Black Lives Matter

From Your BCOC Ministers

June 2, 2020

Baptist Church of the Covenant is praying for our beloved city and greater community. In the wake of Pentecost Sunday and Sunday evening’s local civil unrest, we are praying for the Spirit of the Living God to blow a healing and hopeful wind of change upon all of Birmingham.

The rally cry of peaceful protestors, “I CAN’T BREATHE!” in the midst of a viral pandemic that attacks the respiratory system all while the church celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit is not irony. It is a convicting call to Christians, white Christians especially, to use every breath we have to cry out for justice for Black people who are:

  • Mistreated, if not killed, while in the hands of law enforcement
  • Oppressed by economic systems that benefit the privileged
  • Told to get a job, but discriminated against for job opportunities
  • Profiled by their own neighbors
  • Applauded on the athletic field, but then persecuted for taking a stand (or a knee)

With every breath in our lungs, may we stand in unity alongside Black lives who matter because we are all children of God. Members of Baptist Church of the Covenant are bound by our Corporate Commitments in which we commit ourselves to be a caring fellowship that seeks to incarnate the love of Christ in individual lives, expressed in warmth and concern for the spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being of one another.

Therefore, we may not remain silent or complicit when brothers and sisters can’t breathe! Breath of God, breathe on the City of Birmingham and her surrounding municipalities that all may know justice, know peace, and be free.

Below are some verses from scripture that BCOC’s ministers and staff have held in their hearts the past few days. Share scripture that has called you this week in the comments.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
– Matthew 5:6

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
– Psalm 139:23-24

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
– Luke 4:18-19

Kristen: Earth Day Reflections

3 minute read

By: Kristen Berthiaume

Is it just me or has spring in Birmingham been particularly spectacular this year? With the exception of those few stormy times, the season has been made up of bright days with clear blue skies and quiet, cool evenings. Now that the pollen has subsided, the air even feels cleaner; and it turns out, this isn’t my imagination – researchers find that air pollution has lessened in cities. These long days with everyone at home are hard in several ways. Inside the house, the E-learning log-ins don’t always work and siblings are always fighting about who’s allowed in whose room and who isn’t. Outside of the house, there are new flowers to notice, beautiful shades of blue above me, and constant music coming from the trees. To be able to step away from the “new normal” frustrations inside and spend a few minutes in nature is an incredible gift that I’m making daily effort to notice.

One way I’m trying to be more mindful of the natural world is through gardening – something I’ve never taken much time for before. And it does take time – gardening is not a quick process. Much of that time is spent waiting – for seeds to grow, for flowers to bloom, for bees to come, for fruits to produce. Some of my seeds have sprouted green shoots while others are staying safely tucked away under their soil with no apparent plans for growth. When you’re used to so much of life happening on a predictable schedule, suddenly having no discernible timeline is both frustrating and freeing.

As it is with this period of uncertainty in which we all find ourselves living. There is no expiration date on this virus or our need to shelter-in-place and, while we should all do our part, we have little individual control over when the danger will pass. The weight of it almost intolerable when we sit and consider all the “what ifs.” Reading the daily news seems burdensome and hopeless, yet I’d feel I was ignoring the suffering of others if I didn’t keep myself informed. Under all this strain and uncertainty, I am exponentially grateful for the opportunity to escape into nature away from the chaos and conflict. Focusing for just a few minutes on how dirt feels in my hands, the glint of the sun off green leaves, and the sounds of a mild breeze helps me remember what is here and now, and not what might be later.

Taylor: Back-Porch Reflections on Nature amidst COVID-19

3 minute read

By: Taylor Bell

Genesis 1:31: “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and and there was morning, the sixth day.” (NRSV)

As I sit on my back porch, retreating in nature from the ever encroaching walls of my house I am struck by a stark truth. We’ve inherited a troubling ecological philosophy wherein we humans conceive of ourselves as distinct and separate from nature. While this philosophy’s historical roots go back millennia, it’s consequences are evidenced in the ways we humans relate to nature: as something to be mastered, used, and/or exploited. Yet, this philosophy also inflicts injury on the human soul, an injury that has become personally evident during this pandemic. It is our alienation from nature, which means alienation from God’s creation, which in turns means alienation from an essential aspect of God’s love. It is not surprising to me that amidst this pandemic, myself and so many others have retreated from our homes to green spaces, hiking trails, and backyard gardens to find solace, restoration, and hope. Because God did not create our homes, but God did create the rose that blooms and the trees that tower, regardless of the world’s despair.

We know from Genesis that when God created the world, God pronounced it as “very good.” From God’s love, God’s creatively formed the world, and everything in it – including us humans. And from God’s creativity a divine ecology was birthed, and it was deemed as “very good.” From the very beginning, we humans have been an essential part of God’s creation; an integral part of nature. Never have we been distinct from nature. And thus, never have we been separated from God’s love. It’s why we find solace, restoration, and hope underneath the shade of an oak tree, in the splendor of a blooming rose bush, or in the audience of a birdsong quartet. For in these moments, we find ourselves amidst God’s creation, and thus lose ourselves amidst God’s love.

