An Invitation to Presence

Everyone longs for presence. The brokenness we see unfolding around us, as well as the pain we experience in our own lives, is to some degree a symptom of the soul-deep ache we all have to be seen, welcomed, and loved by others. To be human is to long for this kind of presence – for communion. Yet, forces at work in our lives pull us out of presence and communion, and into disconnection and fragmentation. We struggle to be present to ourselves, to others, and to God.

In a fragmented, harried world desperate for solutions to the ache for presence, we remember that God is saving the world by becoming present with us in Jesus Christ, making possible the healing and restoration of our humanity that comes through communion with him.

That is why our goal at Christ the King is creating regular, simple rhythms of life that help us become present to God, to one another, and to ourselves. We believe that creating space for presence is the primary way we will learn together how to embody the Gospel experience communion.

Starting in Advent, we are stepping two corporate rhythms of presence: a time of preparation and discipleship before worship service on Sunday afternoon, and geographically-oriented home groups.

Until then, we’re not just asking you to wait. We are building toward those rhythms, which will “take off” at Advent. We invite you to join us at two gatherings that will be foundational to where we’re going and how we’re growing.

First, on November 17th and 18th, we will gather for our Joining God's Mission Weekend. Think of this time less like a “how-to” seminar and more like family meeting, where we look each other in the eye and dialogue, seeking better to understand who we are and how to live out our family's calling to join God's mission, that is, how God is extending his presence into the world. We'll start with a meal at 6pm on Friday night, followed by our first session, which will wrap-up at 9pm. Then, we'll gather on Saturday morning at 8:30am (coffee and bagels provided) to continue our discussion and end by noon. [childcare will be provided for both Friday and Saturday]

Second, on Sunday, November 26th, we will celebrate the feast of Christ the King. This is like our church’s birthday. We will gather normally to celebrate the Word and Table, giving thanks for where we’ve been as well as committing to the next season, and then we’ll share a meal together immediately following the service.

If you cannot come, please pray for us. Pray that these gatherings would be signposts in our corporate journey toward becoming the kind of community that experiences and gives witness to presence in a fragmented world.

A Letter From the Rector: Charlottesville, Repentance, and Eucharist

Dear Christ the King,

It’s easy for me to make a public pronouncement, to take a position on an issue, and walk away feeling justified for having done the right thing. It doesn’t cost me much, and too often I believe that I have acted justly simply by taking a position. 

Yet, when we look at how Jesus Christ reveals and embodies justice through his incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension, we see that God’s justice is always costly and self-giving. God’s justice does not use power over others but lays down rights. God’s justice primarily takes the form of humble presence rather than pronouncements.

Pronouncements without presence, especially from those in power, tend to short-circuit the space (i.e. face-to-face relationships where we can submit one to another) where God’s reconciling justice breaks forth in Christ. More often than not, we can walk away from a pronouncement and nothing has changed. And in some cases, we end up reinforcing the very injustice we stood against.

Therefore, in light of the recent events in Charlottesville, the primary public statement I make today is this:

I want to name and own my complicity in the sin of racism, in the presumption that I am superior to others; my complicity is evident in the things I have done, but especially in the things I have left undone; I recognize that my complicity is more covert than overt, especially how, in large part, I live buffered from racism’s destructive force on the lives and communities of my brothers and sisters of color.

Today, I repent; I surrender the fear and ignorance that prop-up my complicity; I surrender the need to be right and be in charge; instead I desire to trust that God will teach me how, when, and where to be present to what he is already doing as I seek the Spirit’s leading.

Last Sunday, as we approached the Lord’s Table, we remembered that taking Eucharist is not merely a private act between God and me. Rather, we come forward corporately to celebrate God’s reconciliation of all things in Christ, which also constitutes a new social reality that redefines how we relate one to another.

Indeed, when we take Eucharist we remember that Christ put to death hostility on the cross, making a way for his peace. Christ nullified in his flesh any presumption that fuels racial antagonism. And not only do we remember. We come to the Table in order to enter that new reality in Christ so that we can be transformed by it, and be sent out as agents of Christ’s peace into a hostile world.

So, when we proclaim together that in Christ God has put to death the hostility that fuels racial antagonism – the very antagonism that is manifested in white supremacy and nationalism, however violent or seemingly benign – we do not proclaim it as a one-off or a check mark in the box of being right, so that we can get on with other things. In fact, we do not do it ultimately for our own sake.

Rather, we do it in order to become agents of Christ’s peace for the sake of those, namely our brothers and sisters of color, who live with wounds created by the hostility of white supremacy and nationalism in all its forms.

