Wednesday, December 19, 2012

sad and happy

I'm on vacation in sunny Southern California, spending my afternoons with a second grader and my mornings playing Words With Friends. So while I should, in theory, have plenty of time to think deeply about many things, the reality is that I am just thinking about a lot of things in general. Pretty sure that's part of the whole transitioning-from-one-job-to-another thing. I don't have specific responsibilities to focus on, so my brain is freewheeling around all kinds of things.

Among those things, one sad and one happy....

I really really really wish we would stop saying that we need to pay more attention to mental illness in the wake of unbelievable tragedy. Two things. One: those children did not die simply because our healthcare system sucks. It does, that's true, and a civilized society would do something about that. But the reality is that those children died because someone had access to weapons with which he could kill 26 people in less than 5 minutes. Two: how do you think people who need access to mental health care feel about being constantly tied to murder, suicide, and horror? What on earth makes you think that having incredible and affordable (aka free) access to health care would actually lead someone to seek that care if what we all think about people who need access to mental health care is that they're murderous crazies who might kill us all at any moment?

For all the talk about how we need to remove the stigma from mental illness (which is incredibly true), this conversation at this time, insisting that mental illness is what causes someone to kill first graders, speculating about things we can never know because the two people who might have been able to shed some light on this are tragically dead...this conversation at this time is only increasing the stigma. Now everyone who thinks "maybe I should see my doctor" or "I wonder if a therapist could help" or "there's so much darkness in there any way out?"--all thoughts that could be the first step toward healing!--will instead follow that up with "but everyone will think I'm a mass murdering lunatic psychopath, so I guess I'll stay home."

Which means that the real unimaginable tragedy here is the fact that millions of people will suffer and die from their own mental illness because we have made it even more socially unacceptable to seek healing.

Thanks for that.
(edit: to read someone who, it turns out, said this already and much more eloquently, go here.)


In completely different news, my aunt has a cat who will attempt to drink out of your water glass. Not just when you set the glass down, like a normal cat does, but while you are holding it, while you are drinking from it yourself, while you are protecting it from him. He will climb all over you and meow constantly, making it almost impossible to reach the glass to your lips, so desperate is he for the opportunity to drink from your glass.

Yesterday I had the bright idea of filling up a glass and putting it on the floor for him (thanks to Elizabeth, who puts down glasses of water for her spoiled siamese all the time...hahaha). It worked. For about 5 minutes. Which was long enough to drink my glass of water. then he moved on to trying to drink my tea.
Ned. after I successfully drank my own tea.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

In Our Midst--a sermon for Advent 3, and for my last day at RCLPC

Rev. Teri Peterson
In Our Midst 
RCLPC (last day)
Luke 1.46-55, Zephaniah 3.14-20 (selected)
16 December 2012, Advent 3C

‘My soul magnifies the Lord, 
 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
 Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
 and holy is his name. 
His mercy is for those who fear him
 from generation to generation. 
He has shown strength with his arm;
 he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
 and lifted up the lowly; 

 he has filled the hungry with good things,
 and sent the rich away empty. 
He has helped his servant Israel,
 in remembrance of his mercy, 
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
 to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’ 

Sing aloud, O daughter Zion;
 shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
 O daughter Jerusalem! 
The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
 a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
 he will renew you in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing 
 as on a day of festival.
I will save the lame and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. 
At that time I will bring you home,
 at the time when I gather you;
for I will make you renowned and praised
 among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes
 before your eyes, says the Lord. 

Just a few minutes ago we sang these words:
We sing in exultation, but admit our hesitation
When we see a world in pain and despair.
Yet even amid sorrow is a promise for tomorrow:
The God of joy is moving us to care. 
 That pretty well sums it up, doesn’t it? I was already having trouble deciding how to preach today—Joy Sunday and also my last Sunday with you. And then on Friday a young man walked into a school and shot 20 first graders. I don’t even know what to say about that—it’s so horrific. And in the 48 hours since then, just in the city of Chicago, 20 more people have been shot. Every day there is violence and pain and grief beyond comprehension. And somehow I’m supposed to talk about joy? How can these things be? The darkness of a world in pain and despair is overwhelming.

 And into that pain comes a voice that has known pain—the voice of a prophet, speaking to a people who have lost everything: Sing and Rejoice!

 How? How can we sing in this land of loss?

 In our grieving silence speaks the voice of a teenager who has known terror, a peasant in an occupied land, a young woman who knows the anticipation mingled with fear that comes with the unknown, a mother who will soon flee the swords that will steal the lives of many children: My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices!

 But how can we sing?

In our anxiety and uncertainty about what the future holds, our hesitant singing is rooted both in the world’s pain and despair and our own community’s reality—that a new thing is coming, and we don’t know what it will look like. It’s hard to imagine being joyful when we say goodbyes.

How can we sing when tears are so close to the surface?

Perhaps because this joy has little to do with our feelings of happiness. The joy to which these prophets call us comes from one realization: That God is in our midst.

In pain and despair, God is in our midst. In uncertainty and anxiety, God is in our midst. Not out playing golf on another planet, not sitting in some heavenly throne, not punishing us from afar, but right here, in the middle of our life with all its sadness and hope and love and wonder and grief and relationships. Incarnate—in flesh, body and blood. Immanuel—God with us. And not just with us, but active, a verb. Zephaniah and Mary tell us of a God who keeps promises, who exults and saves and lifts up and fills and gathers. Nothing there about giving us cheerfulness or solving all our problems or protecting us from ourselves, sadly. Nothing about shielding us from the hard moments of life. But a promise of companionship, of persistence, and of calling together a community.

I can hear you thinking about how all of my sermons are really about community. It’s true, for a couple of reasons. One reason is that we are a highly fractured and individualized culture, and I believe the gospel calls us to a different way. While the world is telling us to look out for ourselves, to trust in the safety we believe we can create through our own means, to get ahead by ignoring the needs of others, God calls us to love and to serve, to offer grace and peace. We care for each other, through good and bad, through hellos and goodbyes. In God’s beloved community, we learn and we practice. We experience God’s abundance so we are prepared to offer it to others. We come together and find that there might just be some light in the darkness after all, because “even amid sorrow is a promise for tomorrow: the God of joy is moving us to care.”

 Another reason all my sermons are about community is because one candle in the darkness is bright, but a hundred candles can light up the room. These prophets are one voice calling out in the wilderness, so imagine when we join our voices to that angel chorus. How can we sing and rejoice in the face of tragedy? How can we not? The voices of hate and horror cannot be allowed to have the last word. And so we sing as an act of defiance, as a protest against the darkness and despair that clamor for our attention. We raise our collective voice as a witness to the hope and joy that God holds for us when we cannot hold it ourselves. 

And so we come together to bring light into the darkness—whether our own or that being lived by others. Each small act of compassion, each comforting word, each silent prayer, each phone call or casserole or voice lifted on behalf of another, is a part of the mosaic of light that God is making out of the broken pieces of our world. So I invite you to come forward and place a piece into that bigger picture.

 … (O Come O Come Emmanuel)
 O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer

Our spirits by Thine advent here;

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,

And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! 
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.  
 O come, Thou Key of David, come,

And open wide our heavenly home;

Make safe the way that leads on high,

And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

 The beauty of a project like this is that it reminds us that each one of us has a part to play in the unfolding of God’s kingdom. We may not be able to see how our small piece works in the grand scheme, we may feel that we are too broken to be of value, we may wonder what difference it makes anyway. But every piece matters—otherwise there are gaping holes where we ought to be! We may think we know what the picture will be, or we may be certain that it can’t possibly turn out right—or that there’s no way we can finish on time! But God is always doing a new thing, right here in our midst.

