Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Plan Now. Revival 2009 All Souls Tulsa

Theme: Jesus' Gospel of Inclusion and Future of world, our churches, our lives.
Keynoter Carlton Pearson. Come to the world's largest Unitarian church for the UU Christian Fellowship Revival in Tulsa, March 26 to 29. We have some up at www.uuchristian.org/revival but check back often as a lot more will be up soon, now that we have the new main site launched.

Opening worship with Rev. Gerald Davis of Church of the Restoration in North Tulsa, and the other ministers at the four UU churches in Tulsa. Taize worship. A three hour centering prayer workshop. Prayer and Healing Service led by Rev. Jonalu Johnstone of First Unitarian of Oklahoma City. Worship led by Carlton Pearson. Communion Service led by Rev. Lillie Mae Henley of Universalist National Memorial Church. Small group time focusing on personal faith, the relationship of Christianity and the UUA, and UU christianity outside of the UUA. Workshops on all facets of spiritual life. Films featuring Jesus. Service Project to Turley and tour of UUCF offices there. Dinners together. Much more.

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Once Again: UUA GA and Church Planting

Hi all. Again this year for the UUA General Assembly I will be looking and love to hear about all kinds of presentations, discussions, workshops, etc. that you might go to that are about church planting, or that would be helpful for church and mission planters of different stripes. Hope as you find them you will let folks know about them through here and blog here or give references here to where you blogged about them yourself. I suspect there will be more this year but I havent had time to look through the program and catch any yet. I will be part of an emerging church discussion during Ministry Days and that's always applicable. As I will be working and busy at the UU Christian Fellowship booth and programs all week, I know I won't get around to catch them. So hope you all will. End.Type your summary here

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The Inside Out Church, part two; the hows

Notes on Church Planting Movements: Organic, Incarnationa, Mission Ancient/Present Way Rev. Ron Robinson, Turley, OK, at the Christian Universalist Association, Oklahoma City

Just some of the notes I made for myself for my talk and conversation.

What You Would See Today At ‘Church’ in Turley: one year after we began in new place/new way: ALL OF THESE DID NOT EXIST BEFORE A YEAR AGO
One thing is that while I was in OKC, the church was busy hosting students working on a community project, hosting the local school reunion planning group gathering, and providing a space for the Juneteenth rodeo riders to come by during the parade, plus the usual goings on at the community center as listed below. Important note: I don't think this past Saturday that anyof our core church leaders were present for any of it, fully incarnated in the partners and participants we have, permission giving and trust building in a part of the world where trust and hope are hard to come by.

In the one year after we started free library, partnered for free health clinic, free internet center, giveaway center, meetingspace, community garden and animal help projects, OU Social Work grad. partnership, resource center, lending tool library, cable tv, wifi, foodbank and feeding daily, recovery addiction center; coordinated community renewal projects; Sunday morning worship with sister church in north Tulsa with racial justice focus, and others, Wednesday evening common meal, conversation, prayer and communion time for refreshing the soul for our serving God….

And important fact, we have done it with some 8 church leaders, 5 other regular financial supporters locally; some 20 community partners, and about 200 participants monthly. No paid staff. All money raised goes into the operation itself of transforming the area and the lives in it. No insurance for any of the contents; the landlord has on the building itself but for our part we don't pay for the insurance industry (see Shane Claiborne and The Simple Way in The Irresistible Revolution about their approach like this to insurance). Everything that we have in the center/church has been given to us; if we were to lose it all, as the Simple Way did in their fire last year for example, we believe that our mission staying the same would result in the same giving, from others to us, and from us to others. 100 percent of funds received go into mission of one kind or another doing or promoting doing our ministry.

More notes
Church serving Parish; Parish supporting Church. Something any dedicated small group of Christians can do. (flip-flopping small group—main church dynamics).
Turley in the poorest area of the Tulsa area; unincorporated; within two mile radius of our center 66percent African American, growing Hispanic, historic American Indian, and blue collar Caucasian. Doing church the typical way, the modern way, would prevent the kinds of interactions across demographic lines that we experience everyday this way, living in and with rather than trying to attract from to...
Response to wider Cultural Movements:
Christendom/Churched to Post/Un/Christendom-Churched World---relationship of people to church and church to world has changed evocative of change in “telephone”; when communication medium changes, worldviews change, when worldviews change culture changes; when culture changes, organisms change or die (9 out of 10 people decide to die rather than change).
Changes in Christendom to Post-Christendom, Modern to Quantum Society Changes (multi-manifestations of church); Default Mode of “Church” based in large measure in generational culture changes (before 1945, 1946-1963, 1964-1975, 1976-1990, 1990-). Organic church focus on unchurched, de-churched, burned out church. Going tribal, deeper, small as the next big thing.
Church as non-profit religious organization giving way to “body of people who make Jesus visible in the world.”
Attractional giving way to Incarnational.
New Evangelism is creating new and deeper disciples who follow the Jesus Way regardless of church membership and of profession of faith; Jesus way is relational not propositional, communal not individualistic. New Monasticism. Focus on 1.) Jesus Story; 2.) eliminating sacred/secular divide; 3.) community/communitas.
Trends: Transformation permission-giving, multi; emergent/ EPIC worship; incarnational-organic-simple. What I tried to get at here is that there are lots of new ways of doing church or renewing church; organic is just one of those ways and all are needed; trends I think are that there will be more of all kinds described here by these terms.

