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Church No More: Part 1 — Walking Away From Church

I'm rewriting the old African-American spiritual “Down By the Riverside.”

(Don't worry. It's OK . I'm a minister).

My new version goes something like this:

Gonna lay down my robe and stole
Down by the Riverside
Down by the Riverside
Down by the Riverside
Gonna lay down my robe and stole
Down by the Riverside
Ain't goin' to church no more.

Yep! That's it. This minister is walking away from church — well, at least for the next three months.

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Missional Church: A Paper Revolution

It started with a few pieces of construction paper.

If you’ve been following my blog at all over the past few months, you know that Amy and I recently moved our family from Southern Colorado, where we planted a church eight years ago, to Portland, Oregon. Though we’re still doing ministry, it’s a completely different kind of work. Now we’re at a 133-year-old church in the heart of the city. The facility is incredible and the history of the church spans generations. But with that comes a good deal more administrative work than either of us is used to.

We found a preschool for Zoe right away. In fact, the first day she told us that we needed to leave and let her do her school thing. She’s the kind of kid who blooms wherever she’s planted. Mattias, our eight-year-old son, is a little more complicated. Aside from him having Asperger’s, the schools here don’t get out for a couple of weeks yet. This means not only that he has no other kids his age to play with, but also that the typical summer activities we could enroll him in don’t start until mid-June. The result: he gets to spend some pretty long days with us at the church.

Most times, he makes the best of it. He’s figured out how to navigate the labyrinthine halls by scooter, and he has plowed through more cartoons on the iPad than is healthy, I’m sure. But we have to work and we have no other options for him. So far, we’ve all managed.

But yesterday afternoon, he’d had enough. He looked up from his chair on the other side of Amy’s desk with tears filling his eyes. “Mom,” he said quietly, “I’m so bored.” There are plenty of adjectives that describe Mattias, but quiet isn’t one of them. So you know when his voice reduces to a whisper, he is really being sincere.

Amy came down and stuck her head around the corner into my office. “We’re going across the street to throw paper airplanes in the park, she said. “want to come?”

Image by Feng Yu/Shutterstock.
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Deliver Us From Smugness

Ah, the life of the church. So many arguments, so little time.

The list of subjects about which the saints disagree is seemingly endless, encompassing both the profound and the woefully mundane.

The ordination of women. The proper role of religion in politics. Climate change. Homosexuality and same-sex unions. Pre-, Post-, or A-millennialism. Biblical translation.  Gender pronouns for God. How best to aid the poorest of the poor. How best to support the sanctity of marriage. Hell. Heaven. Baptism. Which brand of fair-trade coffee to serve in the fellowship hall. The use of “trespass/es” or “debts/debtors” in reciting the Lord’s Prayer. Whether to use wafers, pita, home-baked organic wheat, gluten-free or bagels at the communion table. What color to paint the narthex.

It should come as no surprise to most Christians that the world outside the church looking in sees it rife with conflict, bickering, arguments and castigation — of the “unbeliever” and fellow believers alike.

Frankly, it also should come as no surprise to the rest of the world that the church — by virtue of being a community of humans — naturally would have such disagreements and discord.

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Tell The Story of Who You Are With Your Whole Heart

Being vulnerable isn’t easy. I think it would be easier to stand outside naked for a moment of mocking than to unveil the inner-self to others for a lifetime of judgment. However, I recently heard theTED Talk below by Brene Brown on her years of study on the subject of vulnerability.

What she discovered moved me to the core.

Brene states that in order for us to connect we have to allow ourselves to be SEEN. This is scary for the shy and the outspoken because we all think the same thing — “Is there something about me that if people knew they would withdraw?”.

Every soul cries: “Am I worthy of connection?” We then allow the mass public to tell us the answer to that.  Please note: that unstable analysis can never end well no matter how popular one may seem. This leads us to live in shame of who we are in which Brown describes shame as “the fear of connection.”

I believe I can state truthfully that we live in a world of people full of shame. We’re scared to death of each other!

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The Naked Pastor: Three Ways to Leave the Church

Paul Simon says there must be 50 ways to leave your lover. The Naked Pastor figures there must be at least three ways to leave your church.

See video

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When You're Afraid to Be Who You Are

I am a bubbly extrovert who struggles with an enormous amount of anxiety when meeting new people.  

Sounds like an oxymoron doesn’t it?

