Tag Archives: something different

Celebrate the good in the church

buddychrist Every now and then, church stuff gets me down. I have decided that, when that happens, I’m going to look to the many amazing things I know are happening in the name of Jesus.¬† I need your help. There is some amazing stuff happening in churches around the country (and the world) that should be lifted up, but it is hard to know about all of it when we’re in our little corner of the world. I’m going to list some of the exciting stuff I know about and the awesome people I happen to be connected to. In the comments, add amazing stuff you know about and pass it on. I don’t want to put any parameters here; I’m looking for ministries that are life giving, new and/or renewed, and are moving the people of God into the future. New ways to reach people, interesting ways Christians are working towards the kingdom here on earth.

In no particular order:

Luther’s Table. My friend Gretchen Mertes (with the help of a number of churches and a million volunteers) runs this Lutheran cafe/bar/music venue in Renton, WA. There, one can rock out with a beer and with some Jesus. It is clear you can come as you are and you will be welcomed. The food is good too ūüėČ They do some great service for the community, including free holiday meals. Luther’s Table is also home to a growing congregation, Roots of the Table, where worship is very different from traditional Lutheran worship and the music is very good.

All People’s Church in Milwaukee, WI. All People’s is an vibrant urban church with an amazing vision and incredibly strong sense of community. If you ever want to listen to a sermon that will get you up out of your seat, listen to Pastor Steve Jerbi (another good friend of mine). The congregation does amazing community education, they are working on issues of food insecurity in their ‘hood (and education around the topic), have a community garden, a food pantry, are building a green house, do job training, and are just generally awesome. I wish I lived closer so I could go to there. I’ll have to subsist off of Pr. Steve’s sermons.

Church of the Apostles in Seattle is one of the original ancient/future or emergent churches. I keep trying to describe aspect of their ministry and, each time, the adjective I want to use is dynamic. I recently went to the ordination of their new pastor, Ivar Hillesland, and it was wonderful. I look forward to what they do in this new phase of their lives together.

Church of the Beloved is a new monastic community in Edmonds, WA. Their music is excellent, as is their idea of communal living. I couldn’t do it, but I greatly admire the way they live.

Valley and Mountain is a community that is also here in Seattle (see, I mostly know what is happening around me) and I love what they do. The way they worship is so life giving. Their tag line on their website is “deep listening. creative liberation. radical hospitality.” That’s a good description. I’m kind of sad I can’t be a part of their community, but that is the life of a pastor.

Trinity Lutheran Church in Lakewood, Ohio is my home church. The people there are a large part of how I grew to be the woman in faith that I am. They have a strong community presence, a soup kitchen, food pantry and community garden. They’re been Reconciling in Christ (open and affirming to the LGBT community and everyone else) for as long as it has been an option (I think) and instead of VBS every summer, they have Peace Camp. They’ve also had a woman pastor for as long as that has been an option. If you live in the greater Cleveland area and are looking for a church, go there. Oh, also, for you Lutherans out there, they’re a mostly white church that uses This Far By Faith. That is another thing I love about them.

Phinney Ridge Lutheran Church is my current internship site. I am an intern at a church that has young people showing up and becoming very active in the church. My first few weeks here I met so many people who were interested in joining who were in their 20’s or 30’s. This is an organ and choir church. This is a church where there is processing and elevating of the gospel and my supervisor wears a chasuble for worship (he gets really dressed up in fancy pastor things). Somehow, with all of the liturgy and hymns and organ, this church feels very alive, like the people aren’t just going through the motions. They’re super into it. And that draws other people in. Also, they are very, very into rite and ritual here, particularly baptism. The membership class is no joke — it’s an adult catechumenate. All potential members gather every Sunday night for months to eat together and have fellowship in small groups. In small groups, people share their faith stories and talk about matters of faith — no questions or topics are off limits. I love this. I’m kind of almost a little Baptist when it comes to asking people to make commitment to their faith, and too many churches seem to be afraid to ask much of members. Phinney asks, and in turn it receives many new members every Easter Vigil.

Re:Imagine out of San Fransisco. I love what they do. Mark and Lisa are incredibly warm people, and the one time I had the opportunity to experience their community, everyone was so welcoming. I wanted more.

Quest Church in Seattle. Multi-ethnic, social justice oriented, prophetic, welcoming… Just rad.

Sorry if I forgot anyone I should have thought about.

Now, what do you know about? Who is doing good work around you? Who is inspiring you? Let’s share the good news!

And this is why it’s dying

I’m on fire right now. Irate. Burning. I went to chapel today. I don’t go to chapel often. Here’s why.

Chapel has been arranged so that it is impossible to sneak in unnoticed if you are late (as I often am).

I remarked to a classmate, “There should be some kind of warning that you can’t sneak into the chapel anymore!” Said classmate was like, “Yeah, right?”

Another classmate said, “Well maybe you should come to chapel more.”

Me: “I would if I liked it.” (I admit, this wasn’t the best statement, but it is very true)

Another classmate (with much snark): “Good luck in your future parish, then.”

