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
About a year ago I was referred to a physical therapist for some right leg and hip pain. Basically the therapist told me that my right leg and hip area had fallen asleep and had lost much of its muscle capacity. I was dumbfounded since I had just finished my first sprint triathlon.
How could I have trained hard for 6 months with my right leg muscles asleep? The therapist told me that this is actually a common occurrence with many people who run. They don’t even know it until the pain sets in. So she set me on a path of healing through a series of exercises that got progressively more difficult with every week of therapy. I still do those exercises every time I run because I surely don’t want my leg muscles to fall asleep again!
As I was running the other day I thought about other places in my life where I have fallen asleep. You know what I am talking about — living my life on auto pilot. A day turns into a week that turns into a month and so on. Let’s face it, how many opportunities do we take throughout the week to intentionally wake up to life in all its glory — the good, the bad and the ugly? Continue reading YOLO BABY!
There is a story about a Celtic priest new to his parish walking along a country road. He saw a farmer with his horse and plow working a field, preparing the soil for planting. He hollered out to the farmer. “Hello sir, may a share a word with you?”
The farmer incredulous, looked over his field and said, “ My word for this day is to get this field plowed.”
The parish in which I find myself in Portland, Oregon is called the none zone — the spiritual but not religious zone where 9 out of 10 people do not attend church. In essence I live among folks who would rather have a root canal than walk into a church on Sunday morning.
That is why I love the story from the Gospel of Luke in chapter 10 in the New Testament where Jesus sends out 70 people as his advance team in Samaria, an unfriendly territory with a history of animosity toward the Jews. Samaritans were known to have an indifference to God language and cool contempt for outsiders trying to preach religion to them. And yet it is here that Jesus sends us out.
The first thing Jesus instructs us to do is to get on our knees and pray for workers because the harvest is so huge. Could those workers be us? Could he be asking us to pray for our own quest towards grace and boldness because we are like lambs in a wolf pack? Could it be that this was Jesus’ way to shape and form his apprentices into a new way of living and thinking by jarring us out of our complacency and comfort? Could it be that he is reminding us that we can do nothing without the guidance of the Spirit of love? Continue reading Searching for… Welcome?