This little light….

First this:
God created the Heavens and Earth — all you see, all you don’t see.

Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness.
God’s Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss.
God spoke: “Light.”
And Light appeared. (Genesis 1:2-3)


What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by.

The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness;

the darkness couldn’t put it out. ( John 1:4-5)

The days are growing shorter in this season of waiting and we are in darkness. Two shootings this week; children and loved ones innocently gunned down. North Korea and Iran are close to being able to kill millions through nuclear arms. People are still out of work and homeless. Many go to bed hungry. Entire villages in Syria no longer exist and AIDS continues to devastate Africa.

O God, why have you forsaken…?
We are poured out like water and all our bones are weak.
Our hearts are like wax melting within our breasts.
Our strength is broken like shards of pottery. (Psalm 22)

Today it is dark.

I had plans today.  Put on some Christmas music and wrap gifts.  Maybe bake some bread and write our family Christmas letter.

But today is dark — a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness, a soup of nothingness.

And the only word I have in this darkness is “Why?”.  A word spoken by all people.  A word even spoken by Jesus while he died on the cross.

“Why?”  has to have its way with us.  It is a word that introduces us to the depths of despair, injustice, forsakenness, terror.  It is a process that needs to be honored, felt, lived. It is the void of utter meaninglessness that we are made to bow to in order to shatter our illusion of control and embrace our humanity.

Today it is dark.

Today I don’t claim much, but I do know this.  The way of Jesus is the way of letting go and being broken open.  The way of Christ is through the valley of the shadow of death.

Christ calls us through the halls of Sandy Hook Elementary School as well as the Clackamas Town Center Mall.  And as he walks with us, he becomes the Light — a way in the darkness.

“Peace I give to you, but not as the world gives.

Do not be afraid.”


What is a House Church?

About 6 years ago two families who had been members of one of the churches that I had served as a pastor asked me to meet with them because their teenagers no longer wanted to attend church.  The parents, however, wanted to raise their children in the Christian faith and did not want to do it alone.

When I met with the families I asked each one to share how they connected with Spirit/God/ the Holy, and each one of them had different answers.  Here are some that I remember.

  • “I connect with God when I walk in the woods.”
  • “For me it is when I am making music.”
  • “I feel connected when I cook a meal and share it with others.”
  • “I like helping other people and feel like I am a part of something bigger when I volunteer.”
  • “I connect to God when I watch a movie that expands my vision.”
  • “I like to study scripture and talk about it.”
  • “I feel connected when I do yoga and meditate.”
  • “Reading poetry helps me to pause and know that I am connected to beauty and that for me is spirit.”

After listening to each other, we decided to experiment with a way of being a community of faith that honored all of these ways of connecting to God. We knew we wanted to learn more about God through sharing our passion for, and way of being with, the Holy.  Each one of us committed to take turns leading the group once a month.  I played the role of resource and support person so each leader did not feel alone as they planned an experience that helped us awaken to Grace.

Here are some of the things we have experienced together.

  • Hiked in Forest Park in the Fall while contemplating life transitions through poetry readings and walking meditation.
  • Cooked a meal together and talked about life. “Garlic and onions can be strong and bitter, but when sautéed  become soft and sweet.  What are some times in your life where your bitter moments have softened and become sweet with time?”
  • Volunteered at the local food bank and at a shelter for homeless teenagers.
  • Listened to our heart’s desire through guided meditation and then made vision boards  for the new year.
  • Watched movies and talked about them.
  • Celebrated Christ’s birth through sharing good food, reading the Christmas story, lighting the Advent candles and singing carols.
  • Studied the Bible together

Some folks might say, that’s not church.  But I beg to differ.  Churches in the New Testament were often small gatherings that met in homes and remained rather simple until the emperor Constantine changed Christianity from a persecuted movement to being the religion of the Roman empire.

For me, church in the best sense embraces 3 movements:

  • Connecting to each other
  • Connecting to God
  • Connecting to the larger community

The gift of being in a small community is that each group can flesh out how those movements get expressed in ways that are meaningful and appropriate to them.

Our house church was such a gift to all the families involved, helping to shape and form us in the ways of Christ.  Now many of those teenagers are in college and it is time to share the gift of that experience with others.

