What fun! This week I was introduced to a new website: wordle.net.

Just type in words, or paste in large amounts of text, and “create.” The larger the word, the more times it appeared in your text.

This wordle is based on a combination of words people wrote down during the Taize Vespers gathering on Sunday, a recent community retreat, and the most recent Community Life essays on Wicker Park Grace/Grace Commons’ website.

This is a word picture of my faith community.


Graceful Living: Faith, Values, and Money

In November I’m blogging this book by Laura Dunham, Graceful Living: Your Faith, Values, and Money in Changing Times. Laura is a Presbyterian minister, a certified financial planner, and a former college professor.

We’re taking a look at Stewardship at Wicker Park Grace, and how our relationship with money affects our relationships with the world and each other.

How is money a spiritual thing? How can getting our finances in order make us stronger spiritually?

Mostly I’ll focus on Part One in the book: Choosing How to Live.

Chapter One: Living in a Consumer Society

Chapter Two: Money as a Spiritual Concern

Chapter Three: Graceful Living: Designing a Lifestyle Consistent with Your Faith

I got a copy of this book from a Stewardship group at the Presbytery of Chicago, and unfortunately, I can’t find where it’s easily available on-line. If anybody knows, please post a comment here!

A Network of Friends Seeking Transformation

I’m always amazed when I watch this video, by the huge amount of similarity we use in talking about our emerging efforts at being church in new ways.

Created in the spring of 2010 at a gathering in Minneapolis, this video features 16 really cool people doing awesome things across the country.

Each of us speaks for less than a minute in this 10-minute video, but the editor has interspersed our comments so that you easily hear the similarities (and differences) in what we’re doing.

I hear similarities of hospitality, having a posture of openness, taking the risk to fail and sometimes failing, being on a journey with people, really loving people sincerely, living a faith-kind-of-life, developing strong spiritual practices, claiming and interpreting the bible, putting ourselves into the stories, welcoming diversity, not using “church” words, dealing with conflict, being creative or not being creative, being changed by the people who show up; in other words, seeking to be transformed.

I wish I knew all these people better than I do, but I at least know them all a little bit!

The video was produced by Steve Knight, who founded The Transform Network, filmed by Wes Halula, and edited by Don Heatley.

Born of a Woman

Last year (2010) in the weeks leading up to Christmas, we did an art project at Wicker Park Grace during our Sunday Gatherings in which we transformed Christmas advertisements into a spiritual symbol. The idea was to disconnect from the excessive commercialism that Christmas has become, and reconnect to the underlying spiritual story of how the Divine came into human form through the birth of Jesus.

We got the idea from our friends at House for All Sinners and Saints and their pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber, in Denver, CO. They did the project in 2008. They called their icon, Our Lady of the New Advent. They did theirs on poster board, but we wanted something more long lasting so we used a 1/2 inch thick art board and painted details on top of the collage.

I describe the project, tongue-in-cheek, as a paint-by-numbers Mary and Jesus project. The first week, with the background painted in green but Mary and Jesus blank white space, we thought it looked like an alien snowman from outer space. Each week we painted in a new color as background, and during the prayer time at our Spiritual Practice, people brought forward torn up bits of Christmas advertisements they brought from home, and glued them into the color-coded section.

Artist Monica J. Brown guided the project, and painted in the details, the faces and hands, at the end of the project, using an Ethiopian icon as a model for the features. Now this piece of art, collaboratively created, holds a central place in our gathering space on Sundays.

For pictures of the project all along the way, check out this set in flickr:
Theotokos icon project

Story Bread, connecting us

In case you missed our new video earlier this summer, here it is again. It’s just 4 minutes long, and gives a good sense of the spirit of Wicker Park Grace!

Towards the end of the video you’ll see me breaking bread and talking about the meaning of communion. That week I called the communion bread “story bread,” which I had never done before and haven’t done since. But I like the concept.

I say in the video that this bread is a physical bread and also a story bread, a bread which you encounter through the lens of your life and the lens of the bible. “And I hope and pray that it will give you nourishment and courage at a deep level.” And so I pray!

Special thanks to Brandon Sichling who made this video about Wicker Park Grace.

