Tasting #God

I look over as I raise my glass, the bread has been swallowed individually, because we are all individuals in Christ, and there is Westley, 7 years old and dead serious.

“This is the blood of the New Covenant, Friends, drink ye all of it” I pronounce. Westley holds his cup as steady as he can…and then he drinks it and we drink it.

And Westley tastes God.

Watching my autistic son take communion, being soothed by its ritual, experiencing the taste of the liturgy in community in a way the wordy-words of the sermon and even the half-warbled hymns from his throat doesn’t.

Westley loves church, because he knows he is loved. He knows he is accepted. Working on body language, empathy & instinct, Westley will run from the room if he feels unwanted. He knows. This little boy who doesn’t sit, not even in front of his beloved electronics without fiddling or bouncing or squishing. Sits solemnly throughout service. participating not just with the community, but as a part of it.

But this is his church, this is his space, he is growing up here. And for a little boy who has a lot of trouble speaking and understanding words, the bread and the cup (grape juice) speak to him.

For Westley, Communion is community, its love, its ritual, its sensational in all the right ways. Communion is the taste of God, the one-ness with humanity. Seeing Westley take Communion is holy ground, because we ask God to be present, and miraculously, God is there. God is in the little boy who carefully picks his bread from the platter, and eats it, waiting for the cup to be raised, so we can drink it, as communion.

 

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Rendering Caesar: God & the World

This year my eldest is 8 so when we explained the presidential election, we had a lot of discussion about voting for the person who would be best for everyone, not just me. We explain that greed/selfishness is about valuing oneself over the community, talk about a  heave conversation.

Here in Acts 5:1-11 you have stories of community. After all the lovey-dovey sharing philosophy and the idea that the group will be of “One Accord”<–such a beautiful Idea

But here we are Ananias & Sapphira don’t actually live up to the ideal (ps there’s a reason why we don’t know their names its a depressing story). They sell land and don’t share the profit equally, so they are brought before the community to give account.

I think this is the moment when they could have explained, or apologized, and been int he clear, but they don’t. First Ananias, then Sapphira, lie. Then each of them fall down dead…WHOA!

But here’s the thing, they don’t share their stuff, but more importantly, they don’t share of themselves. They are not honest, they don’t do the work of being mutually accountable. (And note the community doesn’t do the sentencing, they just hold the couple accountable, God does the judging thing)

Put in the context of Jesus, we have Luke 20:20-26 the famous “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar” story. Its a fun one because “spies” try to “trap” Jesus by asking whether taxes should be paid or is that against Jesus’s religion?

Jesus responds by turning the idea on its head. First he subtly mocks the idolatry of money, noting that Caesar’s face is on the money–when Jews make no images of God, nor any idols. Then he says give to Caesar what is Caesar, but give God what is God.

The implications are bigger than world vs. God, thought. The implicit question becomes who do you want to belong to? Do you want to be rendered to Caesar or God? Do you want to be in the power of powers, principalities & politicians–as Nadia Bolz-Weber will say–under the rule of laws and checks or under the grace of God?

One of the words for God in the Old Testament is Accountant or Reckoner, Al-Hasib. It is used in the Old Testament for when God reckons the faith of Abraham (and then in turn asks Abraham to reckon the stars). This is become God keeps the story, the account of your faith, hearing the entire story, understanding the slip ups, keeping track of all of the details. God is the accountant not because God is ready to write us off, but because our God is ready to listen. Just as the church, the ecclesia, the gathering of the community was ready to hear Ananias and Saphira’s account.

Who do you belong to?

I am convinced that we, as humans, need to share our material goods because its good practice for sharing of ourselves. If we are unlikely to share our stuff, then we will never share of our very souls. However, the gathering of the church, the ecclesia, the community, is where we practice sharing our accounts, where we do the reckoning of our faith. We practice faith in community, because the sharing is a basic part of our faith. Church is where we practice sharing our goods and of ourselves. This is where we form the basis of community.

And if that isn’t a political realization about how you live your life, then I don’t know what is. God’s story is the community building story. And how we belong to that community: through rules, powers, principalities and politicians, or by graciousness, mutual accountability and God

Lets go and be that community.

 

#PokemonGo #community and #technology

Pokemon Go is not new technology, its based upon Ingress which uses google maps landmarks to create a fun reality that layers on top of the landscape of life. In fact, the idea is not that different from Geo-caching which has been around for a LONG time.

