Wednesday, November 25, 2009

An Altar in the World: Thanksgiving Message and Mission From Here

Another glimpse into church life here: Locally, beyond the highlights I will mention below about our missional expression of the church here in Turley, you can get a glimpse of some of the range of what's been going on over at and you might also want to check out the updates and various reflections over at And feel free to follow along at

From this community where all money goes into mission, where all our volunteers, and where we are guests in our own created place for others, here in this abandoned place of empire:

Much has been going on. We took over providing a community breakfast; and though we fed 20 last Thanksgiving on Thanksgiving Day itself, this year, this past Sunday we fed 100 and included a performance for all by Johnny Cervantes and The Oklahomans classic country band; earlier in worship we had our annual Reverse Offering giving back cash to people who will put it into the world in small acts of justice and compassion done with great love to change the world, and then come back on Martin Luther King Jr. Sunday to share stories about their decisions, any partnerships they fostered with it, and what an affect it had.

I will relate from last year how one decision is still giving a year later. One family of five pooled their offerings and bought great looking and healthy standard shelves for our fledgling food pantry, which made it more professional looking and spurred on additional donations and then at the UUCF Revival the folks who came out to the Center spruced the pantry up even more, and from it we took on a whole food justice mission as a priority working with our OU graduate school partners, and that has led us to becoming one of the major partners in a whirlwind of relationships and helping coordinate community gardens, new grocery stores, healthy cornerstore initiatives, school sponsored gardens and food growing programs, all in the past couple of months with new grants underway and hope and possibilites to come. Out of this will come this Spring a focus on creating new and varied entrepeurship and micro-investment and other ways to create the gift of work to more and more in our dire economic and underserved area...In many ways this effort was propelled by that family's gift decision, and it of course by our decision to live missionally and do the reverse offering. And that story is one that we could trace because it happened in connection with our community center; think of the stories we can't trace because people's decisions on how to use their gift happened in unseen and unreportable ways at least to us.

We have celebrated All Saints Sunday, and we celebrated with the Turley United Methodist Church its 100th year in the community (I prepared and delivered the story of its history during the centennial worship service; its old building now vacant is one we want to buy and fix up and transform into a larger community center, foodjustice center; better bigger health clinic; and urban monastery with prayer and meditation chapel and even barebones lodging for people who come to volunteer and be renewed missionally; and we are partnering with them on land for one of our community garden sites now, and want to buy a whole city block across from their property for an outdoor A Third Place Center and livingkitchen and pocket park for the area that is a bridge between the two poorest parts of our low income area, and at a juncture for racial demographics as well). And we made special thankfulness cards for our windows, and lit special candles, and have been singing a lot more lately in worship, and more spirited; it is great to see our two year old member halt his roaming when he hears certain songs we sing each Sunday and come to join our circle and hold hands :)...the power of a common liturgy.

This 10 am Sunday, Nov. 29, we will have our First Sunday of Advent Worship Service focusing on Peace, with special litany and also some discussion of the biblical story based on scholars presentations on a DVD (to be followed in Advent on Dec. 6 with focus on Joy, Dec. 13 on Love, and Dec. 20 on Hope; with our Christmas Eve candlelight lessons and carols and communion beginning at 11 pm and ending at midnight).
This Sunday, following our worship and common meal, we will begin remodelling the Giving Room to get ready for expanded food pantry, for consignments, for a healthy eating cafe space, and continued clothing donation room, with a new kidspace inside it, and a new wider opening and welcoming space where Let Turley Bloom will promote itself and its garden projects. Stop by our Project Day and lend a hand. (If you don't see me there all afternoon it's because I will be getting ready for a non-heart related medical procedure early this next morning; keep me as ever in your prayers, thanks).