This is my call and passion — to help form communities that can grow together in the ways of love and peace one house church at a time. Will you join me?

“That is so last century…”

Media, the media landscape that we knew, as familiar as it was, as easy conceptually as it was to deal with the idea that professionals broadcast   11593579-socialmediaiconsmessages to amateurs, is increasingly slipping away. In a world where media is global, social, ubiquitous and cheap, in a world of media where the former audience are now increasingly full participants, in that world, media is less and less often about crafting a single message to be consumed by individuals. It is more and more often a way of creating an environment for convening and supporting groups.  — Clay Shirky

Did you know that the moment we are living through is the largest increase in expressive capability in human history?

Clay Shirky in his TED talk on “How Social Media Can Make History” reflects on the history of our media revolutions.  He says that the printing press, telegraph and telephone enabled us to create conversations, one to one.  And recorded media like  movies, radio and TV allowed us a way to communicate to groups, one to many. The internet, however, is the first media in history that supports groups and conversations all at once, many to many. The Internet has also become a site of coordination, because groups that see, hear, watch or listen to something can now gather around and talk to each other as well. This means that the former audience of media can also be producers of media.  We just need to look to media platforms such as twitter, facebook, U-Tube, and blog sites as examples.

You might be wondering at this point — What does this have to do with the church?

It seems to me that with every revolution in media there has also been a theological, cultural and practical revolution in church.  So it might be helpful to draw some comparisons from the past to help us understand how the church could respond to the new social media revolution of today.
Here are some big generalities:

  • The printing press — the Protestant Reformation and the age of reason
  • The telegraph and telephone — the end of the use of circuit riders as a way to reach large numbers of people spread out over vast geographical areas
  • Movies, radio and TV — the rise of the professional pastor and organized/program churches

It makes sense that the church as we know it today finds its comfort zone in a world shaped by movies, radio and TV.  It is not a far leap to think about a Sunday morning worship service as a professional broadcast news program.  The journalist/professional pastor broadcasts the news/message to an audience/congregation.  It is well-crafted from a reliable news source that conveys a particular set of truths. As professional pastors we hope that the message will captivate the audience and make them want to come back for more. The object with this model is to get butts in seats so that we can communicate the truth/message to as many people as possible. In order to do this we need to construct large worship spaces for the one to many mode of communication.  In this paradigm vitality is measured in terms of worship attendance, financial support and programs.

The new church start model that works in this scenario is to start enough small groups that can eventually feed into and support the Sunday morning show.  We strive to launch a new worship service with at least 200 butts in seats in order to build enough financial capacity to support the infrastructure that produces the worship experience.  One unexpected consequence of this model is that we naturally shape and form more people into being Consumers of Christianity rather than Disciples of Christ if we use small group formation as a means to an end.

But what happens to traditional church when we move beyond the confines of being an audience for a professional broadcast message and want to be full participants in the social media milieu instead?  What happens when in that process we discover that there are multiple stories with multiple truths?

I recently read the following question on a facebook post:

“It seems that more and more people I meet are reading the Bible, getting together in small groups, serving in the community, and giving financially. So why aren’t they worshiping weekly in an organized church?”

I immediately thought about my teenage daughters’ favorite expression when they want to rib me about my out-dated assumptions, “Mom, that is so last century.”

Maybe it is time to expand our working assumptions about church and look to social media as a guide to what church can become.

  • What would it look like for us to think about creating a church that was a platform for creating environments for convening and supporting groups that want to be shaped and formed in the ways of Christ?
  • What if we embraced and blessed those small groups, Bible studies and service groups as the church, as expressions of worship?
  • Instead of the gathered church, what if we measured vitality in terms of the transformation of the scattered community?
  • What if we embraced this as our call for faith-filled living in this new century?

Back to the Garden

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing  
and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about.” 
― Rumi


Have you ever been so filled with awe, so delighted to drink in life, so embraced by light and love that words failed to capture the moment?

This is the field of which Rumi speaks: the field of at-one-ness, gratitude, delight, peace, understanding.  This is the field out of which all things are created.  This is the realm of God — grace incarnate, enlightenment.  Most of the time we seem to just stumble upon glimpses of it when we least expect it.