My Experiences of Evolving Church
1. Tahlequah Church in 1990s: Organizational, Attractional, Worship-Oriented, Single Church Oriented, Building-Oriented, Resources & Culture & Media of Small College Town, Grassroots, Lay-Start---Pre-Internet Age, Visitors Knowledge based not on beliefs and research, but witnessing action, and news stories/columns; belonging before believing.
2. Owasso Epiphany 2003; fast growing suburban culture trumps theology; leadership; resources to culture disparity; parachute drop guarantee of struggle and failures; worship launch, emergent worship development, space-oriented.
3. Turley Epiphany 2004; stressing universalism, centering the cross; multi-site vision, matching resources, extended field of family and friends and deep roots; still worship focused; sending out into community with projects , working backwards to undo and relaunch Natural Church Development Model—personal relationships, sharing spiritual passions, small group(s), servant evangelism, worship, structures, reproduce. Three years without bylaws and budget; then ignore bylaws and budget.
4. Turley Living Room version 1 2006; changing name reflect culture; Sunday evening shift, beginning community service (graffiti removal, events inside the building), matching worship style to size
5. A Third Place Community Center/The Living Room/?--2007: creation of service center for community in which the church gathers, under the radar, focused on mission first with worship to support mission; meeting people in mission first, becoming partners, growing leaders, intentional small, monastic orientation, 6 spiritual discipline requirements (daily prayer, weekly worship, monthly support group, annual retreat, lifetime pilgrimage, daily openness to random acts of kindness). Church at same time community center is open; multiple events at same time; church without walls; community foundation birth, worshipping with sister church in North Tulsa and others on Sunday mornings.
On the horizon….vision…become model to inspire other sites to partner with rather than trying to go in solo and plant; blend back in some attractional methods now; also intentional prayer/worship/spiritual presence amidst mission service.

Biblical/Theological Elements
Inspired by Paul and especially Paul or pre-Pauline great hymn in Philippians 2 of counter-Empire values of incarnation and servitude and resurrection of all; Great Commission Intertwined with Great Commandment/”Good Samaritan” Parable; and universalist good news and tradition—look what God has done through Christ for the world and you, demonstrating God’s love that unifies and reaches all, as opposed to the message that God separates all and emphasizes and elevates the finite individual over the infinite relational character of God, therefore as God’s people our response to that good news is to reflect that nature and characteristic of God in the here and now of our lives and communities by being incarnational people embodying that good news and as God did with us, sharing it with others. How we share it and with whom will mark diversity of differences of church in the 21st century just as it was in the first century.

www.progressivechurchplanting.blogspot.com; www.theooze.com; www.emergentvillage.com
http://www.mislinks.org/church/chplant.htmhttp://www.ucc.org/evangelism/planting.htm, http://www.religionlink.org/tip_060116.phphttp://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1058/is_17_120/ai_107397248http://www.baptist.ca/ministries/plant.phphttp://www.newchurchministry.org/http://www.episcopalchurch.org/newchurch_51487_ENG_HTM.htm?menupage=51486http://steveaddison.net/http://www.plantingliberally.org/www.talk2action.orghttp://www.churchplantingvillage.net/
The New Christians, Tony Jones; The Irresistible Revolution, and Jesus For President, Shane Claiborne; Inside The Organic Church, Bob Whitesel; Emerging Churches by Bolger and Gibbs, The Shaping of Things To Come by Hirsch and Frost, The Forgotten Ways by Hirsch, Exiles by Frost, The Organic Church by Neil Cole, Wide Open Spaces: Beyond Paint by Number Christianity, and Divine Nobodies by Jim Palmer; Revolution, and UnChristian, and Pagan Christianity, by George Barna; Organic Community, by Joseph Meyers; Emerging Church, and Emerging Worship, and They Like Jesus But Not Church by Dan Kimball, all of Brian McLaren’s book especially A Generous Orthodoxy, The Secret Message of Jesus, Everything Must Change; all of Leonard Sweet’s book especially Postmodern Pilgrims, and the Language of the Emergent Church; all of Bill Easum, especially Risk-Taking Churches, and Beyond the Box; Bill Tenny-Britains’s House Church Manual, Wolfgang Simpson Houses That Change The World; The Present Future by Reggie McNeal; The Out of Bounds Church, Steve Naylor; all of Lyle Schaller’s especially The New Context for Ministry, and Small Congregation, Big Potential; Michael Slaughter’s Unlearning Church; The Rise of Christianity by Rodney Starks; The Small Church At Large, Robin Trebilcock; Planting Growing Churches, by Aubrey Malphurs.Work of The New Paul Perspective Scholars: www.thepaulpage.com and recent works by Crossan, Wills, Gager, Gorman, Wright. Go to http://progressivechurchplanting.blogspot.com/2007/07/paul-sermon-why-we-do-what-we-do-and.htmlType your summary here

