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Twenty-one of us gathered around a table in the basement last night to talk about Christmas. We also eat at these gatherings. We seem to take cues from those first century gatherings we read about in an old book we call Acts so when we get together we are often eating (I suspect some come for the eating). We weren’t quite talking about Christmas, but about Advent. One has to go through Advent in order to get to Christmas. We are preparing. We are waiting. We are getting ready. In a way, I suspect we are like shepherds tending sheep in the fields or like Magi traveling from the east.

 
Our conversation actually included a prophet for hire and a donkey who talked. These are great stories but it was the words of the hired prophet that stick out in a context for Advent. “I see him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; A star shall come forth from Jacob, A scepter shall rise from Israel.”

 
I love these meetings. While I do not tend to like labels, we have had people who call themselves Congregationalists and Methodists and Lutherans and Pentecostals attend these meetings. What do you get when you put a group like this in the basement with a holiness preacher for the purpose of listening to old texts together? I think you get a great picture of church. Sometimes this text simply fascinates us. Sometimes it creates more questions than answers. Sometimes it challenges us in ways we did not expect. But we always benefit when we get together for the purpose to hear what it says.

 
It is our hope that our readings and discussions lead to things like belief and behavior and belonging. If they don’t, then why spend time in the basement on a cold, dark night anyway? We don’t want to be a people who just talk about things. We want these things to spill out onto the street and into the surrounding community. What happens at 212 N High Street, doesn’t stay at 212 N High Street.

For those who love to play with words, haikus offer a great opportunity.

Enter creation

Beautiful and dangerous

Walk attentively

Chris Thile

Chris Thile is a mandolin virtuoso and I am a fan. When you see or hear him play, it doesn’t take long to realize that Chris Thile really enjoys music. It seems he would have near the same amount of fun if he were playing in a room by himself. But this past Tuesday he was at Messiah College playing to a packed house. He was animated. He was energetic. He played the mandolin like it was part of him. We heard bluegrass and Bach and songs he wrote just for kicks. He played for nearly two hours and we wanted him to keep playing. He had a section of the show called “Up to You.” Two requests were made from the audience and he formed a medley on the spot. It seemed he wanted people to pick something obscure, it’s as if he has every song memorized. Not just his own songs, I was convinced he had memorized every song that has ever been sung.

 
Chris was a child prodigy and began writing and recording at an early age. He plays with Nickel Creek (a band formed with childhood friends he met while receiving music lessons), he plays with the Punch Brothers (a bluegrass-like band). He hosts the radio Show “Live From Here.” He was part of “The Goat Rodeo Sessions” where he played with Yo-Yo-Ma, Edgar Meyer, and Stuart Duncan. Chris Thile is a mandolin player. I am a fan.

A Gathering

At first glance, 212 North High Street may not stand out. There, you will find a fine brick building with plenty of character. The imprint in the concrete near the front steps say it was built in 1912. Multiple things go on here. In just the next few weeks, among other things, the building will serve as the site for a dinner, study sessions, the local food distribution, a board meeting, and a party. Next Thursday evening, we will sit on the front steps and give treats to the neighbors.

 
But the primary thing that happens here is a gathering on Sunday mornings. We don’t take these gatherings casually; in fact, we believe heaven and earth meet here. We gather with allies to acknowledge who rules the world. We gather to remind ourselves of our role in such an important narrative. We gather to pray, sing, and bless one another for the ongoing journey. We enter sacred space and read words of hope out loud. We are reminded of what is real in contrast to the artificial news we hear so much of the time. On account of these things, I suspect most of our gatherings leave attenders somewhat ‘spirited.’

 
But recently we were reminded that what we do is not always ‘spirited’, at least not in a sense that feels good. In fact, we were reminded that our gatherings can be sobering. It is hard to feel good when one of your own is hurting. It is easy to talk about retaliating toward a perpetrator. It is difficult to talk about forgiving them. It doesn’t feel good when a friend is pouring out the emotional pain of her soul because of a literal catastrophe.

 
At first glance, 212 North High Street may not stand out. But there is something going on in those Sunday gatherings where we attempt to “bless those who persecute… rejoice with those who rejoice… mourn with those who mourn.”

