Thursday, March 20, 2008

How Easter Happens: then and now, there and here

This is another post from our mission outpost-style church movement planting beginning here in Turley, Oklahoma, along with Easter message. Read on.

First, the news headlines and invitations to participate in great events happening here through our A Third Place Community Center, and church activities, with our big weekend upon us, and then commentary on what I have learned, especially through living and working here in this area, about how Easter happens.

1. Spread the word and come Saturday if you live in, work in, shop in, have family ties in or are interested in the future of our area. The OU Turley project kicks off this Saturday, with events from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. OU representatives from the social work department will be here to listen to talk about Turley and what people would like to see in our area, what our strengths and resources are. Overview and history in the morning and then at 2 p.m. the surveys begin, followed by a community forum. The Center will also be open for all of our regular public free services as well (including the TVs tuned in to March Madness). Come and go, or come and stay. We also have up now our big community board where we will have people listing the free services they will offer to others, the free goods and tools they will share with others as a lending library, and the services and items they would like to receive, as well as a place to list birthdays and people in need of prayers of concern. "Now all with faithfulness and trust were together, and had all things in common and sold their possessions and goods and divided them among all, as anyone had need." (Acts 2:44-45; oh that it were quoted as often as other passages). Thank you so much to all who are helping to make this a meaningful experience.

2. Come Friday, Mar. 21, noon, at All Souls Church, 2952 S. Peoria, for Good Friday Tennebrae Service. I will bring a homily "Who Are You After?" as part of the service put on jointly each year by All Souls, Hope, Restoration, and The Living Room churches. It will take place in the All Souls chapel.

3. Come Sunday at 10 a.m. for a brief Easter morning communion service and then journey with us for the 11 a.m. service at Church of the Restoration, near Pine and Greenwood, as we experience the Easter Spirit and begin looking for ways to help one another serve our north Tulsa community. The regular Sunday afternoon gathering won't be held on Easter Sunday, though I will be around for conversation. We will then return the following week and schedule in an updated completion of "God vs. Empire" series on Paul and plan our topics to come for conversation, sharing, study, leading to service.

4. Come Tuesday, Mar. 25 to O'Brien Park for the 7 p.m. community association meeting.

5. ReTree Turley Event, April 4 and 5. Come as we give away free trees to help replant our area devastated by the December ice storm disaster, whose effects can still be seen everywhere.

6. Looking ahead: Come Sat. March 29 to a peace-making workshop at All Souls where I will co-lead a session; come April 4 and 5 to more OU Turley Talks programs; come April 8 at 7 p.m. for Turley Networking Tuesdays, come April 12 for breakfast at the Odd Fellows Lodge raising funds for community projects and that day from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for the beginning of monthly fund-raising hotdog lunches at the Center to help support our mission; Come May 9 and 10 for Turley Volunteer Day/Trash-Off Days; Come May 10 for the Garden Fair, seed-sharing, plant-swapping, tools and pots trading and community gardening day.

7. An update: If you want to help volunteer at the center sometime come to one hour orientations on April 4 at noon, and on April 12 at noon. Also we are preparing to install a kitchen to better serve our community through the Center; if anyone has leads or donations toward an electric stove.

How Easter/Resurrection Happens (then and now)

The biblical witness: The resurrected spirit-body of Jesus comes almost entirely not in spectacular public expansive entertaining super-sized mega-church ways. Instead, consider this; To Paul, the earliest testimony we have, as he himself writes about it decades before Luke writes about him in the Acts of the Apostles, the Risen Christ comes personally, one to one, as an internal life-changing event. In Paul's own words there is no blinding light, nothing that anyone else would have been able to see or know. The Risen One comes as Jesus said the realm of God comes, like leaven in bread, slowly transforming from the inside out, the downside up. The next oldest written witness we have is from the Gospel of Mark, where in the original ending there is simply the empty tomb power itself, and the voice of the young man disciple, speaking to just the three women, telling them where to go if they wish to follow Jesus now. Next in Luke, rewriting Mark here, there are a few more women added to the original three at the tomb, and then Luke alone tells the story of just the two men walking to Emmaus who don't at first recognize Jesus walking with them, until they stop and break bread together. Then Christ appears to the "eleven" and some few more. Slowly, gradually, but still minimally the size of the numbers grows of those encountering Resurrected Life. Matthew echoes Luke. And lastly, in John, Easter happens first to only one woman, Mary Magdalene, and then to disciples few enough to gather in a room, appearing to them in private space, making it holy, and not the way the Caesers and other authorities owned the public space and made it the epitome of sacred space. In fact, in John, in the famous story of "Doubting Thomas," resurrection is supposed to be felt and known even in absence, with no one present, through story, faith, trust, hope. Jesus mocks Thomas for having to be there, to see, before believing. And finally in John, even in the later endings, Christ comes to the few out on the lake fishing, by the campfire by the sea, in small breakfast sharing just as he had before.

