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Wild Goose 2018 #2: Resurrecting the Church of Jesus

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Every year, I intend to write multiple posts about my experiences at the Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, North Carolina, a spiritual gathering of thousands of souls thirsty for peace, justice, beauty, and creativity. And every year I get sucked in to some other reality and end up sharing only the tiniest taste of the festival.

Sunday Parade: “Down to the River to Pray”

This year my first post-Goose offering was simply about the struggle of returning to the “real world” only to find a certain someone still occupying the White House. 

Fortunately, I soon entered another alternative universe, one which, like Hot Springs, has poor internet connectivity. So except for my daily nose dive into the headlines, I have generally maintained my serenity here in New Hampshire with my nephew and his gaggle of teenagers. I am on vacation from the ugliness.

I can now take time to reflect on the 2018 Goose and begin sorting through pages and pages of notes and dozens of memories and photos of the festival.

Resurrecting the Church . . .

A few good friends and I arrived early for a pre-festival event hosted by a group called Convergence, a new program for progressive Christian leaders hoping to transform their churches and become part of “the larger multi-faith movement for peace, justice, ecological responsibility, and inclusion for all.” (If this sounds good to you, check out their website and apply for the next cohort by August 27. Apply now and get 50% off!)

Convergence leader Brian McLaren (who is also the founding pastor of my church) began by stating outright that “the old model of church is dying and salvaging the dying won’t work.” Though there was little disagreement, most of the people there were heavily invested in that old model, having attended seminary and devoted their lives to pastoring in denominational structures. All agreed that acknowledging what’s been lost is necessary before new growth is possible, but this acceptance gave the day a bittersweet mood.

One of the Convergence leaders personifies this journey of loss and new growth. Anna Galloday was a Methodist pastor in Tennessee who was relieved of her duties for marrying a gay couple earlier this year. Anna felt certain that following Jesus meant accompanying all her parishioners through every life transition, but the result was that the life she had planned crumbled around her. From the rubble she is building a new life as an outspoken leader in the social justice field and a supporter of other clergy who stand for a loving, inclusive Christian faith.

“Leadership without love is just noise,” says Brian McLaren.

The new face of Christian leadership PHOTO COURTESY RECONCILING MINISTRIES NETWORK

Creating Discomfort

Change in any institution is hard, but churches are especially tough because many pastors see their job as keeping their congregations happy, and as Brian points out, “Happy people don’t change.” He says that a pastor’s job should be to instill a desire for change, to create discomfort with the status quo; in fact to make people unhappy.

If you read the Bible, you’ll see that’s exactly what Jesus did. He constantly challenged institutions and individuals to move towards compassion and justice. He probably wasn’t a very comfortable guy to be around, especially for those invested in their egos and/or the status quo.

Just imagine what Jesus would say to the preachers on the extreme right who are supporting the current administration! And just imagine if they listened to him! Tragically, these lost souls are caught in the triple-deep pit of ego, money, and power. Barring divine intervention, I’m not expecting them to become Christ-like anytime soon. 

Change is Inevitable

I can’t begin to cover all that we discussed during the pre-festival gathering — Brian shared his ten commandments of church change, we talked about how various personality types respond to change, we covered “Moral Foundations Theory” and how liberals and conservatives view it differently.

Brian McLaren: Mastering Change

The bottom line is that change is inevitable because “today’s solutions create tomorrow’s problems,” so leaders had better get used to it.

I left the Convergence session feeling overwhelmed but grateful that our little independent church isn’t tied to any institutions or existing power structures. Unlike most churches, Cedar Ridge is entirely free to follow God’s Spirit where we feel she’s leading, which for us means a contemplative frame of mind and a movement towards social justice — racial, economic, and environmental.

I see why I have trouble capturing the Wild Goose Festival — this post is quite long enough and I haven’t even gotten to the official start of the festival! Stay tuned for random thoughts on discernment, Buddha, and the creation of new rituals . . . In the meantime, check out “Wild Goose” in the search function of this blog and read about past festivals.

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Raising a Banner of Love. Right Now.

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As the vitriol and hate in America continue to escalate, I’ve joined with a growing group of people who are committed to responding with love, rather than escalating the negativity. Our campaign, which covers the ten weeks leading up to the election, is called We Stand with Love. You can read about it and join up here: http://westandwithlove.org/

The campaign kicks off this coming week with a message entitled “Love Beyond” by my friend and former pastor Brian McLaren. I’ll be contributing a short piece to the campaign about loving beyond humanity to all animals, which I’ll post later in the week. In the meantime, I want to share this beautiful piece from Brian:

 

I’m a committed follower of Christ, and Christ taught that the greatest commandment was to love … to love God, self, and neighbor, yes, but to go farther: to love beyond those normal limits … to love the stranger, the alien, the outsider, the outcast, the misunderstand, the misjudged, and the disinherited, even the opponent and the enemy.