I am pretty sure I always enjoy lunch. But it is possible that I have enjoyed it even more the past several weeks. I met with Mike, Harry, John, Frank, Daryl, Steve, and Jeff at the Rusty Rail. I met with Joe and Joe at Buffalo Wild Wings. I met with Mark and Tim at Schmidt’s Sausage Haus. I met with Bowles and Frank at Susquehanna Harvest.

I am pretty sure I enjoyed the food during each of these meals. But it isn’t the food that has stuck in my mind. It is the conversation. Aside from the fact that I am pretty sure I’ve been dining with geniuses, at every one of these gatherings we talked about things we should be talking about.

It is so easy to avoid talking about things that do not seem to be in front of us at the moment. Even when we know others are affected by certain issues, we can step around them if they do not seem to be affecting us directly. Some of our sister churches have entered some of these conversations, not all the them in helpful ways. It is time we enter the conversations. It is not good enough to say “we don’t believe in that” or “everyone else is wrong.” It is not good enough to pretend there are simple solutions to issues that become very complicated.

Conversation will prepare us to talk as a united voice. It will permit us to allow some diversity of opinion without becoming defensive. It will help us when the day arrives that we feel confronted by the issue directly. It will assist us as we attempt to support others in the universal church. It will assist us in the ways we attempt to love the world.

Obviously, this isn’t one issue. We could form an entire list of things we should be talking about in more formal settings than lunch. Some of the things that came up from my genius friends during these lunches include;

  • Violence (for some this means guns, I think it’s bigger than that)
  • Women in Ministry (even if we don’t understand why this is an issue at all)
  • LGBTQ (a population that thinks the church is mean?)
  • Race (how can this even remain an issue? But silence will not help)
  • Politics (will we ever understand that “Jesus is Lord” is our political phrase?)
  • Systematic theology (why do things meant for good divide the Body so severely?)
  • I suspect there are many things we should be talking about and are not…

We didn’t talk about all of these issues at any one of the above gatherings. I am not proposing that anyone is expert on any of these issues. I am simply suggesting it would be wrong to isolate ourselves from them and that we should be talking about them. Let’s talk…

Somewhere between Jacks and Shade Mountain it will soon be time to start a fire in the fireplace. Maybe light up the firepit. Maybe light up a bonfire. As the weather gets cooler, a fire seems to sound better and better. The trees seem to have already caught fire. Yellows, oranges, and reds mix with browns and burn from the surrounding branches. The leaves fall like sparks to the ground where the first frost already claimed the basil.

 
Lettuce, onions, and spinach are still growing. They seem to like this weather. I have pulled up the tomatoes and peppers. Harvested the sweet potatoes. One by one, the gardens are getting ready for Winter. We blanket them with lots of straw and compost. The hummingbird feeders are put away until next year. The other feeders are getting more and more action.

 
I’ve been gathering rocks all summer long. Been digging them out of the yard, finding them in the tree line, and carrying them in from the woods. They are beginning to look like a wall for a Spring garden. I hope it will be the perfect spot for tulips, daffodils, and garlic.

 
The fairly large hornet nest is still hanging from a backyard tree, we’ll wait until it gets colder to take it down. I am still seeing Valley and Ridge Salamanders and Wood Frogs hiding in the leaf litter. Along with deer, a Black Bear, two Gray Foxes, and a flock of Wild Turkeys have been showing themselves on the trail cam. Not satisfied with just being seen on a trail cam, Mom saw twelve turkeys in the yard one day.

 
On another day, we put a chicken on the Weber. Rub it down with butter. Add salt and pepper. Put it over a drip pan on the far side of the grill and add charcoal when necessary. As a bonus, eat the liver, heart, and gizzard while the rest of the bird is cooking. The smells and tastes were awesome. We call it wicked good. Fall is a really good time for a fire. Not too long ago, my favorite season was Summer. Now, I’m starting to think I’m kind of a Fall guy.

Good things as well as bad are caught by a kind of infection. If you want to get warm you must stand near the fire; if you want to be wet you must get into the water. If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them.