Category Archives: precarious

Relationships instead of Church?

Read this article from Kathy Lynn  Grossman of USA TODAY, “Relationships Are the New Religion for Many,” and tell me what you think. This is good Jacob’s Well conversation.Easter PostCard jacob's well 2007

I think the article’s observations are right on, the conclusion isn’t.              [It really reminds me of some elements of our message  yesterday. (3.24.2013)]

My analysis says that “church” has failed to deliver value or relevance to people at their gatherings (worship services and more) for so many decades that we now have whole generations who have no idea that the church might actually have any. What people still have is the relationships that once found amazing, empowering, loving context in being church, and so they gather around those relationships instead. And for the most part “church/religion/the institution” continues to gather those who are left around nostalgia for what doesn’t connect.

How will we teach those looking for more that there is more when so few are trying to reclaim what church can be?

Notes taken while re-inventing church – 04

Take God seriously. Really seriously. Take your theology less so. 

Wedges, squares or more. It's still pizza.

Wedges, squares or more. It’s still pizza.

This is heresy to some of my doctrinally-oriented sisters and brothers, but I don’t consider myself dogmatically-handicapped, just conceptually-flexible. Here’s the deal: our theology only describes what we know and understand about God, it doesn’t prescribe what God has to be like.

A little humility is needed here. I was just reading the last four chapters of Job in preparation for preaching and was reminded by God’s booming voice coming out of the whirlwind that even in our most profound moments, we don’t know squat. At our best we reflect back, in our limited, human way, what we pick up from God.

The theological pizza can be sliced in more than one way; wedges, squares or more, it’s still pizza. That doesn’t mean there aren’t better ways or more faithful ways to understand and talk about God, it just means that none of them ARE God. They are all human constructs trying to capture to something that they can only point at.

So what does that mean?

  1. Don’t let your theology or theological traditions limit your experience with God. Expect God to mess with them; stretch them; make you rework them. If you don’t think this applies to you, you’ve parked the car of your faith journey while the world is flying by.
  2. Be open to other people’s experiences and expressions of God. Their ideas don’t have to be ‘right’ (nobody’s are, remember!) to be an authentic voice for their wrestlings with God right now, and for you to learn something from.
  3. Value your doubts and tough questions and experiences as God’s way of helping you do #4.
  4. KEEP GOD BIG! Theology is a box, not the thing itself. We need its categories and explanations to be able to deal with and talk about God, but we need to remember that God doesn’t, can’t ever fit in it. So take the initiative yourself to find the bigness of God that breaks your system. This may be painful but you’re on the way to a breakthrough, not a breakdown!

Notes taken while re-inventing church – 01

What is Leadership today?

It’s not looking at the report of Protestantism losing it’s lead while the religion of None swells its ranks and saying, “Oh no, what can we do to get them back?”

Leadership is asking, each and every day, “How can we be church today?” and then trying to be it.

Do you see it NOW? from church to not-church

Laurie Goodstein reported on the Pew Research findings in the 10/9 New York Times (read it here) that protestants no longer make up a majority of the US population. What’s more, it is a rapidly changing trend. And it isn’t because people are switching churches. They are simply opting out.

The clanging bells and flashing lights of this warning might just get our attention this time. So, in case you couldn’t see it, hear it coming before, well… business as usual is coming to an end. We are staring face to face with the fact that what churches are doing is connecting with and engaging fewer and fewer people every year. And it isn’t because God has changed. People simply have not been experiencing sufficient relevance or value in churches to make them orient their world around them.

It’s time to get out from behind the safety of our institutions and doctrinal checklists and start being what we tried to define, describe and defend. It’s time to be the church. It’s time to make mistakes, build less, love more. It’s time to stop worrying about the orthodoxy of what we believe and how we do things, and to start risking the extravagance of living out love no matter what it looks like.

