Why Being Spiritual may be More Important Than Being Religious by Rob Rynders

Grace cathedral San Francisco

Yesterday my friend Steve night posted a link to this video. It seemed so appropriate in our discussion of creating sacred space that I thought many of you would appreciate it too. Sacred space as someone comment yesterday is where the soul goes and that is very much reflected in this video. We need to get our souls (and our bodies) outside churches and into the streets to discover the sacredness already present in our neighbours and our neighbourhoods. We need to rediscover the sacredness of those third places where people gather.


Snapshot Inhabit 2012 – Andrew Wade

Inhabit is over. Great fun, great fellowship with friends old and new and much to think about. Here is a snapshot from MSA team member Andrew Wade. A great event to be a part of. Will let you know as soon as we have the dates for next year.

Why I Hate Religion but Love Jesus – A YouTube Phenomenon

This video that was posted just a week ago on Youtube has taken the world by storm with over 15 million viewings in just over a week. It certainly made me think and has obviously made others think too. I found the responses that I looked at as thought provoking as the original video and have chosen some of those I thought the most interesting, especially as they made me grapple with the video from diverse perspectives.

It has also provoked a number of responses from a variety of viewpoints. Here are some of the responses that I thought were the best or the most challenging at least.

This from a catholic perspective:

And here is a very compelling response from a Muslim

This a rather angry response from someone who does not seem to be too sure what he believes

So what do you think?

What’s Taking Root in Our Area: Announcing Pacific Northwest Sustainability Semester

This morning I was reading some of the posts on a new facebook group I have been added to called Emergent Village Community. Someone had just asked the question :What’s good/thriving/taking root in your local context these days? All I could think of was the move towards local, sustainable communities and church groups like The Parish Collective that foster these.  Which, not surprisingly reminded me that I have not yet posted the details of our own exciting new development here at MSA – the launch of the Pacific NW Sustainability Semester in September 2012.

More information or download the flyer here

Mustard Seed Associates, in partnership with the Creation Care Study Program, the premier Christian student semester away experience, is launching a brand new opportunity in the Pacific Northwest in Fall 2012.

Just an hour north of Seattle and an hour south of Vancouver, BC there is a special place, tucked into the idyllic Camano Island on the Salish Sea. Together, we will live, learn and imagine a whole new way of building sustainable communities and sustainable faith. Rigorous courses and rigorous play will be woven throughout meaningful curriculum and the opportunity to collaborate and cultivate new responses to environmental and economic challenges of today and tomorrow.

More information or download the flyer here

Pacific NW sustainability semester (2)

Pacific NW sustainability semester (2)

What is Worship?

Alternative worship - infinite creativity, transformation possible

Alternative worship - infinite creativity, transformation possible

I hosted a blog series over the summer on worshipping God in the real world.  To be honest I was a little disappointed with the response  Most of the posts were about traditional spiritual practices like praying and singing hymns in the midst of everyday life.  Now don’t get me wrong, I think that these are very important, but what I was really hoping for were more contributions that unpacked the ways that we can worship God through ordinary everyday acts of life like taking a shower, walking in the park and even reading the newspaper.

This week I have really gotten into Mark Pierson’s book The Art of Curating Worship .  One of Mark’s motivations for developing the art of worship curation was his desire to connect the worship experience that occurs inside the church on Sunday with his everyday life.  He talks about the need to:

develop an ability to see the stuff of ordinary life – stuff going on in the culture around your community – and bring it into the worship event in ways that enhance the ability of the the worshippers to engage with God with heart, soul, mind and strength.

As I read this I realized that asking people to view ordinary everyday aspects of life as worship is almost impossible when we have never before brought ordinary daily acts into a worship context.  Worship services need to be transformed in the ways that Mark talks about so that our lives outside the church can be transformed into living acts of worship.

You may think this is rather strange, but reflecting on these thoughts this morning reminded me of Peter Seeger’s song Little Boxes which I have added at the bottom of this post as a possible meditation point.  It seems to me that we do indeed live in little boxes – there is the worship box of Sunday morning which some can be as limited as the songs we sing, for others it embraces the liturgy of the service but for most of us it ends the moment we step outside the building.  Outside is the life box with houses made of ticky tacky, and lives all the same – whether we go to church or not.

