Tuesday, March 14, 2006

View From the Yellow Chair: Rediscovered Treasure

Two years before I first heard the words, ”emergent church” or understood that I am thoroughly postmodern, I attended a lecture on the history of Christian Education. I listened attentively and came up with a statement to ponder. I showed the lecturer the statement and she nodded, concurring with some of the ideas, but I don’t believe she had a context to place it in. I certainly didn’t either, until now, at The Portico. I recently re-discovered the scribbled document, tweaked it, and append it here for your rumination and percolation.


we gain a portfolio of spiritual resources
so that we are content

without insisting on answers now
or trying to be like the church down the street
or choosing stagnation

and enter a season when we wait
and practice discernment
in order to hear God’s voice
above our own voices, then

beginning with the gifts already among us
and the needs for mercy and justice already visible around us,

make a covenant of willingness to together
experience some discomfort
as we enact our community’s understanding of the revealed purpose of God.

Forgetting What to Expect

Sunday was wonderful. Most Sundays are, when I look carefully. In a neighboring town that morning I led a semi-satisfying worship service based on traditional themes with a nod to our friend, Mr. Barclay, while my thoroughly pomo style came shining through. The transitions between parts of the service seemed to gain a life of their own, which was fortunate, because halfway through the sermon the congregants responded as if they didn’t know anything about Lent or preparing spiritually for Easter. So as I gave it thought on my way home, I concluded that those sweet folk no doubt determined I had been flown in especially from another planet.

When I reached The Portico that afternoon, it was to find that there had been no visitors to our labyrinth, and as a result, a very blue Pastor Rodger. And then as we were beginning worship a visitor walked in! And he asked questions during the sermon! We were so thrilled. He didn’t run off immediately after and talked with several of us before leaving. And then –joy! - who should show up on our doorstep but our friends Daisy and Tim. We had not seen them since last July when they stopped by during our hamburger feast. Things had improved for them greatly until Tim was recently laid off. Again, we were thrilled to see them, and Rodger recalled the filled backpacks we had been inspired to create following their first visit. So modest though they were, we did have some resources to help them through the next couple of days, anyway.

All of this to remind me (us!) that after all the talking we’ve been doing about how amazing, great, surprising, providential, and wholly un-quantifiable God is, we forget to expect, to LOOK for the surprising and providential and reassuring. Lately we’ve been worrying. We’ve known from the beginning that there would probably be “generations” at Portico, and our first generation has come and moved on in our first year. A significant portion of the folks who have worshiped with us has moved on with our blessings. At the same time, a significant portion of us remain, committed to creating a safe place where together we ask and examine questions that matter, sometimes agreeing to disagree and being ok with that, accepting the habitation of diversity. Living in the questions means there are not always answers and therefore, no lines to draw. Postmodern community may just thrive when there is a willingness to keep definitions flexible and some questions unanswered (at least no answer that reads like a restrictive, finite dictionary definition) so the ground is not firm enough for drawing lines and constructing boundaries that divide us. As The Portico matures, our work includes identifying common ground for our community to inhabit.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Participating in Restoration

I wasn’t going to blog about this. In the past someone close has sent me flaming emails and then quickly crawled into his hole effectively making it impossible for me to respond in any manner, much less make an opportunity for healing a breach. This kind of lopsided non-communication is very dysfunctional. I much prefer to talk face to face and one on one.

I believe in community. It is wonderful and beautiful, but it is hard work. Community cannot be created part time or from the couch. It requires sacrifice of personal comforts and we are, if not a lazy species, certainly a self-protective one. Creating community is by nature dirty and uncomfortable, because we human creatures have variant views, opinions, biases, desires, preferences, habits, histories and environments. Tonight I chickened out. I didn’t manage to get someone away from the group to speak my piece.

Last week we talked about the Good Samaritan in worship. A view was expressed that it was ok for someone who didn’t have children to take the chance in helping a stranger: in essence saying that chancing getting shot was ok for someone who is childless. I was immediately angered that there was one, possibly more people in the room who believed my life has less meaning or the plans God has for my life are less valuable because I have no offspring. I was so hurt I was speechless. I have been the object of ageism and sexism and “degreeism” and “singleism” before. This one is new.

From my reflection over the intervening days, I allowed myself to feel that the above viewpoint, from where I’m standing, is hurtful, prejudiced and self-centered. Much as it would be nice to sweep these feelings under the rug, community grows out of difficult times. This is not our church’s first crisis, but one that points a focus beam narrowly on our treatment of each other. I have seen too many churches suffer when hurt is dealt and ignored. Long-standing wounds can fester and eventually sunder a church. To be truly invested in building community means a certain dedication to naming, facing and dealing with the hurt when we inflict it on each other and then making space for healing to occur.