We will be continuing all the other offerings--a special crafts night for all arts and crafts folks to share and learn and just talk and show their wares and wishes, Tuesday, Dec. 1 at 6:30 pm, and the same night we will host another foodjustice meeting; the next Tuesday Dec. 8 at 6:30 pm we will host a fun showing and discussion of the movie Greenfingers (we will have a holiday movie, Joyeaux Noel, later in the month); also in December on the 15th we will offer a program for parents of all ages about how to use the internet to help their children's education, not hinder it; and we will be working on many different local projects and services tied in to our ongoing events and partnerships.

And Right now outside the center on our portable electric sign one side reads: No More Stuff Give Love Instead Celebrate Friday Buy Nothing Day. We do our part by giving stuff away, as a clearinghouse of sorts for stuff, and will be again holding a big free book event for all ages, and encouraging people to spiritually declutter their lives too.

I titled this column An Altar in the World, an homage to the wonderful new book by that name by Barbara Brown Taylor. But it also signifies what we do here in our part of the northernedge of Tulsa, and why. Her previous book was Leaving Church, and we too, as church, have left church as most people have known it; now we take on the task of not only creating an altar in the midst of the world, our community center in which we worship and serve Christ by seeking to be mediocre followers of a first century carpenter, but also finding ways to help people create other alters in their worlds, of work, and of home, and in their relationships of many sorts, in their gardens, along their roads, in their random acts of kindness and beauty and blessings.

And it occurs to me that the titles of her chapters in the book also are touchstones for what we do here, and what, when we fail to do them, at least we know what we are moving toward becoming. Think over this past year's columns and accounts and dreams and surprises and see how they in their essence are reflected by these practices of how one builds an altar in the world: the practice of waking up to God (vision, seeing anew); the practice of paying attention (reverence); the practice of wearing skin (incarnation, perhaps the most important one for the incarnational church, and the most challenging); the practice of walking on the earth (groundedness); the practice of getting lost (wilderness); the practice of encountering others (community); the practice of living with purpose (vocation); the practice of saying no (sabbath); the practice of carrying water (physical labor); the practice of feeling pain (breakthrough); the practice of being present to God (prayer); the practice of pronouncing blessings (benediction).

Local folks, this book will be the annual gift for our study, for our ever hoped-for spiritual retreat away in the new year, as we inspire ourselves into surprising ourselves ever again.

To all, a Thanksgiving full of freedom, of community, of grace, of belovedness, and living for and with others into the fullness of being God's own particular chosenness You.

If you feel called to participate in the mission of the church through us, by the way, especially at this end of the year time when some are looking at end of the year deductions and/or are simply moved by the Spirit they hear stirring within them to do something outlandishly beyond themselves, checks payable to A Third Place Community Foundation, 6514 N. Peoria Ave., Turley, OK 74126 (or Tulsa, same zipcode, gets to us the same) are greatly appreciated. You can make them out to Epiphany Church or The LivingRoom Church but they will just be funnelled over to the Community Center eventually. You can always chat with me at 918-691-3223 or 918-430-1150 or 918-794-4637 too. Join the Experiment in Progressive and Missional church.
blessings, thanks, and of course more soon,

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Location and Cost and Diversity and more about Ministerial Education/Formation

I really like what colleagues Christine Robinson at and Scott Wells at have to say, again, on issues related to the system of ministerial education, and especially with Scott, on wondering about greater options to the "standard seminary approach" to formation for at least most denominational oriented church ministers. My questions run even deeper in questioning the system, I think, and proposing a shift to "seminary congregations" dispersed around the country, say 10 of them.

But let me say, as I work in part for a seminary, that I love seminaries, gained soooo much from them, and can't imagine being the kind of minister I am without them, to a large degree. In fact, my love for the seminary is why I want to see them de-centralize and be re-located missionally so more can be touched by their mission, and they can be touched more by the mission of others. The question that needs to come up for all churches, institutions of all kinds, and seminaries, and especially here for the system of liberal Protestant ministerial formation, is: given the changing new context of religion and ministry and leadership and churches, if we were starting over from virtual scratch, how would we do it? We are the inheritors of much for good and ill now, and we can't undo that even if we wanted to, but we need to at least hold forth the vision of what could be, needs to be, so that we can see what is possible and be surprised by what is more possible than we can imagine.