Maybe people aren’t leaving the church because they don’t believe in God, in fact the study showed that only a minority of those who have given up on church have also given up on God. They are leaving because they don’t see the church being big enough to hold what they believe God is. So they have left hoping to get a peek of God out in the immensity of the rest of life.

In case you were wondering, it looks like the stop arm is descending from the semaphore. It isn’t when or if things really need to change; it is time. Time to let God be BIG again. So big that God bursts the seams of church and we go spilling out all over the place. Those places all those people are. Those places where God already is.

Folks, this article… the way I see it, it’s good news.

What if… a Muslim spoke at Jacob’s Well the week bin Laden was killed?

May 2011 worship series - Jacob's Well | Minneapolis

This is a little too amazing to believe, but a Muslim is scheduled to speak at Jacob’s Well the week after bin Laden died and this opportunity has great potential for healing.

Jacob’s Well began a new worship series on May 1 that we call “What if…?” We think “What if…?” is the way God looks at the world and our lives. We have a God of possibilities and creativity, and likewise God has made us to be “What if…?” people. During these five weeks we are trying out some big what if’s, including, “What if religion united us instead of divided us?” And to do it we brought in a local Muslim leader, Abdisalam Adam, who spoke to the gathering at our Longfellow location last Sunday (May 1) and will be doing the same at our Field location this Sunday (May 8).

The purpose is to get a deeper understanding of another faith tradition and let that help us respect and learn from each other. Osama bin Laden’s death, and all the controversy surrounding that (see my last two blog postings, “Ought I rejoice…” & “Moral High Ground: Doing the right thing…), has opened a window for learning. What is Islam? Who are the people who follow it? Did bin Laden represent them? Even though Muslims no longer live half way around the world, but right in our own backyards, we see them as strangers rather than neighbors. What if we actually saw them as neighbors?

Here’s  a chance to make a little progress in that direction. Join us at Jacob’s Well Field this Sunday, 10:30, or watch for the audio or video of the service later through our website, www.jacobs-well.net.

[By the way, if you come to our Longfellow location you will hear Carla Barnhill, ABC-News runner up for their national advice guru, an amazing South Minneapolis citizen and thinker, co-present on “What if… love really did win?”]

Moral High Ground: Doing the right thing because it is the right thing after bin Laden’s death

Only one thing struck me more powerfully on September 9, 2001 than my numbness and sadness over the event, and that was the wave of sympathy and support the world had for the United States. Sure, we were still the global bad boys (you can’t be the biggest kid on the block and avoid constant criticism), but others with nothing but hatred had struck a low blow and the world didn’t like it. A window had opened. We had the moral high ground and a chance to move forward; pursuing justice, certainly, but also pursuing all of what makes our nation great. The world was suddenly and strangely moldable. Had we as a nation confessionallyadmitted that we had done things to fuel anger and resentment in some people and nations, and proclaimedthat this was now over, we could have used our considerable influence, creativity, wealth and new found receptivity to help shape a new world known for justice and equality, peace and cooperation. We could have starved the flames of terrorism. Instead we fed and fanned them.

We have another window of possibility now. It is not nearly as wide as the one ten years ago, nor will it stay open long, but it is open. Our expenditure of enormous resources and attention on pursuing Osama bin Laden has removed him as the figurehead of terrorism. While everyone knows that terrorism is far from over because of this one man’s death, the question is, “What will theU.S.do now?” Was bin Laden just one big block to knock over and we will continue to knock over more blocks until none remain? Or will we start something new in the world?

We have removed the leader of this movement of destructiveness and now we can replace it with a leadership of hope. We can turn to the places in this world where people feel that they have no choice but to lash out at the world, and we can create opportunity. We can go to the places where justice has no voice so that lawlessness is a necessity, and we can bring accountability.

I am not a political scientist; I am a person of faith who trusts in the power of what God is doing in this world. I am sure that my proposal is naïve and unpersuasive to those who are looking at the facts of the matter, but dealing with the facts of the matter has made our world less safe and more factionalized. It is the job of every person, community and nation to do what is right. Not only because it is good for oneself, but because it is the right thing to do. This is what it means to live in hope.

