Monday, April 18, 2011

Why "both, and" isn't always good enough.

EDS is often referred to as a "both, and" institution. Meaning all opinions honored, none discounted, the via media has an active life. Our first week of orientation to the seminary and "Visions" training (an anti-racism, anti-oppression training that all students, faculty, and staff experience) we covenant with each other as to how we will dialogue. We don't dismiss what others say, we take responsibility for our own learning, we try things on before making a judgment, etc. It's very good, and has made a positive change in my life with how I interact with people both on a personal level and in my ministry.

AND... I've been thinking a lot about "both, and" and sometimes it just doesn't cut it. Sometimes I think we need to draw a line and take a stand. Let me tell you what sparked these thoughts for me.

Part of my ministry with the Diocese of Iowa is editing the monthly newspaper, Iowa Connections. This past week I was working on May's issue and was researching a visit 30 years ago by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, to Iowa. Runcie's visit had drawn much media attention, and was a huge event for the diocese. As I was reading about Runcie's accomplishments and theological views, I was struck by an article I read in which he said he is open to the idea of the ordination of women, however he feels it is important for the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches to heal from their division and find new life together, and so he would not support or allow the ordination of women, because it would offend our Roman brothers and sisters.

What I heard from Runcie was a "both, and." Yes, he supports women, AND he is unable to ordain them because he also wants to heal a rift in the wider Church. This is one of those times I have to say "both, and" doesn't cut it. Sometimes you have to take a stand. I don't buy that he really supports women, otherwise he'd really stand up for the rights for them to be ordained.

It sounds all too familiar to the current argument that is made for excluding our GLBTQ brothers and sisters as ministering partners in the Anglican church because of our desire to remain in communion with Anglicans world wide. We say we welcome all, that we're all called to ministry through our baptism... AND we continue to be an exclusive, oppressive Christian community, because we want to preserve unity in the church.

Perhaps I'm bullheaded when it comes to issues of justice, but the neutrality drives me mad. You can't always have your cake and eat it too. It sure is convenient to stand right down the middle and claim both sides of an issue, but is it always the right thing to do?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Solomon's Porch

Last Sunday, I had the opportunity to visit Solomon's Porch, a Christian community in Minneapolis that I had heard a lot about. Here's a link to their webpage:

You can tell a lot about a place by its physical layout. What I noticed first about Solomon's Porch, which is located in an old Methodist church, which has removed all pews and was painted in fresh lively colors with lots of artwork hanging on the walls, was the focal point of the room was a center stool by a coffee table. Around the room were sofas, oversized chairs, and loveseats all arranged in the round, from the center to the edge of the room, almost like a bulls-eye. The next thing I noticed were the people. There were so many young couples, tiny children, pregnant ladies, kids, folks who seemed to have come by themselves... and almost every couch was occupied. I am so thankful for my friends Rachel and Ratchet who brought me as their personal guest. They took me around to meet people, who seemed genuinely interested in meeting me. I even got a couple of hugs! I noticed as folks gathered a young boy, probably about the age of 5, who was carrying loaves of ciabatta bread and carafes of wine and grape juice, setting them on a number of coffee tables around the room.

People wander around at the beginning on the time, a soft start to the gathering. When a song finishes playing folks take their seat, although there is hardly a time at Solomon’s porch that people aren’t walking around, either chasing after a little one, grabbing a drink, or switching seats to sit next to a friend they spotted. A call and response prayer came next, followed by a short welcome by the pastor, Doug Pagitt. Pagitt is an author and well known in the field of emerging church. Check out his page: He even has a radio show where he challenges religious assumptions and discusses the future of the church. An antagonizer by nature, Pagitt asks a lot of questions, and challenges folks to get them thinking. I saw his role at the Porch (as the people call it) as a teacher and guide.

Pagitt welcomed new folks, saying first that this weekly gathering is something that happens Sundays at 5 and 7 pm but that the life of the church is really outside the gathering time and he invited all to join in one of the many opportunities throughout the week. Pagitt then opened the floor for a time for folks to greet one another, letting us know we’d gather when the music ended. People got up and wandered around, hugging each other, checking in, asking each other’s names, handing babies off, welcoming new folks, and just generally enjoying the company. When the music came to a close there were announcements.