This Earth Day, as I contemplate the stark realities of both the coronavirus pandemic and the ecological catastrophe of climate change, it is this divine revelation that instills in me hope. It reminds me that healing and restoration of the human being and the earth is found within God’s hands. Hands which hold the whole earth, and everything in it. Hands which created the world in an ecological harmony that was divinely deemed as very good for all. Perhaps then, some of the essential steps for both our own and the world’s healing means returning to this divine ecological harmony. Returning to the truth that we are part of nature. This is what we do each time we seek solace in nature. And so I wonder, what would happen to ourselves and the world if we were to continue carrying this truth with us long after the pandemic is over? And yet, I am not sure we can afford to forget it again.

Rosemary: Reflection at the Beginning of Earth Week

Painting by Gloria Furman

3 minute read

By: Rosemary Fisk

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. “– Genesis 2:15 NIV

As these solitary days take us back to essentials, I’m absorbing the passing clues of the forest in resurrection behind our house—the blossoms dropped by the tulip poplars, the sweet shrubs that only smell sweet for one day and I always missed it, the elderberry plants growing in the paths where the birds planted them.  It’s a restful step back from the stressful Aprils I’ve clawed through on a college campus for over thirty years. Earth Day was always crowded into the schedule for class projects and exhibits on the Quad, where I often enjoyed seeing one of my fraternity guys, desperate for extra credit by this point, reciting Ode to Spring to amused friends. Yes, Resurrection indeed.

It’s easy to miss the importance of wilderness, the wild spaces, when we read the Bible.  Moses and Jesus at the beginning of their ministries come immediately to mind. For forty days and forty nights Christ wandered in the wilderness and survived all temptations. How had I always missed that the root of our word “quarantine” comes from “forty,” the number of days diseased persons were put in isolation in the 17th century before being restored.  I hear the scriptures telling us to quarantine in Nature as much as possible and allow God to speak and renew our spiritual health.

 

Maundy Thursday Reflection Amidst COVID 19

contentcom.microsoft.office.outlook.fileprovideroutlookfiledatadatacom.microsoft.office.outlookcachefile-downloadfile--145048106SAAM-1983.95.186_1-000001“Having loved his dear companions, he continued to love them right to the end… ‘So if I, the Master and Teacher, washed your feet, you must now wash each other’s feet. I’ve laid down a pattern for you. What I’ve done, you do.’”       John 13: 1c, 14, The Message

 

I wouldn’t say, I’ve turned a corner.
I wouldn’t say, I have gotten used to a new normal.
But, this week, I might say, I’ve gotten over a hump.

My Enneagram number is 9. We 9s will do whatever it takes to keep our inner peace intact and our external dynamics calm and peaceful, our expectations reasonable… and expected. You can imagine how well I take to sudden, abrupt change. We cancelled worship and the final week of School for Christian Living (3/15/20) about 36 hours before it was to happen. We were reluctant to cancel because we had several guests planning to be with us and the final week of a program to conclude with an exclamation point. But, in the end, that’s what we did. We changed our plans. I called our guest preacher about 12 hours before she was to get on a plane to be with us and told her not to come.

We were reluctant to cancel church.
We were reluctant to acknowledge the truth about our situation in Alabama.
We were reluctant to understand the reality we were facing as a nation.
We were reluctant to admit that we were as vulnerable as the rest of the world.

Change is difficult. Truth is hard to hear. That’s the hump.

In the gospel of John, chapter 13, Jesus gathers with his beloved disciples. He is keenly aware of the changes that are ahead of them. He knows the truth. But the beloveds are not mentally and emotionally prepared for this. They are reluctant to hear him. They are reluctant to accept the truth. Even Judas is reluctant to let things play out. He gets involved in the plot to force Jesus’ hand.

Even so, Jesus makes something of his final hours with them, sharing a last supper together. Then, Jesus takes the form of a servant. He sets aside his robe and puts on an apron. He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the apron around his waist. It was holiness that mattered in these moments, not hygiene. He wasn’t modeling cleanliness or etiquette. He was modeling servanthood. It was an image he wanted them to remember — him bowing before each one of them, washing with care their calloused, tired, dirty feet.

A few weeks ago, when the threat of COVID 19 meant that we could no longer gather for worship in our church building, I understood that truth. The reality of community spread, the necessity of social distancing in order to impact the rate at which people could get infected and require hospitalization made sense. Flatten the curve. I got it. Still, I was sad. I was disappointed. With this sudden shift came so much loss. If I start listing all the things we have said good-bye to, it will just be depressing. And what I’m trying to say here is that for the first couple of weeks of all this, I was more slothful than imaginative and too anxious to be creative. The good-byes far outweighed the possibilities. Stress and anxiety reduce our human capacity for imagination. It’s no wonder the disciples hid out for days after Jesus’ trial and death. Their inspiration was gone. What would they do now without him? Our capacity to love and serve is compromised in the wake of such loss.

So, if you’ve struggled to be productive and energetic recently, like I have, give yourself a break. Or as the church would say, “Give yourself some grace.” It’s a time to be gentle with oneself. Put your own oxygen mask on first before trying to help someone else.

Catch your breath.

