Missional Identity, Congregational Purpose, & Core Values Town Hall Meeting

Theme: Missional Identity, Congregational Purpose, & Core Values

Goals: 1 – To draft a workable purpose statement for FELC
2 – To name and begin to prioritize a set of core values for FELC in light of our                             Missional Identity, for a team to translate into 5 – 7 Guiding Principles, which                         in turn will help us focus our mission/ministry strategies for the next 1 – 3                               years.

Tools: Prayer; Scripture; Critical thought & discussion

Preamble: Here is a quick breakdown on that term, “Missional Identity.” “Missional” refers to the Missio Dei, God’s mission: to bring healing, forgiveness, reconciliation, restoration – in short, “Shalom,” or “Wholeness” to the world. 20150920_073316

God’s missional strategy is primarily Jesus, whom God sent into the world, and also the Church that Jesus commissioned, of which he is the head, who refer to him as “Lord.”

Basically, everything we do as the Church is grounded in our identity as participants in God’s reconciling mission in and through Jesus. All of this answers the question: “Who are we?”

The next question is: “Well, what DO we do?” The answer is: “Whatever God is calling us to do.”

This is a very subjective answer that depends on a number of things that we need to discern. Discernment is a process that involves Prayer, Scripture Study, and Involvement/Engagement with and in our Context. We determine who our neighbors are and what needs they have that we can work on alongside of them; and we determine what gifts and assets we have to help us do that accompaniment. This is our Common Purpose.

So, we’re not asking, “What cool stuff can we do,” so much as we’re looking around and paying attention to what God is already up to. How is God already at work and leading us – right here in our own context – to jump in and participate in God’s mission?

Purpose Statement

Working with material adapted from Pastor Dave Daubert’s book Living Lutheran, we take a look at Acts 14:8-18. Read that and pray with me.

Lord of humanity, you have formed us in your image and called us to be your people so that your dreams could be our dreams, as well. Help us to see your purpose for our lives and give us a common sense of purpose as your church in this place. We ask you now to guide us in our work – What is it that we are to be MOST concerned with, and how may we participate in completing your dream?

Who are the actors in this story?
Who is the church?
What would you say is their Missional Identity? (How do they answer the “who are we” question?)
Describe their context in this story. How do they engage that context?
What were the gifts/assets they brought to that community and (how) did those gifts intersect with the community’s needs?
What were Paul and Barnabas willing to commit to in order to be faithful to their purpose?
If you were to write a purpose statment for the Church of Sts. Paul and Barnabas, what would you write? “God’s purpose for Sts. Paul and Barnabas is _____” (12 words or fewer).

We’ve already established that the Church is:
Commissioned by Jesus and
called and gifted by his Spirit
to participate in God’s Shalom mission in and for the sake of the world.

This means that we are called out beyond ourselves and service primarily to our own membership. Our Shared Vision of what it means and looks like to embody that work in our context MUST then be reflected in our Core Values. AND we must be committed to those values.

Core Values:
These are the values that drive all of a congregation’s thinking, action, and planning.

Core values fall more or less into two categories: 1) Desired or Preferred values; and 2) Actual values.

Preferred values, a lot of times, are those idealized things we’d like to be able to say about ourselves, or that we think we OUGHT to say about ourselves. That’s well and good, and we’ll talk more about that in a minute, but you can tell they’re not “real” or “actual,” because they’re the things that people don’t actually invest in (in terms of time, talents, treasures). As such, you’ll see a disconnect between what we SAY we value (preferred values) and what we ACTUALLY do invest in. The BEHAVIOR of pastors, staff, lay people don’t line up with what we claim to value.

Actual values are often unwritten and unstated. We know them if we care to observe our behavior and patterns of behavior in recent history. These values are deeply ingrained and tend to focus where we do spend our time, money, and talents, even if they have little or nothing to do with our missional identity, our purpose as a congregation, or our vision for aligning all of those things.

That’s kind of the Bad News about Core Values.
BUT, the good news is that we are Christians and we therefore believe in the possibility of TRANSFORMATION! With intentionality and commitment, with a healthy dose of behavior modification and cognitive restructuring, we can work to align our practices with what we SAY we ought to be practicing!

Let’s read Acts 4:32-5:11

Pray with me: God of new life, even though we often hear your call on our lives, we find it difficult to commit fully. We hear voices call us in many directions. We lean on and trust in your mercy and forgiveness when we fall short and follow voices other than your own. Speak to us now, we pray. In which parts of our lives do we most fall short? Where do we waiver in our commitment to you as disciples?

What core values do you see at work in the church as described in this section of Acts?
Do you see conflict or disconnect between behavior and values? Describe what you see.

I have to put in this caveat: This story bothers me a lot. I know it’s in the Bible, but look at all the room for abuse here.

I think it’s appropriate to look at two possible ways of reading this story: One is to follow the “plain reading” of the text that accuses Ananais and Sapphira of “holding out on Jesus.” That reading almost invites us to celebrate their demise.

