moving again!

January 10, 2009

so, the time has come for me to switch platforms yet once more. hopefully this will be the final time.

you can now find me at thesagelyblog.blogspot.com

i don’t have any major complaints against wordpress.  just a basic inability to get it to do exactly what i want when i want. plus this makes my marriage not a split relationship–cindy and i will both be on blogger now.

a fond farewell with high hopes to see you all again soon! hugs and kisses…

pages?

November 8, 2008

I’ve just discovered the pages feature of wordpress.  I’m a fan.  I hope to use this features to post some of my recent musings on how we struggle to live out the church today.  Check it out above at the Manifestos tab.

“What do you need?”

October 14, 2008

I listen to a lot of NPR now.  The radio’s usually tuned to WBEZ while I commute from home to school to home to work and back.  I’m discovering a lot more about politics, economics, and the like (albeit–as my dad likes to remind me–through a public radio lens).

This morning a feature caught my attention.  In the midst of news and commentary about yesterday’s upsurge in the Dow and speculation about Bush’s impending announcement of the govt’s taking stakes in commercial banks, a two-minute piece about the effects of the economic downturn in a hard-bitten California desert community really stood out.

The piece sketched the life of the working poor and out-of-work community through the first-person narration of an occasional commentator whose name escapes me.  She echoed her neighbors complaints about outrageous gas prices and the difficulties of making a minimum wage paycheck stretch for a week’s worth of food.  She told the story of her own escape from the welfare system only to brought back into through the last months’ events.  At one point she observed that people in the town could very well be suspicious of one another, defensively protecting what little they’ve managed to scrape together.  But instead, they plainly ask one another, “What do you need?”  “Arrogance,” she said, “gets burned off in the desert town’s 109-degree heat.”

Our churches need to show this same plain, simple-minded humility, especially (though not by any means exclusively) in the face of the financial difficulties facing the majority of people in the world right now.  Instead of ostentatiously clanging our charitable contributions into the offering plate–drawing attention to ourselves–we need to take deep into our hearts our common plight:  we are each one of us somehow enmeshed in this death system; even if we don’t feel its toxic effects at this moment, our time is coming.  We need to turn to one another, asking, “What do you need?”  We must seek an interim ethic of survival, of getting-by while we daily pray Come, Lord Jesus.

starting church

October 10, 2008

The past month has been really quite full.  It’s seen a lot of changes.  I’ve started seminary, refreshing my stale greek and hebrew, putting in a couple of sleepless nights hashing out my own synopsis of what preaching is biblically.  Seminary is a forty-five minute drive north of here (and a 90 or so minute drive on the return trip!).  That’s ratcheted up the degree of tension on my schedule.

A bigger change, however, occurred on September 5.  A month ago I signed onto a project with a church located in Chicago’s southern suburbs (Bolingbrook, to be exact).  The church is an old church (the second oldest in the Chicago area, according to the plaque in the history room).  It’s full of families that have lived in that community since it was still dirtroads and cornfields instead of chain restaurants, big box stores, strip malls, and an Ikea.  It’s a sweet Presbyterian congregation that reminds me much of my days at Cedarville United Presbyterian Church during undergrad.

But it’s also a church that hasn’t purposefully changed with the community.  It has an aesthetically beautiful, large building that is awkwardly empty during most the week.  This, I surmise, was part of the initial impulse to create my position.

I am the new director of young adult ministries.  At this point, I don’t think anyone understands my role as just shoring up the giving-base of the church.  That’s certainly not the way I understand it.  Instead, the goal is to give birth to a young, growing christian community in the shell of an old one.

I’ve written much regarding my own thoughts on the church and churchplanting.  Consider this a first step in that direction.  It’s not quite real churchplanting.  This experiment is still located within a larger institution, its bound to it both to its advantage (resources) and to its disadvantage (institutional structure).  It’s in the suburbs, not my ideal location, sheltered from face-to-face contact with real human need and the power of the gospel.  I told one friend here in the city this when the experiment was still just a possibility.  He laughed incredulously and questioned whether God would have anything to do with the suburbs.  I understand where he’s coming from, but I’m confident that the gospel is like a mustard-weed seed–it can sprout up in the most unlikely places.