I don’t know what new thing God is doing here at RCLPC, but I believe that God is moving in this place and in all of you. I won’t be here to see this finished mosaic, or the next act of the great play God is writing here, but I know that between you and God it will be something incredible. I do know that there is a lot of darkness and despair in this world, and that when this community comes together with the Spirit, God’s promised love will break through and the light that shines can never be overcome. I know that you will continue to lift up your hearts and voices to share God’s good news in a world that desperately needs it. God is and will ever be in our midst, so let’s lift our voices and witness to the power and glory of the story that God is writing here.

 May it be so. Amen.

(after the sermon we sang these new advent verses of O Come All Ye Faithful, which I wrote just for this day...not knowing how appropriate they would turn out to be.)

O sing and rejoice, shout with all your heart,
even the darkness cannot put out God’s light.
Love will break through, our faithful God has promised!
O come let us adore him, O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him, Christ, the Lord!

True God of true God, Light from Light Eternal,

Counselor, Comforter, Prince of Peace!
God-with-us, Word of God incarnate:

O come let us adore him, O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him, Christ, the Lord!

Sing, choirs of angels, sing in exultation;
Sing, all ye citizens of heaven above!

Glory to God, all glory in the highest;

O come let us adore him, O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him, Christ, the Lord!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

endings and beginnings

Dreams Beginning And Ending by Kent Whitaker

This Sunday is my last at RCLPC. I have loved this church for six years, and will continue to love it from afar. But you know what? That's a weird weird feeling.

They do not tell you in seminary how hard it is to leave a church. Or how bizarre it feels to leave one church for another one. The search process feels like I imagine having an affair must feel. And the leaving process feels a bit like abandoning a family. I know pastors do this all the time, and maybe I'm a tad bit dramatic, but's weird.

I keep getting asked if I'm excited about the next thing--I'm going to be a Head of Staff, there are lots of incredible things about the new church I'll be joining in ministry, and to top it off I don't have to move! Yes, I'm intellectually excited about those things. But honestly? First I'm sad. I can't be excited just yet, because I have lots of feelings about leaving RCLPC. I'm disappointed about some things, sad about some things, and I'll miss those people with whom I've shared life for six years. A lot has happened in our lives together during that time--ups and downs, joys and sorrows, anger and excitement. I can't just gloss over all of that and skip to the excitement. Excitement will come, yes, but not until I get through some grief first. There are things I wanted to do here, things I wanted to be a part of, lives I wanted to share, stories I wanted to hear--and I won't. Yes, there will be new stories, new ministries, new lives, new things to do, but those don't negate the sadness.

And in the midst of this, it's Advent. It is extremely weird to have my last day be smack in the middle of Advent. And yet it seems somehow appropriate--that we look both back and forward, that there is both darkness and coming light. There is an unexpected and unknown new thing coming, and that is exciting. But every new thing means the end of an old thing (especially in the Advent story--the coming of a baby is decidedly the end of the previous way of life!), and that's true in this story too. And so beginnings and endings, joy and grief, excitement and fear and anticipation and loss and hope and uncertainty and light and darkness all mingle together.

That's pretty much the definition of Advent. So I suppose it's not that weird to be leaving now after all.

(though the fact that I'm going on a Christmas vacation--a pastor on vacation at Christmas!--is still extremely weird.)

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

merry christmas v. happy holidays

We are in the middle of the very first week of Advent--the four weeks of waiting and preparation that lead up to the celebration of Christmas (a season beginning December 25 and ending January 6--not a season beginning October 1 and ending December 24). Please note that Advent Preparation and the usual understanding of "preparing for Christmas" are not the same thing. Advent has nothing whatsoever to do with shopping, wrapping, decorating, or cooking, and has everything to do with prayer, fasting, silence, darkness, and quiet hope.

And again there is nonsense about what greeting people use during this season. There are people boycotting certain stores because they won't say Merry Christmas. There are bumper stickers proclaiming that we're "keeping Christ in Christmas." (aside: it would have been interesting to see how many of those bumper stickers we might be able to count in the mall parking lot on Black Friday.)

So let's be clear about a few things:

1. It's not yet Christmas, so the greeting "Merry Christmas" is technically, from a Christian perspective, inappropriate. Christmas does not begin until Christmas Day. Period. Feel free to wish me a Merry Christmas on January 2, though, because I'll still be celebrating.

2. "Merry" Christmas? Really? The best greeting we could come up with for the season celebrating that God became human, took on flesh and lived among us, is "merry"? oh, right, "merry christmas" is a greeting that came from the consumer culture, not from the church.

3. The word HOLIDAY is a conflation of the words Holy Day. As in, these are holy days. Christmas is one of our seasons of holy-days. As is Advent--in fact, Advent may be some of the holiest days. When someone wishes you "happy holidays," they are actually, linguistically speaking, saying the most correct thing they could possibly say during this season (regardless of whether they realize that or not!). Another ancient meaning of the word "happy" is "blessed"--so, blessed holy days to you. Isn't that beautiful and wonderful? I want people to offer me that blessing as often as possible. And during a season that offers so many difficulties--for those with different economic circumstances, those carrying grief, those who work long hours to make our cultural christmas possible--why not offer the blessing of holy days, rather than an insistence on mere merry-ness?

Happy Holidays.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

red fruits tea

I've probably written before about the Red Fruits Tea. I'm not in the mood to go looking for that post, but I'm sure it's in there somewhere, probably with a "mom" tag on it, just like this post will have.

When I graduated from seminary, my parents and grandparents came down and we all went on a fun vacation to Hilton Head. It was lovely. We spent a day in each of the towns easily reachable from HH too--including a day in Savannah, where we visited lots of cool places, including the Tea Room (which I'm pretty sure we'd heard about on the Food Network--we were Food Network junkies back then).

Among the teas we sampled that day was the Red Fruits tea ("a mild fruity taste in a black tea base infused with stawberries,red raspberries and red currants."). One of the things I remember about that outing was a conversation about sugar in tea, and how that particular tea really needed a bit of sugar to really bring out the berry flavor.

We bought some of that tea and brought it home. Later in the summer, when I visited my parents before moving to Egypt, mom and I drank Red Fruits tea (with a touch of sugar, of course!). When I left, I packed the tea ball. I will never forget the phone conversation with my mom, who was hoping to make tea and couldn't figure out where I'd put the tea ball, and I had to confess that I had taken it with me. I've never felt so selfish and horrible in my entire life. And basically every time I use the tea ball, I remember that conversation as one of our last.

Tonight I happened upon the packet of Red Fruits tea on the top shelf of my tea cabinet. I know that tea really only lasts about a year or so, and that it's been 7.5 years since we bought that tea. But I wasn't about to waste it either, after all the emotions tied up in it! So I made a pot, using the last of the tea in the packet. Sans tea-ball, which I have started using as a strainer instead (yes, the same tea ball...).

I of course added a bit of sugar, remembering that afternoon at the tea room.

And the tea was delicious, even 6.5 years after it should have been stale (or whatever happens to tea).

Except that I inadvertently let the second half of the pot steep too long, and the last cup, seven and a half years after the first, had a hint of bitterness to it.

