Tag Archives: advent

Where Christ Belongs

Rather than “putting Christ back in Christmas”, I’d settle for putting Christ back in Christians.

The above is a variation on a statement I saw on Facebook that really spoke to me — and apparently to more than a few of my Facebook friends, because my reposting of it went “viral” — at least as much as you could use that term to describe the reaction to something I’ve posted there.

This is in comparison to what I normally post on Facebook, which generally doesn’t raise eyebrows because it’s either “For The Day’s Journey”, my daily posting of a thought-provoking or at least inspirational quote from someone more eloquent (and renowned) than me, or “Welcome to the New Week”, my weekly Bible verse — or maybe just a rundown of the night’s dinner menu courtesy of my husband, who rules our kitchen and swears to me that it’s more than just where the coffee pot lives.

But back to that Paul-viral Facebook post. Had I struck a nerve? Had I tapped into a vein of social sentiment? Had I accessed the zeitgeist? I think so. I think a lot of people — not just my Facebook friends — are tired of the hypocrisy of “traditional”, conservative, “evangelical” Christianity.

I think people are tired of opening their Facebook feed to see what their friends are up to and instead slipping on the social media equivalent of a floor smeared with equine fecal matter in the form of such heartwarming fare as proclamations by none other than Roy Moore, Alabama’s self-proclaimed defender of the 10 Commandments, who pompously claims to have God’s ear when it comes to what is wrong with America — and who, despite losing his Senate race, still got 48 percent of the vote despite being generally a horse’s ass and specifically accused of (basically) pedophilia.

I think people are tired of seeing evidence all around them that their fellow man continues to act in such a short-sighted and self-absorbed fashion when confronted with situations where our instruction from God is actually, I believe, rather clear: Act justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly with God.

Here in Atlanta, just in time for Christmas, we’re ignoring that instruction as it concerns our homeless brothers and sisters. Here in Atlanta, we live in a city where the establishment fought shamelessly for the better part of a decade to shut down the city’s largest homeless shelter — which just happened to be situated on some seriously prime real estate.

Here in Atlanta, there was apparently no plan being made during that decade-long fight to account for how the 700-800 people the Peachtree-Pine homeless shelter was serving daily might survive with some semblance of human dignity.

Did I mention that every other shelter in town is already full?

But instead of focusing on how to get homeless people off the streets as winter approaches, your local government has determined that the best thing they can do for the homeless right now is to keep you from offering them food.

Yup.

There’s apparently a local ordinance that prohibits the distribution of food in an organized way to, basically, strangers. And your local law enforcement is now hellbent on enforcing it.

Here’s what it says, according to a pamphlet that’s been proffered to yours truly on the streets of Atlanta by well-meaning law enforcement personnel (prefaced by a mealy-mouthed preamble in said pamphlet):

We sincerely thank you for your interest in serving Atlanta’s people in need. As providers of services to these groups 24/7, year-round, we are committed to helping them in ways that lead to changed lives and lasting self-sufficiency.

In our experience, the best way to assist people in need is through places with sanitary kitchens, safe shelter, and services that help them address their problems and move forward in their lives. By contrast, feeding and donating to people on our streets is not a long-term solution.

… Public Safety’s goal is to increase police visibility and improve the quality of life within the City of Atlanta’s Government District. This will be accomplished through the Enforcement of City Ordinances and State laws and Partners for Home and Atlanta Continuum of Care to address the homelessness…

Did you know a Permit is required?

