Bored at Worship?

I came across this post awhile ago and have been meaning to link to it. In the post Skye discusses bordem in our worship services, not just from the typical congregant but also the pastor. He also comments on that article that’s been pretty popular online about “Hipster Christianity.”

Here’s a quote from Skye’s post that stands out to me:

“I have been in the church all of my seventy year life and I have been bored for most of it. The trouble is that even though we are looking for a relationship with God, most church leaders/preachers interpret that to mean a relationship with a church.”

via Bored at Church – SKYEBOX.

I know the feeling, there have been plenty of times when I felt I was showing up on Sunday morning because that’s what we do. I personally feel different now as a pastor and don’t think I’ve felt bored at our meetings but I am sure that some do feel this way. Continue reading Bored at Worship?

In Search of a New Framework for Evangelism and Mission

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One of the things I have become fascinated with over the course of the last decade falls broadly under the umbrella known as missiology, or the study of Christian missions. I like many of you have a history with big ‘E’ Evangelicalism where mission is generally understood as “winning souls for Christ.” Evangelism and mission under this rubric is really focused primarily on quantity of people who will give a public profession of Jesus usually represented in going forward for an alter call, saying a special prayer, and getting people to come to your church’s Sunday morning worship.

In the marketplace of churches there is great competition nowadays to get people to profess the Christ of one particular church or another, here professing Christ is more or less synonymous with coming to worship on Sunday morning. After all, if your soul was won for Christ what better way to prove that then to show up on a Sunday morning. Thus the word “church” itself has become synonymous with the worship service and the building. To make Christians is to get them to join the Sunday activities, to enter the building, the sit in the seat, to accept the do’s and the don’ts, and to fall in line with the acceptable categories laid out for Christians.

This way of thinking believes that Christianity is first and foremost getting people to agree with your particular arguments, and “facts” about what it means to be a Christian. Once someone agrees, this is usually symbolized by the altar or a prayer, and begining to come on Sunday morning, their soul is more or less “won.” Discipleship in this context is again based in ideas, learning the doctrines, believing correctly, knowing what the proper questions are and not asking the wrong ones. Continue reading In Search of a New Framework for Evangelism and Mission

Creating Liberated Spaces: Some Thoughts

Back in February, and on the dawn of Transfiguration Sunday, about 30 (?) folks piled into a Southeastern Portland home to share in a conversation being facilitated by two out of towners Eliacin Rosario-Cruz (Seattle) and Mark Van Steenwyk (Minnesota). The crowd was made up of a number of men and women from a variety of backgrounds, some Episcopalian, some pastors and clergy, some starting or living in intentional communities, all interested in what it means to follow the radical way of Jesus in our time. I was particularly interested in going because I wanted to meet Mark, whose website Jesus Manifesto I follow, and hang out with Eliacin and his family. But the description of the event from the website caught my attention nonetheless:

In what way is Jesus and his way actually revolutionary? Is Jesus’ call to “seek the Kingdom” actually a call to nonviolent resistance, to solidarity with the poor, to liberation for the oppressed?

What structures within our society (organizational structures, thought structures, etc.) get in the way of that happening? And what way can we realistically embody the Kingdom alternative?

Join us as we talk honestly about the radical call of Jesus, the distractions that gets in the way, and how we can begin to to create Kingdom spaces in the here and now. Continue reading Creating Liberated Spaces: Some Thoughts

A Prayer for Those in Need

Here is a prayer we prayed one Sunday morning after reflecting on those who have great needs in our town.

God of the broken,

God of the wanderer,

Christ who is without shelter,

Surround those in deep need among us.

Surround them and help us hear their cries for help.

We are a people who long for the broken to be mended,

We long for justice in the face of much corruption,

We want to practice hospitality but have legitimate fears,

Surround us in our trying times and help us to reach beyond ourselves.

We confess we are bogged down by so much need in the world,

May we have the courage to stand for what is right even when it offends,

May we have the imaginations to help create a better world,

And the strength of your Spirit to carry on.

Let us be as you are in this world.

Amen.