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What PokemonGo has done is hit all the right notes at the right time.

-Classic Fandom that has been around for 20years

-A pre-written motif to “Collect” & “Catch” them all

-The fact that it is the Age of the Geek, most adults who complain about the overuse of technology unashamedly own smartphones and use facebook….

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-A year that has been…rough….2016

Let’s be clear, millennials and young people have grown up in an age where getting to know your neighbors is a rarity.

Its not because we (because I’m a millennial) are addicted to technology and antisocial–its because we are a displaced generation, overworked and farther away from home than any of our parents were…this means that technology has been USEFUL for us….

Its not all sunshine and rainbows but through facebook my parents and in-laws see pics of their grandchildren (after all what else is fb for?), through cell phones I can call my best friends in Seattle, NYC and Alabama without crazy charges pretty much whenever I want, through meetups I hold a weekly playgroup that has touched at least 300bfamilies, through twitter I can virtually attend many conferences and conversations about racism, community, church and technology, and through etsy I can find items that have my autistic son’s favorite character, through instagram I can take pics of what I am reading and hopefully find people with like interests…..

Technology makes manifest our longing to connect, giving us opportunities to find new ways to reach out. It was only a matter of time before technology would turn things on their head and actually succeed in bringing people physically together.

It brings people together in communal spaces, inviting them to talk and interact…and what is amazing is they do!

It would be easy to pooh-pooh the effects of a fad…but why not celebrate? Is this not what we hope the ultimate goal of technology to be? Isn’t it wonderful when people get together? (and yes, people are imperfectly using the technology, a handful of people have taken advantage of it and people need to remember to be SAFE on their cellphones–but you should see the hundreds of churches seeing positive effects of one game)

When things are tough, and community is hard to find, I see PokemonGo as the opposite of escapist, its creative. Its creating community in what has otherwise been a fairly lonely year of tragedy. As communities of queer,Latinx, African-Americans, police officers are effected, as Baghdad, the Middle East and France are attacked, as time is hard, PokemonGo is just what the Dr ordered.

So GO! Don’t capitalize or dismiss the game.

Enjoy it, live into whatever interactions it creates (whether you play or not)

and be excited for what it might mean for the future, because that future won’t come unless we dare to dream it.

 

So…#farmersmarket @ #church=>Results

This is my third post in our Farmer’s Market Series

Why Farmer’s Market?

How Farmer’s Market?

Five years into running a farmer’s market we have the following results.

Neighborhood

The most often comment we get is that the “Farmers Market brings people together in a way they haven’t before.” We definitely see the community now. We love getting to know all the people int he neighborhood. Since getting people to church is not the goal (serving them is), we get to know many of our Jewish and Catholic friends as well.

Many people WALK to our farmer’s market, which is superfun

We have regulars! Last year we had about 4 Tuesdays where it didn’t rain at all, and yet approximately 400 people attend a week. Our word is spreading via natural talk, advertising and increasing our sign circumference in a considered fashion.

 

Community

We have about 20 groups that meet in our church building. Including over a dozen AAs, some other churches,  the playgroup and the nursery school students, the Neighborhood Association, Choirs, etc. The Farmer’s Market was definitely when some of these communities started to connect with one another, and us. The communication improved, and the church worked to serve as a community of these communities.

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Building a Community

The biggest result of the farmers market is difficult to communicate, because it is so huge. We have in essence started to build a community.

Starting with the Farmers: We set an amazing tone through two things 1. a Civility clause in the contract 2. our customer service. We required civility, but we also modeled it, lending chairs, helping farmers put up and take down their tents, asking what they needed, you know helping them out. We have a very small community market, but we are told ours is like no other. People are not mean-spirited or pushy, our vendors built a community, trading tips and goods, being genuinely kind. We are like no other market in this way.

Building more communities: Since the Farmer’s Market started, we have learned to be savvy about building events and communities off the market. We have offered exercise (for children and adults), conducted chicken BBQs both the week before and after the market, advertise our children’s events (ex: breakfast with Santa, Easter egg hunt). We have also art spaces including a community visual art show, putting on tiny theater plays, and paying local musicians a small fee to play at the market. We do this, because we want to support the community and build it up in as many ways as possible.expanded

Farmer’s Market Community: And of course we’ve built a community of people who want to go to a neighborhood farmers market. Some of them walk their children around, some of them drop by just to get dinner, some of them like to get out and chat, and some of them are hardcore local/organic followers. There is a lot of natural communication that goes on in a Farmers Market (what corn isn’t available all year? Strawberries are more expensive because of the frost). When you know your farmer you appreciate where your food comes from and how much work it takes to get it, and you start to consider what you consume in a slightly different way.