Most of the announcements focused on opportunities for service and mission, and most of the events were hosted at the homes of members of Solomon’s Porch. Each day of the week there seemed to be at least one thing going on, including art gatherings, writing groups, a sermon planning group for next week, as well as preparation for the huge annual rummage sale. The young woman who gave the announcements also drew our attention to the art around the room, and especially in the side room of the church, which was for sale.

Following announcement Pagitt called forth a couple who would soon be moving to California. Pagitt and the couple each sat on a stool, constantly turning to always address the full congregation. They told of their future plans, their worries, their hopes, and their love for Solomon’s Porch. The wife said, “This community has been real, and raw, and authentic, and we will miss it.” Pagitt told the couple and the congregation that whenever someone moves on, they are never seen as leaving, but spreading the Solomon’s Porch community to another part of the country. Many gathered to lay hands on the couple while a two person band led a song with powerful lyrics, “Will you sing it back to me. Wrap it back around me. Need to know it surrounds me.”

There was then a reading, which Pagitt introduced, asking folks what they knew already about that part of the Bible. I asked Ratchett how the reading was selected, and she thought it was probably just whatever Pagitt wanted to discuss that week. The Book of Philemon was the reading for the week. It was displayed on both of the large screens. People read as they felt called, dividing the reading by slide. Pagitt then led a sermon, which was more of a theological discussion among the entire congregation. He taught some Christian history, and spoke about social constructs of the time. Many people walked around during the time, some used their iPhones to look up historical data to add to the conversation. Others even posted on Facebook about the sermon during the time.

During the sermon, I happened to look up and saw a giant paper mache goose hanging from the ceiling. Ratchett and Rachel told me it was the Celtic symbol for the Holy Spirit, and I just loved it.

Following the sermon was the Eucharist, which felt like a short cocktail hour. The entire congregation read a Eucharistic prayer/invitation to the table, and folks then approached different stations, serving each other bread and wine. After a few minutes, we gathered again as a large group, held hands, and read a final prayer.

I loved my experience at Solomon’s Porch. I would definitely go back. The one thing I missed in the experience was time for contemplative prayer. The service was extremely social, which I liked, but my introverted side also craves some personal time to sit and reflect in prayer.

Monday, March 21, 2011

What God dismantles, God re-mantles

Readings for this week's class included When the Members are the Missionaries, by A. Wayne Schwab. Schwab describes the six areas of mission fields that we each find ourselves in as home, work, the local community, the wider world, leisure, and faith community. We are called by God in each of these realms in mission. Schwab provides narratives of individuals, real-life stories of missionaries, who seem like you or I, normal folks living their lives, trying their best to live as Christians in the world.

I agree with Schwab that it's important for us to realize that the real work of the church is what people do from Monday to Monday. It's how they live their lives and how they interact with others. The number of people in the pews is not what matters. What matters is how they live their lives. So often we focus on the size of the church. In the year 2000, the Episcopal Church even set a goal of doubling its membership by the year 2020. It's now 2011 and we are not anywhere close to achieving that goal.

Schwab quotes his colleague, Jim Anderson, who says, "God is dismantling the church." I'm not so sure that's a bad thing, actually. We are so often focused on status quo, maintaining the structure, the building, the budget. It is scary to think that the institution of church is being dismantled, but what Schwab says is inspiring and so true: "What God dismantles, God re-mantles."

We are called to be God's partners in the rebuilding. "Where might we get the help?" we may ask. The good news is that people are looking for a purpose and meaning to life. They want to be changed, and want to work for justice. Schwab says the call to mission is a call to give up the childlike dependence that we have on God. Yes, we are God's beloved children, but as we mature in our faith we are truly called to be God's co-workers for God's dream.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Living the Christian Life

Shane Claiborne's, The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical was our assigned reading for class this week, as well as a video made by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (

Both address living in intentional Christian communities, as Christ's earliest followers did, sharing what they had, making decisions together, and living by Covenant rather than contract.

As Claiborne's title suggests, this is indeed a radical notion. In the History of Christianity course that I took this past June, I read about the communal life of the men and women who gathered very few of their belongings to follow Jesus and others for what seemed like a traveling Woodstock Festival, complete with singing, dancing, tons of free love, and, while they might not have been smoking pot, they were definitely high on life! "What fun!" I thought. A time of so much joy, freedom, possibility.