I don’t remember the specifics of all of the prayers tonight, but two phrases did capture my mind: one was something like “embracing our human limitations” and the other referred to putting ourselves in the place of “grace and mercy to participate in God’s restoration.” As a second choice for showing this wound to the group (Who is my neighbor?), I wanted to reveal my pain during prayer time and lift it up to God to help me with, in the hopes that in simply naming it and sharing it, it might inspire some to reconsider their view, but again the issue of children came into play. We were rushing through worship because we had a meeting that went overlong.

I come to The Portico to worship. If there were nothing else, I would come for worship. It is the purpose, the focus, and the raison d’etre for me. I come, I stay; I commit to the later hours. I may not have family members to get on a school bus, but there are certainly plenty of times on a Monday or any morning when I have to be up two to three hours early to be in another town to lead or receive training, or on Sundays to preach- something I do to help keep a roof over my head. There are days I am home from work well after dark. I choose to commit my time and energy to The Portico, and not just to Sunday nights but also to Her health as a community.

A friend said to me today that there is such a thing as stewardship of pain. If we share the stories of our pain and how we came out on the other side, then we are sharing our resources with others. I cannot tell you what to do, but I can tell you what I did when pain came my way.

I will not be sorry to see reactions to this entry here, but my sincere hope is that The Portico community will talk about it face to face, and I encourage anyone who wants to talk to me about it live, to let me know.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Little Did I Know. . .

I had no idea last September when Rodger and I met how prophetic my statement would be.

Scene One: (a dusty basement in the heart of Elizabeth)
My first contact with The Portico was in the Charlotte Presbytery’s Weekly Update (which, ironically, I now produce) as a request for good used furniture. I went by to check out the space and introduce myself and although the place was a mess, the potential was evident. First I noticed the black ceiling, was subconsciously counting the 6” fresnels (stage lights) and then marking the probable sight lines for various events in the t-shaped space. You can take the gal out of the theater, but you can’t take the stage manager out of the gal- especially if she’s spent four years of college, two of grad school and several more in community theatre buried in the Prop Shop, snorting raw sawdust (I love that smell!) and hunched over a drafting table or make-up mirror.

As I walked through my first tour, it came to me that this was going to be MY church. Because Portico would meet in the evening, I would be able to continue working, fulfilling interims and preaching for friends on vacation, and have church for ME on Sunday nights. Sure, that might sound selfish, but no one is a bottomless well of inexhaustible spiritual resources. How could I continue to write and plan and preach and listen apart from regular worship that connected to me? (My beginning exposure to emergent church is described in earlier blog entries.)

And Kathy spake unto Rodger, “You know, I would not be surprised if other church professionals will come to Portico to have church for themselves: where they don’t have to worry about leadership and can just come to worship in a safe, relaxed atmosphere. This will be a wonderful place to come rejuvenate.”

And it has come to pass, just not in the way we expected. (That’s never surprising, especially when your group EXPECTS the Holy Spirit to be active in its midst.)

Scene Two: (the front walk of a PC(USA) church on the south side, toward the end of a presbytery meeting.)
I don’t remember exactly who said what first, but that’s the way revelation goes sometimes, so here is my memory of the conversation. Rodger told me he had been greeted at the meeting by another minister saying he’d heard Portico had been having 70, 80, 90 people at worship each week. That has not been the case and Rodger was surprised to hear such. We are very grateful for our humble core of thirty at the moment. Rodger went on to share the news that there were six couples, none of which lived in Charlotte, who send Portico money every month, mostly because they felt themselves being led by the Spirit to do so. Astounding!

I got my update on a couple of people in our extended Portico family, some folks that only Rodger and I have met at conventions, others we know only electronically. There are about thirty folks that fall into that category at this time. Another forty or fifty have shared their emails with us and consider themselves “Friends of Portico.” It amazes us how quickly and decidedly (not by us!) The Portico has become a community of intercession. Then out of the blue, Kathy spake unto Rodger: “But that means we really are involving 60 or more people each Sunday when we gather. The people just aren’t all physically THERE. By praying and giving and encouraging, they are behaving like members!” Rodger: “We really are an internet church!” Kathy: “OK all you folk who like to count things, there’s a number for ya, praise God!”

Oh- and who are these folk? For the most part, pastors and elders who are struggling to be emergent church or are trying to see how it may be done where they are, and they are looking to us to show them how it can be done. Pastors and spouses who have been wounded by Session or Committee or Presbytery and are searching for a way to live as the missional church they envision, and find healing. Who are these folk? Why, they are The Portico.


