Saturday, September 29, 2012

Inward/Outward: New Monastic Spirituality

Inward/Outward: New Monastic Spirituality
Rev. Ron Robinson, at Unitarian Universalist Church of Stillwater, OK  Sept. 30, 2012

 Text: Mark 9: 49-50
Next June, the General Assembly of the UUA of Congregations will convene in Louisville. Near the Convention Center is an intersection of Fourth and Mohammed Ali Boulevard, what once was called Walnut Ave. There is a monument there to an event that happened on March 18, 1958, at that intersection, when the great Catholic mystic prophetic Zen Buddhist inspired social justice peace and civil rights activist poet monk Thomas Merton  had a famous epiphany some 17 years after he had entered the monastery near Louisville.  

It was an epiphany of a connection between the interior life and the outside world; it was about the very incarnation of an Eternal Spirit in each and every one and thing; it was an erasing of what we tend to think of as separate sacred space and time and vocation and secular space and time and vocation.

About it, he wrote: “In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. The whole illusion of a separate holy existence is a dream. Not that I question the reality of my vocation, or of my monastic life: but the conception of “separation from the world” that we have in the monastery too easily presents itself as a complete illusion: the illusion that by making vows we become a different species of being, pseudo-angels, “spiritual men,” men of interior life, what have you. [I will break in here to say that for the monastic life, substitute the religious life, or maybe worship, and also substitute the activist life, or for a growing number of people who walk neither a worship path or social action path, substitute the consumer life]. Merton goes on:

“….though “out of the world,” we are in the same world as everybody else, the world of the bomb, the world of race hatred, the world of technology, the world of mass media, big business, revolution, and all the rest. We take a different attitude to all these things, for we belong to God. Yet so does everybody else belong to God. We just happen to be conscious of it, and to make a profession out of this consciousness. But does that entitle us to consider ourselves different, or even better, than others? The whole idea is preposterous.

This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. And I suppose my happiness could have taken form in the words: “Thank God, thank God that I am like other men, that I am only a man among others.” To think that for sixteen or seventeen years I have been taking seriously this pure illusion that is implicit in so much of our monastic thinking. It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race, though it is a race dedicated to many absurdities and one which makes many terrible mistakes: yet, with all that, God Himself gloried in becoming a member of the human race. A member of the human race! To think that such a commonplace realization should suddenly seem like news that one holds the winning ticket in a cosmic sweepstake. I have the immense joy of being [hu]man, a member of a race in which God…became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now that I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.

“This changes nothing in the sense and value of my solitude, for it is in fact the function of solitude to make one realize such things with a clarity that would be impossible to anyone completely immersed in the other cares, the other illusions… My solitude, however, is not my own, for I see now how much it belongs to them — and that I have a responsibility for it in their regard, not just in my own. It is because I am one with them that I owe it to them to be alone, and when I am alone, they are not “they” but my own self. There are no strangers!

Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. "

Merton’s epiphany was an expression of being “salted with fire,” what the writer of the Gospel of Mark alluded to milennia before in a text that is part of the weekly readings for today in churches of many kinds. Our hymnal responsive reading tags it onto the Beatitudes, in a way that points us to how the Beatitudes themselves are not just about other people and other conditions, but also about cultivating our own spiritual depths, finding the blessings awaiting always for us regardless of the kind of day we are having. In Mark the text reads: “For everyone will be salted with fire.50Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” I am reminded that a book of essays on Unitarian Universalist Evangelism that came out in the 90s used that phrase for its title: Salted With Fire. Signalling that if we want to grow, if we want to have something worth sharing with others, we need to season ourselves.  

Seasoning also has the meaning of the kind of wisdom, the kind of patience and non-anxious or peaceful presence that comes from experiences of action and reflection on that action over the seasons. It is the kind of conditioning of the soul that is able to hold the sufferings of others and of one’s own life and still be able to be a comfort to others, to be in the world.

Back home in our low income low life expectancy community on the northside of Tulsa we are known as a very small but externally oriented, mission to and with others focused, inside-out church. I have preached here before about all we do incarnating our values in the community, and I have to say that what we do, or have a hand and heart in doing just keeps multiplying exponentially. (I would be amiss not to mention our online contest….the nonprofit selected to represent Oklahoma in 50 States For Good contest….)…But I want today to talk about a vision not just for a missional community, but what is emerging onto the new religious landscape even among progressives, lastly among progressives often, as new missional monasticism.

Those two terms, missional and monastic, should really not be seen as opposites but as being carried within the other, the way inhaling and exhaling are two sides of breathing. They are the ends of the spectrum of church itself. And ought also to be the ends as in the aims. And yet, So much of what we do in church is to stay away from the poles, the ends of the spectrum, which is where the energy really is like in the two poles of a Jacob’s ladder, and instead we keep to the middle, playing at missional, playing at monastic, studying both the mystic and the prophetic without embodying either, under the pretense that we are keeping them in balance… but we are too often simply avoiding both by allowing ourselves to be distracted by the noise of the drama and busyness and activity of the day, remaining on the surface of life instead going deeply inward and instead of going adventurously outward.

Merton ‘s life is an example of one who learned to go inward and outward, and how he intentionally lived on the edges of things and movements and places even; even in the monastery he eventually moved from the common house to a hermitage on the acreage, and yet at the same time his social action increased; on the edges, he allowed the inner and outer life to nourish one another.  In a time of cold and hot wars he was on the front lines for peace, even reminding the peace movement how it too often took on the characteristics of the Empire at war; in a time and place of segregation, he was an early ally in the struggle for civil rights; he was a monk born in Europe and formed as an adult in the United States and became steeped in the traditions of his faith community but he fully engaged with Asian religions and was known as a Zen Christian and was an early proponent of Christian Buddhist mutual understanding and transformation; all the while he was cultivating and sharing a deep journey into the soul.