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The Inside Out Church & Economics of Evangelism; the Why of Planting

Last weekend I had a fun time at the Christian Universalist Association celebration in Oklahoma City, first Friday night as part of the Restoration Nation father's day annual celebration, and preaching by Carlton Pearson of New Dimensions in Tulsa, which is now worshipping at All Souls Unitarian Church after a few years of worshipping at Trinity Episcopal after losing members and its building when it was megachurch Higher Dimensions. And Then Saturday at the UCC Church of the Open Arms for the CUA celebration. I was invited to talk about church planting, especially the incarnational organic way, as a way of growth. The CUA is interested in church planting in a variety of ways including house churches, and it is also starting moves toward its own ordination process as part of leadership development that could be helpful in starting such church plants.

The folks at the CUA seemed a bit worried that their first celebration wasn't attended by more people; some 30 for their part of the weekend event it seemed, but it was an ecumenical event and good sharing on Christian Universalism which is more widespread of course than such numbers would indicate. People were talking about higher gas prices and the economy for low turnout and that is always a factor. But then I think there is also the old issue of universalism and committment to institutions (they said a lot of folks also weren't too crazy about hooking up with another organization if it is interested in furthering its organization and assets, especially many universalists in the more charismatic side of the movement who are spirit-led and tend to be wary of institutions.) There's all of that I think too; another way UU and pentecostalists are brothers and sisters of the Third Person of the Holy Trinity :).

I was thinking that the problem is likely that they didnt have more in attendance but that they weren't small enough; kicking movements off these days I think is more a matter of retreats than revivals, more a matter of going deep in relationships with a tribe of folks; the same kind of dynamic that will kick off church planting movements. More small group sharing than large scale proclamation. But the CUA is young and its right that an ecumenical movement is bubbling up all around its concerns; the very ecumenical nature of it might be an ironic stumbling block to people taking on another organization; they are already sensing a coming out inside their own circles and tribes and don't need another.

My thoughts anyway coming from an admittedly church planting perspective.

What I was struck with in preparing for my presentation was that instead of spending so much time on how people are doing things organic and incarnational these days, and what we are up to here in Turley, OK, as I have done in different ways since I started doing workshops back in the early 90s on this, is that I could have spent much more productive time focusing our attention on the why of church planting movements. Especially with universalists. You have to counter from others, and know deeply within your own communities, why it is vital for universalist salvation believers to be involved in planting. After all, the argument goes, why plant a church, why try to attract people to a church, if you are going to see them all in heaven anyway one of these days. What is it that would require me to make such a sacrifice, to make such a committment, if the reward for that committment is no more of a payoff than if I don't make such a sacrifice and committment. If you want more of this economic basis of religious committment, of course, spend time with the wonderful books, provocative books, by Rodney Stark, now of Baylor.

I often talk about culture trumping theology; well, marketplace culture might trump it all.
But as I told them this last weekend when I did get into that most important why of planting such churches, regardless of the multiple ways of how, is that we need to plant such churches, such God communities, precisely to counter that marketplace quid pro quo kind of spirituality. Just because it is reality doesn't make it true spiritually. That kind of worldview on religious committment is precisely what the church, that body of people making Jesus visible in the world, is called to counteract against by creating communities of the opposite value, encouraging disciples to be faithful for a different reason, and to know the benefits of that counterliving are rich indeed. We need to create more and different churches of universalist salvation because it should be a part of our spiritual discipline, our walk with Jesus, to reflect and embody Jesus' values which were communal, missional, getting outside of one's self and acting radically other than the Empire way of acting and thinking and relating. We need to plant such churches, such missions, because we do so from the deepest part of our being in response to the gifts of love the God of Love has given to us, so that this God of Love and not the God of Fear is the one that is made visible in the world. We plant them because we aren't complete and whole if we don't in our spiritual life, for the shape of love is a pouring out into another, the same way God incarnates the world. As Paul Ricouer says, its the Absolute Absolving.

The early church, all those universalists like Paul, knew that the spread of their churches was a core religious necessity because it was the way they did what they were called to do, to participate in Christ, in growing the body of Christ, as Christ grows them. It is the ultimate way of relating to those who are unlike us, which is the way of Jesus. We do it because if we don't there will be more hell on earth, and for that, somehow someway, we will be held accountable.

And remember this all leads to the next understanding that this doesn't mean that what we plant will have to look and be and act like what we understand church to be now, especially if we think of it in those terms as permanent building, set name, paid preacher and staff, set worship time, etc. etc If we think of it in those terms then the chasm that opens up before us between our resources and reality will paralyze us. But if we look with other eyes and other perspectives, then it becomes doable, and is catching. Our God wouldn't have it any other way; if it is done in such a way it seems to engender burnout or despair, then you know it isn't what God is seeking.

Well, thats a few notes I remember making from the short why part of the conversation. Next I will post more on the how. But that stuff, with some changes, you have heard from me before. But it will be another fresher look at the Inside Out Church.