Don’t Wait for a Gandhi

If you have a situation that seems endless and is a negative situation, don’t wait for a Gandhi, don’t wait for a King, don’t wait for a Mandela.

“You are your own Mandela; you are your own Gandhi; you are your own King. You know your issues; you know your concerns, and you know the solution.

Rise up and do something to change your situation around.”

(Liberian Lutheran Peace Activist Leymah Gbowee discusses her feelings on receiving the Nobel Peace Prize and the role faith played in her struggle to help end the war in Liberia.)

I referenced this in my reflection at Wicker Park Grace yesterday. Watch the 3 min video here, at Odyssey Network.

Missional + Faith + Community

Aion Tea House, Wicker Park, 2004

Wicker Park Grace was started with grants from the Presbyterian Church (USA) as a “new church development (NCD).” Seven years of annually smaller and smaller grants end this year. The initial idea was to start a church in a new way, maybe a “church without walls.” Something that would be more resonant with millennial people. Something that would draw from the roots of tradition and history, but which would continue to grow and develop new branches, new blossoms.

After 2 years meeting in coffee shops, and 6 years meeting in an art gallery, Wicker Park Grace has been rootless and wandering for 6 months, having lost our art gallery to an expanding company, building more offices. We’ve been meeting in the common rooms and fellowship halls of two different churches in two different neighborhoods. Who are we? What are we becoming? We’re no longer a “new church development,” but institutionalizing as a church does not seem like the right move for us because of the ways the structure would change and limit us.

We looked to our friends at Broad Street Ministries in Philadelphia for a new model. They came to the same turning point where WPG finds ourselves. Broadstreet serves a transient, urban population and was committed to not having membership roles. We are similarly committed. When someone shows up and participates, they’re “in.” Our friends down at the Emmaus Community in Chicago Heights talk about “belonging before believing.”

They say, “At Emmaus you can belong before you believe. You do not have to be a member to share your gifts, talents, or abilities. This church celebrates the sacraments of communion and baptism and takes the Bible seriously.” Lots of people and lots of faith communities are having these kinds of conversations.

The Presbytery of Chicago is in process of adopting a new policy manual for new church developments, and it will have a section describing the option for a community to affiliate with the Presbytery as either a new church, or as a “Missional Faith Community.” Here’s how the policy reads, in part.

A Missional Faith Community:

exists to love, serve, challenge, pray and struggle alongside the surrounding community where it finds itself called into being by God

engages a theology that is compatible with the Reformed Tradition

gathers regularly for worship, for opportunities to explore Christian discipleship and spiritual formation and to follow Jesus Christ

has a plan for spiritual and worship leadership that is appropriately equipped for leadership and faithfully compensated

has an identifiable and recognized lay leadership and a faithful and accountable governance structure

has an ongoing commitment to mission planning and to communicating a vision for ministry that may include leadership training, growth, evangelism, and a commitment to engagement with the community in which it serves

has a realistic financial plan for sustaining its ministry

Lots of this language is from Broad Street Ministries, and the Missional Guidelines from the Presbytery of Philadelphia. We’re grateful to them for documenting their work there in the Philadelphia Presbytery. And we’re grateful for the wonderful work they do in downtown Philadelphia!

We think that Wicker Park Grace will appeal to the Presbytery of Chicago in November to become the first Missional Faith Community of the presbytery. The leadership co-op of Wicker Park Grace is planning a community retreat to explore this together in October.

Psalms for Praying

This is one of my favorite books for prayer and liturgy. We use this book almost every week at Wicker Park Grace for our liturgical psalm.

We sing a refrain, taizé -style, sometimes an actual song from Taizé , and sometimes an original refrain composed to go with a particular psalm. In between the communally sung refrains, designated readers read the text of the psalm while our musicians improvise quietly in the background.

For example, from our gathering on Sept 11, we spoke these words from psalm 114:

Begin with REFRAIN:

Come all you who have wondered far from the path,
who have separated yourselves from Love;
A banquet has been prepared for you in the heart’s secret room.
There you will find the way Home; a welcome ever awaits you!
Even as you acknowledge the times you have erred,
The forgiveness of the Beloved will envelop you.