We are on the path to this already with more and more online courses (so faculty don't always have to be in physical proximity with students), with the plethora of non-UU seminaries educating ministers for UU churches (such as my seminary,, with churches and seminaries moving more toward leadership formation irrespective of ordination outcome, extending their degree programs and non-degree programs, and as churches are looking more at the old model of educating, raising up, from within. And with the great rise in community ministries extra-parish. Collaboration is the new watchword.

So, imagine the seminary libraries online more or completely online for all practical purposes; imagine a scholarship institute that cultivates the research interests of seminary faculty and others related to the work of ministry, either in a setting of its own or that exists as a convocation, perhaps in a retreat center managed by another institution already so that you don't have building costs limiting you; and this institute could be the site of offering intensives where faculty and students from around the country could meet, but it wouldn't be a requirement to do so, much as the situation is now.

And imagine 10 congregations around the country being identified and resourced as seminary congregations, with the UUA getting involved primarily to help initiate the change by setting a deadline for when it will stop its current system, and then as also mentioned at the final fellowship process end, to certify and connect and celebrate associationally the ministries produced. It seems it would connect formation and theological education into the life of the churches in a region in a new way, could help them with leadership, could spur on covenantal lateral relations and even a kind of regional capital campaign to help fund the work.

Hard road to get there, as Scott mentions in his piece, and hard to get even someplace like it I suppose (when so many UU churches reap the theological education funded and endowed by non-UUs; a lot of addiction all around to kick), but with all the changes afoot or on the horizon for UU seminaries and churches and our ministry demographics and desired settings and the economic and cultural changes, this could be the time to have change thrust upon us. And, thinking missionally or publicly, do it all in the framework not of how do we produce new leaders for our own organizations, but how do we do it to produce what our various areas need, and carry it out in collaboration with others not a part of our sphere?

These 10 congregations might enlarge themselves by using the project as a way to engage with other non-UU churches, major non-profits, and for-profits interested in the vision. Not sure but how this might bring costs to students down too in the long run as we shift the locus.

This is connected too with the sometimes stated desire for more entrepeneurial and bi-vocational ministries and how to plant in a multiple of cultures. Many seminaries in the liberal Protestant tradition just have not had the expertise or the focus or the will to engage with ministerial formation and practice in the light of entrepenuerism and church planting and organic and missional callings as the more conservative Protestant seminaries and church-based seminaries have done, not to mention as have the unaccredited non-degree but all important parachurch networks. I think going to a more local, congregation-seminary system can only help that situation by getting theological education more into the needs of the churches and able to draw on expertise beyond itself to help meet the needs.

And I would like to see the 10 congregations picked not only for their passion and mission and resources which could handle a bump in identity and mission, but also for some theological particular depth in orientation besides trying to be able to produce a generic UU minister to a generic anything to anybody UU congregation; at least some might offer to go deeper into leadership in the life of a Christian, humanist, etc. formation. Another reason, lol, besides regionalism, to shoot for ten...

Start with the congregations and what they do well already and have to offer and think how to turn them inside out to expand and grow into having seminary tracks connected to them. All of them will be in places where there are other institutions offering courses such as biblical languages, e.g., and care, and systems dynamics, and many of the other knowledge-based classes that students connected with the church could draw upon.

Let those 10 seminary-churches replace the three regional MFC subcommittees (ministerial fellowship committee); let the one national MFC be focused on the overall work of the 10 and relate with them to the UUA and vice-versa and be advocates and accountability with them, instead of being individual-minister-to-be oriented. Let the internships and student ministries be rolled into the life and work of those 10 seminary-churches. Make sure of course that there are CPE (clinical pastoral education) opportunities in the cities of the 10 sites.

