Douglass Blvd Christian Church

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Femto Photography and Seeing Around Corners: Why Following Jesus Is about Risk

By Derek Penwell

In July, 2012 a scientist from MIT, Ramesh Raskar, gave a Ted Talk on an amazing new innovation in photography. Femto photography films at one trillion frames per second. What this allows scientists to do, for example, is make a time lapse video of the movement of light (which is pretty dang cool on its own merits!). You can watch a burst of light projected from a laser as it shoots through a Coke bottle!

[Note: I realize that’s two exclamation points in two consecutive sentences—a grammatical practice upon which I generally frown, except to say things like “Happy birthday!” or “Congratulations on your Bassett Hound’s successful completion of agility training!”—but this stuff is pretty phenomenal! Oops. Sorry.]

The practical applications of this new technology are even more astounding. For one thing, when a burst of light is shot from a laser, it diffuses when the photons strike an object. Various photons are then reflected back to the source. Using heavy computational power, the scientists are able to stitch together the individual photon speeds to produce a 3-D model of the thing that the light hits.

The ability to produce 3-D models of things struck by a burst of light gets really interesting, however, when you realize that the reflection of light doesn’t have to come from an object in a straight line with the laser. Meaning … you can project the light around obstacles, and the computer will take into account the extra angles of reflection, and still construct an accurate 3-D image.

In other words, it allows you literally to see around the corner—to construct a 3-D image of something you can’t even see! [Again, sorry.] It’s almost like seeing into the future—getting an accurate vision of something before you ever get there.

I like the sound of that idea. It’s not flying or retractable adamantium claws, but it’s still kind of like a super power.

I understand the attraction of seeing around the corner; it’s a great metaphor for predicting the future, of telling you whether a thing will be worth doing.

But here’s the thing: In real life the only way you’ll know if a thing is worth doing is after you’ve already done it, when you look back on it—which is to say, after the toothpaste is already out of the tube.

“Should we let our daughter go on that trip to Europe?”

“Should I pay the electric bill so we don’t freeze, or should I fill my blood pressure medication so I don’t have a stroke?”

“Should I take the new job with exciting potential, or stay in the job where I’m most comfortable?”

“Should I tell my parents and friends I’m gay—risking their love and support, or should I keep it to my myself—risking my sanity?”

How do you know until after you do it?

That’s life. We have to make all sorts of calculations about what to do without enough information about what it will look like when it’s finished, or whether having done it will prove advantageous or harmful.

How do you know until after you do it.

That’s also what life following Jesus looks like. Seeing around the corner would certainly make church planning more effective, for instance. It’d be nice to know whether something is going to work before you had to take a chance on it. Face-saving is what it is.

If you don’t know what you’re getting into when you plan something, you risk failing. And failing is unacceptable to many churches.

Congregations in decline almost always understand church planning to be a matter not of achieving success, but of avoiding failure. Consequently, they tend to stand before decisions trying to do the advanced calculations necessary to see what lies around the corner, refusing to act boldly for fear that something might not work.

“Should we do this?”

“I don’t know.”

“Because if we do, it might not work. We’d be out all that money, plus things like this tend to make Janice mad.”

Flourishing congregations, on the other hand, weigh a decision against past experience, then make a decision. They’ve gotten comfortable with the fact that they will never have everything nailed down before taking the leap. They’ve made peace with the knowledge that everything they try has a pretty good chance of washing out. But they’ve learned to accept the prospect of failure as the cost of doing business.

Flourishing congregations realize that there’s no way to ensure something will work on the front end. They understand that they’ll never know if an idea was a good one until they look back on it, assessing it in the rearview mirror. But the inability to look around the corner to see what’s coming doesn’t prevent them from turning corners they think faithfulness calls them to take. They understand that a life spent following Jesus is an adventure, not a tour.

Before we get there, we’d like to know that where we’re going is where we want to be.

Maybe one day there will be an ecclesiastical version of Femto photography that will make discipleship a surer thing. On the other hand, if discipleship is an adventure, whatever such an innovation might produce, it won’t have much to do with following Jesus.

Leo's Readers' Choice Awards: Douglass Loop Farmers Market Is Number One

The Leo Weekly Readers' Choice Awards announces what we've all known for some time: the Douglass Loop Farmers Market (a ministry of Douglass Boulevard Christian Church) is the best farmers market in Louisville.  

