August 31, 2008
It is Sunday around 3:40 in the afternoon. I have just come home from a baptism. This afternoon four VCC’ers were baptized in a pool with family and friends there to witness, pray and celebrate with them. Before I go on, let me back up about one year.
Our home is located in a neighborhood in a suburb just north of the city of Seattle. I live in a cul-de-sac that is reflective of the ethnic diversity and religious pluralism of our time. Across the street is an Asian family, immigrants from China that practice Buddhism. Next door to them is a family that immigrated from Bangladesh and are practicing Muslims. Our neighbors to the west are a retired couple from Japan. In the eight years we have lived here, the church next door showed very little signs of life. The only person we would see during the week was an elderly man that kept the grounds. On Sundays during their worship gathering, we would see at the most six automobiles.
Last summer we noticed activity. Even the church sign board came to life and was changing every week. The messages seemed to be following a sequence of Scripture verses from the book of 1 Peter. The first one I noticed said, “Judgment must begin at the house of God”; the second, “Elders, feed the flock of God”; then, “Your adversary walks about seeking whom he may devour.”
I began to ask myself, “I wonder who this particular church is hoping to serve”? I found out that a new pastor had come in to restart the church. The church sign had a website address. Out of curiosity I looked at the site. Here are a couple of excerpts from the website:
A little about us…
• WE ARE A CONSERVATIVE, family-oriented fellowship desiring to serve God in our families, in our church, in our community, and everywhere else that God leads.
• We are evangelical in our practice of faith and are in substantial agreement with the Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689.
• We are traditional in our approach to worshiping God and we praise Him with hymns, choruses, played and sung in a non-contemporary style, and other inspirational music.
• We are affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention through the Northwest Baptist Convention and the Puget Sound Baptist Association.
Philosophy of Ministry
The admonition by Paul to believers in Ephesians 5:19 is to speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, making melody in our hearts to the Lord. The music in church, therefore, can and should be varied. However, the heart focus of our music and singing must be on the Lord, on what would be pleasing to Him. An admonition found in both the Old and New Testaments is for Christians to be holy as our Lord is holy, to be in the world but not of the world. While there is no guidance in Scripture that prohibits a specific music style, clearly the Audience of our praise and our obedience to God in the matter of holiness must be reflected in our choice of music and singing. Rather than guess what or what is not acceptable music for the church, the church should purpose to exclude those forms of music that are easily recognizable as worldly. Therefore, contemporary Christian music that incorporates the different forms of rock and roll should be avoided. In my view, unacceptable contemporary Christian music is identifiable by its dependence on drums with a significant back beat and driving, repetitious, or sensual rhythms. A blend of hymns, sacred music, and melodious praise choruses that do not incorporate the rock style are certainly appropriate in the church.
In all the years we lived next door to this church the parking lot was used by us and the neighbors for parking when we had company, the kids rode their bikes and played ball there. After the new pastor came to revitalize the congregation, towing signs went up in the parking lot and the kids were told they could not play in the parking lot.
We met the new pastor and talked with him a few times. I think he felt sorry for us because we were not KJV only Christians.
A few months ago, Rich noticed several trucks moving stuff out of the church. He asked the pastor what was was going on. The pastor said they sold the building, that they were merging with another church. When Rich asked who they sold the building to he said he couldn’t say and that we would know in about one week. We were curious…
About a week later a new sign went up:
The Seattle Meditation Center
For the past few months we have watched cleaning, remodeling and a ton of landscaping going on. We have had several conversations with our new neighbors who immediately took down the towing signs and welcomed the kids back into the parking lot. It is a Thai Buddhist congregation.
This last week they have had an “Open House” invited all the neighbors. Here is part of the invitation we received tucked in our front door:
You are cordially invited to join us for an open house celebration of the Seattle Meditation Center. The center is a non-profit organization dedicated to teaching meditation as a means to relaxation, stress reduction, peace of mind and numerous other benefits.
For guests who are interested in meditation, we will offer 3 meditation introductory sessions in a non-religious manner for beginners.
We are looking forward to meeting you in order to know each other, build up our friendship and be good neighbors. We hope that you will kindly accept our invitation and come to see what we are doing and what benefits we will bring to the community.
Here is what their sign looks like:
We wanted to check out the open house but couldn’t. We talked with them and they said it went great. They had an authentic Thai buffet. Almost the entire congregation is from Bangkok. There are five monks with this congregation. They live in a house a few blocks away.
