Wednesday, August 6, 2014

New Location!

This blog has moved to a new location.  Read Rev. Arthur Stewart's blog posts at

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Science and Religion: Siblings, Not Enemies

Growing up, I loved Weird Al Yankovic. You know him — the accordion-playing satirist with the long curly hair and mustache who unabashedly turned Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” into “Eat It,” Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” into “Amish Paradise,” and as of Tuesday, Robin Thicke’s horrendous “Blurred Lines” into “Word Crimes.” This week, he’s been debuting a new song every day, and will for a total of eight, to finish up his thirty-two year recording contract with a bang. And hearing that sentence, I like all people who find him ridiculous and wonderful all at once thought, is he retiring?

No. He’s in process, changing and growing to meet where the world is today. When he began doing his parody work, he had a monopoly on ridiculous song covers. His “Like a Surgeon” or “Fat” would play on MTV with some regularity; he made money from the sale of albums, then touring, then plays on MTV. Now the Internet has happened. Now, when a song comes out, within days there may be thousands of parodies — some awful, some not horribly awful — all out there as clickable and accessible as what Weird Al does. So he’s changing how he produces and puts out music, but not the core of producing and putting out music. Not the why.

Let’s pretend it’s easy enough, just for a second, to treat science and religion as entirely mutually exclusive  —that there is no overlap, interplay or symbiosis between the two fields. If we did that, we could say science and religion answer two distinct questions: science asks How, and religion asks Why. But the How has to inform the Why, and arguably, vice versa. As scientific advances continue — and again, radio signals from nine billion light years away were picked up last week, which is INSANELY COOL — the way we ask Why will change, but not the reason for asking Why. And being willing to be challenged and informed by the hows and whats and whens of an ever-changing, newly-discoverable, amazing and intricate world around us gives us an opportunity to seek God fully in this world and the next.

At least, that’s where I’m at right now. I won’t even get into the fun of asking “Why not?” Not yet, at least. I look forward to seeing you Sunday.

Shalom y’all,


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Just the Facts, Please

Greetings from Austin, Texas!

This week, I’m reading history textbooks for Proclamation 2015, which will be recommending and approving textbooks via the State Board of Education for the schools in Texas and the rest of the United States. Yes, you read that right. Texas is such a huge market that publishers gear their content towards the Texas requirements and standards, and then disperse the books to other states that don’t have as much sway. “As goes Texas, there too go we all,” as the saying probably goes by the poetic types. And it is important that the progressive, processive voice is heard in these deliberations.

Last year, I spoke as a clergyperson in favor of excluding creationism and intelligent design from science textbooks — I like the separation of church and state, and actual science, A LOT — and I am ashamed to say that I think I was the only clergyperson who did. Other clergy testified, don’t get me wrong; they just testified in favor of it. And there was this chance, were the room not flooded with people standing up for science and demanding that science be taught in science classrooms and catechism be taught in churches, that this “junk science” could have been put in to texts for Texas and therefore the rest of the country.

So now we face the same challenge with history. Revisionism is a clear and present danger that threatens not only our origins, but our future and present. The disproportionate inclusion of some people, or the intentional exclusion of others from the historical narrative helps capitulate our heritage and worth as a society to the control of a political agenda or social ideology. The beauty of history, and the study of it, ensures that we do not repeat the same mistakes, that we grow from our failures, and that we continue to strive to be a just and compassionate society.

I’m getting on my soapbox, sorry. Can you believe I’m writing this a week ago?

So that’s why I’m in Austin. I’ll be back for Sunday services, of course. This week for Science Sundays, we’ll be talking about heliocentricism — the whole “earth goes around the sun” thing that the church once called a heresy — and why it may be really comforting to know that the universe does not revolve around us. (As goes Texas, as goes EVERYTHING?) I look forward to seeing you Sunday.

Shalom y’all,


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Jazzing up Worship

One of my favorite poems is “I Stopped Writing Poetry,” by Bernard Welt. I stumbled across it my senior year in high school, and it still bounces into my consciousness every now and again. Here’s an excerpt:
I stopped writing poetry
When I was just starting to get good at it. First
I got good at rhyme, so I cast it away.
Then I got good at line and stanza construction—
So good I hardly needed to say anything at all.
My meanings emerged
                                                in the spaces between.
So I got rid of that, too. Metaphor, metonymy,
Allusive echoes of my betters — well, frankly,
I was a whiz at that stuff pretty early on.
So I emptied out the file-drawers
Of rhetorical strategy, musical form,
Continuity or criticism of tradition,
And I just wrote. Finally I found
I was writing… prose, like everyone else.

It’s a great poem, I encourage you to find it and read it. It speaks to passion and loss, to stagnation and hope. It popped into my head today because I’ve been thinking on the Jazz Vespers for a while, and I think I’ve been writing prose, so to speak. Or at least, we’ve fallen into a similar worship experience with vastly different music.

Please, do not get me wrong — I love worship, and I love how we do worship at Midway Hills on Sunday mornings. But reflecting on what the original view of this service was going to be — readings from all across the spectrum, new ways to engage in prayer, music from our tradition and other traditions, church for people who don’t do church — and I think we can embrace that more fully. So! Beginning in August, I’d like to form a Jazz Vespers team, to help plan and discuss the flow and format of the service. If you are interested in being a collaborator in this venture, drop me a line or let me know in person. If you’re not, that’s all right — you’re still well-loved.

This Sunday, by the way, we’ll be launching Science Sundays for the next three weeks. There’s a lot to talk about, especially with our Both-And God. Have a safe Fourth, and I look forward to seeing you on the Sixth.

