Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The Turley Trenches

Here are some back reports (news, reflections, prayers, etc.) from our always learning curve of organic church planting with a liberal theological twist here at our first site of Turley, Oklahoma. As you will see from a glimpse into the demographics of our zip code here at http://www.geoselector.com/geoselector/national_demographics/OK/zip_code/74126/demographics.html this isn't by far the typical place people look for a liberal church, which is what makes it so much fun to begin here challenging both concepts of liberal and church. Click "read more" to get to the back reports.

Hope your summer is bringing you blessings and some rest and deeper connections with life itself. I try to remember as one of my mantras what we say on Sundays here---Today is a day which God has made; let us rejoice and be glad therein. That is from the Psalms. And it is important even though we know there are many many days in which it is difficult or impossible to rejoice. In those times remember that you are a part of a church and that others are with you and also rejoicing for you, and that all our days, underneath the struggles on the surface, are gifts for which we can neither earn them or have them undeserved. What we can do is accept their gracefulness and do our best to give back to life what we have received as gifts.

Tomorrow---or today if you are reading this on Saturday--July 21 is the BIG BENEFIT SUMMER SALE. We need all the hands we can get early on or whenever you can stop by to help us greet, and work the sale from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. proceeds to benefit "a third place" community center. Bring the kids. Bring your Harry Potter books. Come help us serve the community and make the connections that will save lives and transform our neck of the woods.

Sunday, July 22 to Friday, July 27 I will be at the Southwest Unitarian Universalist Summer Institute at Lake Murray State Park, but I will have my cell, 918-691-3223 for emergencies.

Sunday, July 22. Don't Miss this Church Event. We will have a community meal beginning at 4:30 p.m. and then at 5 P.M., repeat 5 p.m. there will be a showing of the wonderful spiritual movie, "Romero" starring Raul Julia, a true life story of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador and his transformation into a liberation priest. After the movie discuss: how did he change and why? where was Christ in the movie? what is the power of Communion and how were the two types of communion portrayed? and how can we be liberation minded here in Turley OK and in northeastern Oklahoma? Who are the "powers' we need to stand against?

The children on Sunday will get into the new book Meet Jesus, published by the Unitarian Universalist Association.

July 6, 2007 Report

Opening Prayer:
O God, whose spirit moves in freedom and justice, stirring all toward acts of compassion and life in Your everlasting heart, it is a blessing to be connected with one another even through this most imperfect of ways. Thank you for the many ways we find ourselves connected with others, with You, and with Your Creation, especially in days when the stresses and pressures of our daily lives seem to keep us from the daily bread of amazing grace all around us, revealed in the little ordinary and strange events and people that continue to surprise us with faith, hope, and love above all else. Thank you for the freedom we so casually neglect to put to use; thank you for our loved ones, present and those gone from us, who have sacrificed much and lived so abundantly no matter how long their days with us, and for those whose public service has enriched all of our lives, all so that we may live fully and seek with you to grow our souls and the soul of our families and communities. Be with those who are suffering in mind, body, and soul, that they may know the healing touch of your spirit and the company of caring souls. Be with those grieving, and with those in fear, and with those struggling to turn away from selfishness and toward the light of forgiveness and mercy and service. Be with us all when we deny you, abandon you, and misrepresent you. Grant us peace and the blessed assurance that there is more to come in our lives and in the world so much with us. Grant us courage to live in that promise and extend it to others. Grant us silence and insight. Grant us speech and song and O God grant us story. Under-stand us even as we come fully to the understanding that we can never understand you. And turn us toward the small, good things at hand where your eternal presence bursts forth. Amen.

Announcements: Church Without Walls Summer
1. Our scheduled speaker and tour guide for this Sunday's July 8 planned gathering to know our community's history better has had to re-schedule. We will have our Turley Tour soon but on a Saturday afternoon. Stay tuned. Instead this Sunday we will have a "Living Room Summer Re-Mix" Happening. For those of you who missed Susan Werner The Gospel of Truth music Sunday, we will have a little of that album; for those of you who missed the "Our Father" sermon, a little of it; for those of you who missed the community mapping of the abandoned and unhealthy buildings, a little of that; for those who missed "Our American Roots" a little of that. And to throw a little new in--I will introduce the new book "The Irresistible Revolution" by Shane Clairborne which we will be doing as a read-and-discuss. For more on Shane, his book, and his community work (you will see some similarities with our place and work here in Turley) go to http://thesimpleway.org/index2.html. Shane and his community have recently suffered a devastating fire in Philadelphia; you can follow that through the www.thesimpleway.org. site. The Living Room children this Sunday will begin weekly lessons from the new Unitarian Universalist Association Skinner House book "Meeting Jesus." Community meal and check-in and planning at 4:30 p.m. followed by gathering activities and ending with prayer, candle-lighting and song.

