., Assoc. Prof. of Hebrew Bible at Brite Divinity School

The Rev. Wil Gafney, Ph.D., Assoc. Prof. of Hebrew Bible at Brite Divinity School

Now there were 30 police cars behind and beside us, sirens blaring. The noise bouncing off the concrete was deafening. The cars edged close enough to touch our bodies; I hopped out of the path of one that was nipping at my right hip. My diminutive friend (a comment on her physical stature, not her character) was braver than I; she hopped in front of a blaring, glaring car, wearing no more armor than her Episcopal collar. And I thought in panicked fragments, “Don’t. Your skin. Not safe here.”

When she hollered at me to take a picture, so it would be documented if they hurt her, I did the best I could. I could barely hear her voice over the sirens and the sound of my own pounding heart.

We were barricaded under the overpass for some of the longest minutes I have known. (As long as the four-minute die-in? I don’t know. But I could breathe.) The leadership of our purposeful walk was lost to us; the bullhorn couldn’t be heard over the sirens in the echo chamber of cement and asphalt. We dithered. We were like sheep without a Good Shepherd; only the menacing police-car-sheepdogs barking and biting and bullying.

Eventually the word came to the back of the crowd that we would have to turn around and walk out of our situation. Our safety in numbers would be diminished, even destroyed, as we separated from each other to thread through the narrow channels formed by the officers’ cars. One by one we would make our way through, turning our bodies sideways to fit, taking tiny steps on tiptoe to get out. No more marching. Very little purpose to our walking now, except to escape.

The rest of the night was uneventful. There were no arrests. Certainly nobody was hurt, or killed. There were no media witnesses to the part of the protest I’m describing here. No explanation offered by the police department. I have theories. No proof.

But here is what I came away with that night: for the first time in my life, I was afraid of the police. It came to me like an electric shock: This is what my African-American neighbors feel all the time. Like the people who are meant to protect me could arbitrarily turn and use serious force against me for no reason that I could discern. Even if I followed the path they had marked with the cones. Even if I was peaceful, lawful, my hands in the air, my heart exposed.

That’s all I can say about that night eight months ago. It’s one person’s experience on one night in one city. There’s no prescription here for fixing it; only my recollection of how I came to believe that it’s broken. Some stories are like that.

Read Prof. Gafney’s “Protest Prayer” here.

Where You Put Your Body, What You Do With It

It’s a simple idea, really: who you are can be discerned by what you do. Except we usually want to make it more complicated than that.

I watched a movie with my family: All Is Lost (2003), the one wherein Robert Redford’s sailboat gets hit by a cargo container. The entire movie is without dialogue; it’s just one person’s battle against the chaotic forces of nature on the wide open sea. (If you know my fear of natural water, you’ll know I was pretty wound up for this one.)

I have seen this movie.

I have seen this movie.

Redford’s character, whose name we don’t know, has relationships we don’t know, is from somewhere we don’t know, has lived a life we don’t know, thinks thoughts we don’t know, is on a quest we don’t know, has made plans we don’t know. He is a spiritual person or not; is a good person or not; is worth saving or not – we don't know.

There is literally no backstory for this two-hour saga of Sturm and Drang, and no denouement, either. It’s a pure experiment in the idea that we will root for his survival not because we identify with his history, his intentions, his persuasive voiceover, or his touching reunion with someone, anyone, who loves him; rather, we will die to see him die based solely on what he does. Because who he is is what he does, starting with the initial crash that punctures his boat and continuing through the eight-day shitstorm that follows.

I have not read this book.

I have not read this book.

A 20th-century biblical scholar and theologian, Hans Frei, wrote a terribly complex book called The Identity of Jesus Christ (1975). In this book (so I’ve been told by my spouse who is something of an expert in Frei’s work), Frei argues that Jesus is what Jesus does. Or, more fully, Jesus is what Jesus does, says, and suffers. Jesus is not what Jesus intends or believes or thinks. His identity is rendered by what we can see on his outside, not by what we have to guess about his inside. The identity of Jesus = his outer life, not his inner life.

The gospels, you’ll notice, very rarely attribute any intention to Jesus’s actions. Once we are told that he “had compassion for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd.” Another time we read, “Moved with pity [or anger? it’s a wacky translation issue], Jesus stretched out his hand and touched [the leper]…and he was made clean.” But all the rest of the time, we get nada about his mood or his thought process or what he thinks it all means. It simply means what he does.

Frei would say, “If you want to know who Jesus is, look at what he does. It’s all there for us to see; there is nothing to distinguish between his intentions and his actions. We know Jesus is compassionate, or pissed off, or puzzled, we know whether Jesus gives a shit or not, because of what he does and says and suffers. He’s the same, inside and out.” Well, Frei probably wouldn’t say it just like that. I summarize.