Of course where does one begin? In Merton’s case he rooted himself in a physical place of the interior life and let it motivate him outward; in a case like Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker movement and Houses of Hospitality, she grounded herself in a physical place of mission with the poor and let it motivate her inward to her own soul’s residence. But each set their life to reflecting both the inward and outward expressions of what it meant for them to be a person of faithfulness.

In his “Book of Hours” for daily prayer, Merton wrote this lesson that sums up for me much of life and the life of our churches, our institutions, and it also reflects too much the lives of the ones who live in constant struggle for simple daily life, and the lives of the ones who connect with them and seek to love them. He wrote:

“We live in a society whose whole policy is to excite every nerve in the human body and keep it at the highest pitch of artificial tension, to strain every human desire to the limit and to create as many new desires and synthetic passions as possible, in order to cater to them with the products of our factories and printing presses and movie studios and all the rest… There is [however] a silent self within us whose presence is disturbing precisely because it is so silent: it can’t be spoken. It has to remain silent. To articulate it, to verbalize it, is to tamper with it, and in some ways to destroy it. Now let us frankly face the fact that our culture is one which is geared in many ways to help us evade any need to face this inner, silent self. We live in a state of constant semi-attention to the sound of voices, music, traffic, or the generalized noise of what goes on around us all the time. This keeps us immersed in a flood of racket and words, a diffuse medium in which our consciousness is half diluted: we are not quite thinking, not entirely responding, but we are more or less there.  We are not fully present and not entirely absent; not fully withdrawn, yet not completely available. It cannot be said that we are really participating in anything and we may, in fact, be half conscious of our alienation and resentment. Yet we derive a certain comfort from the vague sense that we are “part of something”—although we are not quite able to define what that something is—and probably wouldn’t want to define it even if we could. We just float along in the general noise.”

What I seek is to quit floating in the general noise, and to go to the depths and up to the heights where Love breaks open in every breath.

Like Merton, like his fellow Catholic Peter Maurin who founded with Dorothy Day the Catholic Worker social justice movement and who said “The problem is those who think don’t act, and those who act don’t think”, like them we are discovering and envisioning the power of a peaceful prayerful presence conducted in what are called the Abandoned Places of Empire, those places like ours where the realtors don’t want to take you if you have any money at all to spend on a house, those places in the city where pizza deliveries aren’t made, those places where you often end up if you can’t end up anywhere else, at least according to the values of the Marketplace.

We are finding that one of the most important things we can do in our neighborhoods, moreso even than giving out tons of food each week and working to seed and nurture renewal projects, as vital as those still are, what we are finding especially as a way to enter into relationship with neighbors, is to give out also a sense of Sabbath, a respite from the struggles of the drama in people’s lives that keep them on treadmills of not thinking they have enough—of things, safety, friendship, love, forgiveness, hope—never enough to be able to share themselves with others.

We are finding truth in one of the maxims of the missional movement in religion that your priority is not to focus on projects but on people. Over and over, when we and our community are tested, we are reminded that our main task is simply (but oh how difficult at times) to live in such a way that our love for neighbors show, that we learn, as Merton did in his epiphany, to see the sun shining through them and ourselves, that we see even those who vex us in many ways as part of the Divine and Everlasting Life. A new mantra we took from a leader of the new monastic movement, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, for those times and with those people is “Christ, it’s you again.”

 Bearing in mind as Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously said, so many people kill community in the desire to create it; by loving their idea of community more than the actual persons who make up the community. And we are finding, and are hoping to embody as we turn toward the next chapter of our community’s history, the ancient truths that now we have taken the first move of locating ourselves among the ones others leave, that spending time with ourselves, alone and continually with one another and any who care to come by, in silence and common prayer and attention to Creation, will do as much for our part of the world as those amazing endeavors will that keep presenting themselves to us. Living a life in a spirit of abundance in a community of scarcity is The Project, is the curriculum, from which all else flows. Especially when intentionally owned by us.

To nurture that spirit of abundance, in all the diversity that it inherently contains, will come in many forms for us—gardening devotion praying in the dirt, praying the hours of the day and night with a common liturgy, eating together and celebrating and sharing life’s stories, counseling one another and teaching one another and risking and failing and being picked up by one another as we serve others, taking a break from one another too, welcoming others and suffering the changes that come.

A peaceful presence who has influenced my life, and the life of our free church movement, someone who embodies much of this synching of the inward and outward growth of the Soul, is the Rev. Carl Scovel, minister emeritus of one of our historic Boston churches and receipient of the highest award the UUA bestows. Among his many publications, Carl has a book entitled Never Far From Home, a collection of his short radio segments on Boston radio each week. One of those mini-essays captures this vision I feel emerging in many places among us. There is even a facebook group exploring UU monastic possibilities; it comes up often at retreats and revivals and not just among the Christians and Buddhists among us, though we in the UUCF are talking with the UUBF about ways in Louisville at GA to jointly commemorate the influence of Merton, and who knows what actions might emerge from it. They are many who, as Carl Scovel titled his radio address, are “Hungry For Life With God.” Let me close with his vision.

He writes:

In the last year I’ve been reading books by and about monks and nuns, men and women who have left city hall, the college, the hospital, the law office, the lab, and the church, left their apartments and friends and clubs and sandlot softball teams and gone to live with other refugees from civilization, sometimes in a desert, sometimes on a mountain, sometimes in a suburb, sometimes even in a city. These men and women moved to abbeys in part because they felt uneasy with the way they lived in mainstream society. But they moved in part because they hungered for life with God in community with others. The representative of these men and women whom we know best in this country is probably Thomas Merton. New books of his appear each year; old ones are republished regularly. The monks and nuns I’ve met were no such distinguished writers. Most of them left no literary legacy. Many left only a few sentences and two or three reported conversations. A few wrote a great deal. I read their words early in the morning before I read the newspapers.

