Rose Madrid-Swetman

— Random Thoughts, Stories of Life, and Questions about the Journey —

August 10, 2008

Finding Our Way Again

Category: All Posts,Community,Leadership – Rose – 9:06 am

While I was in Chicago last week I finished reading my friend, Brian McLaren’s book, Finding Our Way Again. I don’t have time to do a full review you can read several here. I would highly recommend this book to just about anyone and in fact I am thinking about using it in our own faith community as some kind of study that everyone would go through at some point since this book puts language to the journey we have been on the last four years in so many ways. It is not your typical book on spiritual formation it is so much more. I am sitting having coffee with Rich before we go to the Vineyard this a.m. to engage in spiritual practices. Brian’s chapters on contemplative practices, communal practices and missional practices are really well said. I am working on a dissertation called “The Practicing Church” so this book is very, very helpful to me in many of the directions I am currently working on in my own story.
In missional practices Brian mentions my friends Jim Henderson and Dave Richards of Off The Map as coining the word “otherlyness” if you go to OTM’s site you can read about the spirituality of serving others. By the way OTM is hosting several live events beginning next month the events are called the Born Again Church Tour. Check them out and try to get to one, you won’t be disappointed. There will be great discussion around the way many folks move forward during this time of change and restructuring and if you have been to any OTM event you know there will be great music and a bunch of fun.

Back to Brian’s book. The Chapter on Communal Practices has a side note “THE WAY OF COMMUNITY IS ABOUT THE INWARD JOURNEY, NOT THE JOURNEY INTO ME BUT THE JOURNEY INTO WE. Brian’s premise is that if you are a true contemplative, the practices are about helping you in the upward journey where we descend into our deepest soul and then from there rise upward toward God, and if the missional practices is about the outward journey where we express our inner transformation in the outward world, then the way of community is expressed in the opening line above, it is about the journey into we, not the journey into me.

The chapter continues and defines the word liturgy as a thoughtfully designed, time-tested set and order of communal spiritual practices that must be adapted and updated as needed for the times and communities in which it is employed. In a time when everyone has a different opinion about “going to church” in a way he describes through a lens of spiritual practices and then gives a few examples of how to reframe a community gathering:

Arrival Practices
Inconvenience– Showing up is inherently inconvenient. It means going to a place I didn’t choose at a time I didn’t choose for a purpose I do choose. The commitment to the purpose — learning and living a way of life–motivates me to show up. In this way, going to church when you don’t feel like it becomes the most important kind of going to church there is.

Self Preparation
Our daily self preparation typically involves, showering, brushing our teeth, getting dressed. Preparation for the gathering of the faith community would have practices such as prayer, study, or even discussion in the car about why joining and showing up in a faith community is important.

As one arrives at a gathering–in the parking lot, on the sidewalk–others are arriving too, and how one treats them is, at is turns out, a highly significant communal practice. If one habitually treats them as strangers–say, as one might treat strangers in the aisle in a grocery store, then one is a way of practicing a way of treating people that may or may not be in line with the way of this community. This was of a great concern to the first apostles look up the way we are to greet one another as we gather.

Engagement Practices
As you enter whatever space you gather in one can practice stillness, quieting your internal chatter so that you can listen, letting the dust of hurry and worry settle so that you can simply be present and awake.

Invocation I love this being from the Vineyard — many of our invocations ask ridiculous things, they ask God to be present as if God wasn’t present already. Beneath this clumsy kind of expression there is an important reality: we are often oblivious to God’s presence, asleep at the wheel. The invocation is a way for us as a community to say that we are together seeking to wake up intentionally to the reality that has always been true: that God is with us and we are with God, living and moving and having our being in God.

Singing Brian states that singing is so familiar in our churches that he is afraid we are missing the miracle that it is. I could not agree more. Honestly, I love singing at our gathering, I love music and the way it moves my soul and I love singing with a group of a hundred or so people. I have a totally different experience in a large group than in a smaller group of 15 or 20 people. Not that there is anything wrong with singing in a small group, I just like the experience of a large group of voices singing–my imagination takes me right into a place where I imagine Jesus sitting on the throne and your only response is to bow your heart and worship him. Brian of course has much to say about this but I will leave it here for now.

