Friday, June 29, 2012

Time flies

Alright, so a little time has passed since I posted anything new here.  Understatement, I know.  Trust me, it's not because there has not been anything note-worthy happening...quite the opposite!  I am in the process of re-thinking the best way to use this space as I begin to write some here and here.  As The Well has shifted toward weekly worship gatherings, I am also struggling to balance my time and to stop and share my "losings and findings".  
For now, here are two recent posts that were shared by Associated Baptist Press:
Just Showing Up
Embracing the Inner Artist
I'd love to hear your thoughts, and look forward to continuing to share the beauty, challenge, mystery and insight that I encounter as I engage in missional community formation.

peace + love,

Monday, April 2, 2012

Why I need Holy Week

I did not grow up in a congregation that paid close attention to the church calendar. I remember the highlights (and large crowds) of Christmas and Easter, but not the journeys through Advent and Lent. I'm not sure I would have appreciated the richness and intensity of the movement through God's story as much as I do now, but I can't help but believe I missed out on something. Even with more emphasis on the journey through scripture, Holy Week is so easy to miss. As I am shifting from church planter to pastor, I am finding the observance of this "in between" week to be even more difficult. How do I move through the events of Holy Week while already preparing for Easter Sunday worship?

The reality is that those who are familiar with scripture already know how the story ends. As hard as we try to journey with Jesus through his ministry, mounting opposition, crucifixion and resurrection, we have an unfair advantage. We heard and lived through this story last year and the year before. So, why continue to mark this Holy Week year after year? What does this practice have to do with following Jesus in our day and time?

I am asking this question in part because I am striving to guide this new church into authentic spiritual quest, but more selfishly because I am a follower still finding my way. I need to know that I am not falling into practices that lend themselves too much to ritual and not enough to transformation. I know that rituals can be quite transformative, but that they can also become so routine they fail to stir, shape and challenge us. We do not have to listen hard to hear that people are leaving churches because they claim a lack of connectedness to some rituals.

Holy Week began yesterday. At The Well, we marked this day in our worship, using palms as a sign of welcoming Christ at the beginning of our gathering. I have never imagined what it would have looked like if the crowds lining the streets had laid down their palms and journeyed with Jesus as he faced his most difficult task. This year, though, as I read the Gospel of Mark's description of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, where opposition was sure, I was drawn to imagine that very possibility. What if...? Where is it that I cheer Jesus on, but never really enter in the way of Jesus? Where is it that I cheer love, forgiveness, grace and justice on, but don't risk a thing to pursue those realities here and now?

We ended our worship with a call to lay down our palms and to follow Christ into his and our neighbors' sufferings. We carried the palms we had raised as we entered worship, and laid them at the altar. I'm sure some felt pressured to participate, while others thoughtfully responded. That's human nature. Watching this response unfold and eventually participating myself reminded me of why I need Holy Week. I need it to help me remember the events that tell the story of my faith. I need it to help me travel to places where there is the slightest possibility that resurrection may not happen. Even more than that, I need Holy Week because it is not just the observance of an ancient series of events, it is my/our story. Failure, betrayal and death mix with passion, forgiveness and new life....and, when this week is over, I have a feeling new life will have the final word. I need it to have the final word and so do all those around me who wait in a mixture of hope and despair.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Losing and finding, re-visited

This has been an incredible week. It began with the first monthly Sunday "Service" collaborative between The Well at Springfield and St. John's Lutheran. It was such a great day of moving beyond our comfortable places of worship to know and serve the neighborhood. On that same day, I headed to Atlanta for a long-awaited visit with friends and colleagues, and participation in the 2012 Self Preaching Lectures, featuring Brian McLaren. It was a busy, but rich few days of re-connection and learning. Upon returning, I had the joy of sharing about church planting with a group of 5th and 6th graders. The rest of the week, I was busy preparing for this Sunday's worship and for our first week-night potluck gathering. That gathering in our home last night was a true gift as one of our Well participants shared his story with such courage and humility.

In all of the busyness and goodness, I am drawn to center on the idea of losing and finding. This recurrent theme of letting go and discovering seems to naturally flow out of where I find myself on the journey. While surrounded by colleagues at my seminary Alma mater, I was confronted with some "letting go of" that maybe I had not even realized I had chosen. As I sat back listening to presentations and dialogue by esteemed pastors of prominent churches, it hit me that I am not moving in that direction. I recognized, more powerfully than I have in the past, that starting a missional Christian community that some would not even consider a real "church" has put me in a different place. This certainly does not negate or even diminish the relationships I share with these friends, but it does put me in a different category.

