Easter People #18: Summer gatherings and pastimes

"Thanks, everyone, for your enthusiasm about the live episode and for your patience with the short hiatus thereafter. The Easter People are back in the saddle and pumped to bring you up to speed on where they’ve been and where they’re going this summer. Hear about the gang’s travel to ... "

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We Need More Than Selfies!

A couple weeks ago, I posted a "selfie"in support of the "Share the Journey" campaign created by Episcopal Migration Ministries.

Why did I do this?

Because I like to make silly faces in photos.

At least, that's what my daughter has decided.

But, seriously, I did this because as Rev. Gay Clark Jennings recently wrote, "Christians worship a child who fled violence in his home country." I am a Christian. I believe that Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior. I believe that the Bible contains timeless and eternal truths. One of which is that my Savior Jesus Christ was an immigrant.

But we need more than selfies!

What's going on along the southern border of the U.S. deeply concerns me. Having lived the majority of my life along this border I fully appreciate the complexity of the issues. Yet, as a father of three children I am crushed by the fact that minors are alone, fleeing violence and poverty only to met by such scorn.

I wrote a piece for our Diocesan website about this issue and did my best to offer ways in which you can respond to this crisis. I hope you'll take the time to read it and engage however you can. In particular, I mention that there is opportunity to volunteer, assisting this refugees. I feel fortunate to be hearing from a number of college students and young adults who are increasingly concerned about this issue and ready to act. So, I am planning to go down to Texas within the next few weeks to explore how and where we can bring young people down to the border to show Christ's love for these kids. If you are interested in joining me get in touch.

Here's a bit of what I wrote this week:
"Over the last few weeks, the news cycle has honed in on the influx of children crossing the U.S./Mexico border. The numbers have been striking! What at first seemed like a 'problem' has grown to a 'crisis.' As our Bishop pointed out, '... when 52,000 child refugees cross the border, compassion wanes and the very real burdens of caring for our neighbor prompt a harsher response.' Predictably, Americans are polarized over this issue, but not necessarily along predictable lines.

As politicians and pundits offer their opinions on what the U.S. government ought to do with the growing number of minors crossing the border, what are Christians to do?

As we consider the question of how our faith informs our response, it can’t be ignored that throughout Scripture there is provision for the pilgrim, the refugee, the immigrant. The Bible consistently points towards identifying with and offering hospitality to the alien and stranger. ..."
Read the rest...

As my boss wrote: pray, give and raise your voice!

NOTE: This video well summarizes the issue:

BCP as Evangelistic Tool

This last year, I devoted a lot of time and emotional energy to our campus ministries. This long standing mission of the diocese is certainly in a liminal space at the moment. I recently wrote an article reflecting on some of things I've taken away from what I've observed since arriving here:
"Last spring, the students at American University couldn’t bear staying inside for their weekly compline service on campus. It was just too nice outside! With BCP’s in tow, they marched out of the chapel and sat down on the steps to pray together. A friend of one of our students walked by at this moment. “Oh, hi!” she said to her friend. “Hi … What are you doing?” was her friend’s reply. “We’re about to pray ... Would you like to join us?” she said with just a tinge of awkwardness. There was a pregnant pause as we all sat waiting to hear her friend’s response. “Um, well, I’ve never prayed before,” the friend answered. Holding out a red book, this young woman responded, “That’s okay. This is like a guide to prayer. All you have to do is follow along. We’ll start here.”"
Read the rest...

Timing Isn't Everything

Image Credit
Timing isn't everything ... and yet it is. We fret over when to start, when to launch that new thing, try out out a new idea, ask that person to partner with you ... we wait for the perfect moment. But here's the truth: there is no such thing as a perfect moment. The best time to start is now. While the idea is fresh, while the energy is high–do it!

Why do we wait? Because we want it to be full proof, we want it to last. But nothing lasts forever and nothing is full proof. Over the last few years of working within larger Christian institutions, I've learned that in such a context the greatest enemy to good ministry ideas are often systems that plan for system safety and system sustainability (the irony being that too often this is exactly what they deter). In response, I've come to a few conclusions for the big question of when to start new ministry endeavors:

Experiment, experiment, experiment! We live in an era in which we need rapid prototyping rather that drawn out planning processes for something "perfect." You don't have all the answers. You'll only find the answers in making attempts at actually doing the thing–whatever that is. The benefit of calling it an "experiment" is that it allows you to fail, abandon what doesn't work and try again without losing all credibility. I like to say, failure isn't an option... it's mandatory. So, start experimenting.

I'm getting into the idea of 90-day experiments. Ninety days gives you enough time to set a goal, a deadline and either reach that goal ... or not! And it's okay if you don't, it was an experiment! Even if you've got just the smallest notion of a brilliant idea, ninety days is enough time to tinker with that initial notion in practice. After ninety days, you debrief, take what you've learned and try again. Overtime, you'll find what sticks–what works for you, your context. But fair warning: I can't over-emphasize the importance of debriefing. Make space to learn from what you've done. How do you know it failed? How do you know it succeeded? Document it. Discuss it. And then get to work trying again.

Here's another thing I've learned–and certainly the hard way: don't go at this alone. Find a partner, a collaborator, a helper. It's hard to reflect, debrief on whether or not something is a success on your own. Involving others at least ensures you have greater perspective. And you need others to help keep the energy up when yours is low.

So, when is the best time for starting something? Now!

God in Joseph's image?

On this Father's Day, I'm wondering if–to play with the phrase–we have made God in Joseph's image.