 Thank you to The Leo and everyone who voted!


The Prophetic Call for a Little Brash Stupidity

Pixar man playing chess.jpg

In this blog post, Will Willimon reminds us that age and experience are important, but that they can become idols when we forget that God is dynamic, moving--and so is the world (and the church) that God oversees. We need to move forward, take chances, embrace failure not as a moral deficiency but as a tool for learning.

"We choke to death on the geriatric virtues of maturity, balance, and careful procedure when what our moribund system needs are more clergy who are young, brash, reckless, and stupid. That is new pastoral leaders who will give God enough room to get in this staid old church and do the sort of resurrection that this God does so well."

The Future of Faith

The road forward.jpg

With the rise of both the "nones" and immigrant faith groups, the way future of faith seems squeezed between two opposing forces. What is the way forward? How about this?

"What if the path toward awakening is simple? Embracing faith as if we really mean it, not worrying about institutional power or rich congregations, living out the teachings of Moses and Jesus, sharing with others, seeking to be at peace with all, loving our neighbors as ourselves?"

A thought provoking article by Diana Butler Bass. Take some time to read it.

Creeping around the Edges (Mark 5:21-43)

Rev. Derek Penwell's sermon for 7/1/2012



In the recent debate over healthcare reform one focus of the argument centers on whether the government or the private sector can better provide healthcare service at a manageable cost. Distilled to its essence, the debate seems to me to focus on which bureaucracy is less bureaucratic.

Private insurance providers claim that the free market is more efficient, because competition drives prices down—which, given the metastatic growth in healthcare costs, is a dubious claim at best. Public healthcare advocates say that the profit incentive in private healthcare makes the job of insurance companies center around figuring out how to deny coverage. Whatever your position, though, the main argument revolves around how to get more healthcare for less money.

Our society spends a great deal of time doing cost-benefit analysis. That is to say, we're socialized to ask, “Does the benefit I derive from a thing exceed the cost I lay out?”

I love cherries, for instance. But whereas I will pay $2.99 a pound for them, $4.99 a pound strikes me as unreasonably high.

Advertising is the practice of convincing you that the prices we're charging for toilet brushes are worth the investment. This makes a certain amount of sense in a market based economy. The problem, though, is that we don't just apply cost/benefit analysis to stuff—we also apply it to one another.

John Stuart Mill wrote in the middle of the nineteenth century that ethics is a matter of “maximizing utility.” Maximizing utility means doing that which leads to the greatest happiness.

According to Mill, if I have to make a choice about whether to save one person or to save ten, I make that choice based on the greatest benefit I can achieve by my action. The sacrifice of one person to save ten is good utilitarian math—though it may not necessarily be good Christian math.

But utilitarianism in Western calculations concerns not only thorny ethical dilemmas, but also the investment of energy. Does it make more sense to teach one special needs child to read or ten average kids? We only have so many resources. We need to get the biggest bang for our buck, right? You see the problem.

But it's one thing to have to figure out how to divide up food for six among seven people on a life boat; it's an entirely different thing to apply utilitarian calculations to our everyday social arrangements. Under this kind of cost/benefit analysis, people can be judged to “cost” more than they're “worth.”

How do we deal with the mentally handicapped, with alzheimer's patients, with people in a persistent vegetative state? What do we do with people who've gotten in over their heads with mortgages they can't afford, or who've had to buy groceries with credit cards? What kind of return on our investment can we expect from them? These are tough questions.

We much prefer to deal with the easy ones: should Jr. go to Harvard or Yale? Can we really afford private Zamboni lessons for our sweet little girl? Do we want our child to date the doctor or the lawyer? Does it make more sense to be a Cubs or Yankees fan?

By and large, people want their kids to be voted “most likely to succeed,” not “best body piercing.” That's the way our society operates. The pressure is to move forward and upward—and to associate ourselves with those who do.

If you have any experience on Facebook, you know that one of the moments of pleasure it can bring is when someone you've sent a friend request to responds by accepting you as a Facebook friend. On the other hand, it can be a little unnerving to send out a friend request to somebody, and never have them respond.