Shalom y’all,


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

What's Right with You?

I realized one day over a buffalo chicken sandwich at a smoke-filled Denny’s in Webster Groves, Missouri that I have the predisposition to complain. I think we all do, I don’t think I’m special in that regard. But I sat there with my friend Shelly as we picked apart some history class or some happening at our university and I wondered if there wasn’t a more productive way to spend my time. I still participate in my bad habit of stating plainly and loudly what’s wrong, but more often than not, I try to answer the unasked question of “What’s right with you,” instead of “What’s wrong with you?”

So, Midway Hills, what’s right with you? How have you enjoyed the summer so far?
I’ll tell you, one of the best things going on right now for me is y’all and what we’re doing together in the Reign of God. I am excited for the ministries and missions that are blossoming, moving forward, reigniting or continuing to truck in this church. I am thrilled that we have decided to take the plunge and redo the roof before the roof takes the plunge on us. I am overjoyed that we’re seeing new faces and returning faces every week in worship. And I am thankful that our church is one that is living, not gradually turning into a museum.
In less than a year, this church turns sixty. And — correct me if my chronology is wrong, but I think I’m right — 2015 marks a decade since the New Beginnings process began here; it’s been ten years since the first time this congregation dared utter, “But what’s right with us?” So much, Midway Hills, so much.
Usually when I write this article, I try to tell a story, tie it into the life of the church, and encourage you to come to worship on Sunday. (Please come to worship on Sunday, it’s not the same when you’re not around!) This article, and a few before, and certainly a few after, let me just say thanks. Thank you for calling me here, thank you for letting me be your pastor, thank you for in-breaking the Reign of God in our syncopated, concentrated, liberated way. And speaking of breaking in, you may want to read Mark 2 for this Sunday — it’s a good one! I look forward to seeing you then, and always.
Shalom y’all,

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Searching for Rest, Renewal and Restoration

We enter into a season where busy schedules, full calendars, frequent car trips, and mounting To Do Lists grow. The summer season has always been one of increased activity for me. Regardless of what occurs during the other seasons, summer seems to be pumped full of family gatherings, parties, community events, and transitions. I look fondly upon these activities, these moments of life-building. Yet, in the midst of the BBQ's, pool parties, road trips, and holiday celebrations I find myself searching for renewal. When do we stop? When do we rest? Where are the places we find restoration? 
Within our community and many other faith communities around the globe we proudly hoist up Micah 6:8 as part of our mantra, that which has shaped our very ethos. We are a community driven to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. This scripture is embodied in our various outreach programs, Sunday School classes, and worship services. We are thinkers, we are doers, we are activists, teachers, and guides. We are constantly in the season of scriptural summer. Yet... I wondered if we have forgotten to balance Micah 6:8 with Exodus 20:8-11. Just as we are called to be active participants in embodying the reconciling kindom of God, we too are called to participate in sabbath. We are called to find space and time for rebirth and resurrection. 
Consider the words of Abraham Joshua Heschel who said, “Learn to understand that the world has already been created and will survive without the help of man.  Six days a week we wrestle with the world, wringing profit from the earth; on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul.” Or perhaps Eugene Peterson, who said, "Sabbath is the biblical tool for protecting time against desecration.  It is the rhythmic setting apart of one day each week for praying and playing – the two activities for which we don’t get paid, but which are necessary for a blessed life.”
We all need time set apart from the chaotic rhythm of life. I would encourage you to find ways in your life to work to honor both callings, that of action and renewal. In the season of commotion find time to be, to play, to stop and become more aware of the beauty that surrounds you. May this week present you with opportunities for rest, renewal, and rejuvenation.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


Man, I love camp. For the last seven years, I have staffed, directed or keynoted one camp or another at Disciples’ Crossing, the campground for the North Texas, Trinity-Brazos and Northeast Area of the CCDOC, down in Athens, Texas. I’ve sat with youth and adults alike as they get through some of their best and worst days, and in all of it see the Spirit of God move so freely down there. It is an important part of what I understand ministry to be, and I am very appreciative that Midway Hills counts my camp days not as vacation days off but professional time away. Thank you for letting me be a part of the Area, and the Region, establishing ties, doing justice, and growing leaders in and for the Church.

But here’s where I’ve been thrown for a loop. Up until Sunday night, I was going to go to the CYF Conference—it’s a camp for tenth-twelfth graders, it’s on the more developed, familiar side with air conditioning and amenities and actual meeting spaces. The staff is too big, but I figured I’d weather the storm and stay on. Then Sunday night, my friend who is directing Chi Rho Camp—for incoming seventh and eighth graders, that takes place on the Creative Side, without air conditioning and with snakes and improvised meeting places and a lake that looks like a petri dish—asked me to come on her staff; it was growing, she waited until she was desperate because of my availability. (Insert your own joke here.) So I resigned from CYF Conference, signed on to counsel Chi Rho for the first time (I’ve directed it. I’ve keynoted it. I’ve never slept in one of the outdoor cabins, though) and I’m getting ready to head down to Athens this Sunday.
It’s an adventure! It’s something new! It’s something necessary! It’s something a little scary! It’s something outside of my comfort zone! It’s something that God is obviously moving in. Starting this Sunday, we’ll be talking about our self-set limits and how God always calls us past them; how God ups the ante; how God raises the roof, so to speak. (If it’s the upper limit, we can still go higher.) There’s a lot of mention of roofs in the Bible, and I encourage you to check out Isaiah chapter 6 this week to prepare for Sunday—well, at least the first ten verses. I know I will be, when not looking for whiffle bats, a new sleeping bag, and a load of bug spray. I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.
Shalom y’all,