A Thought for Quakers on Change

I am preparing my discussion for our Sunday morning meeting for worship and am thinking a lot about what Kester Brewin calls “wombs of the divine,” and creating the necessary space for something new to be born over time (See his book Signs of Emergence) It’s kind of a preference for evolution rather than revolution, or rather it sees evolution as the slow revolutionary process of change. Then I came across this quote (which mirrors Mark 2:27): “Our structures must serve us, not us serve them.”

This is an appropriate quote for all of us in the church, but especially, I think, for Quakers to observe. With so much discussion recently on whether or not some of our more longstanding institutions, meetings, and publishing outlets up for grabs these days because of smaller numbers, smaller budgets, and less interest or energy. With so many looking at the bottom line, I can’t help but think that we need to step back, stop, and contemplate the point above. What does this really mean for us?

Brewin writes:

“Only if I am still. Only if I have stopped what I was doing to listen and hold my breath and enter some spiritual apnea and wait. The perception of the new step will come only to those brave enough to stop dancing the old. The realization that we must descend this low peak will come only to those prepared to stop and take stock of their position. We fear that if we stopped for a week, a month, a service, a moment, we might be forgotten, or lose our momentum, weaken our profile, appear ill-thought-out and failing. So we feed the ecclesiastic furnaces our burned-out wrecks: tired leaders, disillusioned ministers, fatigued congregations – marshaling them to dance longer, march faster, pray harder, cry loud in earnest for God to come, come, COME and batter our hearts into change.”

What Brewin is essentially calling for is that we return to our own practicing of silent waiting, but with a fresh perspective as to why we are doing it, what we are waiting and hoping for. Or conversely, maybe our stopping and waiting is the opposite of silent waiting, maybe we need to stop with the quiet and really say what is on our hearts and minds. In either case, something needs to give. Who has the courage to stop dancing the old?

Cancel Our Debts?

2125697998_b053ac13e1_b In my reading of the Disciple’s Prayer (the anabaptist/Quaker name for the Lord’s Prayer), we have to make sure that we don’t limit what forgiveness includes ((See part 3, part 2, and part 1)). Our (Western) tendency is to think of forgiveness in terms of personal wrongdoings, forgiveness is an individual action.  But in the prayer Jesus clearly draws on a Jewish understand of Jubilee with his selection of the word translated “debts.” ((cf. John Howard Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus for a further discussion on this topic)). The Greek word there, ophilema, literally means a debt that someone owes both financially as well as morally. Remember in Jesus’ time society wasn’t as split as it is today, a ‘sin’ to the Ancient Jew could be familial, social as well as individual. So when Jesus says, forgive people’s debts, as God has forgiven yours, I think he’s thinking back to the forgiveness of debts during the year of jubilee.

There are other examples in the Gospels where Jesus draws on this Debt language. Besides the obvious the prayer for today’s bread, or enough bread for today, reminding us of the sharing of Manna, a narrative linked to Jubilee as well, there is Jesus’ announcement in Luke 4 that the year of Jubilee had come, there’s the fact that the Gospel writers tell the story of Jesus sharing bread and fish six times in four Gospels. There are the religio-social debts canceled by Jesus’ forgiveness. And we should be quick to remember the story of Zaccheus who, through his encounter with Jesus, returned the money he had extorted from his fellow Jews. Zaccheus quite was radically practicing “forgive us our debts, as we have also forgiven the debts of others.”

The prayer of forgiveness and the confession “Do not bring us into a time of trial” presupposes sin and sin as a rupture between human beings, and the risk of the earthly journey (Doctrine, McClendon 156). It admits that we who are in need of divine care have created all kinds of debts with our fellow humans, not least of which are financial. It prays for rescue and deliverance, not just in case it ever happens, but because we need deliverance regularly. How can we live as a faithful community who helps to forgive the spiritual, relational and the financial ruptures of our world?

As we approach Black Friday, and Christmas, which has been swallowed up by over-consumption and credit-card debt, maybe this is the good news we all need to hear this year. God wishes for us to be freed from this debt, and to free others, to live a life of enough, to live in a place where sharing and jubilee mark our interactions with the world far more than what we currently see on TV and in strip-mall America.