Wow. Yup. And that is why the church is dying. I don’t get much out of “traditional” worship, therefore I have no future in the church. To quote Cee-Lo, “Forget you.” Seriously. (Not the person, the attitude.)

Worship is so much bigger than we’re allowing it to be! It doesn’t have to be anything other than preaching the word and administering the sacrament — the form can be so many different things as long as it reflects the community! Acoustic guitars? Great! No instruments? Great! Hip-hop? Go for it! Bluegrass? Right on!

If your community wants to sit still in worship or they want to clap and dance, let them do it. If they want to stay quiet or they want to yell out, “AMEN!” let the spirit move them (and you), let the spirit fill all y’all! If your community wants you to preach for a half an hour, work into it, ask for help! ¬†Yes, I realize I am using a lot of exclamation points!!!!

If we insist on restricting worship to what we know and what we are comfortable with and what we have historically done we are restricting the ways people can encounter God, Christ and the Holy Spirit. Yes, I understand the irony in me not wanting to go to a type of worship I don’t like. It’s not even about whether I like it or not. That’s actually not what bothers me. Most of my church life has been in congregations that are fairly traditional and I can hang. It’s the attitude that this is the way it has to be, that this is the only style of worship that should exist or that is right or valid that gets my panties in a bunch. This is a learning institution, for crying out loud! We should be learning about all of the possibilities in worship, experimenting with styles and genres. STUDENT WRITTEN LITURGIES SHOULD BE SUPPORTED!!!! I have had enough conversations with my community here to know that the style of worship we have every week does not reflect the skills, desires or voices of the entire community. There are many people who are fed by “traditional” worship. There are many, many more who are not. This might explain why so few people go. This is also a reason why so few people go in the rest of our society. It’s certainly not all about worship, but the refusal of so many to even think of trying anything different most certainly contributes to our declining numbers.

Get out of the box. God is bigger than the box. It’s fine if you keep your feet in, but get your arms out there and see what the world is telling you it wants and needs. More importantly, see what God is telling you the world needs. I bet you it will be much bigger than traditional hymns and a mediocre sermon on a Sunday morning.

End of rant. For now.

I am, we are 32 flavors and then some.

Dreams and mystical things

Only in dreams

A year or two after my father died, I had a dream that I hold close to my heart. I was in a laundromat (I think?) and my dad was there. He told me that my grandfather would tell me something important; my grandpa would tell me something that my dad himself wanted to say to me. I try to remember all of the dreams I have about my dad. They’re like little visits with someone I can’t see anymore. I consider myself very lucky to have dreams like this. Sometimes, they are weird and make no sense and I can be pretty sure that it is just my brain recycling and filing information. This dream felt different. So I held on to it.

A few days later, I got a letter from my grandfather. In it he told me that my father loved me very much and would be very proud of the woman I had grown into. I lost it, into full on ugly cry.

Now, this letter may sound normal to anyone who doesn’t know my grandfather. Grandparents, in theory, say this kind of stuff all the time. Not Grandpa R. I clearly remember the first time he told me he loved me. I was about 16 and it was his 85th birthday. I called him to wish him a happy birthday and he sounded kind of sad and told me he loved me. I was so shocked by this I handed the phone to my dad saying, “Um, I think grandpa’s drunk. He told me he loves me.” He wasn’t a big drinker, but that was the only reason I could think of that would explain his informal and (in his world) unseemly expression of emotion. So, this letter was not his normal way of expressing himself. It was kind of a big deal.

The letter itself seemed almost Godsend enough, when my dream (that I had the day my grandpa sent the letter) is added, I can find no explanation other than one that involves God, the world beyond this, the Holy Spirit and general mystery. There is too much happening here, too much I can’t make logical sense of. And that’s okay with me. Because I think it is wicked cool that, somehow, my dad visited me in a dream and told me to look out for a message from him through an unlikely source. I’ve had some pretty cool dreams in my life. I’ve had dreams that have helped me to see that I’m going down the wrong path in life, dreams that helped me let go of things I had been holding onto, and a really awesome lucid dream in which I defeated Darth Maul. But this one is still my favorite.

Why share this? What is the point of my story? I share it because it is real, for me anyway. It is very, very real. And my experiences will be readily and easily dismissed by people of faith. People who believe that a man was physically raised from the dead and then, after hanging out with his friends a bit, disappeared. People who believe in an afterlife, in God, in the invisible mover in so many things that are intangible, will  think that my dreams are nonsense and/or just a psychological projection of my grief.

Why are we so afraid of things we can’t explain? Why do we have to understand everything, to parse fact and fiction in the Bible and in our spiritual lives? Why do so many people I know dismiss the idea of the healing power of prayer (or make it psychological)? Why do we stick to the rational and the safe when Christian lives are built on a faith that is wholly irrational and strange?

This handicaps us as individuals and as leaders. As individuals, our insistence on the rational and quantifiable takes the mystery out of life. Where is wonder when everything has to be defined and answerable (and answered)? Where is the Holy Spirit when everything has to be concrete? Why bother praying for healing if it doesn’t actually do anything? I have seen many rational, all-head Christians end up a total wreck when they are facing death or pain because they had spent their whole life thinking about God and not experiencing God. There are mysteries in life, there are things we don’t and can’t understand. This is okay.