(Fulton County) Sec. 34-152. – Permit requirements

(a) Permit required. A valid permit issued by the board of health shall be required prior to operation of a food service establishment. Such permit shall be obtained in compliance with the rules and regulations of the State of Georgia governing food service, GA. Comp. R. & Regs. 290-5-14

(b) Rule 511-6-1-.08 Special Food Service Operations

Rather than feeding or donating to individuals on Atlanta’s streets, please consider directing your generosity to one of the great organizations working tirelessly to improve the lives of people in need in our communities

The arrogance continues with a list of 10 organizations that the pamphlet recommends should be the real focus of our energy, we who so inadequately seek to serve the homeless. And let me be clear: I am not disparaging the groups themselves — which are for the most part reputable, worthy and doing good in the community. Rather, I’m pointing up the city’s sleight of hand in making it seem that these 10 points of light are adequately filling the gap in homeless services left wide open by the closing of Peachtree-Pine.

But that isn’t even remotely true, and here’s why:

  • Most of these organizations close by 5pm. There are a couple that are open until 8:45pm and one that is 24 hours — but this last one serves homeless youth only.
  • There are no purely family shelters.
  • None of them provides ongoing meals.
  • These organizations are spread out all over the city… making it extremely difficult for their clientele to access the services they do provide.
  • Many organizations have a cutoff as to how many clients they can service at a time. People can find themselves waiting in long lines for hours or more and still not making the cut.
  • None of these organizations is willing to work with transgender folks.
  • Many of these organizations require a tuberculosis test before one can get housing or services.

So please tell me how, in all that is holy, are these people who are without resources or transportation, who are hungry, who can also be dealing with addiction or mental illness or disability — how are they supposed to access what the mealy-mouthed pamphlet blithely refers to as a continuum of care? How long should they wait? How far should they walk? And let’s be honest: Whose way should they stay out of?

And I’m so not done here. Because on top of all of this is the criminalization of homelessness. Here’s how it starts: In the state of Georgia, you cannot get a driver’s license or state ID without a birth certificate, Social Security card and two pieces of mail sent to your residence.

Yes, you read that correctly: Two pieces of mail to your residence. Good luck, homeless people!

Plus it doesn’t take longer than a couple of weeks for a newly homeless person to have lost whatever they might have been carrying all this documentation in to a beat cop who confiscated it, a fellow traveler who stole it — or simply to “the shuffle” of constantly being on the move and eventually losing track of almost anything.

The last time I went to renew my driver’s license, I had to mail $50 to New Jersey to get my birth certificate. How many homeless people can manage that?

Anyway, the next step in the criminalization of homelessness is that once you’ve pretty much lost the ability to prove who you are, you’re eventually going to find yourself arrested for loitering, trespassing, shoplifting, vagrancy, public urination, public intoxication, indecent exposure or any number of other petty crimes that happen along the way when you’re just trying to survive on the streets.

The result being that the city’s jails double as unofficial homeless shelters. So one of the badges that goes along with being homeless is the Unemployability badge, because you now have a criminal record thanks to your inability to find a place to live, stay out of the way, prove who you are or pay a bond or a fine.

And of course, the only thing the average homeless person is actually guilty of is generally addiction, mental health issues, or a disability of some kind. They end up on the streets because they can’t get the help they need.

Or they can’t find work that pays a living wage — a situation that’s happening in my own household, where my 62-year-old husband, a proud Army veteran who has worked in the computing field for the better part of four decades suddenly finds himself laid off and interviewing for a job at Wal-Mart that pays $9 an hour with no benefits. Which adds up to $360 a week, with no health insurance, before the Federal government takes their pound of flesh.

So let’s just say that when I contemplate what it must be like for someone to slide into homelessness, I can empathize from a very real place right now.

In conclusion, this Christmas, could we try to take seriously what our faith teaches?

Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor. (James 3:17-18)

But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love. And don’t take yourself too seriously — take God seriously. (Micah 6:8)

When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Humanity will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.
Then the King will say to those on his right, “Enter, you who are blessed by my God! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:
I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.” (Matthew 25:31-40)

To solve this challenge, we as a people of faith need to start practicing what we say we believe. We need to get to the root of what causes homelessness and do as scripture teaches us. These folks are not numbers or statistics… they are God’s children, and we will answer for what we do for and with these precious creations of God. So tonight, tomorrow morning and in the days ahead let us set aside the soundbite-friendly distractions of sideshows such as “putting Christ back in Christmas” and instead fight for something that has the potential for lasting impact.