Yet this experiment in real-though-suburban community has the same gospel at its heart.  It’s trying to live out the message Jesus proclaimed:  that in him the kingdom of God has come and will come, that this should change entirely the whole of our lives as we wait in expectation.  I’ve tried to fill out what this gospel-vision means through three emphases: 

1. Community–I’ve already used the word a lot in this post, mostly because I think it’s so important.  The good news Jesus brings–the we can get in on what God’s doing because Jesus has removed the barrier of sin through his death and resurrection–shows up in most fullly in the communities his Spirit forms.  It shows up in the way we live with one another, the meals we eat together, the resources we spread around so everyone’s needs are met, the way we forgive and ask for forgiveness, the way we live and lay down our lives for the sake of each other.  I want this to be the basis of all this experimental church does.  Personal relationships in which we honestly love each other will be the building blocks to every meeting, potluck, get-together, service project, missions trip, etc. that we attempt.  In honesty, this is the area where we are currently struggling the most.  I forty miles north of Bolingbrook; it’s hard to create community in a place you don’t live.  Besides this, it is much more difficult to meet people in the suburbs than in the city–no bus stops or local mercados or crowds on the sidewalk.  Where do people congregate in suburbia?

2.  Incarnation–This theological category sums up in itself and stands behind many different facets of the way our community will live.  In Jesus, God reaffirms the imago dei.  He takes us back to himself in all our humanness, redeeming the places we live, the things we make–all the bits of culture and society that are honest and true and good.  On the other hand, Jesus goes throughout Galilee and then down to Jerusalem criticising and overturning the deep-rooted evil that permeates much of the culture we produce.  So in our community, we will affirm the good and the bad in the locality where God has redeemed us.  We will try to meet local needs, to write our songs and prayers in response to the life of our community, to support local farmers, businesses, artists, teachers, etc.  We also will affirm the redeemed imago by making space for creativity.  We will host open mic nights, put on art exhibitions, stage dramatic readings, etc.  I could say a lot more about this, but that wil be material for another post.

3.  Mission–The kingdom is something that spreads.  Even as we wait for Jesus to come and reign in fact, we live a promise of the kingdom that steadily takes over the world like weeds in a garden and yeast in bread dough.  Jesus calls those his friends who do as he says, who feed the hungry, clothe the naked, invite the homeless into their own homes, and visit those in prison.  He also tells us to teach people what he taught us, to make disciples.  This translates into community activism, sharing food with the homeless, fostering friendships that break class divisions, and participating and contributing to organizations that do the same.  While the good news is proclaimed in deed, we also will teach the gospel in words, reflecting on the ways that Jesus lives in all we do.

But I have a lot of questions about how to get from here to there.  How can I live in community when I live an hour from the church?  Even if I lived in the neighborhood, how do I draw people out of their comfortable seclusion to break bread together?  How do I foster creativity and even mission without creating just one more program for people to add to their schedules?  I have many questions.

Has anyone else tried to bring Jesus to the suburbs?  How did you start?  Thank you to anyone who give me advice.  I’m open to all sorts of ideas at this point.

The Way Things Work

September 2, 2008

For as-of-yet-undisclosed reasons, I find myself contemplating what a functioning church might look like.  Functioning is an important word in this sentence.  You see, I tend to think of churches primarily in terms of the way they function, the way they work.

Our neighborhood church meets at the most important intersection of our lives.  It is the place where the gospel is planted within us, where it begins to green and come to life and send up shoots toward the glorious Son, to grow in the baptismal waters of the Spirit, to feed on the true food of scripture, the place where the gospel cracks the concrete of our hardened souls and the place where it twists and contorts our twisted and contorted forms into the image of Jesus, God’s Son. 

To state this with a little more precision:  the church down on the corner (or in the storefront, in the strip mall, in the cornfields, etc.) works to change deceived, abused, self-hating, self-absorbed persons into the promise and the presence of the God’s kingdom.  Too often we understand our local churches as collections, like baseball cards or Beatles albums:  a church is a congregation of individuals whom God has saved.  This ignores too much of scripture.  If we hold the church to be a benign society of believers, we make static something God founded as dynamic, we make dead something the Spirit breathed life into, something Christ died to bring to life.

I don’t foresee much opposition to the claim that many of us first heard the good news in a church.  I certainly did, Sunday after Sunday in what was then the little Bozeman storefront of Fellowship Baptist.  Nor will many disagree that some people first hear the gospel somewhere else–at an evangelistic rally, a Good News Club, from a friend, over coffee.  But like my sometimes-hero Karl Rahner said, regardless of where we are when we hear it, the gospel relentlessly seeks its fullest expression in the church (the Roman Catholic Church, if one is a good Rahnerian!).

At heart, this post is really a segue to the same old discussion of “what is the Gospel?” that often crops up on this blog.  If the gospel meets us as individuals, then it will not matter where and with whom we live our lives.  We could be Christ-followers just as well chained in a cubicle as meeting with a cell church.  But if the gospel addresses us as persons (as it indeed and thankfully does!), then how can we resist as it blossoms into the most important elements of our personhood, our relationships?

