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Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust

Dip, downstroke, cross.

“From ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

Dip, downstroke cross.

“From ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

A murmured thank you.

Dip, downstroke, cross.

“From ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

Crouch down, dip, downstroke, cross.

“From ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

 

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Every year, the Ash Wednesday service is one of my favorite Christ Community services. In the words of our campus pastor, “It’s sadder here,” and he’s right, it is. Beautifully sad. Ever humbling. Sorrow-stirring. 

This year I felt it in my hands first. We had been given gold-painted rings with tags attached and were asked to reflect and write down “treasures we cherish more than Jesus.” Oof. The mental inventory took less time than I’d have liked, and returned more than I hoped for. Confessions of misordered loves and misplaced affections, time misspent, and hopes misplaced swam forward and weighed heavily on my mind.

Moments before, the congregation proclaimed “He is worthy…of all blessing and honor and glory.” We had declared Jesus “holy, holy, holy,” and yet I had a lap full of contrary confessions. Sitting confronted with the hypocrisy alive in my own heart, the weight of the ring in my hands grew. It felt an awful lot like 30 pieces of silver.

I felt it on my shoulders next. Asked to stand, each side of the room was then asked a simple question. Using the same words asked of  Peter the disciple, echoing from thousands of years ago, a voice prompted “Church . . . Children of God . . . Sons and Daughters . . . Do you love me?” As we were addressed, each group in turn clutched our frail golden prize, holding our confessions close, and silently turned our backs. 

Away from the voice.
Away from the cross.
Away from the call of Jesus.

I think this is the most visceral way I’ve wrestled with my fallen nature in a while – which says more to my acceptance of it than anything. Facing my chair, grasping a representation of goods made into gods, the truth hung heavy; while I wish it wasn’t, rejection was the truest expression of my heart. 

What can you do with this weight other than let it consume you? Repent.  Looking guiltily at our hands and the sanctuary walls, we begged, “Come thou font of every blessing,” we offered, “Here’s my heart Lord, take and seal it.” Grace met our cries, and the weight lifted as mercy made tangible invited us to once again turn and face the symbol of our salvation, the cross. 

While normally this portion of the service would bear enough emotional weight to make me pause and ponder, this year I had also been asked to help impart ashes. I knew when I was asked that I was honored, but after touching the foreheads of a quarter of my church family, I can honestly say I had no idea how honored I should be. 

It felt holy. Standing in the corner of the room, thumb gritty and oily with the ashes, offering fellow congregants a soft smile, a black cross on the forehead, and some of the least comforting words I can think of, “From ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” 

It felt brutal to say those words over my older brothers and sisters in Christ, and there were more than a few of them. I crouched down to one woman’s forehead. Moved wispy silver bangs off another’s. My thumb brushed the wrinkles of a grandfather’s forehead. Crosses made of ash drawn where hairlines used to be. 

It felt brutal to say those words over younger brothers and sisters in Christ. I help with student ministries, so I saw students that I knew come through my line. I crouched down to a child’s forehead. Moved the brim of a baseball cap off another’s. My thumb brushed teenage acne scars. Crosses made of ash poked from beneath well-styled floppy hair.

This practice stirred remnants of the invincibility of youth that I didn’t realize still dwelt deep within me. While I wasn’t surprised that the sentiment felt true to say over those who’ve walked this globe longer than I, it was a sinking shock to realize it rang as true for those who have walked less. 

I know mortality is one of the great equalizers. Counter to the side of the human coin imprinted imago Dei lies our finitude. I just haven’t been confronted by it in a while. My life is largely insulated from reminders of it nowadays; my family is currently healthy, and my Facebook feed misleadingly free of CaringBridge pages. But Ash Wednesday wrestles the rose-colored glasses from my face. It demands me to see clearly. To see clearly the presence and cost of sin in my heart. In my life. In the lives of my fellow congregants. In the church. In the world. To see the death bought by our behavior.

