Friday, May 25, 2012

Pentecost Now More Than Ever: Missional Rebirth of Communities and Democracy

Reflections From The Northern Edge: Events and Commentary
A Third Place Community Foundation
The Welcome Table Community Center
The Welcome Table KitchenGardenPark and Orchard
The Welcome Table, a free universalist Christian missional community
918 691 3223

Join us for upcoming events:

Saturday May 26 morning at the community kitchengardenpark, 6005 N. Johnstown Ave., helping in the gardens, harvesting for the food pantry, putting in your own bed with us.

Sunday morning 9:30 am, Day of Pentecost celebration of the missional rebirth of the church, and our local expression of it, including communion and common meal, at the Welcome Table Center, 5920 N. Owasso Ave.

Tuesday evening, May 29, 7 pm, Turley Community Association TownHall, and updates, at O'Brien Park Center, 6147 N. Birmingham

Thursday evening, 6:30 pm, May 31, neighborhood watch group, at the Welcome Table Center, and volunteering at the gardenpark to harvest for the food pantry

Saturday, June 2, 6 pm, join us as we march in the annual Tulsa Gay Pride Parade downtown, one of the few if not only northside groups to do so each year.

Sunday, June 3, 9:30 am, our missional community gathering for study, worship, and common meal, as we celebrate Trinity Sunday, refreshing our souls and the soul of our community for the service to and with and for others in our wider community.

Looking ahead: Thursday, June 7, 10 am to noon, our Mobile Food Van Giveaway Day, volunteers needed, at Cherokee School; it is going to be a hot day so water, refreshments, and a place of shade for volunteers will be needed as we give away some 7500 pounds of food in one hour to our neighbors.

Saturday, June 9, at Horizon Unitarian Universalist Church in Carrollton, TX, I will be giving the keynote address on "One Mission, Many Communities: What The Post-Congregational World Requires of Us".

Saturday, June 16, 5-7 pm, come support us at the Odd Fellows Lodge, 6227 N. Quincy, to our benefit dinner to help us raise funds for our A Third Place Community Foundation. Help us also hold our monthly benefit dinners with the Odd Fellows, and help us build community relationships and reflect our area's increasingly multi-ethnic diversity. Celebrate what we can do working together, by pausing to break bread together.


So I woke up on the eve of my own 40th high school reunion from McLain High School in Tulsa, to more bad news about more cuts to common schools here where we are already 49th of all the states in supporting common schools, and I thought about what I have been talking a lot about lately, to classes and on the panel discussions like the wonderful two hour plus conversation we had for the Tulsa Health Department employees who are about to come work in our area, all about the continuing fragmentation of community, especially connected to the fragmentation of our schools, and from that the fragmentation of lives, especially in our most vulnerable communities and lives. But today it struck me not just as an assault on common schools and poorer communities, but as an attack on democracy itself.

For the more we break up communities, the more we make it difficult for people to come together on common ground, the more we will replace our lives as members of communities with being commodities for corporations. The more we forget that all our very missions are to create better communities, especially for those "least of these", then we will cast away real freedom in favor of a fake freedom. The real freedom being that which is a reflection of God's spirit, that which brings people together, that which liberates us from oppressions, that which is the blessed sacred soil from which souls are grown, that which is inherently communal. I believe it was for real freedom that so many died for whom we will, perhaps amid our all our parties on Monday, remember this Memorial Day. It was not for the fake freedom to do as we will, to live lives apart from our neighbors, to "die and let die".

So it is that the ultimate mission of our schools is not to educate children; it is to make our communities healthier and stronger, and educating children is the way that happens through schools, just as businesses and churches and civic groups and medical institutions have the same mission and all do that in their own way, so it is with schools; the very end of educating children is not for the individual child but for the betterment of the community. Our slogan should not be just that every child matters, but that every community matters, for if it did then the education of children would happen as a natural outgrowth of that focused purpose. When communities become unhealthy, schools follow suit; to make schools healthier, you don't focus on individual students and teachers and schools, you focus on the communities; to do otherwise is to continue on the treadmill and continue doing the same things you have always done, under new program names, or shuffling personnel, and expecting different results. But focusing on communities is harder; it means getting out of our boxes and out of our institutions; it means redistributing the resources we have; and it is so much harder now that the racism and classism and attacks on the working class economic base and resulting abandonment of the area has resegregated and fragmented the community at large and its sense of identity and purpose here on the far north edge.