And we will discover that doing what is right for the whole world (and this doesn’t just include political powers, or even people, but creation in its fullest and most inclusive sense) will be in our national interest, creating the best world for us to live in as well.

Ought I rejoice over Osama Bin Laden’s death?

The news stations are all reporting that Osama Bin Laden has been killed and Barack Obama is expected to speak momentarily about it. The news reporter from whom I first heard the story stated that he thought he’d never be able to report this, and was (I’m not quite sure of his exact words) was very happy to be able to do so now.

I feel a little premature in saying too much since we know so little about what happened, but all the circumstances and the reckoning of the justice of such an act aside, the basic fact remains: a human being has died.

The Haggadah of the Jewish Passover Seder comes to mind as I hear this news. One portion of the Haggadah reflects on the Egyptian army that was drowned in the Red Sea as they pursued the people of Israel after their escape from slavery in  Egypt.  Their defeat is a basic and essential part of the history of the people of Israel. One would be tempted to rejoice at this point of the narrative because of the Israelites’ victory, yet lest this happen, Rabbi Hillel added some commentary to the Haggadah that is often remembered. He wrote that upon the drowning of the Egyptians the company of heaven began to celebrate, but God commanded them to stop saying, “Would you rejoice? Can you not see that some of my creatures are perishing?”

I do not mean to compare Egyptians to Muslims or Bin Laden, nor to make the cause of the Americans ‘holy’ like that of the biblical story. Neither do I intend to underestimate the pain and suffering of those who died in 9/11 or in the ‘war on terrorism’ since, nor their families who lost loved ones. I do not mean to say that Bin Laden should not have been killed, it seems that he was one for whom Jesus’ words were true, “all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” [Matthew 26.52] Nonetheless, it seems that the God I have learned to know, and love, is saddened at the death of God’s child, Osama Bin Laden. Just as God was saddened at the death of the person who died on the 84th story of the World Trade Center, and the firefighter, and the man who commandeered one of the planes that crashed into it. And every other person who suffers on this planet.

Ought I to rejoice? I rejoice that the hand of terrorism may have been weakened. I do not rejoice that a person has died, even if it was just, deserved or necessary. And I am more than a little troubled about the soul of our nation who seeks to draw the sword to bring about the kingdom we seek for ourselves.

ENDING POVERTY: Step 3 Sharing what is beyond sufficiency

Most people share from their leftovers, that means they don’t share much. The definition of ‘enough’ tells us we still need more. If that’s true, what are we going to share? It ends up being what we won’t miss. A couple bucks in our wallet (I use my cash card anyway), the change in my pocket (it isn’t really worth much after all), or maybe something that will be advantageous at tax time. The world won’t survive off the leftovers of those who can’t distinguish their need from their greed. The purpose of recognizing what is sufficient is that is allows us to choose what to do with the rest of our bounty. God has the life-giving idea that we share it!

We may want what is beyond our sufficiency, but others need it. Preventable forms of poverty and the illness, injustice, lack of opportunity, education and hope that come from it are just that – preventable. We can change them!

Sharing what is beyond sufficiency is also key because it isn’t only others in need who stand to benefit from our abundance. There are times and situations when it is us who need to rely on the abundance God has provided for us through someone else. When that time comes I bet we really hope that those others have understood and embraced the truth of sufficiency. What’s the best way of making that happen? Learning and practicing how to share what is beyond sufficiency ourselves right now.

IMPACT!

We’re trying to increase our income at Jacob’s Well right now. Frankly, if we don’t we’ll have to do some serious cutting. I’m not worried about it, I have the sense that the community is ready to respond and the initial contacts I’ve had with people have borne that out. But this situation has forced me to think long and hard about the whole ‘money raising’ side of the church. It is awkward, easily manipulative and insincere. When I am asking people to increase their giving I have the possible double motives of trying to cover my own salary and maintain the church that I am familiar with. I.e., ask others to sacrifice so I don’t have to.

