Leaving Highland: Goodbye Abilene

Leaving Highland: Goodbye Abilene July 4, 2018

So today is the last in my short series of blogs saying goodbye to the wonderful church that is Highland. It’s also the last post I’ll write for this particular blog. For future posts, I’ll be returning to blogging weekly with my friend Scot McKnight over on Jesus Creed.

This particular blog was written to the city of Abilene, and so after I wrote it I realized it should be sent to them first. So this first ran Sunday in the Abilene Reporter News and now is being re-posted here as my final post for Patheos/ARestorationMovement.

See you soon Pleasant Valley!

Dear Abilene,

I moved here with eight years ago as a family of four. We’re leaving Abilene as a family of seven.

Three of our children always will have Abilene for their birthplace. We’ve fallen in love with the city of Abilene. We love the state park, the restaurants, the zoo and the wide open West Texas sky … and, of course, the people.

It seems there are certain sayings that everyone in Abilene somehow knows. Sayings like: “It only takes 15 minutes to get anywhere” (true) or “Abilene is a great place to raise a family” (very true) and “There’s a church on every corner.”

That last one is sometimes said critically, but as anyone who has ever lived in a house built on the red dirt of Abilene knows, it takes a lot of piers to have a good foundation.

And that’s what I want to say to you as my family and I say goodbye.

It’s about revolution

I believe the Church is the hope of the world.

I believe the capital “C” Church, the church that meets all over the world in cathedrals and in strip malls and around living room tables and under mango trees, that Church… the global Body of Christ, is good news for everyone…even people who don’t believe in God/Jesus/Christianity.

Maybe especially for people who don’t believe.

Westerners currently find themselves in a world that is increasingly post-Christian, which means people care about a lot “Jesus things” without realizing how Christian they are.

I recently read a book by the atheist philosopher John Gray called “Straw Dogsl” It’s a brilliant and disturbing book written by someone who takes their non-theist claims about the world seriously.

Gray argues that if there is no God, if all there is in the universe is what we can see and touch, then how does it follow that we believe in things such as human rights or human dignity or even the belief that humans hold some kind of superior place in the universe?

It is firmly a Christian notion that makes us believe that humans have some kind of special place in the universe, and anyone who tells you otherwise hasn’t fully dealt with the more disturbing bits of how they view the world.

Of course, you may not believe in God or Jesus and still be a wonderful caring person. (I have a lot of good friends like that). But chances are, you were shaped culturally by the Jesus story more than you know.

A couple of years ago, on Christmas Day the New York Times ran an op-ed by Peter Wehner that made this same point. It was called “The Christmas Revolution” and it was brilliant.

In a world where the word revolution is thrown around so frequently and so casually, Wehner’s point was that the world never really has seen another revolution such as when God stepped into human skin.

Here’s how Wehner says it:

The incarnation also reveals that the divine principle governing the universe is a radical commitment to the dignity and worth of every person, since we are created in the divine image. But just as basic is the notion that we have value because God values us… gold is valuable not because there is something about gold that is intrinsically of great worth but because someone values it.

“Similarly, human beings have worth because we are valued by God, who took on flesh, entered our world, and shared our experiences — love, joy, compassion and intimate friendships; anger, sorrow, suffering and tears. For Christians, God is not distant or detached; he is a God of wounds. All of this elevated the human experience and laid the groundwork for the ideas of individual dignity and inalienable rights.

Abilene, a city on the hill

So why am I telling you this in a goodbye letter?

Have you ever noticed that so many of the New Testament letters were written to an entire city? They weren’t written just to individual churches, but to all of God’s people in a certain location.

I believe Abilene is a kind of city on a hill for a watching world. All these churches on our street corners aren’t just taking up space. They are stewards of Good News, of a story that says every single person matters, regardless of skin color or gender or socio-economic level or religious beliefs. They matter because we were made in the image of a loving God.

And that belief has profoundly shaped this city, through her churches.

I’m thinking now of how Hendrick Hospital was started by First Baptist Church, or the way Love and Care Ministries serves people who are homeless, or the different Christian universities here that were started by churches and Christians trying to understand God’s universe, or the amazing non-profits that run throughout the Big Country trying to address issues ranging from addiction to homelessness to unexpected pregnancies.

For the past eight years, I’ve worked at Highland Church of Christ. It’s a great church in the center of Abilene, and we work with just about every other church in town. And that means that working for Highland meant working with and becoming friends with so, so many other church leaders in Abilene.

So some examples that come to mind are that time when my friend David McQueen and I swapped pulpits, or when the annual Holy Week Luncheons happens-where all the downtown church pastors preach at each other’s churches (and Cliff Stewart regularly mocks me for not wearing a tie).

Or the annual 1-Kingdom prayer retreat at which church leaders all over the Big Country come together to pray for each other and the city, or the Abilene Association of Congregations monthly meetings, at which church leaders learn about our city’s needs and pray over them.

I’m friends with just about every preacher and church leader in this great city, and here’s what I’d like you to know about them: All of them is trying to help their congregation be a good local church and reach out and serve the city.

I’ve never heard a church leader here talk about strategies to steal members from another church. What I’ve seen time and time again is church leaders talking about ways we can work together to help serve Abilene.

Be open to ideas, and others

One of the hard parts of living in Abilene is that there is so much transition. With all the university students and Dyess Air Force Base, transition is just a part of our culture here. And so over time, it can become tempting to stop opening up your life and heart to new people, because you don’t want to have to say goodbye to someone else.

But I’d like to encourage you to stay open to all these new people moving in. Abilene really is a special place, a different kind of city, filled with wonderful people who care about really good things-really Jesus-like things, and when people leave they aren’t the same as when they came.

They, in fact, take pieces of Abilene with them all over the world.

I know I sure will.

I’ll always love this great city. Thanks for making it special for my family and me.

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