This is important because we are so quick to say, “I didn’t mean to!” when we’ve done something, or somebody, wrong. Or, “I fully intended to…” when we’ve neglected what should’ve been a priority. Somehow we imagine that our intentions – what’s on the inside – can trump our actions – what’s on the outside, available for anybody to see if they’re paying attention.

So, for example (and here’s where this sounds kinda’ judgey, more than I intend, probably – and see what I did there?), one might say, “I worship and adore the living God.” But if one does not put one’s body in the worshiping posture, in the worshiping place, in the worshiping routine, if one does not actually worship, can one really say one is a worshiper of God? Your identity is rendered not in what you intend, but in what you do.

Or, for example, one might say, “I care about justice for LGBTQ humans, or kindness for low-wage workers, or creating beauty for our God-Who-Is-Beautiful, or making real relationships, no bullshit, ever.” Or anything else. But caring about these things is not a function of intending to care about these things. To care about them is to externalize that care as a practice. It has to do not with what you think or claim you prioritize, but with where you put your body and what you do with it – i.e. what you do.

So imagine that I’m Redford, out on that sinking boat, water pouring in, another storm brewing, with a concussion and no more fresh water. If you were watching me, who would you think I am? A survivor? A coward? An idiot? A fatalist? An optimist? Would you care whether I lived or died? How would you know, without a voiceover, a narrator, someone to tell you what I’m thinking?

You would just watch. You would wait to see what I do, after I throw up a little seawater and shout “Fuuuuuuuck!” to the sky. (Which is a perfectly legitimate prayer, by the way, and maybe the only appropriate one in that scenario.)

Or imagine my actual landlubber life. How do you know what I care about most? How do you know whether I'm a worshiper, or an ally, or a healer, or a parent, or a friend, or a self-important asshole? Look at what I do. Don’t worry about what I intend. I’ll show you my identity, and you’ll show me yours, the same way Jesus showed us his.

“You’ll know them by their fruits,” he told his followers one time, meaning that an apple tree really isn't unless it produces actual apples. You know people by what they show you -- the exact same way we knew him. The exact same way he knows us. Yeah. Yikes. 

Hire a Missionary

What’s your next move, church?

Let’s say you’re part of a traditional congregation that has enjoyed a long and fruitful life, and is coming to the end stages of its productive ministry. Maybe the neighborhood has changed around you; maybe the membership has matured beyond the vigorous local engagement it once had. Maybe past seasons of conflict or controversy or clergy misconduct have taken their toll. It doesn’t have to be anybody’s fault. It might just be time.

But your congregation is still a vital part of your life, and the lives of your close Christian friends. You can’t imagine relocating to a spiritual home anywhere else. You need this church now more than ever, because you need God now more than ever. This is no time to let go.

When your current pastor retires, or moves on to another church, you’ll be part of the search committee that’s trying to find a replacement. You’ll be tempted to write a job description that says your church wants to be transformed, wants to reach out to its neighbors, wants to revitalize and recapture the energy of former days.

But there’s a little part of you that knows that’s not quite true. What you mostly want is for the church to remain a source of comfort and strength for the people who gave so much to build it up over the years. And maybe there’s nothing wrong with that. Probably the church should take care of the ones who took care of it for so long.

Here’s an idea, then, for your church in its latter days: rather than hiring a full-time pastor to maintain the church as it is currently embodied, hire a missionary.

Hire someone who is energized and entrepreneurial; someone who has a dozen new ideas before s/he gets out of bed in the morning; someone who would drive your church to distraction if all her/his energy were directed at you. Invite this person to direct their passion elsewhere, with your blessing.

Hire someone who believes wholeheartedly that God has a will and a way for the people of your town who currently don’t believe that God wants anything to do with them. Invite this person to go find them.

I don't know these people. But I'd like to.

I don't know these people. But I'd like to.

Hire someone who can see those people, and learn their language, and enjoy their culture, and love them with a deep down love that will traverse mountains and swim oceans to get to where they are. Invite them to climb, and swim, and love outside the walls of your church.

Hire someone who respects that your church has done its best work, and is turning its face toward the legacy it will leave for the next generation and the next. Invite this person to lunge into that future on your behalf.

A local missionary’s job description could look like this:

1.   With 25% of her/his time, or 10-15 hours per week, we ask our missionary to:

•    Plan and execute strong, traditional, weekly worship of God for the congregation that gathers here.

•    Preach the gospel of Jesus Christ in weekly worship so as to fortify us for the world to come.