But we can also read this in a way that stands up for Ananais and Sapphira. The text doesn’t really tell us that the values of unity of heart and soul among believers, the holding of all things in common possession, strong financial stewardship are SPOKEN and articulated core values. Maybe they’re ASSUMED, and maybe this couple missed the memo. It’s helpful maybe to examine those values – to ask whether this is just something that people do (we’ve always done this since Pentecost), what it is about those values that’s actually to be valued for the community in light of their missional identity. What presuppositions might there be behind the values we’ve just named? Are they just or unjust? (I’m not making a judgment one way or the other – just posing the idea that it’s GOOD to question WHY we value what we value.)

FELC’s stated Core Values

Based on our work with Kairos (the Congregational Assessment Tool and the subsequent work with David Misenheimer) and with the Comprehensive Ministry Review Team, here’s what we have said we value:


Christ-centered theology (of grace and love)

Christian education for all ages

Service to/care for our community and our neighbors

Fellowship among our members

Inclusivity of all people

Lutheran Tradition


What do you make of this list? Are these Preferred values or Actual values?
What is it about each of these items that we value?
In what way(s) are we (or are we not) investing in them with our time, talents, treasures?
What here are we willing to COMMIT to?
Are there things on this list that maybe shouldn’t be there?
Are there other things that we’re missing from this list?
Think about these questions in light of our Missional Identity (who we are as claimed, gathered, and sent disciples of Jesus), in light of our Common Purpose, and in light of our Shared Vision as a congregation in this particular context with our particular set of gifts/assets.


Now, given all the work we’ve done today, lets take the time we have left and craft a Purpose statment for FELC.
“God’s purpose for First Evangelical Lutheran Church (in 12 words or fewer) is:” (Go!)

Now, let’s do some work on core values.
“The Core Values we’d like to claim for FELC are:”
Here, everybody create a list of 6-10 things AND PRIORITIZE them for YOURSELF.
What are you willing to commit to in order to make sure these things remain a priority?
(If you’re not willing to commit, there’s a question about whether it’s a value.)

I’ll take the list of items over the next 2 weeks and compile them. I’ll try to group them together by commonalities, then take them to the CORE Council. We (and anybody else who’s willing to work on this) will then craft those top 5 – 7 core values into a set of Guiding Principles, which we’ll bring back to you for discussion, approval, amendment, etc.

The goal here is to have the Guiding Principles and a functioning, faithful purpose statment in place in time for the Annual Meeting in November. This will replace our now long-outdated mission statement, and it will guide the course for what work we will be doing as a congregation over the next couple of years. We’ll also be putting together strategies for making that happen.

Thanks to you all!

Grace and Peace,

Pr. Rob

On Sacred Harp Singing and the Call to Follow Jesus

In mid-June 2002, I first met this guy:


That’s Tim Eriksen. I had never heard of him before that, but my museum was in the middle of putting on its first annual Folk Festival, and Tim was there for that event. I remember the first time I saw him, he was dressed like this, more or less, sans fiddle. Just a tall, dark, intimidating guy dressed entirely in black with multiple bits of jewelry hanging from various appendages. I thought, “Who the hell IS this guy?!” It seemed he might have been a bit sinister. A few hours later, I heard him sing, and I thought, “Who the hell IS this guy!?” It seemed he might have been an angel.

Well, Tim played a little fiddle and a little banjo at that folk festival. He sang a few tunes – some traditional, some original, and I was hooked. “What a cool guy!”

sacred_harp   He came back the following summer, and that’s when I first heard about the Sacred Harp.Tim was leading a workshop, teaching us museumy folk about the origins of the Sacred Harp hymnal, and the solfage used therein. (You’ll have to check out this or this website for technical details.) He explained about the lining-out style of singing popular in the New England colonies, to which shaped note notation was a direct backlash.

We learned that the squares were called La.fasola
The circles were called Sol.
The Flags were called Fa.
And the diamonds were called Mi.
(No purple horsehoes or red baloons, Lucky Charms, fans. Sorry.)

Anyway, Tim taught us about how this kind of music was used to teach music to people who didn’t know how to read music – how a whole singing school tradition had developed from this type of hymnal. Remember Ichabod Crane? Yeah, he was a singing school teacher.

So, we did some practicing of these tunes, singing “on the notes.” That means, instead of singing the words, the singers sing the names of the notes. “Fa fa mi la sol fa sol la, la la la sol fa fa la sol…” Etc. After you sing that through once, you move to the words.

I didn’t need the words. Just the sound of people singing in harmony had me hooked.

This isn’t like a regular choir, where people are arranged by voice in rows in order to sing to an audience: we are arranged by voice into sections that face one another over a “hollow square.”
Basses (who sing the bottom line) are seated across from the
Trebles (who sing the top line);
Tenors (who sing the second line from the bottom) sit facing the
Counter-tenors (who sing the second line from the top).

Tenors carry the main melody, although the tunes are mostly written so that each line is a melody in and of itself.

