#oberlin #MichelleObama #PCUSA intersecting #spiritual and #college

I attended Michelle Obama’s Convocation Speech at Oberlin College. A speech that was won by the Nine Scholars program to help Local High School Students achieve (awesome!)

Only problems were 1. Oberlin already had an awesome speaker lined up the Founder of SAVE the CHIDLREN on the 50yr anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Grad speech 2. Security was a bear in what is normally a very informal, formal ceremony (people float in and out, wear whatever they want…I like it).

It was the 10 yr anniversary of my graduation from Oberlin and my sister, the amazing Noelle was graduating so I had dual reasons for attending.

Plus I got to stay over with my peer and fellow graduate Charlie who owns the local gaming store (back in the day I founded the now mainstream Sci-Fi and Fantasy Hall which was really just a safe place for the gamer-geeks who had yet to find popularity in the real world). Infinite Monkey, if you want to support a great small business I recommend ordering from him here or Facebook them 🙂

While there I regaled the locales with tales of my pastorhood, my supposed youth (I look really young and DEFINITE not like a pastor) my parenthood (yes, I do have 3 children) and mourned…just a little bit that I had very few Oberlin-like people in my life. Instead I spend most of my time explaining to my mostly older congregation how the modern world is and explaining to my friends (most of whom don’t go or have never gone to church) why religion is a really awesome and exciting place for me to be…at least most of the time 🙂 (I try to be really honest in these conversations).

Michelle Obama gave some nice props to Oberlin and their open-mindedness, remarking how different the world would be today if all colleges awarded degrees to African-Americans and women from way back….noting it was one of the few places that she prob. could have graduated from 100 yrs ago. I nodded to myself, finding it sad that Oberlin, college, was one of the few places where I experienced the openness and hospitality that so many organizations attempted to live into, including at times the church. (I did mope a little bit)

Then Michelle urged Oberlin graduates to not just to enter the world, but to engage with it. To be in the hard places, to find the people who don’t necessarily think and act like you, but to instead be in the real world. To know that that small incremental work that is being done is important.

She then noted that 10 years ago (God? did she really say that), 10 years ago 1 state allowed for same sex marriage, and now any minute the United States was ready to pass it for all states (and I noted to myself that the PCUSA is already there, thanks in a large part to the small incremental changes that we had done over that last 10 years). And I remembered thinking, at my graduation that the world WOULD change for the better, that our speaker at that time had noted the start of that change towards equality and being EXCITED to be a part of that.

It has been work for me to live in-between. I am a full time professional woman and a mother, both the same. I am a religious pastor and a Fantasy geek–one of which is getting less popular (the religion) and one of which has become startingly mainstream (the Sci-Fi Fantasy). But I am still both the same. (Even moreso I have a traditional worship but am very groundbreaking in my ministry to the community) I work with people who are like me and I am friends with people who are like me, very few people get all the pieces that make up who I am. And yet, here I am. Not immersing myself in one thing or one way, I am doing the hard work of the real world.

And when my session, had a progressive discussion about Gay marriage, and I shared that with those people I met at the Oberlin graduation. I talked about meeting people where they are, and sharing my experience, to love them, they said they couldn’t imagine engaging with people who believed things so differently than them.

That’s right, the people at Oberlin, who sometimes I viewed as very accepting, couldn’t accept my religious people. NOT vice versa.

But there it was…the hard work of sharing…of being in the real world. The hard work that I consider being ministry whether it is at Oberlin College with stereotypical liberal students or sitting at a meeting of the church with the elders who talk through their traditions and their desire to serve others.

I may have cried a little (hmm…a lot…) during this speech where Michelle Obama brought the word to me. When Marian Wright Edelman then, daresay I preached, sharing some of the Word of God and Liberation in the way African-American Women are able to do without offending the nontheists of crowd while reaching into the tradition of Justice bespoke by MLK. Hers were not the words I needed that day because, that’s the world I live in every day. But I am so glad she was there, giving a piece of my world to Oberlin, because Oberlin shared a piece of its world back to me in Michelle Obama that day…and I don’t live in one world or the other. But in between, testifying back and forth between the two, like these two ASTOUNDING African-American Women.

