Church in a Circle

Last night I was at a meeting looking at the governance of our local church.  We have shifted the way we operate on the ground but have not figured out how to capture the shifts on paper.  We also realize that there are additional shifts we need to make and we have not yet figured out how to make them.

This morning I came across this blog post in one of my feeds.  I have attended church on both the East and West coasts, both in pews and in a circle respectively.  When I have introduced the idea of church in a circle to the pew sitters – some have resisted.  They didn’t like having to look at other people.  I believe they felt like the circle took away their privacy, that they were too vulnerable.

This concerns me.  I am extremely introverted, but I appreciate what it means to participate in a circle and I believe we need spaces to practice being vulnerable.  A few years ago one of our sons was having a very difficult time and we had to decide what to share and with whom.  Our church community became one of the very few spaces that would hold our difficulties and allow us to just pour them out as they were – no dismissing, no fixing – just letting them be.

I think church in a circle is vitally important to us creating the change we want to see in the world, I wonder how we can our pew sitting selves in that direction.


Why is nobody talking about this

Last night, someone thoughtfully raised concern about the most recent suicide attributed to cyber bullying in Florida.  The concerned party wanted to know why we weren’t talking about the issue.  She was appalled that the world could be a place where someone was treated so badly that they felt they could not go on.  She wondered why we weren’t talking about it – I sat ashamed, wondering as well.

Bullying is an issue that is not easily solved.  We can educate kids and tell them to stop – but that is not a guarantee.  What fascinates me is the apparent dis-coupling of a rise in bullying from what is happening in adult society.  While I think kids should certainly be taught not to bully others – I wonder who is teaching adults the same thing.

I do believe that youth model what they see their parents and the adults around them doing.  When will we rise to the occasion and admit our part in the bullying problem.  When will we understand that how we treat and respect others is how our kids will treat and respect others.  When will we hold ourselves accountable.  When will we decide it’s worth making a change to save lives.

I think the church has a unique part to play in this.  I think we owe it to all of the bullied youth out there to raise the questions that make this society uncomfortable.  I think we owe it to all of God’s beloved children to call each other on our misbehaving.  While focusing on bullying, we are able to ignore the fact that we have become a country that sanctifies violence.  When will we focus on that?

I will disappoint you

I just finished reading Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber.  It’s an incredible spiritual memoir that highlights some of the most important and intriguing parts of the author’s story.  What really resonated with me is her compulsion to let people know that God loves them, just as they are.  That yes, there may be things about them that are broken and unsavory – but God still embraces them and can work with that.  

As part of her journey she talks about wanting to find a home in Unitarian Universalism and how it didn’t work for her because there was no reliance on the grace of God.  That really resonated with me.  Like Nadia Bolz-Weber, I have always believed in God because I have always believed in the mystery.  Despite coming from the WASPy Congregational tradition where the word was central – I have always believe in God because it seems like there must be something beyond all of the convenient coincidences of life.

And I really need to know that God will be there for me – even if it doesn’t make sense – in the mystery.  It’s too overwhelming to me to think that I have to understand everything that happens to be a logical progression.  In fact, for me, it’s a bit crazy making.  I have a fair amount of anxiety and I love to feel responsible.  OK, I don’t love to feel responsible, but I feel responsible all.the.time.  So it is helpful to me to continually come back to the mystery in which God can ground me.

Which brings me to my favorite section of Nadia Bolz-Weber’s book – the part where she reminds people who are newly enamored with her eclectic congregation – we will disappoint you, I will disappoint you.  It’s not a question of if, but when.  And the beauty of it all, is that if you can hang in there and go through the disappointment, you will have a unique opportunity to experience God’s grace.

I worry so much about disappointing people even though I know it is inevitable.  None of us is perfect.  And as a pastor working for a local church, I worry about how that disappointment might impact my employment.  Will I still have a job?  What I love about Nadia’s comments is that they transform disappointment into a gift from God.  She urges us to remember that God is with us in all of it – not just the good feelings and the success, but in the yucky stuff and the disappointment as well.  And when we allow ourselves to be in it too, we can live through the mystery of God rather than just observing it from afar.

What are we doing?

