GHOST RIDE THE WHIP!

On complaining too much and remembering home

I was hanging out with someone lately and realized that they didn’t complain about anything for an entire hour. Do they not live in Philadelphia and understand??? They didn’t point out how many times I expressed dissatisfaction but I began to reflect. I complain often. I think I complain too often. I might even be complaining that I complain so much.

I think there are lots of reasons to express concern, anger, suffering, and a host of other emotions or observations about situations. I also want to let God touch my heart in my dissatisfaction so that my expressions do not get stuck in mere smack-talking, hatin’, or complaining. I got to go on a three-night hike recently. I used it as a retreat. Here are some experience, questions, and lessons I’ve been sitting with since.

Experiences, part I:

Here were some other obstacles to overcome/suffer through/complain about during the first couple of days: My minivan (RIP Midnight Teal) broke down 15mi from the trailhead. Getting to the trial had increased obstacles besides needing to figure out how to get 4+hrs back home.The weather was wet and cold. The sun didn’t shine for more than 2min until the final morning. The temperature got into the 50s once. One day I walked slightly uphill on a flooded rocky path (now a tiny creek) for about four hours straight. The trail offered low visibility, the mountain laurels crowded most of the trail.

Questions:

When is a good time to quit? It was hard going and I didn’t see any relief coming. I have several friends in the process of getting divorced right now, having quit or quitting in some way. When is it time to quit? A few tough days are hardly as bad as being conflicted for years, of course, but when could it be time to turn around and say “I’m going to take a hot bath and order pizza now” rather than doing this low tech/no tech time in the wilderness with little escape opportunities from the moment?

 

I think quitting can be a good option sometimes. We get ourselves unconsciously tangled up with people, ideologies, habits, economic systems, etc that harm us/community/creation. When you are digging yourself a hole, the first advice is to stop digging. Whether you are wondering about terminating a relationship, quitting a job, dropping out of school, leaving the church/faith (I’ve done all of the above at some point), you identify a point that is “too far” and press the red button.

More pics that I didn’t take at this blog http://whatwedidlastweekend.org/ourtripstonature/2016/4/7/big-schloss-hike

Experiences, part II:

Then the rain stopped. The trail opened up from thickage to open ravines and the trail went both up and down until a ridge. That became the best ridge walk of my life. During several sections, you could see both valleys – as the Appalachian mountains roll in a few lines there. I encountered Big Schloss – my favorite Schloss, I might add – one of the best panoramic vistas on the East Coast on a cool rock formation. The sun was shining when I awoke the final morning, and sorting out transport back to Philadelphia was simpler and easier than I feared.

I got back in time to do some worshipping with my congregation. Sarah White gave some inspiring invitations from Jesus as antidotes to the demand we sense. Gillian had us lighting candles and telling of how God has provided for us – another antidote to demand. Cameron’s team led heartfelt singing – holding out lines like “Let my life be a motion of love,” “All of my help comes from You,” “How great You are,” and “You remain.” We shared the communion meal and I knew then that I was at home with Jesus. I was at home with who I really am, where my deepest convictions begin, and my greatest inspiration gets birthed from. 

Lessons:

When we are in the stranded cold/wet/boring uphill climbs of life, our memory often gets short. Our suffering at the moment shapes our senses and changes our memories. We can sometimes hardly remember not suffering, like how I feel when I have a nagging cold (when was I ever healthy? What did it even feel like not to cough every few seconds?). When we suffer, we can allow our circumstances, our pain, and our limits to shape how we live – rather than those inspirations and convictions. We probably quit too soon on a lot of things, like flipping through the channels on cable or watching portions of 10 Youtube videos in a row. When life is hard, I need to remember how God has provided for me. When life is hard, I need to remember that circumstances will change – maybe even sooner than I expect. 

Maybe I don’t actually complain too much, but just too much to others. Maybe I should save more of my complaints for God who offers spiritual medicine. Maybe my heart will be healed enough every day to be able to fight the good fight out of my healing, inspiration, and conviction rather than get it too mixed up with my dissatisfaction. Maybe I can train my mouth to reflect the gratitude and wonder I feel in my deeper parts more and my agitations less. It might actually make me more open to joy.

From Befuddlement to Mystery during the Carnival de Resistance

I had two spiritually profound experiences two weeks ago that I don’t think I’ll ever forget. This is about one of them. I was part of the Carnival de Resistance residency in Minneapolis (many fond memories!), beginning a new seminary class and feeling lots of feelings. I was there for 10 days of a 30 person, 30 day eco village experiment and arts carnival – easily find pics on the Facebook page. I had been sitting for a few days with some difficult questions that had arisen during my seminary work. During one of our performances my befuddlement had moved into embracing mystery in a way where felt connected, and embraced back by God. I felt the Holy Spirit in my body as I drummed and choked through the lyrics to the anthem’s line “I’m gonna stay on the battlefield till I die…” You may want to listen to Sweet Honey in the Rock’s version while you read.