Millenials, Church and perspective

Millenials, Church and perspective

An insight I often give about millennial is that many people don’t search out a church (because lets face it, church shopping is a lot of work) until they feel settled. Millennial cannot feel settled because of the sociological-economic pressures of today, therefore: no church

“Kinnaman said one of the key insights emerging from the tour was that “nomads, prodigals and exiles share something in common: being somewhere other than home. One of the characteristics of Millennial life has become the image of the traveller. They want to wander the world, both in real life and in digital ways. They want to feel untethered. There is a trend among young adults of delaying the pressures of adult life as long as possible; they want to embrace a lifestyle of risk, exploration and unscripted moments. At the same time, they want to be loyal to their peers. The generation has come to appreciate and take identity from a spiritual version of life on the road. In other words, it is a generation that is spiritually homeless.”

The Fig Tree

One day Jesus told a parable (Luke 13:1-9)…there was a fig tree and the master came out to inspect it.

“This tree has been here 3 years and never produced fruit, cut it down”

“Tell you what, I’ll dig out a new home for the tree and give it fresh fertilizer (and water), why don’t you wait a year and see if it produces fruit then” the gardener persuaded

“Fine but if it doesn’t grow, chop it down”

And that is the end of the story…no resolution, no happily ever after, why?

Because the point of the story is the need for nourishment, as the kids in church said today, chopping down a tree isn’t going to help it to produce fruit, but encouragement does…

But digging even deeper into the story, we have to wonder, what is the point of the fig tree producing fruit anyway? Here it goes to all the trouble of growing fruit for what…

to nourish itself?

to have it sit there forever?

to help itself to grow bigger and stronger?

No, it does it so that some other creature can eat its fruit! The usefulness of the tree is not in the tree structure itself; the tree was growing just fine without any fruit, but in how it nourishes others…

And that, my friend is the church, we exist not to nourish or help ourselves, but to share our fruits with others.

If we have no fruit, if we go on upholding our structure, then we are not, in fact, successful.

There is a theory (probably most famously put forth in the book “Bowling Alone”) that society embraced and loved institutions in the 1950s. There were many groups that flourished in this time: scouts, elks, bowling clubs, churches. Churches adapted the institutional structure and did as well as the rest.

Today the structure is to make your own kind of community. You do yoga alone, you make connections online and through relay rides and couchsurfers (for my thoughts on millennials read here). But, that doesn’t mean the hunger/the thirst for God isn’t still there (Psalm 63 was paired with the fig tree gospel reading for a reason). People long for a spirituality that feeds them, has  integrity (***please note, I do not mean they want a vending machine or religion that caters to their every whim, but something that is both relevant and still full of integrity), and one that practices what it preaches–supporting social justice & those in need. Millennials have just internalized the independent nature of our culture (I’ll do it alone, in fact I’ll make a community all on my own) hence: Spiritual but not religious. Church’s need to figure out how to nourish that independent nature so it too can produce fruit.

Its like a Farmer’s Market where people want to take responsibility for their food by connecting to the people who grow it…How can church be less like a supermarket and more like a Farmer’s Market?

After all, Jesus came and gave his ENTIRE LIFE as nourishment for all of us, that is why we (Presbyterians) practice open communion, because everyone gets to share in the spiritual fruits of Christ!

I’m not saying bowling is better than yoga or vice versa, I’m saying that when the church is able to make spiritual fruit to nourish others, that is called ministry! (again we are back to the Farmer’s Market at my church, how can we make it MORE nourishing)

 

How can we, as a church, make the fruit to nourish others.