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

One Year After: New/Old Way of Church

Well, we have just passed the first anniversary of our grand opening of the community center called A Third Place here, beginning our transformation too of our church into one that incarnates itself, and our God, into the community, rather than expending resources to attract the community to a one hour time together called church. More on that below....

A few announcements first about ways we are this month engaging the world with God's transforming love and justice.

The OU-Turley project we started will be working on different projects here with us in the Turley area throughout the weekends in June (especially a BIG WEEKEND of projects and work here at the center and in the community on Friday and Saturday June 20-21. come experience the power of it with us); we had a great start this past Saturday as I took them on a "windshield tour" of Turley, just a glimpse really, but focusing on the boundaries of our area and on some of our long running "challenge areas' which we decided not to call eyesores but "hidden potential" or as I now like to think of them as "transformation sites".
So I hope all who can will come by A Third Place on the weekends, meet the OU students, and find ways to talk with them and meet with them and help.
We are especially focusing on wrapping up the photographing and documenting of our "transformation" and 'treasure" sites, which might become part of a multi-media presentation to show Turley, to service groups, to funders, to possible commercial investors. Nothing excites like a story and that we have.

Some OU students will be at the community breakfast this Saturday at the Odd Fellows Lodge and then will be helping us with our project to document and witness both the "transformation sites" so we can present them to the Health Dept. and county officials and protest for long-awaited action, and also and perhaps more importantly they will help us witness photographically also to the "treasure sites" those places here in Turley people don't expect to find beauty, interest, uniqueness. During our tour this past Saturday it was often remarked upon how beautiful is our land, some of its vistas here by Turley Hill to Bird Creek and parts in between and hills, but how it is often in those very spots where people have chosen to turn into illegal dumpsites. Just one month ago at the trash-off event we coordinated we concentrated on one dump spot on Utica Ave. that is in one of our most scenic spots, only to find this past Saturday it had become a dump site again, waiting of course not for any government officials to notice and do anything about, but for us.

This past Sunday some of us also travelled to the community garden in Brady Heights after worshipping with Church of the Restoration, to see how they have created a place to foster counter-agricultural and eating practices and to help feed the hungry in their midst; it was inspiring and we are continuing to look for sites where we can take over, as they did, an abandoned lot and turn it into raised beds with our neighbors. On Sunday mornings we continue to group as we can and worship with either our sister church Restoration or others.

And on Wednesday nights we are continuing our common meals, our conversation on Shane Claiborne's book Jesus For President: politics for ordinary radicals, full of stories both biblical and contemporary that are full of what we are trying to do to follow in the Jesus Way of creating alternative communities, counter attitudes, ordinary acts of generosity and trust in a place where others see scarcity. So many of our ideas and acts have been born out of reading the inspiring words of other small tribes like ours around the globe, and filling the spirit that filled that original tribe of early followers who met in homes, in shops, in public spaces, all as ways to live counter to the ways of the Empire, whose ways were glorified by all those in power.

And after last Wednesday's conversation, we have this week begun offering free peanut butter and jelly sandwich lunches at noon, or whenever we are open and someone is in need; especially because at our local elementary school almost 100 percent of the children receive subsidized lunches, but the school is out during the summer. We are hoping people will sign up to take one day one hour and help us create this free feeding station.

But Back to One Year After: Just one year ago we celebrated our opening. Since then, the library has tripled, the donation room has tripled, the internet center has about tripled, we have a health clinic for those without insurance in our community where none existed before, we have helped spawn a local animal project that made the front page of the Tulsa paper again last week for its summer blitz of providing free spay and neuter of every animal in the Turley area, we have donated more than a thousand plants and trees and free seeds to folks in our area to help bring back beauty and hope and repopulate after the devastation of the ice storm, and....just recently, drumroll, this past week, we have begun a twice a week TURLEY RESOURCES CENTER here at the Center, on Tuesdays and Fridays, by partnering with the Univ. of Oklahoma to be the site of a graduate assistant program. Within the first hour the grad. asst. was here, we had people coming in to talk about housing issue for a local homeless man suffering from mental illness. We are working on ways to bring the presence of social service agencies here to Turley instead of our folks having to travel across Tulsa to get the services, especially given the poor access of public transportation. Within the past year we have helped host the group of folks who planned the Reunion at Turley/Cherokee that brought in almost 300 people two weeks ago. We had the first Turley Day at the ballpark. And of course we hadn't but barely dreamed of such an intensive series of community forums and leadership development as we had this Spring with the Turley Talks events, giving voice to those who didn't know the power of their own voice; helping people see that our area is more than the stereotypes and statistics, it is spirit, service, strengths, stories.