You start thinking, “Did he get it? Is he ignoring me? Did I do something to insult him at some point? Does he think his other friends will think less of him if they see I'm also his friend? Am I

goofier than I thought? That can't be right, because I hung out with way cooler people in school than he did?”

It becomes a sort of endless social calculation of worth—who's more important? Who's worth my time? Do other people think I'm not worth their time?

Of course, these endless calculations of worth aren't unique to us. People throughout history have been doing these sorts of things. Even Jesus isn't completely removed from the social pressures of figuring out who's worth his time and energy.

In our Gospel, Jesus has just calmed the storm and exorcised the demons from the Gerasene demoniac. He crosses back over the sea he's just calmed, where he is approached by an important man, a leader of the synagogue named, Jairus. Up to this point in Mark, Jesus is getting a bad reputation for hanging out with the wrong sort of folks. He's paying attention to all the wrong people. Healing lepers and paralytics and the demon possessed.

Back in chapter two he does some leadership recruitment—not at the finest business schools—but at a “tax booth,” where he calls Levi. Then, he adds insult to injury by going to Levi's house to eat with a bunch of “tax collectors and sinners.” People are starting to talk. You have to be a bit more discerning about the company you keep. Jesus is getting a bad reputation.

So, when Jairus prevails upon Jesus to come see about Jairus's sick little girl, everyone’s relieved. Jairus is the kind of ally Jesus is supposed to cultivate. He's head of the Men's Morning Breakfast down at the synagogue, president of the local Lion's club; he's got contacts. He can help Jesus network.

The disciples must have been thinking, “Finally. Now, we're getting somewhere.” Do a favor for this guy, and no telling the kind of political capital Jesus can start building.

On the way to Jairus's house, though, something happens. It shouldn't have been a big thing. Jesus probably should have just kept going. When you've got a big one on the hook like Jairus, you don't

want to lose your concentration, don't want to get distracted. But Jesus stops anyway. Somebody's yanking on his shirttail. “Who touched my clothes?” he wants to know.

The disciples look at each other, their eyebrows knitted. “What do you mean, 'who touched my clothes?' You're in a crowd, for Pete’s sake.”

A woman approaches. She's owns up to grabbing onto his cloak.

If Jesus is going to turn over a new social leaf, quit hanging out with the wrong crowd, this is the perfect time to start. Women weren't supposed to touch men who were not their husbands. Jesus could make a real statement about how he's willing to play ball in the current political environment by giving this woman what-for.

Moreover, not only is she a woman, she's an unclean woman. She has, what the King James called, an issue of blood. She's been bleeding for 12 years, which is a nice way of saying she's had female problems—not just monthly, but daily . . . for 12 years.

A menstruating woman was considered unclean—which is to say, untouchable. She wasn't supposed to touch anyone, let alone a strange man.

Jesus could really signal his willingness to play by the rules by doing the right thing, the thing that would grease the social gears, the thing that would maximize utility, making the largest number of people happy. He could humiliate her, should humiliate her. But he doesn't.

He tells her that her faith has healed her. “So what?” you ask.

The outrage is that he gives tacit approval to the woman's actions. She’s a drain on society. You can’t encourage that kind of behavior. We know how people are, they’ll take advantage of you every time if they think they can get something for free—especially healthcare.

But rather than do the socially and politically expedient thing, Jesus walks the margins again in search of those folks who are creeping around the edges.

Soon, he and Jairus make it to where the sick little girl is. But by the time they get there, she's already died.

Oh well, nice try, Jesus. Thanks for coming. We appreciate you taking the time, but all that's left to us now is to start preparing her body for burial.

Jesus says, “I'd like to see her anyway. She's really only sleeping.”

Mark says that everybody laughed at Jesus for saying this. They've seen dead people before. They know what dead people look like.

Jesus persists, though. As far as Jairus is concerned, Jesus has done all that could be asked of him. Now that she's dead, Jesus will only make himself unclean by going to see her to hold her lifeless hand.

He never learns, this Jesus. What's the public relations upside here? You've got to think about how this stuff is going to play on cable news.

Not Jesus. Ignoring the cost/benefit analysis, Jesus goes to her, takes her hand, and tells her to get up, and together they walked the margins hand in hand.