 

PS do you know olive trees live thousands of years? In the Garden of Gethsemane I was able to see some fig trees which, in all likelihood, stood while Jesus prayed right before his crucifixion. So really, giving a church/person/tree of a couple of years when we can grow and be shaped by thousands is looking at things from a human perspective…How much more can God see, from where she sits? Here is a picture of some of those ACTUAL trees!

Life, Fairy Tales, God, Children: How Katy Works

Why do I go to church?

You know, most people my age don’t go to church

Most of them don’t even believe in religion

They may believe in God, but if they do it tends not to be the “standard” version of God

These people are usually identified as “nones‘ (which is kind of a detrimental name, even though I know it isn’t meant that way…maybe we should be calling them/us something else) Something like 75% of people my age don’t affiliate in their religion

(for more about why I include myself, a pastor, in this at times, please read my post “I don’t Know What I believe”)

But I believe in God….Life is just too short to be meaningless…

Meaningless is just too hopeless to be believed

And people are just to wonderful to give up on….

And because of these truths, I believe in God….I know that not everyone believes what I believe, and I don’t mind (usually). As long as you aren’t preaching hate as gospel, I’m pretty ok with most beliefs…after all I’m not the one who is going to judge whether the fig tree is bearing fruit. That is up to the boss.

What I do worry about, is my generation in terms of willingness to try to religion. Have we given up? Do we truly think it has nothing to offer? Does the bad really outweigh the good? Do we think that we can only find our own spirituality outside of church? (What does that have to say about church, but what does that also have to say about us).

I recently learned that millenials are those of us born between 1980 and 2000. Here is what we have in common.

We grew up in a boom, but came into maturity in a economic downturn/depression

We are the children of baby boomers

We tend to be called hipsters

We don’t have a lot of life opportunities: jobs, marriages, having children–>we have to put these things off

We were all born in a pre 9/11 reality

We grew up with Harry Potter

We like individuality–but tend not to rebel, but instead go off our own way

We are thought of as ungrateful and lazy

We don’t have a strong religiousity

Yet here I am: mother, fairy tale enthusiast and pastor. Here I am, trying to figure out if I have a strong enough call to conduct a ministry via sci-fi and fantasy that I need to invent something to do this.

In a lot of ways I am “old-fashioned” for my age. I am young, married, have three children and an “old-fashioned” kind of job that carries with it healthcare and a pension (at least for now). And yet, I feel the pain of those around me. I too am physically weighed dow

n by student debt that I’m terrified I’ll never get rid of, I too understand that completeness and fulfillment will not fully come from my employment (hmm…that should be on the list above).

So I guess I’ll keep at it, hang onto the understanding th

at my concept of religion and my relationship with God is helpful to some of the people in my life, and that people will or won’t join churches on their own, and its not my responsibility.

Still–and take this for what its worth–I like church and I believe in God…

Katy likes it! Hopefully if/when you are interested you can find a place that fits you too!

Dear Child: Faith is a journey. –Love God

Image

Faith is a journey, and sometimes that journey isn’t an easy one.

But as we learn more and more about Jesus, here is what we learned

1. Jesus did ministry on the move. You notice that Jesus is almost always making his way between cities? Sure Israel is the size of the New Jersey but the journey from Jerusalem to Galilee is about 240 miles, and Jesus walked that more than once.

2. Jesus believed in packing light, but he also believed in good traveling companions—Jesus asks us to take no extra baggage, but to always remember to take a friend, so if you are considering going on a visit for church, pursuing ministry or just doing something new in your spiritual life, Jesus recommends doing it with someone else. (which is why I advocate Co-Pastorships)

3. The Holy Spirit guides us—just as it guided Jesus Christ, we need to remember that we are following Christ’s footsteps, and we have the best guide, we just need to take the time to listen to what God is doing.