An intermission report: Perennial Church, part two. One of the reasons I didn't send this report out last week was because the storms knocked power out just as I had written it and not saved it, of course, but also because if you remember I was talking about the story of the flower bed we planted by one of the Turley Welcome Signs, and how just as someone was about to mow it down who lived by it because all they thought it was was weeds, it bloomed so beautifully and brightly and large; well, they mowed it down anyway; it took some of the spirit out of us, even as we had been dreaming of better welcome signs in better places and places where we wouldn't have to risk as much the neighbors mowing. Since then I have been reminded of the account of Moses coming down Mt. Sinai after the encounter with the burning bush, and how his face was burned from the transformation, and how that look of wonder and awe changed his look so much so that he scared those that saw him and remembered his old look; transformation gets reactions. But now we may be more determined not only to replant there, but also to look for those more permanent sites where even more people will be directed to us, and have a first image of caring not neglect. Those who remember how the whole Let Turley Bloom got started will know we have been down this road before, just a few Easters ago that our potted flowers dotting Peoria Ave. had been stolen or vandalized or dumped out that Easter morning which got us interested in the in-ground plantings to begin with.

Anyway, back to the main report of this first year: I am leaving out so much, especially the day to day ways that people come in, meet others, find ways to serve. We have one recent person new to our area who came in to spend time on the free internet trying to get documents from where he'd come in California, and through his time here met and shared with others, and the other day came out of our poor little room we call a restroom and said he could fix that handle problem, and ten minutes later it was done. People come to us often to receive and then move into relationship with us, and then they become givers. "Rise. Take up your mat. And Go." is how Jesus once put it. There's the "cannas man" who brings by plants to give away, and stays to share stories and become a leader with the OU students. If you have been reading this letters this past year, you know how much I leave out of stories like this. Every day people are helping others and the word is spreading that there is a different thing going on on N. Peoria, and something good happening in Turley. There is no way we could have done what we have done, with such a few people, if we had limited our sense of church to our old smaller, albeit less expensive building, with the church signs out front; so many people we never would have met, especially as we meet them now, not as potential members but as immediate partners.

What a year it has been. Exhausting. We, well I, have failed at so much, or still have so many loose ends to work on so we can keep creating loose ends. One of these posts this summer I will try to set out how many things we have wanted to do and haven't gotten to, or been sidetracked from, as well as all the personal encounters that only hit me as sacred ones after I have left them and had the Spirit hit me upside the head. I was asked about what our greatest success has been and I said without a beat that we keep trying to fail at more and more things, reminding ourselves that it was to the world, and I believe even most likely according to the Gospel of Mark to Jesus himself, a failed Messiah on the cross. But it is from such failings that the world is re-made. We have so much still on the horizon. Free music coffeehouses, workshops on life skills, lectures, and also the intentional creation of an altar and prayer and meditation right here in the center in the midst of life, where we can begin moving more toward being an urban monastery without boundaries between sacred and secular. This past year we have focused on the study and service and some of course the social; now we need to cultivate and spread the seeds of that spiritual force that sustains us and is the reason we do all we do; now, only now that we have done all we have done this past year, can we begin to provide such resources to our neighbors; only now, now that mission is supreme, can worship help it continue, but worship that is decentralized, anytime, anywhere, with anyone. I still dream of recreating what once existed for awhile years ago in Turley, where off of the Turley methodist church there was a little prayer room that could be accessed 24 hours a day by those in need, with no staff needing to be present; of course it was vandalized, and was locked, and became open to insiders only, but the dream is still there and I know there is a Way. I dream of opening the center occasionally and more often in the middle of the night, beginning at midnight, or 3 a.m. for those who get off work; I want us to become 24-7 and to become not just one place, but a hub of places in the community, continuing to reach out and meet people where they are, not expecting them to come where we are. And we may even find ways to continue expanding and moving and growing here in Turley in ways we can only barely begin to glimpse now. Who knows what another year will bring. Meanwhile, we the storms continue to come in and knock our power off and meanwhile we continue to end each month at zero or below in the bank account (a sign of success, though a constant lesson of the spirit for me, at least, to learn over and over again :) ), and still we open our doors and miracles walk in to greet us.

It is summertime; who knows when the next one of these reports will get out; it is sabbath time for sure, summertime the time of letting drifting billowy clouds come into our souls and we look up and once again try to discern what shapes there we see, clouds that offer cover and shade from the sun of reason and work and all that righteousness jazz; clouds that bring healing rain to our gardens of the earth and soul. Wherever you are know when you are, that it is summer and it is okay to vacate your daily dreads and fears and struggles and look closely at the world that graces you with an overwhelming presence.

blessings and thanks for sharing this year's journey, Ron

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

www.uuchristian.org update launched

Go to www.uuchristian.org. And back again as more updated content will be coming. Type your summary here

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Saturday, June 07, 2008


Here is a way, beyond the actual encounters we have, that we have begun sharing about our church with those who first meet us through our community center. Notice what is missing.

Our church that began A Third Place community center in Turley
is a different kind of church than many. Here’s how:

We simply believe in making Jesus visible in the world
In lives and in our families and in our work and in our communities
So our church is designed to promote faithfulness to that mission
Wherever life happens. Not just on Sunday for one hour.
We are an organic church more than an organizational church.
Our vision is to be a network of micro-churches not one mega-church
And we want to gather wherever love and justice is most needed
In the places others have forgotten, neglected, oppressed.