The Mexican muralistas walked behind our dancers (Jenna, Helen, Belle, and Tevyn – inspiring Circle of Hope partners!) with this banner (above) and raised their fists – both in defiance of tyranny and together with those defending water against the extraction industry with their private military. Everyone under the big top (besides people playing drums with both hands, I guess) raised a fist. It was the climactic moment of the show, the second time we performed it. It was more than an exhilaration from performance. It was more than just having strong and complicated emotions. I know what the presence of God feels like. God is there when I feel most alive, when I’m distressed – and still surprises me sometimes.

Experiences or activities that help us connect with God

I’m glad that I learned how to worship God at a young age – especially in the context of when the church gathers. Worshipping together has been a central discipline to my whole adult life. I use it as a time to be formed by bringing our hopes, worries, and everything else to God through mutual expression, often through art and music – while including others. Each of our meetings on Sunday night feel like an inclusive family dinner to me.

I’ve love how this meme can help us think about spaces of personal God time. They bring up a common problem – so many people unsuccessfully try to cram that experience into a church building and don’t acknowledge that a close encounter with God’s Spirit often happens when we’re doing what we love. I’ve heard people this year talk about developing intimacy with God when they run 5 miles, work on their garden, write a song, go hiking, sit in the woods and listen to birds, read and ponder the words of mystics, march against injustice, practice photography, consider the wonders of the universe, meditate on Scripture, dance, making a friend on purpose, paint, clean the house…I could go on.

These encounters don’t need a priestly figure performing the ceremonial rites ahead of time. Jesus made all times sacred, we just need to enter in. Everyone participating might not have the same intention and interpretation of the event. We do have unity of purpose at our Sunday meetings and cell meetings – we call it “setting the sacred space.” What practices or habits help you experience God’s presence? The two meetings of the church each week probably aren’t enough to sustain you longterm – part of following Jesus is growing your capacity to experience the Holy Spirit all the time.

We resist what we don’t already understand

Susan Boyle illustrated the classic aphorism

Susan Boyle illustrated the classic aphorism “don’t judge a book by its cover” on Britain’s got talent. *swoon

I heard one of our pastors, Gwen, say at Doing Theology last week that we are naturally suspicious of things we think are different than what we already know. I know I can be like that. When I don’t understand something or when an idea doesn’t reinforce something I already think/believe/feel – it takes some intentional work to not go with my instinct to close off, resist, or withdraw. It’s a risk because sometimes it’s healthy and others we miss something that the Spirit might be bubbling up.

If you’re still reading and ready for another relevant song, the First Nations DJ trio A Tribe Called Red dropped a new album recently that’s been on repeat for me. Here’s the first single featuring Yasiin Bey (Mos Def), “R.E.D.” 

I only have two classes left to complete for my Masters in Intercultural Studies degree through my seminary, NAIITS. My current class of ten people is Ethics in an Intercultural Context. Since it’s the North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies, we often consider implications of mission in Native contexts (historically, currently, and the future) and give special attention to Native experiences. My professor was not afraid to start our class off with some rather antagonistic writings by Vine Deloria – a hugely important Native scholar.

The assigned article and excerpts were hard for me to get through. I was taking a break from Carnival community life, trying to study before sending in my reflections for our weekly class Google hangout. I felt a little mentally blown out to sea. I was struggling to know what I felt or thought about questions raised in my readings, like:  Do Liberation Theologies really just reinforce white supremacy, perpetuating the same myths & systems that keep us from creating new ways of thinking and relating? Can Christians become spatial (connected to place) as well as temporal (going along time) in order to become more than colonizing to her non-members? I wanted to understand other perspectives and only had a few hours of dialogue. I was in that headspace for a few days, feeling befuddled while trying not to resist, withdraw, or close myself off to the new ideas.

As a group we, local pastor Jim Bear Jacobs (Mohican) showed us the documentary Dakota 38 and led a talking circle. The US had forced Dakota elders (mostly women) into a deadly internment camp, a final straw for the nation. They fought back. The day after the Emancipation Proclamation, President Lincoln ordered the largest mass execution in US history – to hang 38 of the leaders of the uprising. I highly recommend the documentary Dakota 38.

The Reality that doesn’t quite exist yet

As we work to realize together what “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as in heaven” means, we are not just biding our time. Don’t we actually experience pockets and moments of Christ’s Reality. Thinks click. They make sense in our heads, our hearts, together, and give us courage to live a demonstration of it. A little taste of heaven! Rather than thinking heaven only exists in some other strange planet or dimension, why not live into the new reality Jesus initiated and invites us into right here in our own planet, time, community, geography, and body? We can live into it together and make more pockets and moments where Jesus is the foundation of all – and harmony returns to earth.

Back to the climax of the CDR’s water show “Burning River” : Tevyn just gave a moving closing monologue that tied together elements of the show. Water is a gift from God and is necessary for life, health, and healing – in both the figurative (living water) and literal (rivers, etc) sense. Working for the health of the water is deeply connected to how we view creation – as a commodity or a gift from our Creator and we’re invited to baptism even in the polluted water. We’re singing, dancing, raising fists (see first paragraph). It all connected for me. We were in one of those sweet spots. Our discourse and ideas merged with saying yes and being part of the Spirit’s movement. It connected us to the struggle against evil and greed, and with those forming an alternative that was ready to act.