4. Its called walking in “Jesus’s Footsteps” not “Sitting in Jesus’s Pews.” My Church’s Farmer’s Market has been a giant step outside of our sanctuary (which is sad that this is a big step, nevertheless its great we’ve done-so) , but we need to figure out where Christ is going, and how to follow him there (as opposed to say, staying where we are and assuming that God wants us to stay there forever)

5. Jesus took Sabbath: Jesus escaped the crowds, he rode boats, he ate with friends, he prayed alone. He found ways to take a break for himself and his ministry, so that he could recharge for the next one.

6. Jesus did not have a checklist. Jesus did not have any requirements for following him—he did not require gold, food or certain characteristics. You can bet one of the disciples was the person who always complained about everything, and another one was that nice but not too bright person, and that one of them had a mental illness, one of them was socially awkward and one of them talked incessantly, while another wouldn’t talk at all. Yet Jesus invited them all to journey with him. He didn’t even require belief (instead he fostered it). He just asked people to come exactly as they were.

What can we do?

Recently I’ve been thinking about how to better meet and get to know the community. What are their needs? What are their prayer concerns?

Maybe we should have a prayer concern board out at the farmer’s market. Maybe we should have projects to thank all those who serve the community (nurses, EMTs, police, Firefighters), maybe we should fundraise for the poor, maybe we should give out free meals, maybe we should grow our own garden to donate fresh food, maybe we should provide a space for people to pray—as you can I’m full of ideas. In fact, at times I get carried away, and it can be overwhelming for others. But, I am confident that we have important things to do, and we are capable to do them!

God, Heresy, Illusions, Emergent Christianity, you know the small questions

If you are a hard case theologian you know about the deep debate between emergent Christians (McLaren, Rob Bell, Brian Berghoef, etc) and the more (what is a non-insulting term for traditional, because I totally do not want to discredit these scholars) academic Christians such as James K. A. Smith

If your not, then this post will hopefully help. Here are some of the important conversations going on about whether emergent Christianity is a pick and choose/fluffy type of theology or alternatively, whether the tried-and-true-Christian scholars are providing too many answers on behalf of God instead of letting God give the answers….(that’s it in a nutshell, you can skip to the bottom if you don’t want the in-depth version)

One back and forth is about “God doesn’t need our help” and a more emergent understanding/refutation here.

One of the things hot under debate is giving up God for Lent, which tries to take seriously the critiques of Christianity. An article about Giving up God for Lent is here. This is something I am trying and a critique that it is a movement for intellectual (eggheaded) theologically trained (clergy) young (millenials)…which he definitely has the audience right, I am all of that–oh and I really appreciate the respectful tone of this critique…

RESTART HERE IF YOU’VE SKIPPED DOWN!!!!

As us young folks try to struggle with what church means to us–ie the emergent church, and what it could mean to the nones….I find all of this debate and forethought invigorating. Sure we don’t have the answers, but I think that looking at THEOLOGY as the source of our institutional woes (as opposed to programming, attendance or money) is a grand start.

To me the answers are to start doing the things we know the church is good at, and then build from there (strength based training anyone? anyone? ). How can we be community centers (we used to be good at that) how can we form relationships with our neighbors (we could be good at that) how do we work for social justice (I always say that human rights issues should be the ones all Christians can agree on)….

And yes we have gone through such questions before, What if God was one of us? Jesus Christ Superstar, Godspell, The Quest for the Historical Jesus come to mind. But remember, whenever people are thinking and talking about God, they are, in essence, working out their faith–and isn’t that what we at the church want to encourage? Questions, speculations, riddles and wonders about God? It’s certainly Biblical…

My church is taking its slow, we are starting farmer’s market with no ulterior motive for members or money (or at least attending to when we think about these ulterior motives) and simply getting to know the neighborhood. We are thinking theologically about our church space (we are blessed with a “great location” it would be great if we could prayerfully use it), we are consciously trying to accept people whereever and whoever they are through the strength and guidance of the Holy Spirit (Won’t You Be Our Neighbor?)…

I don’t know where this is leading, but hey, at least we are talking about it–I’d be even more excited to see these “opposing” viewpoints working and praying together, after all doesn’t the body have different parts for different reasons? (1 Cor 13:1-13)

Water into wine

Sören Kierkegaard, 19th century
“Christ turned water into wine, but the church has succeeded in doing something even more difficult: it has turned wine into water.”