We are an open free non-creedal church--We welcome all who welcome all
Regardless of religious belief, race, gender, age, sexual orientation, ability, economic status, how you make a living, or your politics.
That is the test of our covenant, our faith
We happily work with people in other churches, other faiths
And we welcome the doubter, questioner, seeker too to join with us.
Our goal is to grow people of Spirit and Service

We strive to be like a new kind of monastery for these new times
We ask of ourselves these things then as our discipline of faith, and seek to follow them as closely as possible, living in forgiveness of ourselves and others when we can’t:
1.) To pray and/or meditate daily, 2.) worship weekly, 3.) check-in spiritually with one another or others monthly, 4.) go on Spiritual Retreat annually, 5.) make a pilgrimage at least once during our lifetime to some place that holds special spiritual meaning to us, and 6.) at all times and places sow seeds of love and justice through acts of random kindness.

Wednesdays 6 – 8 p.m. here at A Third Place:
common meal, conversation, communion Call 794-4637, 691-3223, 430-1150 to set up a time to talk one on one with Ron Robinson or one of us about us or your spiritual path, about a good idea you have, and especially about helping seed another group like ours in another site. Check www.turleyok.blogspot.com for ways to serve with us, and www.progressivechurchplanting.blogspot.com

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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Perennial Church

Hi. Here is a selection taken from my weekly or every other week email news and comments sent out from The Living Room Church and A Third Place Community Center here in Turley, OK.

The Perennial Church:
About a month ago, as I was driving past the Welcome to Turley signs at 56th St.. north and 74th St. north on Peoria Ave. I noticed that the gardens our church planted there were looking pretty scraggly and thick and "weedy" but my wife reminded me to see what wasn't visible, what was to come, soon, to have faith. I was worried because others were also telling me that it looked like the gardens at the sign were growing higher and getting "weedy" and one neighbor was itching to mow them all down and was mad at how they were looking. Then overnight it seemed, with a little of our rainfall, those "weeds" burst open and the gardens at the sign were transformed into the showy evening primrose, the blazing red poppies, the blue salvia, and more that they had been all along as they were going through their natural cycle of growth.

I remember last year and the year before through the hard drought and the equally hard floodings how the gardens struggled, how much work it took to get them planted, to try to even up the lumber of the bed edges (you should have seen those big squares of lumber bungied to the top of our truck as we drove around Turley to the sites lol), and especially to try to keep them watered without a portable water tank, constantly filling up a 30 gallon bin and scooping out the water to pour on the gardens. And they didn't look like much for a while. Then the long winter last, and the ice storms (which at one site still have piles of debris on part of our garden signs that hasnt been removed yet because Peoria Ave. in Turley is outside the city limits of Tulsa, is considered a state highway so the county officials won't maintain and pick up the tree debris, and the state officials seem busy elsewhere; leaving one intersection dangerously blocked by tree debris still after all this time since last December, so not waiting on "they' it looks like the usual 'we' of our small group needs to go out and ourselves take care of that dangerous intersection on Peoria). Anyway, it all began to look the last few months like all the hard work had been for nought. And we were all too busy with all the new projects to go and start over, to nurture the gardens. The whole welcome sign garden work seemed like a failure, especially to those who didn't know its natural cycle.

Then without us doing anything now, the blooms and beauty came again and the edges of our little abandoned place looked cared for and special again, graced. The same with the flowers we had planted for the local businesses. Feeling bad that we hadn't "kept up" with our constant tending and worry and weeding and watering, in the midst of it all grace happens, the natural cycle does its sustaining spiritual thing, and gifts abound.

So, of course, witnessing all this I am thinking of the Church, and how the Church founded in the modern agricultural method of human constant control becomes so unsustainable, so killing of the Spirit, while the Church founded in the organic natural method of focusing on the foundation of soil, and of the native plants for that soil, becomes a place full of simple sustainability of Spirit where gifts abound and where people can move on to new places in need of good healthy soil and the right seeds, trusting that grace will teem and tend to its own. How are our churches stuck in the pattern of having to plant and replant and care for and recare for revolving doors of people like you see institutional planting of annuals just so the color looks good to others, annuals that have to be uprooted once the season is over and replanted with others for the next season then uprooted again? Or how are our churches refocusing to consider what kind of lively soil and what kinds of the right seeds we are planting in people and communities, trusting to let God's DNA do the rest?

May our church, may our church, may my life, your life, our families, our communities learn to live and grow in the perennial spirit of the perennials. Cultivate Your Spirit In the Liberation of Others and the World.

Type rest of the post here

Fathers Day Sermon: Everlasting Arms

Leaning on the Everlasting Arms: A Parable of Fathers and Faith and Prodigals
Hope Unitarian Church, Tulsa, June 20, 2004 (updated here and there)
Rev. Ron Robinson

When it comes to media portrayals of fathers, we've come a long way from Ozzie Nelson. The other day on the TVLand Top 10 Dads of All Time, there was a tie for the same spot between two famous television Ozzie's, Ozzie Nelson and heavy metal Dad Ozzie Osborne. And I hesitate to say this, but…it is true that the truest biblical models of fathers of real faithfulness are more like the Ozzie of the Osbornes. Or maybe even more like Maura who was Mort, a character played by Jeffrey Tambor on the show Transparent. 