I've been reflecting on this realization, and it has prompted me to make a list of things I am losing and finding on this divergent path. Many of these things are in progress, but they are being lost or found nonetheless:

I am losing... (and, sometimes have a hard time letting go of...)
  • My ability and energy to engage in conversations about the politics and upward mobility of other people in my profession
  • A defined goal or ending place for this church starting venture
  • A need to fulfill others' expectations
  • The need to control the conversation, to be responsible for the outcome, to fix things
  • Identity with those in places of power
  • Predictions
I am finding...
  • People inviting me to hear about their struggles, disappointments and perceived failures in ministry
  • A new and refreshing sense of being present/in the moment/depth that leads to the next step
  • An appreciation for who and where God is calling me to be (yeah, this is definitely a daily struggle)
  • A growing awareness of my inability to fix everything that is broken, and much needed surrender to God who can
  • Identity with those who are in need of healing
  • Possibilities
The truth is that we all make choices (some we are more conscious of than others) that lead us in certain directions. It's helpful for me, and maybe for you as well, to stop and consider what we've chosen to leave behind, and what we're discovering along the way.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Getting out of hand

A colleague of mine often stops in to ask how things went on the previous Sunday at The Well. Inevitably, I respond "really good", and then go on to describe how although we are unapologetically no well-oiled machine, good things are happening. When he stopped in this morning, I finally gave a different response. I told him the truth about yesterday's worship gathering. I described how tired I was from a physically and emotionally draining week. I told him how despite having the words in front of me, during the message I felt scattered and unable to string my thoughts together. I just did not feel I had it together.

Ironically, two Sunday's ago at The Well we engaged in a powerful discussion centered around the story from the Gospel of Mark in which Jesus heals a demon-possessed man in the synagogue on the Sabbath. This interruption into worship revealed the presence of pain and imperfection, yet through it Jesus was able to offer healing. The imperfection was actually the catalyst for the light of Christ to be revealed. In the words of singer and song writer Leonard Cohen,

"Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in."

This rang true yesterday. Despite (and maybe because of) my inadequacy, it was evident that God was at work. After the message, we engaged in another powerful discussion. People responded with ways that they connected to the scripture text, and where they felt challenged to respond. It was beautiful, and I realized that my capabilities were irrelevant. When people gather together and truly enter into the story of scripture, there will be questions, doubts, fears, and concerns that come to the surface. The willingness to expose those places of struggle makes room for God's Spirit to move among us. And, while it's liberating to know that I am not as important as I sometimes believe I am, it is scary to realize that God works in ways that we cannot predict or control. Although I can help shape something with my hands, what it ends up becoming is always beyond and out of my control.

I suppose the lesson for the journey is to continue to prepare and to embrace my imperfections as the way the light of Christ can be made visible. I am so thankful for being a part of a faith community that allows space for this to happen.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Getting real

(somehow I managed to post my work-in-progress yesterday...sorry to those who received a half-written post...just keepin' it real ; )

Things have been getting a little more "real" lately. The vision has become reality, bringing with it a whole new set of joys, fears, and questions. The faith community that was to be now is, and the reality that it will have its own unique challenges goes without saying. After all, we are a group of individuals that each bring our own personalities, histories, upbringings and life experiences to the table. It's going to be interesting.

Probably the most profound way that I am experiencing this "real-ness" is through the challenges we face as a new work. I think it's our tendency as human beings to sort of float along when things are going well, but it's when challenges arise that things get real. For us, the challenges have been centered around making decisions about the future - where and when to gather, how to get the word out, how to structure our life together...lots of decisions for a group that is just getting to know one another! Making decisions together exposes our differences, and sometimes those differences can be hard to work through.

Another more recent way that we're getting real is by journeying together into the lows that we each face. We've had sick parents and struggling co-workers, but now the struggles of those in the group are coming to the surface. There are concerns and crises in the room that have the potential to crack open our life-as-usual routine, and make a way for authentic community to form. This is not easy, though. We expect as followers of Jesus, that there will be lots of opportunities to give to those in need, but what about when we are the ones in need? That's when things get tough, and real.

So much of my learning about what it means to be church happens outside of our group and out in the lives of those in the community. Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to take a friend's neighbor to the doctor. We talked a lot about what it feels like to be on the receiving end of care, about how hard it can be to be dependent on others, and how good it feels to give back. The more we talked I realized how much I was learning from her experience. I showed up to give, but received so much. I was reminded that restoration and healing can only happen when we are able to be vulnerable enough to give and receive. While giving makes us feel good, receiving reminds us of our inadequacy. We need both to experience wholeness, to love and be loved.

I think this is what Kathy Escobar describes as downward mobility in her book, Down We Go: Living Into the Wild Ways of Jesus. As she shares about her own faith community, she describes the ways that entering into the brokenness of her friends has led to her own transformation.
"Entering into the messy places is a core characteristic of downward living. We need a diverse mix of intentional relationships in which to tangibly practice love. live down here we must consider a theology of brokenness that embraces humility as the starting place. It also means we must develop eyes to see what others do not see and to begin to make visible what is often invisible to the upwardly mobile."
The faith community I felt called to create is one in which restoration is not just talked about, but experienced as we share life together. In a world where there is so much pain and brokenness, I don't think we can afford to do anything less.