Don’t let your befuddlement keep you from engaging with God and the befuddled others (aka the church). We may feel how it’s working before we understand it completely. That’s the kind of life I get to be part of every day as part of Circle of Hope. We’re embodying an alternative to what people generally think is reality. Generating justice and hope and our neighborhood (not just someone else’s neighborhood) is at the heart of us. I’m pretty excited for what we’re going to do this week about it.  

 

 

 

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Carnival de Resistance

Expressing alternatives as a spiritual discipline

I’m joining an expression of alternativity today as part of the Carnival de Resistance for part of the month-long Minneapolis residency. Belle Alvarez has begun early stages of forming a mission team to help our church relate to a possible Kensington 2017 residency, and she, along with Tevyn and Jay, Jenna, Helen, Stephen, Joby, and Rachel, have been training with about 20 other Carnivalistas for two weeks. One carnival member just got back from Sacred Stone Camp, ground zero of the water defense movement against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), and others are traveling up from Mexico and Honduras to join in creating playful space to allow prophetic Scripture speak to our current ecological crises. We’ve been partnering with some amazing people in the Harrison neighborhood of North Minneapolis, including our host Redeemer Lutheran. With a large Native population, some of our most important connections have been with indigenous leaders like Rev Bob Two Bulls, a talented artist and liturgist whom we’ve known for a few years. Black Lives Matter has been quite active in the face of fierce police response, and as of a month ago the officer who killed Philando Castile 30min away is back on the street.

You can read about my experience last year or ask me about the other times I’ve been involved personally with the project. I look forward to not just repping our church community and city while on vacation over the next 10 days, but practicing creative thinking so I can be a more mature, grounded, and flexible leader. For me, the Carnival helps me not be so uptight in my thinking when processing all the above hyperlinks (and other oppressions). God uses the playful space to help meYou can follow daily updates with photos and videos on Facebook if you like the Carnival’s page

Our teams help us get out there

One of Circle of Hope’s strengths flashes when our simple structure (cells and Sunday meetings) bears fruit and gets us out touching our communities together with a common purpose. Our Compassion teams and Mission teams run on the steam of those who form them, with support from our leaders and partners. Many of the teams help us do things together like service, expressing Christ’s compassion and ours. Others take us into new territory and help us think and act differently, even through doing something like playing table top games or holding space for a playgroup with different intention.

Feeling jammed up?

I’ve had a lot of conversations with people this year about feeling the pressure to be this or that, how not being something is important, and how being right/correct seems really important. Some are part of the church and struggle in various ways: calling themselves a Christian, making prayer or reading the Bible important spiritual disciplines, following our basic agreements for leaders (like attend monthly trainings), or living out basic applications of our covenant like regularly sharing in our common fund. If any of this touches on your experience lately, I feel for you.

Our spiritual discourse this year brought the concept of alternativity front and center. Rather than feeling beat down by a series of bad A or B choices like Coke/Pepsi, Red State/Blue State etc, we focus on birthing new possibilities and investigating new ways of thinking. Our problems and responsibilities grow more complex. Our responses grew more creative. It’s lovely. Exploring our own alternativity means enjoying our uniqueness as a church in the Philadelphia region. Our region, while enjoying some of the best of many traditions, has also become a hotbed of young NeoCalvinist church upstarts and dying Baby Boomer-dominated odes to yesteryear. I get their slick flyers in my mailslot. I hear from them a focus on their technified Sunday morning buildings, individual salvation through their specific doctrine (see my post about taking the Mormon Temple tour), and repression of women leaders. Rather than feeling daunted by Christians mainly not working together for holistic (or even holy!) transformation, I feel revved up to do something with our five congregations and other networks we are connected closely to. 

Jesus leads us not just to think different, but to embody our ideas

I’m glad we are doing something else—not merely in spite of other Christians, but out of inspiration from our Creator Jesus. I’m glad there is room for some bold expressions against rather bold structural forces of oppression. While embodying alternatives is what we’re all about, we also arouse expressions meant to pique curiosities and suggest wonder to those yet to join. I was talking with Shane Claiborne the other day about the strong possibility of The Simple Way being the primary host for a 2017 Philadelphia residency in Kensington. That would be something special! If you are part of Circle of Hope, thank you for allowing me the privilege of being away for something so energizing for me. I’ll miss worshipping with you on Sunday night and being with the Leadership Team on Monday, but you’re in my heart and on my mind.

Lessons from the streets during the DNC

I don’t usually get blog requests from Circle of Hope leaders, so when one of them came to me, asking me to break down my reasons for so passionately railing against the system all the time, I decided to spend a few hours in the forest, getting back in touch with God and creation; I wanted enough solitude to figure out what it was I has to say, and I’m realizing it may take a couple post to break it down fully.