Think of Abraham. His story in Genesis really begins history in the Bible. It is no coincidence that right before the Abraham story, there is the Tower of Babel story where people have tried to show off their strength and unity and become God-like, only to be dispersed. Then comes Abraham, whose heroic blessing is precisely that he is as far away from a typical God-like character as you can get. Very radical approach in its day, and still in our Empire days today, when "Greatness" and "Power" and "Winning" is claiming more and more of the narrative of our country and our country's would-be leaders. 

The story was put together by different writers over a span of perhaps 600 years during times of triumph, of exile and slavery, and new beginnings. In the overall story, Abraham is old and childless when we first meet him and he leaves his father and his homeland--an outrageous act, a very prodigal act-when he is 75, then restlessly moves, getting caught up in a world war, changing his name, arguing and negotiating with God, exiling his first son, attempting to kill his second son, passing off his wife as his sister twice, and after his first wife dies marrying another and fathering another family, and dying at 175-a mere lad when you compare it to the length of life of the men who come before him in the Primeval History stories.

The Abraham story is important because it really stresses the everlasting importance of relationships and covenants above all else (this is something I wish the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam could remember about the Middle East). God's blessing and covenant and promises to Abraham come when he has no offspring, no land, and he has left the protection of his extended family. They come to Abraham when he has only his relationship with his family traveling with him and an uncertain call about his life's destination. 

Even more striking, they come because of his relationship with strangers, his hospitality shown to those he does not know, because he was once a resident alien himself, a stranger in a strange land. In a final part of the story that seems little known, when Abraham dies, both the exiled older son Ishmael and the almost sacrificed son Isaac come back together to bury and pay respect to their father, a sign of reconciliation, a possibility we are still trying, some of us, to live into. 

It would help the world today for those who at least trace their religious ancestry back to Abraham, and especially fathers and those who perpetuate the myths of the Great Father, not to lose sight of the essential message of the story of Abraham---of weakness and vulnerability and trust as true characteristics of what it means to be human and to grow relationships, and of what God's spirit truly blesses.

It is interesting how contemporary scholars have interpreted the story of Abraham's binding of Isaac (or of Ishmael if you follow Islam's version) to be as much or more a test of God's character and God's faithfulness than of Abraham's. Over and over the Hebrew word for see or sight or vision is used in this part of the story, and in Hebrew the name of the place where the action takes place is "Yahweh Sees," as if Abraham is going---See? Is this what you really want? See? Is this who you really are? See? Is this the kind of person, the kind of father you want me to be? No, so the story goes, no. Your arms are made for other things. But, of course, in history, the answer has often been yes, yes, that is the kind of Father-God we follow. That's idolatry in both directions.

Jesus' use of Abba or Daddy instead of Father evokes something much different, more in line with the Abraham model (which, as Jewish New Testament professor Amy Jill-Levine teaches us shows how rooted in his own preceding tradition and community that Jesus was, how he so often was not breaking away from the Judaisms of his time but shaping them and emphasizing them in new contexts). When I asked one of my seminary professors why most likely did Jesus begin his kind of public life and ministry and mission, he related it back to the probable absence of a father in his life, in a time and place particularly that to be fatherless was to be virtually abandoned and outcast. In such a situation, one could respond in a variety of ways such as trying to overcompensate for powerlessness and lack of honor by amassing as much power and honor as possible with which to show off and shield one's self. Jesus, instead, felt power and honor from being within a relationship with a more intimate God.

This kind of connection or something found and gained from the experience of something lost in a father is also part of a contemporary story told by the writer and seminary professor Tex Sample. He tells of how, in his attempt at sophistication, he used to make fun of the gospel hymn, In The Garden, with its lines about He walks with me and He talks with me. Then one day on a panel, after joking about the song's literalism and sentimentalism, a woman came up to him and told him the story of how, growing up, she had been abused by her father every day. And how she would then go outside and walk around and around in her yard singing that familiar song to herself-He walks with me and He talks with me and He tells me I am his own. She said it was that very hymn, and the relationship it helped create and preserve of a kind of Father on a scale that was much more powerful and permanent than the kind of father she had in her life at the time, that kept her from killing herself. 

That different image of the divine and of fatherly depiction, one of healing and freedom and not abuse and oppression, comes fully to fruition in the parable of the Prodigal-again like Abraham, a story of a father and two sons. Let's hear it something like the original hearer would.

In the ancient world (and too often still in the postmodern world), fathers were rulers, embedded in a direct line of sorts of authority from God or Gods to Emperor, Governor, Priest, Village Chief. No humanity allowed. Their allegiance was to the one above them in the great chain of Being and their responsibility was to keep those below them in line with the divine status quo order of that great chain. One's very sense of themselves was connected (no connected is too light a word, was engrained in) to the history and the future of the family and the family land. The way they kept the order was through Honor and Shame and a heavy hand.

So one day a younger son comes to his father---the listeners already know there's trouble afoot because younger sons in stories are always trouble. And he says, in essence, Father, give me what I'm entitled to and Drop Dead. A sense of entitlement by children goes a long way back. Boy, goodbye---he's going to get it now, they think. But the father says nothing. He simply divides his bios, the Greeks says, truly his life. What a stupid father, they would think, no matter what happens next. 