That’s Ash Wednesday’s gift. For only from the right, corrected sight can the growth God invites us to come. Only from the admittance of brokenness can come repair. Only from confession can come forgiveness free from shame. Jesus promised the kingdom of God to the mourners, the meek, and the poor in spirit. Ash Wednesday is a means to get us there. A funeral to our pride, a shrinking of our egos, and a preaching of our fallibility over ourselves. Let it be the water that washes me meek and mourning, for the glory of God and the good of my soul.

Amen.

A Lasting Legacy Can Be an Act of Faith

A Lasting Legacy Can Be an Act of Faith

A Lasting Legacy Can Be an Act of Faith

 As Christians, we are called to be stewards — stewards of our faith, of our loved ones, and of the things in our lives that God has blessed us with. Estate planning is a meaningful way to care for yourself, your family, and the communities and ministries close to your heart. 

For many Christians, this critical life task can be an important way to put their faith into action and create a lasting legacy that upholds their values and beliefs for generations to come.
 

Why Estate Planning?

When you make a will, you have the opportunity to contribute to the people and causes you love on your own terms. Just as God’s love sustains us and unites our communities around a shared purpose, estate planning can sustain your personal faith today, tomorrow, and for years to come. You have the power to communicate your wishes and steward your resources with care, purpose, and compassion. 

In the New Testament, we read that the early Christians were known for their radical generosity, using their resources to care for their community and some selling property and giving the proceeds to be used for those in need (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-37). 

This trajectory is rooted in the history of the Israelites setting aside the edges of their fields for gleaning by widows, orphans, the poor, and the needy (Leviticus 19:9-10, Deuteronomy 24:19-22).

Today, the seeds of generosity have been planted for you, and you can pull from these deep-rooted traditions to create an estate plan that sustains a legacy of selflessness. 

 

Your Faith, Your Family, Your Legacy

Estate planning is also a powerful way to communicate with your loved ones and your family. When we think of what it means to be a steward of everything God has entrusted to our care — our families, careers, and finances — it is easy to forget about the final act of stewardship we have after we leave this earth. 

How will our lifetime of stewardship impact those we love after we are gone? Creating a will empowers you to pass your faith forward and steward your resources in ways that continue to support what matters to you. You can communicate important financial, healthcare, and end-of-life wishes in your estate plan and through your last will and testament to support your family and those who may be charged with your estate. 


Getting Started with Christ Community
 

 As a member of the Evangelical Free Church of America, our purpose is to serve you and your loved ones in your faith, influencing our community and world for Jesus Christ. That’s why we have partnered with FreeWill, a secure online estate planning resource that allows you to begin building one element of your legacy of faith – at no cost to you. 

This simple, self-guided platform offers step-by-step guidance on how to direct the use of  what God has given you in ways that honor the word and work of the Lord. 

No single generation builds a church. The beauty of Christ Community is in all of us who take up the cross, build lives around the Bible, and love the church. 

Resources:

Generosity Paper

Visit FreeWill.com/cckc to get started today

Living a Generous Life: Planning a Lasting Legacy

Carrying the Cross of Gender Dysphoria

Carrying the Cross of Gender Dysphoria

The second of a 4-part series titled, “Gender Dysphoria & the Question of Distinctly Christian Resources,this blog originally appeared January 21, 2018, on the website of the Andreas Center at Dordt University in a publication titled “in all things,” and was written by Mark A. Yarhouse, Psy.D. & Julia Sadusky, M.A, We repost this blog by permission in its original format. Visit in all things website to read all parts of this series.