After studying the words from these monks and nuns, the daily newspapers, with their dull and daily retelling of the ancient themes of greed, fear, cruelty, violence, conflict, and occasionally some touching tale of kindness or wisdom, seem curiously unimportant. I have come to doubt the answer to the world’s problems will come from academics, senators, presidents, bureacrats, lecturers, and workshop leaders. I have come to believe that what we must know in order to survive as humankind will be found in abbeys, monasteries, and hermitages. Rene Descartes said that all the ills of humankind come from our inability to sit quietly in a room alone for one hour. Now that’s simplistic, isn’t it?

Look at the immense problems of global warming, economic injustice, oppressed minorities of race and class and gender, ethnic rivalries, overpopulation, vanishing forests and ozone layer, rising tides and temperatures---I could go on and on. And you could say with some assurance that no simple solution can be found.

Why do I say abbeys are the keys to our survival? Because they have much to teach us. People who live in these abbeys must practice three things: solitude, simplicity, and community. Solitude: a life with God; Simplicity: a life with few things; Community: a life with people. In all three cases one must devote one’s life to not being the center of the universe. In solitude we let God direct our lives. In simplicity we use only what we need. Through compassion, we give ourselves to others.

No monk, no nun, no human being can teach perfection, but we can try to live this kind of life. The intention, not the accomplishment, makes this life a saving life. Dour as it may sound to us, that life has brought deep happiness to millions of people around the world through countless centuries.  I speak as one to whom this monastic life makes more and more sense. I do not intend to join a monastery. I do not intend to move to a mountain, wilderness, or desert. My question is: How does one live this life in the city, in society, in the midst of the madness of civilization? How can we live these values in the midst of the world? I doubt that God calls us all to abbeys, but I believe that God calls us all to solitude, simplicity, and community. It’s strange to think that the abbeys might save the world, but we have trusted stranger thoughts than this.”

We are still finding our way toward such a vision and a calling, both as a movement and in our case on a very local two mile area….We are learning all the time we are serving, serving all the time we are worshipping. What I know is that the more we plant ourselves outside of what we have defined as ourselves, in the lives and neighborhoods of those different in many ways from us, the more we are pulled deep within to prayer and worship in order to sustain ourselves for mission; and the more we dwell in the silence and peacefulness of being a part of a blessed Creation, the more we touch and grow that inner silent self of which Merton spoke, the more we have to offer others in need and the more we see that life with them and for them is the path of our own healing, because, as Merton’s epiphany revealed, our inner silent Self is at heart a  communal relational Self, as is God’s very Self, ever opening up to embrace the whole of the world, even us.

An Awakening of Hope Here: Ten Events In Search of You

Two Views of the Same Land Here, before and now during our Miracle Among The Ruins community work.

Hi all. First, from the new book, "The Awakening of Hope" by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove: "The mission of the church is always to connect God's story with society's deep need...True revival is not something you can plan and orchestrate on five successive weeknights with a guest preacher from out of town. Still, revival happens when hope grabs hold of you and won't let go. When justice begins to flow down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream, the river of faith swells its banks and you do what you can to hold on for the ride. You've been caught up in something bigger than yourself--something you can't explain."

It feels like a revival stirring new movements and new creations all over our neighborhoods here...Come and see for yourself...The week ahead highlights, links to sermons and more: See these glimpses of what it means to be in a missional community.

....And don't forget we need your online vote every day until Oct. 9 to the Facebook page of Tom's of Maine 50 States For Good contents which will reward one nonprofit with a $50,000 grant or five more with $20,000 grants. Support our Miracle Among the Ruins Project for our community kitchengarden park and orchard where abandoned houses once dotted a block. For more info on voting and the project go to:

1. Saturday, Sept. 29, 10 am to 5 pm a Community Art Day at our Welcome Table Center, 5920 N. Owasso Ave., for all ages, come and imagine and help create our Artspace, and find its healing touch, with Clara Corn, a graduate art therapy student from Kansas beginning a series of events this year with us....At the same time we will be having a special work day for any at the Welcome Table Community KitchenGardenPark and Orchard; constant harvesting for our food pantry and helping others grow food for their families.

2. Saturday, Sept. 29, 11 am to 3 pm Grand Opening Ceremony and Festivities at the new Tulsa Health Department Wellness Center for our area, 56th and N. Cincinnati. I will be bringing the blessings for the facility. See it at

3. Sunday, Sept. 30, come to church on the road as we leave the community center at 8:30 am for Stillwater Unitarian Universalist Church where I will preach and lead worship on new monasticism, Thomas Merton's example, and the Inward/Outward life of the Spirit. This past Sunday I preached on "The Servant Church" at the Turley United Methodist Church. That sermon is linked to here:

4. Tuesday, Oct. 2, free meal at 6:30 pm at the Community Center followed by a 7 pm showing of the film about fighting poverty, "The Line" and then a 8 pm livestreaming discussion from Sojourners in Washington, D.C. Get more on the film and national discussion here: Come for any or all and bring friends and partners.

5. Wednesday, Oct. 3, 5:30 to 7:30 pm come welcome a class of OU Tulsa Graduate Social Work students who will be doing projects in our far north and Turley service area; talk with them about the issues and conditions facing our neighbors. Free meal.

6. Thursday, Oct. 4 3:30 pm at the Community Center, the Grow Turley Planning Meeting open for all partners and residents: we work on city incorporation of the area to provide self-government and resources here; we will update all on our news about putting together a partner cooperative to purchase and provide programming and services at the abandoned Cherokee School on North Peoria Ave.; we will address the abandoned houses and environmental hazards in our area, and the next steps underway in our Turley Disaster Response Network organizing; as well as hearing updates from our partners and coordinating programs.