The portrayal of God in Scripture takes a dramatic shift from the Old to New Testament. It's not that God is distant or unloving in the Old Testament–though some may argue this. Rather it's simply that the characters and authors of the New Testament approach God with a greater intimacy. This is seen most distinctly in Mark 14, when Jesus speaks to directly to God as "Abba" meaning "Papa" or "Daddy" in English.

I'm wondering how much of this change in tone has to do with Joseph, Mary's husband. I wonder how much Jesus, the disciples and the early church were impacted by observing how this man raised Jesus and loved his wife, Mary. I wonder how much this shaped their view of God, the Father. Could it be that the New Testament vision of God the Father is shaped by Joseph–this surrogate father of Jesus?

Not only is it feasible that Joseph impacted how the early church thought of the Trinity, what about it's sense of mission? Afterall, the Gospels and Creeds infer that Jesus was only Joseph's child by adoption. And it is following the Gospels that the mission of God's people takes a dramatic turn from focusing on their own chosen-ness to grafting in those outside of their "bloodline." One could argue that Joseph was the first New Testament character to model this with Jesus. Maybe this near silent, selfless character within the Gospels has shaped more than we think, simply by how he lived and loved.

I don't know of anything published about this. If you do, please leave a note letting me know. In any case, there's my thought for this Father's Day. Parenting has forever impacted my understanding of God. And for the better. I will forever read Scripture and relate to God differently because of my kids. For that I am so grateful to them.

So, happy Father's Day to all the dads! Be a father like Joseph. Go where God leads you. Love and care for those God has called you to love.

"grow by batch number instead"

[Here's a first, two posts in a row promoting crowd-funding friends.]

St. Lydia's is a unique faith community. And their pastor, Emily Scott, is a unique Christian leader. Consider this from her recent article at HuffPo:
"Just like bread from the kitchen, St. Lydia's comes in batches. A church of 30 people can't hope to be financially sustainable, supporting a pastor and providing an operating budget. And so we plan to grow by batch number instead of by batch size. About a year ago, we started worshipping on Monday nights in addition to Sunday nights. We'll keep growing this way, adding more services as we go. In this way, a church the size of a couple of bowling lanes can sustain a pretty sizable congregation, and afford that New York rent."

Emily has figured out how to manage sustainable growth of a public, Christian community on a realistic scale in the dense, urban environment. Many congregations want to grow. And that ought to! Churches are spiritual organisms and healthy organisms grow. But the future for numerous churches may not be one big expression, but many smaller to moderate sized expressions.

Consider getting behind this young community. There's something for us all to learn from what St. Lydia's is creating.

The Lost Art of Storytelling

A while back I wrote, "Storytelling is increasingly a way for us to find connection, a binding narrative and hear the 'good news' embedded in the lives of normal folks. In my mind, it's part of the reason why things like The Moth on a national level and Speakeasy here in DC have found such a wide audience–we're searching for that which binds us, for hopeful signs within our everyday lives."

I can't emphasize how strongly I'm convinced that storytelling is a necessary art for the church today. It's likely because of this that I was so thrilled to discover a new project from Joe Boyd. Joe is a master storyteller and I'm really hoping that this project of telling the story of Scripture takes off! Take a look and consider supporting:

Let's bring this to DC, people!

The Church Is (Not) Dying!

A colleague of mine sent me this image a while back. It's the headline from a Washington Post article published in 1925. Due to significant decreases in attendance and contributions, the Episcopal Church was going to make serious budget cuts. Serious enough to catch the attention of the Washington Post.

If the Episcopal Church was taking a hit I can only imagine what it was like for the finances of most of the other Christian traditions in N. America at the time.

I haven't had the time to do much research on this. But a preliminary dig into the history of church attendance in N. America shows that there have been periods in which church participation has seen noticeable reduction. In fact, during the early years of the U.S.'s inception some sources believe that only 10% of the population were churchgoers (so much for the 'faith of our founding fathers,' eh?).

Why do I mention this? Because there's a lot of talk these days about the death of the church. It gets a lot of attention but I am no longer convinced that inciting anxiety is all that helpful. And rarely does anxiety hold much of a historical perspective.

The truth is, we have been here before. While the landscape may have changed a bit, if we look back far enough into the church's past we will find that we have faced similar challenges before.

So, take a deep breathe. Exhale. Let go of some of that anxiety...

But you're not off the hook!

Will current forms of church die? Most certainly. We have to come to terms with the unsustainable nature of many of our choices and habits.

Will the Church die? No. The Church, the Body of Christ, is much more than buildings and budgets... And, afterall, we are a people that believe in resurrection! If we truly take stock in that, we have little to fear.

It seems to me that rather than obsessing on decline–or dying for the more dramatic–we ought to take stock in a few things:

Our history ought to give us an imagination for the future, not hold us captive. What can we learn from our past? How did the church respond to similar challenges at different times? From my experience, the one challenge we face in local congregations with this is that we tend to get fixated on a particular point in our history that prevents us from the benefit of our whole narrative. Be careful of the "glory days."

Change happens. It's part of life, the sooner we stop denying this the sooner we can get on living into reality. One of my heroes, Gordon Cosby, once wrote, "The church, the Body of Christ, is always changing. We take our form in the particular local and global environment of our particular period of history. We bring our society, the total global community, to God’s vision of newness, and we ask what would Jesus want his community to look like now, against this global backdrop."

The prevailing culture is not the enemy, simply our context. Culture had seen great shifts during the 1920's when church attendance patterns were shifting as well. Interestingly–as far as I can tell, Christian fundamentalism was simultaneously on the uptick. Fundamentalism offered the most strident reaction to those cultural shifts (consider the Scopes Monkey Trial). The primary concern of the church is not whether to condemn or acquiesce culture. Rather, it is to discern how to announce and demonstrate the Gospel in a particular context.

More later.