“We build on foundations we did not lay.
We warm ourselves at fires we did not light.
We sit in the shade of trees we did not plant.
We drink from wells we did not dig.
We profit from persons we did not know.
We are ever bound in community."

Rev. Peter Raible (paraphrased from Deuteronomy 6:10-12)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Monday Musings...

Hello and welcome newest readers! So glad you've stopped by. If you're so inclined, please leave a comment on anything that moves you or stirs your spirit. No pressure, of course, but it deepens the experience for all of us. 

Yesterday I preached a sermon called "Removing the Roof," a part of which I had posted as a draft earlier in the week (you can listen to the podcast of that sermon here.) I was experimenting with a different way to construct a sermon. I invited people to reflect on the draft piece I posted, and a bunch of you did. 

I appreciated all the comments; it deepened my thinking about the issues of commitment, boldness, and courage. And I can't stop thinking about this particular comment from Jessi Wicks: 
As so often happens, reflecting on the story (of a paralyzed man being lowered through a roof into a home where Jesus was), was I the healer, being sought out by those in need? I'm more inclined to believe I was the cripple being lowered through the gaping hole in the roof. My church community opened that hole in the roof, lowered me down so I could be healed.  
I love this. I love the reality that a community of faith can hold, heal, and bless us in ways we can't even anticipate or imagine. Often, our job is simply to show up, be authentic, and open-hearted. When a faith community is alive with "gratitude, compassion, hospitality, forgiveness, and hope" (see postscript), and we're invited to truly live and embody those values, look out - the roof might come off, we might get healed, we might help heal. 

If you're interested, the book I quoted from on Sunday in "Tattoos on the Heart," by Greg Boyle. It's a powerful, moving read. I highly recommend it. 

I'll be experimenting with this sermon writing process again in the future. Thanks to all who commented! 

PS: Phil Lund, Prairie Star District's Director of Faith Formation and Congregational Growth, recently gave a presentation to our staff and Board and shared the core values of "Gratitude, compassion, hospitality, forgiveness, and hope" as antidotes to the the driving forces of the consumer culture which are: "Greed, ego gratification, the need to be exclusive, guilt, and fear." I'll definitely be blogging more on this soon, but in the meantime, here's a piece that Phil pointed us to. 

The church is in the world to lift up a different set of values, yes?!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Ripping the Roof off the House - thoughts on this Sunday's Sermon (input welcome!)

NOTE: So I'm trying something new. I'm posting a couple of stories and thought sketches that I'm thinking about using in the sermon on Sunday. Here they are: 

In the Gospel of Mark, there’s a story that goes like this: Jesus is in a little village called Capernaum (just so we’re all on the same page here, Capernaum is on the North side of the Sea of Galilee (map here; scroll down). He’s in a house and there’s a huge crowd gathered. The doorways are full of people. He’s been preaching, teaching, and healing all day, and a massive crowd has gathered.
The house is packed.
Photo credit
The doorways are packed.
There are even people gathered around the house, trying to see what’s going on.
(It’s probably like a really popular concert or workshop that you've arrived late to...and there's lots of excitement and noise going on in the front, but you can't really see or hear much.)
So in this story, some folks on the outside climb up to the roof and pull off the tiles in order to lower a paralyzed man into the house, so Jesus can heal him. 
Maybe you know this story?
Truthfully, I haven’t thought about it much since seminary.
            But I’ve just finished a book called Tattoos on the Heart, by Father Greg Boyle, a Jesuit priest.  Greg Boyle is the founder and executive director of Homeboy Industries, located in Los Angeles, the gang capital of the world.  (Their motto and mission of Homeboy Industries is: "Nothing stops a bullet like a job.") Homeboy Industries provides jobs, tattoo removal, and much more, for former gang members.  
In one of the chapters, Boyle tells the story about the roof getting ripped off the house, so the paralyzed man can get to Jesus.  

             But before I dig into this story and why I think it’s relevant to us, let me suggest that first, we become "undone." Let me explain. 
             It seems to me that whenever we approach a story from the Bible (or any where else for that matter), we have to come “undone,” to let go of preconceived notions, of all that would prevent us from hearing the story in new, life giving ways.
We have got to come "undone" first…so that we can be “re-made”/”redone” in a deeper love and understanding, as the story works on us.