One thing we have seen as a successful method of coping for gender dysphoria is offering oneself in service to others. This may seem counterintuitive at first. Isn’t it draining to invest in other people, especially in the very moments when a person is struggling immensely? But, one biological female who uses she/her pronouns and describes herself as transgender shared otherwise: “Helping other people—focusing on the problems of others. I was created to love God and love people. God made me generous and empathic and that’s what matters” (Yarhouse & Houp, 2016, p. 58). This is not as surprising a conclusion as it might seem, at least not when taken in light of the many Scriptural references to receiving much in giving of one’s self (Proverbs 11:25; Matthew 10:8; Luke 6:38; 2 Corinthians 9:11; Galatians 5:13). In fact, we are told that the greatest among us will be servants to others (Matthew 23:11), and that the mission of Jesus was “to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45; Matthew 20:27-28). Thus, the transgender person’s generosity with her time and talents is a beautiful response to Christ’s call to follow His example. In the midst of her own struggle, she can offer a powerful witness of Christ-like love and humility in serving.Perhaps the greatest contribution from Christianity has to do with our experience of enduring hardship. A discussion of hardship and pain in the life of a Christian is often Christ-centered, as it entails uniting with Jesus in His suffering. Certainly, it is true that Christ invites each person to follow Him through concrete acts of charity and service. After all, the ultimate expression of God’s love for us, the greatest expression of love and the most radical act, was His suffering and death (John 15:13). His suffering, once for all, won our salvation. But still He commanded that we pick up the daily cross and follow Him (Matthew 16:24-26). In Paul’s words, the task for us is to identify with His suffering. But why? Why would a loving God command the embracing of a cross? If He loved us, wouldn’t He carry the burden for us? What is the value of Him carrying it with us?

 

Because He knew what we do not always remember. Death is the door to Resurrection. Encountering our weakness is the path to experiencing grace beyond human comprehension. It seems that we would be much less aware of our need for God if we were not brought face-to-face with crosses that are too heavy for one person to carry alone. Grace makes possible what certainly is, apart from grace, impossible.  If you are hyperaware of your weakness, your lack, and your inability to cope, precisely there is the place where your childlike need for a Savior is discovered. Jesus, perhaps, is able to unite more fully to us in those moments, and to work more fully within us when we come to Him as children, desperately in need of Him.

Uniting suffering to Christ involves a conscious choice to embrace the cross and share it with Him. We can fight the cross, drop the cross, look away from the cross, compare it to that of others, but it will still be there. How are we to respond to the cross? Surely God knows our desire to distance ourselves from it. Why then does He call us to “Come”? Again, he knows that which we easily forget. Embracing the cross is a prerequisite to Christian joy. Whether it be minor inconveniences, temporary pain, chronic illness, or death itself, the freedom that is promised to the Christian is discovered in a willful assent to the pain of the present moment. Rather than fighting it, which brings its own challenges, accepting the cross is liberating. And in this freedom, we can face the cross that we fear most, and enter into joy beyond all telling.

Every person longs for joy, and the early Christians wrote less about pleasure than they did about joy, according to Servais O.P. Pinckaers’ book Morality: The Catholic View (2001). We are fully alive when we are most joyful. This reveals the supreme human calling to endless joy: that is, eternal life. But joy, properly understood, is associated with enduring hardship. Joy is tied to pain that is endured, and, as a result, joy itself is enduring:

Joy is lasting, like the excellence, the virtues, that engender it. Sense pleasure is individual, like sensation itself. It decreases when the good that causes it is divided up and shared more widely; it ceases altogether when the good is absent. Joy is communicable; it grows by being shared and repays sacrifices freely embraced. Joy belongs to the purity and generosity of love. (p. 78)

Too often, we long to find life for ourselves, but we find ourselves less drawn to the way by which this life and this joy comes—by risking or even losing one’s life for Christ’s sake (Matthew 16:24-26). We are much more comfortable praying for healing than for the grace to suffer well. And perhaps as a result of our constant exposure to hedonic goals of the avoidance of pain and the pursuit of pleasure, we easily forget that the Christian faith stands in opposition to an easy life, even going so far as to say that Jesus on the cross embodies an absolute rejection of the notion. His embracing of His cross with absolute consent of His will reveals an altogether different goal for the Christian, and a potential pathway when faced with enduring conditions.