Which is probably exactly as it should be. bittersweet.

the day we drank tea in Savannah...

Miss you, mom. Wish we could drink tea together again.

Thursday, November 29, 2012


I don't get sick terribly often. Only one time in all my years here have I been sick enough to go to a doctor (and that was just last November). Usually I get a cold or a stomach bug and I get over it with relative ease. Or I have a day of feeling blah but once I heed the cue to rest, I'm back at it the next day.

I managed to procure a cold the week of Thanksgiving. But after a few days of combining rest and Robitussin, it was gone in advance of the feast. I spent Thursday-Friday-Saturday-Sunday being fine and normal (or at least mostly). Monday and Tuesday, though, began a slow slide back into cold-land via sneezing and coughing. By Wednesday, even Robitussin wasn't working (and it is WAY too gross to take if it doesn't work). Today I'm laying in bed, because at least when I lay down then I can breathe through one side of my nose. I'm not hungry and even the cats won't come near me.

During the Big Secret Keeping Adventure Of 2012, especially as I neared the end of that stressful period in which I needed to interview with one place while doing my job in another, figure out how to preach at one church while having a convincing excuse for being gone from the other, and my head was in two places while my body ran around from place to place in what felt to me like a frantic race against time...I was pretty sure that the instant I finally told someone, put the cards on the table and got the pieces in motion for a move, then I would be sick. I was prepared to spend Halloween (which is also the anniversary of my mom's death, just to add another layer to the crazy I was experiencing this October!) in bed. I stocked up on kleenex and EmergenC. I knew that I had been burning the candle at both ends and maybe in the middle too, and soon it was all going to blow up in the form of some kind of illness.

Except it didn't.

Now, a month later, I've been surprised by this illness that came out of the blue not once but twice!

Of course, things haven't exactly slowed down, so I shouldn't be surprised. But I've been trying to practice Sabbath...but obviously I haven't been trying hard enough. My body said it was time to rest, so rest I shall.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to blow my nose and then go back to laying around so I can breathe. ta!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

a whole new world...

When I know people are coming to visit, or when I feel I need to be more efficient in heating my house, I close up the guest room. I run the vacuum, make the bed (well, usually*), and shut the door. Hopefully the lovely Domestic Goddess who appears at my house once a month is coming sometime between when I discover you are going to visit and when you arrive, because then she will clean even more thoroughly and shut the door.

This way the room is as free of cat hair and dander as is possible in this house. And when you come to visit, you won't be sleeping in a bed of cat hair or wondering why you're strangely sneezy.

However, when you, the guest, leave and the room is again available, it's as if I've been depriving the kitties of the most comfortable room in the house.

When the door is closed, the cats sleep on the couch or in my bed or even in the middle of the floor. I'll often wake in the middle of the night to find a cat on the neighboring pillow or in the crook of my elbow or at the foot of the bed. I'll come home to find them snuggled in the blankets on the couch or soaking in the sun by the sliding glass door or stretched out on the yoga mat.

But now that the guest room is open for the first time in 6 weeks? They might never leave this beautiful new world.

*I say that I usually make the bed. This last time, I apparently made the bed without putting sheets on--probably as a way to keep the cats off the clean sheets. This was discovered when guests went to bed after a long day of traveling, cleaning, cooking, and generally preparing for a major holiday. awesome. Hopefully they are forgiving people. Sheets were immediately procured, but still...that would be a hospitality fail. Sorry friends.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

random yet fun

When I'm doing things around the house (cleaning the kitchen, cooking dinner, lounging on the couch) I often listen to podcasts.

I will note that in our book (due out September 30 2013), we actually advise AGAINST this kind of thing, because the spiritual practice of being in the moment, simply being present to what you are actually doing rather than distracting yourself by multi-tasking, is super important. Yes, I'm admitting that my own spiritual practice is lacking sometimes. Though I think we could probably make a case for the spiritual practice of podcasts, too. (okay, it's a stretch. But I probably could do it. It would just take longer to rationalize.)

So anyway, I often listen to podcasts around the house and office. When I was painting the bathrooms this summer, I listened to a LOT of podcasts. When I cook dinner for Wednesday Night Dinner (which I'm not doing these days, but I did a lot in the spring), podcasts. When I clean my office (hahahahahahaah!), podcasts.

Some of my favorites are: Stuff You Missed In History Class, How To Do Everything, RadioLab, God Complex Radio, and of course the usuals (Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, On Being, This American Life).

I have learned a ton of random stuff from podcasts. I love hearing biographies of people I've never heard of or people I think I know about, I love the random prank ideas (of course I'd never use any of them...), I love the "listener mail"--letters/emails/facebook notes from people around the world writing about stuff they do and things they wonder about.

Today Stuff You Missed In History Class posted a podcast on a topic I asked about. I haven't listened to it yet, but I'm super excited!

Where's the "listener mail" feature of church, I wonder?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

no excuses

Well, now that the big secret is out, I guess I don't have any good excuses for not blogging. Back when I was worried I'd let something slip, I was pretty quiet. And of course there's still plenty to be careful about, since much of my job involves holding confidences.
However: there's really no excuse for my lame non-writing self. I'm not burned out on writing. I'm not keeping an enormous secret about a new job. I'm not in the middle of any big dramas.
What I AM is a little conflicted about the nature of my blog. I know my family reads it, and they're mostly interested in what I'm doing and various updates like that. I have cats and could easily turn this into a kitty blog (ha). And then there's the stuff I spend most of my time thinking about: church-and-world stuff...and I know I have RevGals and BlogPals and church members who would be probably interested in things I might write about that. Or they might not, but it would probably help me to process.
So how to balance all of these things, without just starting a new blog for each one (too much work)?

I think it's probably going to mean that everyone will have to compromise a little. I know "compromise" is practically a dirty word in our culture right now, but seriously, everyone just get over it. ;-)

So, sometimes my blog will be about cats and how adorable they are (one is on my lap right now, obstructing my access to the keyboard--he does love to snuggle). Sometimes it will be about random stuff I do ("today I sat on the couch and watched 15 episodes of Lost.") Sometimes it will be about churchy stuff (I have been thinking a TON, for instance, about confirmation class--who/what/where/how and mostly WHY).

As a way to sweeten the compromise, I'll see if I can put more pictures in posts. :-)

Friday, November 02, 2012

big news...

This letter was sent to members and friends of RCLPC this week...

October 30, 2012

Dear Friends,

Six years ago you and God called me to serve as one of your pastors. I came with joy and excitement about the work God called me here to do with you and this journey we would travel together. During these years we have we worshipped, worked, played, and learned together. We have seen God at work. It has been an exciting six years with many highs and lows, loves and losses: we have served God and our neighbors, we have built community, we have shared our lives. Now it is time for God to do a new thing, and so with many mixed emotions I write to tell you that I have accepted a call to serve as Pastor/Head of Staff at the Presbyterian Church of Palatine.

Our youth and children’s ministries are in capable hands with fantastic volunteers, though they may need more help from you in coming weeks and months as they transition to a new model of leadership. The Youth Vision Team will be asking for your input and help as they seek a sustainable and intergenerational approach to congregational youth ministry. And of course our worship, fellowship, and mission ministries will go on as strong as ever, thanks to a good pastor, faithful staff and incredible volunteers. I am so lucky (and yes, that’s the word, in addition to blessed, grateful, privileged, happy!) to have served with so many wonderful people here. I know they will continue to lead you into the wonderful future to which God is calling RCLPC.