            As an example, here's a story about being "undone" from Tattos on the Heart.
“In 1987," Greg Boyle writes, "the church made the decision to have homeless and undocumented men sleep at the church. Once the homeless began to sleep in the church at night, there was always the faintest evidence they’d been there.
Come Sunday morning, we’d foo foo the place as best we could. We would sprinkle, I Love My Carpet on the rugs….but the smell always remained….and the grumbling set in, and people spoke of “churching” elsewhere.
             The smell was never overwhelming, just undeniably there…so we determined to address the discontent in our homilies one Sunday…So I begin with, ‘What’s the church smell like?’”
             People are mortified, eye contact ceases, women search inside their purses for they know not what.
                “Come on now,” I throw back at them, “what’s the church smell like?”
                “Huele a patas” (smells like feet), Don Rafael booms out. He was old and never cared what people thought.
                “Excellent. But why does it smell like feet?”
                “Cuz many homeless men slept here last night?” says a woman.
                “Well, why do we let that happen here?”
                “Es nuestro compromiso” (it’s what we’ve committed to do), says another.
                “Well, why would anyone commit to do that?”
                “Porque es lo que haria Jesus.” (It’s what Jesus would do.)
                “Well, then…what’s the church smell like now?”
                A man stands and bellows, “Huele a nuestro compromiso (it smells like commitment).
                The place cheers" (74).
                Stink, stank, smell. 
                Undone, to be redone in the authority and spirit of compassion, generosity, commitment. 

            Back to the story in the Gospel of Mark.
As Greg Boyle says, ‘Jesus is in a house so packed that no can come through the door anymore…so the people open the roof and lower this paralyzed man down through it, so Jesus can heal him. The focus of the story is, understandably, the healing of the paralytic. But there is something more significant than that happening here:
They’re ripping the roof off the place, and those on the outside are being let in” (75).         
            “If we love what God loves,” writes Greg Boyle, "then, in compassion, margins get erased…and we dismantle barriers that exclude” (75).
            There’s a simpler way to say this: compassion rips the roof off.
Literally, the roof had to be undone, tile by tile, so the circle of compassion could be re-done, wider than before. 


Obviously, I'm still working on this...it's no where near a final product..it's a work in progress. And because a sermon is a living thing, I'd love your thoughts and reactions to what's here, if you have a minute.

Here are some potential reflection questions to jump start your thinking: 

*How does this story speak to your life and or your faith? 
*What does commitment "smell like" in your life?
*What scares you about the kinds of commitments that kindness and compassion call you to?
*What makes you come "undone?" How are you different when you're put back together?

Thanks for reading and engaging! - Justin

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Family Ritual for Mealtime (Singing toward Gratitude)

This morning we had oatmeal and berries for breakfast, my wife and son and I. Before digging into our food, we held hands and sang the "Johnny Appleseed Song." Actually, it's a slight variation on that song. Our version goes, 
Oh, the earth is good to me, and so I thank the earth, for giving me the things I need, the sun, the rain, and the appleseed, the earth is good to me. Amen -- amen -- amen, amen, amen, AHHHHmen.
 (I've shard the longer, Disney version, below. It's not as robust or off-key as our version!)
Sometimes we sing the original version, belting out, "Oh the Lord is good to me," but mostly we stick with the earth. Our son knows the song by heart and when we sing it slow enough, he can sing along with us, or we'll pause after saying, "The earth is good to...." and he'll sing, "meee."

We love holding hands and seeing each other around the table and singing together. And it's a tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation in my family. (A really tender and sweet moment came last year on a family trip when our son was surrounded by parents, grandparents and great grandparents (and uncles and aunts!) and we all sang this song together. Part of the tenderness is that my grandfather is suffering from memory loss, but he knew all the words to this song, and sang with a smile and tears on his face. We all got a bit teared up, too.)

Anyway, our tradition is that after we sing, we ask, "What are you thankful for?" and then take turns saying what we're thankful for. Our son often starts, saying something like "I'm thankful for my mom and dad, and food, and books," and then he digs into his food. Sometimes he's more random in his gratitude list, and he has said some wicked funny things, too. (Like being really thankful for his "sister!" (Which he doesn't have - he's an only child!))

And then my wife and I then express our gratitude for people, food, Life/the Holy/God, family time, the gifts and blessings of the day, whatever it might be. 

It's a ritual that only takes a minute, but it changes the shape of the day and the meal, as we sing together, hold hands, and name the things we're thankful for. It is a precious moment I love and look forward to. And it's a daily reminder of how incredibly amazing and miraculous this planet is - how our very lives depend upon the dirt/the earth underneath our feet.   

Reflection Question: What are the rituals you do on a regular basis, with your family or otherwise? What practices and rituals help shape and ground your day?

P.S.: A quick shout and hello to some of the new folks who have been stopping by this blog! I suspect you visited us at the Lake Harriet Service on Sunday (here's a copy of the homily I shared, if you're interested) and were online afterwards wanting to learn more about First Universalist and Unitarian Universalism. Welcome! 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Practice of Listening and Slowing Down (aka: "Talking Chairs")

I ran into a friend yesterday in the parking lot of a local grocery store. I had just finished shopping (with lots of "shopping help" from our son!) and we trying to carry all the groceries to the car. Our friend gave us a hand, and on the way to the car, we were reflecting on how busy and harried so many of us feel, and how it's almost like a badge of honor to be busy (guilty as charged, at least some of the time!) We reflected on how wonderful it would be if we were able to shift things around in our lives so that we when someone asked, "How are you?" we might respond, "Fine. I've been really slow lately. Really slow."