2. Tuesday, July 10, 7 p.m. Let Turley Bloom gathering, along with Saving Pets of Turley. Mid-summer sharing and service. Last summer was a time of extreme drought in Turley; this summer has been a time of extreme rain and flooding. Gardeners come grieve, come glory in what is blooming, and discuss ways to get our hands dirty again in the spirit of love and hope through community service.

3. Wed. July 11, 6:30 p.m. potluck meal followed by acts of protest, letter-writing, petitioning, follow-up action on our various projects.

4. Saturday July 14 community breakfast at Odd Fellows Lodge, 9 a.m. followed by Random Acts of Kindness at 10 a.m.

5. Sunday July 15 Tahlequah Trip. Carpool or caravan from Turley (leave at 8:30 a.m. and go to the UU Church of Tahlequah 104 N. College Ave. in downtown Tahlequah) for morning worship service at 11 a.m. or meet us there. Lunch together afterwards. You might want to then spend time on the Illinois River or Tenkiller Lake or other sites. I am preaching there on "The Organic Church."

6. Saturday July 21, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Big Benefit Garage Sale Indoor/Outdoor at "a third place" center.
And more to come....

Also we have 100 new shelves to put up for books and things to help us organize the center library and bargain room and back offices; and if anyone wants to become The Living Room Church webmaster, see me; it is easy and fun and I need some assistance updating and improving the www.livingroomchurch.net site. Thanks for all those who have chipped in a little with the summer bills too. We've always been satisfied with our month to month zero budget that helps not only to keep us close with the lives of those around us, but also primarily with putting our resources into mission and not into banks and thus trusting that we can continue to grow by giving ourselves away (I loved hearing a recent quote from someone saying that the most spiritual thing you can do is to die having given all away, all of yourself, for that is where true gain comes from). But still, it is nice to know too that you can start each month at zero and not with a minus, and for that we are grateful for all that have donated what they can and then some.

You can go to www.progressivechurchplanting.blogspot.com to see an almost complete copy of my recent Father's day sermon "Our Father." Click on "read more" at the bottom of the introduction to go to the sermon.
To order an audio CD copy of my workshop on The Organic Church at this year's General Assembly in Portland Oregon, you can go to http://www.softconference.com/270621. The program number is 4053 on that page. You can also order 4016 (communion service) and 5010 (Kathleen Norris lecture). $12 each.