And in the center, there’s that hollow square, where a leader will stand, set the pitch, and keep the time as we sing.

Again, there’s no audience. We sing to one another and for one another. In time, I came to see that we also sing to and for God, but that took me a while to get there.

The harmonies had me hooked, as I say. Each part sang their starting pitch, and the chord that emerged knocked me on.the.floor. It’s like no other sound that you’ve heard – or unlike any I had heard up until that day.

And then came the words. I was still many years separated from the church in June of 2003, and singing songs about Jesus was definitely NOT on the top of my list of Fun Stuff to Do. But somehow… somehow singing with Tim, singing in a way that felt like walking ancient paths … that made it “safe” for me. After a few months (and a wedding in which I felt the hand of God moving), I began to sing boldly.

Shape note music, especially the Sacred Harp and the Missiouri Harmony, were critical stages for welcoming me back to the Church, back to a faith I had long neglected and hadn’t really been interested in rekindling.

Why should YOU come to the Sacred Harp sing on Sept. 26? Will YOU also feel a spark like that? I don’t know. There are no guarantees that my experience will be yours. But if nothing else, come for the singing. Come for the SOUND. Come for the harmony. Come.

Another cross-over post

As part of my continuing education, I’m currently taking a class online. Our group is studying St. Paul’s epistle to the Galatians. It has been a paradigm-exploding class already, and we’re only one month in. One down, five to go.

The texts our instructor chose for us include J. Louis Martyn’s commentary on Galatians from the Anchor Yale Bible series; Henri Nouwen’s The Wounded Healer; and Zondervan’s Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals.

Here’s my cross-over post.


For my class on Galatians, we’re also reading Henri Nouwen’s “The Wounded Healer.” I’ve tried on multiple occasions to read Nouwen, and kept coming up flat. It turned out that I liked the *concept* of Nouwen, but couldn’t really connect with his works. But it’s been my experience that sometimes things kind of need to come to me in the right season. What didn’t make sense to me last year, might hit me like a 2×4 this year.

So, I’m reading Nouwen this morning, and he’s talking about the struggle for older people (or people with what he calls a “prenuclear” worldview) to understand the mindset of the current generation. (Kids these days, eh?) What they/we can’t understand is that, while prenuclear people saw themselves in the midst of a grand narrative that has a past, a present, and a future (which opens up the possibility to despair for the future), the “nuclear” person is historically dislocated. Since we have the technological potential to wipe out all current life on this planet, end even effectivily eliminate the possiblity for all future life, there is no real sense of future to dispair of. No responsibility for that future. Ennui.

This is part of the issue the traditional church faces. I’ve heard several people in the congregation say, “I don’t understand why this isn’t important for the young people.”

To that, Nouwen responds: “When we wonder why the language of traditional Christianity has lost its liberating power for nuclear man, we have to realize that most Christian preaching is still based on the presupposition that man see himself as meaningfully integrated with a history in which God came to us in the past, is living under us in the present, and will come to liberate us in the future. But when man’s historical consciousness is broken, the whole Christian message seems like a lecture about the great pioneers to a boy on an acid trip.”

OK, Henri. I think you’ve caught my attention this time.

violence and idolatry

When I first thought about blogging, I thought that it would be a place where I could sort of think out loud (virtually), and secondarily it would be a place where congregational newsletter items would find a home. It has turned out that Facebook has fulfilled that primary function, and that’s OK. But I DO want this blog space to be a place where I can connect with people who don’t do Facebook, but also who arent’ exactly the instagram crowd, either.

With that in mind, here’s my first cross-over post. I put this on my personal FB page this morning.

A few years ago, Dubuque’s Imam (whose name I regrettably no longer recall) invited Sheikh Jawdat Said to come to town and speak. Someone at the seminary invited him further to talk to our learning community. Sheikh Said is a noted Syrian peace preacher. Most of his works are untranslated, so I’ve not read anything he’s written, but working through his interpreter that evening in Dubuque, he instructed us on the idolatry of those whose security comes in the form of violence. He said these people are worshipping the guns and missiles and bombs as gods in order to get their way instead of relying on God for their security. Very much in line with Luther’s definition of a god as that upon which you place your trust for life, security, and all the good things in life (very rough paraphrase). That came to mind as I read my morning devotional out of “Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals.”

From Psalm 16 (vv 1-4)

Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you;
     I have said to the LORD, “You are my Lord,
     my good above all other.

All my delight is upon the godly that are in the land:
     upon those who are noble among the people.

But those who run after other gods
     shall have their troubles multiplied.

Their libations of blood I will not offer:
     nor take the names of their gods upon my lips.

For all those who rely upon violence for their security, for those who use weapons of violence and destruction to secure political ends, we pray.

Upcoming events in September and another plea for invitations

Whew! August was a busy, busy month for me! A lot of it had to do with paying catch-up from my time away in Detroit – both on the Youth Gathering trip and on my vacation. It’s the double-edged sword of vacation: You need a break from all the work, so you go away. But when you come back, that work hasn’t disappeared. Instead, it seems to have been fruitful and multiplied. You’re working folks. You know what I mean.