Let’s put Christ back into what it means to be Christian.

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church, Rev. Paul M. Turner grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He and his husband Bill have lived in metro Atlanta since 1994. He is the editor of the Seeds of Hope blog whose posts from 1999-2005 are at http://whosoever.org/seeds/ -- and which now resides at http://gentlespirit.org/topics/blog/seeds-of-hope/.

Christmas 2017: Worship Services, Ministries and Office Hours

The first Sunday of Advent is December 3rd. Here’s everything you need to know about celebrating the season with Gentle Spirit Christian Church.

Tree & Wreath Sale
Every year starting the day after Thanksgiving, there are quality trees and homemade wreaths for sale on the First Christian Church of Decatur lawn until they’re sold out. Proceeds benefit church and community missions in the City of Decatur, including the Toy Park and shared ministries with Gentle Spirit Christian Church. Last year’s trees sold out early, so get there soon for best selection!

Worship Services

  • Christmas Eve 6pm Service: We will join First Christian Church of Decatur in their main sanctuary to celebrate the eve of Christ’s birth. All are welcome.
  • Christmas Eve 11pm Service: We will lead the second Christmas Eve service at First Christian Church of Decatur in their main sanctuary to celebrate the eve of Christ’s birth. All are welcome.
  • Christmas Day: No service. The Gentle Spirit office will be closed.

The Live Tithe
If you’re cleaning out your attic, closets or storage after Christmas, you can put unused items that are in good condition to work supporting the ministry of Gentle Spirit Christian Church via our Live Tithe, which allows you to convert gently used (or never-used) items into support for GSCC’s ministry and claim a tax deduction. Click here for details.

Office Hours
The Gentle Spirit Christian Church office at First Christian Church of Decatur will be closed on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. For an appointment with Pastor Paul, just contact the church office.

Decatur Christmas Tree & Wreath Sale 2017

First Christian Church of Decatur has announced the dates and hours for its 10th Annual Christmas Tree & Wreath Sale, featuring quality trees and homemade wreaths, on their front lawn from Friday, November 24, 2017 until sold out.

Gentle Spirit Christian Church’s ministries — including our hygiene kit ministry to metro Atlanta’s homeless — are among the beneficiaries of this successful annual effort, which also benefits church and community missions in the city of Decatur, including FCCD’s own Decatur Toy Park.

Volunteers for the Tree Sale are welcome. For full details including sale hours, pre-sale discount, local delivery and more, visit the Tree Sale page on the FCCD website.

Christmas 2016: Worship Services, Lectionary & Ministries

The first Sunday of Advent is November 27th. Here’s everything you need to know about celebrating the season with Gentle Spirit Christian Church.

Tree & Wreath Sale
Every year starting the day after Thanksgiving, there are quality trees and homemade wreaths for sale on the First Christian Church of Decatur lawn through the second Saturday in December. Proceeds benefit church and community missions in the City of Decatur, including the Toy Park and shared ministries with Gentle Spirit Christian Church. Last year’s trees sold out early, so get there soon for best selection!

Worship Services

  • Christmas Eve 6pm Service: We will join First Christian Church of Decatur in their main sanctuary to celebrate the eve of Christ’s birth. All are welcome.
  • Christmas Eve 11pm Service: We will lead the second Christmas Eve service at First Christian Church of Decatur in their main sanctuary to celebrate the eve of Christ’s birth. All are welcome.

Teddy Bear Ministry
Every year we collect teddy bears and stuffed animals during the Advent season and distribute them to patients in local hospitals and hospitals to spread Christmas cheer and let them know they’re not alone. Click here for details on how to participate.

