Neighbor? Who?

its been a crazy week. I’ve in essence heard the Good Samaritan story three times.

First time was with Alton Sterling, then Pilando Castile and finally with the Dallas police officers who were targeted. This in the wake of Orlando is wearying.

And then we hear the story of the Good Samaritan and the lawyer asks but…who…who exactly is my neighbor?

My flippant answer is whoever is close enough to annoy you. And as you know people can be pretty far away and still be close enough to annoy you.

My more serious answer is those you are close enough to hurt. This is an amazing thought because you can be very far away–all across the world or thd internet and still be able to hurt someone.

The counter to that is that if you are close enough to hurt someone then you are close enough to hurt someone then you are close enough to help them.

blm

the Good Samaritan story was so revolutionary because the Samaritans were so politically and religiously at odds with one another. They would desecrate each other’s temples, burn each other’s buildings and fight over the same land and water. When Jesus tells this story it angered people because it’s like telling about  Muslim and a Christian or an African American young man and a police officer. This was Jesus’s answer to Who is my neighbor.

The Belhar Confession, which is being adopted by the PCUSA was written by Africa about apartheid. We in the USA don’t seem to have apartheid until you look at the kind of violence that is going on and how it hurts African-Americans  until you look at the kind of violence that is going on and how it hurts police officers.

Belhar Confession is about unity being both a gift of God and our duty. I don’t know what to do about African-Anericans being stopped for minor violations and things escalating so quickly. I don’t know what to do about police officers being targeted for violence. Unity Both a gift and a duty because God says we belong to one another.

We belong to one another because we each of us are called to bind up the wounds of the cops and the African-Americans. We belong to one another because Jesus has loved us into being  showing us how love affirms our??? identity. Christians need to love like Jesus. There are no “buts” I this love, it’s not I love you but… It’s I love you and We belong to each other.

Real love is the kind that takes nothing away from you  it affirms and does nothing but add to your identity  it’s a live not based on your value or progress or perfection. God made us each unique and still belonging to one another. The word of God is not to believe in God and be the same, but love one another and affirm each identity so we add to each other.

Love is a language that doesn’t even compute in the financial, political and corporate world . That is the kind of love we are called to practice because we belong to one another God gives us to one another as a gift and it’s something to also work for. We belong to one another. Who is my neighbor? All those whom we are close enought to help.  This is the word of the Lord  thanks be to God!

 

 

 

 

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

keep-calm-its-bigger-on-the-inside-1

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

#nextchurch Farmer’s Market: building local ministry

Sadly I recently looked thru my posts and found that my original farmer’s market post has disappeared (oh no!) So I will have to rewrite it with a broader perspective.

The church was called to local mission: most of the 40-odd faithful adults had volunteered regularly at homeless centers, hospitals and to knit/sew for the needy. The question was, how to do it? As an elder said “I don’t even think people know we are here” so we brainstormed…..

The church did a lot of events. A lot of, traditional events. Things like a Strawberry Festival and Choir Concerts. Things like Clothing Exchanges and Playgroups. None of them seemed to really take off…people came to these events, but not as many as the church hoped. See, the church had discerned that their call was for local mission, but we were having trouble connecting to the neighborhood. Our best moniker was “the church with all those AAs” our worst was “the one with the chain up” So the church tried all these events, and immediately named them to be failures.

The church was wrong though, these events weren’t failures, they were successes–if you looked at them the right way.

The Ice Cream Social  didn’t get a lot of people coming, but we served ice cream, showed the Nursery School’s artwork, plus got a couple of homeless people off the street for a few hours.

The Praise Inc Revival Concert was difficult I had to go to some kind of meeting (I forget what) and arrived late, when I walked in I was told “no one came” <–people did come, about 45, and what was really cool was that about 1/3rd were from the church, 1/3rd were from another worshipping community within our church and 1/3rd were from the community.