My last Sunday with you will be December 16th. This will give us time to plan the transition, to say goodbyes, to celebrate all we have done together. After that time, our pastoral relationship will end (and you’ll hear more about what that means as the time nears), though I will of course hold you all in my heart and in my prayers, and hope you will do the same for me.

I am grateful for the time God has given us together. For so many reasons, you will always hold a special place in my heart! You have provided opportunities for growth and learning beyond measure. I am confident that God is not done with either of us, and the new thing God is doing is sure to be as awesome as the past. May our ears and hearts be open to hear and follow that call. It has been a privilege to be among you as pastor, friend, and colleague. Thank you for six great years!


Sunday, October 21, 2012

birthday buddies: TODAY!

Pretty sure a photo or two will express nicely today's birthday buddy...

and how I feel about sharing a birthday with her...

That's right--happy birthday Carrie Fisher (!) (1956)

And happy birthday to me! Since I share a birthday with someone who was a princess, I'm prolly one too, right? At least for today? ;-) And if that's not what that means, I hope that at least it means I can have a little bit of her courage in being open about her difficulties and past poor choices and moving forward into healthier ways of living.

But first I think I'll take the princess... :-)

Saturday, October 20, 2012

birthday buddies: T-ONE day!!

Today we'll make a turn to the latter part of my life so far, with someone well-known and influential in the theological world with whom I share a birthday...

Gerhard von Rad (1901) was a German Lutheran pastor (and hey, I'm part German too! though not Lutheran...) who, after having been through two world wars, began the sort of Old-Testament Renaissance (for lack of a better accessible term). The OT was sort of out of favor, and Gerhard's study and writing began to bring it back to us as an important part of our theological tradition. He used those critical methods we take for granted in a way that opened up the possibilities in the Old Testament as a key to our Christian theology, and is rightfully known as one of the great Old Testament scholars...ever. And his understanding of the Bible has influenced my own--a fellow scholar said about him: "the Bible for von Rad, in the final analysis, is neither history nor literature, but rather the confessions of a community." Yes Yes Yes.

I love love love the OT, and often prefer to preach on it than on the other texts in the lectionary--in part because the narrative and/or poetry is generally so engaging, and in part because I hope to continue in Gerhard's tradition of bringing the OT into our Christian consciousness in a way that goes beyond "foretelling Jesus" and lets the beauty of the oral tradition speak for itself into our day. For all the work he did, there is still an underlying unease and unfamiliarity with the Old Testament among many church goers...I'd like to think I stand in Gerhard's footsteps as I try to change that, one sermon at a time.

Happy almost-birthday, Gerhard. I'm glad to share a birthday with you!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Birthday Buddies: T-2 days!

I love to read. LOVE it. I would spend all my time sitting on the couch reading if I thought I could get away with it.

I also like to write. There have been many days I have dreamed of writing a book. And, of course, many days during which I actually have, in fact, written a book. A book that will be published on September 30, 2013.

But sometimes I've dreamed of writing a novel. Of course, I have zero creative writing skills and I'm fairly certain that while my imagination may be over-active it does not contain a developed story.

In 9th grade we did a poetry unit, during which we had to both read and write poetry. It was, at the time, awful. I did not yet have fully abstract thinking skills and metaphor was often just beyond me (as it is for many 9th graders). Poetry was hard. I'm still working through that trauma and trying to get into poetry. (in fact, I'm hoping to read more poetry this fall, so if you have suggestions, please put them in the comments!!)

But poetry that tells a story? I'm all over that. As is the famous author with whom I share a birthday: Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772)!

Coleridge was the son of a pastor, a voracious reader (he preferred to read over all other activities!), and he daydreamed of starting a utopian commune (me too!). Of course, he was addicted to opiates (oops) and some of his philosophy is a tiny bit out-there, but I love that I share a birthday with someone whose imagination was just active enough for poetry, and who loved to read as much as I do. I love that I share a birthday with a man who was invested in finding ways to write poetry that was accessible to real people, using normal language to tell his stories in their form--with just the perfect words that are also understandable (that's what I try to do with preaching, too!).

my idea of getting out more
Though I doubt his mom made him join a softball team so he would get out more.

Only 2 days! I was born at 5am, Pacific Time, so the last entry in birthday-buddies will go live then. I bet you can't wait to see who that is! But first...tomorrow. :-)

Thursday, October 18, 2012

birthday buddies: T-3 days!

Sometimes life takes unexpected turns--all our best-laid plans, our following of the rules of the road, our expectations, occasionally (or maybe even often) turn out in ways we just did not anticipate.

Not unlike Jazz.

I recently read a book called Make the Impossible Possible, and the author regularly compares life to jazz. He wants his life to have "swing"--to get into the groove from which you can venture out and try new things. He talks about how jazz opens the mind and creativity because it's not always obvious where the melody is going, and improvisation is such a part of the art. A good jazz musician can take the elements of music and turn them into something new each time, can hear what is going on around him/her and pull many different threads together into a new melody line, can imagine something that's both unique and fits into what's already being played. Jazz is really about listening, imagining, acting...and if it doesn't work, you just keep going until it does.

So my birthday buddy to think about and celebrate with today is a jazz great--someone who brought the art to the fore and has been an active and well-known part of the jazz world for a very long time: Dizzy Gillespie (1917).

Dizzy was, by all accounts, extremely intelligent, into complicated harmony and rhythm, and able to communicate incredible ideas at breakneck speed in ways no one had ever considered playing the trumpet before. He was mostly a self-taught musician! He drew on a deep spiritual, intellectual, and emotional well in his playing, and he was generous with his time and his knowledge of music. He told stories through the trumpet, and even now is unequaled in his virtuosity. He was known as the ambassador of jazz, going all over the world to play.

Not a bad person with whom to share a birthday (especially as I contemplate my life's unexpected turns thus far, and how to approach the coming year)!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Birthday Buddies: T-4 days

When I was in elementary school, we listened (and sang along) to a lot of what would later be called "Classic Rock" at home. But occasionally I'd hear something else--whether at home or at school I'm not sure, but at some point I heard plain-old Classical music...and it was awesome. When the time came to think about joining the band, I was all over it--and my instrument was chosen for me (because the daughter of a friend of my grandma's had a clarinet and would sell it to us for $60--so I played the clarinet). It wasn't long before I was super into the whole Classical music thing. When I was 11 I told my mom that I wanted to be a professional clarinet player, and there wasn't much looking back. I took lessons, I listened to recordings, and sometimes I even practiced. I had dreams of playing in a major orchestra.

One of the authors of that dream is someone with whom I share a birthday and who would be 100 this year: Georg Solti (1912), longtime conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He coaxed such beauty and mystery and passion and wonder out of a group of people holding apparently inanimate's like a miracle every time you go to a concert or even hear their CDs. He liked to experiment, to broaden the horizons of both musicians and audience. He insisted on being absolutely-together, an excellence of ensemble that continues today. He took the orchestra on its first ever tour outside the United States. That orchestra wins Grammys for a reason, and Solti is a huge part of their history, reality, and legacy. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra was my goal for a long long time, and going to DePaul to study with people who play in the CSO was such a part of my dream that I didn't even apply to other schools. While concert-clarinetist wasn't my ultimate path, following it to Chicago was a huge part of leading me where I am now. And I do still love the CSO! And I love the ethos of Solti--excellence, ensemble, experiment.