Call upon the Beloved when fear arises, when you feel overwhelmed;
The eternal Listener will heed your cry;
You will find strength to face the shadows.
Befriend all that is within you, discover the Sacred Altar within your heart.
Then will abundant blessings enter your home;
And you will welcome the Divine Guest who is ever with you.
You are never alone!


Communion Means Loving Across Barriers

I wrote about communion in the Wicker Park Grace e-newsletter this week. It’s so important that I want to repeat it here.

As a pastor, I have struggled with how to interpret communion and how to practice it in a community deeply committed to radical inclusion. In many times and places, communion has been interpreted as a boundary-marker between insiders and outsiders: those who are invited to eat the bread, and those who are not invited.

This is deeply ironic, given Jesus’s boundary-breaking meal practices for which he took so much flack. Insider/outside status was not a boundary that Jesus respected. He shared his table with anyone who would come and eat with him.

At the same time, I realize that the communion ritual has come to be an identity-marker for Christians. It’s something that Christians do. It’s a Christian practice. It ties us to a history, a lineage of people (some of whom we’d rather not be associated with, but that’s another story.)

How can we affirm, embrace, reclaim, reframe, the positive meanings of communion without reinforcing the negative ways it has been experienced? Unfortunately, the whole time we’re reclaiming and reframing, others continue to use communion as a marker of insider/outsider.

I can only hope that more and more communities will reframe and reclaim–that all of us will get better at articulating the intentional inclusivity of Jesus–in all that we do.

Here’s what I wrote in the e-notes:

Not everyone who participates at Wicker Park Grace
is a Christian, and we love that.
We are a community of learning, relationship, and hospitality.
At the same time, the spiritual practices we do
are Christian ones, and communion is a prime example.

We pass the bread from one to another
as a sign of how God moves among us,
and to experience serving one another.

We share communion often so that we can build up
memories and patterns and symbolic resonances.

Our communion table is open
to all who seek to be nourished by
the presence of God in this
communal meal practice begun by Jesus.

There are many signs of our unity in community and this ritual meal is only one of them. The Latin etymology of the word communion means “fellowship, mutual participation, a sharing.”

In that sense, our community meal that we share every week after our spiritual practice is another form of “communion.” Our conversations, our book groups, our dinners at one another’s homes, these are all ways we practice communion.

Eating the communion bread
is not a sign of our separation from
those who do not eat it.

Eating the communion bread
is a sign of our commitment to love,
as Jesus did, across all barriers.

So if you eat it, love, and be loved.
If you don’t eat it, love! And be loved!

Disarming the Clobber Passages, #3

In the final discussion of the movie Fish Out of Water, we moved on the three new testament passages used in discussions about the lgbtq community: Romans 1: 26-37, 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:9-10.

I touched upon Romans 1 in my recent post #2 on the Clobber Passages (July 24), so I’ll focus here on Corinthians and Timothy, which both include lists of people who are “wrong-doers.” At issue in these two texts are the Greek words malakoi and arsenokoitai. Both words appear in 1 Corinthians, and arsenokoitai appears in 1 Timothy.

Who are these wrong-doers? Malakoi is a word which means “soft.” The King James Version of the bible translated it as “effeminate.” Early church interpreters suggested this referred to masturbation. As social mores shifted, the interpretation also shifted to apply this term to gay men.

Arsenokoitai is a compound word that means men-who-bed-(men?). It does not appear in other contexts in Greek literature and it’s unclear what kind of specific activity was being referred to in this list of wrong-doings. It’s possible it referred to male temple prostitution or to sex with slaves or young boys which were abuses of unequal power. The King James Version translated this word as “abusers of themselves with mankind.” The Revised version translated malakoi and arsenokoitai together as “homosexual” and the second edition translated them together as “sexual pervert.”

Rev. Lindsey Biddle provides an in-depth and readable study of these words in her paper, “Translations with a Soft Touch (Word Studies on 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, 1 Timothy 1:9-10).”

Upon reading these and other commentaries, in my mind it is clear that these words do not refer to loving same-gender couples who are seeking to live a life of integrity, commitment, love, and family with each other and their neighbors.

Let’s all have ethics, yes. But let’s not target whole populations of people based on their identity. Let’s not clobber people with the bible. In fact, let’s make that one of our ethical commitments, k?