Last night I was talking to a friend who is helping run a denominational campus ministry program at a large state University.  She mentioned that one of the members of the board of the campus ministry wanted to expand the ministry to include the nearby community college.  Why, I queried?  Well, they want more people involved.  Well – how many people go to the community college I asked – 40,000 she replied.  Wow, I thought.  How many people go to the university, I asked.  40,000 she replied.  How many students are involved with your ministry, I asked.  7, she replied.  So basically, they want you to go from serving 40,000 people to serving 80,000 people so 14 people will show up I said.  She was not happy with my reply.

I wonder why, in a situation like this, there’s not more focus on getting to know the 39, 993 students at the first location.  Is there a way to serve them?  Is there something the University is unable to provide?  Is there a way to collaborate with other groups?  Is there a way to build networks and expand the possibilities.

My friend mentioned that it’s sometimes hard because the 7 people who show up have a very definite vibe that is not for everyone.  Can you maybe combine with other groups, I ask?  You mean like these people over here she replies.  Yes, those people.  Why can’t you join forces with those people?  Hmmm…

And therein lies the rub – protestant Christianity has become these weird silos of belief that don’t really want to cooperate.  We gather with others who are like us.  That’s important, to maintain our identity.  But to what end?  Why are we so concerned.  Surely if your identity is that compelling it will remain if you gather with others who are different.  I’m sad that denominationalism has gotten us to this point and I’m even more sad that we are all so desperate to survive the downturn that we are missing out on a critical opportunity to engage diversity and to help one another more fully understand God and the Gospel.  Because really, if the denominational campus ministries only goal is to get people to participate in the denomination, haven’t we missed the point?

What Matters Most and Why

Recently this post by Brian McLaren from 3 1/2 years ago came across one of my feeds.  It’s a synopsis of the questions he poses in his book, A New Kind of Christianity.  This year’s theme at First Parish Church is “What Matters Most and Why” and I think that McLaren’s questions are a good jumping off point.  So, for the next 10 weeks – I’ll offer my thoughts on each of the questions he poses and I hope that you will consider adding your voice to the mix as well.  Check back next week for the first reflection.

September 11

On Facebook this morning, a friend posted this question, “What does it mean when Americans say, ‘Let us never forget 9/11?'”.  He went on to muse how this might be a mantra intended to help keep our rage alive and subsequently, is raging about Americans deaths when we don’t rage about the death of others, really something we want to encourage.

After speaking with people leading up to today though – I wonder if we might reframe the mantra “Let us never forget 9/11” into something else.  What if remembering really means honoring our grief.  What if remembering really means validating people’s traumatic experiences and the post traumatic stress that lingers.  What if remembering really means just pausing and allowing ourselves to remember our vulnerability, to honor our sorrow, to bring to light all that we usually carry with us in silence.

I wonder if September 11 will ever become a National holiday.  I have to admit, I find it hard to come to work and carry on with the normal things of life today and I wasn’t even directly affected by the tragedy.  It feels weird to see normal life continue on a day when our lives changed forever and so I too hold on to the mantra, “Let us never forget 9/11.”

Book Review – White Flour by David LaMotte

The book White Flour, written by David LaMotte and illustrated by Jen Halles, tells the story of how a group of creative clowns stood up against a Ku Klux Klan rally in Knoxville, TN by refusing to acknowlege the Klans message of supremacy and hate. I appreciate that the book is based on actual events and demonstrates how people can stand up against injustice and hatred in a way that does not harm people and honors their humanity. But, I wonder if the target audience of illustrated books can grasp the concept it is trying to teach.  I also wonder how many children outside of the South know of the Ku Klux Klan.  I left the cradle of New England and went to college in Georgia , so I know that the Ku Klux Klan is alive and well, but I’m not sure that most of my fellow New Englanders (even the adults) really know that to be true (I had college classmates recall local parades where the Klan members in their town would march).  So I think for elementary aged kids to really grasp what is going on here, there is some parental education that needs to go with the book.  In addition, the technique of the Clowns is sophisticated and I’m not sure my 7 year olds would be able to grasp.  However, I appreciate that the book is calling us to think about creative ways to stand up to hatred in this world and think it serves as a great reminder, especially for Christians, that we are called to move beyond an eye for an eye and yet we have a responsibility to find ways to make change in the world such that we progress towards what God wants for us.

On a more local note, I wonder what our equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan would be here in Portland, Maine?  Where do you see hatred being spewed in our city?  How can we respond in creative ways?  How can we live out God’s call in the world such that we spread peace while calling out hate?


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.