That conversation reminded me of the importance of slowing down, and "letting our 'spirit' catch up with our bodies" (as an old mentor of mine once said.)

So this post is in that spirit of slowing down, in two parts: First, some 'slowdown' quotes that I find helpful and inspiring, and second, a sharing of a spiritual discipline my wife and I use in our relationship.

Quotes first. In her wonderful book, Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor writes, 

Barbara Brown Taylor
“Like many ambitious people, I had developed a dependence on adrenaline. I could get so much done when my anxiety was in the red zone that I learned to live right on the edge of panic, in that optimum zone between alarm and collapse...and as long as I kept moving quickly, there was a great deal I did not have to feel. Sadness and loss were slow movers, along with bewilderment and doubt. Every time I heard them moving behind me, I put on a burst of speed.”
And this, from author Parker Palmer, along the same lines (from Let Your Life Speak): 
Parker Palmer
“The soul is like a wild animal...tough, resilient, savvy, self-sufficient, and yet exceedingly shy. Just like a wild animal, it seeks safety in the dense underbrush, especially when other people are around. If we want to see a wild animal, we know that the last thing we should do is go crashing through the woods yelling for it to come out. But if we are willing to walk quietly into the woods, and sit patiently at the base of a tree, breathe with the earth, the creature we are waiting for may emerge..."
Both Barbara Brown Taylor and Parker Palmer are talking about slowing down, and making room for our inner life, our spirit, our "real" self to emerge...and be known, seen, heard, by another.

Here's a "slow down/get real" practice my wife and I use. We call it "talking chairs." And on a regular basis, we make time to sit down in our "talking chairs." It really doesn't have to be chairs, it could be the couch; but here's how it works: essentially, we sit across from each other, and give each other uninterrupted time to "check in." One person talks at a time. And there's no agenda other than letting that person talk about whatever is on their heart and mind; it might be about our relationship, parenting, our families, some grief we're carrying, or resentment; it might be things we want to apologize for, dreams that might just be starting to take shape that we want to talk about...or anything else.

The one who is talking has all the space and time they need to talk; the job of the other person in the chair (or one the couch) is simply to listen without interrupting. We try to leave room for lots of silence, because the soul is like a wild animal. It takes a while to emerge, to show up. It takes time to find the words to express what we're feeling, or to find the words for gratitude. (And it is crazy-wild how much of a backlog of stuff can get stored up, stuffed down, ignored...that will come out in a good talking "chair session.")

We don't do this "talking chair" thing perfectly, but we've learned that when we're busy, or stressed, or just feeling "off," or the world seems to be going crazy, we probably need to sit in the "talking chairs," open our hearts to one another, listen deeply, speak honestly, and slow down just enough to really reconnect with one another and clear the brush out of the way. Even if we thought we had nothing to check in about, by the end of our deep listening, our hearts feel lighter and laughter comes more easily.


How do you sustain and strengthen your key relationships? Do you have an equivalent to a "talking chair" process? What other practices do you have?

Friday, August 5, 2011

Digital Ministry and Why it Matters: An Interview with the Rev. Phil Lund, PART 2

Rev. Phil Lund, Director of Faith Development
and Congregational Growth for the
Prairie Star District 
Yesterday, I shared the first part of my interview with the Rev. Phil Lund and today I'm posting the second part. If this sparks thoughts or ideas for you, please comment - there's a lot of you "virtual people" stopping by and I'd love to know what you're thinking!

Phil, don't we spend enough time online already? What's the point of digital ministry? How do you ensure face to face/real life connections?

We may or may not spend enough time online already. The point is that this is technology that’s going to be with us from now on, and unless we learn to use it to help us get our message out, fewer and fewer and fewer people are going to find us. Because finding churches via the internet is mostly how it’s done these days. And the competition’s pretty stiff. In fact, I ran across this quote earlier in the year: “Liberal religion is always one generation away from extinction.” That wouldn’t have worried me five or ten years ago. But I can see it happening if we don’t learn how to use this technology well. As far as face-to-face connections go, that’s one of the things I love about the Faith Formation 2020 initiative. Yes, we provide folks with the opportunity to interact with us on a completely digital level. But we need to constantly be offering invitations to come join us in real life. And we’ve got to hang on to the one thing we can offer that people can’t get anywhere else in our society: a genuinely multigenerational community. If we lose sight of that, we’re just as likely to go extinct as if we ignore the need to use digital technology well.

Do you have suggestions/best practices for religious liberals just starting to use Twitter, or wanting to start a blog?