It is so palpable, yet so elusive.  If we were honest with ourselves, it is what we long for but can’t quite figure out how to get.  Joni Mitchell sings about it this way, “We are stardust. We are golden and we have to get ourselves back to the garden.”

But how do we do that?

Rumi gives us a hint — it is beyond our rational grasp of figuring out the right way.  It is beyond theology and politics, gender and race.  It is beyond all of our pre-conceived notions and consumer wish lists.  It is beyond best intentions and plans.

Jesus talked a lot about this in terms of the Kingdom of God.  And it seems like many of his stories and images pointed to one counterintuitive act — trusting enough to let go, so that we might fall into the arms of Love.

When I think about starting a movement of house churches in Portland I can quickly go to “ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing.”  My strategic brain gets engaged and before you know it I have masterminded a whole new way of being church all by myself.

Thank God there is an equally compelling voice, my spiritual self, that repeats the trust mantra.  “Trust in me.  Trust in the unfolding.  Simply invite your friends to play in the field of possibilities. Gather together and listen deeply to wisdom and the way will be revealed.”

So when I find myself micromanaging my plan, I remind myself of the field — a playful place of discovery and delight where I just have to show up and be present.  I am hoping others will want to meet me in this field as we practice listening together.  We could begin by listening to our stories and the stories of Jesus. And then we could extend our listening practice to our communities that long to be restored.

What is the preferred future that we long to be a part of?
How can we help to make that a reality?

I do trust in that unfolding, and I know that when my soul lies down in that grass the world is too full to talk about. And so it begins…

Exiled but not Lost

“As a faith community, we need a whole new mind to see that the way we develop young people’s faith — the way we have been teaching them to engage the world as disciples of Christ — is inadequate for the issues, concerns and sensibilities of the world we ask them to change for God.”        — Dave Kinnaman, You Lost Me


Last week I went to the “You Lost Me” Barna Group event in Portland, Oregon and learned some interesting statistics.

Did you know that 3 out of 10 young adults are leaving the church but not their faith?

Kinnaman breaks this statistic further down into two groups, Nomads and Exiles.  Nomads have dropped out of church and have no interest in returning.  Exiles are culturally engaged reformers who want the church to change its priorities to be what Jesus intended it to be.   They want to find a way to follow Jesus that connects with the world in which they live.  In essence, they want their faith to make a difference in their lives and the communities of which they are apart.

Even though I am no longer a young adult I realize that I am an Exile and I know many other adults who would describe themselves that way too.  According to the Barna Group 80% of  Americans say they are Christian and 69% go on to say that they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ.  Yet, less than 20% of Americans attend church on a regular basis.

I can remember when I was in seminary in the late 80’s attending church and wondering to myself, “Is this all there is?  Is this what it means to be a Christian?” I think that is when I began to drop out of church.  At the time I thought that there was something wrong with me and I told myself to just go to church until it becomes meaningful. Don’t get me wrong, there have been moments of deep meaning and I have loved being a pastor. I am in awe of what faith communities can be and do.  But even before I had words or the imagination to express it, I longed to create a new way of making my faith relevant. I longed to reach others who had already left the church. I longed to help sacralize the world.

As I look back, I am grateful for this painfully good journey because I realize now that I have been able to walk in two worlds — the traditional church and the exiled nomads.  I now know that I have a unique gift to share — being a priest to an exiled community.  I use the word “priest” because I understand that role as a bridge builder, a person who helps people to wake up to the sacrament of life and the beauty of love incarnate.

In my role as a coach to new church start pastors I am increasingly hearing others who have had similar experiences of exile. And they, too, are feeling called to create a new thing in a new way.  A new movement is underway.  I can feel it and see it.  It is a marvel to behold and it is sweeping across the country.

At the root of this longing are questions that can help us to create that new future. Some of these include the following:

  • If you could create a new way to be shaped and formed in the ways of love and peace what would that look like?
  • What are the values and practices that would be important to you?
  • Who would you like to join you on this journey?
  • How could “we” make a difference?