Fast forward though to 2011, and Claiborne's community of intentional living and I'm thinking, "Hmmm, not really so much for me." I am pretty content in my little home with my husband and our dog and I really love laying on my couch watching t.v. at the end of a long day. I don't really like being around people all the time, and I don't know about sharing everything????

Claiborne says, "The world cannot afford the American dream." This reminds me a recent conversation I had with a coworker who was upset that her credit union had just adopted the motto, "Life without limits." She was blown away that a credit union, which she chose for it's commitment to the community and not-for-profit cooperative structure would perpetuate the consumeristic, wasteful, unattainable lifestyle that so many of us in the United States have accepted as normal.

To live as an intentional Christian is to live a life of limits. It is to make every decision with careful thought and care for our neighbors and our fragile island earth. This is indeed a radical way of life, and one that I wish was easier for me to imagine myself in.

How do we, who will never probably join a living co-op or live in an intentional Christian community live a similar lifestyle? How do we support one another and hold each other accountable? Something to ponder indeed.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Are we "overprotecting the Lord?"

Lindsey Urwin, Anglican Bishop of Horsham in southern England, contributed a chapter in Mission-Shaped Questions: Defining issues for today's church, which I found provocative and forward thinking. Urwin talks about bishops, and I would argue, all of us in the church, being in danger of "overprotecting the Lord," the way we so strictly administer the sacraments with rules and regulations.

For a bishop to write about the ways that he has allowed for the bending of rules and "risky exceptions" in order to allow for the spirit to move freely is really refreshing.

Urwin tells about the ordination of a man named Derek in the midst of a congregation called Eden. Eden was a new congregation, attracting more than 100 people of all ages, with a coffee bar, and variety of liturgical expressions. Urwin's description of finding his place and incorporating his style and traditional liturgics with the rap style Gospel reading, playing of a film clip, and litany written and sung by young people with drums and bass tracks in the background was so awesome! I can just imagine the environment and thanks be to God for Urwin's flexibility and willingness to embrace this community and see the Holy Spirit at work! He joined in the celebration, even dancing and getting down to what he says was a "funky and uplifting remix of 'How Great Thou Art.'"

He later describes a newly founded congregation called, The Point, where he celebrated with them their first baptisms, confirmations, and Eucharist. At the service some young people who had already been baptized wanted to be immersed again in water, reclaiming their baptism, and Urwin, using his creativity, suggested for them to instead engage with the water on their own and then be confirmed, although he admits he's suspicious that some had already been confirmed!

As the church moves forward and experiments with liturgy in new, fresh ways, we need our bishops and elders to be part of the movement. We need their energy, their acceptance, and their carrying on of the old traditions and rituals that have meant so much and made our church what it is today. The laying on of hands during the ordaining of a new priest is sacred, special, and life changing. We honor that.

The breaking of the bread, and recognition that Christ died for us, and the filling of ourselves with Christ's body and blood leaves us transformed, renewed, refreshed. And we honor that.

Sacraments must be shared and experienced by all, as they draw us into an encounter with the Living Christ.

So is it okay sometimes to do things out of order?

Is it okay to allow someone to join in the feast of the Eucharist in order to experience Christ, before they have been baptized?

I believe it is. As Urwin said, "God is well used to people doing things in the wrong order." How amazing to hear from a bishop that sometimes we need to loosen up a little bit and chill out with regard to rules and regulations. AMEN!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Repost: From Tamie Harkins

This post came from former Northern Arizona Universrity Episcopal chaplain Tamie Harkins. You can read more of Tamie's ruminations from her writing life in Alaska on her blog:

Here is a step-by-step plan for how to get more young people into the church:

1. Be genuine. Do not under any circumstances try to be trendy or hip, if you are not already intrinsically trendy or hip. If you are a 90-year-old woman who enjoys crocheting and listens to Beethoven, by God be proud of it.

2. Stop pretending you have a rock band.

3. Stop arguing about whether gay people are okay, fully human, or whatever else. Seriously. Stop it.

4. Stop arguing about whether women are okay, fully human, or are capable of being in a position of leadership.

5. Stop looking for the "objective truth" in Scripture.

6. Start looking for the beautiful truth in Scripture.

7. Actually read the Scriptures. If you are Episcopalian, go buy a Bible and read it. Start in Genesis, it's pretty cool. You can skip some of the other boring parts in the Bible. Remember though that almost every book of the Bible has some really funky stuff in it. Remember to keep #5 and #6 in mind though. If you are evangelical, you may need to stop reading the Bible for about 10 years. Don't worry: during those ten years you can work on putting these other steps into practice.