•    Care for the sick, the dying, and the grieving of our church with all the compassion that the Holy Spirit affords.

•    Leave us alone to do the intra-congregational ministry we know well how to do: social gatherings, women’s and men’s activities, Sunday school, administration, and more.

2.   With 75% of her/his time, or 30-40 hours per week, we commission our missionary to:

•    Search out the gaps in the wellbeing of our community. Find the demographic niches that traditional Christian communities haven’t found and that our congregation is not well suited to serve. Ask, “Where is Jesus most needful in this place?”

•    Invite the spiritual refugees that are our neighbors into the knowledge that God’s love is real, God’s love is for them, and God’s love is worth it — just like Jesus invited the refugees of his day to experience the realm of God.

•    Imagine and implement a newly formed Christian community that can convert strangers into neighbors and wanderers into wonderers[*]. Create an infrastructure for relationship that will help people draw near to each other and to God’s heart.

•    Use the resources of our church – the missionary’s time, our budget for materials and meals, our building and grounds, our wealth of experience with administration – to manifest that infrastructure.

•    Trust us to leave the missionary alone with this work, to not interfere in the strange, new methods s/he will employ to share the strange, old stories of God’s engagement with humanity. Trust us to trust you.

•    Try things, lots of things, because this project is vital for God’s realm and it will require the generation of many more ideas than will work. We understand this research and development will take time – years, even, a decade, more – and we are prepared for the financial expense of trial and error. Keep good records. Try more things. Let us pray for you.

•    Help us recognize when the time comes that the new community is ready to take responsibility for the assets of our congregation. Guide us in the transfer of our legacy to the next generation of the Lord’s church, with the promise that the missionary will continue to pastor us even when we are no longer the ones paying her or his salary.

•    Build into the ethos of the new congregation the imperative we have demonstrated for the transfer of the gospel to the next generation and the next. Teach them to be open-handed with the gifts God has given them through the opening of our hands.

I hear rumors of churches where this is happening, and maybe even working. Whispers of congregations that are looking more forward to what God will do with the resources they’ve released than they are looking back nostalgically to a past they can’t reclaim. If you have a story to tell about a local congregation hiring a missionary for their own town, send me confirmation; let’s build a list and encourage each other with narratives of hope.

It’s our move, church. The world is waiting for us to make it.



[*] “Strangers into neighbors, wanderers into wonderers” is from the Root and Branch Christian community in Chicago.

What Had Happened Was

What had happened was, there was a resolution on the floor on the very last day of the biannual General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). (In our denomination, we take “sense of the assembly” resolutions that say what the people in attendance think about important things. They’re not rules or doctrine; they’re a somewhat reliable pulse-check on the denominational diehards who still show up for biannual assemblies.)

Resolution 1526, “Resolution to Celebrate and Reaffirm Our Commitment Towards the Vision of Planting 1,000 New Congregations by 2020,” followed up on a promise we made some years ago. It was basically a reminder to us all that starting new churches is beautiful and essential work. It would be easy to say, “Yes, yes,” to that.

The procedure is thus: whoever wrote the resolution introduces it, and then people get a chance to talk to the whole assembly about it, using some funky parliamentarian protocols that you don’t want me to explain here. Suffice it to say, I found myself walking toward the appropriate microphone to get permission to address the assembly. I had no plan, no notes; I’m not a great extemporaneous orator. But I knew I had to speak. “The moderator recognizes the speaker at Microphone Number One,” said the moderator.

That's not me; that's Willy from FCC-Arlington. But those screens are really BIG, see?

That's not me; that's Willy from FCC-Arlington. But those screens are really BIG, see?

“Thank you, Mr. Moderator,” I said, my gigantic face turning blotchy red on the humongous screens at the front of the plenary hall, my voice reverberating through the arctic air-conditioned air. I shivered. “I am Katie Hays, pastor-planter of Galileo Christian Church in Mansfield, Texas. I rise to express gratitude for the congregations of the Trinity Brazos Area of the Southwest Region of the Christian Church, which granted us extremely generous start-up funds for our first two years of life. And Galileo Church has made good use of those funds; we are welcoming people to the heart of God in the name of Jesus and in the power of the Spirit.” (A couple of people “Amenned” at that.)

“However, I need to tell the whole truth about that. Two years is not enough. Galileo Church has legs, but it can’t walk on its own yet. Our start-up funds have run out. And the truth we should acknowledge is that new church starts very often fail for lack of money. Not for lack of interest from the community; not for lack of the minister’s good work; not for lack of the gospel’s power to transform lives. It takes money, real money, to make this ministry possible. And while Galileo is progressing toward sustainability, we have not achieved it yet.