Millennials & Silent Generation: One of the best things about communities–and churches–are when multiple generations get together (its one of the church’s strengths in fact). The Farmers Market draws together millennials who are invested in cooking, bodies and the health of the planet, and the silent generation whose families often were farmers, who know how to and love cooking, and who remember and value farming.

Community Gardens: We have a small bin out at our Farmers Market. It doesn’t seem to get much every week, but two years ago 100 pounds of fresh vegetables were collected to redistribute in the urban food deserts, last year over 200 pounds were collected. This is the seed of extending to the community.

 

Church

Our church has changed. Always a community invested in serving our neighbor. Through the farmers market, we have found energy & purpose. We value the community and being in the community. We are shifting our perspective from sometime landlord with ministry to community participant and incubator. People have noticed, and our church has seen some growth. (We are teeny-tiny remember). We did not do a farmer’s market to grow the church, we did it to serve the community. This has made all the difference. We continue to strive to figure out how to serve the community, and if sometimes people find their way from the parking lot to the sanctuary, we are doubly blessed as a congregation of servants.

#Sacrifice, #Parable of a #church

A congregation came to Jesus and said, “Good teacher, what must we do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus said, do the commandments. “Love and respect your neighbor. Have courage to do new things. Enter the world to support those in need. Gather as God’s family and honor everyone as human. Render to no one evil for evil, learn how to be more than nice. Pray and support those in need, and open yourselves to the community”

And the congregation said, “Lord we have striven to do all of this”

 

Jesus said, “Then there is one more thing, give away your worship space to be a place of sanctuary for the rest of the community”

And the congregation went away grieving, for their sanctuary was a very beautiful and well cared for space.

Then Jesus said “Trust the Lord with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind, and remember you security is not in possessions or ownership of space and time, but is in God.”

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Mark 10

 

 

#hopewins #notafraid #diwali Practicing Humanity & Defeating #Terrorism

Today is diwali the celebration of light winning over darkness, how fitting a reminder, for me a Christian when mercy and justice are hard to find today.

Fear Not!

Every time an angle appeared, every time God speaks, fear is cast out. God doesn’t want us to live in fear, God wants us to live into hope.

But that’s hard, its hard when attacks occur all over the world on one day–Beruit, Paris, Baghdad. Its difficult when gun violence continues to cause school shooter drills and institutional racism is unveiled again and again and again.

So what I do is, I cry. I pray. I look at the stars. I light candles.

(until we find the right words, we’ll light candles–Martha Spong)

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I live in hope.

This expression is one I use when things are uncertain. I toss it off in casual conversation as though it is easy, but it is so, so difficult.

Worrying is a human past time. Its a way to cope with the reality that evil is in the world. It is a tool that can be overused to the point where we worry too much and forget to live.

Fear also, is interesting. As Christians a tenant of our faith is the fear God. We are not supposed to base our decisions on what could happen, we are not supposed to live our life based in fears, we aren’t supposed to live into the worry and the guilt, because the truth is, we humans do not function well in those state.

When we are anxious and afraid, when we are guilty or judgmental, we make bad decisions.

No doubt, this is why over and over again we are urged only to fear God. “Those who fear God” is an expression in the Old Testament to describe all those who are trying to follow God instead of giving in to other things. But then God tells us over and over again to fear not. And counsels us to hope and trust in what is going on….

Its hard not to fear, not to worry that I’m not secure enough in money or friendships. Its hard when my body does not function the way I want it to, or when my children get hurt from the bad things that go on in the world. Its hard when the news talks a lot about the problems of the world and little about the solutions. Its hard when refugees and children are dying from violence and rejection. Its hard when people proclaim “its not like it used to be” with authority as if evil is new and spreading instead of being old and already defeated by Jesus.

But I live into hope.

I practice not being afraid.

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Building trust, assuming people are trustworthy, treating everyone with respect and kindness.

Because those are hope building practices, and this is how to defeat evil. This is how #hopewins, this is how we defeat #terrorism, not with weapons or policies, but with the refusal to live a life of fear.

