A Place Here

Everything happens here.

While it’s true things happen over there too, someone is already occupying that spot. I’m physically here instead. Even Jesus was in one place and time when on earth, at least before his body was resurrected. But neither you or I have one of those yet. He just moved really fast and would suddenly appear or disappear, but I digress.

It’s important to care about “over there” since what happens there affects over here. But not just for my sake. It’s important because it’s happening at all, whatever it is. Justice is justice and anything else is not. I like to play like it doesn’t matter, when it’s “over there” or even here for that matter, but that doesn’t change its wrong and right.

In my world, everything happens here. What I eat and drink comes from or ends up here and sometimes it’s a little of both. What I wear I’ve purchased here or has been delivered to my doorstep. How I get around happens here too, whether in a ton of material and some oil and gasoline, or on a much lighter and more agile metal frame with two wheels, or on my feet in sandals designed hundreds of miles from here near a Southern California beach and made in–well, in who knows where? But I think that’s part of the point.

And there are other people here, too. Quite a few actually. So we interact in the same place, minimizing or maximizing our interaction. We share the same roads, similar vantage point, perhaps the same restaurant and coffeehouse. Sometimes we share the same living room, kitchen, and bathroom. Not always in the exact same place, but like the bathroom, if you’re there I’m most likely not, however I’m nearby and will surely use it later. Either way, I’m here and so are others. And for me that place is Sacramento, Midtown to be exact. So what others do here matters; what others don’t do matters still.

Whatever we do, we’re doing it from here. Will our interactions bless or do good for others including ourselves in this place? Will our behavior slowly estrange us from our neighbor and cause community dissension and bad situations to continue?

What we do may be significant to this place in our community next. The same goes for what we won’t do.

Because everything happens here.

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Year End

Should I really write and end-of-the-year blogpost? I’m not sure, but it looks like that’s exactly what I’m doing. I’m compelled by a desire to not not communicate. Lord knows I don’t write here enough anyways.

These have always seemed weird to me, the quick rewind over the last year or a note in reflection. If one is to live into the moment, slowly and centered as God seems to direct for one’s path, it seems odd and inappropriate to recount the past and tell you about it. I mean, you have your own life to review and live into and so do I. It might not be safe for me to share, anyways. But I’ve realized this year how structure and set moments to plan and reflect are really helpful. Even someone kicking things off by sharing their own thoughts first is a good thing.

Here’s what I’ve seen this year:

• Relational growth and depth among people in the communities I participate in, from The WordHouse, Faith Presbyterian Church, the Sacramento Presbytery and Old Soul coffeehouses, to name a few.

• For those who have “moved on” for work, career, and family reasons over the last few years the bonds we have because of our sharing in Christ (whether we have intentionally or not) continue despite the less frequent get togethers or traditional participation in our faith communities.

• I became ordained. After being officially recognized and called as a Teaching Elder, I still have a difficult time describing the gravitas of it all.

• My relationship with my wife continues to grow and deepen. For her I am very grateful.

This life is mystical. Really. We can plan and strategize, and that can be helpful, but we really don’t know what’s going to happen. This is why life is so beautiful, especially for those who are after God’s heart, as they say, or whatever is really true and noble in life.

As you reflect on your own 2013 calendar year, may you stay connected to who you are and go after a life truly worth living in 2014, for your sake, God’s sake and for the sake of our larger community.

Hope to see you next year.

So… What’s This Churchy Thing You’re Doing?

The Word House

Over the course of this year I’ll write a few articles for The WordHouse’s main partner congregation, Faith Church. In Faith’s newsletter I’ll generally discuss my thoughts on missional community. Why, How, What, etc, etc. Here’s the first one:

The main goal of The WordHouse is to form Jesus‐inspired community. We provide place and space for people to share their hearts. We are part worship service, part fellowship hour and small group, and part outreach/service activities and events. Our Community builds relationships with people to know Christ’s love, experience forgiveness and reconciliation, and participate more fully in God’s kingdom here on earth (and so we might learn and grow from them, too). We host worship gatherings in the familiarity of a living room. We sponsor a Theology Pub, a diverse religious conversation over a drink, once a month at a pub or coffeehouse. We serve the poor and oppressed in our own communities. We are forming new communities within The WordHouse so people can be in intimate, neighborhood groups for worship, discipleship and fellowship, and share in the gifts God has given us. We encourage one another to be honest to God and others, allow questions and doubt, and offer respect as well as accountability. We break bread, meet Jesus in Scripture, share our joys and concerns, pray, play and worship together.