Only the church can do that! Take Jesus’s Wine and turn it back into water–how do we do this, by constricting God

Item 1: Grace

Do you know what grace is? Its abundance. Grace is giving room for someone else in your life, so that they can be themselves. Its giving space to someone else. God’s grace is abundant–God moved Godself aside to make room to create us, so that we can be something other than God.

Christians job is practice that hospitality, to make room for EVERYONE in the church, and to make certain that we aren’t trapping God in our structures, limiting who God is and when God is relevant.

Consider if we said music can only be delivered thru a tape deck, music would be dead.

Item 2: Church is Boring

When we say God can only exist in a formal church, when we say our understaOpen Source Church: Making Room for the Wisdom of Allnding is the “correct”

(this is the opposite of open-sourcing church which is the way all information is going see Open Source)

If we make God ordinary, everyday; unexceptional and predictable.

We constrain God to what we understand her to be (see what I did there?)

We would rather tame Jesus than trust him (hence the above)

In fact, as I explained my job to a Japanese man who I am tutoring in ESL–he said that he found it amazing that we were applying a 2,000 (whereabouts) document to everyday life, and he asked how that worked, and I said that was basically my job, to talk about why its still relevant today and give the big message of God’s Grace and Love through the little stories and messages in the Bible…

“ah” he said “so your a translator” smart man that 🙂

Item 3: the Story (wedding at Cana) John 2:1-11

Name: Jesus

Location: Wedding

Mission: to Party people into the kingdom (through hospitality, wine and grace)

Jesus makes space for us, and gives us abundant love–making space for us, and we as the church should be doing the same

Item 4: the Translation (otherwise known as timing is everything for God, and we need to see God acting beyond the here and now to make the here and now better!–this is a deep thought for a parenthetical, oh well)

1. I’ve been praying about some kind of immigrant service due to a congregant’s problems getting a santioned-job-and-also-visa…plus I’ve been tutoring ESL on the side (again, this is what I do because the kids gotta eat). An offer came in last week for an immigration center to rent space for an office from us (rent, can you believe it) how perfect is that?

2. My church enjoys the “perfect” location, being high in demand for functions–we have been leveraging that into money…instead we are going to make the move to try to be theological & intentional in how we use the space (I’d like to have a ceremony dedicating the spaces of the church)

3. A congregant once suggested that we get snuggies for everyone in the church–our church is cold and hard to heat (ah the beauty of the 70s A-frame building). We could be known as the snuggie church–some people might feel that isn’t “proper” but lets face it I think being warm and comfortable is a more realistic presentation of God than shivering in nicer clothes….

The point is that God gives to us abundantly, and she does so by giving us new ways to understand, by giving us new people to enjoy relationships with and by full-on giving us permission to party people into the kingdom (who doesn’t love a wedding?)

Item 4: Happiness and Holiness

Plus! Jesus consecrates happiness

Sometimes, the church has forgotten that our Lord once attended a wedding feast and said yes to gladness and joy,” Robert Brearley writes. “God does not want our religion to be too holy to be happy in”(Feasting on the Word Year C, Vol. 1)….suppose we took every time we are happy as a holy time (note I did not say that we are only holy when we are happy). What if we celebrated, promoted happiness and in that way opened the way for God’s glory in the world?

Jesus is calling us to abundance, to happiness and to grace–and we need to be certain the church is concentrating on those instead of on the programs, the pews, the property, and the payments. These things do not make a church. People and Prayer do!!!