I will be meeting again this week with members of the University of Oklahoma Social Work Department about partnering with us to serve our neighbors through "a third place." Good things are blooming.
The gardens of Turley we have planted to bring a spirit of community and hope are looking great after the rains; such a difference a short time and several good hands in the dirt make. A little weeding is needed (and ain't that a spiritual truth).
I will be meeting this week with a former mayor of Tulsa and state legislator who used to serve this area. The backstory is interesting: I have known him some from my years years ago as a state political writer, but that didn't do it. It was when we were moving the UU Christian Fellowship offices from Massachusetts to Turley and in the files that used to be stored in a storage unit in Mass. I found lots of old correspondence. A couple of letters slid out into my sight and I saw they were from him back in 1963 writing to the UUCF about UUCF campus ministry possibilities while he was a student at the University of Oklahoma with a Liberal Religious Student group. And another letter six months later wondering if they had gotten his first letter since he hadn't received anything (makes me feel a little better, I suppose, since I get these contacts now). The response to him said that the UUCF didn't have much to offer him. (I think he is Episcopalian now, btw). I pulled out the letters and sent them to him along with a semi-joking letter "hoping he had made something of his life regardless" and including a packet of books and materials to make up for what he hadn't received back in his campus days in 1963. Such is the movement of the Spirit. Who knows what will come from our meeting? But it will be another great chance to introduce our "a third place" project and incarnation of our radical missional church experience.
Actually we get those kinds of connections all the time, in stories too numerous to mention. Come hang out and soak up some of the hope.
We will be having a volunteer orientation workshop soon. And stay tuned for A building dedication worship service. And A building work party to keep improving things. And I am staying tuned for your idea, dream, connection waiting to be made.
Just this past week three people who have been regulars at "a third place" have made plans to open up a youth recreation center in Turley. "Who knows what will happen?" they said, meaning if it will get off the ground, if it will be received, if they will be able to make a go of it, etc. "You've already succeeded," I said. "Where it counts."
Just this past week some of us were talking about forming a movie group to go watch alternative films at The Circle Cinema in Tulsa. If we get to one now and then it will be great; but the world is already different for the idea being born and spoken and planted. The same with the seeds of spirit of so much that have been started, stalled, and restarted by so few here, with so few resources.
All across the globe in the organic church movement God is emerging in ever-surprising ways simply in the conversations, connections, committments, crises, challenges, contemplations, cooperations, conflicts, and changes. It is exciting to be a part of it here from Turley, Oklahoma.
It was good to be away working and on vacation in Oregon and California and I will have more to report about inspirations there, but it is so good to be back here in the soggy, muggy, stormy, leaky thick of things.

Closing Prayer
God, we thank you for the rain. We really do. We really really do. Forgive us our impatience last summer amidst the grassfires and dry earth, that we had so little confidence in you and your gift of Creation. Thank you for the ability to "get it." We get it. We pray you turn your attention just slightly away from us now, just ever so slightly, to where we know others are in need of "getting it"; we could think of a certain U.S. Senator who could use the gift of enlightenment when it comes to matters of the climate, but Lord we don't want to test you again not even for that. Take some, but not too much, of my guilt away for enjoying so much the two weeks on the west coast in sunny dry cool weather, and help me forgive American Airlines and DFW, again. I know, God, it was your way of hitting me upside the head again with the blessing of what summer is for--the chance to slow down, to intentionally go into delay mode, to burrow deep into this gift of life and wander down blind alleys and paths untrod, and to give up the notion that I am even a little bit in charge of even a small part of the Mystery of the Universe(s). Help me to turn vacation time into vocation time and to keep it close to heart and at hand all the days to come. And Lord, p.s., remember that rainbow and what you promised Noah. Amen.


Hi all.

Last Saturday we had 40 plus volunteers come out in the pouring down rain and a few hardy souls actually ventured out to pick up trash from the streets as part of part one of Turley Clean-Up Day while the others helped us to do an "extreme makeover" and get close to finishing the creation of "a third place" community center here in our area. What a difference these few hours of dedication made. And it was just a start. The ideas, projects, dreams seemed to multiply even as the work was being done.

Tomorrow, Sat. April 21, from 8 a.m. to Noon it looks like we will finally get the good weather we have been hoping for to really do one of our clean-up litter projects. Come meet at "a third place" (6514 N. Peoria Ave) and join with others to get trash bags, gloves, and places to go transform the landscape of our environment. A great project for this weekend's Earth Day commemoration as we try to do our part to give back to God's creation what we have received. The local Odd Fellows will be providing us a spaghetti noon dinner for all volunteers, at their building 6227 N. Quincy.

I read a story the other day of a church which is also, like ours, making the transition to what is called a mission-driven incarnational church. On Easter Sunday morning, when most churches are hoping to pack the pews with people who come inside their doors one day a year, to dress up, to "hear about" the resurrection, this church decided to "become" the resurrection. They cancelled the usual worship service geared for spectators, put on by a few, put away the fine clothes, and met instead Easter morning at a neighborhood park that had suffered neglect, had become a magnet for crime because of it, as things happen when vacuums are created for the lack of attention and love for neighbors and the earth. All morning long they worked to channel God's resurrecting spirit of life and hope by transforming that park, planting a garden, cleaning it up, painting (much like what happened at 'a third place' last Saturday and what happens during our Random Acts of Kindness events and Let Turley Bloom events and Saving Pets of Turley events with others). When they finished, they all looked around and could truly say "He Lives." They didn't have to read about the resurrection; they witnessed it again. A fearful place became a place of hope. Children and families would venture outside again, community would be built again, torn down again and rebuilt again, and the world wouldn't be the same, in the long run, because of people stepping outside the box one Easter Morning. It has been a year since that last Easter morning in Turley when something similar happened, and look at what has happened, been created, been let loose because of it.