Re-inflate your own lungs with oxygen for the soul — a walk, a phone call, FaceTime, poetry, scripture, prayer, listening a little longer to a co-worker. Cry if you need to. Make a list if that makes you feel better. Take a nap. Imagination will return. Creativity will slowly creep back in. Harness that energy for good when it shows up. I’m over the hump of feeling overwhelmed most of the time and now only feel overwhelmed some of the time. At some point, I may turn the whole corner and accept this new normal.

In the meantime, deep breaths.
Until we meet again, blessings to you, fellow-traveler, during this most Holy Week. Resurrection is around the corner.

Reflection
Under the restrictions of COVID-19 we cannot literally stoop at the feet of someone and take their tired foot into our hands for a soothing wash. Perhaps creativity and imagination will reveal other opportunities for us to serve one another – to be the church, to follow Jesus in these uncertain times. How do you imagine we can do this? How have you seen this happening already? Where have you seen God in the last three weeks? 

Opportunities to Serve our Neighbors amidst COVID-19

By: Taylor Bell

5 minute read

 

Baptist Church of the Covenant,

As I wrote last week, Covenant is a church that takes Jesus’ call to “love your neighbor as yourself” incredibly serious. We are a church for whom ministering to our community is simply part of what it means to be “church.” And in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, this pillar of our identity has only become more salient. Especially as our community becomes evermore strained. Because of this, we know many of you are asking how you can responsibly serve your community during these difficult times. To help with this, we are working to keep an up-to-date list of ministry opportunities in Birmingham.

So if you are asking, “How can I responsibly serve my neighbors?” then check out the list below. It is comprised of ways you can assist or join the work of several of our Missions and Ministry Partners 

If the list is missing something, please contact Taylor Bell (tbell@bcoc.net) so it can be added.

 

Greater Birmingham Ministries: Donate Funds for their Food Pantry

Every Friday, GBM provides up to 50 food-insecure families with groceries. However, due to how this pandemic is especially hurting low-income families, GBM decided to no longer cap their Friday food pantry. This past Friday (3/20), GBM decided to serve food until either people stopped coming or they ran out of food. After serving 90 families, they ran out of food. As a result, GBM’s food pantry shelves are bare and need to be replenished, and they are asking their partners for help. During this time, they now need our help so they can help others.

GBM is asking for financial contributions to fund their food pantry. These contributions enable GBM to buy food in bulk from the Community Food Bank. If you wish to donate for GBM’s Food Pantry, you can do so by clicking this link here: https://gbm.ourpowerbase.net/civicrm/contribute/transact?reset=1&id=2, and make sure to select “Food Fund” at the bottom under the Special Contributions Section.

Please Note: this ministry opportunity is not replacing our April GBM Canned Food Drive. We will update you on the status of the April Canned Food Drive when we are closer to April 19th.

 

Community Food Bank of Central Alabama

The Community Food Bank of Central Alabama has partnered with the Grace Klein Community to help with food distribution — and they are calling for volunteers to help them get food out quickly and safely to those in need. As many of you know, the Community Food Bank is an integral partner for our Backpack Ministry, in which food is provided to children who are at risk for going hungry during the school year. Now, due to COVID-19 and its resulting school closures and job losses, the need for food assistance is rapidly increasing (i.e. GBM above). To meet this necessary demand, they need extra volunteers.

If you would like to volunteer with the Grace Klein Community / Community Food Bank see the details below. Please note, all volunteers must be between 16 and 65 years old. Also, gloves, hairnets, etc. are provided on site.

Date and Times Requested:

  • Monday thru Friday, 10am to 6pm
  • Shifts
    • 10am – 2pm
    • 2pm – 6pm
    • 1pm – 5pm

Sign up for one of several locations below:

  1. Liberty Church
    2732 Old Rocky Ridge Rd.
    Birmingham, AL 35216
    https://www.signupgenius.com/go/9040849a4aa2da0fa7-drivethru1

  2. Grace Klein Community Office
    2652 Old Rocky Ridge Rd
    Birmingham, AL 35216
    https://www.signupgenius.com/go/9040849a4aa2da0fa7-volunteers2

  3. Wylam Location
    4121 7th Ave
    Birmingham, AL 35224
    https://www.signupgenius.com/go/9040849a4aa2da0fa7-volunteers1

 

Bread for the World COVID-19 Advocacy

Public policy is just as essential as direct service to influencing our communities’ well-being during this pandemic. Public policy determines what resources are available and the rules governing these resources distribution. During this pandemic, ministry means also advocating for certain public policies.

Therefore, Bread for the World is asking us to tell Congress (both the House and Senate) to boost the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to maximum benefits by 15 percent to ensure vulnerable populations in the U.S. have access to the resources they need. Being this is a pandemic measure, it is being referred to as P-SNAP.

This policy request is essential as it expands the number of families eligible for SNAP as food insecurity rapidly increases due to pandemic’s consequential economic recession. During this pandemic, social services such as SNAP are evermore essential to helping vulnerable peoples weather the pandemic’s storm.