Christian history demonstrates rich examples of embracing suffering. Many Christians before us have walked this path, and we stand on ground soaked with the blood of martyrs who were witnesses of the fruit of this embrace of suffering. In suffering, though, they did not lose sight of Christian hope. Their hope was the root of their joy. Theirs was not a grim-faced suffering, or a begrudging acceptance. At the same time, the saints certainly were not superficial or naively optimistic. Rather, their hope was a grace itself, sufficient for their present difficulty. It was a hope that did not disappoint, we are told.

Still, how can we be sure, lest we find ourselves expecting good things to come and left wanting? We only have to look back to the reason for our hope. Hope certainly did not disappoint the first Christians when they found an empty tomb and came to know that our Lord had risen, just as He had said (Matthew 28:6). Hope did not disappoint when the Holy Spirit descended in the upper room, soon after Jesus had promised He would send the Advocate. Hope did not disappoint when thousands were converted and baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, just as He had told them.

Certainly Christ loves us now with as much love as He loved His other disciples. He will give hope in our own dark nights and raise us into newness of life, just as He said. This brings us back to the reminder that it is in suffering well that the beauty of life in Christ is made manifest. We rejoice in our suffering precisely because it is through our hardships (and handling of those hardships) that God is glorified. This joy is not exhibited primarily through a smiling face. Sometimes it is through tears and open hands that might feel empty. Suffering in these moments, especially, is an act of worship, in which believers unite their suffering to Christ.

Gender dysphoria is painful and real. The question is, is it possible to validate the reality and depth of the suffering and invite one another to pursue Christian joy in and through this particular hardship? Or will this only ever lead to trivializing another’s pain? Can we discuss sanctification without moving the entire discussion of gender dysphoria into the realm of morality or moral categories of sin?  With our transgender family, friends, and neighbors, we as Christians have not always done so well. This could be because we have been less vocal in calling one another to be sanctified through suffering, while shouting down those we have labeled “uniquely sinful” (perhaps the phrase “uniquely wounded” is more appropriate in these cases). Thus, we have missed the opportunity to recognize the real place for exploring what sanctification could look like in the lives of transgender Christians, and all other Christians.

That such a perspective is counter-intuitive to the American Christian makes it difficult to apply it to gender dysphoria. This is a countercultural move that requires a more substantive shift in perspective. This shift would necessarily include a discussion of gender dysphoria, but wouldn’t focus on it exclusively, while maintaining hedonic presuppositions for others of maximizing pleasure and avoiding pain.

Only if we agree that we all are in need of embracing suffering fully, of being sanctified through our crosses, can we begin to find unity, rather than division, when we discuss gender dysphoria. Before any discussion, we must first acknowledge that we struggle to love well when another is suffering. Too often, we have abandoned one another to carry these painful crosses in isolation, masking our departure by quoting Scripture verses as we walk out the door. Next, we must resist the urge to avoid our own pain and the pain of others. In Christian communities, we have gotten quite good at praying for miraculous healing, but there is also much to be gained in praying for the grace to suffer well, even praying for the desire to want to suffer for love of God and love of one another.

It is certainly natural and good to ask for healing, to beg Jesus to give us reprieve from the weight of the cross. And sometimes, Jesus does give reprieve through miraculous healing, whether it be physical or psychological, or the timely support of another person. Sometimes, we have to think to ask, what is our response when the cross is not lifted? Can healing take the form of spiritual healing as we receive the grace of God in the presence of our real and enduring psychological and emotional distress?

Links to other parts of this series, Gender Dysphoria & the Question of Distinctly Christian Resources:

Part 1: Introduction to Gender Dysphoria
Part 3: Sharing the Burden of Gender Dysphoria
Part 4: Continuing to Seek Answers for Gender Dysphoria

 
References

Antonio Guillamon, Carme Junque, and Esther Gomez-Gil. A Review of the Status of Brain Structure Research in Transsexualism. Archives of Sexual Behavior 45, no 7 (October 2016), 1615-1648.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Whatever You Did Unto One of the Least, You Did Unto Me. An address at the National Prayer Breakfast, February 3, 1994. Retrieved from https://www.ewtn.com/library/issues/prbkmter.txt

Pinckaers, Servais O.P., Morality: The Catholic View. South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 2001.

