Douglass Blvd Christian Church

an open and affirming community of faith

n open and affirming community where faith is questioned and formed, as relationships are made and upheld. 

The Claims on Us (Matthew 22:15-22)


It’s too easy to want to be in control—to want a veto on who gets through the doors and who has to stand on the outside looking in. It’s nice to be the gatekeepers.

Unfortunately, though, if Jesus is to be believed, we who’ve been in charge for so long haven’t done a very good job at keeping the gates. We’ve too often spurned the gifts brought to us by those who didn’t measure up to our qualifications, wanting to make sure that they meet our exacting standards before God could ever love them. It’s not right.

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Paying the Price (Matthew 21:33-46)


Servants are still sent to the vineyard. And these servants still cry out against the violent and the unjust caretakers. There are still servants around who proclaim that God isn’t ok with the ways the people in power continue to look out for their own interests ahead of the well-being of the vineyard.

Because here’s the thing: people are still being neglected in the vineyard at the hands of those in charge, those who’ve been entrusted to protect the vulnerable and the powerless, to care for the widow and the orphan, to welcome the stranger, to bind up the wounds of the brokenhearted, and to make certain that no one takes advantage of those who’re always the targets of wicked: children, the elderly, the poor, the sick, and those on the margins.

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Reflections on What I Believe

By Derek Penwell

I believe because I have to believe.  I have to believe because life doesn’t make any sense to me otherwise. To say I believe, however, leaves open the question of the object of my belief.  That is to say, what do I believe?  I believe that God is behind all of this in some way that makes sense to God, even if it escapes me. 

I know I’m supposed to have it all together, to have it systematized in some way that will hold up to scrutiny.  Yet, I’m secretly afraid, I suppose, that if I interrogate my reasons for belief too vigorously, those reasons will remain just enough beyond my reach to make me wonder, in times of darkness, whether they make sense, or even ought to be considered reasons at all.

Even so, let me venture into the fray with a few things that do make sense to me. These are neither systematic nor exhaustive, merely suggestive:

I believe that the Jesus we encounter in the Gospels has only a passing acquaintance with the Jesus we encounter in popular Christianity.

I believe that much of popular Christianity (mesmerized as it is by the atomic individual) is designed to distract middle-class white Christians from the fact that they drive Mercedes Benzes, inflict violence on people who happen to be born under different flags, and ignore the cry for justice from the margins.

I believe that Christianity operates more often than not as a mechanism for affirming what people already believe—before they ever encounter the subversive Jesus of the Gospels.

I believe that the ministry of the Jesus who died abandoned and alone is a terrible model for what most people think of as "church growth."

I believe that heaven is God’s jurisdiction; my responsibilities require me to be present and to work here and now.

I believe that if what you believe doesn’t make somebody mad, you’re not doing it right.  Jesus wasn’t killed because he was nice.

I believe that in a world concerned only with saying yes, being taught to say no is the most loving thing that can happen to us.

I believe the church needs to quit clinging to its life as if its life were an end in itself, and needs to start getting comfortable with the notion that the church belongs to God—and God always gets what God wants.

I believe that Christian belief is only intelligible, only interesting, if it is embodied in a community of people committed to living and, if necessary, dying like Jesus.

It’s not much, but it helps me hang on.

Walking the Walk (Matt 21:23-32)


Jesus says, “The tax collectors and the prostitutes are going to enter the kingdom of God ahead of you.”

Interesting that Jesus once again lets in the folks whom the people in power have constructed so many institutional barriers to keep out. The blind, the lame, the tax collectors, the prostitutes. Jesus restores access to God, and in the process restores justice.

The problem, though, is that Jesus shouldn’t have to restore justice. Justice should already be present. God has left people in charge, stewards whose responsibility it is to see that justice gets done. The religious leaders aren’t just supposed to talk the talk about justice; they’re supposed to walk the walk of justice. And they’ve failed miserably.

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How to Start a Revolution (Matthew 5:38-48)


Jesus calls his followers to play by a different set of rules—not one that surrenders, but one that requires great imagination and courage to shine a bright light on an oppressive system that thinks violence and resignation are the only possible options, to subvert an arrangement that only understands domination and submission, to challenge the human habit of thinking in binaries.

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What Is the Cost of Community? (Matthew 18:15-20)


But if I trusted that people love me enough to tell me the truth—even though that’s sometimes hard to hear—that would be something to be a part of, wouldn’t it?

Wouldn’t we all love to be part of a community where trust was the defining characteristic—where I could be who I really am, without fear that my honesty about myself would be thrown back in my face, without fear that someone was hatching a plan to shame me or run me out?