Although many churches are closing, declining in membership and participation, and connecting less and less with younger adults, the mission of Christ’s church does not need to change. A recent Pew Research poll found that an increasing number of young adults (currently 1/3 of adults under 30) are “religiously unaffiliated today”. Only a few short years ago, 4 out of 5 worshipers in PC(USA) churches were over 45 years old, and the number of children has steadily decreased. But how we do Christ’s mission does need change, at least for some of us. The WordHouse church/ministry is a response to Christ’s call on our lives to be a ministry of community and a means to address some of the reasons many people might not have a church community.

UNCO West #unco12

Design by Ryan Kemp-Pappan, @rk_p

Earlier this week I participated in UNCO or #unco12, if you follow along on Twitter, on the west coast at San Francisco Theological Seminary in Marin County. UNCO is short for unconference. So, instead of people attending a conference lead by experts, this organization facilitates participants to draw up from themselves and within the gathered body, in real life and on social media, what needs to be shared, taught, and taken away. This unconference relies heavily on the Holy Spirit to stir up among the people, drive what happens and then guide their steps. It’s as if the over-riding belief is that the two entities are so intertwined  – Holy Spirit and people – it is difficult to distinguish where one begins and the other ends.

As someone who is enraptured by God to help form, support and be a part God’s kingdom in and through community, I am bursting with joy over UNCO. This is a laboratory that takes seriously God’s desire to work among God’s people – which is all people, since all are created – to experience what God desires for those made in God’s image – namely grace, peace, and justice.

Over the first night people shared on a dry erase board what they wanted to discuss and explore. We worshiped and invited God’s presence to move among us. The next morning we distilled the ideas people wrote down into breakout sessions and scheduled them throughout the day. After spending several hours – if you chose to go to each slated time slot – sharing our hearts and listening intently to one another, we enjoyed one another’s company (again) over beer, wine, orange juice and Coke Zero. For many, this communal and relational bonding went well into the night and into the morning on both nights. Sleep, what sleep?

Our last day at #unco12 was spent distilling even further the discussions that gained the most traction, in which folks agreed there was some sort of action worth pursuing at the time. One group worked on fleshing out an ecumenical database of churches and individuals interested in or currently doing innovative ministry (read: whatever innovative ministry means to you) which could be searchable by location and key word entry. Another group set some groundwork setting up a peer-to-peer resource production house. This organization would offer a platform for resources online to be provided by fellow church workers, as well as produce materials for purchase which are currently scarce or hard to come by, in areas like bi-vocational ministry and other current church education and culture issues. And even another group spent time looking at current structures and what it would mean to inform and resource bi-vocational and alternative forms of ministry. As you can tell, there is a lot of overlap. But that is the beauty of coming together and seeing what God is doing in our midst, particularly amongst our individual struggles and difficulties.

What will become of these actionable ideas? Who knows really (Okay, yes, God does). The course of these “take-aways” may alter over time… and they might not even happen. But that’s alright, and in some ways it might not even be the point. For faith and the Kingdom of God is a sacred mystery, one in which we, through the power of the Holy Spirit, faithfully partner with Jesus Christ in his reconciliation of the world. We ended our time by worshiping together, reading and contemplating 2 Corinthians 5 as well as singing “Awake My Soul” by Mumford & Sons and going out into the mess that God blesses.

The WordHouse – A Missional Community

Faith Presbyterian Church of Sacramento has been a huge supporter of my “ministry of community”. Below is an article I wrote for their April newsletter about my “house church”. As the Church continues to wrestle with how to be church in our day and age, maybe this will provide some more insight fuel. And, as a nod to Bruce Reyes-Chow and others who claim “old” and “new” expressions of faith need each other, The WordHouse is but one example.

Where do I begin? There are so many layers and inter-connections which have brought me to missional community (or house church) ministry. I am worried I would miss something in the telling, and I want you to get the whole story. But perhaps after reading, you’ll at least know in part… and after writing, I’ll know more as well. Suffice it to say, because of what God is doing my mind is blown and my heart sometimes feels like fire.