Connected to the mission of this blog, in fact I think the 3Rs of missional church might be a roadmap here too. 1. Relocate the formation (responsibility, authority, and trust for it along with the physical relocations); 2. Redistribute resources (move online with library, and many classes, promoting of course to those pursuing ordination and those not and don't worry too much about that since ordination itself is a matter best left to congregational discernment, and redistribute funds by redirecting local donors and funding to the new sites); and 3. Reconcile (churches and other groups with theological education and leadership, and also promoting cultural reconciliation by creating new leaders for new or underserved areas with new groups).

Since we are just daydreaming our way along to a different kind of church.

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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

New This's and That's: Stringfellow, Volf, new programs; All Saints; progressive Christian DVD

Just got back from a few days retreat in Cleveland OH with the UU Christian Fellowship Board. We stayed in the wonderful RiversEdge Center, hospitality by the Sisters of Saint Joseph. If you need a place with a variety of good programs and resources, up to date, and yet with the touchstones of worship in the ancient styles, check it out. I include it now along with some of my favorite places for retreat: Sisters of Saint Margaret in Boston area, Walker Center in Boston area, Glastonbury Abby in Hingham Mass, Camp Allen near Houston.

Looking forward to a Christmastide to Epiphany vacation to Edinburgh, London, and Paris.

I loved being introduced to the writings of William Stringfellow, Episcopalian, lawyer for the oppressed, back when I was in seminary (thanks Gary Blaine), and on my recent trip I discovered a treasure trove of his writings in the bookstore at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in downtown Cleveland. They have created a good missional sense of place along with, of course, a beautiful worshipping space. The cathedral is open to walk-ins off the street, locals hang out on the steps, there is a common area that looked like it had wifi free and a place to sit and eat, there is a coffeeshop, and the bookstore, and probably much more than we had time to explore. But a good place with friendly people embodying the gospel.

Our church at a third place revolves around those three Rs; relocation, redistribution, reconciliation, and Stringfellow's work reflects those three Rs too; I am enjoying his final book The Politics of Spirituality, good forceful biblical spirituality that grounds the spiritual in the common life of us all, i.e. politics. I wish Stringfellow had lived long enough, as a gay Episcopalian, to have enjoyed the movement of his particular church toward the justice and radical hospitality he lived and wrote about. In this All Saints season he is one of my saints. His version of spirituality is not about individualism and feel goodism, but is one and the same with engaged action. If by chance you haven't experienced Stringfellow it can change your understanding of church, religion, and biblical imperatives.

I also recently attended a seminar at Hillcrest Hospital in Tulsa where Miroslav Volf lectured all day on Forgiveness in a culture stripped of grace. Wonderful. I rushed out and bought his book from which the lectures in general came: It is called Free of Charge: giving and forgiving in a culture stripped of grace. Volf is with the Yale Divinity School and a lot of his work and good resources can be found at Sign up for their email newsletter.

Volf's lectures reminded me of the spirit of radical grace and hospitality that has guided our transformation with The LivingRoom Church into a missional faith community and the opening and operation of our A Third Place Center. He talks about the three modes of human relationships as taking, trading, and giving. So much of our culture is based on taking and trading; it is the dominant mode of living. And yet the gospel call is for life given to others because we have received life abundance, because God is a giving God in great creation and diversity of spirit. How much of our church values though are based on either a model of taking and building up of one's self and one's own community, or especially more and more on the model of trading, where there is a fee and cost for everything, all in the guise of reality. Against all that Jesus says to create relationships and communities of radical giving and forgiving, that it is the surest way toward love and real accountability and justice. Using those principles, in A Third Place we have a place where people receive health care free of charge, computer access free of charge, food and meals free of charge, a library free of charge, can serve others free of charge, create gardens, help school children, find and spread community spirit in a place of neglect and abandonment and where the culture is skewed toward taking and trading.