Contacting your legislators is quick and easy (plus it’s their office’s job to listen to you!). It is recommended to either call or email your legislators’ offices. Personalized 

For a template letter and easy way to message your legislators, click this link from Bread: Respond to COVID-19 and Support Vulnerable Populations 

For a list of your Legislators with their contact information, click here: List of Alabama Representatives and Senators

If you are wondering who your legislators are, click this link and input your address: https://www.sos.alabama.gov/alabama-votes/elected-official-map

 

Grocery Ministry — Expanding for our BCOC Members

We recognize that social distancing more greatly impacts the elderly and immunocompromised individuals’ access to basic needs, such as groceries and medicine. Therefore, we are expanding the grocery ministry’s operation to include those within the BCOC Family who are having difficulty accessing the grocery store and pharmacy due to COVID-19. Please note: this expansion is for BCOC members who cannot, or are advised from, going to the grocery store or pharmacy due to their age and immune system status.

If you need someone to grocery shop for you due to this pandemic, please contact either Taylor Bell (tbell@bcoc.net or 502.415.5808) or Josey Windham (jwindham@bcoc.net).

If you would like to volunteer to grocery shop either for our Highland Manor neighbors or BCOC Members, please contact Taylor or Josey to be added to the list. We will connect with you an individual to shop for along with further instructions.

 

That is it for now folks. If you know of any additional ministry opportunities with our missions and ministry partners, please let us know. As we become aware of more ministry opportunities during this pandemic we will be sure to update you all. So stay tuned!

Stay healthy, safe, and sane Covenant :).

Peace and Blessings,

Taylor

BCOC Ministries Update Amid COVID-19 and Birmingham’s Shelter in Place Order

By: Taylor Bell

5 minute read

 

Baptist Church of the Covenant,

Amidst what is a rapidly changing landscape due to COVID-19, I wanted to briefly update you on our church’s ministerial life. As any tenured Covenant member knows, this church takes Jesus’ call to “love your neighbor as yourself,” incredibly serious. You Covenant, refuse to forget our most vulnerable neighbors during this pandemic. Therefore I want you to know that many of our essential ministries are continuing to serve our community during this difficult time. And due to the economic impacts of COVID-19, we are unfortunately only expecting financial needs and food insecurity to increase. This scenario makes several of our ministries essential during this time. You all recognized this at the pandemic’s outbreak, and had countless impromptu virtual meetings, phone calls, and email threads to find responsible answers to this question: “how can we continue serving our neighbors safely during the pandemic?” You refuse to allow COVID-19 to shut our ministries down. Instead, engaging the creative and difficult of creatively implementing stringent social distancing practices so our essential ministries may continue. As one of your pastors, I am both inspired and grateful for your compassionate, resolute, and serving heart.

Today, I want to update you on 3 of our ongoing essential ministries: Wednesday Evening Supper (U+1), Saturday Grocery Ministry, and Family Promise. Regarding our ministries, these may continue under Birmingham’s Shelter in Place Order. However, due to the necessity for strict social distancing, their operations are a bit different than before this pandemic. While the function may change, the reason does not. That is, to simply be a good neighbor and serve the least of these within our community.

Update on Wednesday Evening Meals (U+1)

This past Wednesday (3/18), we served approximately 25 to-go meals to our neighbors. We expect this week to serve more as food insecurity increases and word gets out that Covenant is still serving meals during the pandemic. Due to COVID-19, we have shifted Wednesday Evening Meals from an indoor community supper to an outdoor to-go meal pickup. Guests move through a line where they wash their hands, pick up a to-go meal, utensils, and beverage, and then depart. Robbie Yarborough has graciously donated the to-go meals for the next several weeks — so be sure to thank him next time you talk to him! This past week we operated with a team of four people. However, with the need to be as minimalistic as possible we are operating with a team of three people moving forward.

If you are interested in serving, contact Taylor Bell. Please do not just show up, as you will be asked to leave due to social distancing measures. Requirements to serve are: (a) under 60 years old, and (b) not in proximity to someone who is immunocompromised. These requirements follow public health guidelines for direct service. Since we are taking a risk in our direct service, we want those potentially exposed to be the least likely to need hospitalization. We appreciate your understanding.

Saturday Grocery Ministry

This past Saturday (3/21), five members of the Grocery Ministry shopped and delivered groceries to four of its participants at Highland Manor. Due to COVID-19, this ministry has shifted from picking up and helping its participants grocery shop, to now picking up their lists and shopping for them. For many Grocery Ministry’s participants, this ministry is their only means of accessing the grocery. Therefore, we are grateful this ministry may continue in light of Birmingham’s Shelter in Place Order.

If you are interested in serving, please contact Brian Berthiaume (bjbmail@gmail.com). Requirements to serve are: (a) under 60 years old, and (b) not in proximity to someone who is immunocompromised. Due to these service requirements, the Grocery Ministry needs more volunteers. If you are able to help, please reach out to Brian. The Grocery Ministry operates from 9:00am — 11:00am on Saturday mornings.

Family Promise

We are scheduled to host Family Promise the week of April 5th-12th. However, due to COVID-19, the BCOC Family Promise Team is making different arrangements. There is currently only one family in the program, and our partnering Family Promise churches have “hosted” each week by covering their lodging expenses at a local hotel, providing several home-cooked meals, and additional expenses for food and gas. Due to the demands of social distancing, the BCOC Family Promise Team has decided to do the same. Therefore during the week of April 5th, we will “host” the family by aiding their lodging, food, and gas expenses.