“I will vote ‘yes’ on Resolution 1526, but I just want to say that it’s not enough. We already have the prayers and encouragement of our sister churches. I already have the friendship and commiseration of my colleagues. What we don’t have, what we really need, is more money to extend our life to the time when we can fund our life together.

“I’m hoping that established, traditional, aging congregations that are holding tightly with clenched fists to the resources that are slowing their inevitable decline will find the courage to open their hands and release some of those resources in service of the church’s future. I’m hoping that we’ll find a way to share with new congregations all across the country that are struggling to stay alive because their pastors are working full-time jobs and planting churches in their spare time.

“I will vote yes on this resolution. But it’s not enough. Thank you.”

And I stumbled back to my seat, panting a little from anxiety. I closed my eyes to concentrate on breathing deeply while the talking continued.

When I open my eyes, she’s kneeling beside me. I’ve never seen this person before, and I didn’t hear her come up, but there she is, kneeling on the concrete floor beside my chair. She says, “I don’t have very much money. But I want to share with Galileo. This is such good work. Can I write a check?”

And while I’m gaping, unable to say anything, she starts to scribble, her checkbook on her bent knees. No, not a huge amount of money, but who cares? The real gift is her presence. The real gift is the power she’s sharing with me in that moment. She rips out the check and hands it to me with a smile. “Take heart,” she says. “It will come.” And we both stand up into an automatic embrace.

By this time I was crying the ugly cry – blotchier face, lots of snot. A friend from Georgia crept up to offer me Kleenex. I let go of the check-writing angel to wipe my face and she was gone. I didn’t see her again for the rest of the assembly. It’s hard for me to believe she even exists outside of that moment.

Over the next two days, I received notifications from Paypal that donations had arrived from a couple more of my colleagues, and that recurrent donations from one had been set up. Another friend wrote to ask what kind of plan we have for our long-term sustainability, and to offer her considerable administrative talents to help realize it.

But that’s not all. When I landed at DFW after a long travel day I got a call from a pastor saying that her church had voted to include Galileo in their outreach budget; she would be mailing a check that was on her desk before she got home from the assembly. And just this morning a journalist who heard somehow about Galileo sent email to say that she’d like to give us some free publicity in a metroplex magazine.

These offerings – especially the ones that are clearly unrelated to my words at General Assembly 2015 – are the gifts of God for the people of God. Or more specifically, for this person of God. I don’t usually say that God is directing specific actions for the sake of God’s people, making it rain, whatever. But sometimes there’s really nothing to say except, “Thank you.” To the people God uses, and to God’s own Self – thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thanks be to God.

Curious Church, Curious Christians

June 2015

Way back when we hired a design firm to make some stuff for us (including this website you’re reading right now), they asked what we hoped would happen when people saw our publicity. “I hope it makes them curious,” I said. “We don’t need to persuade people right away. We can work with curiosity.”

Our G-Study group just started the strangest book (Galileo’s Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and the Search for Justice in Science by Alice Dreger, 2015). On the first page the author says, “Twice as often as my parents told their four children to go wash, they told us to go look something up.” She gratefully remembers that her parents cultivated curiosity in their kids, a trait that gives her deep satisfaction in scientific inquiry and has fueled her successful (if controversial) research career.

All of which puts me in mind of Jesus.

When Jesus met potential followers on the seashore (John 1), he invited them simply to “Come and see.” Who knows how many people heard his invitation that day? But only a few were curious enough to take him up on it. And even as the crowds around him swelled, he admonished the ones closest to him to try harder, invest more mental energy in understanding the nature of his work. “Let those with ears to hear, listen!” he would implore (Mark 4:9, e.g.) when telling his strange and beautiful parables. “Do you have eyes, but fail to see?” he would groan (Mark 8:18, e.g.) when they forgot to consider his power to make good things happen.

Jesus, I’m saying, seemed to like people who were curious – curious about him, curious about God, curious about the world we live in. He engaged people who came to him in a spirit of open inquiry, and poked fun at people who feigned interest for the sake of reinforcing their already-held points of view. It could be said, according to his way of thinking, that the sweetest thing a messiah could do for somebody in distress was teach them something they didn’t already know (Mark 6:34).

As Dreger points out in the introduction to Galileo’s Middle Finger, a lot of secular liberals imagine that religiously devout people are close-minded and incurious. (I can’t believe spellcheck accepted “incurious.” Cool.) But we know better, don’t we? Followers of Jesus should be among the most curious people in the world. We know there’s so much that we don’t know, so much about God and God’s world to discover. So we (some of us anyway) cultivate curiosity itself as a Christian virtue. It drives us to inquire and challenge and argue and test and learn. And we hold things we’ve learned lightly, knowing there might be more for our eyes to see, our ears to hear, because God just keeps doing stuff.