We move forward as a community under the presumption that repentance is always our primary mode of response. Through repentance we avail ourselves to the justice and righteousness God is working in Christ. May the Spirit illuminate our ignorance and hardness of heart and empower us to know how, when and where to be present amidst racial hostility in Fayetteville. 

Grace and peace,

Fr. Seth

"Doing" Lent: A Reflection on Fasting

When it comes to doing Lent, fasting is the most well known practice.

Even folks who otherwise have no business with Jesus have taken to “giving up” certain things during Lent. For many Christians and non-Christians, fasting (and other forms of self-denial) is nothing more than a glorified self-improvement project, a way to ease the conscience or do penance for a God who is more-or-less disappointed with us.

But for those dead folk (see the previous post) who seek resurrection life in Christ, fasting is not a tool for improving, fixing or managing our junk. Fasting is not an end in itself. On its own, fasting can perpetuate the illusion that we just need resuscitating.

Fasting is simply a way to make space for the Spirit to uncover where we have become dependent on some thing (or someone) to give us the fullness of life only God can give.

Thus, fasting (i.e. intentionally refraining from consuming something or engaging in some activity) is about making room for feasting on God’s life.

Sometimes we already have an awareness of "bad" things on which we have become dependent. But there are also seemingly benign things on which we have become dependent without realizing it. These are good things created by God (like food) that we ask to give us more than they can actually give. Usually without realizing it has happened, we learn to trust those things (or people) in place of God. We use those things as surrogate Fathers.

Fasting exposes those places of disordered dependence and then becomes a means of reordering our dependence and trust on God. We must first refrain from gorging ourselves on things that pretend to offer fullness of life in order to feast on the True Life of God. 

This is like starting a diet. In order to experience a healthier life that comes from eating clean, nutritious food, we first must learn to put down the Twinkies. In fact, we might not even realize how much we’ve grown to need Twinkies until we have to put them down.

So, how do we actually practice fasting?

In my (Fr. Seth) experience, the best way to start is by picking one thing to refrain from doing or consuming. The goal is that refraining will make space and leave an ache.

Making space means there is opportunity to listen to and commune with God where there is not typically space. I don’t want to refrain from something simply to fill it back in with something else. We’re also making space to listen to ourselves (we often find that we don’t know ourselves as well as we think we do).

Leaving an ache means the thing I refrain from doing or consuming is meaningful: I notice when it’s gone and feel its absence. This is crucial because that absence is an opportunity to turn the ache that creeps-up away from the thing and toward God. When I refrain, I want to pay attention to the ache, so that I can discern where it comes from and what it reveals about my dependence on false sources of life. 

Remember that your fast (depending on what it is) need not be permanent. And the fast most often has indirect effects (e.g. fasting from a nightly bowl of ice cream might expose a deep sense of loneliness that pops up in other areas of my life). Fasting is simply a way of making space to expose what the Spirit wants to expose.

Here’s a concrete example from my life:

I love listening to NPR. All of it – the news, the music, Car Talk, Science Friday, all of it. Whenever I’m in my car, NPR is almost always on the radio. During the past few seasons of Lent, I decided to fast from all forms of radio in the car.

Listening to NPR is not inherently bad and it’s also not apparently destructive to my life. But as I refrained from listening, the silence was palpable. I noticed how much of my day was filled with noise, and how all that noise allowed me to ignore inconvenient and hard realities the Spirit was whispering to me throughout the day.

Fasting from NPR also revealed something indirectly: I really like to be informed about the world; in fact, I need to be informed. It makes me feel secure and in control. The silence exposed this dependence on information in me and helped me identify other places in my life where I seek security and control through information.

Make sense?

So, Where is a good place to start? 

A great way to jump-start this process is by prayerfully asking questions like these:

What do I turn to most frequently when I feel anxious, afraid, or sad?”

Or, “What do I trust to make the pain go away?”

Or, “What can I not imagine living without right now?”     

What is Lent All About?

Lent is the 40-day period of preparation and examination before Easter.

Lent allows us the time and space to come to terms with the residual brokenness that, despite our best efforts at being good, persists in us. This process is needful because Easter is not an exercise in positive thinking – it is the announcement of the availability of True Life in Christ, resurrection life.

And resurrection is only good news to those who have learned to admit and embrace the fact that they are dead. Not mostly dead, but stone cold dead. Dead means there can be no recovery. In death, there is only the illogical hope for the gift of new life, rather than a resuscitation of the old life.

Only where there are graves is there resurrection, after all.

Because resurrection life is a gift that must be received and appropriated, Lent is the opportunity to expose those areas of our life where we most need raising – where we continue to settle for cheap substitutes for True Life or continue to persist in the illusion that we heal brokenness in our own power.