[Picture DavidDMuir]

Unexpected Visitors

Things have been going well at my new job as pastor. I’m enjoying the work and I’m enjoying the steep learning curve that comes along with it. Things have been by-and-large steady, no major crises or anything like that which has been a really good way to start off. Throughout this summer, I’ve been relying on knowledge as well as a variety of skills I picked up in seminary but there have been other things that have happened that there’s just now way you can really be prepared for. They’re the kinds of things you have to learn in the moment (or not learn in the moment as the case may sometimes be) and with the help of those in your faith community.
This past week things have been really kicked up a notch, we’ve had a couple unexpected visitors that have really forced me into a different space of “preparation.”

Last week a young man, 28, walked into our office and asked if we did funerals at the church. I had arrived on my bike only minutes before him and was still standing with my right pant-leg rolled up, my helmet on, and breathing heavey from being out of breathe. This first question was not something I anticipated on my bike ride to work that morning and it wasn’t something I was ready for. But I was even less ready for his second question, “will you perform the funeral for my mother?”

I’ve never officiated a funeral and I guess I expected that the first one I would do would happen in some far off distant future when I was “ready” and it would be someone I knew. Well, I took my helmet off, settled in a little, and after suggesting that if they had a minster that knew the family that would be better, I realized this was a family I was to for and that it was no mistake they were there. So last week I spent a lot of time thinking about death, working with this family, and finally, spending time with them on Sunday during and after the funeral. Being with this family I’d only known a week on their day of intense grieving was very powerful for me and an experience I felt honored to participate in.I learned more last week in a crash course in preparing for a funeral and helping others grieve than I could have done in a quarter at Fuller (though a couple of books from seminary proved very helpful).

Our second unexpected visitor was a homeless lady (who said she went by no name) showed up at our meetinghouse yesterday. We talked for a little while, she sang me a Quaker song (tis a gift to be simple), and began to weep. She said she doesn’t fit in anywhere, and feels a deep sense of loneliness. She also said she felt selfish for thinking about how lonely she is. Then she said she needed to sleep and wondered if she could sleep on the floor of the foyer, I brought her into the santuary and offered her to sleep on a pew.

After she went to sleep, I began calling around to find a shelter for her. I called 5 or 6 shelters in Vancouver, the emergency shelter hotline (repeatedly), and a couple other organizations and a church. No one could help, everyone was book, or they just didn’t answer the phone. It was extremely frustrating. I spent more than an hour on the phone, along with the help of a Friend in our meeting, and between the two of us we could not find her any shelter. This whole time I’m thinking, “I have no training for how to help homeless people! What am I am supposed to do to really help this woman?”

So we decided to at least feed her something good, so Emily cooked up a wonderful batch of polenta and ratatouille, along with some desert. Emily, L and I along with our visitor ate together in the fellowship hall of our church building. It was fun, albeit a little intense; the lady certainly is dealing with some form of paranoia. When we could get her off her cycle of conspiracies she was very pleasant, tender and had a great sense of humor.

A couple in our meeting who saw my facebook message, “We are eating dinner at the church building with the homeless lady. Come join us.” Did in fact drop by and since we had no place to send her they outfitted her with wool socks, a fleece, and a rain jacket. We also packed her up with some basic food items.

I felt terrible knowing she would be sleeping out on the streets but wasn’t sure what else to do.

I realized at least a couple things yesterday through this situation. Every situation is completely different and there is no way to really be prepared for each circumstance. I can only be present in that moment and listening for the Light of Christ there and then. I learned that I need to be open and compassionate and willing to “do to the least of these,” and that bureaucracies can certainly be helpful at times but are often just a distraction from us doing the work ourselves.

I am also struck by the simple fact that in Camas and Washougal there is nothing for homeless people and I find this a deep need. There is a charity but it only helps people with addresses. There’s nothing, as far as I know, available if you’re on the streets. And from one conversation I had with a women at a shelter, the shelters are even more full this year and some have up to a 3 month waiting list. This woman dropping by made me aware of something I’ve been asking since I moved to Camas, what does this town need? I think the surface has now been scratched. I look forward to working through this question with our meeting.

(The image is borrowed and is CC-licensed.)