Thank you for the music, birthday buddy!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Birthday Buddies: T-5 days

This weekend (on the eve of my birthday, in fact) the High School youth group is having an 80s lock-in. I've been putting together a youtube playlist of music videos of the 80s, and now that I have that finished (or as finished as it's going to get), here's a little tidbit I found in doing that--I share a birthday with Lee Loughnane (1946)!

Who is Lee Loughnane (pronounced Lock-nane), you ask?

Why, he's one of the original members of the band Chicago!!

I love Chicago. The city, of course, I loved the band long before I ever set foot in the city. They were regulars for sing-along music in the car and kitchen when I was growing up (and one of the things I've discovered on my 80s music playlist search is that Chicago and Styx are just about the only even remotely kid-appropriate music to come out of the 80s...holy cow there's some crazy stuff we used to just sing along to without paying any attention!!). I still have some of their greatest hits in rotation in my iTunes. When I went to college I went to the same school of music as several members of Chicago, including trumpeter Lee (though a few decades later, and not on purpose--that was just a perk!), and whenever the band was in town, the Dean of the music school would receive a couple of VIP/backstage passes...and he often shared them with me, because he knew I was a fan. That's right, I've been backstage at a Chicago concert, and one of my passes is still on my bulletin board. If only I had known then that Lee was my birthday buddy--think of the things we could have chatted about. :-)

Happy almost-birthday, Lee.

Monday, October 15, 2012

birthday buddies: T-6 days

One week to my birthday! woohoo!
Since, as previously discussed (ad nauseum), the week after my birthday isn't that fun, I thought I'd make the week before my birthday a fun blog series where I contemplate my birthday buddies. You know, people who are born on the same day (regardless of the year). Everyone has really interesting birthday buddies, of course. What I think is fun about the ones I've chosen to think about this week is how they are related to the last 32 years of my life.

So, each day I'll be posting a little about one of my birthday buddies. In addition to the zillions of people born on October 21 who don't make the internet lists, there are dozens of famous people born on October 21--athletes, musicians, actors, players on the world stage (Benjamin Netanyahu and I share a birthday), and people who are famous (or infamous) for unknown reasons--Kim Kardashian was born not just the same day, but the same year as me, even. I picked the people for this week because they either represent some aspect of my life or are just super interesting to share a birthday with.

So, for today...

I bet Alfred would get a kick out of these on his cake

Alfred Nobel (1833)

That's right, I share a birthday with the scientist who founded the Nobel prizes. Isn't that cool?
By itself, that's cool enough for a mention.

But there's also the part where the various Nobel prizes are being announced/awarded just now, so there's lots of attention on this tradition of awarding prizes to people who are doing outstanding work in their field, and lots of discussion about whether the Peace prize has "jumped the shark" (lots of people disagree with awarding the Nobel Peace prize to Obama and to the EU, and there are plenty of valid disagreements to be had for probably every recipient of the prize).
And, of course Alfred Nobel invented things, including dynamite...and my personality is pretty explosive. (hahahaha. okay, maybe not!)

I think one of the most interesting things about the Nobel prizes is that Alfred explicitly stated in his will that the prizes should be given "without regard to nationality." Remember this is late 19th century Europe--nationalism was on the rise and recognizing the achievement or worth of others was low on the list of priorities. I love that I share a birthday with someone who had a vision of a world community that could seek, learn, and celebrate together.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Unstoppable--a sermon for October 14 (stewardship 2)

Rev. Teri Peterson
Acts 5.17-39
14 October 2012, Stewardship 2 (ordinary 28B)

The high priest, together with his allies, the Sadducees, was overcome with jealousy. They seized the apostles and made a public show of putting them in prison. An angel from the Lord opened the prison doors during the night and led them out. The angel told them, “Go, take your place in the temple, and tell the people everything about this new life.” Early in the morning, they went into the temple as they had been told and began to teach.

When the high priest and his colleagues gathered, they convened the Jerusalem Council, that is, the full assembly of Israel’s elders. They sent word to the prison to have the apostles brought before them. However, the guards didn’t find them in the prison. They returned and reported, “We found the prison locked and well-secured, with guards standing at the doors, but when we opened the doors we found no one inside!”

When they received this news, the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were baffled and wondered what might be happening. Just then, someone arrived and announced, “Look! The people you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!” Then the captain left with his guards and brought the apostles back. They didn’t use force because they were afraid the people would stone them.
The apostles were brought before the council where the high priest confronted them: “In no uncertain terms, we demanded that you not teach in this name. And look at you! You have filled Jerusalem with your teaching. And you are determined to hold us responsible for this man’s death.”

Peter and the apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than humans! The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God has exalted Jesus to his right side as leader and savior so that he could enable Israel to change its heart and life and to find forgiveness for sins. We are witnesses of such things, as is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

When the council members heard this, they became furious and wanted to kill the apostles. One council member, a Pharisee and teacher of the Law named Gamaliel, well-respected by all the people, stood up and ordered that the men be taken outside for a few moments. He said, “Fellow Israelites, consider carefully what you intend to do to these people. Some time ago, Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and some four hundred men joined him. After he was killed, all of his followers scattered, and nothing came of that. Afterward, at the time of the census, Judas the Galilean appeared and got some people to follow him in a revolt. He was killed too, and all his followers scattered far and wide. Here’s my recommendation in this case: Distance yourselves from these men. Let them go! If their plan or activity is of human origin, it will end in ruin. If it originates with God, you won’t be able to stop them. Instead, you would actually find yourselves fighting God!” The council was convinced by his reasoning.

I tend to organize time in my head by the liturgical calendar, rather than by the regular calendar—the dates on the Sundays may change, but the liturgical cycle stays the same. So six years ago today, on the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, was the first time I stood in this pulpit as one of your pastors. The scripture reading that day was the business about the camel and the eye of the needle and selling all you have and giving away the money. It was stewardship season, and it was my first Sunday here, when all I wanted to do was find a way to make you all like me. Talk about a traumatic first preaching assignment. It’s obvious, then, why we decided to go off-lectionary this October!

Or is it obvious?

Maybe it would be more obvious to spend the month talking explicitly about money, and about giving of ourselves as an important spiritual practice, and the reasons why we believe God calls us to sacrifice our resources for the work of the kingdom, and what it means to live our faith through the offering. Those are all important themes we can find in the lectionary texts for October. And they are also themes that many of us have heard often—and may have even contributed to the idea that many people outside the church hold: that all we want is your money. But I promise you that God, and God’s church, and God’s kingdom, wants something much more than just your money, though of course we can use that as we seek to fulfill our calling, and we don't want you to miss out on the blessings of the spiritual discipline of giving!

And so we’re reading from the book of Acts this season—stories of the first church, of people filled with the Holy Spirit, of communities that are so fired up by God that they overcome incredible odds. They face persecution, they are cast out of their old religious communities, they are imprisoned and killed and ridiculed….and yet they continue to tell the story, to witness to God’s love and grace and justice, to live as if Jesus has made a difference to them and to the world.