Rebecca Richardson is coordinating this effort and has provided two essential ways those interested can help. And there are no service requirements! (1) Donate money for this rotation by either mailing a check to BCOC indicating it is for the Family Promise rotation, or by making an online e-giving contribution (instructions on e-giving below) Or (2) Making and delivering a home-cooked meal for the family. If you want to cook and deliver a meal, please contact Rebecca Richardson (rebeccaric@gmail.com).

E-Giving Instructions: Due to Birmingham’s Shelter in Place Order, the church office is closed until further notice with all staff working remotely. Therefore, e-giving is the highly preferred method. To e-give, go to www.bcoc.net/egiving and click on the e-giving button. Enter the amount you wish to donate and then select “General Fund” from the pull-down menu. Be sure to put “FAMILY PROMISE” in the “Optional Memo” Box so your funds will be directed for this purpose. Enter your email address and it will ask you if you want to log-in, but you can continue as a guest. Enter your payment info and you will receive an email verifying your donation for tax purposes.

A Few Other Brief BCOC Ministry Updates:

  • GBM Canned Food Drive will evaluate if they are collecting canned goods for April 19th. We will update you on both collection status and drop-off locations as we approach our monthly collection time.
  • Dee Dah Day is POSTPONED. We will update you when we have a new date.
  • The BCOC Cuba Trip is CANCELED.

As more ministry updates emerge, we will be sure to keep you all informed.

Stay safe and sane Covenant!

Peace,
Taylor

Reflections on the “imago Dei”

By: Taylor Bell

8 minute read.

Gen 1:26-28a

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them … 

Ever since I was a young child, I’ve been enraptured by the question of meaning and existence. Where did us humans come from? And yet, even more important, why do we humans exist? I would lay awake at night, staring at the ceiling fan’s rotations, pondering the depths of the universe for the meaning of human existence. Indeed, I joined the million of other humans who have asked the same question for thousands of years.

Recently, the question of existence has plagued my soul if for no other reason than my own life journey has painfully made clear the human soul’s necessity for a coherent reason to live. To continue living, each of us needs an answer to the question “why do I exist?” That is, what is my reason for living? It is therefore inherently human to seek an answer to this existential question. Because if there is no why to my existence, then there is no reason or purpose to go on living. At this point, I can reasonably conclude by in nihilistically exclaiming, “What is the point in living?” (Is nihilism the loss of existential purpose?) At a fundamental level, we humans need to know why we exist, because this reason imbues our lives with meaning and purpose.

Which is why for the past several years I have been fascinated with the imago Dei. This theological phrase is Latin, and refers to Genesis 1:26-27 when God created humankind in God’s image. The imago Dei is, quintessentially, the Christian response to the existential question “why?” When humans ask “why do I exist?”, we Christians turn to the creation account of Genesis 1, honing in on verses 26-28. We were created in God’s image, to live in community and have families, and to be stewards of God’s creation. From the Christian perspective, this theology is the fundamental answer for why we exist. It is the essence of what it means to be human. 

And yet, at its root, the imago Dei is an interpretative mystery. Scholars are ultimately unsure what exactly the author of Genesis 1 meant when they wrote “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.” Despite the divine plurality implied in God saying, “Let us make humankind in our image,” which is intriguing for a monotheistic religion, it is currently impossible to know with precise accuracy what the imago Dei is. The reasons are (1), the imago Dei is not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible, and (2) there is nothing prior to Genesis 1 that can give us any interpretative clues. These two reasons make exegeting the imago Dei impossible without assumptions and/or leaps of faith. We therefore understand that the imago Dei is our reason for being created and thus existence, but are unsure what this reason objectively and precisely is. It is a mystery.

As a pastor and theologian, I understand the imago Dei as a divine mystery. The imago Dei, our reason for existence, is a mystery rooted in God. Because when we allow ourselves to be completely honest before Scripture, we cannot avoid the truth that our human reasoning and devices are unable to make sense of it. Divine mysteries cannot be solved as riddles through rationality and intellect. Rather, they can only be understood through relationship with God. In our search for answers, divine mysteries nudge us closer to God by inviting us into practices and spaces of prayer, conversation, exploration, and vulnerability. They reveal answers, not as a book that presents the right answer, but through a relationship that instills breathes within us love and understanding. And perhaps this is the first way in which the imago Dei responds to our existential “why?” It draws us closer to our Creator, to the genesis of our existence, and in so doing roots us in the most fundamental relationship of our lives. 

Yet, in my personal experience, even in drawing closer to God, the existential “why” still remains unanswered. It is still a mystery. At least not answered in the way I want it to be. There is no angelic declaration proclaiming in a deep and kingly voice, “Taylor, this is why you were created, to fulfill this specific purpose.” There has been no gps voice saying, “In 1000 feet, turn right and your existential purpose will be on your left.” (Though comical to imagine). Rather, in faithfully journeying with the imago Dei’s holy mysteriousness, it deepens our experience of God’s love. That God created me, and you, and all of existence out of love. And I recognize that love is not mentioned as a motivator for God’s creativity in Genesis 1. But have you ever watched a master artisan create? Have you seen their intense focus, attention to detail, and hours upon hours of commitment. When a master artisan is creating, their creation can only be described as a labor of love. Or recall being in the presence of a newborn baby. There is an aura of wonder and love that always seem present — as though they are evidence of some transcendent and loving creativity. Perhaps then this is the second way the imago Dei responds to our existential “why?” In drawing us closer to God, it grounds our lives in God’s love for us, revealing our deepest reason for existing is to love and to be loved. Being made in God’s image means that we humans are created to share in God’s love.