What would it be like to be part of a community where each sheep is important enough to God (and to the rest of the flock) not to be left behind?

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Why Supporting Dreamers Isn't Optional for Christians

By Derek Penwell

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the Dreamers (DACA—Deferred Action for Child Arrivals), and the response to them by some in the government. The push to remove foreign born children who were brought to this country as children on the part of politicians who claim to be Christian strikes me as profoundly problematic.

Let’s say you’re walking down the street and you see a man unconscious in the middle of a busy intersection. He looks lost and helpless, unable to move out of the path of oncoming traffic. What do you do?

Well, you have a few options:

  1. You could initiate an especially aggressive background check to make sure he’s a man worth saving, and then, as a condition of his safe rescue, require him to sign a statement swearing his intentions toward you are innocent.
  2. You could await confirmation of his country of origin, in order to ensure that you don’t save the wrong kind of person.
  3. You could seek to ascertain his religious affiliation, promising to help him if his religious commitments align with ones you find acceptable.
  4. You could decry the general state of lawlessness that produces situations in which people are abandoned in less than safe conditions, vowing to write a strongly worded letter to somebody in authority, or to vote for someone who speaks about these kinds of situations with the requisite forcefulness.
  5. You could feel sorry for him, but remember all the other responsibilities you have that would prevent you from taking action to save him.
  6. You could argue that there are many more people in dangerous situations that you’ve already walked past, and that if you help this one guy, it would be tantamount to turning your back on the imperiled people who (let’s be honest) you’ve already turned your back on.
  7. You could argue that helping this man in trouble would set a bad precedent, only incentivizing the kind of lax oversight that allowed him to be abandoned in the middle of a busy intersection in the first place.
  8. You could go on cable T.V. or Twitter to convince the world that with all the other things we have on our plate, saving stranded people is a distraction we can’t afford.

Or, you could get him out of harm’s way, and then worry about getting the other stuff sorted out—trusting that the system in place for screening imperiled people, which has an almost flawless track record for getting it right, will do its job.

Of course, if you happen to follow Jesus, you’ve already bumped into a similar scenario in Luke 10—the Good Samaritan. Part of the biting commentary implicit in the parable of the Good Samaritan is that the religious leaders in the story—which is to say, the people who, as a function of their faith, have the biggest responsibility to set aside their own fears to help the abandoned stranger—are the ones quickest to ignore the man lying exposed in the street.

So, here’s my question as I reflect on the current DACA crisis: How it is that some Christians can so unselfconsciously bear to reenact the parable of the Good Samaritan, having apparently learned all the wrong lessons from it?

Jesus tells the story of a Samaritan coming to the aid of a stranger in answer to the question: Who is my neighbor? The final answer to that questions turns out not to be the religious leaders who ignore the abandoned man’s plight, but the despised Samaritan. I imagine Jesus didn’t get a lot of amens after telling that story. Too radical. Insufficiently censorious of a person everyone knew didn’t have any rightful claim to God’s favor.

The reason Jesus’ story was so scandalous when it was told was because it contrasted the self-serving neglect of the religious elite with the compassion of a Samaritan—a group of religious rivals to whom Jesus’ listeners would have reflexively felt superior.

A few things emerge from this parable that seem especially appropriate to remember as we decide how to treat Dreamers fighting for the only home many of them have ever known:

  • No matter your religious credentials, the test of your faith is not your doctrinal purity, but how you treat others—especially those who are most vulnerable.
  • Regardless of the nature of your fear, the primary responsibility of those who follow Jesus (especially leaders) is to care for the powerless.
  • Christians don’t get to assume as a result of their faith commitments that they possess some kind of superiority to foreigners.
  • In short, when in doubt, embrace your fears and help anyway.

That You May Demonstrate . . . (Romans 12:9-21)


Because Paul’s not interested in making people into better individuals. Paul’s not seeking to bolster anyone’s self-image.

No, what Paul is about, what worship is about is making us into a community of people committed to living like Jesus. And living like Jesus isn’t me, just as I am, with a little bit more niceness. Living like Jesus isn’t a matter of fine-tuning my otherwise pleasant demeanor. Living like Jesus isn’t a strategy; it’s a complete reorientation to reality in the world God desires to create—a world where dreamers don’t have to fear that they’ll wake up to find that the people in the only home they’ve ever known don’t want them anymore, a world where trans people aren’t singled out for ridicule and persecution by their own government, a world where women are masters of their own bodies—not subject to the capricious edicts of males.