I’m want to make space for us to develop our ways of thinking. I spend a lot of time listening to radical people and live in a radical community of Jesus lovers, so my perspective is my own, but I’m eager to dialogue and grow together.

Spoiler alert/main point

I am part of a local expression of the trans-national, even trans-historical Body of Christ. I think our most important work– politically, spiritually, etc., is to embody alternatives, with Jesus, to a series of bad “choices” we’re spoon fed by the media and dominant culture. We are not doomed to remain stuck in between a series of bad options. God can fill us up and empower us to create pockets of resistance– where the Kingdom of Heaven Jesus refers to in the Bible can become very tangible and very accessible here on earth right now.

There are a lot of ways to participate in politics – I hope to sprinkle some hope, peace, and possibility into your day. You’ll notice that I talk about a lot of radical stuff including listening to, learning from, and organizing with different kinds of people than those who are most popular. You may need to do some side reading understand a few things but I’ll do lots of links and pics because you might not have read up on Black spiritual leaders or know why we are interested in what Mumia Abu Jamal has to say. I’m primarily speaking to people who are a part of Circle of Hope so I’m making some basic assumptions, but you don’t have to be into Jesus or Circle of Hope to get this.

Praising the Lord

I got to spend about 5 days outside around the time of the DNC – in the streets with several marches and demonstrations as well as attending panel discussions, pop up art exhibitions and worship sessions. I didn’t catch any of it on tv and saw only a few video clips but there seem to be a lot of people with some strong feelings about this election. So if you are feeling a wound up here is some examples of ways I turned my frustration with the powers that be into a generative force of community:

I spent most of my effort organizing drummers and Christians to Praise the Lord with drum and dance (Psalm 150) for two primary marches – the March for Our Lives with the Poor People’s Economic and Human Rights Campaign and the Black DNC Resistance March with the Phila Coalition for REAL Justice. I also was with the Moral Monday crew enjoying the Repairers of the Breach event (also at AFSC, some leaders pictured right), and enjoyed sitting under the trees with the peace and anti-war activists put together by the Brandywine Peace Community. Before I gave my hopeful 10min speech I met Emily Yates, an Iraq War Veteran for peace who sang a brilliant banjo singalong ditty about the failed promises of war administrations after Medea Benjamin and CODE PINK shared. Connecting with God in community this was so inspiring that our cell meeting this week included three people not normally part of it (we meet on Thurs 9am at Franny Lou’s Porch).

Reflection, Art, Field Trips, and “Taking the day off”

One angle – notice the US is made of guns

Taking a day of creative rest can help get you centered. The “Truth to Power” Revolutionary Art Exhibition by Rock the Vote included some of the most beautiful and disturbing images that reflected back a rather grim state that our nation is in. I loved the creativity and profound opportunity for networking. Nate took our Circle of Hope staff as a field trip and Jeremy gave his green architects the afternoon off to go drink it in.

I got into this DNC business with an “on-ramp”

Another angle – notice the US is a gun (made of guns)

of a profound Love Feast and baptisms in the Delaware River, a Kensington Royals sweep where I threw a complete game shutout, and an inspiring Sunday meeting. Afterwards, I spent time listening to the crickets and frogs like I mentioned earlier. Reflection is an important part of the action.

¡Escucha! ¡Escucha! ¡Estamos en la lucha!”

Some of my time was spent with dear friends from the Kentucky Workers League and their comrades at the Socialist Convergence (at AFSC) where we rocked out with the Global Grassroots Justice Alliance – a diverse group with indigenous people from the US and Honduras (at least) and my favorite new chant that means “Listen! Listen! We are in the struggle!”

I’m not a socialist myself, but appreciate the solidarity that can come from their class-conflict analysis, and heard several lucid insights: One of which was a more comprehensive definition of the economic concept neoliberalism. The ruling class continues to exploit everyone else and the earth. Neoliberalism sees competitive behavior as a foundational impulse between people. It turns souls with creativity and critical thinking skills into nothing more than consumers and puts an enormous emphasis on the power of the market to save us while simultaneously convincing people that their wealth was earned by merit and not as a result of privilege heaped upon privilege.

Also, If you don’t know your federal, state, and city reps – you may want to begin with learning about them rather than getting freaked out too bad by one president. IMO US Presidents have all been really bad in their own ways, with a few moments of exception since those old plantation owners and John Adams convinced poor immigrants to break off of their English father back in the 18th Century. There are useful ways to participate at many levels of government. I think there are a lot of good ways to participate in elections, including not participating in them. Don’t reduce your political participation down to one ballot or one election. Representative democracy, with its superdelegates and electoral college certainly will not produce justice for all or liberty for the disinherited.

I’ve listened to many of my indigenous, Latino, Queer, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim friends rail against Donald J’s bigotry, questionable morality, or the generally pathetic Republican notion that this man should be president. “Build a wall” or “register muslims” or the real enemy of the [white] US is Radical Islam are not policies. New SCOTUS judges could overturn Roe v Wade or make America ____ Again. The RNC held up a mirror up to the United States to see how ugly our fear and wealth hoarding can be. Lots to not like, eh? Does that mean we jump to supporting anyone who can defeat him?