Some good hard wrestling and guidance by other very smart and ‘in it for the longhaul’ Jacob’s Well folks have taken me beyond that. Now I realize that it is all about impact (beyond all the also true statements of the spiritually benefits of learning generosity and gratitude to God). It is so hard to keep articulating the vision over and against the need, that is the purpose over and against paying the light bill. But what I’ve discovered is that giving to the church isn’t paying salaries, buying or renting buildings, it isn’t purchasing materials or anything else, it is resourcing the church to have impact.

We want our churches to have impact – in our lives, our communities and in the world. When we give money (or anything) to a church that uses it responsibly, we are resourcing it for impact. You do not pay a salary, you provide a highly trained (hopefully), passionate and hard-working person to go to work and make things happen; to equip leaders, to prepare contexts for growing in faith, for changing lives, for unleashing the faith of others. Things that God wants to have happen and aren’t going to happen by people who are busy with their own occupations, worlds of knowledge and expertise and homes and families.

Who doesn’t want their church to have more impact than it does already? Who doesn’t understand that an organization that has the people and resources to make things happen is going to have that sort of impact? Who doesn’t realize that this takes investment, and that God’s gift of our wealth is what gives us the ability to make that happen.

Don’t apologize for seeking to prepare your church for impact. And don’t expect your church to have it if you are not investing in it aggressively with all that God has given you: your time, your ability, your money.

God exists, but does God do anything?

Okay, one of the driving factors for me to start a new church (read the Jacob’s Well story here) was that I didn’t want to have to choose between the existing options. This is true in nearly every aspect of the life of the church, but the one I am writing about here is the real and active presence of God. On the one-side you have people who see God everywhere. God is responsible for all the good stuff that has happened to them, and for getting them out of all the bad stuff. Strangely, this God wasn’t responsible for the bad stuff The precarious walk between the optionsin their lives, except for helping good stuff come from it. But this God is often seen behind the bad stuff that happens to other people as a sign of judgment on them. This is deus ex machina, the game playing God. Sorry, can’t do it.

On the other side is a tradition that has rationalized God so thoroughly that God has (as in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) disappeared in a puff of logic. God still exists, and is a wonderful force for good in the universe, but any suggestion of just where or when makes people very uncomfortable very fast. I guess I’m looking for more.

So, I don’t want to choose between those two options. I feel like God is an active force in my life and in our world, but I’ll be the first to admit that it is pretty difficult to pin it down. It is a faith thing. My experience with God can be very compelling for me, but it is for me. You need to have your own experiences that are compelling for you.

When churches just get good at being churches (which is quite possible) and lose the active sense of God – a real, credible, respectable and inspired sense – they are in danger of losing their soul. It may as well be another club that offers good things for life; not the stuff that changes life by turning it upside down and inside out. By the way, an active God doesn’t just turn people’s lives upside down and inside out, but does that to churches too! So I asked the Jacob’s Well Board, which is responsible for the well-being of our community, to spend some time thinking about how God is active in their lives. I gave them each a composition book and asked them to start keeping track of where God was showing up.

They were pretty good sports about it, it seems. But I admit it isn’t an easy assignment. Not as hard as making our budget balance, but pretty hard. It is going to take some thinking, and soul searching. I know that I have to spend a fair amount of time just thinking about what it means that God is active in my life before I start writing where God is actually there. But that’s me. And I’m hopelessly cerebral and skeptical and all that fun stuff that constipates faith.

So there is God Sighting #1.  My intellectual approach to life has had its veneer irreparably cracked to let God in. God did it. God does it. My heart knows God and teaches my head. It may not seem like a lot to you, but it is pretty clearly God’s work to me.

More Active God Coming… the dump truck of affirmation, and the desperation of Haiti. Stay tuned.

Oh, and thanks for reading – I’d appreciate comments.