What I find interesting about these two intertwined stories is the issue of how short-sighted they make Jesus appear on the front end. In both cases, Jesus participates in activity guaranteed to marginalize him in everyone’s eyes. In both cases, he risks the social and political costs of being unclean by touching those who are unclean. A true test of your convictions is what you’re prepared to look like a complete idiot for.

But the great shock of the story, however, is that once Jesus touches them, they are healed, made alive—and not only is Jesus not unclean as a result of the this encounter, neither any longer are they.

In touching these two in an unclean state, Jesus has not only healed them physically, he’s restored them to the social world in which purity is boss. In other words, he’s given them back their lives . . . in more ways than one.

When Jesus walks the margins looking for those who creep around the edges, he redefines the edges, so that the margins are set in the center; and it's the folks who usually occupy the center who risk finding themselves on the margins.

Once again, Jesus turns the world on its head. The last shall be first, and the first shall be last. The one who wants to find life, must first lose it. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. The one who wants to gain the world, must forfeit everything.

But Jesus, that doesn't make sense; it's just not good math. You need to put your money on a winner, get a good return on your investment, ride the middle of the road. And Jesus says, “Life's much more interesting out here with those folks on the edges.”

Ask them. Ask those folks who, because society’s told them repeatedly that they’re not worth the effort, what it means for Jesus to go out of his way to reach out a hand, to risk the bad opinion of those bigwigs who occupy center. Ask them whether somebody finally willing to go looking for them means anything.

Walk the margins with Jesus, go looking for those folks creeping around the edges, and sooner or later your cost/benefit analysis is going to get really goofed up.

I promise you.


True Colors Film Screening

Our friends at the True Colors Ministry of Highland Baptist Church are screening the film Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin this Sunday, February 5th.  If the Super Bowl just isn't your cup of tea, or you're simply looking for an interesting and stimulating activity on Sunday, this is definitely the place to be!  For more information, contact Maurice Bojangles-Blanchard at 

Youth: Saturday Night Movie Social

The DBCC Youth, as well as our friends, are invited to our first monthly Saturday Night Movie Social (official name pending).  Youth are encouraged to bring friends as we dine, play games, watch a movie, and just hang out together.  The event will be from 6-11PM this Saturday, Jan. 28th.  Bring friendly attitudes, empty stomachs, and lots of friends! 

Sunday Happenings!

Here are some of the cool things happening the next few Sundays here at DBCC:

Jan. 29: Fiesta Dinner

  • Come join us in the Robsion Family Life Center for a Mexican Fiesta meal! We'll have all sorts of Hispanic-inspired cultural dishes. All donations from the meal will be attributed to our Mission Trip Fund!

Feb. 5: Super Bowl Party!

  • If you haven't already bought your catered tray of hot wings, come on down to the church and hang out with us for Super Bowl XLVI! Whether you are a die-hard football fan, or prefer to partake of snacks and non-sports related conversation, please feel free to join us. We will also be visited by our friends from the Grace and Freedom House.

Feb. 12: Planning Meeting Follow-up

  • Join us for a follow-up to our January 7th Event Planning Meeting to dine and discuss the progress of our 2012 events and ministries. As well as discussing plans in greater detail, we will also be giving dates to those events who have progressed to a hard date. This is also a great chance for those who couldn't attend the Jan. 7th meeting to offer their support and assistance for one or more of these initiatives.

Feb. 19: DBCC Dessert Auction

  • To raise money for the Mission Trip, some of the members have donated some of the fabulous desserts for auction. Bring your sweet tooth, wallet, and your bargaining edge. These deserts will be in high demand!

Grace & Freedom House Angel Tree


This Holiday Season we are sponsoring an Angel Tree for our friends at the Grace House and Freedom House of Volunteers of America.  On each Angel Ornament on the Christmas Tree in the Gathering area is a Christmas gift wish along with the name of a mother or child at either Grace or Freedom House.  If you would like to buy a gift for one of these, please pick an angel from the tree.  Take as many as you like!  Wrap your gifts with the angel ornament attached and return to the church no later than December 21.  Join us in sharing the Christmas Spirit with all of God's children this season!


Trunk r' Treat!