Sure enough, The son goes away, is on his own, a terrible thing in their eyes, and predictably enough, loses all. He sinks to the point where he would gladly eat what pigs eat, and pigs were considered shameful and unholy, but no one would offer him even what pigs eat. He was treated lower than pigs, had apparently lost his family, his land, his honor and his shame, and for all intents and purposes had lost his humanity. All he has is a hope of a relationship with his father, and not even as he'd had before, which must not have been too good, but as a hired hand, one who would slave for his father without any promise of any inheritance. Still, when you've been down so long that bottom looks like up…. 

Meanwhile, part two shifts to the father. He catches sight of his returning younger son from a long way off. As if he has been looking for him, pining and longing for him, amazing again. It says he was moved to compassion, to pity. In Greek it is that he was moved in the bowels, the pit of his stomach, what then was considered the seat of the soul itself. A very earthy and internal and bodily image, more fitting they'd think for a mother than a father. And as if to reinforce that image, the father runs out to the son. He doesn't wait for him to come to him, sitting on the throne in his house full of honor, but he runs to him. 

The listeners are shocked. And this is a story about God's spirit? To run, the father would have to lift the hem of his robe. Another maternal image. And there he throws his arms around his neck and kissed him. That's it, they'd think. No wonder the younger son did what he did---look at what kind of a father we have here. No shame, no honor, and soon to be no fault. The son goes into his rehearsed plea, but the father cuts him off. It's party time. What has been lost is found, what was dead is alive again. Nuff said. The past that I have been living in, that has been living me, is now really past. The future is always what it always is, the future. Let's party. 

What has been lost and dead? The relationship. It's like the phrase I used to repeat over and over to people in hospice---death ends a life, but not a relationship, especially not if the relationship has been the focus all along.Here is where the popular understanding and teaching of this parable often ends, in repentance and acceptance.

But there is part three, the real ending, the twist in the story. Remember the Elder Brother. He is out in the field, working, sweating away, fulfilling his duties. If anything he is living in the future, held by his faith in fairness that he will eventually, when his father dies, get what is coming to him. The listeners now find their sympathetic character, the one they can identify with. And, in Jesus' parables, that's exactly when the tables turn. If only he knew that isn't the way his father works, that, as many a parent has said to many a child, life's not fair, not about getting what you deserve, not about keeping score, and usually thankfully so. He hears the music, the party. Notice no one has invited him yet; he has to get his information from a servant who tells him "your brother" has returned. His father has not only scandalized the place by welcoming him, but has killed the fat calf. 

The world's been turned upside down in more ways than one. Here the elder brother has been the one closest to the power and honor and now he literally finds himself the outsider-and the outsider inside. What does he do? He chooses, in anger, to stay outside. What does the father then do? Of course, to his new prodigal son, he goes out to him. He pleads with him, no honor, no shame, no fault. Just everlasting arms.

The elder brother rebukes the father. All of a sudden this son is full of the past, what he's kept inside. He says you do all this for this "son of yours,"---not you do all this for "my brother"---he has cast him out of his life just as his younger brother cut himself off before. And you never did this for me and look what I did for you. What kind of a father are you? The tension builds. Has the father now seen the error of his ways and will not let this rebellion go on, by either son? No, the father, who remained silent the first time around with the younger son, says to the older son, a grown man still, My child, my baby, you are always with me and I'm always with you. 

In other words, we have had a relationship, have been in each other's presence and that's what counts, what's more important than all the calves. Have you not known this? He goes on to say, all that I have is yours. Don't worry about the future. Trust it; you will have enough, enough of me and our relationship, of what counts.  Life is to be lived in the here and now, in the finding. 

So the parable ends an image of a steadfast, loving, caring, always reaching out father, but a truly scandalous father, one risking his own image to his family and to his community, risking even his own understanding of his immortality. It also ends with questions of faith and trust---not with answers. 

Will the elder brother stay outside the party all alone by himself and only revel in his feeling of what's just and right? Or will he too repent and turn again and follow his father's model of everlasting love in the here and now? What will happen to the younger son? The father has just said all that is his own is still going to the elder brother. There's no new material goods and inheritance for the younger son, at least not from his father. What happens after the party? What happens after the father dies and the elder brother comes into power? What kind of power will it be? One built on honor and shame and a limited amount of power so that you have to hold on tight to what you have and who you are? Or one built on relationships renewed and strengthened again and again and again because there is always enough love to be found? What kind of spiritual inheritance will be received? 

Our Universalist ancestors loved and used this parable, and Abraham's story, for they believed in a God too loving, with arms so wide and everlasting, to turn any away, and eventually all would come in for the party, however it might be understood and realized. Like them, may we spread this truly biblical, truly traditional, nurturing image of radical fatherhood, parenthood, to a world that often still wants to box up and define and legalize the image and the role of fathers, mothers, of families, and of God. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=anhPfU3WGXk Iris Dement singing Leaning on the Everlasting Arms