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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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Headed to Hell with the Homosexuals

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HEADED TO HELL WITH THE HOMOSEXUALS

A nice Christian lady just told me I was going to hell, apparently accompanied by many of my friends. “What kind of person are you?” she squawked. (Even over the anonymous internet, I could tell she was squawking.)

What set her off was my saying that I love my gay friends and family just the way they are, and so does God.

I’m headed to hell, she says, for “condemning the homosexuals to eternal death by allowing them to live in their sin.” (I wonder how many she has “saved” from this fate with her loving and compassionate spirit?)

I told her I hoped that God would bless her with a gay loved one who would have the courage to withstand her scorn and perhaps help her to see the Divine in every single person.

She assured me that she never scorned anyone and followed that up by telling me I was a liar and a fraud and should be ashamed of myself. 

“Happy Housewife” (her online name) told me that I am directly contradicting the teachings of Christ, who repeatedly said that homosexuals will never see heaven. I pointed out to her several times that no, actually, Jesus never said word one about homosexuality. She said what about Leviticus, and I said that, um, Leviticus was written well before Christ’s birth, and anyway if she cared to look into the cultural context and etymology of the verse, it clearly refers to temple prostitutes and sex slaves, not to two gay people sharing a loving relationship.

She said she didn’t want to hear any of my “cultural crap,” that she had heard enough of my “homosexual lies.”

I blocked her, lest I be tempted to waste any more time.

The Bullying Pulpit

This was all in response to an article about yet another well-respected Christian leader and author being threatened by his publishing house and having all his speaking engagements canceled because he said in an interview that he would perform a same-sex marriage.

Here are the words of Reverend Eugene Peterson that shook the evangelical’s pulpits:

“I know a lot of people who are gay and lesbian and they seem to have as good a spiritual life as I do. I think that kind of debate about lesbians and gays might be over.”

Heresy! You will never publish or speak publicly again!

Within a day, Peterson had been bullied into retracting his words and repenting of his momentary slip into love. 

Here is a recent piece about the hub-bub by one of my favorite bloggers, John Pavlovitz, whom I got to hear speak at the Wild Goose Festival last week. He concludes:

“I can only keep working to make American Christianity a place of love for everyone. Meanwhile I’ll lament Eugene Peterson’s public change of heart because of what it says, perhaps not as much about him, as about my faith tradition’s sickness, about the way it has lost the plot, about the pain it causes.

Most of all I’ll grieve the damage still being done to beautiful people, simply trying to walk this planet without having to fear religious people.”

“Opinions may be mistaken. Love never is.”

— Harry Emerson Fosdick

 

Shrove Tuesday: Pagans, Priests, and Pancakes

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SHROVE TUESDAY: PAGANS, PRIESTS, AND PANCAKES

Known as “pancake day” in Britain, Shrove Tuesday is historically a Catholic Church thing, but since most of us like pancakes, why not crash the Catholic party?

Shrove Tuesday was traditionally a day of repentance when believers would “shrive,” or confess their sins to a priest and receive absolution before Lent began on Ash Wednesday, thus cleansing themselves and supposedly bringing their appetites under control. Then sometime in the Middle Ages, Shrove Tuesday morphed into a time of feasting and celebration, which makes good sense to me. Why spend the last day before a forty-day period of soul searching and sacrificial fasting trying to bring your appetites under control? As Scarlett O’Hara said, “I’ll think about that tomorrow!”

Practically speaking, families wanted to use up all the fats, meats, milk, and fish that would go bad over a forty-day period of food restrictions, so they all got together and stuffed themselves.

In France, the consumption of all this fat led to the day being called “Fat Tuesday” or Mardi Gras. And we know where *that* led. Actually, the rowdy partying at Mardi Gras time harkens back to the Pagan spring equinox festivals that sometimes coincided with the early Christian observances. Carnival!

088.mask.crop

Down to the real point of Shrove Tuesday for the likes of non-Catholics like me: it’s all about the pancakes. The English started the tradition of eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday as a way of emptying their cabinets of tempting indulgences like milk, butter, and eggs.

