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.