This way of living, and this story they tell, is so powerful that it can’t be contained even in the Jerusalem prison! Finally the council decides to let them be, hoping desperately that the apostles will just disappear, like all the others had. It’s a disturbing little window into the methods of the powerful—whenever someone comes along with a message they don’t like, that person is killed and the powers that be wait for his followers to disperse. And they do. But we, the reader, know that this time it will be different. These followers are on a mission from God, and they are unstoppable. This isn’t just a power trip or a fringe cult, an impermanent blip on the Empire’s radar. Nothing in life or in death, no power or person or anything else in all creation is going to be able to stop this fire.

But did you notice—the apostles don’t decide that since God can do it, they don’t need to participate. They don’t sit on the couch watching TV waiting for God to do something amazing, they don’t go to Starbucks and hide in the corner speaking to no one, they don’t just go through their lives wondering when God is going to show up. They know that they are the conduit through which the world will be changed. They stand in the Temple and preach. They go to the street corners and teach. They gather in community and they pray and share and serve. They reach out to people, they offer hope and healing and a story more powerful than that of the empire. And their educational strategy is simple: tell the story. show the story. live the story. And God will surely speak through you.

I wonder if we believe that?

Do we believe that this story can change us? That it can change the world? Do we believe that God’s voice can be heard through our voices? Do we believe that this faith is worthwhile enough to pass on to others? Or is it just for children, and once we get through confirmation we’re done learning and sharing, and now we can just go about our normal lives and show up here occasionally for some good music and to see our friends? And as for preaching and teaching—isn’t that the pastor’s job?

Or are we all on a mission from an unstoppable God?

If it is true that the story we proclaim every week in this room is live-changing, and if it is true that God is unstoppable, and if we really believe that God calls ordinary people to learn and to teach, AND if we are willing to live that reality rather than whatever reality the empire wants to impose on us, then we too will be a community that overcomes the odds. We too will be a community whose Acts of Faith are worth talking about. We too will be a community that walks right out of our prison—our prisons of uncertainty, of irrelevance, of financial insecurity, of wondering where the people are.

The Spirit freed the disciples from their prisons, and frees us too—if we’re willing to walk out and follow where we’re called. Notice that the disciples didn’t go home and wait for people to come to them—they went out from prison to where the people were and taught, prayed, healed, lived. Where will we go when we walk out of our prisons?

That is the question of church in the 21st century just as much as it was in the 1st century. The disciples could have decided it was someone else’s turn to teach. They could have decided to sit back and hope for the crowds to find them. They could even have listened to the people with the power and shut their mouths. But instead they acted on faith, shared the good news, and found that their changed lives also changed the world.

There is nothing—life or death, power or money or fear, person or institution or culture or anything else in all creation—that can stop God’s church. If we refuse to come along, we will die and another part of the body will arise to take our place. The Word of God, loose in the world, is unstoppable. Let’s act on faith and be a part of the story.

May it be so.

a busy Ideas day

Thursday I went to three Ideas Week labs. They were all awesome in their way, but I'm going to combine the afternoon/evening ones into one post, and then work my way through all I learned at the first one (the Agile workshop) because that's going to take more than one blog post to digest, and it's something I'll probably be working on in my head for a while!

and yes, I'm still planning to get back to some of the things I said I'd pick up from the Monday and Tuesday sessions too...(not until after I get back from tomorrow's African Drumming workshop though!!!)

So, both the afternoon and evening sessions I went to yesterday had the word "interesting" in the title or subtitle. The premise of both is, essentially, that everyone is interesting, we just need to know how to draw that out of people and how to showcase it in ourselves (but without constantly "pitching" ourselves--this is not about selling yourself, it's about building relationships and conveying stories). In a world all about status updates and 140 character tweets, this is harder than it sounds!

In the first, we learned some of the techniques that Me So Far uses to get people to open up and share things about themselves that you probably wouldn't learn in your average first date. In the second, we heard from Public Radio hosts and reporters both about how to get people to share and how to convey your own interest.

So, at Me So Far we were asked to think about answers to a series of questions that really offer you a variety of ways to answer. You can go for the deep or the shallow option, you can show visuals or just offer the words, you can let your sense of humor shine through or you can convey really serious stuff...all in answer to questions you've probably never been asked. For example:

  • What is something you would tell your 18 year old self?
  • Show us the last picture taken on your phone.
  • What is a number of significance in your life, and why?
  • If you could create a convention on the topic of your choice, it would be...
  • Who, outside your family, has had the most significant impact on your life?
  • What is something you haven't figured out yet?
As you can imagine, these questions open up a whole world of stories, and are far more revealing than the usual "what do you do" kind of small talk in which we often find ourselves stuck. And, if done right, offer a whole bunch of opportunity to think about community building, not just dating (what Me So Far is for). What questions are we asking people who want to join our churches? How are we facilitating the growth of real relationships, not just small-talk-pros in our pews? What would it mean for us to create a community where we are primed and prepared and used to being asked real things about our real lives, which we will answer with real stories and real feelings and real questions?

I think this is where the Public Radio lab then really comes into play. The host and reporter talked with us about how to be interesting, and in their whole hour said very little about what we might actually say. Instead they talked a lot about how we listen. One of the phrases they used was that we need to "listen relentlessly."

Listen Relentlessly. I love that.

How often are we listening only for the piece of information to which we can relate, so we can then do the talking? Or for the thing with which we disagree, so we can argue? Or not listening at all, because we're busy thinking about brunch or the Bears game or the laundry or work or why my phone is buzzing in my pocket?

They also reminded us not to ask "verb-leading questions"--those questions that start with a verb (did/do/are/will/etc) are almost always closed questions, they really only require a yes or no. Instead go for the standbys we all know: who/what/where/when/how/why. These open ended questions offer opportunity for people to share, rather than simply conveying information. But then you have to practice relentless listening, because it's more work to pay attention to the answer to these questions than to yes-or-no questions. (You'll notice all those Me So Far questions were these open ended discussion starters, not the usual "do you like it?" kind of things. Again, what kind of questions are we asking when we come to Bible study? Worship? Meetings? Fellowship? Classes? Hospital rooms? Community organizations?)

Which leads to another piece of advice from the pros--allow the silence. Don't fill it with another question or prompt or anything at all--not even a verbal encouragement, though body-language-encouragement is good. Just let the silence be there, and often people will continue elaborating or telling something new. You would think in church we would be good at this, but no--we are just as terrified of silence as the average American who has their 3 devices going at the same time. But silence can open up new worlds--and these are the RADIO people telling us to let the silence hang for a bit! If anyone should be concerned about dead air, it's them, and yet...

They also said that everyone should read widely--Steve Edwards gets the New Yorker and the Economist and Us Weekly. You never know what might be applicable to your job, your conversation, your relationships, your life--so read widely, pay attention, and be ready to see connections where others might not. Interestingly, this is exactly why I've been at Ideas Week, even though I haven't been to anything directly church related. Because of the cross-pollination, the expanding of ideas, the possibilities, the connections that don't seem obvious but are still there...

And then there's this little gem: in talking about how difficult it had been to get certain people to speak up and tell their stories, they mentioned the difference between radio and print media. In order to run a radio story, you've got to have good tape. In print, a reporter can take what they've learned, synthesize it, and write it up in his/her own voice. On radio, the story only works if its own voice can be heard. You have to find ways for the story to be heard, not to tell it in your own words. The applications of this to preaching, teaching, and pastoral care are astounding. You would think we would all have learned this by now, but we need to keep re-learning--our job as preachers is to let the story's voice be heard. How can we work to get "good tape" rather than always resorting to just telling it in our own words?