Listening Practices
Attentiveness This is brilliant – in an age where the sermon is under nuclear attack (and for some good reason-however I am not of the persuasion we throw the baby out with the bath water) Brian sees the preparing and listening to a sermon as a communal practice of attentiveness, where the speaker, preacher, or whomever begins by simultaneously attending to the Scriptures, the faith community, his or her own soul, and the larger world in which they are all situated, listening for resonances that indicate the places where God may be speaking. The people similarly come, attending to resonances between the text, the sermon, and their own lives, seeking in that resonance to integrate sacred theology and personal biography and shared history. The whole process–preparation, delivery, reception, memory–is a shared spiritual practice by which the whole congregation (again this seems like a miracle we all take for granted) engages in a shared practice of listening to God.

Brian goes on to say that when he is sermonizing on this topic he will often ask people what question would come to mind if God sent them the following message: I will give you a message of great importance sometime during a sermon in the next three years. They always reply with this question: “Which Sunday?” After all they don’t want to miss the big week. What if the only way you’ll be prepared to hear that message when it comes is by practicing and attentiveness for the next 155 Sundays?

The last practices I don’t have time to go into as I am on my way to our Worship Gathering are:
Interpretation and Discernment – so important
Confession and Assurance of Pardon – we don’t do enough of this in our faith community
Response practices, reentry practices, announcements as a spiritual practice — we got this one..for us it is a time to have fun together and laugh, to remind ourselves we don’t have to take ourselves so seriously – our “announcer guy, Jeff” sometimes is so irreverent with the announcements overly religious people don’t come back.

This is just one section of a book I think is an important book for any faith community no matter what size, shape, or form. I think this is one of his best books since “‘Finding Faith” that has practical wisdom and tracks that people can see a “way” of living to follow Jesus.

August 8, 2008

Building To Serve Others Part 3

Category: All Posts,Community,Leadership,Mission – Rose – 11:59 am

Within the first few months of stepping into the function of Co-Pastors at VCC, Rich and I had a strong sense that one of the primary spiritual practices we must have in place was that of prayer. We began a prayer group that meets once per week. We have continued that practice and have found that prayer has laid the ground work for much of who we are becoming and where we are supposed to be going. This became an important point of discernment as to whether we were to pursue leasing a building.
After much prayer, discussion and processing with the congregation we made the decision as a community that our next step was to lease a space. We found a potential place. The entire congregation did a walk through, we consistently prayed, we crunched the numbers, negotiated a lease and began a renovation. We leased the largest of three spaces in the facility. There are two businesses that lease smaller spaces.

We envisioned the building as a “community center” with VCC as the primary tenant. Our plan was to make the inside welcoming yet versatile so that any organization or group would be comfortable using the facility. Our dream captivated our imagination to wonder, how can we serve this community, how can we make the facility a welcoming place to use for people not interested or even hostile toward the Church.

One morning after our weekly prayer meeting, I told the group that some of us had been brainstorming and we wanted to call the facility The Vineyard. We would put in the largest and main sign holder out front “The Vineyard” and then have a banner hanging from the building with the VCC logo that read, Vineyard Community Church, Sunday’s 10:30. I saw people look at one another in that sort of look that says, “You tell her.” Finally, one brave soul spoke up and said, “We know you guys think that is a good idea, but we think it’s not such a great idea. It feels like we would be baiting and switching people and besides that we are not embarrassed to be a church.” This began of a series of (sometimes intense) discussions about what we were trying to communicate and why. Changing paradigms about the use of the building in relation to serving a host community did not come easy. One year after we were in the building I received a memo from the property manager that was sent to all three tenants in the building. The memo began with: To: The Tenants of Vineyard Square…mission somewhat accomplished, we were entering the world of being a “third space”.

Another issue that came up almost immediately was in how we would design and decorate the inside of the space. Some folks wanted to do stencil different scriptures on the walls, while others wanted to paint murals depicting Christian symbols and characters on the walls. Then there were those of us that felt like we might be turning into unchristian people but thought it was important to put anything with religious overtones up as completely portable so that literally any group could come in and feel comfortable using the building. We had no less intense dialogue, eyes rolling and hard feelings about this as well. Some felt we were selling out to the culture trying to be “seeker sensitive”. Others felt we were being too accommodating to unchristian people and betraying our basic freedom of religion. Still others, thought we were acting ashamed of the gospel. We had to have many conversations with people that could not “see’ where we felt we were supposed to be going. By the way, our facility has no lack of art and color depicting our faith, it is all easily movable. In a later post I will write about the various groups that have and continue to use the building and how they have responded to Christian art in the space.

All in all the debates, the disagreements, the long conversations helped us form a philosophy that we are still working out today on why we view our building as a gift to the host community it is located in as well as one of the gathering places for the church to worship, to train and to party.