Coming attraction: Wrestling with the idea of Membership

Friday, July 15, 2005

Time is Sticky OR How Do You Spell Murghatroyd?

Time. Chronos time. Time as we know it that is linear and once passed, gone forever. A commodity.

Time. Kairos time. God’s time, full of mystery, impossible to measure, quantify, anticipate or hurry.

John Ortberg talks about the Practice of Slowing. . . "It is because it kills love that hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life. Hurry lies behind much of the anger and frustration of modern life. Hurry prevents us from receiving love from the Father or giving it to His children. That’s why Jesus never hurried. If we are to follow Jesus, we must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from our lives – because, by definition, we can’t move faster than the one we are following."

Someone asked me yesterday if I thought The Portico was going to “work.” I expressed my confidence that the Holy Spirit was doing something and that we were being observant. Visit The Portico website http://www.porticochurch.org/New%20Stuff.htm and see the Prayer Cove. As we gathered and blessed this new space, it came to me that there was still some maturing on our part for us to be “ready” for the folks who will come to us and to whom we will go. I am grateful that the Spirit is providing our learnings in bite-sized chunks for this fledgling group. We must understand what we have, in our combined gifts, in our resources and in our basement, such as our prayer cove, to be able to offer them to anyone.

Kairos time is not neat. It does not provide a deadline to meet. Kairos time is the habitation of the emerging Church. Chronos time displays a finished project that one caps off by washing hands. Kairos time is sticky-gritty-always-have-your-wipies-ready journeying. Just-add-boiling-water-instant-answers? Nope. We’re clearing a new path. Each emergent faith community has its own context as Stanly Grenz reminds us, and arrives at answers to its own questions in Kairos time. Questions from outside our community aren’t necessarily questions we’re asking ourselves because we’re not “there” yet (“Hurry up!”) or because they don’t arise from our context and therefore don’t necessarily apply.

The planting instructions that came with this Spring’s shipment for my flower beds say, “Be patient. Some of us take longer to show new growth than others.”

In the grand scheme of Church Development, we are not, after all, intended to become a traditional 1000-member church built in the midst of multiple-hundred-thousand dollar homes which have subdivided and covered up what was once woods and farmland to ultimately be a money-maker.

Heavens to Murghatroyd…

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Spilling Over into Authenticity

I came in early to put the finishing touches on the slides for worship. It wasn’t long before I lit a few candles, to give me the familiar sense of sacred space. I couldn’t seem to settle in until the play of light and shadow was closer to what we see and feel while we sing. I began to quiet my mind and prepare to lead worship. Rodger had the “excuse” of being in Utah most of the last week, but even so, I was equally grateful to be back in our beloved basement. This was also the first time I was responsible for the order of worship and Rodger was curious about what I, and the Spirit, would do. Maybe he will share his take on what is happening in/with us.

Lindsey came in with her shawl arranged across her shoulders. I was surprised to hear she had worn it all week, and completely floored that she had slept with it, as well.

During the sermon discussion about joy, we managed to evidence it, sharing much laughter. After worship each week, the children usually eat any remaining communion bread. Tonight, though, Rodger broke the loaf in what turned out to be exactly the right number of chunks, reminding us that, as Bruggeman says, ours is a God of plenty. At this Table we have cause to be brimming over.

Oh! May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope! --Romans 15:13 The Message

We walked up to the table to dip our soft croutons. My oversized chunk absorbed juice so fast it broke away to swim heavily in the goblet. “Well, everybody gets a little finger juice,” I proclaimed as for the briefest flash I felt a twinge- of embarrassment, of shame- that was gone just as quickly and replaced with rejoicing. [Too many communions in starched Sunday dress, in serious surroundings; hard pews and solemn faces, passing dry soup crackers and drops of wine in glasses too small for sipping and savoring. And what were we expecting? An arid nugget to explode into prayer in our bellies? Hmpf.] Alice, thinking quickly, handed me the paper towel that had covered the bread. Others were dripping juice and we laughed, taking care of the situation without breaking stride. THIS was a meal.

My heart awed, I found my way to a seat (no yellow chair tonight as I moved around to lead.) I felt more whole than I had in longer than I could remember. My mind murmured, “This is what “authentic” means.” I looked up to see Rodger, with gusto, draining the rest of the grape juice. Plenty, indeed. We were engaged in a celebration of gratitude and rejoicing, and my hungry heart was fed.