Still, the question of particularity remains. What does the imago Dei mean for my life in particular? It is still a mystery. Talk of divine love sounds all good, but it is still largely abstract — especially when being written out in a blog post. We can universalize about God and divine love all we want, but the existential question of meaning is ultimately concerned with the concrete uniqueness of one’s life. Because how you share in God’s love will be different than me because you are a completely different person than me. Have you ever taken a moment to recognize that there has never been someone exactly like you in the past, nor will there ever be someone exactly like you in the future. Each of us are purposefully unique, endowed with entirely different histories, affinities, and gifts. Perhaps then this is the third way the imago Dei responds to our existential “why?” In drawing us closer to God, it reveals to us how each of us are uniquely created, and thus uniquely created to love and be loved. How you receive and share love is different than me because you are a different person. This is a clue into why you were created in God’s image. To love and be loved by the world in your own purposefully unique way. Perhaps the Christian language of calling and vocation comes down to this: you are called, your reason for existence, is to authentically love and be loved by the world.

If you doubt this truth, contemplate for a moment what your life is like when you are surrounded by love. Love from your significant other, from your family and friends, love from your workplace, and even love from your community? What is the quality of your life? Do you find yourself existentially pondering your purpose for living, or do you find yourself purposefully living? I believe the existential question of existence is most deeply asked when we are fundamentally unsure if we are loved. What a precarious and significant place to be. Because it is only through honestly asking the question that we are able to discover the depths of God’s love for us — and the depths to which we can love others. Because when we are completely honest in our questions before God and/or the universe, we are completely vulnerable to receiving the fullness of God’s mysterious response. A response known by its love.

The imago Dei means you are a beloved child of God, uniquely created by God to love and be loved. What this holy truth means for your life in particular is a divine mystery only you can discover. But its truthfulness means you are all that you have ever needed to be, because you were purposefully and uniquely created by God. This is grace: that you bear God’s fingerprints and love just because you exist. And if this divine love is what you seek, then all you need to do is stop, breathe, and rest in it. Because there is nothing you can do to earn or create it. For you were created within it. All you can do is open up, receive it, and share it in the most authentic way you know how. Go today in peace, knowing that your you exist because you are loved.

Why We Are So Excited About Covenant’s Life Is Calling Work

5 minute read

In January 2020, Covenant’s role in the Life is Calling Initiative will transition from research and project development to the implementation of the Ecosystem of Discernment. For each member of the Covenant Life is Calling Team, this work is deeply meaningful. Each of us hold personally compelling reasons to consistently gather for early morning meetings, offering time and energy to explore Christian calling here at Covenant. We want to communicate these reasons with you as an act of sharing why we are so excited, invigorated, and devoted to the Life is Calling Initiative and our own project: The Ecosystem of Discernment.

Please feel free to reach out to any of the team members if you have any questions.

Ann Carol Mann:

When I first read about the Life is Calling initiative, I immediately thought, “I want to be part of that.”  Since childhood I felt my life was important to God and I could find meaning and purpose in following God. Yes, this did lead to a sense of calling to ministry in the “churchy” sense, but in my years of not having a professional ministry position, I felt no less called and committed to using my gifts for ministry in the world.  What I hope will happen through the Ecosystem of Discernment, is anyone who finds their way to BCOC will find a path for discovering purpose, meaning, and for living their unique life in Christ through supportive community. How exciting it would be for someone such as a young adult living and working downtown seeking direction and fulfillment to find that BCOC is not asking them to just plug into what we’re already doing, but encouraging and empowering them to follow and serve God in their unique individuality. This discovery is not for maintaining the institution called BCOC, but for allowing us all to participate in God’s restoration agenda of making all things new in Christ.

Caroline Jansen:

A decade or so ago I caught up with an old teacher. I was feeling directionless when it came to discovering my calling in life. What I felt was failure, my inability to pick one path into some illusive vocation, my professor simply deemed made me a well-rounded person. I still remember that supportive hand on my shoulder, calling out something in my wrestling to be beautiful. It was a release and permission to live into the tension of both/and that has carried me through many seasons of discernment. The Life is Calling ecosystem carves out the essential space for soul nurturing exploration, play and creativity. It is the field upon which you can dig into yourself, meet in community, grow relationally, and flourish. What would your life be like if you were given that same affirming hand on the shoulder, to freely grow into who you are and who you are becoming? What could a system of support and resources dedicated to healing, growth, freedom to play, and empowerment to serve creatively do for the Church? When the Spirit is given freedom among us to move in its divine dance, what beautiful fruits will be harvested? This is why I am filled with excitement for the potential of the LIC Ecosystem.

Drexel Rayford:

I believe that when people align their lives with their deepest loves, they contribute to making the kingdom of God real in our world, living out the mind of Christ.  The ecosystem provides a safe, welcoming environment where people

  • can identify the barriers they’ve encountered which have kept them from living out of what they love;
  • identify and develop assets they possess which can remove those barriers and facilitate their living out of what they love;
  • provide assistance and encouragement to develop further skills for negotiating their life process;
  • all in the context of a supportive, affirming community of seeking believers.