Mark A. Yarhouse, Understanding Gender Dysphoria: Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015.

Mark A. Yarhouse & Dara Houp, D., Transgender Christians: “Gender identity, family relationships, and religious faith.” In Sheyma Vaughn (Ed.), Transgender youth: Perceptions, media influences, and social challenges (pp. 51-65). New York, NY: Nova Science Publishers, 2016.

Where Does It Come From?

Where Does It Come From?

Behind every product is a person. Behind every purchase, every consumable, every dish and drink, garment and gas tank, car and cell phone — behind everything we use and abuse and cherish — is a person who made it. A person just like you.

 

But, where does it come from?

I certainly didn’t care about this question for most of my adult life, mostly because I didn’t think about it. That started to change when I got to Kansas City in 2019 and found that everything’s about supporting local business! 

 

Then my world was blown open when I became a small business owner of a coffee company. 

 

Now my first question became: where does my coffee come from?

A couple of friends approached me about becoming entrepreneurs. We tried a bunch of things — exercise programs, creative services, website design — but our constantly evolving mission statement kept coming back to the same thing: we wanted to help people. Whether it was solving a problem or growing a brand, we felt we had a skill set that could benefit others. 

 

Then we started talking with Ervin Liz. He took entrepreneurship classes with my business partner back in college and then went back to his home in Colombia, South America to start a coffee business. 

 

Ervin had seen first hand the poverty of Indigenous coffee farmers and the brokenness of the coffee industry. His parents are farmers, and they were forced to cut down their coffee trees in 2010 because they could not make ends meet. In fact, many in their native Nasa community struggle with this burden due to unfair coffee prices and large coffee producers. So, Ervin built a business selling directly to the consumers in Colombia. By taking out the “middleman” and providing fair prices for high-quality coffee, he was able to pay farmers more.

 

Ervin ultimately had a growing demand from US consumers, and he needed help expanding. We suggested doing some marketing, but instead he invited us on as owners — people with a real stake in this thing, and Native Root Coffee was born. Plus, the coffee was really good, so we couldn’t say no.

The Triple Bottom Line 

In 1994 entrepreneur John Elkington coined the term “triple bottom line,” which stands for people, planet, and profit.

What he may not have realized at the time is that valuing people, planet, and profit actually aligns really well with our faith. 

 

People

As creatures made in God’s image and charged with His creation, we have incredible worth and responsibility — not only to our own bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) but also to others, especially the vulnerable (Matthew 25:44-45). Businesses have power through money and influence, and it’s a decision maker’s responsibility to do right by humanity.  

 

Planet

God made humankind stewards of the earth (Genesis 1:28) but everyone and everything in the universe still belongs to Him (Psalm 24:1). Just as we are made in God’s image, His creation clearly bears His signature (Romans 1:20) and it should be honored in kind.

 

Profit

While the Bible says a lot about money and greed, it also makes it clear that those who sow bountifully will also reap bountifully (2 Corinthians 9:6) — it all depends on what you sow. The parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) describes investing God’s gifts as a way to create greater things. If a business uses profits to invest in people and the planet, it sows goodness. 

 

Meeting the people behind the coffee

So, where does our coffee come from? Before Native Root, I thought I was fancy by buying the imported German coffee at Aldi for $5, as opposed to the breakfast blend for $3. But the focus was inward — I wanted yummy coffee for myself; that’s it.

Then, Ervin invited us to meet the farmers — first through photos, and then in person.

Our team made the trek to the Togoima Reservation in Colombia, which is about 10 hours south of Bogotá by overnight bus. We got to experience the farm and meet the people first hand. Ervin’s parents, Ana and Isidro, greeted us with limited words — because they spoke the native language Nasa Yuwe — but with unlimited hospitality. 