The Youth are planning to help sponsor a Trunk r’ Treat here at the church on this coming Halloween Weekend, the 29th of October.  Our hope is to create yet another chance for outreach in our Highlands Community.  There will be lots of candy to be had, as well as chili and some interesting costumes to behold. However, we CANNOT do this on our own!  Being that none of our students actually have their own trunk, we’ll need some of you to lend yours.  If you know any children who would like to make a stop on the Trick r’ Treat trail on Saturday night, send them over!  If you know any youth who would like to participate in this event, direct them to us and we will certainly appreciate the helping hand.  

If you would prefer not to decorate your own trunk, the students have said they would be happy to help decorate your trunk on the day of (or the day before) the Trunk r’ Treat.  To make sure we have a student decorator available, please contact Jennifer or myself.

With so many wonderful bakers in our congregation, the students have decided that this year’s Trunk r’ Treat should include a cakewalk.  We have already been rallying for pledges of cakes and deserts.  If you would like to pledge a cake for the cakewalk, we’d be more than happy to accept.  There is no such thing as too many cakes, after all.  We are also still taking pledges for chili.  We’ll accept all kinds! 

If anyone would like to sign-up for a trunk, or pledge cake, chili, or candy, contact our Secretary, Jennifer Vandiver, or our Youth Minister, Geoff Wallace to set you up! 

Integrity Can Be Lonely

“All of them deserted him and fled” (Mark 14:51).

I was reading an article not long ago about a famous preacher. One of his admirers made the comment that one could tell this preacher’s ministry had “integrity” by virtue of the number of people in his church (50 bazillion people, or some other astronomical number). I often hear something closely approximating that same sentiment from well-meaning church folk. I was talking to a colleague on the phone awhile back, when the topic of one of this state’s “premiere” evangelists arose (I’m not sure how “premiere” qualifies as a theological descriptor). He said: “Well, look how many people he draws. He must be doing something right.” To which I replied, “Obviously, he’s doing something right — but it may or may not have anything to do with God, or faithfulness, or discipleship.”

I was taken aback by the assumptions underlying such a statement, that is, that God is most intensely present in the large, the successful, the well-attended. I am amazed that people who read the Bible are still naïve enough to make comments to the effect that the bigger the church, the more “integrity” is in evidence. If mere size is the only criterion for judging faithfulness, then Jim Jones had more integrity, was blessed in richer fashion than 99% of the ministers in the world. If size is what God uses to show us who is doing a better job at proclaiming the Gospel, then the bozos on televisions who preside over vast broadcasting empires are, by definition, closer to the kingdom of heaven than the rest of us laboring in tiny, “unblessed” congregations lacking “integrity.”

On the other hand, that leaves us in pretty good company—I mean, what with Jesus dying abandoned and alone—presumably stripped of his blessedness and integrity. (His ministry fell on hard times. I imagine it was hard to make budget after Good Friday.) Where did we get the idea that if it is getting bigger, God must be in the middle of it? Is God to be found in the market analysis? If popularity is the standard by which faithfulness in ministry is judged, then Jesus is not the person we ought to hold up as the standard-bearer for our vocation. Because Jesus nailed all that hooey about popularity and big crowds and succeeding according to this world’s standards on a cross one Friday afternoon. Tell Jesus how blessed he was as you stare into his face on the cross. (Just try not to get any blood on yourself. It can get messy being a Christian.)

That is not to say that the Gospel doesn’t have appeal; it does. But any appeal that Jesus has has to do with losing our lives, with turning the other cheek, with the first being last, with forgiving our enemies and those who persecute us, with selling all that we have and giving it to the poor, with dropping our nets and all the things the world says we need to be successful, in order to pick up our crosses and follow him. (Try selling that stuff with your anointed prayer cloths. “User-friendly God,” indeed.) The appeal of Jesus is to the last, the least, the lost, and the dead—presumably because they are the only ones who know that they aren’t successful enough to sail in under their own steam. At least in the gospels, it is precisely the big religious muckity-mucks that Jesus avoids like the plague. Jesus isn’t impressed with toothy smiles, blow-dried hair, and healthy Neilsen ratings. He spends his time with those that this world has declared losers.

Jesus doesn’t call us to succeed; he calls us to die. Success is his alone; and alone is how he died. Sometimes, integrity can be lonely.