I’ve just finished a month long experiment as a social media lab rat, and I’ve found a lot of good resources which I’ll post on my blog soon (you can find Phil’s blog here.) In the meantime, I’ll say that congregations need a social media strategy, which the minister (if they have a minister) needs to be involved with. The strategy will probably require the use of some sort of team, which means using the pro version of something like HootSuite, which allows a team to track multiple social media streams, schedule posts, assign individuals to respond to particular tweets, etc. There are a lot of good posts that give newbies some good rules for the road. I feel blessed to have been mentored in this by the Rev.Naomi King (@revnaomi), who is a substantial presence in the Twitterverse, the blogosphere, and Facebook.

How can churches effectively use social media?

There’s only one way to effectively use social media. To broadcast your congregation’s mission, vision, and values. Sure you can use Twitter to tell folks what room the Social Justice Committee is meeting in tonight, but that’s just augmenting 19th and 20th century technology. Unless the congregation has something really significant to offer the community it’s in, you can blog three times a week, post on Facebook once a day, and send out tweets from morning till night, and it will all be, to quote Saint Paul, “as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” However, if your mission, vision, and values are clear, then why the heck would you want to miss the opportunity to tell folks who you are, what you believe, and what you’re doing. Social media may be the most effective way the church has ever had to get its message out.


So, dear readers - what is the message you're trying to get out in your churches? What is your mission, vision, and values, and how are you using social media to share them? What innovative, creative things are you doing? What challenges have you faced? What resources do you recommend? What insights do you want to add to this conversation? Jump in, leave a comment!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Digital Ministry and Why it Matters: An Interview with the Rev. Phil Lund, PART 1

Rev. Phil Lund
I’m introducing a new feature to this blog – the interview! Every few months, I’ll post a short interview with someone who is inspiring me with their ministry, or who I’m deeply thankful for, or who has shaped my life in some way.

Regular readers will recall that in my first blog post
, I mentioned that "The Well" was inspired, in part, by the Rev. Phil Lund, and the “social media ministry” he’s been involved in. Because of this work and his willingness to share what he's learned, Phil has become something of a mentor to me. 

I had the chance to chat with Phil recently, and he was generous enough to answer a bunch of my questions. Here’s the first part of our conversation:  

“Phil, I've heard you and others use the term 'digital ministry.' What does that mean and why is it important?"  

Actually, it’s a term that I’ve recently started using. For me, it’s sort of expanding on the Faith Formation 2020 initiative  notion of using digital media and web technology as part of a lifelong faith formation network. The idea is that a congregation needs to be doing two things: providing opportunity for people who are already part of your community to deepen their faith through digital media and web technology, and offer people who an not involved with our community the chance to do some spiritual seeking online, with multiple invitations to come in for face-to-face interactions. So you’re using the internet two ways: to augment the faith formation of friends and members, and to give newcomers a taste of what your congregation can do for them spiritually. Digital ministry expands that to include the entire ministry of the church. So it’s more than faith formation.It’s worship and social justice as well. Of course, as a faith formation leader, I consider everything we do in our congregations to be faith formation.

“Just a quick sidetrack here: What is 'Faith Formation 2020' and why is it important, as it relates to ministry and digital ministry?”

Faith Formation 2020 is an initiative of Lifelong Faith Associations (a Catholic group, by the way) that sought to answer these three questions:

1) How can faith formation flourish in Christian churches over the next ten years?
2) How can churches address the diverse spiritual and religious needs of people today?
3) What are the promising innovations that can guide faith formation in this decade?

Through a long process, they came up with 16 strategies “for designing the future of faith formation.” At the top of the list was this: Faith Formation using Digital Media and Web Technologies. Whether we’re talking about faith formation specifically or the ministry of the church in general, it’s clear that we can’t address the forces that are affecting religious institutions in the United States without digital media and web technologies. In other words, digital ministry is a must.

"What are some of the key things you've learned in the past year, as it relates to digital ministry?"

The number one thing I’ve learned is that most of our congregations are favoring 20th and even 19th century technology and media. That means we’re way behind here. There are congregations out there (mainline congregations, by the way, not just evangelical) that have full-fledged digital ministries that are far beyond anything UU congregations are doing. I’m thinking Darkwood Brew here. Just spend a few minutes checking out their website. It’s a ministry of an actual UCC church that meets in real life. This is their digital ministry. It is truly amazing. Having said all that, though, another thing I’ve learned is that you don’t need to do it all. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube—they may or may not be what a particular congregation needs. And when I say “what a congregation needs,” I mean, what a congregation needs to spread the word about their mission, vision, and values.

(Readers – stop by tomorrow for Part 2 of this interview. In the meantime, you can find Phil on Twitter @psdlund, or “Friend” him on Facebook.)