My church is big on community, getting together whenever we can, and I happen to live in a neighborhood inhabited by lots of my church friends. What’s not to like? So tonight, about fifteen of us will gather, say grace, and chow down. It’s also possible that if enough wine is drunk, we might start confessing our sins to one another. But it’s not required.

Tasty homemade pancakes with strawberries,blueberries and maple

What’s the Deadline for Finding Peace and Happiness?

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I’m struggling under too many deadlines lately, which I know won’t illicit sympathy from those of you in the work-a-day world. But as an accidental early retiree, I’m not used to deadlines anymore so they are even more stressful and intrusive than when they were organizationally imposed.

That penultimate, omnipotent organizational deadline imposer, the Internal Revenue Service, dictated a February 28th deadline for me this year, under the threat of losing my beloved, best-thing-in-the-world, don’t-mess-with-it-Supreme-Court Obamacare subsidy. I impressed myself by meeting that deadline, but as executor of two estates, there are plenty more IRS forms in my near future.

Health care ensured for the year, I’ve moved on to the next impending deadline and am ostensibly working on a sermon to be delivered next week. The topic I’ve been assigned boils down to “how to be happy and at peace.” Cinch, right? Being new to sermon preparation, I find it tortuous, and now even more so because I was recently commissioned to our church’s Pastoral Team and feel as if I’m suddenly supposed to know how to preach.

Preaching guidance did not come in my how-to-be-a-pastor packet. What came instead was about a bijillion email documents covering ten years of strategic planning, which I’m supposed to read and digest in three days.

I’m also up against a March 9th deadline to apply for a summer writing workshop. Last night I spent hours mucking around with the simple question, “Tell us something about yourself.” This does not bode well for the associated 1,000-word essay.

Last night I got a pleading call from the people who are buying my family house — the one I grew up in and where my brother fell into mental illness and died (no emotional complications there). The couple’s house has rented early and they have no place to go; can we possibly move up the settlement date by a week?

Sigh.

I now have just a few weeks to haul piles of boxes and bunches of furniture out of the house and find someplace to put it all, hire someone to clean the house, transplant Mom’s roses and azaleas, and sell a dead car for which I have no title. 

For now, I have to get back to this sermon. Hmmm – how to find peace.

flowers and Dayspring 050

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

How Not to Write a Sermon

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How Not to Write a Sermon:

I have no holy credentials. Well, I have a certificate from Cathedral College declaring that I’m an official Spiritual Companion, but aren’t we all spiritual companions in our own ways? And a few years ago I took seminary classes on spiritual formation, but never finished the certificate because I got chicken pox. A sign that I was not meant to pastor?

Anyway, only an unaffiliated rag-tag group of Jesus followers like the ones at my church would allow me to preach a sermon. It didn’t start out as a sermon, it was supposed to be a “story,” one in a series about hope. Initially our pastor (who also did not graduate from seminary, by the way) asked me to talk for ten or fifteen minutes about finding hope in grief and loss. No problem, I thought, I’ve blogged about that. Then I was told that it was to be an entire thirty-five to forty minute sermon.

So that’s where my head’s been the past few weeks, and why I haven’t been blogging. Sorry about that. I hope you’ve been managing OK without my brilliant insights. I’m afraid I have none for you today, either, but I’m trying to avoid writing this sermon, so here I am.

Attention Deficit, Depression, and a Drum

In typical ADD fashion, I began in hyper-focus mode, completely re-living my mother’s death, my brother’s death, and even my dear friend’s head-on with a tractor trailer that resulted in a nine-month coma and then death. I sat at the computer from 9 a.m. till the sun went down two days in a row, writing about hospitals and death.

Then, of course, I plunged into depression and stopped writing completely.

I became terrified by the whole project. How am I stuck writing a sermon about a trifling matter like finding hope in death? I’m not even a pastor. But maybe that’s a good thing, because a pastor might be tempted to rely on Bible verses about angels and resurrection and the afterlife, and I don’t even know how to find those verses. (I love the Bible, I just never remember chapter and verse.)