(the studio tour? the hanging out with public radio staff? the chatting about possible future events? Also incredibly awesome.)

Thursday, October 11, 2012

I had something to say...

...but it was eclipsed by the fact that today marks 10 days until my birthday.

We all know that the 10 days after my birthday are less I'm now celebrating the 10 days before instead. Today I'll be in the city at three awesome workshops, meeting new people and learning cool stuff and figuring out how to apply those things to my work and life...and who are we kidding, I've already been plotting how I can make a trip to a vegetarian restaurant (or two?) during the day. And it's supposed to be not-too-cold (low 60s, but windy), so that's great too!

So, you know, I'll be back to writing worthwhile stuff about what I've learned this week. Later. Right now I'm in "it's almost my birthday!" mode.

funfetti cake--just add ice cream!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

the stories we tell...and the ways we tell them

Yesterday I went to the Storyteller talk at Chicago Ideas Week. It was a great lineup of people who tell all kinds of stories in all kinds of ways. There was Rebecca Skloot, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, talking about how a good narrative helps us learn and retain information. There was Arun Chaudhary, the first official White House videographer, talking about the importance of telling a lot of stories, all the time, because "transparency is a discipline." There was a dancer, telling a story we probably all interpreted differently. There was the Chief Creative Officer of the Leo Burnett advertising agency, talking about the narratives that have become such a part of our common experience in just 15 or 30 seconds. And there was A.J. Jacobs, author of a number of book some call "stunt" journalism, or "method" or "immersion" or whatever other word you want to use--basically, they are books where you try something out for a specified period of time and write about it. He's written about: reading the entire Encyclopedia Brittanica, trying to follow every rule/advice in the Bible, and trying to become the healthiest person.

All of these storytellers talked about the power of narrative in human life, how important stories have been and continue to be. The advertising creator said that the goal of advertising is: "to tell stories that change people, that change the way we live, and so change the world."

(put aside for a moment how scary a reality that is: that advertising's goal is to change people and change the world...what does that mean for who we are and what the world is, and the power of advertising? etc.)

And yes, stories are that powerful. The ways we tell stories changes, of course--from cave drawings to scrolls to plays to books to silent movies to reality television to commercials. Sometimes it takes hours or days (or longer) to get the sweep of a narrative, sometimes it takes a 30 second spot. And American culture is moving from a story being-told-to-us to a story we-are-telling (a multi-voice narrative, not a single voice).

But here's what got me in this presentation: A story is the bedrock of faith. There is a story that we believe can change people, change the way we live, change the world. And we have believed that long before advertising existed.

And our story is a zillion times more powerful, has more potential for transforming us and the world, than the stories of the m-n-m characters or the Mayhem that requires Allstate insurance or reading the Encylopedia or or or or...

And yet.

So how can we get the details, or even just the broad sweep, of our story across in a way that people can hear, and retain, and be transformed? In a world that is no longer about listening to one person talk, or reading a lot of small words on a thin page, or simply believing what we are told, how can the church find a way to tell the most powerful story?

Ideas welcome!

(later, or maybe later in the week, thoughts on truth, facts, stories, reality, etc.)

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

twisty method

Yesterday I mentioned that I didn't even get a chance to blog about the method used in the Twist Lab, and how it too could transform the way we do church. (this is more of an inside-church thing, rather than the other idea I talked about yesterday, which is a more outside-church thing.)

So, here's how yesterday worked. 2 weeks ago, we received an email with two questions to answer. We answered them (or at least I assume that most people answered them).

Then yesterday we were presented with four insights from those aggregated answers. An insight is, by the Twist definition, a sort of problem to be solved, which will lead to ideas. An insight statement is something like "I want to collaborate with other people, but I'm uncertain/anxious about how to know that someone in a cafe might be open to conversation, or how to just start talking to a stranger." So the insight is that there are some barriers to conversation, and we need a way to pull those down.

We self-selected into groups to work on each insight (ONE issue per group!). In these groups, a facilitator reminded us of the issue at hand and offered one potential idea, then asked for conversation on that idea. It quickly morphed into something else, which the facilitator worked with--she said "okay, let's imagine what that would look like--how would it work?" and we moved forward with that. Each person listened and responded and wondered out loud. Eventually we came back to the original idea, but in a different way, to be added to the new idea, and soon we were off and running on a whole set of practical ways to make it work. The facilitator didn't push, didn't monopolize, and didn't offer any ideas at all beyond the first potential idea. She just kept us working toward "what would that look like?" and "how would that work?" and "what issues would keep us from making this happen?" and "what kind of funding might that require?" etc. In other words, she did not let us stagnate in the idea formation stage, but pushed us to be practical within what felt like just minutes of coming up with an idea.

The church applications of this are probably obvious to anyone who's ever been in a church meeting. For the rest of you...well, let's just say that Presbyterians didn't get the nickname "Frozen Chosen" for the worship (despite popular belief), but for committee structure.

What would church meetings be like if they followed this model--solicit information, leaders distill it to a few insights, come up with one potential idea for each insight, and then the group works on each thing without the "leader" interjecting between every thought, but instead pushing the group to think broadly but then specifically--rather than letting us get bogged down in the what-ifs, or settling in at the thousands-of-ideas-no-follow-through stage? Because if we push to practical follow-through, it will quickly become clear what can and can't work, without anyone needing to say "that'll never work." A few of the ideas that popped up yesterday ended up dying on the page when we started thinking about the HOW--because they were far too complicated for distribution, for instance. But a new idea always came up to take its place, because the ground was fertile and not trampled down by a leader insisting we do it one way, or the way previous things had been done, or whatever.

The overall experience, then, was one of nurture and excitement and sparks and...well, creativity! It felt good to be part of that group, and to know that in less than an hour, ideas can be had, fleshed out, and put into play.

Maybe if church were more like that, more of us would want to go to meetings. And fewer "young people" would drop off the radar and drift toward other avenues because nothing ever happens in our frozen-chosen church.

angry birds on the bus

I got on the bus and took a seat, though I was only going about 2 miles. It got a little more crowded, and then a little less. In between, a mom and three young boys got on. Youngest was in the midst of a mini-tantrum--the kind that involves squawks and shouts and maybe a little bit of flailing. (I won't comment on whether the crowd level changed due to the boy's noise level, though I will leave you to imagine the body language of people getting up and moving or getting off.) Mom was clearly struggling, and there was something about the tone of the boy's cries that made me wonder if he's also developmentally delayed or has other challenges we can't always see from the outside.

A man, who had been conversing with a friend about various things, and whose accent things he'd been discussing gave us to understand that he came from (and was returning to) a less advantaged south-side neighborhood, looked at the boy and said, "do you want to play angry birds?" as he held out his iPhone.

Mom was a little petrified--"please, no--I may not be able to get him to give it back to you."

The man insisted it would be okay, and handed the phone over to the little boy, who immediately started swiping his fingers across the screen--not sure how to play the game, but immediately absorbed in the task and its images.

I was absorbed in the image too...I almost missed my stop, it was so beautiful to watch this man try to soothe a distressed little boy, and to see the friendship made there, even if it might be for only a few miles.