I have so many stories about our visit that I’d love to share with you if we meet in person. When we left Colombia, we could not stop thinking about the people we’d met — how they interacted with their environment, the hospitality they exuded, and the ways we hoped to help them. 

 

Native Root + the Triple Bottom Line 

 
Profit: 

First and foremost, we pay our farmers. They work the hardest, they produce the coffee, and yet so often they can’t make enough money to live on. Our model pays them higher prices for high-quality beans, and then an additional 10-15% more. Ervin’s parents had to chop down most of their coffee trees because they couldn’t make a living. Now, his parents are thriving — they’ve nearly finished a new house with processing capabilities.

 

People: 

This business model was built with people in mind. When unfair trade is the basic business model, entire communities suffer. These Indigenous farmers are vulnerable to dips in the market, big middlemen who swallow profit, and a lack of resources for major infrastructural improvements. In many ways their community is their strength. Native Root pours into this community with both relationships and resources. We get to know each of our partnered farmers. Our founder Ervin, along with our Colombia CEO, Alcides, physically meet with each farmer to instill intentionality and dignity across the mountain communities. Some of the funds are also used to build up members of our network. Our company raised funds to build an elderly woman a home after her kids left. We also formed relationships with farmers in a nearby reservation who have historically encountered poor access and political turmoil. It’s our goal and our dream to continue building relationships and pouring into more Indigenous communities.

 

Planet: 

Coffee prices shot through the roof recently due to a bean shortage in Brazil. Unusual and extreme weather decimated their coffee crop. The earth’s wellbeing is vital, both for the grand scale of humanity, and for the micro scale of our coffee farms. That’s why we employ sustainable and organic practices. For example, when the seeds are extracted from the cherry, the fruit pulp is reused as a natural fertilizer. The parchment, which is the thin, papery coating around the bean, is usually considered another “waste” product. We use it as fuel for bean drying machinery. Finally, we use a software program to counter our shipping carbon emissions. Shipping is calculated as a monetary number, which is then paid toward conservation efforts. Our contributions of this effort are set up for the Acapa – Bajo Mira y Frontera Forest Conservation Project in Colombia.

 

So, where does your coffee come from? 

Take a deep breath. It’d be nearly impossible to know who made each and every product you use — and less so the motives behind their actions. You’re not a bad person if you don’t know the person behind your soap dispenser (but now I’m curious).

My goal is to increase intentionality. To increase awareness of the products I interact with daily, like my morning coffee. 

Where does it come from? Ask, and find out.

AUTHOR BIO:

Travis Meier attends Christ Community’s Downtown Campus. On Sundays you can usually find him playing bass on the worship team with Aleah Eldridge or sitting with his fiancee, Sarah. He also writes for a local publication called KCtoday, and plays the saxophone in a community band called the Kansas City Wind Symphony.

 

For more information about Native Root you can visit nativerootcoffee.com

 

An Update on Christ Community’s Work with Restoration House of KC

An Update on Christ Community’s Work with Restoration House of KC

Throughout 2021, a team of volunteers from Christ Community have been  exploring the possibility of  a ministry partnership with Restoration House of Kansas City. God has certainly been at work even in this first exploratory year, and you are helping to make a big impact on survivors of sex trafficking at Restoration House. 

Because of the work of volunteers last spring, survivors can now take a peaceful walk through the woods on a cleared and mulched path. Volunteer Ken Kessler built two bridges that were installed over areas of the path which tend to wash out during heavy rains, and recently the path was edged and lined to prevent runoff. 

This fall, cheered on by family and friends, Karen Mendrala, Melani Barratt and Mike Barr went “Over the Edge”, rappelling down the side of the Marriott Hotel and raising more than $18,000 to benefit survivors! Other Christ Community congregants grilled hot dogs, popped corn, sold pastries, helped with the rappelling, and worked in many other ways to help put on this event. 

Thank you for your investment in Restoration House. We are excited to see what God has in store for Christ Community and Restoration House as we continue to deepen our relationship and strengthen our ministry connection.