Rss

Archives for : December2017

Stranger in a promised land…

all who wander are not lost

I wrote briefly about At the Gate and my longing to be part of that community. There is something about it that is comforting and familiar to me. And I know Joelle well enough to know that this community will be stewarded well. The group of people who have plugged in to At the Gate are amazing. There is good stuff going on there and a large part of me craves being a part of that at any level.

Over the past several months I have been feeling a strong pull in a completely different direction. There is a faithful community that has been stretching me and challenging me in ways that I have never experienced  before. It is a community that has a core set of practices that are new to me. But they are beautiful practices that have begun to form my faith in new ways. It is a generous community full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. It is filling a space in my soul that has been empty for a long time. And in that way it is refreshing and life giving.

The challenge for me is that as positive as this community and its shared practices have been in my life, I am a foreigner there. I am excluded from much of the liturgy. In a very real sense, I find that I am a stranger in a promised land. It is difficult for me because this exclusion flows only in one direction. Following one of my favorite theologians, I respond to this exclusion with the will to embrace. So I find that in some parts of the liturgy I am swimming in a different lane. Two primary examples can illustrate this tension. First, while the community recites together the Nicene Creed, I follow along privately in my own space by silently reading the Apostle’s creed. Second, while the practices do feed me spiritually, to be faithful to their own convictions, they withhold from me their primary food. There are other practices that I just do not know well enough yet to join in. So there are moments where this beautiful, faith forming community is a bit de-centering and centering at the same time. But they are happy to generously bless me, and (while it probably does not mean much to them theologically speaking,) I bless them right back.

One of my favorite things of this community of faith is that one of the pastoral stewards shares a last name with my favorite missiologist and he has the same passion for missions and bringing the redemptive work of God into the lives of those he ministers to. I believe that the more time I spend practicing with this community, the more my own faith will be rebuilt and renewed. But that is the topic of another post for another time.

 

East of Eden, a long way from Ur…

Acts 3:1-10 

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon. Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money.  Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!”  So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them. 

Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”  Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong.  He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.  When all the people saw him walking and praising God,  they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

 

Almost a year ago, I sat in a living room of a house in my neighborhood with my friend and ecclesial dreamer, Joelle. She has been plotting goodness, planning, and preparing to steward a new community of faith called At the Gate. She has a beautiful vision of what this band of faithful traveling companions can look like and it is compelling. It is the first local gathering I could see myself participating in since I became displaced from my previous church. The people in that room were diverse, passionate, hopeful and hungry for something beautiful. A place where broken people could gather and find healing. A place where those at the gate could encounter the redemptive power of God at work.

I left that night with mixed emotions. I was happy that something like this was starting to take shape literally in my own back yard. And I was excited that the people in the room were generous and open and practiced intuitively the Will to Embrace.  But I had a lot of turmoil in my own life that prevented me from leaning in fully. I felt like I was so close to returning to a faith community that I could see it. It was right there within reach. But like Adam and Eve after being expelled from the Garden, close was not good enough. I could reach, but I could not touch.

That night we read the text from Acts that records the healing miracle and people commented about all the things that gave them hope as they read or heard the narrative. But there was one thing that stood out in my mind. The text tells us that this man who was lame from birth was carried to the temple gate every day. He was there often enough that after the miracle happened “all the people saw him… and recognized him…”  It occurred to me that as often as Jesus and his disciples went to the temple, they may had encountered this man before. And if not them, surely all the people who recognized him had passed him numerous times. But they were so busy that they never took time to meet him and bring him in. Or better yet, break open the box that contained their religious practice to meet him where he was, day after day, begging for something. Until the day of the miracle, he was invisible. East of Eden like so many of the rest of us.

One of the things I love about Joelle is that she wants to make At the Gate a place that breathes the life of God. On the inhale, all are welcome to enter, no matter the state of brokenness they may find themselves in. And on the exhale this community has serious plans to take the redemptive and healing work of God into the community in which they live. I would love to be a part of this in whatever ways possible. But choices I have made in my own life make full participation in this community difficult. I don’t see this as a bad thing. Sometimes we wait for a long time at the gate, waiting for a miracle that never comes. Sometimes we need to be pulled out of our comfort zones. Like Abram leaving his home environs of Ur, sometimes we need to be called out to find a better miracle, even if it means wandering around in a desert for a while.

I intend to support Joelle and the At the Gate community in what ever way I can. And I thank her and her pastoral vision for fanning the embers of my broken faith back to a healthy glow. And I am excited to see what wonderful and amazing things God has in store as I embark once again on the Way.

Falling into the wagon…

It has been a very long time since I have written in a public space. It was a discipline and a practice that I used to enjoy very much. I spent a lot of time in the past sharing mad ramblings about ecclesial dreams. I wrote about things that I found interesting, enlightening and informative about church. The planning, practice and participation of it. The role of pastoral stewards. The challenges of creating space for two or three gathered in the name of Jesus Christ enabling his presence to be there in the midst of them. The connections I saw between Gospel and the practical out comes of gift culture, creative commons, and open source communities. I found satisfaction and contentment in thinking about these things and sharing them with others.

It has been several years now. A lot has changed in my life. Faith communities I used to belong to no longer exist. Personal choices I have made pulled me in too many directions to feel like I could contribute anything at all to the conversation, much less anything meaningful. I used to tell people that I had fallen off the ecclesial wagon and as time went on I was just too far behind to even try to catch up. One of the mysteries of living into a traditioned story, like the life of following God in the way of Jesus, is that you can take the boy out of the church, but you can never take the church out of the boy.

So here I am. At a different stage in my life. Different circumstances. Different convictions. Different geography – both literally and figuratively. And lately I have found that my old ecclesial dreams are being reawakened. I am feeling a new sense of hope, peace, joy, and love. This Advent season I discover that the embers are still burning. I have found myself loosely connected to some things that are making me think about church in new ways. And I am realizing that I never really fell off the wagon. I have only come to the awareness that the wagon is much bigger than I previously thought. And it is time for me to explore that a bit. And I think I am going to share some of my ramblings about ecclesial dreaming again. Stay tuned.