Dr Anthony Monteiro, my favorite professor from Temple’s African American studies program leading a panel discussion at the Socialist Convergence about xenophobia

Dr. Anthony Montero and Mumia Abul Jamal had some opinions about the ruling class/warmongering party (Democrats) who have successfully and profitably connected mass incarceration and poverty at home with regime change and drone warfare abroad for 16 of the last 24 years. The transnational corporations are loving it! I had to consider a thought that I don’t think I could have come up with on my own because I’ve been so inundated with anti-Trump rhetoric. Mumia said in an interview from prison “If Trump is the price we have to pay to defeat Clintonian Neoliberalism — so be it.” I’ll just leave that there for a minute…

 

 

You can see that there are any number of reasons to support/not support either/both of the major candidates. Vote/not vote in a way that makes you feel like you had some integrity with your values and your behavior. If your civic duty is to cast a mere ballot every couple of years, you have already given away the leadership of our communities to corrupt Powers. We need to be organizing, demonstrating, praising God, and embodying the very things we hope and pray for. You can vote for the candidate/party that you want to lead the country. You can actually feel good about it, not just manipulated.

Jesus knits us together

I saw groups of people this week that I wish would come together but seemed separate. They were in

Art Bucher’s shot of four of our pastors and lots of friends praising the Lord during Monday’s March for Our Lives

Philadelphia at the same time. Jesus got to all of the good actions – especially those organized by poor people or those thirsty for the world that doesn’t quite exist yet. Circle of Hope was at a lot of the actions, too. Why can’t the anti-war groups (mostly gray haired white peaceniks who have worked since the 60s) hang with Black Lives Matter? Why were there six distinct socialist movements not knowing about each other? Why did the Wall of Love in the face of Westboro Baptist not connect to the Poor People’s march? They did connect – through the Spirit and through the people who made intentional or accidental overlap. We are all connected, especially those blessed ones who hunger & thirst for righteousness/justice. Let’s receive the courage to be OK with Jesus and do the good work we’ve been given to do, regardless of who wins certain elections.

 

RISKING SAFETY TO PAY ATTENTION AND PLAY

Originally posted here on Circle of Hope’s blog.

Jason Wolcott photography

To paraphrase Goethe, life is full of dangers – among them is safety. My cell meeting began our discussion at Franny Lou’s Porch this morning around this concept. Whether we took it back to tools being twisted into weapons in the Neolithic period or our own pursuit of avoiding danger, Lent can help us bring a potentially far-out concept down to earth. I got to spend some vacation time in Southern California visiting and learning, and facing some danger. Some of my most formative work happened during “board meetings” with a mentor and good friend. Even if you don’t surf, see if any of these little situations remind you of how you are sorting out safety and danger.

Little Rincon, just down the beach from legendary surf spot Rincon, needs something like a 5′ southwest swell to have ridable waves. It happens a least a few times per year. It was firing the first two days I was in the Ventura River Watershed. While the power, quick time between sets, and size were pretty much out of my league – Ched told me if I felt OK I could start in the smaller, sloppier end and work my way back. I sensed the ocean’s power, dangerous yet inviting.

circle of hope, philadelphia, churches in jersey, south jersey, church

The struggle is real

The rip was strong enough to take me half a mile down into a hairy situation with some unfriendly rocks. Like many beaches in the area, the floor has several jagged rocks throughout. Riding an unfamiliar board and not having been out in the water since last October, getting enough juice to lock-in to a wave took longer than I care to calculate. Being surrounded by locals and people who surf multiple times per week was at times embarrassing for me – I saw them shredding while I struggled.

I got snaked a few times by paddle boarders when I was sure it was going to be the big one! My life is often like that. I get interrupted when I’m on the verge of something exciting and I get bitter. It doesn’t work out the way I wanted. I get cranky. I could have forgotten that I was in the ocean with the air temp over 70 degrees on my February birthday! I had the privilege of connecting with God’s creation in ways that excite me, humble me, and keep me wanting more.

So I kept paddling, trying to get in the right position. I got pummeled a few times. I went over the nose of my board trying extra hard. Then my wave came. It took me four strokes to dial in and then I was up and going right. It must have only been about 7-10 seconds earth time, but for me it seemed at least a minute. It eventually closed out and I was treading water next to my board, grinning from ear to ear. Had I really just been exhausted and ready to quit? I felt renewed enthusiasm.

The ocean is straight-up dangerous and I’m afraid of it. Besides sea monsters (they’re real), I could get hurt out there. Fear, incircle of hope, safety, philadelphia, church, south jersey, churches in philadelphia, church in philadelphia this case my response to detected danger, could mean “pay attention” when I could have thought “stay away.” I think it’s dangerous to follow Jesus, especially as part of the church. It can be dangerous to consciously try to get in touch with God, or get going again following the way of Jesus.