As leaders it hampers our ability to communicate with those outside our world of rationalist faith. A few weeks ago, in a workshop with Ian Mobsby, there was a lot of talk about the numinous and people’s renewed interest in spiritual things. He called our times post-secular: more people than in the past are curious about the spirit. Strangely, technology plays an important part in this reawakening. He calls this techgnosis. We spend all of this time with these crazy new inventions that broadcast our thoughts into space and put it somewhere else and it has created a new sense of wonder (even though, logically, we know how all of this works, or at least that it is science). So, we have all of these people in our churches and our communities who are having experiences with dreams and sunsets and gardening and hiking and computers and who knows what else. When (if) they come to us, we look at them like they’re nuts because their reality doesn’t match ours. Then they walk away, and never come back. We haven’t killed their sense of wonder, but we have told them that their observations and questions don’t fit in our box, and therefore, they are not welcome here.

So, yeah, I sometimes have freaky weird dreams that seem to be more than just my brain resorting my life. Sometimes I feel God’s presence so strongly it makes me want to cry because of a song on the radio that met me at exactly the right time and I feel like God is speaking to me through the radio. I’m putting this out there because I think we need to hear more of it. We need to talk about our experiences of God that are beyond explanation, that are a little weird. So many people have this happen to them and are embarrassed or don’t know what to do with it. I know I’m still afraid that if I share some of my experiences of God, people will think I am a) crazy and b) either not Christian or¬†possessed¬†by the devil. We have to get over this if we want to walk into this post-secular time as effective ministers of Jesus Christ, we have to be able to listen to people’s stories of the mysterious and to talk about our own. We also have to do it because we shouldn’t be embarrassed by our encounters with God. Not that we should brag; that’s not what this is about. It is about being open to the presence of the weird and mysterious Holy Spirit in our lives and in the lives of others in ways that we cannot explain. Because she is there, and she wants your attention.

Am I broken?

There aren’t enough stars in the sky, oxygen molecules on earth, or freckles on my shoulders to come close to describing my love for God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. I crave connection with the holy. It feeds me. It is my faith in God’s love, my knowledge of Christ’s presence in my life, and my awareness of the Holy Spirit that has gotten me through so many deaths in my life at a young age, that got me though the illness and death of my father, that kept me going when I could barely get out of bed and keeps me going today. God’s transformative work in my heart, Christ’s example and the pull of the Holy Spirit compel me to be concerned about social justice, to work towards a world in which all of God’s children are nourished in body, heart and mind — a world without bullying (on an individual or global scale), a world where love and concern for brother and sister are the law of the day. Everything about me is formed, informed and fed by my Christian faith.

I don’t even need all of the fingers on one had to count the times I have felt this way in a church worship service. ¬†This leads me to wonder what is wrong with me. Why is it that someone who loves God so much can’t stand church? WTF? Am I broken (this is not a theological question about the nature of sin)? I go to church hoping to hear a word that convicts or uplifts me, to feel the Holy Spirit in song, to be filled with Christ during eucharist. It happens so rarely that I have a clear memory of each time it has happened. I usually leave church annoyed with the service for not “working” for me (I know this isn’t useful, particularly when I start to nitpick), and with myself for not getting the connection.

In my former congregation, there was a woman who always just said that it wasn’t about us. It was about God. Our needs didn’t matter. We were there to worship God. But isn’t worship a two-way street? Isn’t it about us worshiping God and God’s grace breaking into our lives in word and sacrament (and community)? What does it mean when that doesn’t happen? Over and over and over again?

Where did I get this faith if church has rarely done much for me? Some of it I think I was just born with. I’ve always had a kind of weird desire to connect with God, and a strong awareness of God’s presence in my life. A lot of it comes from my experiences at camp. It was in those worship services that I felt God most clearly. One of my most transformative life moments was when God’s word broke through to my heart in the words of someone I, at the time, kind of hated. That is where I experienced what real Christian community could look like. There I was, an awkward 12-year-old with a ton of friends who let me be me. Later on, it was my friends from camp that prayed for and with me when life seemed to be falling apart. ¬†I saw Christ every day for five summers. He was just there, in the midst of us. He was us. And now, I search and search and am often left wanting.

And I’m studying to be a pastor. A lot of what drives me is that I know there are a lot of people like me out there who, as Dan Kimball says, love Jesus but not the church. For me it’s less about “the” church than church worship services. I am one of them — the people who don’t feel at home in church, who have never really fit in. People who don’t jive with traditional worship, people who want to live their faith outside of the church walls. But I keep feeling like this might not be possible within the confines of a denomination. The impression I get from those around me, those teaching me, is that this will not fit into the denomination I love. I get discouraged. A lot. Yet, God must have called me to this for a reason. So I keep going, keep walking this strange path through a dark wood. Because I want to love Jesus and church. I have experienced this few times, but I have experienced. I know it is possible. I just have to figure out how.

A song that says so much to me right now: God is in the House, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.