So for now these are the questions that I carry with me, and I am always surprised and delighted when they seem to come up naturally in conversations.  I’d love to hear your responses as well!

A New Movement!

“The present moment finds our society attempting to negotiate the most difficult, but at the same time the most exciting transition the human race has faced to date. It is not merely a transition to a new level of existence but the start of a new ‘movement’ in the symphony of human history.”  — Dr. Clare Graves  

What profound words from Dr. Clare Graves who proposed over 50 years ago a groundbreaking “Value Systems” theory of human development that describes how humans are able, when things get bad enough, to adapt to their situation by creating greater complexities of thinking to handle new problems.

Spiral Dynamics, as it is known today, is an intriguing way to view the results of our most recent national election and the ramifications for the mainline church. In particular, the similarities of the Republican Party and the increasing irrelevancy of the church.

The Republican Party has now *lost* the “popular vote” in the past five out of six presidential elections. During this same time period the mainline church has experienced rapid decline; yet the number of people who say that they are “spiritual but not religious” continues to increase particularly among the under 30 crowd.

The political pundits have done a marvelous job at directing our attention to the changing demographics of our country. No longer could the evangelicals or conservative white voters garner enough votes for the Republicans to make a difference in the outcome of this election. Whereas the Obama campaign built a grass roots coalition of Latinos, women, liberals and young adults. As Tom Brokaw said, the outcome of this election came down to the difference between a traditional and post modern campaign approach.

Karl Rove recently said that the reason that Mitt Romney lost this election had nothing to do with the changing demographics of the electorate but rather the negative campaign tactics of the Democrats. This argument is not unlike many mainline church leaders who blame the demise of the church on the insistence of atonement theology and strident judgmental attitudes propagated by evangelicals.

Just as I have listened these past several days to comments indicating the Republicans’ inability to understand that they need to change in order to be relevant, so too, I hear mainline church leaders assuaging their grief and anxiety over their growing irrelevancy by reacting to matters of ultimate inconsequence rather than helping people to awaken to the realm of God in our midst.

In the 10th chapter of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus instructs his disciples to seek welcome in communities in which they were the stranger. And he says,”Take nothing with you.” In other words, “Leave your baggage behind.” Interesting that this was a deal breaker for Jesus.

So if we took Jesus’ words to heart and left our baggage behind, what could we learn about this “start of a new ‘movement’ in the symphony of human history”?

According to Spiral Dynamics, more of us in the U.S. are moving into a new value system, a Vmeme, that is currently reflected in our voting patterns. Don Beck writes in his book “Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership and Change,” “A meme code is a bio-psycho-social-spiritual DNA- type script, a blueprint that spreads throughout a culture, and plays out in all areas of cultural expression, forming survival codes, myths of origin, artistic forms, lifestyles, and senses of community.”

We find this new post-modern meme code armed with the pluralistic ideals of multiculturalism, egalitarianism, and inclusiveness. Sounds almost Biblical doesn’t it? But at the same time, it is this combination of zealous eclecticism, flattened hierarchy, and broken metaphysics that make us feel like we are swimming in an inconsequential ecclesiastical soup. And that is scary to anyone who is counting on pension and benefits!

However, Spiral Dynamics postulates that our spirituality is capable of growing and maturing right alongside every other facet of human development, including our cognition, our values, and our aesthetics. It is entirely possible, therefore, to be a rational Christian, following the universal teachings of Christ but without having to insist Christianity is the only exclusive path to God, and without having to literally believe in the pre-rational myths of virgin births, parting seas, and satanic fruit. At the same time, it is entirely possible to be a post-modern Christian calling into question the pit-falls of the ego-boosting ‘path of least resistance’ spiritual grazing of new-age consumers.

— Which leads me back to scripture…Luke 10 to be exact.
Once we trust enough to leave our baggage behind, Jesus tells us to seek people and places that will welcome us. He says in a nutshell, “Listen to their stories, eat with them, laugh with them, weep with them. Be a healing balm in the midst of their brokenness. And then before you go, tell them that together you witnessed the unfolding of God’s realm right before your very eyes.”

Now that is what I call the start of a new movement in the symphony of human history! Shall we begin?