Our church has certain practices that cultivate curiosity as a virtue in the people who hang around. Our sermons don’t usually end with a tidy “Q.E.D.” We send out mildly transgressive tweets to see if anybody’s paying attention. We show videos at the top of each worship service, without commentary, that make just about everybody scratch their heads. (Here’s an example of one we love, about a werewolf and his boyfriend.) We make lots of room for exploration of the Bible, and our life stories, and our communal call from God. We publish just about every thought we’ve ever had so everybody can think about it together (but not the same, of course).

So what kind of church do you get when you cultivate curiosity as a Christian virtue? Wouldn’t you like to know? Come and see.

How to be a Pretty Good Ally at Somebody Else's Protest

1.  Get your head out of the sand. If you didn’t know there was a protest in or near your hometown till you saw somebody else’s photo on Facebook the next day, you don’t have enough justice advocates in your social media streams. If you’re white, follow people of color. If you’re straight, follow LGBTQ people. If you’re male, follow feminists. Don’t rely on traditional media to tell you what’s going on – they’ll report plenty after the fact, but not in time for you to join in. When it’s time for a protest, the prophetic voices in your Twitter/Instagram/etc. feeds will let you know.

2.  Shut up and listen. It’s not necessary to generate your own response about complex social justice issues and incidents right away, or enter the conversation online. Simply pay attention and learn what people other than people just like you are experiencing in their worlds, and how they’re responding to it. “Like,” “favorite,” repost, and retweet if you like, little by little, to show that you’re listening. Listening is a spiritual practice not practiced enough by people of privilege.

3.  Show up. Justice work is opportunistic. It doesn’t happen on your schedule; it’s never convenient; there’s never a perfect scenario free of complexity and murky shades of gray. When awful things happen in the world around you, you need to be ready to prioritize standing alongside the community of people who are most affected. Cancel meetings; find a babysitter; skip a meal; miss a deadline. Go with the urgency. The Holy Spirit is notoriously ignorant of our calendars.

4.  Be awkward. If you’re doing it right, you will be in the minority at somebody else’s protest. You will question whether the majority really wants you there. You will wonder if they’re looking at you funny. They are, so you will try to make your body smaller and your face kinder. And in this way, you will feel what all those Somebody Elses feel all the time. And that, right there, is the beginning of solidarity. If you don’t feel awkward, check your privilege. You might not be ready to…

#McKinney

#McKinney

5.  Stay out of the way and follow for a change. You are not in charge of this event; you’re not even useful to the people in charge. You’re not there to be useful. You don’t need to know the route. You don’t deserve a status report about how it’s going. You don't lead the chants. You don’t make judgments about what time it starts, or whether the people in the back can hear, or anything else. Submit to being a guest in somebody else’s space.

6.  Feel all the feels. If you let go of your privilege and your need to be in control, you’ll have plenty of energy to experience the emotions of the moment. When you pass that man on the corner with his toddler on his shoulders, holding a scribbled sign that says, “Keep your hands off my baby,” you’ll cry, because you have nothing else to do. When you see couples walking hand in hand, loving each other in defiance of the system’s refusal to honor their love, you’ll exult. When you see the contorted faces of counter-protesters shouting insults at the crowd of which you are a tiny, tiny part, your head will swim with a sickening mix of sorrow and fear and anger. Your cool detachment (which you sometimes mistake for dignity, but which is more likely pride) will melt away and your heart will merge with the people you’re standing with in the moment.

7.  Wear your heart on your sign. Why are you compelled to join this communal demonstration of holy unrest? Sum it up in a slogan – and preferably not an abstract slogan about the broken system. (Leave that to people who stand outside the system of which you can’t help but be a part.) When those black kids are bullied and terrorized by neighbors and police, say, “Those kids are my kids.” When law enforcement escalates a small dispute into a life-threatening quagmire, say, “PEACE, for Christ’s sake.” Put it on a sign for all the world to see.

8.  Process and pray. When the protest is over, and a new day dawns, let those hours spent in solidarity be your food for thought. Remember the people you met. Peruse the selfies you took with new friends. Read through the tweets on the protest hashtag. Tell somebody, maybe a friend who’s pretty much like you, what it was like. Write a blog post – not the “look at me” kind; just the “here’s what I learned” kind. Admit that you’ve got a long way to go. Pray for justice; pray for peace; pray for all God’s dreams to come true. Pray that God begins with you.

© 2013 Galileo Church