How many people see the church or get invited to a Sunday meeting and feel the instinct to “stay away” rather than “pay attention?” You could even get to a meeting and convince yourself how much everyone else is a certain kind of way: known, liked, comfortable in their own skin, knows what they believe, secure in faith. I have friends who start to consider God and stop at certain points – usually growth edges that maintain their sense of safety that could develop into an invitation.

This discipleship path is a lot like surfing unfamiliar breaks on sunny days with friends. We don’t get to control Jesus, make God not powerful, or tell the Holy Spirit which way we want to go. We participate. We try. We fail. We play. We get it. We reflect. We try. Etc. We welcome others into this dance – into wonder and learning – embodying a different kind of safety in the face of real danger.

Experiencing another Holy Disturbance on the lake

http://lauraamiss.com

I love living in the city. Between Buffalo and Philadelphia it’s been 3/4 of my life. I love people who learn how to share, the convergence of cultures, the creativity, and the ability to walk/bike to most places I go. I don’t love various forms of pollution we have to adapt to, especially light pollution. It makes the stars really difficult to see.

I learned three important disciplines that help me stay even though I’m privileged with the mobility to live in another context. The first is to take care of whatever creation I’m living on. That started as spider plants in the house, then growing herbs in pots and now into a backyard garden. Secondly, take advantage of the open/green space we have. Play outside. The third is to leave regularly and enjoy God’s creation in the larger region. This past week I got to enjoy two separate trips to the Poconos – one for a wedding and the other for a two-day mentalizing session with the other Circle of Hope pastors.

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I took this pic while thinking about this stuff

My cell talked about two concepts that came to me during an hour chill session on the pastors’ trip while we met at Franny Lou’s Porch this morning. While sitting on the edge of a small lake yesterday, I enjoyed the stillness of the water. It reflected the glorious autumn spectacular of the trees as well as the sky full of chubby clouds. The reflection almost looked like the real thing until something would disturb the water. I think I can sometimes enjoy a copy or reflection of something so much that I almost think it’s the real thing. That might be like listening to a good podcast and imagining I’m in Antarctica or watching my indie sci-fi thrillers and wondering which one of us is a cyborg. While reflecting the Goodness of God is important, we need to experience God directly in order to make a good reflection.

I decided to experiment with the acorn sitting next to me, tossing it into the stillness and got a nice thumpk, producing a perfect circle that rippled out smaller and smaller. I imagined that ideas can be like that – those within the blast radius of it’s goodness feel the big waves, further away you don’t really get it. Experiencing the presence of the Holy Spirit is kind of like that, too. We all feel the Holy Disturbance at one point or another, but most of the time we stick to our conditioning and miss the big ripples. We can easily stay behind our screens, fixate on our anxieties, and keep the earbuds in while doing whatever we need to do for comfort and privacy. The ripple doesn’t move us.

When we learn to open ourselves to the experience of God’s Spirit through worship or prayer, we can become like water still enough to be moveable. We don’t just feel the little ripples or reflections, we experience something that makes us want to joyfully throw acorns.

As we gathered in our weekly face-to-face time, I think we all got some strength. It’s wasn’t just putting gas in the tank so we can do normal life, it’s being present to the reality that a once caged birds have been set free to fly and are soaring. It honestly excites me to worship together this Sunday, when Preston & Ellen have been developing a liturgy for us to be able to draw near to God together. I imagine 200+ covenant members getting together later this month for the Love Feast and my heart is further warmed. I want to live where the Holy Spirit is disturbing me and moving me. There’s nothing quite like the real thing.

My Carnival de Resistance highlights from NC last week

The Carnival crew and key organizers from Area 15

I’m really grateful for the opportunity to spend last week in North Carolina with the Carnival de Resistance. My dear friends Tevyn & Jay have been developing the ideas and expressions for a while, and I’ve been able to be part at different levels over the past three years. This year I got to take part in the training and formation as well as the performances. I am framing it all according to my own participation as an answer to “what I’ve been up to” so this will be less comprehensive than other debriefs. Thanks to the whole crew, the folks at Area 15 in Charlotte, and especially to Tim Nafziger for your photographs (used throughout this piece).

View from the pond house

We met up at a remote house on this wonderful pond for some group formation, training, and practice. Several of our carnivalistas were new so we focused on developing our midway characters as well as Bible study, worship, and fun games. We needed to insert playfulness into many aspects of the training as getting beyond our normal headspace is critical to our group dynamic and  theological performances.Some of the formation process for the group included discussions on ecotheology and carnival theology.

Major portions of our training included a few hours of an introduction to anti-racism analysis by a vocational trainer (Kara of Crossroads, which was the basis for Damascus Road & Roots of Justice) and team. We also held a panel discussion on cultural appropriation. We are trying to understand the systems that shape our cultural context right now and members have studied cross-culturally in ways of art (circus, music), education (college, seminary, informal relationship settings) as well as church life. From my experience, being white and being trained in cultural arts and theology/praxis by many people of color can makes me seem to some like a bad white person, a poser, or a race traitor. Playing certain instruments or singing in certain languages can be powerful expressions of unity & solidarity or accessorization and theft. We need to do our homework, both relationally and study – so that we give it the care it needs to be able to express what God’s given us as well as long for the captives to be set free.