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What Does True Worship Look Like? (Romans 12:1-8)


You see, worship involves conflict with the way the powers and principalities attempt to rule this world, which too often centers on keeping the powers and principalities in charge, and everyone else scrambling to hold it together.

Worship is about reimagining the world the way God does—a place of peace and justice where no one has to go to bed at night fearing a knock on the door, the collection agent on the other end of the line, the bully at the end of the hall, or the sheriff and his 'tent city.'

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The Mercy of Bread (Matt. 15:21-28)


And once you eat this meal, no one can ever again be expendable. Once you sit at this table, there are no more untouchables.

No more hating people, just because society tells us it’s ok to hate them. No more ignoring people different from us, just because we have laws that allow us to do that. No more being silent when the voices of hatred and fear are raised against our friends and neighbors. No more looking the other way because we’re not affected . . . because we are affected, just as long as any of our human family are affected.

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Playing Host (Matthew 14:13-21)

I’d like to suggest to you that Matthew sets up the story of the feeding of the 5,000 intentionally as a feast, a party hosted by Jesus, a life-giving party in which those who have nothing receive everything they need. But this party that Jesus hosts contrasts sharply with the party hosted by Herod just verses before—a party for those who already have everything they need—a party complete with extravagance and excess, all for the benefit of those who know nothing but benefit. But instead of giving life, Herod’s party deals in death. Just ask John the Baptist.

Matthew shows us something about the way the rulers and the powerful of this world usually operate: there’s often more than enough for everybody to enjoy, but somebody always ends up dead. But when God gets the world God wants, though scarcity seems to rule, there’s more than enough to give life to everyone.

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The Kingdom of God Isn’t Always Good News (Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52)

When we say 'reign of God' in church, it sounds like good news. It sounds like the voice of justice clamoring against discrimination faced by our transgender neighbors. It sounds like the voice of compassion raising the alarm about kicking people off their healthcare. It sounds like the voice of those who shout in solidarity with all the women looking to make their way to the clinic without being harassed. It sounds like the voice of a river whispering to be spared the devastation humanity has wrought in its pursuit of progress. It sounds like the voice of an African American man unjustly accused crying out for justice in a world that has too often withheld it. It sounds like the voice of Malala resisting the Taliban. It sounds like the voice of Jesus challenging all the unjust systems that attempt to thwart the new world God has in mind.

When we say 'reign of God' in church, it sounds like good news. But to Caesar, to the powerful, to the people who always come out smelling like roses, to the people who benefit from a nice, orderly system that they alone control and benefit from—it doesn’t sound like good news at all. It sounds like the end of everything that has consistently given them advantages that most people will never enjoy.

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What I Have Promised You (Genesis 28:10-19)

God is determined to see the world God intended at creation, and God’s choosing up sides. And, for whatever reason, God chose you to change the world. I don’t pretend to understand God’s draft day strategy, but God’s decided to put you on the team with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. Not a sterling start, I think we can all agree, but that’s God for you. God chose a skinny, no-name Galilean carpenter to build the franchise on. In God’s crazy way of looking at things, you make all the sense in the world.

Technical difficulties in the middle were a bummer. But you'll get the gist of the story.

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Holding Out for Something Better (Genesis 25:19-34)

The story of Jacob shows how God is busy seeking to disrupt, to turn upside down the world that the people in charge find comfortable—a world in which it’s taken for granted that the first shall be first . . . and the last shall be last. A world in which the powerful and the favorite sons assume that God uses the wisdom of the wise to shame the foolish, and the strength of the strong to shame the weak.

But in God’s vision of the way things should be, those who’ve been born with the deck stacked against them are now the ones God seeks to make whole.

Those who’ve always been too easy to ignore, too easy to exploit occupy the places of honor.

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The Cost of Following Jesus (Matthew 28:16-20)

Keep this in mind when you bring your children to church: You may not be prepared for the consequences. It can be dangerous to have your children hang out with Jesus because, if they do, someday they might just hear his voice. They might drop their nets and follow him, and then one day head out into a world that doesn’t want to hear what they have to say about how God wants to see the world work.

They start talking about things like loving gay people and trans people the same as everyone else, and looking out for poor people (even the ones everyone else says don’t deserve it), they start talking about things like refusing to be silent when black men and women die in the streets—just because of the color of their skin, and not cooperating with authorities who want to split up the families of undocumented immigrants . . . they start talking about stuff like that, stuff they hear in this place in the middle of Sunday morning worship . . . and take it from me, they’re going to run into people who don’t like it. They’re going to make respectable people uncomfortable. They’re going to make the people in charge nervous.

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