We live in complex and polarizing times. Our institutions are declining and our sense of job security and family safety is on heighten alert. Our neighborhoods are growing in diversity with a multiplicity of cultural expressions that challenge our assumptions and codes of conduct. And we are beginning to question lots of things – truth, gender identities, race relations, the economy, politics, education, and global warming — which leads us to a generalized fear and anxiety with just about everything. This has become our new norm — the background noise of life in the 21st century.
My particular dance with all of this is in the church. Often I have heard, “The church is just not relevant anymore, even for many of those who still make it a habit of going to worship and engaging in church activities. We have lost our sense of purpose.” As I travel around the country as a church consultant it has now become the norm for me to hear stories of people and pastors who are on the verge of being done with the entire church enterprise. Not because they don’t care, but precisely because they do. Continue reading And They Had All things Together
My friend Ben Yosua-Davis has launched a new podcast called “Reports from the Spiritual Frontier” His vision is to have conversations with people working on the spiritual margins of our country. Even though he is just beginning to live out this dream, I love his concept and the interviews that he has already posted. (Okay, one of those was with me!)
I have listened to all of them and have learned so much from others who are innovating fresh expressions of faith community formation – the good, the bad and the funny. Now I have a podcast that I can refer people to so that they can have a realistic snapshot of the journey of co-creating the new that longs to spring forth.
Ben is effectively curating and preserving stories that are like the Books of Acts — 21st Century Edition! So find his podcast, add it to your phone, and the next time you are stuck in traffic or on the treadmill have a listen and be inspired!
In May 2016 the world is coming to my home – Portland, Oregon — a place where we proudly claim our weirdness and laugh along with episodes of “Portlandia” in an endearing way. We are into communal and laid back living, farm to table eating, free swaps and DIY on just about everything including our spirituality. We are concerned about the environment and recycle our food scraps. We love our LGBTQ brothers and sisters and even advocate for bike safety with our annual Naked Bike Ride through the streets of Portland. The coffee, beer and wine are always flowing and people who visit feel genuinely welcomed. Tolerance, understanding, diversity, natural fibers, life/work balance, communing with nature, good books, funky flavored ice cream and authentic conversations are important to us.
But frankly, we are having difficulty preparing for the General Conference delegates from all over the world who will be coming to our city for the quadrennial legislation of the United Methodist Church next May. You see, WE will tolerate differences as long as YOU tolerate differences. We will welcome your expression of diversity as long as you welcome our expressions of diversity.
I was recently visiting a church that is known as the progressive voice in their city. The majority of members are highly engaged in social justice issues and serve their larger communities in multiple ways. They are proud of their open and affirming welcome of the LGBTQ community, but also with how they have been in ministry with the local elementary school providing a free after school program for families with low incomes. The school principal, teachers, and parents love the partnership and the program has a waiting list of people wanting to be a part of it.
As I toured the church a key volunteer with the after school program turned to me and said, “We have this great program but our church is dying. Most of us are in our upper 60’s and 70’s and we won’t be able to do all of this good work forever.”
In further conversation I found out that, even though this after school program has provided love and care for children and their parents, no one has ever invited these families to be a part of the life of the church.
What do you not have enough of? If you had enough, how much would that be?
When I was a working parent with young children I didn’t have enough sleep or time for myself. I dreamt of being able to crawl into bed at 7pm and not worry about the dishes, the laundry and the bedtime routines. At times I would lock myself in my bathroom and call it my “mommy time-out” just to get a few minutes by myself. Now, that my children are older, I wish I had more time with them.
Then there is the issue of money. I live in a well-to-do suburb in a beautiful home with overflowing closets and a stocked pantry, but I continue to wish for more. Not because I need more, but because I have been shaped by a consumer culture that implicitly reminds me that I am not enough until I have more. I feel at times that I am held hostage by the lie that there is not enough of anything to go around, and it is my job to squirrel away as much as possible to ensure the security of my family.
Today I glimpsed the kingdom of God in an inner city church name Mathewson Street in Providence, Rhode Island. My day began with about 300 people sitting around tables drinking coffee and eating a hearty breakfast while a dear soul played the piano.
I sat with two men who shared stories with me about how they managed in the colder months to keep warm and dry, going from shelters to libraries to churches. They talked about their hopes, joys and struggles. We toasted to forgiveness as Rev. Jack Jones invited us to a love feast and offered prayers of and for the people.
I met a man named Russ who volunteers in the kitchen starting at 5am every Sunday morning to cook his famous eggs and potatoes. He told me about how he ended up on the streets after breaking 3 bones in his leg days before he was to start his new job as an electrician. He had no health insurance and no support network. He lost everything — his tools, his possessions, his dignity and his truck. He walks with a cane and still questions how he so quickly went from living a middle class lifestyle three years ago to surviving on the streets. But today he moves with joy and renewed hope.
I met Scott, who has come back to the church, finding a community that walks the talk. He has invited over 100 of his friends to be a part of the prayer breakfast ministry. Many of them are from his connections with families from his little league teams. Continue reading This is the Kingdom of God!
According to the October 2012 Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life report, “Nones” on the Rise: One-in-Five Adults Have No Religious Affiliation, 1 in 5 adults are religiously unaffiliated. When looking more closely at the generational data, 32 percent of adults under the age of 30 fall within the same category. In 1950, the percentage of persons claiming no religious affiliation was a minuscule two percent.
Imagine Jesus showing up today saying to you and a few of your friends, “You will be my witnesses of God’s love in all of Jerusalem, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” What would you do? How would you go about sharing that good news that God’s realm is now? How would you go about helping people to be shaped and formed by that love and peace in your neighborhood? Really…. without any pre-concieved notions of church or worship? Continue reading Let’s Get Real