September looks busy, too, but in different ways. We’ve got a couple of neat things on the front-burner for September. It’s “God’s Work, Our Hands” month at First Lutheran, so we’re trying to help folks find a few new ways to serve others outside our walls, which is really why the church exists, anyway. We’re also open to ideas. You know somebody or some organization in need? You think we can help as a congregation? Let us know. You organize, we’ll do.

But in the immediate plan is to set aside September 13 as “God’s Work, Our Hands” day, in communion with (albeit a week after) the Church-wide (ELCA) day designated with that title. We plan to put together some relief packs for our homeless neighbors. They’ll be little hygiene packs in Ziploc baggies that folks can keep in their car or in their bag to hand out to folks in lieu of money. Christina Williams is working on a list of items to go in the baggies.

We’ll be holding our monthly Town Hall meeting on September 20 right after worship. I encourage people to come to this, as we’ll be talking about core values and maybe some other things that should line us up to draft a brand spanking new mission statement for the November Annual Meeting!

[In light of that, here’s something to kick around, if you will. I’ve been listening to some of the musical artists who figured prominently at the Youth Gathering. Some of them were responsible for putting together the theme music for that event. I found out after the fact that they had taken the Mission Statement for the Southeast Michigan Synod (“Building Bridges, Breaking Chains, Bearing Burdens, Bringing Hope”) and setting it to music. Here’s a link to the song. I’m really loving that mission statement, and am not against plagiarizing it. Just throwing that idea out there.]

The following Saturday (September 26), First Lutheran will be hosting Tulsa’s inagural Shape Note singing school and (hopefully) regular sing. (For more info on just what shape note music is, check out http://www.fasola.org. I’d also like to show a documentary for folks who are interested, but am struggling to find a good date for this. Keep your eyes peeled. I want to do this in the next week or two.) As of now, I’ve spoken to people who are coming from Arkansas and Texas, and I understand there will be some Missiourians in our numbers, too. I’m kind of hoping this becomes a Big Deal, but we’ll see what God does with it.

And then on Sunday the 27th, Rene Girard scholar and peace preacher Michael Hardin will be in the pulpit at our 9:30 worship service. He’ll also be offering a free public lecture that evening at 5:30 in the Fellowship Hall. I’ll post more when we have a title for that lecture, but I think you’ll be positively challenged by his presentation. He’s really good.

In between all of these things, we will continue to hold Pub Theology every Thursday night at 8 p.m at the White Lion pub. If this piques your interest, come join us. It’s absolutely not necessary that you imbibe! Several of our regulars drink water or a soft drink. We’re not there for the booze, but for the conversation. Have questions? Call me!

And we will be re-introducing Mid-week Mass on Wednesdays at 12:15. This is a “low Mass,” meaning that we’re not singing gathering or sending songs or the Kyrie or anything like that. All liturgy is spoken. But there is a reading from Scripture and there is Holy Communion offered. We’d love it if you came and brought a friend. Or an enemy. Or just yourself. All are welcome.

The last thing for this post: I regret that there are some of you whom I barely know outside of Sunday worship. It’s been a while since I’ve been on visits to our homebound members. I haven’t seen the insides of most of your homes. Some people are really good at inviting me over for a chat. The thing is, I LOVE that part of this job. Getting to know people is the best part of leading a congregational community. But here’s the thing: I am extremely shy. I mean EXTREMELY shy, especially about inviting myself over to people’s houses. But I want to come. Please invite me. You are welcome to invite my family, too, if you want, but it’s not necessary. And it doesn’t have to be a big to-do. You just want to have coffee? No problem. You just want a little discussion sans beverage? Great. If you WANT to kill the fatted calf, well, that’s fine, too, but there’s really no need. I’m not interested in banquets: I’m interested in YOU! So please. Invite me.

That’s all I have to say about that. For now, anyway.

Here’s to a great September, all! I’m excited about the cooler weather; I’m excited about our many planned activities; I’m REALLY excited about our new Music Director; and I’m excited to get to know all of you better. Let’s build some bridges!

Just a quick post

Hi, all! It’s good to be back from vacations and Youth Gatherings and such. I’m busy catching up with approximately 1.6 bazillion emails and other tasks that have fallen by the wayside in my absence, but wanted to share something with you.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about worship music lately. It’s no mystery to most of you, I guess, that – while my musical tastes outside of church are rather eclectic (and very little of it would probably do for worship music … with the posible exception of Tom Waits … well, I digress), my preference is for the time-honored music. I’m no fan of Marty Haugen (except his Holden Evening Prayer) or David Haas. But give me an Isaac Watts or even a John or Charles Wesley hymn, and I’m a happy guy.

While we were at the Youth Gathering, we heard a LOT of more contemporary stuff from Agape to Rachel Kurtz to Lost & Found (though I’d probably not call that contemporary any more), and honestly, it was good. Really good. I’ll always prefer my hymns, but there’s room for LOTS of kinds of music.