What has come way before me is now swirling in the wind and taking shape, luring me, calling me to come close and chase after it.

There’s a desire, perhaps even an awakening, in our God-made world to: be in unity even in diversity; express and realize all that we were created to be, even when what we are and what we will be remains sacredly mysterious; participate, produce and have an impact, just as others undoubtedly leave and will continue to make their mark upon us. We want – no, need – to be in community. As people “reborn from above”, we yearn for it. Sure at times we need solitude, but we are always brought back to community. Life in Christ is never solely, God and I. It is always part of God and We.

This is why a small group of friends, and friends of friends who soon became friends, started to come together weekly to intentionally be in community. To share the happenings of our lives, to support and encourage one another, to worship God and pray together, to experiment with necessarily creative ways in order to serve one another and our neighbors; we eat, discuss, pray and worship together. We break bread and tell God’s story as it unfolds in our lives. We meet in homes, in coffee shops and bars – for this is where the people are. This is why our fluid community exists. To make space for people to functionally expand and grow their faith and relationship with God through Jesus Christ in the midst of their normal, chaotic, everyday life.

This is why The WordHouse exists. We are created by God to fellowship and come together in ways that express and make known God’s loving and intentional kingdom. In other words, we are to be community.

The wind is blowing. It’s been blowing since the beginning of time. May the Spirit take us where it wills.

The Body Of Christ or The Whole Is Greater Than The Sum Of Its Parts

(photo credit: naturetourism.allegheny.edu)

When I was in Boy Scouts, every single summer we went on a 50-miler. Actually, we always hiked more like 55, and did so in one week. One year I was in a patrol with boys/teens, ages 11 to 16 – a diverse group of of young males at different stages of human development, as well as social “cool-ness”. One boy was young and chubby, two strikes against him, according to the older, Nor Cal surfer looking patrol leaders. On the trail, and sometimes the trail we blazed thanks to our compasses and topographical maps, it was natural for the older members to be in front and take the lead. Always leaving the slowest ones in the dust. The older teens would eventually stop, take a rest, and let the others catch up. But then quickly start up again, hardly giving the weakest any time to rest and recuperate.

Can we see this hiking “phenomenon” in other human endeavors, too? Perhaps in our churches, work places, and even in our relationships? If you’re, slow, weak, and unsure you get left in the dust. If you’re quick, strong, and sure of yourself, you get to lead.

Should we just say then, like Run DMC decades ago, “It’s like that, and that’s the way it is.”

But does it have to be? Is this really the best? Is this ultimately helpful and community-building and do we do more harm than good? If we want to live together, I believe it’s not and we do. What does it say about us if (or when) we follow the way of the so-called survival of the fittest? Do we really think this logical or natural order is best? Sure it’s gotten us this far, but do we really like where we’ve ended up? Do we truly live as Jesus lived if this is our M.O?

On that 55-miler that one summer our Scoutmaster basically forced us to put the slowest in the front. And while it was aggravating to the fittest in our patrol, together we got to the next lake, and before the sun went down. On the trail I remember looking at what turned out to be dark brown duff, green trees, and blue sky just above the barely tree-lined ridge. It was a beautiful sight. And I had time to notice and enjoy what already was, because I had to slow down a bit. I also think the slowest got a little better in shape, both mentally and emotionally, because we hiked as a whole, not as individuals.

A New Retreat

A couple weeks ago The WordHouse, the missional community I pastor, went on a retreat. It was, really, a vacation with friends. The weekend was a lot more casual than the more programmed church retreats I’ve participated in and even led.

We rented a cabin in the heart of a small, old foothill town near the Sierras in California. We planned some, and I prepared with others before we left, but when we got there our weekend unfolded before us as we decided what we wanted to do. We talked and ate, played with and cared for one of our community members (an 18 month-old baby), explored Main Street, particularly the bakery/coffee shop, drank wine from a local winery’s tasting room, and set up two prayer stations and sang worship songs accompanied by an acoustic guitar.

In retrospect, we could have planned more and had a firmer schedule. And we’ll do some more of that next time. But we can’t lose the flexibility and freshness of choosing what we’ll will do in each God-given moment, what we’ll talk about over lunch, where we’ll walk to this time, and decide as a community what the community wants to do.

Raise your glass to retreating with friends!