The apostle Paul built on what Jesus taught. Without love, we’re nothing, just a bunch of annoying noise, he said. You can have mountain-moving faith – and we might add, creed affirming doctrines – but without love, he said, it has no meaning or value. Love fulfills the law, he said, and the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love.

If Jesus and Paul were right, then love is always in season.

But here in America, every four years we have national elections. And in order to win elections, politicians and political parties often scapegoat and vilify their neighbors instead of loving them. They pour gasoline on dying embers of racism, prejudice, and bigotry. In order to win for “us,” they are willing to throw “them” under the bus. And then, when the election is over, the leave the nation a mess … wounded, divided, scarred, suspicious, the winners proud and the losers humiliated. The beautiful mess is a little messier and a little less beautiful.

That’s why we need to raise a banner of love right now. That’s why the real campaign isn’t Republicans versus Democrats, or conservatives versus liberals. The real campaign is the campaign of love versus hate, prejudice, indifference, and fear.

This campaign has been uglier than most. Vicious, hurtful, and dangerous things have been said … lies have been treated as true … many boundaries of political civility and human decency have been crossed. In the face of all this noise, it’s tempting to just withdraw in disgust and walk away. But the great Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil… Not to speak is to speak.” And Dr. King said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

If we refuse to remain silent, we face another temptation: to mirror the ugliness and division with ugliness and division. My friend Shane Claiborne says that if you fight fire with fire, you just get a bigger fire. Or as a wise Jewish sage put it, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but grievous words stir up anger.”

So we need to respond to evil not with silence, and not with more evil, but with greater good. We need to respond to fear and despair not with more fear and despair, but with confidence and hope. And we need to respond to hate not with more hate, but with love.

Only love can heal what’s broken. Whether it’s in our families and friendships or our neighborhoods and nations, only love never fails.

So I hope you’ll join me in the coming months – through the election to the inauguration and beyond – to stand with love.

Love for those for those who are like us, and love for those who are different.

Love for the people we agree with, and for the people we disagree with.

Love for the winners and for the losers, for the insiders and the outsiders, for the majority and the minority, the privileged and the excluded, the powerless and powerful.

God loves everyone. No exceptions. That’s my highest ambition too, and I hope it will be yours.

That’s the real campaign this season. The campaign for love.

When you hear or see someone saying something that is unloving, don’t be silent. But don’t insult them or lecture them or get into an argument with them. Just tenderly make your stand with love. Say “Wow. I see that differently. I don’t want to ague with you, but I want to stand with love.”

When the most negative and unloving statements get quoted endlessly in the mass media, we’re going to flood social media with quotes of about love by leaders who stand and lead with love.

When words fail, many of us are going to use sign language for love … like this.

 

#westandwithlove

#westandwithlove

When evil abounds, many of us are going to redouble our efforts to overcome evil with good. We’re going to engage in random acts of kindness and we’re going to consistently support organizations and projects that are showing love to the most vulnerable among us … the very ones who frequently are excluded, misunderstood, misjudged, stereotyped, scapegoated, or simply ignored during political campaigns.

When we feel anger, fear, or resentment rising up in our own hearts, we’re not going to project it out on others. We’re going to process it and determine to become not bitter but better.

We stand with love will be our hashtag, but more important, it will be our heart’s desire and our deep moral commitment. Churches, synagogues, mosques, gurdwaras, and temples can take their stand and put up a banner. Individuals and families can put up a lawn sign or wear a t-shirt.

Loving protesters can take their stand, not against anyone as an enemy, but with and for love for one another, not raising threatening fists or pointing accusing fingers, but simply standing with open arms and hearts full of love.

Why love? Why now? That’s my answer. We stand with love.


Brian D. McLaren is an author, speaker, activist, and networker among innovative Christian leaders. His newest book is The Great Spiritual Migration. You can learn more at brianmclaren.net.

 

Gone But Not Forgotten: A Photograph of Love

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This is Ginnie, probably one of the most well-loved women I know, and for good reason. When you’re with Ginnie, you feel like everything is going to be OK. She has faith like a rock, yet her spirit is light and effervescent. She seems unshakeable. She smiles all the time, and you know that she loves you unconditionally.

Picnic w/ Ginnie

Ginnie and I had a picnic this summer, just a few days after her husband Ian’s memorial service. She and Ian were married more than sixty years. They raised the guy who introduced me to Jesus – the real Jesus, the loving one, not the one who judges and hates and condemns. Because Brian McLaren inherited his mother’s unsinkable spirit, he has introduced thousands to God’s love through his writing and speaking.