The Live Tithe
If you’re cleaning out your attic, closets or storage after Christmas, you can put unused items that are in good condition to work supporting the ministry of Gentle Spirit Christian Church via our Live Tithe, which allows you to convert gently used (or never-used) items into support for GSCC’s ministry and claim a tax deduction. Click here for details.

Office Hours
The Gentle Spirit Christian Church office at First Christian Church of Decatur will be closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, and open on New Year’s Eve. For an appointment with Pastor Paul, just contact the church office.

Advent 2016 Lectionary

Advent Year AFirst ReadingPsalmSecond ReadingGospel
First Sunday of Advent, November 27, 2016Isaiah 2:1-5Psalm 122Romans 13:11-14Matthew 24:36-44
Second Sunday of Advent, December 4, 2016Isaiah 11:1-10Psalm72:1-7, Psalm72:18-19Romans 15:4-13Matthew 3:1-12
Third Sunday of Advent, December 11, 2016Isaiah 35:1-10Psalm 146:5-10 or Luke 1:46b-55James 5:7-10Matthew 11:2-11
Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 18, 2016Isaiah 7:10-16Psalm80:1-7, Psalm80:17-19Romans 1:1-7Matthew 1:18-25

Christmas 2015: Worship Services, Lectionary & Ministries

The first Sunday of Advent is November 29th. Here’s everything you need to know about celebrating the season with Gentle Spirit Christian Church.

Worship Services

  • Christmas Eve 6pm Service: We will join First Christian Church of Decatur in their main sanctuary to celebrate the eve of Christ’s birth. All are welcome.
  • Christmas Eve 11pm Service: We will lead the second Christmas Eve service at First Christian Church of Decatur in their main sanctuary to celebrate the eve of Christ’s birth. All are welcome.

Teddy Bear Ministry
Every year we collect teddy bears and stuffed animals during the Advent season and distribute them to patients in local hospitals and hospitals to spread Christmas cheer and let them know they’re not alone. Click here for details on how to participate.

The Live Tithe
If you’re cleaning out your attic, closets or storage after Christmas, you can put unused items that are in good condition to work supporting the ministry of Gentle Spirit Christian Church via our Live Tithe, which allows you to convert gently used (or never-used) items into support for GSCC’s ministry and claim a tax deduction. Click here for details.

Office Hours
The Gentle Spirit Christian Church office at First Christian Church of Decatur will be closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and open on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. For an appointment with Pastor Paul, just contact the church office.

Advent 2015 Lectionary

Advent: Year CFirst ReadingPsalmSecond ReadingGospel
First Sunday of Advent, November 30, 2015: HopeJeremiah 33:14-16Psalm 25:1-101 Thessalonians 3:9-13Luke 21:25-36
Second Sunday of Advent, December 6, 2015: FaithBaruch 5:1-9 or Malachi 3:1-4 Luke 1:68-79Philippians 1:3-11Luke 3:1-6
Third Sunday of Advent, December 13, 2015: JoyZephaniah 3:14-20Isaiah 12:2-6Philippians 4:4-7Luke 3:7-18
Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 20, 2015: PeaceMicah 5:2-5aLuke 1:46b-55 or Psalm 80:1-7 Hebrews 10:5-10Luke 1:39-45, Luke 1:46-55

Tree & Wreath Sale – SOLD OUT!
Every year starting the day after Thanksgiving, there are quality trees and homemade wreaths for sale on the First Christian Church of Decatur lawn until sold out. Proceeds benefit church and community missions in the City of Decatur, including the Toy Park and shared ministries with Gentle Spirit Christian Church. This year’s sale ended on Saturday, December 5th.

Advent I: Lighting the Candle for Hope

The Candles of Advent (Year B)

The First Sunday of Advent: Hope

Voice: Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the Sunday in which we recall the hope we have in Christ.

Voice: The prophets of Israel all spoke of the coming of Christ, of how a savior would be born, a king in the line of David. They spoke of how He would rule the world wisely and bless all nations.

Continue reading Advent I: Lighting the Candle for Hope