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#RejectedSermonTitles : this week Song of Solomon is about #Sex

Why is Song of Solomon in the Bible?
Seriously, what is with the Bible having a book that is written by a human to a human being?

(There used to be a Jesus as the Bridegroom and Church as the Bride interp. but its frankly sexist and old fashioned)

Here are two people expressing love for one another. At one point I spent a seminary class translating and interpreting the text, and like Shakespeare the more you study it the more you understand the physical attraction in the text.

Song of Solomon 2:10-13; 8:6-7
0 My beloved speaks and says to me:
‘Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away;
11 for now the winter is past,
the rain is over and gone.
12 The flowers appear on the earth;
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtle-dove
is heard in our land.
13 The fig tree puts forth its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away.
6 Set me as a seal upon your heart,
as a seal upon your arm;
for love is strong as death,
passion fierce as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
a raging flame.
7 Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can floods drown it.
If one offered for love
all the wealth of one’s house,
it would be utterly scorned.

This is because, love is such an all encompassing thing, a part of it is physical, so I think its important that those words are a part of the body. Love is intense, its more than the cutesy-niceness of life. Little pink hearts and precious moments angels are not what the Bible is about. Angels, love-beings, are so intense that they have to tell us mere humans “fear not” every time they appear. (Cupid and Psyche is a much more accurate portrayal in my mind).

I also think that Song of Solomon is included because Love is one of the human languages, one of those experiences we try to describe again and again.

Love Songs are amazing that way. They always have been written, from the time of Song of Solomon, and each of us prob. experienced a love song that “got it.” (ex: Breaking Up is Hard to Do) A love song that was perfect for what we are experiencing. Love songs will always exist, because love opens us to see the world in a new way. (Fill the world with Silly Love Songs)

It is here that we begin to see the strength and power of love that can withstand fire and water. Love opens us up to be changed. It is the thing we hang onto, but also that which holds onto us when all else fails.

Love allows us to be melded, and every relationship we enter into holds that potential for change.

Anger and hatred, not so much. When I’m angry or hate-filled I cannot hear the other person, I cannot change my mind. There are times, when I’m arguing something that I realized mid-arguement that I am wrong, but at that moment I can’t let go of my argument, because I’m too angry to be wrong, I have to win. Its not about love or being right, its about winning.

Its for this reason when I’m at a contentious session or Presbytery meeting we pause for prayer. We stop everything (which is really hard, because everyone wants to finish their thought) and pray. We focus on God, love and community, we remember that its NOT about winning, and we are then more open to have a real, listening conversation. (and that folks is the true power of prayer). Love opens us up.

And here, in Church, we strive to be in relationship with every single person in this room. We open ourselves to be changed here, with these people. We are doing it not for money, not to feel good, not to be fit or healthy or popular. We do it, because love opens our eyes and is just that powerful.  (Theme Song: The Power of Love). We do it to follow Jesus, and that openness to be relationships changes our lives.

#Christianity, you keep saying that word, I don’t think it means what you think it means

1. Christianity to me isn’t about finding all the answers, but asking the essential questions (look at the Gospel its people asking Christ ?s and Christ asking people ?s) gathering together and acknowledging that God is bigger and greater than our understanding of things, and we’d rather see thing more God’s way than our own way, because our way is too small

2. Church is a the practice of community and worship so that when moments of extreme trouble come, you have a healthy way to bring them to God and process them. (Like fire drills). Every week isn’t revolutionary but every week is important.

3. Church is about community, there are few places where we commit to practice community with whoever comes thru the door Church is a practicum in faith just as its a place to explore spirituality.

4. Prayer is the ongoing conversation between you and God. As it is an ongoing, unique and individual conversation, my job as pastor is to act as mentor, guide and/or teacher. Where you are with God is based upon who you are, that’s why relationships with God can change a person because the two are so intertwined. This is why mature Christianity is (w)holistic Christianity. The kind where the Bible doesn’t necessarily tell you how to vote, but you have an evolved understanding of learning what God’s purpose is for the world and you apply that purpose wherever you are and as much as possible.

5. Faith is about seeking out relationships with God, people and the world. Loving things into a more real, truthful and essential existence than what they have before that love. Its not about controlling another person, quite the opposite, its freeing them to be who they are.

Good NEWS and extroverting

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We are listening to the immeasurable Diana Butler Bass who is greatly illustrating her theories on church and culture, when the news breaks on twitter a little before 7:30 (she started at 7).