Heaven and eternal life are good, but I want to help the people sitting in chairs on Sunday morning to cope with the very real, very present, very today challenge of grieving life’s losses. “Everything will be OK once you’re dead, and not before,” is not comforting to me, and I don’t believe it. Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is here, now, among us, at hand. But how does that help us grieve? Where does one find hope?

I’ve now pulled out of “the sads,” and my ADD has flipped from fierce focus to bouncing puppy mode. I sit surrounded by dozens of pages of unconnected scrawls and phrases like: Mom-Beth-orange slices; Willie, Uncle Rolphe, winged creatures; MVA letter, gym, miracle; and, I bought a drum. They meant something when I scribbled them.

So that’s where I’ve been and that’s where I am. My deadline looms. Today is the day I must pull  it together or be in serious trouble. Which is why I decided to write a blog post instead. Please pray for me!

winter 2012-13 continued 009

Part I – In Which Grief is Surprised By Another Death

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When I first heard the news, I was with some friends. (Thank God.) Bill looked at his phone and said, “This is bad.”

“What?” Shobha said.

Silence.

“WHAT?”

“This is very bad,” Bill said again, as if his soundtrack was stuck in shock.

As he read the words of the text out loud, “tragic . . . died suddenly . . . flu . . . pneumonia . . . stopped breathing . . . unable to revive . . .,” I felt — no, I actually saw — my emotions shutting down. I was staring unblinking at a Christmas tree and I saw the white lights blur and then dim as my “self” withdrew deep inside my body.

Already hiding in shock and denial after my brother Biff’s death last month, this was too much for my raw soul. Impossible. Not our dear friend Betsy. Some survival instinct moved my inner emotional switch from the hibernate setting where it had been for the past month into the full OFF position.

Being Without Betsy

I entered church the next morning in full shut-down mode and so was able to do my usual job of greeting folks. At least I didn’t have to smile — many had already heard the news about Betsy on Facebook or by phone, but some were only just finding out as they entered the building and saw her face on the screen and the “In Loving Memory” underneath. It’s odd how many people thought it was some kind of morbid  humor, that it must be Betsy’s quirky idea of a joke. Because of course it couldn’t be true.

Actually, quirky doesn’t begin to describe Betsy. She’s very hard to describe, although many have tried over the past week of remembrances and services and Facebook tributes.

Of all the people I know, I think she is the most alive. Truly, fully alive and engaged with life.

Only she’s not.

None of us can imagine Cedar Ridge Community Church without Betsy. She’s been on staff there forever, often working in the sound booth, where you could see her hot pink hair poking up over the partial wall and her arms waving in full-on joyful worship when the band played the rockin’ songs. How she loved God!

Betsy Mitchell Henning

Betsy Mitchell Henning (photo by Jed Curl)

And how she loved us! All of us. As so many said at her memorial service, she was the most absolutely non-judgmental person you could find. She was utterly fascinated by people and their stories and found something to like in everyone she met. She knew how to connect and she knew how to love unconditionally.

The Good News

When I entered the sanctuary that morning, I was surprisingly unsurprised to feel Betsy’s spirit alive as ever, hovering in and through and above everyone and everything. It is impossible to imagine our church without her because we will never be without her. The unconditional love she radiated was absorbed by all of us and is being radiated back out to the world.

This is unbelievably good news! Did you know that’s what “gospel” means? Good news.

When I realized that Betsy’s spirit is not “dead,” I also realized that my brother’s spirit is not gone either. At least I realized that in a tentative kind of way — in my journal I wrote: “Somehow that makes it almost possible to allow myself to believe that Biff’s spirit is also still with me. Almost. Too good to hope for in a way. Too good to be true. Do I believe in Jesus or not?”

Do I believe?

Do I believe?

Stay tuned for Part II of this post tomorrow, in which I find myself apologizing to just about everyone: my atheist, aggressively agnostic, and conservative Christian friends . . .

In the meantime, here’s a lovely blog about Betsy by someone who barely knew her but felt her spirit: http://thedefiningyears.wordpress.com/2014/01/19/dear-betsy/

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