Twist Lab

My first foray into Chicago Ideas Week was through the Twist Lab. This is a "small group" experience where we get to go hands-on with an idea/concept/process/etc. It was held in an independent coffeehouse/cafe in the East Village neighborhood (I think that's the neighborhood? South of Wicker Park). While I was checking out how to get there, I also checked out the cafe's menu. I discovered that Swim Cafe has not just delicious beverages but also delicious-sounding food and great reviews...and a whole board of vegetarian lunch choices! So naturally I headed down a bit early (the train schedule was on my side, as there wasn't a train that would get me there exactly on time) and had some lunch. The vegetarian "Philly Cheesesteak" made with seitan, their house-blend of peppers, and some cheddar sauce (which they replace with something else to make it vegan if you want), with a side of a ranch-based potato salad, was fantastic. I loved it! I followed it up with a vegan raspberry bar, which I should have taken a picture of but I was too busy eating it. :-)

Anyway, as I finished lunch people started trickling in. The Lab was sold out (which was a surprise to the organizers and the cafe, I think!), so just about every seat was taken as we gathered and started chatting with people we'd never met before. There was such great energy in the space, and everyone was talking and laughing and getting to know one another. (Afterward I even ended up sharing a cab, and insights, and contact information, with someone I met in line!) Our name badges asked us to write not just our names, but also Three Things That Inspire Me. love.

3:00 came and we got down to business--the business of the difference between and insight and an idea, and how to move forward from insight to idea to implementation. We started with some insights that came from a survey all the participants received about two weeks ago. I remember answering the two questions, but I don't remember exactly what the questions were. In any case, the compiled answers led to several insights about collaboration, creativity, and building community. In a nutshell: we want to collaborate, we want to fan the flames of both our own and others' creativity through working in common spaces (like coffee shops), we want to meet people and build community...but we're not exactly sure how to do that. There's a ton of creativity in the world, and a lot of it is probably sitting in any cafe or coffee shop at any given time, but we're all alone with our laptops--how can we come together and pool our "creative firepower" to change the world or create something awesome or just make new friends? (aside: and how true is this about spirituality too? there are in every place dozens of spiritual questions, hungers, and can we make connections that increase our spiritual depth and put our passions to work for the kingdom of God?)

So, starting from that place, we broke into groups to talk about ways we might make these connections, build relationships with local business, create opportunities, and bring the community into both virtual and physical reality. Each group worked with a member of the Twist Team to talk about our base insight and the seed idea, and then the conversations morphed those ideas around into all kinds of cool things. I was in the group that was contemplating the barriers to striking up a conversation in a cafe. How do you know if someone sitting near you is receptive to conversation or just wants to read a book? How do you know if someone might be a person who could be a sounding board, or challenge you to think differently, or even would just be willing to watch your stuff while you run to the bathroom? The seed idea we were given was something like laptop-clings--stickers to put on your laptop that would advertise that you're part of something currently being called the Chicago Caffeine Confederacy (C-cubed or C3--the idea being it's a sort of network of people who like to work in independent coffee shops). It's just an experimental idea right now, but our lab today was designed to find a way to get it off the ground. So anyway, this sticker on your laptop would let people know that you're open for conversation. Or it might even open up new conversations as people ask about it!

Our group took this idea and ran with it--lots of conversation going around about the potential for a smartphone app similar to Foursquare or Google Latitude, where you could login at a particular place and others could see that you're there, or you could check to see if there are potential collaborators at a particular cafe. In addition, the coffeeshop would have a supply of C3 flags, like the kind you get to display your table number at a restaurant, that you could put near you (rather than stick on your laptop) that would indicate you're open to conversation. This way the establishment keeps the flags, and you just pick it up/put it back, and we don't have to worry about distributing them to people. However, you might be able to buy a sticker or even a mug, so when you go someplace not in the network you can still be open for conversation.

(this is just the briefest overview of a 90 minute lab, so please know that a surprising amount of fleshing out of ideas took place in this time period, including sketches of the mug!)

Anyway: I was thinking about the challenge of churches reaching out to people who are mostly indifferent (at best) to religion. What if there was a way to let people know we're open to conversation? Sure, it wouldn't be obvious at first what it was about, but it might be a conversation-starter. "what's that symbol mean?" "it means I like to talk about spiritual stuff." "oh." "what nurtures your spirit?" maybe the person doesn't want to talk. maybe they do. but at least there's the possibility! And who knows, maybe a network like that would grow, and one day we'd see the sticker on someone else's laptop...exciting! It's like the hip version of those presbyterian-symbol-church-name stickers that are so popular in the South. I doubt many people start going to church because they see that symbol on a car window...but maybe the sticker on my laptop or my kindle cover would be enough of an in to generate at least a little bit of conversation. And if there was also an online component (a blog? a meetup group? a website where people could check in?), you might even find places where people like to gather and it could be the basis for a regular gathering.

And that's just the first idea I had as I was thinking about the potential of this. That doesn't even get into the actual process we used to get to this point, which also has great potential, I think. But this blog post is already too long, so that'll have to wait!

(obviously, it was a good day! tomorrow I'm headed to the talk "Storytellers: the power of perspective" with a ton of awesome writers. can't wait!)

Monday, October 08, 2012

plans purr-rupted

I had every intention of getting up to work out this morning, as I do every morning. Most morning I actually manage it, too. But this morning, just as the alarm went off, Ollie curled up on my chest and started purring. Pretty soon Andrew was on the pillow, purring. And I decided that it would be just as good for my mental health to pet the kitties as it would to workout. (imagine it's a mini-sabbath!) So instead of a morning spent doing jumping jacks and pushups and whatever other torture Jillian Michaels has made up, I spent my morning looking at this:


Some ideas change the world (mobile phones, the internet, birth control pills, contact lenses, the Kitten Cam).
Other ideas never really get off the ground (most ideas I have).

The only way to tell the difference? To try them out.

Sure, we risk falling on our faces. We risk making fools of ourselves. We may even risk "wasting" resources or time. But if we never try the ideas? We risk stagnation and death.

Not every idea works, but not having ideas at all, or just sitting on them, or worse: talking them to death, leaves us empty and boring and irrelevant. Some would say this is what has happened to the church in the 21st century--we have forgotten how to try out ideas. We've forced ideas to go through a system that bogs down in numbers and outcomes and details, rather than putting things into practice and seeing what happens, which means we're stuck with doing the things that were someone's idea 60 years ago (not that those ideas were bad--but every idea has its time!). And now that "relevant" is one of the church's buzzwords, one of those things everyone is striving for, we find that we're too afraid to try something new because if it doesn't work, it'll be just one more sign that the church is irrelevant.

This week I'm headed to a bunch of workshops at Chicago Ideas Week. There are a zillion different labs, talks, workshops, etc, happening all week long at venues all over the city. At first glance, few seem to be directly related to church or pastoring or whatever you want to call my line of work. But I suspect there's lots to be learned from cross-fertilization, and lots to be thought about at the various sessions. I'm ready to have my mind opened to all kinds of new ideas, and to get excited about applying those ideas in a variety of different ways. Cuz one of the things about being "relevant" is about how we're able to see the world, and a variety of perspectives and ideas, through a gospel lens. You can find me looking at all kinds of things through my Spirit-glasses this week! Here's hoping that some of those ideas might make a difference to someone, somewhere. Because that's what Jesus calls us to do--let go of fear and figure out how to make a difference--a difference called The Kingdom Of God. We'll see.

So, if you're looking for me this week, you can find me at the Twist lab, a Storytellers talk, the Agile lab, Me So Far, Be More Interesting, and Rhythm and Spirit.  See you there!