This particular July day, Ginnie and I sat for four hours at a picnic table on the grounds of the church that Brian founded. A vase of garden phlox on the table smelled sweet in the warm sunshine, and the bees buzzed around the magenta blossoms.

Ginnie and I shared sandwiches and lemonade and stories. We spoke of many things, but mostly of our mutual journey through grief. We shared the things we would never forget about our departed loved ones, and we talked about where we had found God in the midst of our losses.

Her husband Ian and my brother Biff: gone in 2014, but not forgotten because our love keeps them alive.

This week’s WordPress Photo Challenge is on the topic of Gone But Not Forgotten. This warm summer day is long gone, Ginnie has returned to her home in Florida, and Ian and Biff have moved on — each gone but not forgotten.

Related articles:

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2012/09/14/hope-or-hostility-in-a-multi-faith-world/

http://brianmclaren.net/archives/blog/in-memoriam-ian-d-mclaren.html

The Books on my Doorstep

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Like many of you, I am a book addict, so although the arrival of two brown, rectangular packages on my front porch was far from unusual, it nevertheless occasioned a quick intake of breath and a widening of the eyes, if not an actual skip of my heartbeat.

The best part about such parcels is the element of surprise, in that I often don’t remember what I’ve ordered during my mad midnight searches for a satisfying read. The other best part, which is unique to this particular delivery, is that I have been stuck in William Makepeace Thackeray’s 1848 British satire “Vanity Fair” for nigh on four months, and I am a mere one hundred pages from the end of the eight-hundred-page tome. I can see the light of approaching freedom as sure as the days are (finally) getting longer!

William Makepeace Thackeray

William Makepeace Thackeray – Doesn’t he look like a jolly fellow?

I always read a long, dense novel during the winter, usually of the Russian variety but sometimes an Anthony Trollope, which are lighter but still qualify as dense by virtue of their length. But Thackeray — well, I don’t know if I’ll read another one. It’s not entirely the  book. This winter has been insufferably long and cold and dark and dreadful. It’s not Thackeray’s fault my brother died in December. Still, good riddance to both the book and the winter.

Presents to Myself

It was this anticipation of escape from England in the Napoleonic Age that imparted an extra dose of excitement as I tore into those rectangular packages yesterday. Here, because of your intense interest in my personal life and inner musings, is what I found:

  • Portofino by Frank Schaeffer: This is the first in a trilogy, recommended by one of my favorite friends who is also an author with a great nose for a great read. He used to be an English professor and he reads incessantly. If you don’t know Brian McLaren and his books, especially if you are spiritually inclined, you should visit his website. I was attracted to Portfino because it’s set in Italy, a country that won my heart in one two-week stay four years ago, and because the reviews call it “richly ironic and satirical . . . hilarious . . . laugh-out loud funny.” I need that. It pokes “gentle fun at the foibles of religious zealotry without disparaging the deep dedication behind it.” There’s apparently a character in it who always packs a ski sweater and a small Bible in case the Russians invade and send them to Siberia.
  • Elsewhere by Richard Russo: This is Russo’s recent memoir. I only just discovered him a few years ago, and I enjoy his novels for a light read. He’s amazing at creating characters and local color, and I figure those quirky folks and locales must come from his life experience; I want to meet them. Because I like writing memoir and would like to learn to write it in longer forms, I plan to read a lot of quality memoirs this summer. Do you have any suggestions for me? I’ve got quite a collection started, but am always open to recommendations.
  • Anna: A Daughter’s Life, by William Loizeaux: I am reading this out of a deep respect and fondness for the author, a writing professor I had at Johns Hopkins. This, too, is memoir, and no doubt memoir at its best. Bill taught memoir and personal essay, and this book is about the loss of his infant daughter. It is about grief, which will resonate with me, and it’s based on Bill’s journals, which also tracks with my journaling habit. “Stunning, clear-eyed, and lyrical . . . remarkable eloquence, passion, and honesty,” says the Washington Post (reviewed back when the Post had something useful to say). This sounds exactly like the Bill Loizeaux I know.
  • 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East by Naomi Shihab Nye: My appreciation for poetry is really quite new, so this is a big step for me. Nye’s is only the second book of poetry I’ve ever purchased. I once bought a book of Wendell Berry’s poems because it needed to be on my bookshelf – he’s an icon. I had read an excerpt from Nye’s poem “Different Ways to Pray” a year ago and found it very moving, so I put her book on my “to buy later when I like poetry better” list. The time was right.

photo (15)

Here is the opening of Naomi Nye’s poem “Different Ways to Pray”:

∠∠∠

“There was the method of kneeling,

a fine method, if you lived in a country

where stones were smooth.