We must learn to take our worship outside the church box and do so we must continue to take church outside the boxes of tradition we have wanted to confine it in.  To do so we must constantly encourage our worship leaders to become worship curators just like Mark suggests.

Unfortunately this is never easy because it means we also need to take theology outside the boxes in which we have placed it.  As Mark comments:

A worship event should never be about theological purity.  It should always be about ordinary people engaging their messy selves with the transformative person of the God who became flesh and lived in this messiness.

And that for me is where worship and the real world connect.  As we take worship outside its boxes we become more sensitive to the presence of God in every ordinary mundane act of life and eventually all of life becomes worship to God.  Would love to hear your thoughts on this.  How do you think we move our understanding of worship outside the church box and into the world?



Parish Collective – Learning to Belong to A Place

Last night we met with Paul Sparks, Dwight Friesen and Ben Katt involved in the Parish Collective here in the Pacific NW as well as Steve Knight from the Transform network.  It was an exciting time of learning as we grappled with what it means to incarnate Jesus in the places within which we live.

The Parish Collective is one of the most encouraging networks I have come across for a long time as I strongly believe that churches of the future will need to be deeply rooted in their local communities.  It is very much in keeping with the emphasis on sustainability that we are concerned.  In fact the whole network is about local presence and sustainability and I would highly recommend it for all those who are looking for resources on how to be more locally present in your neighbourhoods..

They will be hosting a conference Inhabit together with Mars Hill Graduate School and Transform Network April 29th – May 1st.  Yes I know it is the same weekend as my spirituality of gardening seminars in Portland and Hood River.  So time to struggle with those choices between local and distant.

Here is how the Parish Collective is described:

Welcome to a collective of people who have begun rooting in neighborhoods and wish to develop supportive relationships that link their groups to:

a) Stories from similar contexts
b) Critical resources and guides
c) Friends and partners in their neighborhood, city, and region.

Learn more here

Podcast with Missional Monks

On Saturday I had the opportunity to record a podcast with Missional Monks Chris and Brett.   It deals particularly with the challenges of sustaining faith and spiritual practices in today’s world.

Dancing Outside the Box – Entertaining Angels Unaware

I am sitting at our dining room table this morning thinking about how often we miss out on the lavishness of God’s grace and mercy in our lives because we are too busy to listen or too set in our ways to notice.

I have been feeling a little overwhelmed this week by the weeding that has not been done in the garden and the cleaning that has not been done in the house – primarily because we are doing some renovations around the house that both make more mess and take more time.  A couple of nights ago there was a knock on our front door.  At first we thought that the 2 young men standing there could be Mormon missionaries.  Then we realized they were not dressed well enough for that.

It turned out that they had just spent a year as interns at Sojourners community in San Francisco and are now heading up to Canada to help found another community.  However their Canada work visas are still somewhere in limbo land  and they are temporarily stranded in Seattle.  For the first few nights they slept in their car, but then managed to track the Mustard Seed House community down and so ended up on our doorstep.  Now we are very keen on hospitality but it would have been very easy to turn them away.  After all we knew nothing about either of them, but both Tom and I felt prompted to invite them in.

They are now sleeping on the floor in our unrented basement apartment and have very quickly gotten the garden into shape.   In fact it turns out that they are both interested in becoming farmers and so working in the garden is exactly what they like to do.

From our perspective they do seem like angels sent by God to help us at this time.  And we are enjoying getting to know them and learning about their interest in community.

This situation has made me realize how important it is to constantly be listening for the voice of God and following the leading of the Spirit.  God often works in unexpected ways that push us outside the box of conventional understanding.  And when we keep in synch with what God is doing we often don’t just find ourselves walking outside the box.  We find ourselves dancing outside it too.

I was reminded of that as I read Acts 10 this morning.  Here Peter too is confronted with young men who come from outside his comfort zone – Gentiles who want him to visit Cornelius a Roman centurion who has had a vision from God telling him to invite Peter to his home.  Normally Peter would not have gone, but he too had received a vision from God telling him to get outside his comfort zone and realize that God accepts people who are not Jews too.  What follows is the story of the first conversion and baptism of Gentiles.