Sola Deo Gloria.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Ear to the Ground and Nose to the Wind

Pedigree is a term being tossed around a lot lately, especially in reference to whom it is “appropriate” to hear from regarding matters of leadership and church development in the PC(USA). Pedigree. It’s all about papers: papers that declare you acceptable by a select group of people. You are the right height. You are the right shape. Your coat is shiny. You walk, and trot and run through obstacle courses in appropriate patterns. You know how to perform for an audience. (Dare I say jump through hoops?) Out of necessity, you live a sheltered life. You never make noise. You have the right parents. You are -ahem- without blemish.

The last I heard, Jesus hung out with people vastly different from himself: people who had no education, no breeding, no voice, sometimes no limbs nor sight. People with little position or influence. People from the wrong country or wrong part of town: whores, felons, liars and cheats and all manner of unsavory types. Alley trash composed of the abandoned, forsaken and forgotten.

Veterinarians will tell you, that when it comes to a healthy, long-lived member of the family, to adopt a dog with mixed blood. Troublesome attributes tend to surface in animals bred to retain specific traits. Epilepsy and emotional disorders, for example, are common culprits. On the other hand, foundlings, particularly, are street smart. The strong and quick survive and are protective and contributing members of their pack-especially when their pack includes multiple species. The real world is the only one they know.

Peter was a big, sturdy fisherman: an unlettered, unpapered working breed. Andrew was adept at sniffing out local resources for outfitting his group. Bartholomew was the guile-less one: no hidden agenda. The disciples themselves were not a homogenous group. They had to work together with their differences, and learn to serve.

Jesus’ pack was always on the move and gathered in homes, in the streets, by the lakeshore, on the hillsides, in the fields and vineyards. The disciples came from the streets, the soldiers’ training ground, the waterfront and the marketplace. They were well-acquainted with where “the action is.” The sheltered types kept behind walls of separation, tending to observe the budding church rather than jumping in to engage and take part. Hence, the language for the community remained in the community. Sheltering walls, whether they are ecclesiastic, scholastic or civic, create a position removed from the kingdom of God at large.

Listen to the voices in the street, voices that call from reclaimed warehouse and basement, the forgotten field and storefront: the Holy Spirit is here, renewing, restoring and lifting up the Church of Jesus Christ. Let those who have ears, hear & fear not.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Lindsey's Prayer Shawl: Adventures in Community Part I

I had found a kindred spirit: like me, it seemed Lindsey’s Mom listens best when her hands are occupied. For two Sundays I was aware of her knitting during a part of our worship time. Later she explained that it was a prayer shawl for a dear friend’s wife living with brain cancer. She described how she had prayed while in the yarn shoppe to be guided to the right yarn. She explained how she had set on stitches in a multiple of three and that she would knit three then purl three, for the Trinity. She sparkled as she told us that her prayers and the prayers of our community were woven into the shawl as she knitted. She revealed she was making the shawl large enough for her friend, the husband, to benefit from wearing it as well. When it was complete, we gathered ‘round our round communion table and blessed and commissioned the lovely multi-moss-shaded work of art.

It had been years since I had knitted, and then only a very simple vest. I was so intrigued by the shawl idea, however, that I went home that night and found my needles and some purple yarn that had never been made into a pillow for a college roommate. In my mind, I knitted for my friend, Joanne, in her second year free from cancer. My early rows were comical. The men in our community enjoyed a gentle teasing. If you look carefully, the whole beginning section is on an angle because I somehow managed to set on more stitches than I dropped. But Lindsey’s Mom helped me take out selected mistakes, recognize what I did wrong, and set out again with new energy. Lindsey loved the little stitches of the purple shawl. My needles were half the size of her mother’s. The lavender shade was “c-o-o-o-l.”

Easter came, and I decided to have a Vigil on Saturday night and knit. I would knit until it was time to put together the casserole for our Easter sunrise breakfast. I sang and prayed with Joanne in my thoughts while my needles clicked. Lindsey’s “ooo” on Easter morning warmed me. For a couple of weeks we’d all been tossing about ideas of what, if anything, to do with two mistakes that had formed perfect little boxes near the beginning of the shawl. Lindsey’s diagnosis: “Smiley-face beads!” Inwardly I grinned at the idea and clicked on. Sometime while Spring was first beginning to wear her colors, it hit me that I wasn’t knitting for Joanne. Lindsey’s Mom shared with me her hope that Lindsey might soon want to begin confirmation. Someone asked me the purpose of a prayer shawl, and I decided, “It’s like giving someone who really needs it, a hug that doesn’t end.” All of a sudden I knew there was a smiley-bead purchase in my future.

