Monday, March 31, 2008

Easter Challenges

On the evening of Easter Sunday, we hosted a New Light Easter Celebration at our house, complete with a yummy potluck dinner, an Easter egg hunt in the backyard, and worship. The food was great, and it was really awesome to have the two small groups (the Monday night group and the Thursday night group) together. Three people brand new to our community came, too, so it gave them a chance to meet others who have been part of New Light for a while.

The Easter egg hunt was fun. My neighbor saw me hiding all the plastic eggs out in the backyard and hollered over the fence, "Now that's what I'm talking about!" I don't think he expected to see a dozen adults and a couple of teenagers fanning out, scooping up the goods.

When we came inside, of course we enjoyed the chocolate and jelly beans inside, but first we had everybody put aside all the yellow eggs into a separate basket. Later in the evening, we introduced "The Great Easter Egg Challenge" and had everyone pick a yellow egg from the basket. Inside each egg, besides a couple of pieces of chocolate, was a little slip of paper, on which we had written a challenge. As we went around, each person opened his or her egg and shared the challenge.

Here's a list of some of the things people are doing between now and April 20:
  • Read all four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).
  • Have a conversation with a homeless person.
  • Spend an hour in prayer one day a week, either in one sitting or up to three 20-minute sittings over the course of one day.
  • Visit a church, synagogue, or mosque to experience worship in a tradition other than your own.
  • Make a sacrificial gift to help care for people in need through United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) or another worthy organization.
  • Talk to a friend, co-worker, family member, or neighbor about your faith.
  • Invite a friend, co-worker, family member, or neighbor to New Light.
  • Forgive someone against whom you have a grudge. If this requires great interior work, take a significant step towards forgiveness.
  • Practice at least one random act of kindness a week, for the next four weeks.
  • Fast from something important in your life in order to make more space for focusing on God.
  • Write at least three letters to legislators about an issue(s) of justice that you are concerned about.
  • Over the next four weeks live as simply as possible; limit your purchases to the essentials.
We have covenanted with each other to support one another and pray for each other as we undertake these challenges. At our next monthly potluck dinner/ worship gathering, we'll spend some time sharing experiences.

More about my own challenge later...

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Church & Starbucks

Now here is a compelling question: What if the church took the night off? by Dave Ferguson, lead pastor of Community Christian Church in Naperville, IL and author of The Big Idea: Focus the Message, Multiply the Impact.

Check it out!

Friday, March 21, 2008

A Prayer for Good Friday

Shock Me with the Terrible Goodness of this Friday

Holy one,
shock and save me with the terrible goodness of this Friday,
and drive me deep into my longing for your kingdom,
until I seek it first —
yet not first for myself,
but for the hungry
and the sick
and the poor of your children,
for prisoners of conscience around the world
for those I have wasted
with my racism
and sexism
and ageism
and nationalism
and religionism,
for those around this mother earth and in this city
who, this Friday, know far more of terror than of goodness;
that, in my seeking first the kingdom,
for them as well as for myself,
all these things may be mine as well:
things like a coat and courage
and something like comfort,
a few lilies in the field,
the sight of birds soaring on the wind,
a song in the night,
and gladness of heart,
the sense of your presence
and the realization of your promise
that nothing in life or death
will be able to separate me or those I love,
from your love
in the crucified one who is our Lord,
and in whose name and Spirit I pray.

— Ted Loder, Guerillas of Grace: Prayers for the Battle

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

More inspiration from England

Besides time at the Urban Theology Unit, we’ve also spent part of a day in Bradford, a once affluent but now struggling industrial city with lots of poverty and issues of race relations, also home to the University of Bradford and Bradford College. We visited the Desmond Tutu House on the edge of the campus, led by Rev. Chris Howson, the Anglican Diocese of Bradford’s City Centre Mission Priest, who is doing some amazing things to help students and other young people explore issues of spirituality and become active in the struggle for peace and justice. Chris is well known in the UK for his involvement with Fresh Expressions, which has parallels with our emerging church movement. We’re incredibly thankful for his generosity in sharing his time, even taking us on a (very cold and soggy) walking tour of Bradford, with a stop at the German Church in Bradford (once a Methodist Chapel) for midday worship.