Finally, in light of the above, a report that this past Saturday night our group of a few "mediocre followers of a first century carpenter" organized a splendid festival party happening on Halloween night for our whole community, with close to 200 people participating. People from all parts of life, races, ages, people just getting out of jail, people struggling in many ways, but for one night pausing to come and be with others, to bring others to the party, free of charge. I know some Christians have this negative thing about Halloween, but if they would allow themselves to experience and to see beneath the surfaces of an event like our Halloween event, they would experience it as a Jesus kind of thing.

Stay tuned for much more about how we are getting involved in new ventures growing our food pantry and food and health programs, partnering with more and more schools (we hosted a great brainstorming and grant planning session a week or so ago; we are hosting a free program for info on weatherization projects for low income housing tomorrow Nov. 4 at 7 pm; we hosted a gathering on the census; we will be showing the documentary "The Real Dirt on Farmer John" Tuesday Nov. 10 at 7 pm with a meal and community gardening planning; and more to come.); partnering more with the park programs; we hosted a great OU social work class looking at how to resource some of our vision plans for our local area. We are truly a church turned inside out and upside down in the spirit of Jesus.

And our worship on Sundays has been spirited. More singing from a variety of traditions; we celebrated and lit candles for All Saints Day on Sunday to remember those famous or known only to us who have meant so much to us; we have had great conversation growing out of watching the brand new DVD on progressive Christianity, geared for young adults especially, Dream by the group. As we head toward the holidays the life of our small band of freely following Jesus folks is strong as we strive to make Jesus visible in the world; much more to come so thanks for walking with us even through cyberspace, or come visit and spend time with us if you are in the area.

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Being Sent: Ways of the Spirit

Hi all. Recuperating from the flu this weekend I have been reading Life of the Beloved; spiritual living in a secular world by Father Henri Nouwen, and it seems to lift up the essence of our vision and mission, or why we seek to do what we do here in our time and place and context. He begins with the love; that we are Beloved, no matter what culture or our own history tries to tell us, and so our whole identity is connected to Love, comes from Love, chosen or taken by Love, and this is a Blessing that to be fully realized must be shared. Being who we are we receive this original blessing through our own brokenness, which is to be transformed in seeing it for what it is, just a part and not the whole of us, and also in its sharing. This is why we are a people sent into the world. And each of these elements or movements of the spiritual life in Nouwen's work also mirror the elements of communion of cup and plate in our weekly practice--taking what we have received, blessing, breaking, giving to others.

"Everything changes radically," he writes, "from the moment you know yourself as being sent into the world." Nouwen was a leading academic theologian at Yale and other universities and who left to find his place of being sent into the world in living in community with people with mental disabilities, but he writes that we all have our places and the radical change he speaks of can happen anyplace once the spiritual vision is understand of being chosen, blessed, broken, and given. I often talk about the three R's of the spiritual life or re-locating, re-distributing, and re-conciling, and these can happen many ways and places. Nouwen says our task is to learn to see the sacred in our daily lives and all the people we come into contact with, even with those who don't speak our language of faith for they will help us know our own faith more deeply.

So it is whenever we find ways to meet others in the world and to come together in worship and service.
Some of these times will be this Monday Oct. 12 at 7 pm at Phillips Theological Seminary, 901 N. Mingo, for Faith Matters lecture on body images and gender and theology by Sarah Morice Brubaker, and during the weekly Tuesday walking club at 5;30 pm at A Third Place, and Wednesday evening for working at the Center to clean it and get it ready for the big Community Visions event which will take place from 10 am to Noon on Saturday, Oct. 17 at the Center when our collaboration with OU Social Work students finishes up this semester with their presentations of grant possibilities for us before a panel of real foundation representatives. And for worship on Sunday, Oct. 18 when we explore our "status update' of our spiritual life. It is also present whenever our Center opens itself in service to others through the Clinic newly expanded and as we seek to expand our food pantry and other projects you have heard about and will hear more about it.
And on our own in our families and at work and other communities, the sacredness is waiting to be seen, and shared.

Blessings and thanks and more soon,

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