Yes, so much to do, but in this continuing Eastertide it is good to come together and keep working and just celebrating our presence and the movement of God's liberating spirit running through us, into the lives of those we are already meeting and deepening through this just started public community center.

This Sunday, April 22, we will eat together at 4:30 p.m., have a conversation about "The Gospel According to Starbucks", and in our worship time have prayers for all Creation, on this Earth Day weekend, and for the hope that keeps bringing hurting people together, lighting candles and praying as we did this past Wednesday night duirng our gathering, for those 33 lives killed at Virginia Tech (yes, for all 33 lives and families of all affected), and for the many more in number who suffer from evil and violence and die everyday in wars in Iraq and in Sudan's Darfur and in cities and homes all around us.

And we will keep planting, in soil, and in souls.

Spring and Summer is going to be an exciting time around here. So many new things in the works. Don't just stay tuned, as I've said before; but come on in.

A few dates to remember though. Saturday, May 19 from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. will be the next Giant Free Giveaway Day, and when we help people discover our everyday giveaway center in "a third place." So plan to bring items to put in our giveaway that day, or in our daily giveaway space. And Friday-Saturday, June 1 and 2 will be our Grand Opening full of fun events here. Our separate Living Room Church spiritual celebration of our new space (also known as a building dedication) will take place later in the summer.

This coming Tuesday April 24 at 7 p.m. we gather with the Turley Community Association, at O'Brien Park Center. This coming Wednesday, April 25, we gather for potluck at 6:30 p.m. for times of sharing, planning, praying, working, and more. We aren't sticklers for time; better to come when you can than not at all.

I close with some words about church from Kathleen Norris and her book, "Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith"

"Church is other people, a worshipping community. The worship, or praise of God, does not take place only when people gather on Sunday morning, but when they gather to pain the house of an elderly shut-in, when they visit someone in the hospital or console the bereaved, when the Sunday School kids sing Christmas carols at the nursing home. If a church has life, its "programs" are not just activity, but worship. And this is helpful, because if the Sunday morning service falls flat, it is the other forms of worship that sustain this life.

"Over the years if a church is not healthy, this pattern of behavior takes a toll. If the pastors and laypeople who normally exercise proper authority have failed to do so, creating a power vacuum, chaos ensues. And it is not fun. It was not fun. Not long after I had become a member, two perfectly sane women said to me that they had begun to wonder if the church had become possessed by the devil. It makes as much sense as anything, I told them. And then I had to laugh, and at myself. It was perfectly humblling, and a perfect evocation of what Paul, writing to the troubled church at Corinth, called "God [choosing] what is weak to shame the strong" (1 Cor. 1:27)....

"In retrospect, I can say that I joined the church out of basic needs: I was becoming a Christian, and as the religion can't be practiced alone, I needed to try to align myself with a community of faith. And it proved to be the best possible time for me to do this, because I had to do it without illusions....

"From the outside, church congregations can look like remarkably contentious places, full of hypocrites who talk about love while fighting each other tooth and nail. This is the reason many people give for avoiding them. On the inside, however, it is a different matter, a matter of struggling to maintain unity as "the body of Christ" given the fact that we have precious little uniformity. I have only to look at the congregation I know best, the one I belong to. We are not individuals who have come together because we are like-minded. That is not a church, but a political party....

"The church is still a sinful institution," a Benedictine monk wrote to me when I was struggling over whether or not to join a church. "How could it be otherwise?" he asked, and I was startled into a recognition of simple truth. The church is like the Incarnation itself, a shaky proposition. It is a human institution, full of ordinary people, sinners like me, who say and do cruel, stupid things. But it is also a divinely inspired institution, full of good purpose, which partakes of a unity far greater than the sum of its parts. That is why it is called the Body of Christ.

"And that is why when the battles rage, people hold on. They find a sufficient unity, and a rubbed raw but sufficient love, and even the presence of God."