I believe that the gospel Jesus proclaimed (and that we are called to proclaim) is about the coming near of God’s kingdom.  I cannot open scripture without finding that coming near concerns our present, personal relationships.  The gospel is not “spiritual” (note the quotes), it is not theological, it is not something we accept in our hearts and not in our hands.  It is something as real as crying babies, as everyday as money, as concrete as stale bread.

And if this is the gospel, then what can our churches be but the places where we live as if we’re living in the real, concrete, everyday kingdom of God?  Church is the place where we shed our false gospels of abstraction, of feelings and of doctrines, and begin to truly live in Christ.  Our shabby local churches are the places where the gospel begins to push through our soiled exteriors to grow us up into the people of God.

like a shotgun

August 21, 2008

I just got back from a marathon trip to my hometown Montana.  The days stretched long past sundown, round bonfires or behind the steering wheel; sleep fit in wherever I could cram it–curled up on an air mattress or in the back of my old Jeep.  I hiked up to mountain lakes, waded in a geo-thermally-heated river, practiced my fly-fishing on what very well may be the best trout stream in the lower forty-eight, held a good friend’s baby daughter, and ate breakfast at a different diner nearly every day.  Cindy even rode a horse!  My college-aged brother and sister are exploring what it means for them to be adults, and my baby sister is already in high school.  I am learning to relate to each of them in new ways.  Very good times.

I also faced down some old, genetic (perhaps) flaws, brought to the surface by the hectic pace my parents’ family keeps.  I like to think I am a pretty good friend, that I really care for people and go out of my way to interact them at a really human, personal level.  But sometimes I really mess up. 

For instance, this past week I planned to meet up with an old friend for coffee.  My schedule was quite full, what with fishing and family and all, but I plotted and schemed and thought I could squeeze in just this one more thing.  But with the way things in my genetic-line work, everything never gets done.  I try to fit too much in.  And one thing leading to another, I ended up flaking out on my friend, feeling quite awful about making her go out of her way for nothing and feeling quite disappointed that I wouldn’t get to hear about the great things God was doing for her as she follows where Jesus leads.

I could almost spin this positively, saying that my heart is bigger than my abilities, that I try to fit so much in because I care about these people so much.  And it would be true to an extent.  But my conscience gets upset at the part untruth, and it won’t let me leave it at that.

You see, I am an irresponsible scheduler, a culpably irresponsible scheduler.  There are so many good things that I want to do, people I want to talk with, so much coffee to drink; and I tragically try to shoot the moon every time.  The basic problem is that I don’t prioritize.  I need to pick a few of the good things to concentrate on, and save the others for another time or for other people to do.  It’s the monkey and the peanut jar.

I always thought this was just my style–I’m laid back, unplanned, spontaneous.  No one can fault me for my style, I thought.  But this last trip has changed my mind.  This is really a wrong decision, and it shows an undervaluing of people, a disrespect for their time and their expectations (not that I ever make plans thinking they’ll fall through; it’s just that I should be planning concretely enough to know if things will work or not!).  So this is my shotgun apology to all of you who have been let down by my bad planning.  I considered calling and leaving voicemails to each of you individually, but sitting down to make the list ended up being like picking out a pebble from a dam–quite overwhelming.  So trust that this is much more heartfelt and thought-out than html can communicate, and please forgive me.

On the evening after I had this revelation, I sat out in my Jeep in the driveway beside the corral, watching the sun sink behind the Tobacco Root Mountains.  I felt bad, really bad.  I began to realize that this a personal fault that has its roots in the family culture I like so much–the culture that gets out and does things, goes flyfishing on a river five hours away, goes for a dayhike before a dinner party, invites twenty-five kids over to their house for a twelve hour party.  Later, as I was unloading fishing gear and tents from the back of the pickup, I asked my fifteen year-old sister if she thought our family tries to do too much.  “I guess, maybe,” she replied.  I want to find a way to be laid back, adventurous, and concrete enough in my scheduling to show people I love and respect them.  That, perhaps, is part of the challenge Cindy and I face as we continue to form our own family culture.

cultivation

August 3, 2008

urban farming

urban farming

for the last few months i’ve been trying my hand at farming… well, at least at growing some green things. last summer, i think, i picked up $1 radish grow kit. it sat on a shelf for almost a year until late this spring i tore open the seed packet, broke up the prepackaged dirt pellet, and added a few teaspoons of water.

yesterday i noticed some flower buds on one of the three healthy (surviving) plants (i started with twelve… i may not be all green thumbs).

little flower buds

little flower buds

today the buds burst forth into radish flowers. i didn’t even know radishes grew flowers. i’m a pretty proud gardener.

little flowers

radish flowers

radish flowers