8. Start worrying about extreme poverty, violence against women, racism, consumerism, and the rate at which children are dying worldwide of preventable, treatable diseases. Put all the energy you formerly spent worrying about the legit-ness of gay people into figuring out ways to do some good in these areas.

9. Do not shy away from lighting candles, silence, incense, laughter, really good food, and extraordinary music. By "extraordinary music" I mean genuine music. Soulful music. Well-written, well-composed music. Original music. Four-part harmony music. Funky retro organ music. Hymns. Taize chants. Bluegrass. Steel guitar. Humming. Gospel. We are the church; we have a uber-rich history of amazing music. Remember this.

10. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

11. Learn how to sit with people who are dying.

12. Feast as much as possible. Cardboard communion wafers are a feast in symbol only. Humans can not live on symbols alone. Remember this.

13. Notice visitors, smile genuinely at them, include them in conversations, but do not overwhelm them.

14. Be vulnerable.

15. Stop worrying about getting young people into the church. Stop worrying about marketing strategies. Take a deep breath. If there is a God, that God isn't going to die even if there are no more Christians at all.

16. Figure out who is suffering in your community. Go be with them.

17. Remind yourself that you don't have to take God to anyone. God is already with everyone. So, rather than taking the approach that you need to take the truth out to people who need it, adopt the approach that you need to go find the truth that others have and you are missing. Go be evangelized.

18. Put some time and care and energy into creating a beautiful space for worship and being-together. But shy away from building campaigns, parking lot expansions, and what-have-you.

19. Make some part of the church building accessible for people to pray in 24/7. Put some blankets there too, in case someone has nowhere else to go for the night.

20. Listen to God (to Wisdom, to Love) more than you speak your opinions.

This is a fool-proof plan. If you do it, I guarantee that you will attract young people to your church. And lots of other kinds of people too. The end.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Planting Churches

This week’s topic of Church Planting is one that gets my creative juices flowing. I love visioning and imagining what might be. In reading Tom Brackett’s essay "Midwifing the Movement of the Spirit", in Ancient Faith, Future Mission, I got so excited that I used up all of the ink in my highlighter! Yes, that is what I am called to do! Yes, the Spirit is out there and is at work! And yes, I want to be part of the new life and new birth!

But here’s the problem… I am a horrible gardener. Last winter I opened a gardening catalog and ordered a ton of seeds: flowers for the yard, carrots, green peppers, onions, plum tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, beefsteak tomatoes, raspberry bushes and squash. I couldn’t wait for spring to come! Luckily, my husband, Brandon, knew what he was doing. When the day finally came, he instructed me to start digging a hole. I lasted about 20 minutes before my hands were sore and my husband was telling me to move out of the way. I asked what I could do to help and was sent to the garden center to buy some fencing. Within a week I had given up on the garden.

Brandon on the other hand was dedicated. He watered and weeded and cut back the branches of the surrounding trees to allow for more light. His tomatoes were so impressive that the neighbors stopped by throughout the summer to ask him his secrets. He has that gift. He understands the fine balance between just the right amount of nurturing, but also letting them be and checking in regularly.

So what does this have to do with planting a church? Maybe the most important thing I that I learned from the readings and from my own experience with gardening is that I am not in control. Not only am I not in control, the seed is not even mine. It is God’s, and the Spirit is already at work in our midst. It is our job as church planters to recognize that Spirit and to discern what is already happening.

One size does not fit all in this church and in this culture. As Stephen Cottrell says in his essay, "Letting Your Actions Do the Talking," expressions of church need to fit the local context. Sometimes that means a weekly service on a day other than a Sunday. This may worry some who feel like they are fighting to fill the pews at 10 am on Sunday. Why would they want a competing service in the same community and possibly even the same building? It’s important to realize that it’s not about competing with one another. If we are truly one holy catholic church, and if we are truly one body of Christ, we must be intentionally seeking and sensing the Spirit.