Why? Why not appear before thousands in Rome or Jerusalem? Why not make it easy for people to know, to follow? Surely if conversion were the aim, that would be the means. But if it is inspiration, if it is invitation to participation in something God has started and needs us to continue, then Easter comes not in feel-good spectacle, but in, as Mother Teresa said, "doing small things with great love." Filling a few with a transforming idea, a God DNA so to speak, and doing so amidst the everydayness of life. That becomes unstoppable, like mustard seed weeds and leaven's fermentation and the loving justice of a Samaritan, a Syrio-Phoenician woman, and the redeemed failures of all us disciples like Thomas, Peter, and the rest.

Easter continues to happen that way. Spring is normal; Easter is not. I have grumbled about Easter 'coming early' this year, but that is how Easter always should come to be true to Resurrection, when you don't expect it, when it disrupts your normalcy.

Here it happens too. Normal says we can't and shouldn't do what we have done, in just these past few years in this little part of God's land. We joke lately about all the stories being told about us and our Center and its activities and how it could only be doing what we are doing if there was some major grant involved or we were being supported by a Casino (our latest laugher). It is hard for people to begin to grasp the power of one and two, for then they would have to confront the power within themselves for giving to others when they believe they are filled only with need and scarcity. That this could be done with volunteer giving, all of it, and that we reach across racial, religious lines to be in mission. That we could do this and continue to dream and imagine and create even when we juggle utility bills and end each month at best still at zero because we keep investing in that which is beyond ourselves. That we could manifest so much trust in people, here where everyone is supposed to be in it for themselves, in what I call a die and let die mentality. And, of course, it is impossible for many people to broach the concept that this is actually "doing church." Normal has so much power in our lives now as it did 2000 years ago, though we are being the church in the spirit of 2000 years ago, by 1. breaking down the barriers between sacred and secular, by 2. simply following the spirit of Jesus with no creeds or strings attached, and by 3. creating soulful relationships to counter the soul-sucking empires felt in the civic abuse and neglect of our area, in our workplaces, sometimes even in our homes and personal and family relationships.

This is like another three-fold path we practice here at A Third Place--1. connect with people where they are in their need, be it giving to them through the donation room, food bank, free internet, library, tv, or helping out in the myriad ways that happens here daily (just this last week one woman in another part of Tulsa had read about us last summer in the Tulsa World and when her car needed repair here in Turley on her way home she limped it into our parking lot because she figured we would be able to direct her to the best closest place to go, only to find someone here who was able to fix it for her for free); 2. form community with people, getting to know them as they come back for more, letting them know us, sharing, eating together, talking in bits and pieces, gradually evolving from client-provider to a sense of community and ownership, which takes time, and trust, and knowing the goal is not ever to have them join our church (though sharing about it if it comes up, even there not with the goal of "getting" members); and finally, three turning community into communitas, which is a community on a mission, releasing them as partners in mission to others themselves, where they can connect with people in their needs. Some folks naturally gravitate toward the communitas, some never will, but the opportunity and the path is there. It is the way Easter happens.

I think back to what our community was like two years ago, even one year ago, even last Easter, and how much it is changing already, even though normal keeps me remembering so terribly much how much transformation still awaits. Normal keeps coming even at me and saying sometimes "don't try that" or "that's no success if it doesn't turn into x number of people" or dollars, or "well that was another mistake wasn't it." I sometimes long for "normal church" too. Then Easter happens and something inside me breaks open and I feel the grace of the resurrected life that is the spirit of Jesus, the spirit that crosses then or now, even those erected in the name of Jesus, can't extinquish, and often I know this isn't anything of my own doing, just as Jesus didn't resurrect himself and we can't either, but from a source beyond myself I begin to see the beauty of "the abnormal way," and how catching it is, and I can't be anywhere else.

The greatness of Easter, the greatest thing of love I can imagine, happens in small ways and to people who have all but given up. It happens between empty tombs and the shores of Galilee, where the presence of God is felt while fishing, eating, sharing with a few others. And so if you feel you are between an empty tomb and Galillee, have faith, know others have been there too for milennia, and look carefully and with mindfulness around you--something abnormal is about to happen!

Thanks and blessings, (oh two more things: if you want to see the homily for Good Friday go to; and I was watching one of my favorite "Easter" movies the other day, Harvey, and was caught again by the wisdom of Elwood P. Dowd when he says "Well, I have wrestled with reality (i.e. normalcy of the world) for 35 years, Doctor, and I am happy to state I finally won out over it." As well as that great Easter-y exchange between Elwood and the oh so reality-bound asylum orderly Mr. Wilson who wonders "Who's Harvey?" to which nurse Kelly says "A white rabbit, six feet tall." To which Elwood says, "Six feet three and a half inches. Now let's stick to the facts."