7. Thursday, Oct. 11, 5:30 to 8 pm, we are co-sponsoring and will have a booth at the Fourth Annual free Taste of North Tulsa event at our neighborhood McLain High School, 4929 N. Peoria Ave. Great local healthy food from area restaurants and others like our partners, the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma, with great music, and health screenings and more community partners. Also we need your support for the McLain School Foundation we partner with; both as partners, volunteers for the Taste of North Tulsa event, and for the many projects filling in the gaps, the very large gaps, for projects at McLain: send donations to McLain School Foundation, c/o Principal Kirk at the school, or to me and I will pass them on. Our McLain meetings are the third Friday of each month at 4 pm at the school library.

8. Saturday, Oct. 13, 9 am to 4 pm, we are inviting and strongly encouraging all our partners and local residents and those who want to work in our area with us or to go deeper into the life of our area to join us for a Far North Tulsa Renewal Conference. Come take a tour of our area, find out about the many transformations underway and also the continuing struggles and issues faced here, learn our history, hear keynote presentations from Ann Patton, author of Dan's War on Poverty about the birth of our northside Neighbor for Neighbor organization and the vision and ministry of Father Dan Allen, and from our community business leader and activist Terry McGee, with take home sessions afterwards about how to continue partnering with us and our partners. Free lunch.

9. In October our Sunday missional community worship gatherings will focus on the Shane Claiborne book, Jesus For President. And Oct. 7 our worship will celebrate World Communion Sunday. Each Sunday we have check-in, study, communion worship, and common meal. In November and December, our Thanksgiving, Advent and Christmas gatherings will explore the new DVD curriculum and book mentioned above, The Awakening of Hope. For more on it go to:

10. Come to our Food Pantry on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:30 am to noon, check in with our legal counselors from Legal Aid Society of Eastern Oklahoma, and with our spiritual counselor, the Rev. Debra Garfinkel. Explore our many items we still must sell left over from the auction. Use the library or computer center or free clothing room. Consider joining a crafts coop and sewing circle. Keep our community art going. Find out how you can volunteer to clean up and transform our area.... Special events will include the Sat. Oct. 13 community breakfast by the Odd Fellows Lodge at 8 am, a good kick off meal before our Renewal Conference. Go to their building at 6227 N. Quincy Ave....And stay tuned or let us know if you want to help plan our biggest event of the year, the Community Old Fashioned Halloween Festival to be held on Wednesday, Oct. 31 from 6 to 8 pm.

To support these important events, and the life of our community focused group, as we take each month and put all our resources into mission for others and go broke by intention each month, in radical trust and grace, make donations at or send checks to A Third Place Community Foundation, c/o The Welcome Table Center, 5920 N. Owasso Ave., Turley, OK 74126.

To be with us in prayer, daily, go to or or Return often as we grow our resources to grow our souls and the soul of our community. Support also the ministry of and and you support us.

Follow us daily at facebook through friending me at or our page at

Thanks, blessings, and more soon, Ron

918-691-3223, 918-430-1150

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Servant Church: Sermon for this Sunday at Turley United Methodist Church, 10 am, 6050 N. Johnstown Ave.

Sermon: The Servant Church, Sept. 23, 2012, Turley United Methodist Church

Rev. Ron Robinson, The Welcome Table missional community, Turley, OK

Text: Mark 9:30-37…They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it;31for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.”32But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him. 33Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?”34But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest.35He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”36Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them,37“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”


Thanks and it is an honor to be asked to be here again; I have said before that this particular church not only was and is an extension of family for me growing up but I saw here the values in action of civility and compassion that have stayed with me. That famous phrase John Wesley helped to put into practice: in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty, and in all things love” has been a guide for my own theology. It has also been a pleasure and privilege for our community, inhabiting not only the original building of this church but inhabiting and inheriting its spirit too, to partner with this church in making a difference in people’s lives and the life of this community in many ways.  

Today I went to talk about what we do as church when we seek to make a difference in people’s lives, and in the community life of which they are a part. Who is it we serve, and why, as church, and what our challenges are, and how Jesus reminds us of our way becoming not a church that has a mission, but a Mission that has and creates church.

The reading for today begins by saying, “They went on from there and passed through Galilee.” Jesus is always on the move, taking his spirit of life and grace and forgiveness out to others, not waiting for them to come to him. The church in Jesus’s spirit will always be getting outside of itself to be on the lookout for those to serve, those to point toward God’s power of love and not the powers and principalities, as Apostle Paul puts it, that are all around us and that seeks to distract us from that Love. Jesus’s first lesson is that we have to put ourselves alongside others in the places where they live and go. Our way of being like him, of being church, is to be in relationship with people we don’t yet know. Earlier in this gospel, the gospel of Mark, one of the first written stories of Jesus was about his eating with the outcasts, in their own homes. It reminds me of the John Wesley adage, from the early days of the Methodist church in England, that if the coal miners can’t come to church, or won’t, that the church goes to the coal mines, becomes the church there.