Anyway, with this on my mind, as I was doing my devotional today, here’s what I ran across:

“Offering a Sacrifice of Praise

There is an old saying many Christians use: ‘Offer the Lord a sacrifice of praise,’ referring to Hebrews 13:15. In many cirlces this notion of a ‘sacrifice of praise’ almost becomes cleche. (Perhaps because worship does not often come at much cost, especially compared with the sacrifices of saints who’ve gone before us.) But when we worship with folks of various traditions, there are tiems when we may hea a prayer that uses language we might not naturally use or sing a song that isn’t really our style. That is part of what it means to be a member of a community as diverse as the church is. And perhaps that also helps shed some light on why it might require some sacrifice for us to give up ourselves.

“When a song isn’t working for you, consider praising God, because that probably means it is working for someone else who is very different from you. Offer your worship as a sacrifice rather than requiring others to sacrifiece for your pleasure or contentment. There is something to the notion of becoming one as God is one;  doesn’t mean that we are the same; it just means that we are united by one Spirit. After all, we can become one only if there are many of us to begin with.

“Liturgy puts a brake on narcissism. Certainly, there is something beautiful about contemporary worship, where we can take old things and add a little spice to them, like singing hymns to rock tunes or cecciting creeds as spoken word rhymes. But liturgy protects us from simply making worship into a self-pleasing act. So, if a song or prayer doesn’t quite work for you, be thankful that it is probably really resonating with someone who is different from you, and offer a sacrifice of praise.”

From Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals.

[If you’d like to follow along with the daily devotionals, go to commonprayer.net for the daily lectionary.

Pastoral Reflection on the Youth Gathering (RiseUpELCA)


You can tell by our expressions that this was the first day on the bus. See how alive and well-rested we all look? Ah, those were the days!

So, this post is supposed to be a reflection on our time at the ELCA Youth Gathering in Detroit, July 15 – 19. I’m gonna come straight out and say that it’s probably going to take me several posts to reflect on this trip. The shortest reaction I can give you is this: It was awesome!

There were 8 of us who went on the trip from our congregation. I’m guessing that if you asked all 8 of us what made the experience great, you’d get 8 answers. (By the way, let me encourage you to do that – ask all 8 of us! We are going to put together some sort of summary of the trip in the very near future. Traditionally this has been a youth-led worship service. That may still be in the cards; however, it may be something else. Since we got back, none of us have been in the same place at the same time to really plan what this is going to look like.)

Since I can’t claim anybody else’s experiences, I’ll give you some of the reasons I loved our time together. Here they are, in no particular order:

1. We were in DETROIT! This is my hometown. My relationship with Detroit is … complicated. I haven’t lived in the Metro area since April of 2001.

Here we are in the Firestone Farmhouse, my primary post. The girls are learning from one of the Presenters about daily life on a Victorian farm. We went down into the cellar and found some of the complicated “underpinnings” that women wore beneath their dresses.
This was our first night at the Gathering. We were sitting in the “nose-bleeds,” which wasn’t great for enjoying the program, but it did give us a good view of ALL.THE.PEOPLE! About 20 minutes after this shot, the place was jam-packed. #introvertsnightmare 🙂

But it was great to get back there. It was a huge blessing to have had outstanding weather most of the time. It was a super cool experience for me to take the ladies to my old stomping grounds (Greenfield Village), where I cut my teeth in the museum biz, where I have made some of my most lasting friendships and memories. Asha got licked by a calf while we were there. 🙂

2. The people of Detroit were totally excited to have us there. I have to say that on Day 1 of the Gathering, as 30,000 of us in our colorful Tee-shirts were trying to make our way from Cobo Arena to Ford Field (about a mile away), struggling to find food along the way, people were befuddled by us. “Who are all these kids with their multicolored garb, their high fives, their ‘insufferable cheerful[ness]?!” (A now famous expression made popular by this article was, “It looks like a Skittles factory exploded!”) But after that first day, the “regular folks,” including the police, Tigers fans on the way to a game, dudes driving by in their cars, people who work downtown – almost all of them were super enthusiastic about our being there. There were more high fives than one can reasonably imagine. People driving by or pedalling past on their bikes would shout, “Thank you!” A few of them, by the very end, had caught on and would holler, “Rise Up!”

3. We got to do some much-needed service in a town that suffers from some pretty abysmal self-esteem. Every group who came to the Gathering was signed up for a day of Service. These were staggered over the 3 days, so that each day, about 10,000 people were deployed in Detroit to work on painting buildings, clearing lots (that was us), board up vacant/abandoned homes, etc. We went to an area where people had just been dumping trash in vacant lots in this neighborhood adjacent to a retirement home. We cleared brush, garbage, cinder blocks, dentures (don’t ask), you name it. This made it safe for a brush hog to come in and mow without getting its blades all chewed up. There are long-term plans for these neighborhoods, but in the meantime, the city just wants them looking a bit more presentable and less … menacing.