A lot of this was brought home at a wonderful grassroots meeting yesterday as we began at our The Welcome Table Center a process of creating from the ground up a disaster response network (which will be basis for doing the same thing for a neighborhood health network and possibly incorporation itself) for our area as we approach this August the one year anniversary of the wildfires and evacuations. It struck me during our work how much things have changed in the community over the years, and not because it is no longer so ethnically homogenous, but from the loss of community groups, especially the connections through schools. My father was part of our mapping of our neighborhoods, and as we went through our areas, I was reminded that once upon a time, even when we had a thousand more people living in our area than now, that we knew so so many more people, because then we went to school together, and even if we didn't go to church together we sometimes did things together as churches, and we played on and against each other in sports teams, and we had civic groups, and we had teachers and law enforcement and even medical professionals and even business owners who actually lived in our neighborhoods where they worked, and all of that is now gone. Now we have children from one small neighborhood who may go to ten different schools, some all across town, some right in their own houses, and more and more they are being educated by corporations instead of communities.

We have been preaching, and community organizing and resisting against that, but today it went deeper for me. Today I thought about the tragic irony of how democracy is being destroyed by the very thing which gave it birth. As so often what we are successful at carries within it the very seed of what works against us and our mission. Democracy rose up in the heart as part of what Harvard historian Conrad Wright called the historical process of individualism, from the families who moved out of the original close compounds in early Puritan New England, moved to "the frontier" and began to grow a culture that fostered individual family units, and individual property rights, and expected to have individual voices heard in decisions affecting them. Even moreso, they created a culture of individuals who sought the right, and felt the responsibility, to voluntarily form associations and communities of self-governance. But in places where there is not an increasing abundance of land and opportunities and the ever-presence of "newness", forces that created individualism and provided it healthy soil, and which then gave rise to democracy, then the impulse toward individualism and the orientation of life and our institutions to foster it for its own sake becomes ironically and tragically the very means for the erosion of democracy which relies not on individuals but on individuals becoming more than themselves through voluntary associations, through groups dedicated to the common good, groups that fall under the rubric of public, of private, of non-profit, and of profit.

The more people experience their lives as being on their own, especially in areas of struggle and hardships and abandonment, the more fragmented the sense and reality of community will be, and the less involvement there will be in the common good, and the less democracy there will be. As the bumper sticker on the front door of our community center says, "Democracy is not a Spectator Sport" but so much of our culture and governmental decisions and corporate decisions are aimed at creating spectators, not activists, and aimed at pitting the least against one another in a kind of sport. It is one of the reasons why our neighborhoods have half the voter turnout in percentages of registered voters than do the neighborhoods on the southside.

This Sunday is not only one day in Memorial Day Weekend; it is also in the church year, that frame for seeing life in a different and alternative way, a different time zone so to speak full of different values, it is the day of Pentecost, the day we celebrate the birthday of the church, the lifting up of the biblical story of how the fragmented followers of Jesus were still unsure of their mission, dispirited, fearful, but yet coming together as a community, because that is something deep down they knew was where their healing would be; and on that day, the Jewish Festival of Weeks fifty days after passover, the story recorded in Acts describes God's spirit descending to each and every one, bringing visions and truth to every one, male and female, young and old, but in different languages, yet languages they each could understand; they received a spirit that gave a new birth to their community and to their mission to bring their good news of liberation and healing to those beyond themselves.

This Pentecost we need a rebirth of missional understanding to all of our institutions, not just to the church; we no longer live in a world where we can continue doing the same thing in the same way as we have been and expect major different results; all of our institutions need to begin turning themselves inside out, upside down, and not waiting for people to come to them, and be like them, but to take their spirit to the people, and to receive back an even greater spirit from the people they encounter especially in the areas of greatest struggle and scarcity. We must recreate community, we must resist the many ways we are encouraged to make our lives primarily about us, and in doing we will help give a new birth to democracy itself and help it shape not a new land and new peoples but a renewed land and renewed peoples.

The first step is to do what those followers of Jesus did; they simply showed up, they came together, for it was an indication of who they were, and Whose they were. Trust that the Spirit will come, will emerge, once you show up.

Blessings, thanks for all your work and your partnerships and your gifts, and as ever, more soon,


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