In The next part of the scripture Jesus is trying to get the attention of the disciples, of the church, about the crisis of their times, the seriousness of the choices they will be facing. Back in that time when Jesus was moving from village to village around the Sea of Galilee it was a dangerous part of the Roman Empire. The Empire had its forces all over the place occupying Israel. There had been several rebellions against the Empire from the people of Israel up to that time and afterwards to the time of Rome’s destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple in the year 70. As Jesus and the disciples walked and lived among the people, they walked along roads dotted with the crosses where the Empire crucified all those who were trouble-makers. As Jesus reminded people that the One who Sent him on his mission of love and healing was the One to follow, and not Caeser and his ways, he was one of the main troublemakers. He was honest in facing the reality of his situation; he knew where his journey would take him. He had death all around him, and yet he continued to bring life to people. But the disciples, like so much of us the church, look the other way, are afraid to go where Jesus went, and so they did not ask him about what was coming, they couldn’t trust enough to even talk with him and ask him about what was going to happen. We all have death and change and loss just out of the corners of our eyes and Jesus wants us to face it, walk alongside of it with him, helping us to see our way beyond it, and yet our fear keeps us silent.

Remember what the scripture says: Jesus not only tells them that he is going to be killed, but that he is going to be raised. The crosses they see all around them will not be the final word. God’s good news gets the final word. But they were afraid to even ask him about that, the scripture says. Here it is for the church: are we a Resurrection people or not? Are we going to shape our lives around what we are losing, what is dying inside and all around us, or are we going to live in the Deeper Love that will make us a people not of loss but of legacy. It is okay to die to what has been, in fact it is necessary, in order to be raised into something even greater, into greater service, into not just our mission, our church here and now, but into God’s mission, God’s service.

But the story goes on. Jesus doesn’t give up on the disciples, on the church, on us even when we are afraid to even ask him face to face what he means. Mark says they arrived in Capernaum and are in a house there, and it would have most likely been a house belonging to someone different from them, to a non-Jew. And Jesus tries to get them to open up again; he says what were you arguing about along the way? Chances are he knew but wants to give them a chance to take the initiative. They had been arguing about themselves, who was the greatest, probably about who he loved the most.

See, they were silent on the most important issues, on the life and death matters right beyond their noses, on the cross and the resurrection; instead they fought over the least little things; and not over how best to serve the least of these either, as we will see, but over the insignificant things. Oh how we are drawn to do that. Our culture tries to get us to quarrel among ourselves and to put our focus on ourselves and our insecurities and our sense that we don’t have enough but need to get more and more and more. They were following not the God of Israel but the God of Empire who believed that power was in how much you had and how much power you had and used over other people; in how many people were serving you. Jesus tries to get them to understand that the One who Sent him is about sending, not gathering, about how many and who you serve, not who serve you.

They are still silent (which in Mark is probably a good things for them, for when they do open their mouths they invariably say the most un-Jesus things, as if the more they are around him, and closer to him, the more they don’t get him and his way; that in itself is a lesson for us church leaders). So Jesus lays it out for them: just as he will do when he says those who want to follow him must be willing to take up the cross and go where the troublemakers go, here he says those who want to be first in God’s realm must bring up the rear, must help others get there ahead of them, must serve all those who Caeser says are the lowest of the servants.

To illustrate, he brings in a child to the circle to get their attention. Now children, and women, and the ill, and the criminals, and the outcasts of all stripes and ethnicities are the ones who are not supposed to be in the circle, getting the attention of the rabbi; they are the lowest of the low and are to be out of sight out of mind; servants use the rear entrance. But Jesus says, if you really want to be great you will set a welcome table and invite to it this child, these outcasts who have no where else to go; this is where church happens, when God shows up. The temple will soon be no more as a visible physical sign of power and God, both Jesus as a temporary temple nor the Temple of Herod, but each time you welcome one of the least of these, and serve them, make them the focus of your resources and not just on how they can serve you, us, make us look good, then that is where the Temple will be.

Now here in our zipcode, where we have the lowest life expectancy in the region with a 14 year difference, where we have struggles of many kinds that create that statistic, where our food pantry gives out tons of food each month and runs out week by week, now here we have the outcasts among us; and what I want to say to those of us is that Jesus is saying also that the last shall be first, along with the first shall be last; and so if you have been told all your life that you are last, that you don’t count, that it is you always last to be picked, last in line, Jesus is inviting you, requiring you if you want to follow him, to step up, to see yourself as God sees you, not as the Caesers of our world see you; the story doesn’t say the child Jesus invited fought back, or shied away, and tried to stay put in the out of sight out of mind world. But the child responded to Jesus’ call and the child became the teacher along with Jesus. So you may be feeling outcast but you are in with God and a part of God’s calling, if you choose to respond too and become a part of the new community. It is not easy for either those used to being on the inside or used to being on the outside to both be changed.

Jesus is also saying that our religion should not be in what we can think about with our minds, and argue about with our mouths, but that it should be in simple acts of justice done with Great love, as he showed with that in the moment random act of kindness and justice reaching out to the child and saying here, this is what and who is important, this hungry, vulnerable, fearful, castaway young human being few in power care about, few try to educate, or protect, this is what religion, what church, what God, what I am all about. This child who no one will remember her name, this child who won’t get a gospel named after him, this child who very well may die of the illnesses and the violence that swept through the region frequently, just as Jesus may die soon he had tried to convince them, this child is the greatest of his disciples, followers of his way, this child is his mega-church.

Want to have a powerful everlasting church? Make it the church of and for this child. Go to this place of least power, Be sent yourself into the places of most fear and despair, within you and among you and right around you, and set out a welcome of love and grace and forgiveness and you will welcome not only Jesus himself but you will welcome and be in the presence of the One who sent Him.
And when you are in that presence, of the Good News God that bring Good News to the ones whom the world says are Bad News, then all your losses become everlasting legacies of love, all your fears become testaments of faithfulness, all  your disappointments become transformed into God’s dreams. Your life, your church,  returns then to its original shape and spirit, its original blessing, its true and rightful owner, as God’s life and God’s church and God’s mission to serve

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Missional Worship: A Homily

Missional Worship in the Abandoned Places of Empire
Rev. Ron Robinson, PTS Chapel Sept. 13, 2012

 See post below for the liturgy

"Floating along in the general noise" (from the Lesson by Thomas Merton) That sums up many lives and many churches….Still, As Shane Claiborne points out in the video prelude from the Book and DVD Economy of Love, there is a calling going out strongly anew these days, one always present in the church universal but often marginalized,

a calling to manifest church in ways that are fundamentally rooted in different sets of primary relationships than those in which many of us grew up;

church that is not so much about serving those of like minds or even like values, and not so much one which is primarily centered on the weekly worship service, but rather one that finds itself, finds God, in being with others we might not normally be with.