Lindsey's Prayer Shawl: Adventures in Community, Part II

And so I knitted, taking twice as long with the smaller stitches. Lindsey’s Mom had already completed a second shawl for our student intern. But this labor of love is endlessly fascinating because of the metaphors I find in Lindsey’s shawl. To represent the forever “hug” of the shawl, I knitted in two bands of dark purple to lie across Lindsey’s shoulders. I wanted the texture of the bands to be rows of solid knit stitch, and in the process of experimenting, learned how different knots and colors relate to each other when they face each other on the needle. I couldn’t help thinking of all the little knots as people. Then, because of choices I had made, the shawl has a top and an underside. No, this shawl is far from perfect, but its character has a lot to say to Lindsey and our community when she decides to begin the conformation journey and I present it to her as part of her “gear” for the trip.

When I was a little younger than Lindsey, the rite of passage was called “Communicants’ Class,” and the point being to understand a little of how the church “worked” especially regarding the sacraments and pledging, and to take a written quiz. This took four Sunday afternoons and a couple weeks later, without question, we all joined the church. Since we received our Bibles in fourth grade, upon joining the church, we received our individually numbered, personalized offering envelopes and a blank Time and Talent form. Ugh!

No one would design the shawl I’m knitting: it has been prayed, revealed, experienced. Sure, it has a pattern of stitches to follow, but in my hands it becomes unique. Just like Lindsey. Just like my little faith community that has worship–in-the-round in a t-shaped basement, uses no paper bulletins or newsletters, rather keeps up with each other through weekly e-mail updates from the pastor and has song lyrics and prayers projected onto a screen. Couches, end tables, throw rugs and not-really-overstuffed chairs furnish our space. When folks ask me what it’s like, I say, “It’s like worship when you go on retreat. It’s creative, and less formal. All the parts are there, like a prayer of confession and the Word proclaimed when Communion is served. Instead of an organ, our band is sort of a cross between James Taylor and John Barry. And when we light candles to remind us that we, too, are Light in the World, I make sure to light five candles, one for each one in my family.”

Lindsey's Prayer Shawl: Adventures in Community, Part III

The difference is that everything starts with community for us. Instead of gathering a group of teenagers and separating them out to “get them done” in confirmation class, most of all of us will be on the journey with Lindsey, should she choose it. She will have several mentors and her experiences will happen in and be related directly to this community. I hope she will have certain conversations at this point in her life, instead of, like me, so much later on. I treasure for her the marvelous people she will get to know in her confirmation journey.

Lindsey’s confirmation experience will be different. Rodger is requiring she blog about what happens. I am going to be sure she has some hands-on face-to-face mission project development experience, but it’s really up to her. She decides when she’s “done.” Lindsey’s experience will grow, will emerge, from the heart of our community. It will not be some separatist hoop-jumping festival. It will challenge Lindsey’s mom to let go and to practice trusting Lindsey’s judgment. It will be an amazing journey when Lindsey’s spirit will weave together with the Holy Spirit.

Tonight I have finished Lindsey’s shawl. And you know what? I’m pretty good at binding off! The smiley beads are in place. They actually fall on the wearer’s back. The tassels are made of three shades of yarn. The one on the right front corner has a string of beads that spell out her name. I sure hope she likes it.

I am so excited about this journey for all of us in the Basement. If you are reading this on my blog, it means that Lindsey has decided to pursue a confirmation experience. As Snoopy proclaims in his gospel, “COWABUNGA!” Stay tuned.

If You Had Been There Last Night. . .

You could have eaten hotdogs and hamburgers. You would have been able to catch up with some folks that have been missing for a few weeks. You could have enjoyed a break from the heat in our nice, cool basement. You would have met Tim and Daisy (not their real names.)

There was a shared sense of awkwardness at first, but it lessened as conversation continued in the way it does when folks get acquainted with each other. A woven cloth sack held all their belongings. They were without funds or a place to stay. It was unclear whether they would still have jobs the next morning. They planned to spend the night in the park. They took us up on our offer of a meal.

The younger children sat with our guests and were their usual exuberant selves. I hope they weren’t overwhelming. I imagine all of us as a group WERE overwhelming. Daisy had grown up in Charlotte and connected with Rodger who was born here. I wasn’t surprised when the rival High School sports comments came up.

Just as I sensed a budding level of ease, they were gone. I wanted to do more, but they slipped into the dusk like the comfort of a cold drink at the end of a hot day’s work.

I hope we see them again. There will be more Tims and Daisys. It’s a given because our basement is in the middle of a large metropolitan area.

If you had been there last night, you would have been part of one of The Teacher’s lessons. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, befriend the lonely, free the captive. We’re all learning together.