Mike Martin:

The question put to me was, “why is Life is Calling work important?”  I was asked by Taylor if I would consider being a part of a small group that would be working on developing a grant proposal to address/investigate/be curiously mindful about the concept of “calling” in our church.  I was honored to be asked, for many reasons including wanting to find a new way to be involved.  Knowing little about where this would lead, I was curious and excited to see what would develop.

We have met numerous times as a committee, early coffee morning gatherings that have planted seeds which have birthed what we call “The Ecosystem of Discernment.”   This system, in short, is at its best designed to be a dynamic model/process for discerning and sustaining a “called way of life.”  We have named the physical space housing the Ecosystem “The Greenhouse.”  Let your imagination run wild with that metaphor!  As a physical space, the Greenhouse will be characterized by creativity, risk, discernment, faithfulness, dialogue, and community.

Why is this important to me?

-This is a dynamic tool to aid others in identifying ways to serve.

-This can be a process that generates ministry opportunities for our “church on the corner,” internally and externally.

-This can be a way to engage those who have not felt traditionally “called,” offering new ways of interpretation and taking action.

-This can be a gathering place that celebrates the arts in our church, and in the community.

-This can be a model that reaches the younger members of our church, an age group that is important to engage for our future.

Taylor Bell:

Our Life is Calling work is important to me because it’s about helping people live flourishing lives. A flourishing life is one of joy, goodness, and meaning. This is, quite simply, a life worth living. And as a pastor, I believe it is the life God intends for us to live. I hold fast to a theology which understands each person as lovingly and purposefully created by God, each born to live a meaningful life, and that such a life is lived by listening and responding to God’s voice in our lives. I am incredibly excited for the Ecosystem of Discernment because it is created to help each person to authentically live a flourishing life; a beautiful, joyous, meaningful, and good life. I can think of no greater task for the Church. Where Christ’s salvific love heals and redeems us, and the Church is called by God to be a Christ-centered community, the Ecosystem is about helping each individual discover how Christ’s love has uniquely shaped them to live a meaningful life. Living such a life is how we share the Gospel with the world, and how we experience the Gospel within ourselves. And this is our purpose as Christians.

The Gift of Thanksgiving: The Virtue of Gratitude

By: Taylor Bell

8 minute read


Every Thanksgiving Day[1] I am reminded again of an essential gift: gratitude. This past Sunday, I was reminded of the importance of gratitude as I had the privilege of leading our church’s Children’s Sermon. With Thanksgiving around the corner, I chose to focus on the Christian practice of gratitude. While Christians are not unique in valuing gratitude, what makes our practice “Christian” we root our gratitude in God’s creative and redemptive love. This means every act of gratitude begins with giving thanks to God. I emphasized this point as I held up slices of my favorite fruit: a fuji apple. I asked the children, “Who made the first ever apple tree?” “God!” And so, we gave thanks to God for creating this delicious apple. Yet God wasn’t the only one involved in our eating apples. There is also the farmer who picked the apple, the truck driver who delivered the apple, and the grocery employee who stocked the apple. And so, we reviewed and gave thanks for all these people too, whom without we wouldn’t be able to eat the apple. It seems simple. Mundane even. But as I concluded the Children’s Sermon, I was reminded once again that gratitude does not just happen. It is a choice and a practice, and so essential to a joyful and fulfilled life.

The ancient Greek ethicist Aristotle would describe gratitude as a virtue. A virtue is a character trait one develops through practice, and as one practices said virtue it becomes interwoven into one’s being.[2] For instance, as you practice the virtue of gratitude, you become a more gracious person. No longer must you remind yourself to practice gratitude, as it is now just a natural way of seeing and engaging the world. Some examples of other virtues are generosity, courage, truthfulness, and justice. Why is it important and worthwhile to define gratitude as a virtue? Because the essential lesson I’ve learned is that gratitude’s priceless gifts of contentment, joy, and serenity are only experienced after practicing gratitude for some time. It’s not until we’ve taught ourselves to make gratitude a way of life, not until we’ve cultivated gratitude as a virtue, that we discover how essential it is for living a joyful and wholehearted life.

There is a multitude of psychological research establishing this claim that gratitude is essential for a joyful life.[3] As a pastor, I articulate that gratitude is essential for a meaningful life because it re-centers our hearts and minds on God’s healing and sustaining love. Within the Christian tradition, all humans struggle with the inherent temptation that we are what we have—or don’t have. Our security and well-being become based upon our possessions, achievements, and titles. Our hearts are elated and soothed when we get the “thing” we’ve been pursuing. Yet quickly our attention focuses to the next “new” thing, and we become unsettled, discontent, and frustrated.

Renowned Alcoholics Anonymous speaker Bob E. described the alcoholic as a chronic malcontent.[4] “I am never tall enough. I am never handsome enough. My clothes are never good enough. The car is never expensive enough. I never earn enough money. I am never intelligent enough. … My boss never understands me enough. The house isn’t big enough. The sunshine isn’t bright enough.” I don’t think the dysfunction of being chronically malcontent is exclusive to the alcoholic. In our American culture, it seems to be a dysfunction we all share. And just as the virtue of gratitude is integral to 12-Step Recovery, so to do I believe that gratitude is essential for our own healing.