The clothing exchange was a lot of work, but it was cool because it was a ministry for everyone (not just the “needy”). Those who sorted the clothing found a lot of things for themselves and others (haha) and plus we started to get some regular ladies who dropped by to check out what we had.

The free playgroup didn’t have a lot of steady people but hey 1. it was drop in 2. a lot of people came until they found a job, and it was a great way to get to know the neighborhood if you were new in town.

The real issue, of course, was that we weren’t getting new members, which I (constantly) reminded our members, was not our goal.

Our goal was to get to know the community, to provide space for them to gather and to use our eminently well placed church that happened to have an awesome parking lot. (Of course we were doing other technical things too).

Then a couple from the church and said, What about a farmer’s market? We have a good parking lot.

Session agreed, and within session we outlined our goals which were to

1) Get to know the neighborhood

2) Help local farmers

3) Not have ulterior motives (or at least try not to)…this was not for money or members, it was for the community….In fact session maturely agreed that we would charge Farmers money to hold them accountable, but all the money would go back into the market.

We researched the other church farmer’s market, we went to big and small farmer’s markets, we looked up rules and regulations, we sent out letters and then we called & called & called & called the farmers until finally someone agreed to do it and all the other farmers (small world eh?) jumped in as soon as 1 person committed.

We plotted out the parking lot, we advertised and made signs and got ready for our grand opening.

We had well over 200 people! 200 people!

And afterwards we worshiped together and took apart all the things that helped to our success! We literally put each thing that we thought contributed upon a building block and then we took all the blocks and “built up” into what was now the farmer’s market!

And sure enough the congregation finally saw what I had discerned, those past events weren’t failures they were warmups!

During these events we learned about

1)How to work together; After throwing so many small events we had a pretty good idea who we were and what our skills are (hospitality, organizer, motivator, builder, community contact, etc. )

2) timing :how long things should be, when people got out of work

3) media: how do we publicize things online? What kind of signs get noticed? How can we tell our friends?

4) Events; small events lead to big ones, since we started to have events, people had been starting to notice us as being active and involved

5) People: We saw people from everywhere! People from the choir concerts, people from the praise inc. revival, people from the clothing exchange and the playgroup, heck we even saw people from our nursery school (which has been running for 40yrs, but like most church schools is viewed as separate from the church)

What a success, and we realized, all of those events were successful, and they built off of the farmer’s market.

So we kept building. We created a program called “Won’t You Be Our Neighbor?” in which all the events under those headings were purely to bolster and minister to the neighborhood so we could get to know them better.

Under this heading–We did a Trunk or Treat at the end of the Farmer’s Market for Halloween and we added a Chicken BBQ as a fundraiser (which isn’t really with no ulterior motives, but we were transparent about that we wanted your money for a sound system and since you drove thru our parking lot customers weren’t afraid we are trying to steal their souls), we did Charlie Brown Christmas in December and hosted over 100 nonchurch parents and children who watched it. Last summer we included Charity Yoga where the proceeds went to the Presbyterian Disaster Fund. We built a success!

We are still building. This has become a foundational ministry, it has honed our mission statement to one line “Won’t You Be Our Neighbor?” Its become a joyful duty for the 12 some volunteers to work EVERY week for 4-5hrs for 4 months, it has become an identifier for our church “the one with the farmer’s market.” Enrollment for nursery school is up, the community comes together, and we truly are starting to get to know our neighborhood, from the farmers to the crafters to the performing artists to the customers. This will be our 3rd year doing the farmer’s market, we are the most successful one in the city limits, our vendors love us, and we have expanded even moreso. its a beautiful day for a neighbor!

And that is how our true local ministry was born!

(for more info about what I learned as a minister for my context click here)

“I believe that…

“I believe that appreciation is a holy thing–that when we look for what’s best in a person we happen to be with at the moment, we’re doing what God does all the time. So in loving and appreciating our neighbor, we’re participating in something sacred.” ~Mr Rogers

Mr. Rogers

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)