God so often works through unexpected ways not just in the big things of life but in the small too.  Stepping outside the box so that we can notice is risky and it can be scary.  And it does mean that we need to be constantly listening for what God is saying.  But when we do take notice we find ourselves filled with the joy of the spirit in a way that really does have us dancing and singing into the day

Big Tent Synchroblog

Last week I contributed to the synchroblog for Big Tent Christianity a conference coming up in Raleigh NC September 8,9.  There are a fascinating series of articles going up here that i would heartily recommend to you

Big Tent Christianity Synchrobloggers
(in alphabetical order)

David Adams, “Big Tent Christianity”

David Adams, “What is That to You?”

Shawn Andrews, “Fruitful”

Kathy Baldock, “Synchroblog for Big Tent Christianity”

Greg Bolt, “Big Tent Christianity – Part 1″

Heidi Bolt, “Big Tent Christianity”

Joe Carson, “Big Tent Christianity and ‘ground level truth’”

Joe Carson, “‘Big Tent Theologian’ wanted to develop theology/praxis for Christian engineers, please state your terms”

Julie Clawson, “Big Tent Christianity – A Place Without Fear”

Philip Clayton, “Is Big Tent Wimpy or Radical?”

Matt Cleaver, “Big Tent Christianity in Big Time Denominations”

Bob Cornwall, “Coming Under the Big Tent!”

Bob Cornwall, “Living Under the Big Tent – Christianity That Is!”

Bob Cornwall, “What’s New about the Big Tent?”

Roy Donkin, “Big Tent Christianity”

Ryan Dueck, “Big Tent Christianity”

Jan Edmiston, “Big Tent Christianity: Wikichurch”

Mark Eikost, “Peace”

George Elerick, “Monkeys with Vertigo: The BTC Event”

Kathy Escobar, “recovery under the big tent”

Rachel Held Evans, “Small Town, Big Tent”

Scott Frederickson, “‘Big Tent Christianity’ and Prairie Table”

Henry Friesen, “Big Tent Christianity”

Tripp Fuller, “Kierkegaard on ‘What big tent Christianity is NOT’”

Matt Gallion, “Big Table Christianity”

Andrew Hackman, “Big Tent Christianity and The Sneetches”

David Henson, “The Samaritan in the Big Tent”

Chad Holtz, “Big Tents, small gods and Knotted Brides”

Corey Howard, “Big Tent Christianity”

Ken Howard, “Coming Together to Build a Bigger Tent”

Tony Hunt, “For and Against Big Tents”

Ira, “The Church’s One Foundation”

Tony Jones, “A Plea for Big Tent Christianity: Don’t Suck”

Matt Kelley, “Big Tent Christianity: Easy to Say, Hard to Do”

John R. King, Jr., “Our Common Faith!”

Amanda MacInnis, “Big Tent Christianity”

James F. McGrath, “Thank God My Opponents Are Pharisees!”

Brian McLaren, “Big Tent Christianity Synchroblog”

Tim Meier, “Assumptions”

Hannah Middlebrook, “Engage”

Bert Montgomery, “Going Inside the Big Tent with Charlie Manson”

Josh Morgan, “Big Tent Christianity”

Josh Mueller, “Dreams of a Big Tent Christianity”

Patrick Oden, “Sketching a Big Tent Christianity”

Thomas Jay Oord, “A catholic Spirit for a Big Tent”

Joe Paparone, “Big Tent Christianity – Synchroblog”

Lesley Paparone, “Being The Church”

Matt Ritchie, “The Case for Progressive Christians”

Dyfed Wyn Roberts, “Big Tent Christianity in Wales”

Daniel Rose, “Big Tent Christianity 1″

Daniel Rose, “Big Tent or Single Issue?”

Daniel Rose, “Scattered, Gathered, and Beautiful”

Daniel Rose, “Unity, Liberty, and Charity”

Ellen Ross, “Big Tent Christianity, Part One: What Faith Is Not”

Bo Sanders, “An Everyday Theology”

Christie Sanders, “Hope”

Christine Sine, “Big Tent Christianity – Living the Gospel Now”

Anthony Smith, “Hopes for Big Tent Christianity”

Arthur Stewart, “A Tale of Two Tents”

Alan Ward, “Coming Together Under a ‘Big Tent’”

Nathan Wheeler, “Wishful Thinking”

Randy Woodley, “Honest Hatred Under The Big Tent”

John Worst, “Hospitality”

Karissa Worst, “Racism”

Big Tent Christianity – Living the Gospel Now

Big Tent Christianity is hosting a synchroblog this week in conjunction with their conference in Raleigh NC in September.  The theme is What does “big tent Christianity” mean to you? What does it look like in your context? What are your hopes and dreams for the Church?