There is a woundedness many of us carry due to the lie that we will never be enough without this “thing.” We have ignored and neglected genuine love as we’ve recklessly pursued the “thing” we falsely believed will provide us security, safety, and well-being. Gratitude is a powerful virtue because it helps us heal from this woundedness. Because, through its daily practice we come to see and experience the truth of the infinite ways we are lovingly cared for. Because, gratitude centers our hearts and minds on the ways God has and is providing for us physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. The prayer of thanksgiving for the fuji apple above reminded me of this truth. God didn’t just create the apple tree. God also created people who work hard to connect all us to food—our God-created source for nourishment and sustenance. When I sit back and see this reality through the lens of gratitude, I cannot help but be thankful. I cannot help but realize that God has been taking care of me in profound ways I both know and will never know. That God has never forgotten about me. That I can relax and be at peace, because a power greater than myself is at work in the world taking care of me, you, and all of us. That I no longer need to doggedly pursue some “thing” and keep neglecting such genuine love.

Therefore, it’s important to daily practice gratitude. Pastor emeritus Sarah Shelton had in her office a basket full of small notebooks. Confused, I asked her one day about them. While offering one to me, she termed them her “gratitude notebooks.” She said that practicing gratitude is important yet difficult. We need something tangible upon which we can write what we are grateful for each day, so that in difficult times we can remind ourselves of all the things we are grateful for. Her instructions then were to write down three things you are grateful for in that moment. There are only two requirements. (1) You must be honest. You can be grateful for anything, the morning sunlight, the smell of roasting coffee, or your child so long as you are honest! (2) You can only write down something once. To repeat is to cheat. This second requirement is hard, but it challenges us to realize we often have more to be grateful for than we realize. And so, I’ve carried that notebook in my bookbag every day since. I may not write in it every day, but it is a symbol reminding me to daily practice the virtue of gratitude.

Now it is imperative to clarify that gratitude as Christian virtue does not elide over real pertinent needs in our lives and communities. As a Christian virtue, gratitude is not as Karl Marx related, an “opiate of the masses.” Rather, genuine gratitude keeps us planted in God’s love even amidst the real trauma of our pain and suffering. Gratitude is not a Pollyanna optimism of ignoring the reality of suffering by focusing on what is pretty and delightful. Nor is gratitude about finding the silver lining amidst life’s difficulties. Sometimes, there just is no silver lining and all we can do is our best to get through it. Gratitude demands honesty if it is to be real. Like Job, Jeremiah, and the Psalms, an honest faith means it is okay and faithful to get angry with God when we suffer. But an honest faith likewise means we also cannot forget the ways God has taken care of us amidst our suffering. If we believe that God’s love is true, and that God’s love is integral to healing and wholeness, then gratitude is an essential virtue amidst life’s darkness. And in so doing, gratitude as virtue becomes an act of faith. Now, gratitude in reminding us of all that God has done in our lives, anchors us in the real Christian hope that God will continue to take care of us, especially amidst our pain and suffering.

Yet gratitude as Christian virtue is not intended solely for us as individuals. I was taught this blessing from a good friend, “And God, bless the hands who’ve made it possible for us to eat this meal.” It was this blessing which anchored the Children’s Sermon as it reminds me that gratitude is as communal as it is individualistic. That is, gratitude as Christian virtue is concerned about others too. It is as though in giving thanks to God, God has redirected my awareness to all the people I have to be thankful for. Perhaps then, gratitude is an essential virtue because it helps us to see and celebrate the other. We transition from seeing others as “other” to seeing them as people we are deeply connected to, dependent upon, and grateful for. Here is why gratitude is not individualistic: gratitude is only gratitude when it is expressed to another, be it God or a person. This reality implies relatedness. Perhaps the wholesome power of gratitude is its knack for helping us recognize all the ways we are connected to others and the world; to help us see that we are not alone; that we are interwoven into relationships that form a community. In our country, where we are succumbing more and more to xenophobia, or the fear of the other, gratitude is an essential practice in helping us become more hospitable, loving, and just.

Therefore, this Thanksgiving and afterward, you are invited to choose and practice gratitude. It will not always be easy; we can always find a reason not to be thankful. But this is why it is a choice. So choose gratitude. Share it with others. And if you ever get lost just remember this prayer: “God thank you for this meal and bless the hands who’ve made it possible. Amen.”


[1] In reflecting on the “gift of Thanksgiving,” I recognize the need for historical honesty. The history of Thanksgiving is complicated, contentious, and messy. Much of this colonial holiday hides our history of war, displacement, and genocide against Native Americans that happened before and after the celebrated Thanksgiving meal in 1621 between Pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe. (For more information, check out this Business Insider article and this New York Times article) As an act of honesty, compassion, and justice we Christians need to collectively acknowledge and address this history. However, this reflection is not intended to address this need. In an effort to respect the integrity and needs of such an accounting, I will not be engaging it here.

[2] Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics.

[3] http://ei.yale.edu/what-is-gratitude/

[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9qPMKqu-h1U&list=PLq26HFQOjD8MCpsbTGG2Qcyk8NiE5Rp6x&index=2&t=671s