Its a amazing, its wonderful.

I text the news to my parents.

I can’t believe it.

Twitter is going crazy.

The real question is Can we interrupt Diana Butler Bass?

7:28 pm @miheekimkort suggests “@revJohnRussell at 7:30 lets stand up and scream”

I tweet @bookkats “Feel the pcusa urge to stand up and proclaim the good news even tho its rude to interrupt awesome DBB” at about the same time

I wait for 7:30, sure someone will do it…

THREE agonizing Holy Spirit Bubbling minutes later (7:31) I realize no one has….

Then she talked about the fourth awakening, and its true realization (as in any realization) is when social justice comes into play, so I’m like “Ok, and now she’s talking social justice. Holy Spirit help my extrovert.”

I am totally bursting with the news. This is good news! This is my job to tell good news, and I have REALLY GOOD NEWS, and texting my parents isn’t going to do it!

@jledmiston says Can someone ask Q@dianabutlerbass for a brief space to acknowledg the PCUSA’s big news?

We were awaiting authority, in Nextchurch, which I love to define as the organic and hands on ideas of what is next for the church …irony….

So I’m like, maybe a quiet way is better (I guess I’m getting better at practicing some restraint) I Tweet “Stand up and hold up your phone maybe?”

This is the time, I realize, Diana Butler Bass is talking about the no going back change, the revival at the point ofsocial justice: what a moment to tell the news!

Meanwhile I hear rustle, rustle, rustle, everyone is looking at their phones

@mollyfid nails it on the head “Y’all, I”m about to Burst! UNfreeze yourselves presbys! Surely DBB will pause for a cheer”

Then I realize…I’m in the balcony, I’m in the first row. This is totally not awkward (I mean heck I’d love to do it from the most awkward and silliest position ever)….I’m the extrovert.

Oh my God….its me…I’m the one who is called into this place at this time to do this….its me, and I’m going to LOVE it

I stand up and (rather timidly) raise my hand. “Excuse me Diana….Sorry to interrupt, but we are just bursting here. We just passed 14F, all people can marry”

And I see it……from the balcony, everyone stands up and hugs and cheers in an almost disordered fashion….

It was beautiful, it was holy

my sister is trans…

I burst into tears

Diana Butler Bass asked my name and then said “The Episcopalians welcome you” 🙂

The amazing moment when God uses my no-hold-barred extroverted self who happened to sit in the front of the balcony at that moment…on the day when Brian preached about acceptance in the morning in the evening where the Presbyterian Light people were already planning their reception.

What do you call that but holy?

Holy

And then, we listened as best we can to Diana, hearing all the better her critiques because we were in a better place as church (claim the entire denom has failed, no problem : )

And then, we went and did church! The planned 80 people who went to the Presby Light reception were way…way…more….

Too many Presbyterians, after a long day, did church that night at a bar.

We have become a fuller church, how can we include people next, is Belhar Confession around the corner?

We did church, then and there with loud music and too many Presbyterians and drinks and food…

And we told each other the good news.

Amen. Alleluia

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Bigger on the Inside: The #Tardis #Church

My church works hard to be community oriented and to be out in the neighborhood.

1 that runs a Neighborhood Farmer’s Market in our parking lot from May-Oct, completely thru volunteers

1 that arranges for free exercise classes (with babysitting) during the farmer’s market

A Market that book-ended by 2 Chicken BBQ fundraisers (the company cooks, we serve)

p.s. we put up great signs for these events. GREAT signs!

1 that puts on a health fair, plays, concerts, art shows.

1 that has done a clothing exchange, electronic recycling,

1 that has a weekly free playgroup and runs a 2, 3, and 4yr old Nursery School

1 that hosts over a dozen AA’s, 3 other congregations, 2 community choirs, an immigrant ministry  & the neighborhood association

When I talk to people about my church, the reach is far.

Our location is good, most people have stepped into our building at some point for various things

Our Farmer’s Market is well known, we are possibly the best small farmer’s market in the city

And everyone is shocked, I mean shocked by how small we are….they think we have 150 people at least

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Why is that?

Because we are bigger on the inside

That’s what happens when a church holds God and the Community in their hearts..

bigger

we end up growing in ways that we can’t even comprehend….

And God increases our efforts twofold/fourfold/tenfold

yoda

Its time to STOP thinking of ourselves as a small church, and to start thinking of ourselves as bigger on the inside