The question has revolved in my mind for several days now.  What are my hopes and dreams for the church?  Some of them I know seem rather idealistic.  I would love to see a unified church that is working towards the wholeness and completion of God’s new world.  But there are other hopes that should be within our reach.  My hope is that one day the world will once again look at communities of Christian faith and say “See how they love each other” as historians recorded in the first century.

But what will it take to get us there?  The church world seems to be more divided and less filled with love than it ever was.  The gap between right and left within the church continues to grow and the hostility between sides grows in response.

To be honest I struggled with the quote from Philip Clayton

[It is] urgent … to reclaim a Big Tent Christianity, a centrist return to ‘just Christian’ in word and action. The two poles are driving each other ever further apart, spawning ever deeper hostilities. The solution — in American society as in the church — certainly is not to let the other’s anger fuel my own. As leaders it’s our task to help break the cycle of anger, of rejection leading to rejection, and to foster a radically different understanding of the heart of Christian faith.”

I don’t think that we are going to get to a community that the world sees as loving and caring by focusing on a centrist return to ‘just Christian’ in word and deed.  Now don’t get me wrong.  I strongly believe in the need to combine word and deed.  This is why I refer to myself as a contemplative activist. And my heart aches with the desire to break the cycle of anger and rejection that permeates the church.  But I don’t think we will get there by trying to convert others to our way of thinking and I am not sure that we would produce a healthy and vital church in the process anyway.

What we need I suspect is not more theology but more listening, not more teaching but more receptivity to learning from others, more willingness to accept the viewpoints of others without trying to change their minds.  God is a God of diversity.  We only need to look around at the incredible diversity of created things to realize that.  Why then do we think that God only expects Christians to think in one particular way?

Big Tent Christianity must be inclusive not just of different cultural expressions but of different denominational expressions and even of different faith expressions.  In an earlier post I quoted from Samir Selmanovic’s book Its Really All About God.

In Jewish thought and belief, God first provided empty space for life to be created and continues to provide empty spaces in which creation can continue.  According to the rabbis of old, one of the ways the creation continues is through spirited conversations in which we are in a disagreement – the highest form of discourse.  When we take a stand and pull the argument in our own direction, we create an empty space between us, a possibility for the emergence of a truly new idea, an unexpected solution, a way forward.” (p175)

This to me is what Big Tent Christianity is all about.  I love this concept that implies that all humanity in its rich diversity of cultures and worldviews, needs to be included in a conversation that creates rather than destroys, a conversation that moves towards understanding and mutual respect rather than uniformity of belief.

So often we take on ourselves the responsibilities of the Holy Spirit.  We have no confidence in the fact that God is working in the hearts of others just as God is working in our own hearts.  The Holy Spirit is into transformation.  And all of us need transformation.  The image of God is present but distorted not just in those who think differently from us.  It is present but distorted in us too.  All of us need to be transformed.

Amazingly it is often as we rub shoulders with, befriend and interact with others who are very different from ourselves that we learn most about God and the people that God intends us to be.  We need people in our midst of different religious perspectives (Christian and non Christian) and cultures so that in the creative tension between us new ideas are created and new understanding of God emerges.  A God that is revealed only through our own perspectives is a very small God.

The struggle is that this kind of creative dialogue requires an attitude of humility and a posture of learning.  This is a real challenge for all of us who have grown up believing that we have the corner on truth about God and religion.

Western culture has trained us to believe that we are here to teach the world how to believe and how to live.    Out of our arrogance we proclaim that our way is the best and only way to live, and in so doing we destroy the love and mutual respect that should be the defining qualities of Christian community.

The pinnacle of success in Big tent Christianity is I believe not to become a teacher but to become a learner, not to become a speaker, but to become a listener.  My hope is that one day the world will again know we are Christians by our love and our respect for all human kind.