 So instead of devising our spiritual community as one in which we attract people to our location, we relocate to where the most vulnerable are, instead of working to get them to take advantage of what we offer, we work to redistribute goods and The Common Good, and instead of striving to have them become like us we look for opportunities to be reconciled to and with them.

Church, even as two or three gathered in his name, of the 3Rs of relocation, redistribution and reconciliation, using the model of civil rights leader and community organizer of the Christian Community Development Association John Perkins.

A new metaphor for church is not so much or only anymore one of a carefully constructed cruise ship that is built on shore with all its magnificent amenities advertised widely to draw in a full contingent of passengers in order to take them out for a safe consumerist experience visiting all too briefly this island and then that island and then returning to our homes, more stuffed ourselves and sunburnt and broke,

 but a new metaphor for what church can be in some of its manifestations is that it is created itself in the churning water of the stormy sea itself, in the wake of shipwrecks, as people shipwrecked begin to create diverse rafts out of whatever they find that can float, and they begin to bind together their rafts and to look out for one another and for others adrift and to trust the wind and waves will carry them to a distant shore they can not now see, pausing occasionally to marvel at each awesome sunrise sunset and starry sky, as if it were their first, or their last.

For the past nine years I have been evolving and practicing with a few others the phases of my own understanding of church, longer than that if you count as you should how my time as a PTS student set me on this path: First there was Growing Church, then Transforming Church, then Emergent Church, then Organic Church, then  Incarnational then External then Exponential then Missional and New Monastic.

 Whatever it is called, for the past five years in our area on the north edge of  Tulsa, We have been engaged in those 3Rs. And we have followed the recipe that if church is a people of God seeking to make Jesus, especially our understanding of the radically loving and liberating Jesus, visible in the world, then church should begin with Mission, should be a response to Mission, and that Mission is not made up by us but given to us in Luke 4 and Isaiah and also in Matthew 25.

Next, that to best carry out that mission we need to form Community,

and then next in order to grow and sustain healthy Community for the Mission we need to each grow as a Person in Discipleship, and finally to do that and to refresh and renew ourselves for Missional living we come together for Worship. This 4 Part Recipe for becoming church put Mission first and Worship last;

 if time talent and treasure had to be prioritized, as finite resources always do, then we would be sure that service to and with others came first; if we had to sacrifice or diminish resources for food pantry service or worship service, we would put pantry first. Partly because it seems what Jesus would do, and partly because it seems that so many others along the spectrum and big bandwidth called church would not do this, but operated under the idea that if we can just get enough people to the worship service and to be persuaded by the sermon they will see the light and go forth to do mission; but they are then doing mission, not being the mission. And often church ends with the worship.

Instead we operated, still do, as if every day the church is on a mission trip;  you know those transformative times where the service encounters get almost all the focus and resources, and worship during the trip is still extremely important, but it is often in a supportive thrown-together or catch as catch can role, but still made all the more powerful because of the context of where it takes place?

We do have communion and prayer worship and common meal whenever and wherever we gather, but we fight against that default mode that makes them church, and all else church outreach.

Still, lately, worship AS a missional practice, worship that has relocated itself too, as a presence not seen as separate or secondary to mission but as connected to it as inhaling and exhaling are connected and necessary to Breath, this embodiment of worship has become more and more vital.

 It began to dawn on me the more I experienced and witnessed the constant anxiety and constant addiction to drama of the people in our area, and the inability to find quiet and restorative stillness (and not just in them, but in me too). And so centering and contemplative prayer worship  began to call out to come to life amongst us; not just a kind of worship that might mimic the drama and anxiety causing people to suffer.

After all, Mission without Sabbath can become itself the kind of idolatry of the land of never-ending projects that puts us right back in the Empire of different kinds of quotas but brick-making nevertheless. However, seen as a mirror image of Mission, Sabbath as a Creative Restoring Sustaining Worship couldn’t then be relegated to a separate sphere of reality,one day a week, instead it would be woven into the fabric of the missional work and life each day, to be truly the sabbath mission requires. Which seemed to call forth not only contemplative acts but an understanding of contemplative time as well, and so we are beginning to envision and move and find our way toward the daily office, the octave of prayer, as a parallel presence with all the missional entities. Practiced by a few in person, and shared realtime by a few more companions online through video and by more by social media and websites. 

Praying the Hours also coincides with our vision of common practice we try to call one another in our community toward: daily prayer or meditation, weekly worship, monthly accountability or spiritual check-in, annual retreat, liftetime pilgrimage, and daily random acts of kindness and beauty.

 Praying throughout the day isn’t anything new, which is one of the reasons to do it, and entwining it with missional relationships isn’t all that radical either but This will be a constant reminder to us that we are there not to fix people, things, issues, but we are there because it is how we love God with all our heart and all our might and all our mind and all our soul and how we love our neighbor as ourself.

Taking stock of the hour, knowing and discerning as Ecclesiastes phrases it, what time, what season it is, or as the Markan gospel puts it even more starkly in this week’s lectionary readings, living and dying in the constant shadow of the Empire’s Cross,  helps us remember not only who Jesus is but whose we are and that we are not there to give out food and services, etc.  but to co-create beloved community. And just as one of our mottos is that we do not do things perfectly, in fact we are not afraid to do things poorly---which is good because that is often the only way we get anything done--- so it is if we are not going to make a big fuss about creating a single high quality high impact worship event, then maybe we should make up for it by doing a whole lot of what prayerful worship we can do.

