Shirin McArthur

prayerful pondering


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Unintended Consequences in Our Transportation Industry


Last weekend I returned to Silver City for a few days. I visited friends, hiked in the mountains, and gave a presentation of some photos and stories of our time in Israel at the church I used to attend. (Want to join us for a Holy Land tour of Israel this coming January? Find out more here.)

DSC_8559eOn the drive from Tucson to Silver City, I passed this amazing sight. It’s hard to tell from this photo, but there are almost three hundred train locomotives, stored end-to-end, on an unused siding alongside the Interstate. Reading up on this, I discovered that the Southern Pacific Railroad is using “Aridzona” to store unused engines. Our state’s humidity is generally very low—except during the current monsoon season—making it an ideal place to mothball both airplanes and locomotives.

So why, in an economy that’s supposedly booming, are so many engines parked here? It turns out that another of the unintended consequences of the success of fracking natural gas has been a decline in our railroads. Railroads have, for decades, been used to haul coal. In fact, coal has historically been the railroads’ largest single revenue source. We know—from our contentious political election cycle last year, if nothing else—that the coal industry is in serious decline. Natural gas is much more efficiently transported via pipeline, and the increase in oil pipelines as well (including the incredibly contentious Dakota Access Pipeline) had also cut railroad oil transport by 22% in 2016.

Railroads built this country. My paternal great-grandfather worked for the railroad, and the pursuit of trains still drives many of the details of my parents’ vacation plans. But things are changing in this country. The rail lines that used to form the backbone of our nation’s transportation industry no longer do so. Transportation now takes place via pipelines, power lines, and—in this increasingly service-based economy—internet lines.

I know this is a rather big shift, but I see a similar transition taking place in the church in this country. I’m currently reading a book called Weird Church, which discusses the decline in the institutional church, in America and around the world, and proposes a rather radical response. It is fact that many in our younger generations are not keen on the idea of belonging to one church and giving money to support a building and programs and clergy salaries. They are still curious, even desirous, of a spiritual life and a relationship with God, but the ways that worked for prior generations don’t work for them.

So it’s time to discover new ways to “transport” Christianity to the spiritually hungry. In their exploration of what it means to be church these days, Weird Church leaders propose returning to the roots—which is what the word “radical” means, at its root(!)—of Christianity. They pose a question that I really like: What did the disciples do the day after Pentecost? Having been inspired by the Holy Spirit, these earliest Christians moved into “liminal space,” where “the Jesus movement began to spread and to innovate on the fly; creativity came to life.”

There are many ways in which Christianity is being revitalized in this country—but most of them don’t look like the church we’re used to seeing. Christianity is being “transported” in new ways, and I am excited to be a member of a team of spiritual directors that will be gathering with Weird Church practitioners at Weird Church Camp, the end of this month, to share stories and experiences and listen for how the Holy Spirit is calling us all to innovate in this day and age.

I invite you to pray for us, as we prepare for camp and gather in community, like the early Christians, to revision what church looks like in a constantly changing world. How are we called to transport Christianity to the spiritually hungry today?

How are you called to transport Christianity to the spiritually hungry today?


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Catching Fire


Today is Pentecost. As a child, I was taught that this was the Birthday of the Church, and I remember birthday cake at coffee hour and red streamers hanging from the tall Ponderosa pine trees at the front of the church building.

Like many of our religious festivals, Pentecost has multiple layers to it. Acts 2 begins by saying, “When the day of Pentecost had come,” which means that it already existed as a festival on that day. Pentecost was originally an Israelite spring harvest festival; the word Pentecost is the Greek term for the Jewish word Shavuot. The Christian church co-opted the name, applying it to remember the day when tongues of fire “rested on” Jesus’ disciples and they began to speak in different languages.DSC_0486e

Remember that these disciples were from the Galilean countryside. The idea that such provincial, uneducated people could suddenly speak multiple languages is part of what made this day stand out for the first generations of Christians. Jesus had promised that the Holy Spirit would come upon them: “You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” I can well imagine that they had no clue what this would mean and how the Holy Spirit would manifest to them. Jesus had always been full of surprise and mystery; would the Holy Spirit be any different?

I found myself thinking that, in a sense, this spring harvest festival, this Pentecost, is celebrating the harvest of Jesus’ work with his disciples. His years of teaching, in Galilee and in Jerusalem, bore fruit in the form of tongues of flame that did not burn. (I do wonder if the disciples’ first thoughts were of Moses and the burning bush!) Interestingly, the disciples’ responses were not filled with confusion and questions, as had been the case with so many conversations recorded in the Gospels. Instead, Peter speaks out boldly, proclaiming the message of Jesus’ resurrection and connecting this event with sacred scripture, exactly as Jesus had done, time and time again in his ministry.

“You heard it was said…now I say to you” was a hallmark of Jesus’ teaching. Peter and the other disciples now take on that mantle, spontaneously speaking in the languages of those who need to hear the Good News and seamlessly connecting their message with Hebrew scripture.

The disciples are the fruit of Jesus’ ministry. They are now catching fire—the kind of fire that lights up souls rather than burning bodies. That fiery fruit generates its own harvest on Pentecost: Luke tells us that over 3,000 people were baptized that day, joining the disciples in following Christ.

When in your life have you caught fire? In what ways has the Holy Spirit transformed your life, burned away the confusion, and emboldened you to preach the Good News? How are you the harvest fruit of Jesus’ ministry?

 

P.S. My proposal was not accepted into the next round of InnovateHER, but I will move forward with hope nonetheless. The Holy Spirit lit a fire in me, and I will do my best to help hope catch fire in our troubled world.