The specific area we worked on belongs to a project run by Focus:HOPE. It’s a project called “Keep it 100!” I encourage you to follow the link, but the basic rundown is that they are working on revitalizing and beautifying a 100-block area in an incredibly blighted part of the city, trying to make it livable again.

4. This one is about the girls, and I don’t want to betray any confidences, but I will say this: I learned that at the very least one of our girls is a courageous leader. I think they all are, but one in particular stands out. They say it takes courage to stand up to your enemies, but it takes a special kind of courage to stand up to your friends. I saw one of the young ladies do just that – she made a decision that wasn’t very popular, but it was right, and she stood by it. That makes me very, very proud. (Who’s cutting onions in here?) I also saw a moment of transformation where one of the young women, whom I would describe as fairly shy (at least in my experience) seat herself on the bus so that she could meet new people. I have once instance of this that comes to mind, but now that I think of it, it happened over and over. The girls were eager to meet new people and share experiences. It was just really moving to witness. (Onions again?!)

5-10. There are a bajillion reasons this trip was great. We heard Detroit spoken word artist Natasha “T” Miller deliver a beautiful poem about her city; We saw the Temptations, for crying out loud! We ate a lot of interesting food. (Can you say, “Opa!”?) We went out for pizza with my mom and some of her friends! I got to try the new Faygo Rock & Rye Slurpee at 7 11. I mean, it was really cool, all around. The worship was good and gave us some ideas (watch out! “Gospel/Blues liturgy,” people!). It’s just too much. I’m still processing it all, and imagine I will be for a long time coming.

I want to thank the congregation for helping us to fundraise this trip. I want to thank Sarah Smith for being just a great, easy-going person. I want to thank the girls for making the Gathering memorable in a wonderful way. I want to thank the parents for trusting us with their offspring. I want to thank the people who planned and pulled off the Gathering under some very difficult conditions. I want to thank the city of Detroit for hosting us. And I want to thank God for this opportunity, not to bring Jesus to Detroit, because Jesus has been there all along and remains there today, but for the opportunity to see his image in the people of that town AND for the opportunity to be his hands and feet FOR the people of that town.

OK, I’ll shut up. For now. But there’s more to come, I’m sure. Especially as we think of ways to RiseUpTogether here in Tulsa.


Binaries, Polarities and the Unhealth of Congregations

On July 12, we had a visit from Cynthia Gustavson. I had spoken to her at our Synod’s annual Assembly back in May or June or whenever that was (I have since slept, and many experiences have managed to blend together, wiping out important and unimportant distinctions … but I digress), and I asked her if she would come and speak to us about healing.

This wasn’t an out-of-the-blue invitation: If you’ve been part of this congregation for the last 2-ish years, you’ll know that we’ve spend a good deal of time reflecting about our past. We worked with Holy Cow, Inc. and Kairos & Associates to do a Congregational Assessment Tool – sort of a Myers-Briggs snapshot of our congregation’s personality. We also completed (as a requirement of our Redevelopment grant) a Comprehensive Ministry Review, in which a number of faithful folks from our Synod came together to speak to the congregation and our partners in the larger community about Who We Are. In all of those conversations, one thing that consistently popped up among our “consultants,” was that there was a lot of unhealed pain and “lingering toxicity” from various traumas in the congregation’s past. All of these folks recommended that we bring in someone to talk with us about “congregational healing.” This was the background to that invitation to Cynthia.

She and I spoke on the phone. I relayed to her that several folks commented to me about how they would just like to move on and not have to deal with fallout from The Conflict any more. This comment may be why Cynthia approached our time together that Sunday the way she did. I admit to being baffled at first, since it wasn’t what I was expecting at all. I wasn’t disappointed, per se – just a bit confused.

Well, she approached our meeting by talking less about healing than about thriving. She opened up, saying that many congregations (and other individual and corporate bodies alike) tend to think in polarities, in binaries. An object is either A or it is B. An event is either good or it is bad. This is true in fields like computer electronics where a machine is either on or it is off, but in human relationships, in emotional areas, in most of life, polarized thinking isn’t terribly helpful.

Before I talk any further about Cynthia’s presentation, I wanted to interject something kind of personal as a way of illustration.

Many of you know that I have been diagnosed with PTSD and with dysthimic disorder following PTSD. The short version of this story is that, as a kid, I dealt with a LOT of death. I mean, a LOT. My father, my sister, my grandmother, my aunt and cousin. Suicide, drug overdose, cancer, more suicide. All of this by the time I was 10. I’ve suffered a lot of loss since then, as well. More suicides, more overdoses, AIDS deaths, more cancer. It goes on. But it’s those early losses that shaped me profoundly. The trauma from those things can’t account for ALL of my personality quirks, but it probably does account for the way I “sensate” reality and how I attribute value to things and experiences. I am an “introverted feeler,” meaning that I process experiences internally, either incorporating/accepting things into myself or rejecting them. It’s either/or. It’s binary feeling. I like it or I dislike it. The Beatles rule. One Direction sucks. There is no in-between.