That’s the vision anyway now as we both individually and as a small community of people seek to begin finding ways to pray the hours in and for an abandoned place of Empire as act of mission, of healing, of re-orienting us to Love. Stay tuned to see how and where it goes from here.

One of my favorite visual depictions of this inward/outward movement, this turning from try to fix others to living in deeper mutuality, this prayer with abandoned people and places comes from the movie The Soloist about the relationship between a Los Angeles newspaper columnist played by Robert Downey Jr. and the subject of one of his columns, a man played by Jamie Foxx who was a young musical prodigy but whose mental illness led him to living on the streets. While our physical environment is not quite like that depicted, the emotional field echoes true.
(The video clip shows Downey trying to find Foxx, and trying to get the director of the homeless shelter to help him get Foxx help and to be diagnosed and medicated as his fix, but the director says that the last thing Foxx needs is one more person telling him what he needs to do to be fixed; Downey then leaves, frustrated, sits in his car and is about to leave but sees commotion in an alley ahead full of the chaos of the street life; instead of driving off, he gets out of the car and begins walking into the alley, becoming surrounded by others trying to intimidate him; but he keeps walking to where a circle of people are looking down at a body of an overdose victiim; while he is in the circle, Foxx comes up behind him and runs his stream of consciousness soliloquy about music, Beethoven, life and about death; together they walk back to the spot Foxx has created against a wall for sleep; he prepares his space, they sit down together, and Foxx talks about music and the people on the street while Downey has started his tape recorder; soon Foxx begins to pray the Lord's Prayer as the camera pans up and down the drama-filled street, and Foxx ends with a blessing, while Downey narrates his questions about whether he should try to force Foxx to seek help, or respect his choices and relate to him as a friend. )


Missional Worship in an Abandoned Place of Empire: Today's Phillips Theological Seminary chapel service

Below is the order of service from today's worship service we led at We will post the link to the podcast as soon as it is published online. We will also post the homily next.
Phillips Theological Seminary Chapel, Thurs. Sept. 13, 11:30 am

Missional Worship: Praying the Hours in Abandoned Places of Empire

Rev. Ron Robinson and Deb Carroll, The Welcome Table missional community, 5920 N. Owasso Ave., Turley OK  74126

Your gates will always be open; by day or night they will never be shut….Violence will no more be heard in your land, ruin or destruction within your borders. You will call your walls, Salvation, and all your portals, Praise. (from the Third Song of Isaiah)

Video Clip: Economy of Love, with Shane Claiborne

One: Today is the day which God has made:
All: Let us rejoice and be glad therein.
One: What does the Eternal require of us?
All: To live justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.                           
One: May we treat this day as a gift given unto us, with surprise, delight, care and attention, and may we find ways to share life’s gifts with others.                            All: Thanks be to God.

One: This is our covenant as we walk together in life in the ways of God known and to be made known, wherever we are, together or apart:
All: In the light of truth, and the loving and liberating spirit of Jesus, we gather in freedom, to worship God, and serve all.

Meditation on the Hour: The light climbs. The worker pauses. We have found the rhythm and focus of the day, and our last intuition is to stop. And yet we need to, because as Benedict of Nursia reminds us, work is not our purpose. As Rabbi Abraham Herschel says, It is a blessing to be; just to live is Holy….This is the hour of the Pentecost. We make room for the Spirit so that our actions flow from it and not from our own desires. We pause to remember the Joy of Life. The work that remains to be done when we return to work is the same, but we are different…Soon The sun is overhead. The traveler reaches a crossroad. Give me courage for this hour. Soon it will be The hour when the fruit of the forbidden tree is eaten. The hour Jesus hangs upon the cross. The dull center of ordinary time. The mid-life crisis of our day. We are Tempted to lethargy and apathy and despair. Hard to hold on. We can’t look at the sun directly. We can’t look directly at this hour. Still God prepares the way, and opens the door. God works to unseal the heavy doors that we have built around our hearts.  (from “Praying the Hours in Ordinary Life” by Farrer)…

Responsive Reading (Thomas Merton, “Book of Hours”):

One: Take more time, cover less ground…For Why should I want to be rich, when You were poor? Why should I desire to be famous and powerful?..

All: My hope is in what the eye has never seen. Therefore, let me not trust in visible rewards. My hope is in what the hand has never touched. Do not let me trust what I can grasp between my fingers. Death will loosen my grasp and my vain hope will be gone….

One: You have made my soul for Your peace and Your silence, but it is lacerated by the noise of my activity and my desires. My mind is crucified all day by its own hunger for experience, for ideas, for satisfaction. And I do not possess my house in silence…..

All: But I was created for Your peace and You will not despise my longing for the holiness of Your deep silence. ….

Collect (Merton): Let go of all that seems to suggest getting somewhere, being someone, having a name and a voice, following a policy and directing people in “my” ways. What matters is to love.

Hymn: Ubi Caritas

Lesson (Merton): We live in a society whose whole policy is to excite every nerve in the human body and keep it at the highest pitch of artificial tension, to strain every human desire to the limit and to create as many new desires and synthetic passions as possible, in order to cater to them with the products of our factories and printing presses and movie studios and all the rest… There is [however] a silent self within us whose presence is disturbing precisely because it is so silent: it can’t be spoken. It has to remain silent. To articulate it, to verbalize it, is to tamper with it, and in some ways to destroy it. Now let us frankly face the fact that our culture is one which is geared in many ways to help us evade any need to face this inner, silent self. We live in a state of constant semi-attention to the sound of voices, music, traffic, or the generalized noise of what goes on around us all the time. This keeps us immersed in a flood of racket and words, a diffuse medium in which our consciousness is half diluted: we are not quite thinking, not entirely responding, but we are more or less there.  We are not fully present and not entirely absent; not fully withdrawn, yet not completely available. It cannot be said that we are really participating in anything and we may, in fact, be half conscious of our alienation and resentment. Yet we derive a certain comfort from the vague sense that we are “part of something”—although we are not quite able to define what that something is—and probably wouldn’t want to define it even if we could. We just float along in the general noise.