Tying It All Together

 When God created us, God gave us a special gift unique to human beings.  It has to do with our ability to think.  Of course, other animals can think—they have a sort of rationality we recognize.  What sets humans apart is our ability to think about thinking.  Put differently, we have an awareness that ties our past, present, and future together in, what we experience as, a long and consistent chain of consciousness.  Not only do we have memories, for instance, we can recall those memories, enjoy them, study them, and in some ways re-live them as often as we need to.  It is our memories that give us the wisdom we need to flourish in the present, and the confidence that our lives will continue to have meaning in the future.

The church, from its earliest days, has recognized the need to be intentional about attending to memory.  Every Sunday we eat a meal that recalls for us the saving love of God that has formed us into the people we are—which calls attention to a larger, but often unremarked truth: communities have memories.  And community memory must be just as assiduously attended as our personal memories.  In fact, we say that the table set by Lord is a table of remembrance.  Every time we gather around that table we set about the practice of remembering.  But a big part of what communion accomplishes goes beyond rehearsing the story of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection—as important as that is.  As the body of Christ, every time we come to the table we not only remember, but we re-member everyone who gathers around the table with us, past, present, and future.  In other words, the body of Christ consists of all those members who not only spread across the globe, but who spread across time.  We are who we are because of those who’ve gone before, and those whose way we are presently preparing.

Douglass Boulevard Christian Church has a memory that stretches over parts of three centuries.  At present we‘re experiencing feelings of great anticipation about what the future holds.  We’ve had many new faces in our midst who lead us to think about the possibilities ahead of us, and that alert us to God’s movement in our community.  It’s an exciting time to be at DBCC.

But as aware of the future as we are, we cannot leave the past behind.  As William Faulkner said, “The past isn’t dead.  It isn’t even past.”  That is no less true in the church, where, surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, we’re aware that who we are is inexorably linked to who we’ve been.  As we chart new courses, discerning God’s future, it’s important to remind ourselves that we’re not departing from or abandoning our past, we’re extending it.  That is to say, we’re carrying it with us everywhere we go, with everything we do (whether we want to or not).  The new kinds of ministries we’re engaged in at DBCC aren’t a departure from, but a continuation of the kinds of ministries we’ve always been engaged in—social justice, spirituality, compassion, and education.  We are busy carrying on the tradition that was lovingly stewarded, then handed down to us by those who came before.

On the surface, what we do may look different from what we’ve done in the past, but at its heart, our first responsibility—which is to to equip disciples for the reign of God—remains the same; and it ties together our past, our present, and our future.

Douglass Loop Farmers Market: A Ministry of DBCC

“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest.  You shall not strip your vineyards bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus19:9-10).

From early on God showed concern for the way resources were allocated among God’s people, embodying that concern in the law by making certain that those who had little could still eat.  Leviticus reminds us that it’s not enough for those in the community who have enough to forget those without.  Those who had resources were required to look out for those who occupied the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum.  This passage from Leviticus is a glimpse of God’s idea of a social safety net.

In our contemporary world we also have inequities in the way food is produced and consumed.  The Douglass Loop Farmers Market, beginning Saturday, April 16 (10:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m.) is an effort on the part of DBCC to take seriously God’s concern that everyone has enough to eat.  As a ministry of the church the market has three important goals: 1) to provide a place for producers to sell locally grown food, so that they can make a decent living, 2) to provide access to nutritious locally grown food at a reasonable price, and 3) to help create a community atmosphere where we can begin to understand the ways we are connected to our neighbors.  In the service of these goals, we will soon be offering the option—to those able to take advantage of it—of using Food Stamps.  We want to help foster a just, sustainable food community here in the heart of the Highlands that gives producers a chance to sell and consumers a chance to buy.

We will be offering locally grown meat, eggs, produce, honey, herbs, wine, and plants.  To add to the neighborhood atmosphere, we will also be offering a mix of regular food vendors and guest chefs, all to the sounds of local acoustic musicians.  We will be dog-friendly, offering an area for people to tie up their dogs while they shop.

As people of God we have more to do to make certain that everyone has access to the food they need to survive, but this is a good place to start.  Come on out and join us every Saturday!