Trauma and binary or polarized thinking don’t always go hand-in-hand, but they’re definitely not strangers, either. Binary thinking is a quick way to categorize things, and it works really well in survival situations. This food is safe. That food is unsafe. This idea is helpful. That idea is useless. That group of people may kill me so they are bad. This group of people may help me so they are good. See what I mean?

While that works well for survival mode, it’s not always the best way to operate OUTSIDE of survival modes. When a person (or a corporate body) suffers trauma, they fall into survival mode. On or off, good or bad, safe or dangerous – not even really thinking that there may be multiple shades of grey in between.

Now, I didn’t debrief all of this with Cynthia, so I may well be talking out of my hat. But I suspect that she was trying to suggest that this may be where our congregation is situated emotionally – that we’re in this survival mode, which isn’t as conducive to THRIVING as we might want it to be.

She presented to us 8 Key Polarities to help us think about THRIVING rather than just surviving.

Instead of thinking of these as either/or propositions, we can think of them as both/ands.
We need:
1. Tradition AND Innovation
2. Spiritual health AND Institutional health
3. Management AND Leadership
4. Strong clergy leadership AND Strong lay leadership
5. Inreach AND Outreach
6. Nurture AND Transformation (alternatively, Pastoral AND Prophetic)
7. Making disciples as a process that is both Easy AND Challenging
8. Call (Vocation) AND Duty

Most people at the meeting that day seemed to think that some of these areas we are already working on pretty well, especially Tradition and Innovation. I think we can challenge ourselves a great deal more in this area, but overall I agree that we have a solid liturgical tradition that we feel free to play with a little bit (musically; in terms of where we place various liturgical elements such as the passing of the peace, etc.)

The places where people felt (or at least most boldly spoke up about) need the most attention are numbers 2, 4, 5, and 8.

We seem to think a lot more about our spiritual health (doing healing services, caring for one another, having fellowship events, doing small group ministries amongst ourselves) than we do thinking/talking about Institutional Health (Budgets, property issues, etc.). It might be interesting to talk about WHY that is…

One person believed we place too much emphasis on strong clergy leadership and not enough on strong lay leadership. (I was not that person, though I don’t disagree! :)) There are probably good reasons for this stemming from past traumas, but remember that we want to move out of “surviving” mode and into “thriving” mode!

One person commented that we focus far more on Inreach than we do on Outreach. As traumatized people, again, this makes sense. But we need to move out of a primary healing mode into an outward focus, remembering that Jesus commissioned the Church to work for the sake of the world, not for ourselves.

One person believed that we need to balance our thinking in terms of Call (Vocation) (“I feel called to do music ministry … and maybe not much else.”) and Duty (“Somebody needs to sit on the CORE Council; Somebody needs to mow the grass; Somebody needs to count the money; Maybe duty to the church’s mission binds me to to that important task, even though it’s not what I love to do.”)


Even though I admit to having been a little confused at the time about WHY Cynthia chose to talk about these binaries, as I reflect back on our time together, I think this makes a lot of sense. We DO tend to see ourselves as survivors. That’s not a bad thing. It needs to be celebrated. But we ALSO need to focus on a THRIVING mission!

As Cynthia said (and I had to laugh, because I used this very analogy when I was interviewing here), the breathing cycle includes BOTH the inhale AND the exhale. You simply can’t have one without the other. Are we a congregation that has been “waiting to exhale?”

“All are Welcome” Lectio Divina reading

A few months ago, before Laura B.’s time serving on the congregational CORE Council came to an end, she shared with the group a devotional. I’ll probably get the background story all wrong, so I won’t mention it here, except to say that Laura was using a type of devotional reading called “lectio divina” – “divine reading.”

I’ll spare you all the details about what lectio divina includes or what it’s meant to be. For the curious among you, I direct you to this Wikipedia entry. Our devotion was kind of a modified version of this – a shorthand version, if you will. We took a look at the text of the hymn and discussed words, phrases, key ideas that jumped out at us.

To refresh your memory, here are the lyrics:

1. Let us build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live,
a place where saints and children tell how hearts learn to forgive.
Built of hopes and dreams and visions, rock of faith and vault of grace;
here the love of Christ shall end divisions:
All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

2. Let us build a house where prophets speak, and words are strong and true,
where all God’s children dare to seek to dream God’s reign anew.
Here the cross shall stand as witness and as symbol of God’s grace;
here as one we claim the faith of Jesus:
All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

3. Let us build a house where love is found in water, wine and wheat;
a banquet hall on holy ground where peace and justice meet.
Here the love of God, through Jesus, is revealed in time and space;
as we share in Christ the feast that frees us:
All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

4. Let us build a house where hand will reach beyond the wood and stone
to heal and strengthen, serve and teach, and live the Word they’ve known.
Here the outcast and the stranger bear the image of God’s face;
let us bring and end to fear and danger:
All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

5. Let us build a house where all are named, their songs and visions heard
and loved and treasured, taught and claimed as words within the Word.
Built of tears and cries and laughter, prayers of faith and songs of grace,
let this house proclaim from roof to rafter:
All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place!