PS Here is today’s Coffee with Jesus, Apropos much?

Convergences, Nones and the church is dying (do you believe in resurrection?)

http://www.faithandleadership.com/blog/01-10-2013/david-lose-its-time-think-differently

“What’s the problem? someone might ask. “People don’t go to church in the numbers they used to,” we answer. No, that’s not the problem. “People don’t give money to programs like they once did.” Nope, not that either. These are just symptoms.

And as long as you think the problem is lower attendance or giving, then the only possible response is to do what we’ve always done, except do it better. We preach the same as we always did, except now we use screens and PowerPoint. Worship hasn’t really changed, but now we’ve thrown in a drum set. What we are doing is fundamentally the same, yet we somehow expect different results….(excerpted from above blog)”

hmmm….maybe the problem is THEOLOGICAL

Ie changing the time of church or the order of worship and adding more programs (the most common solutions I’ve seen to “change” the church) do not an exciting/relevant church make.

Recently my friends and I had a discussion on facebook about what church is…here is a microcosm (kind of the adverse of NPR’s study on why people don’t go to church, we discussed what church could/should be)

Tim said “A lot of theological terms confuse and get misconstrued…and I think you’re right – finding the people locally rather than them finding you. How? is the big question. Through all the misconceptions and stigma “church” gets, it’s a real challenge. There has to be some risk-taking…”

Shellie said…”Yes!!! It’s life together, authentic relationships, passionate worship, interactive study of scripture, no agenda or programs to distract or divide us, communion as a meal gathered at the table. Intimate yet informal, depth yet accessibility. A truly beautiful expression of the Church”

Tim said “Distractions being key there. We are easily distracted into thinking the programs/building/structure is “church” even when we agree that the “church” is relationships between God and people.”

Shellie said “Yes. Exactly. I’ve worked in several churches where – even with the best of intentions – the emphasis shifts to the curriculum, programs, worship service performance – and relationships slide further down the priority list. And it’s not just a pastoral problem or leadership problem – the “church” has grand expectations for its pastors.” and “es!!! How often does “do authentic relationships” or “serve the widowed, poor, oppressed” or “spend face-to-face time with the unlovely or persons outside the faith” show on our job descriptions of the church’s expectations?”

Oh and I said some stuff too…

“i think that’s what confuses people, they think church is just for belief, but I maintain its for unbelievers and faith (belief is something else!)”

“Awesome, its so hard, I think that we “do” church differently and a lot of people who are friends of mine would come, but now I need to find those people locally, I think that the idea of “church” gets in our way”

“I always say that when the church bought its first building everyone was probably like “what? That’s crazy, that won’t be real church, real church happens in peoples houses” etc, etc. all the objections people have to churches without pews or in different locations (coffeeshops, etc)”

“lol which is hilarious because the pastor’s job is to put themselves out of a job (teach others to pray, teach others to preach, teach others to lead–but church’s do focus on the programs”

The convergence continues

(Young Spiritual (and maybe not religious) people are converging! See the following article for more about the awesome convergence!!!)

Shasta and Aslan -Horse and His Boy

I don’t know what I believe….

In light of atheism, etc! Here’s what I don’t know……

katyandtheword

When I worked at the Psychiatric Hospital as a chaplain, one of the things I would do as often as possible was a Spiritual Assessment: Basically to get a feel of someone, their faith, and how it may or may not support them.

 

 

One of the questions was “Do you feel hope?”

 

And more than once the answer I got was, “no, not really, maybe someday I will.”

 

i.e. I’m hoping for hope

 

To me, this is the essence of the Christian question….

 

When a father brings his son in Mark 9 to be healed, Jesus says he can only be healed by belief, and the father says “I believe, help my unbelief”

 

 

 

In PCUSA we have a great deal of rules and order. We have systemized theology so that we have a complete (well complete as humans get get) picture–we…

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Shannon A Thompson

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