Homily and Video Clip from The Soloist….Rev. Ron Robinson

Prayer of Response (Merton and Rilke):

One: Gracious God, Let my trust be in Your mercy, not in myself. Let my hope be in Your love, not in health, or strength, or ability or human resources.

All: Good Shepherd…please don’t get tired of looking for me! I know You won’t. For You have found me. All I have to do is stay found…

One: Like waters swell and ebb into the open sea, I want to proclaim Your name, in mounting waves, like no one has done before.

All: Come Spirit, into our hearts. Into our thoughts. Into  our work. Into this day. May God be gracious to us and bless us and shine upon us.

Prayer: O Merciful One, may we know You more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly, day by day. You heal the broken-hearted and bind up their wounds, lift up the downtrodden. Give me courage for this hour.

Intercessions followed by The Lord’s Prayer (use the words of your tradition or choosing): Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day, our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.

Hymn: Dona Nobis Pacem

Benediction: Carry the grace of God in your life and let it fall from you wherever you go. Amen.


Rev. Ron Robinson, a resident of Turley and Dec. 2000 PTS graduate, is the Director of Ministerial Formation for Unitarian Universalists and adjunct faculty at PTS, and Executive Director of the national organization, Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship, and Executive Director of A Third Place Community Foundation, and church planter with The Welcome Table missional community, serving the far northside Tulsa and Turley community area.

Deb Carroll, a resident of Turley, is the coordinator of the Food Pantry and a Board member of A Third Place, and teaches at St. Gregory’s University.

The community foundation operates The Welcome Table Community Center and Food Pantry, and The Welcome Table Community KitchenGardenPark and Orchard, created from a city block of abandoned homes and property. It is currently Oklahoma’s representative nonprofit in the 50 States For Good online voting contest sponsored by Tom’s of Maine for a $50,000 grant at  

Monday, September 10, 2012

A Social Justice Benefit Auction, Our National Competition For the Miracle Among The Ruins Project, Food Pantry, Statistics, Worship Services, Talks, Apostle Paul and Vision of the Church: A Week of Missional Church

Our new community garden and kitchen park and orchard in North Tulsa has been selected as one of the finalists in the national Tom's of Maine 50 States For Good competition which began today to win $50.000. We represent Oklahoma, but our support is coming from around the world. We need everyone to vote online once a day until Oct. 9. The next five top-vote getters receive $20,000. Voting is safe, easy, at click on the Cast your Vote icon under the logo.

We will be using the funds to build our Community Outdoor/Indoor Kitchen Greenhouse Shelter Pavillion with Rainwater Collection System. Please share this with others on your email and social network lists particularly as many of our neighbors do not have internet access here who use our park at 6005 N. Johnstown Ave. Be a part of the continuous miracle of renewal in our area. For all the reasons why our area so desperately needs our Miracle Among The Ruins project, go to

Next, Tomorrow Evening Tuesday Sept. 11 at 6 pm we will have our first orientation session for the Turley area Disaster Response Network block leaders open to all, with free dinner, at our Community Center, 5920 N. Owasso Ave. Other sessions will be held Sept. 18 and 25th at 6pm, the latter meeting at O'Brien Park.

 Finally, this Saturday at the Center 5920 N. Owasso Ave. is our big Northside/Turley FunFest Benefit Auction Fundraiser to raise the funds for all of our community projects and partners. Charity Auctioner Jay Litchfield will be conducting it beginning at 10 am. Great items, lots of office furniture from law firms donated to us, along with home furnishing, appliances, building materials, antiques, and a whole library of books and tapes and Clothing Galore. We will be then transforming the major building housing all the items into our new Community Kitchen Food Justice Meal Center and Event Room. Volunteers needed for the auction and funfest on Saturday.

This Tuesday and Friday our amazing Food Pantry will be serving the community from 9:30 am to Noon. And we have our spiritual counselor, and our Legal Aid Society counselors present as well.  
This past Friday our Day of Caring was a  huge success as we had volunteers from Hillcrest Hospital working all day in our community garden and orchard park; Legal Aid Society volunteers were organizing our items for the Auction and getting ready our new Community Room; and volunteers from Nordam cleaned the Community Center property. Thank you to them and the United Way.

Many of you may also be interested in our latest demographics and ethnographic study of our two mile radius in our area of service from 46th to 76th St. N. and Highway 75 to Osage County line at

This Wednesday evening at 5:30 pm and Monday at 1:30 pm I will be giving a talk to OU Tulsa Graduate Social Work students about our 74126 area renewal projects and history and issues; This Thursday at 11:30 am I will be leading worship at Phillips Theological Seminary chapel, 901 N. Mingo Ave. This Saturday Sept. 15 we will also be hosting a carpentry crew at our community park building a toolshed, and I will be speaking this Saturday at Suburban Acres Library on 46th St. on our sustainability and food justice programs and issues. And This Sunday, Sept. 16 9:30 am we will be discussing the new perspective on St. Paul and its model for an ancient/future vision of missional church followed by communion service and common meal. During the week at 8:30 am, at the Center, we have Morning Prayer as we move toward building in contemplative worship as a part of the daily missional life here.