This weekend, I ventured down to Chicago to meet a group of women I’ve been in relationship with via Internet for more than a year. Let’s just break that down for a minute:

  1. a group of women
  2. a group of women I’m meeting for the first time… alone
  3. a group of women who have a preconceived notion of who I am based on good pictures and thought-out witty comments I post online.
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The Table is the Microcosm of a Practical Faith

My generation is a practical generation, and I am challenged by my faith to be a practical person. Don’t get me wrong: I love all verbal and theological things: story, theology, politics, and history, perhaps even inordinately.

But I believe in places. I believe that relationships, rooted in love, transform us. And it just so happens that most lasting human relationships are formed around the table....

The table is a place where we bypass rank and privilege and create a zone where you take what you need and bring what you are able. It is a commons where we are defined in new, equal relationships with one another, ensuring that all have enough and sharing. Believers in Acts took the idea of the common table even further and held all possessions in common, caring for the widows and dispossessed from the surplus, bypassing the inequality created by the currency stamped with the deified Caesar.

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Agape Doesn't Mean "Potluck"

This week I got an email from my friend Pastor Jodi Houge of The Humble Walk church in St Paul. Amy Hanson had emailed her asking if, when she’s at Luther, Amy could do her field ed placement at Humble Walk. So afterward when Jodi emailed me she said Oh my gosh thanks for sending Amy our way, I love her already. Jodi loves Amy Hanson already but not because of Amy Hanson’s winning personality, position or portfolio. Jodi Houge does not love Amy Hanson because Jodi’s so nice and has a big heart. Pastor Jodi loves Amy Hanson already based solely on the fact that Amy Hanson is loved by us. Based on the fact that Amy Hanson is our friend she will have an honored place at Humble Walk church in St Paul Minnesota.

In our Gospel text from today Jesus says to abide in his love, to love one another and then he calls his disciples friends. But the Bible tells us that he had other friends too. Mary, Martha and Lazarus of Bethany were Jesus’ friends. He like, totally hung out their house all the time – they stocked his favorite beer in the fridge. And when Lazarus died, Jesus stood at the tomb of his dead friend and wept. These were Jesus friends. And since at our Big Fat Church Meeting after liturgy today we are going to talk about things like sacred hospitality, I started to wonder what kind of hospitality 3 strangers who came to our church might receive if we found out that those 3 strangers were actually Mary Martha and Lazarus. If we knew that the people entering the doors of this, our little House for all Sinners and Saints, were actually Jesus’ friends, that they were those whom Jesus loved then despite what we thought of their personalities, despite how we felt about them or their status in society or their politics, despite any of this they would automatically have an honored place, right?

We would, as Jodi does Amy, already love them not based on how we felt about them, but we would love them with the love Jesus speaks of in our gospel text for today… which in Greek is called agape love.

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Rob Bell: 'Surrender the Outcomes'

How do you step out and take a risk — as a pastor, as an artist, as a parent, as a person — when the job description of a pioneer or a vanguard comes with the assurance of persecution?

“Surrender the outcomes,” Rob Bell told the audience at his intimate gathering, Two Days with Rob Bell, in Southern California on Tuesday.

“Surrender the outcomes of your presence, your influence, your work, your leadership,” Bell said. “They may drink the coffee. They may not. That’s just how it is. When you come to terms with this, then you’re actually free.

In other words, it’s not about you.

If, as a pastor, parent, or person, if you do what you do because you’re called to do it — without expectations, without needing a particular response, without hitching your wagon of joy to someone else’s reaction (or lack thereof) — you free not only yourself, you liberate others as well.

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Bare Feet and Dolphins: Rob Bell's Return

“Oh, a dolphin.”

The speaker, dressed in khaki jeans, a blue t-shirt and flip-flops, interrupts his train of thought about spiral dynamics and the church when some movement in the ocean a few hundred yards away on the other side of the beach house’s open briefly catches his attention.

The audience of 50 — mostly 30- and 40-something-year-old pastors, the vast majority of them men, but with at least a few young clergywomen too (a refreshing change from most evangelical gatherings of this kind) — laughs heartily and more than a few attendees crane their necks to try to catch a glimpse of a dorsal fin in the distance.

The sounds of the Pacific crashing on the shore mix with a reggae tune playing on the outdoor stereo of the bar next door as the speaker, a 41-year-old former pastor and bestselling author, resumes his riff on categories of consciousness and the spiritual practice of meeting people exactly where they are.

Rob Bell isn’t in Kansas … I mean Michigan … any more.

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