One piece looked like a water slide, filled with empty water bottles and plastic fish – showing the irony of our love/hate relationship with our water

We also spent an afternoon and evening with DeWayne Barton at the Burton Street Community Peace Gardens in Asheville. DeWayne led us to process water devastation, mass incarceration, drone warfare, the need for immigration reform, police brutality, faith, and bringing an end to violence in a neighborhood that is now threatened by gentrification. His vision and hard work with kids locally especially inspired me.

 

Sarah playing capoeira to the song Paranaue

 

The ceremonial theater pieces, while only a part of the Carnival vision, require the most preparation. There are four pieces, each connecting prophetic Scripture to current ecological crises: Earth, Water, Air, and Fire. We prepared the Earth Piece “Blood on the Cedars” as well as the Water Show aka “Wading Through Deep Water.” I mostly played electric guitar, with occasional roles on the dununs (three West African bass drums) and electric bass.

Larrin Granderson, the producer and engineer at Soule Jukebox helping setup and later he ran sound. http://www.soulejukebox.com/

After our training and formation stages, we travelled to Charlotte to our host site – Area 15. Carlos Espin and friends bought this enormous industrial complex over a decade ago and continue to form a diverse small business incubator and parachurch organization. The Carnival is usually hosted by a church. Some of the businesses: a Free Store, a bike recycler/teaching bike shop, tattoo parlor, fitness center, a recording studio and a moonshine distillery. The people that hang out there come from many walks of life, and I could relate to being on the edge of post-industrial poverty facing encroaching gentrification. The setup for the tents, games, stage, bike-powered sound system, and fossil fuel-free kitchen took all day to setup.

Everybody wins at “Help Jesus chase the money-changers out of the Temple”

By the time the Midway began on Friday, we were warmed up and excited. My friend Kara and I ran three games, I mostly focused on two. The first was the easiest game to win – help Jesus chase the money-changers out of the temple. I focused on the materialism in our worship and how profitization shouldn’t keep people from praying. I also ran the frisbee toss, trying to throw a camel (frisbee with a camel on it) through the eye of a needle (painted needles with frisbee sized holes in them). This was the most difficult game in the park and usually took at least 5min of theological play as people threw four frisbees. Through the process, they got to acknowledge how wealth did not help you enter the kingdom, and by choosing various ways of community, mission, and redistribution you could move closer to the target. If the person would give me their wallet (all but one actually did!), you could push the frisbee through. I spent almost five hours in these conversations with strangers – very stimulating for me.

Readings, litanies, songs, and movement pieces prepared us for the Earth show “Blood on the Cedars.”

The opening acts  included a local capoeira group, an organizer involved with getting Bree Newsome up the flagpole, a local musician, and a local spoken word poet. Both Earth and Water shows highlight theological poetry of Jim Perkinson performed by various characters played by Tevyn and Jay. The loudest call came at the end of the Water Show when the character John the Baptizer told people they must be baptized in the dirty water, because all of our water has been made dirty. The final morning we led a worship time that included a foot washing before sharing a meal and breaking down.

There is so much more to say but I’ll end with another thanks – for the space to go and participate. I think that people change by practicing doing – and these opportunities gave chances for it. The playful nature of the games and artistic expressions help re-frame Scriptures that might not be as well-known as John 3:16 a chance to further deepen & expand our praxis of the gospel as well as to enter into a conversation about and with Jesus with some fresh ears & eyes.

Brake for Peace/Break for Peace

Sometimes the phrase “be careful what you wish for” rings eerily true. I have been praying, especially over the past two years to have a groundswell of acting for racial justice as well as taking our call to peace to the next level. I wasn’t hoping for disasters to occasion such an uprising, but I’m grateful we have an opportunity to contribute to a large movement. As security forces have been avoiding indictment over the needless deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Garner, the masses have been answering with words and deeds across the nation.

#BlackLivesMatter, #StayWokeAdvent, #JusticeForMikeBrown, and #ICantBreathe have been lighting up social media as a compliment to inspiring protests, actions, prayer, worship, marches, and other ways of standing up. I think this month more of us need to BRAKE for peace like all these die-ins are teaching us. The highway stops because Shalom is broken and we all need to turn to the Prince of Peace and work at restoring God’s Shalom. Braking for peace is about listening, learning, empathizing, and prayerfully receiving from Jesus. It is about being.

We also need the doing during Advent. We need to BREAK for peace by getting out from behind the screens and into real relationships and activity. We need to break free from the lies that teach us that people outside your family are not connected to you, that God’s image does not extend beyond your racial assignment, and that by standing up against unjust systems is demonizing people. Peace is not made by just being tolerant – it is made by changing our minds about our relatedness and our actions to demonstrate it.