(Text and Music: Marty Haugen in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, Hymn #641)

In our CORE Council meeting, we made it through all 5 verses, but in our Town Hall meeting, we spent more time deliberating – so much so that we wound up taking TWO Town Halls, just to make it through verse 2!  It was a wonderfully fruitful exercise.

Here are some of your reflections on those devotional times:

On that first meeting (5/17), we had a small number of homeless folks worshipping with us, and one of them – a delightfully deep and thoughtful Christian man – stayed for the Town Hall afterward. He shared with us that he profoundly felt the “All” in “All are Welcome” in this place. He felt seen and appreciated, and he commended the congregation on allowing him space to voice his opinion.

This spoke to someone else’s reflection on the line about ending divisions. The conversation went ’round to making sure that when we say “all,” we must really mean “all,” not just “some.” If divisions are ended, they are ended.

Someone else said that it also needs to be more than just that all are welcome, but that all are equal. The table of the Lord is the one place in the world where we all come with empty hands – so nobody has a leg up on anyone else. We are truly in the same boat.

To that end, someone else commented on the line “all can safely live.” We talked about physical safety as something we need to consider, but we also talked about how this congregation is a safe place emotionally/psychologically. One member commented that his family lives on property in a neighboring town that is owned by and borders a church of a different denominational background, yet he comes to THIS congregation because he knows that he won’t be judged for having doubts and questions.

On the second meeting (6/14) we could pretty strongly hear music wafting up from our Building Use partners who worship in our basement Fellowship Hall in the time immediately following our worship service. This group is a non-denominational congregation consisting primarily of folks from the LGBQT community – some of whom struggle (for good reason!) with the traditional church, but who feel safe and welcome worshipping in the building we share. We reflected on this and the blessing that those folks bring us as we contemplated the idea that “All are welcome in this place” as we ALL “claim the faith of Jesus.”

In light of that, one member expressed appreciation that our Church (and our congregation) practices Open Communion.

Someone mentioned the line about words being strong and true. This line made them think of our new Town Hall structure, which they mentioned is a work in progress, but a positive step in increasing a communication that has been lacking among congregants. People are feeling a greater sense of involvement.

I had preached a sermon that day on how putting on Christ was like that movie They Live – in which the main characters put on a new set of glasses that allowed them to see the world in a new way, through a new and clearer perspective. The line from the hymn about being “here as one” in spite of our differences gives us new perspective – how we can love one another through those differences, and how those times when we don’t appear to be “as one,” it’s OK.

Someone else commented on “daring to dream God’s reign anew” in light of having survived a great deal as a congregation over time – and not only surviving, but growing in Christ! All of this is amazing, and it leads us to keep the door open, so that we’re not just hanging on to this transformation story for ourselves, but are inviting others – sometimes folks who are very different from us – to share the story.


So, these were two of our “First 15” faith formation moments. I think we may have gone 5 minutes over 15 each time, and even so, we still only made it through two verses! This says a lot of things, I think – it says, for example, that the music we choose in worship is an important source of theological formation, especially when we take the time to really reflect on the lyrics, and when we take time to put them into the context of our own Life Together. It says that our congregation enjoys this kind of theological work. It says that our congregation, while far from being perfect, is a place of Safety for all kinds of people (even if we tend to look very similar on the outside), is a place where we strive to welcome people – and not only welcome them, but also realize that we are equal and connected in ways that we can’t even explain, and it is a place where the love of God, through Jesus, is revealed in time and space. Do we have work to do to become MORE welcoming, MORE inviting, MORE inclusive? Absolutely! But we also need to realize that God has blessed us abundantly, and guides us deeper and deeper into relationship with him through Jesus: relationship with God, with one another, with those around us.

Long time, no see!

Hi. It’s me. Remember?

Yeah, so I haven’t been terribly active on this page in the last few weeks. Not to make excuses, but (you know that means an excuse is coming, right?), things have been very busy, first with the run-up to the Youth Gathering, then there was the Youth Gathering itself, and finally there has been a lot of catching up following the Youth Gathering. If you guys feel neglected, you should talk to my office, which looks like a bomb went off in there.

Anyway, I’m back now – though I’m heading out on vacation next week. Before I go, I wanted to give you a glimpse at a plan of things I’d like to talk about on here over the next day or two prior to abandoning you once again.

So, things I need to cover include:
1.) Some follow-up from our “First 15” discussions based on a lectio divina reading of the ELW hymn “All are Welcome;”

2.) Some follow-up on our Town Hall session with Cynthia Gustavson;

3.) Youth Gathering reflections.

I’m going to do these over three posts, for ease of navigation, should you want to come back to the posts later.

So, there we are. Now I’m off to write the first post!