Women dreamed wistfully of

hidden corners where knee fit rock.

Their prayers, weathered rib bones,

small calcium words uttered in sequence,

as if this shedding of syllables could

fuse them to the sky.

∠∠∠

There were men who had been shepherds so long

they walked like sheep.

Under the olive trees, they raised their arms –

Hear us! We have pain on earth!

We have so much pain there is no place to store it!

But the olives bobbed peacefully

in fragrant buckets of vinegar and thyme.

At night the men ate heartily, flat bread

and white cheese,

and were happy in spite of the pain,

because there was also happiness.”

 

Lovely as her poetry is, I will not allow myself to begin any of these new literary adventures until I make peace with Mr. Thackeray. The daffodils are blooming, and it’s time to leave my winter read behind. Way behind.

What are you reading that’s good? Don’t forget to recommend a memoir for me! Happy Spring.

 

Related Posts:

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2013/06/10/for-book-lovers-only/

Other bookish blogs I like:

http://emilyjanuary.wordpress.com/best-of-my-bookshelf/

http://teabooksthoughts.wordpress.com/

Although I’m not a huge beer-drinker, check out my friend Oliver’s blog Literature and Libation. He’s a talented writer.

Hope or Hostility in a Multi-Faith World?

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I bought another book last night. I didn’t mean to, but seriously — “Why did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road?” — how can you not?

Anyone but a staffer from the Library of Congress would agree that I’ve already got more than enough books. They line every wall in my house and have crept up the staircase, each step providing space for another dozen tomes. The phases of my life are captured in the titles and authors — What Darwin Saw, Robert F. Kennedy and His Times, Saint Francis and His Times, Animal Liberation, Christian Faith and the Environment, Great English Mystics, John Lewis, Rachel Carson, Jane Goodall, Richard Rohr. Countless Grishams and Micheners.   I just recently gave away my collection of Elvis books, but other than that, I find it hard to rid myself of the friendly bindings that grace my home. They are so familiar by now; they hold my history . . .  and a lot of dust.

I’m adding my new book to a large McLaren collection, but it won’t be getting dusty for a good while. I can tell it contains words I need to commit to memory. The author, Brian D. McLaren, is an old friend of mine – used to be my pastor, in fact. He’s the guy who made it possible for me, and thousands of others, to even consider tagging along behind Jesus.

“Do you believe in evolution?” I asked him once, back in the early nineties when I was still in my fascination-with-everything-Darwin phase.

“Well,” he said, “If you tell me God created the world, I’m pretty impressed.  But if you tell me God created a plan so that the world would keep creating itself, I’m even more impressed.”

And just like that, I realized I didn’t have to get into the Unreality Box to explore Christianity. I would be allowed to think.

Brian certainly gave the crowd something to think about last night on the D.C. stop of his new book tour. The premise of his new book is that there’s too much hostility in our world, which is kind of a DUH premise. But his solution is lovely. What if, instead of all the different religions and sects dividing and conquering and judging and excluding, they all came together in common cause against hostility? The idea of seeing love and benevolence as the sacred center for all of us, regardless of the framework or name we put on our belief system – spiritual, religious, atheist, agnostic, whatever – certainly resonates with me. Sounds like something Jesus might have said.

It’s easier said than done, of course, especially since step one is a heavy dose of humility for all of us. Brian’s book is primarily directed towards Christians — its subtitle is Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World — and it delivers the heaviest blows to Christian hubris. He covers in painful detail the history of his religion’s oppression and genocide and takes a few whacks at TV evangelists (such easy targets). Christians need to learn and repent of their past, not deny or justify it, he says. Interesting that the same prescription that can cure a warped soul might also release a major religion from its painful past. Brian also examines Christian doctrine, liturgy, and mission and how they can contribute to “God’s commonwealth of peace“ instead of “earthly empires of hostility.”

I was going to say that this is a fortuitous time for Brian’s book to be released, with all the violence and hostility and religious misunderstanding that’s going on this week. But sadly, the odds of hitting such a week are fairly high. In America alone, the hostility purposefully generated by multi-million dollar ad campaigns this election year is predictably shameful.

One of things I love most about Brian is that he’s an optimist; it’s in his DNA. Imagine believing that we can rally the world’s major religions against hostility, thereby saving ourselves, future generations and even our planet.

“Perhaps this choice now,” writes Brian,  “to move forward or to hold back, to  open arms or to clench fists, to identify ourselves by opposition and hostility or to identify ourselves by hospitality and solidarity — perhaps this our defining moment .”

And if we choose well? “’This is very good,’ God will say. And we will say, ‘Amen.’”

Amen, right?

Check out Brian’s writing: http://www.brianmclaren.net/

Brian McLaren & Friend in their Natural Habitat

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