The center itself and its ministry are impressive. They have a gathering room, called Peace Chapel, used for worship, but also for meetings of groups promoting peace, justice, environmental awareness, and other causes compatible with their mission. Worship gatherings at the house include SoulSpace (a relaxed, participatory, inclusive gathering) on Sundays at noon and JustChurch (focusing on issues of peace, justice, and human rights) on Tuesday evenings. We ended our visit with a great lunch at Treehouse CafĂ©, housed in the Desmond Tutu House but run by the Bradford Centre for Nonviolence – a smorgasbord of local, fair trade, organic food, coffee, and desserts. We learned a lot and left with plenty of ideas. It was a very inspiring visit. (See further notes about this visit on my New Light blog.)

We took advantage of a free day on Thursday and drove about 90 minutes to Epworth, childhood home of John & Charles Wesley (and their 12 or 13 siblings). We saw the Anglican Church where their father, Samuel Wesley, was the rector for 39 years. As a priest and leader of the early Methodist movement, John Wesley was banned from entering this church because his ideas were so controversial and radical… a good reminder that God sometimes moves us to witness and work for change, and sometimes that means doing and saying things that are against the mainstream of society and even against the authorities of the church! Not to be defeated, John Wesley preached from other places in the town, including his father’s grave outside the church. The rectory where the Wesleys lived for almost 40 years was closed for the season, but we got to walk around it (and peek in the windows), and around the village, which was quite a thrill. We also saw the Wesley Memorial Methodist Church and several other historic sites in Epworth.

Rachel is taking everything in stride! She is sleeping well and entertaining everyone, and when it really counts, she’s even settling down and looking at her books contentedly so we can listen to speakers and participate in sessions. We are thankful.

Reporting from England

We are several days into our England trip, and I haven’t been able to post as I had hoped because our access to the Internet is much less consistent than we had anticipated. I’ll try to encapsulate some of our experiences briefly.

Sheffield is an interesting city. Though diverse in other areas, the sections we have been exploring are largely Muslim, evidenced by Muslim businesses, mosques, and people in Muslim dress everywhere on the streets. Long-time Sheffield residents have no doubt seen many changes over the years!

And here, in the Sheffield neighborhood of Pitsmoor, in the center of Muslim life, is the Urban Theology Unit, where we’ve spent much of our time since arriving on Monday. We have found our work with Rev. Dr. John Vincent to be quite helpful as we continue to sharpen a vision for ministry in Portland. The vision is emerging – quite possibly to include a coffee shop/ laundromat in the Portland neighborhood where we’ve begun to focus our sights – not for the sake of providing coffee or laundry facilities per se, and certainly not because we’re looking at profit potentials, but specifically as a means of developing community in a neighborhood that lacks such amenities and thus lacks stability. Most important, we’re realizing, is to ensure a low threshold, so people in the neighborhood will enter our doors. Then once they’re there, we can practice Christian hospitality, begin to develop relationships, and form community. Our facility might include meetings spaces, a chapel (of sorts), space for children, eating space (of course!), art on the walls, community bulletin boards, and possibly performance space for concerts and the like. We can imagine all sorts of groups – reading groups, discussion groups, worship gatherings, and interest groups focusing on peace and justice issues, for example – that we might form to gather people together. This kind of space would also provide opportunity for a variety of worship gatherings – mid-week Taize worship, traditional worship, more quiet & reflective worship, and possibly worship with musical styles appealing to younger adults as well. Our goal in this proposed center is not to provide social services, and not necessarily to “do good things” for people in need, but rather to form authentic community, striving always for mutuality in relationships.

But these our just our ideas, which sound great in the abstract. First, though, we’ll need to begin by listening… listening… listening to the people who are already on the ground, who call this neighborhood their home, who know their own needs much better than we know them as outsiders looking in.