In and around Circle of Hope over the next few weeks there are so many chances to get more info, hear stories, get touched by God, ask questions, and make decisions about how we will respond together led by the Holy Spirit. If you can add to this list in the comments, I’d be grateful. I’ll offer an italicized prayer after each event that I suggest.

Tonight – Conversations for Peace in Palestine & Israel. Daryl Byler (of MCCand EMU) will be offering personal accounts, wisdom, and hope. 7pm at 1125 S. Broad. Let Christ’s peace extend further than the global military industrial complex. 

Saturday – Peace on Earth and the Politics of Christmas. 9:30am at 1515 Fairmount with the Alternative Seminary’s Will O’Brien and a host of other inspiring theological activists (including musicians from three Circle of Hope congregations) from Philadelphia. Let the coming of God With Us renew our hearts, minds, as well as feet & hands.

Monday – Doing Theology – this time we consider what it means to stand with Ferguson, 7pm 1125 S. Broad. Give us the courage to come to you with our doubts & fears, open for your direction.

Tuesday – Come hear a Report Back from CPT delegates who recently returned from Iraqi Kurdistan (war on terror, ISIS) and NW Ontario (indigenous resistance to the extraction industry), 7pm 2007 Frankford. Help us to connect the dots of domination and hear the groans of our mother.

Saturday 12/28 (plan still forming) – Liturgy and demonstration at the site of the future Drone Command Center in Horsham, PA (very positive article on Fox about how many jobs it will create here). Make us more human in the face of mechanized, weaponized, inhumane methods of killing.

 

Rollerskate Parenting

I’m thinking about change and letting go.  My children are getting big.  I’m changing into a father of big children, too.  Last night Martha & I took to the kids rollerskating as part of a fundraiser for their school.  It was awesome.  Helena, who is now 8, was quite the skater.  She also wanted to go off by herself skating around.

For me this was both pride-inspiring (what an independent and talented kid!), scary (if she falls and gets her fingers rolled over I wont be there to help her out), and a little lonely (Why doesn’t my kid want to do the couples skate with me all night?  Am I not cool enough to hang with her friends from school or something?).

Martha was with Lily and I was watching Helena go around the rink at least a dozen times, sometimes with friends, but often by herself.  I had a different kind of fun at that point.  My child felt free enough to try things out.  She could ask for what she wanted.  It had nothing to do with me not being cool or being a burdon to her…she was doing what she was created to do.  To grow up, bit by bit.

As our network expands, especially as we get discerning our next pastor and location for church plant, I have some of the same feelings.  I hope that we can keep the heart of our calling through the direction of the Holy Spirit.  I hope that the new cells and cell leaders carry on that DNA. I hope we can do what we were created to do as cells and congregations…grow and multiply.

I’m excited not only that new stuff is happening, but that it is beyond my ability to be so close to it all.  I’m ready to change, too.  I have to learn a new kind of trust, a new kind of faith.  With it is coming a new kind of fulfillment.

psalters spring 09 update

this is a cross post with the new handsome Circle Venture blog.

For psalters Jay Beck & Scotty Krueger, creating a working Philadelphia headquarters has been a challenge.  They spent the better part of the last five years living on a converted veggie oil-powered school bus with the rest of psalters travelling around, leading worship, leading seminars, and experimenting with Exodus.   Some of those travels were international, most recently Jay & Scotty attended the World Christian Gathering of Indigenous People in Israel & Palestine.   Christians from around the world gathered to worship in their traditional cultural styles of music, dance, and dress…it was a great time to learn and network and visit friends and various sites in the Jerusalem area.

Inspired not only to compose new psalms that bring together both worship and social justice, psalters are in the process of developing the Croatan Training Center & Studio located at 2007 Frankford Ave, the same building as our Frankford & Norris congregation meets.  Jay has already taught a series of West African Drumming classes so dozens of people got a taste of how transforming and fun it can be to learn.  The studio will not only be a place for psalters to practice and record, but also a resource to make connections with other musicians and friends.  The Training Center aspect will feature a library of cultural and theological books and videos as well as various classes and workshops by our team as well as other musicians from Philadelphia and around the world.  More from Jay on Croatan Training Center & Studio here.

The team has also been commissioned to compose and perform the music for a new play by Director Lear Debessonet and Playwright Lucy Thuber called Quixote.  “A site-specific performance based on Cervantes’ classic tale ‘Don Quixote’…this production re-imagines the intersection of art and its community” (from stillpointproductions.org).  It will run in Philadelphia this Spring, and perhaps NYC this fall.

The team continues to participate in local worship teams for Circle of Hope (including a special 9pm worship time at 1125 S. Broad St on March 22), as well as other local performances, seminars, and worship times.   This summer may feature a short tour in mid June that includes the Ichthus Festival in KY.

Circle of hope, croatan,  croatan training center,  ichthus festival,  israel,  lear debessonet,  lucy thuber,  palestine,  philadelphia,  psalters,  quixote, stillpointproductions,  wcgip world christian gathering of indegenous people