Today they were having their Grand Opening Ceremony. When we left for our worship gathering this morning, Alex and I went out the door and I heard Alex say, “whoa” because the parking lot was more than full, cars were lined up and down our street, we have never seen so much activity. The Grand Opening was from 9:00-3:30.
When I arrived home after the baptism I went over to check it out. I walked through the parking lot which was still full, there were Thai kids playing everywhere, from small children to teenagers. They were all dressed in white. There were several tent covers up with people scurrying to put food away. It looked like it was a full on Thai buffet. I walked up to the front door of the temple and took off my shoes (there must have been several hundred shoes) then went into the temple (which used to be the church sanctuary) and sat in the back. Here is what I observed:
It is a small building, probably holds a capacity just under 200. They had carpeted with an off-white carpet, there was a blood red runner running down the middle aisle. We sat on plastic white chairs (the kind you rent for a wedding). The room was packed with almost all Thai people all dressed in white. I stood out like a sore thumb! There were two other Caucasians in the room. One of which was sitting next to me. She asked me if I had ever been there before. I told her no, I was just visiting, that I live next door. She introduced me to the women sitting next to her, a Thai woman that traded places with her so she could explain to me what was going on.
In the front on what used to probably be the altar/stage (elevated about 5 feet) area were 15 monks dressed in an orange wrap around. They had a table in the front with microphones. The head monk was in the front and center. They were all seated. Above them (tall ceilings) was a gold plated enormous statue of a Buddha. To the right of the altar, stage area were seated another 15 or so monks. The rest of the room was facing them and did I say packed! At this point in the ceremony is was the offering time. Several young Thai women brought gifts to the monks on what looked like tall glass cake plates that were decorated with flowers. I asked my interpreter what was in the boxes, she said, “gifts for the monks, shaving cream, personal items and money”. The woman on the other side of her said to me, “you probably remember this was a Christian church, a dead Christian church, well this is different, all the work that has been done to renovate here came right from these people, they did it all and now they are bringing their offerings to the monks. Very different than Christian churches that are usually supported by endowments.” I nodded.
Next the head monk was saying something and then everyone brought their hands together in a prayer posture and all the monks began chanting something. My interpreter told me that the monks were praying a blessing. She said, “close your eyes and make a wish, as you make a wish the monks blessing will help it come true.” So, I assumed a posture like everyone else and observed the blessing. As the blessing came to an end, my guide let me know what was happening next. The young women were coming back with gifts on the platters for those that had been the most generous contributors. They called them forward, several people went up front and they were brought gifts. I asked what was in the boxes and she said, “framed pictures of (the head monk).” She said the name in Thai but I can’t remember what it is. Next she told me the head monk was going to give a sermon (in Thai) and then there would be meditation and chants.
The woman sitting next to her told me to come back on Sunday’s. They will begin with meditation at 9:30 and at 11:00 the monks eat and then at noon everyone else eats authentic Thai food. After lunch they then have a sermon, blessings and then more meditation. Sunday’s from 9:30 until about 3:00 there are activities. She told me to be sure to come. Then a man behind me leaned up and began to explain what the meditation was about, what the blessings were about and wanted to help instruct me on what was going on and to invite me to be sure to come back. He told me they were going to begin offering training for young boys and girls on Saturday’s from 9:00 – 3:00.
At this point I needed to go. I didn’t want to sit through a sermon in Thai so I thanked my guides and walked home. A couple of things I noticed:
1. Very, very kind people
2. The entire service was in Thai so I couldn’t understand
3. There were no kids or youth in the service
I have more thoughts about this but I have to get to something else and this post is getting way too long.
I wonder what it means to be faithful to Jesus in my pluralistic neighborhood. I will go back often to talk with my Buddhists neighbors. I wonder about a lot actually…
August 29, 2008
Kimberly George is a young woman I met through the blogosphere a few months ago. She will be leading a workshop at the October Off The Map Live Event in Seattle. I met her through her blog here and now she is blogging with another woman here on matters of gender and justice from a cross-generational perspective. Great stuff.
August 27, 2008
David Ruis is blogging and has a message he gave to area Vineyard leaders in LA in June that is totally worth a listen if you find yourself wrestling with the tension of living out life in the Kingdom of God. If you are in Seattle September 7th David will be with us at the Vineyard so come on over.
August 26, 2008
From “Knowing the Holy Spirit Through the Old Testament” by Chris Wright
Power. The word, like the thing itself, is much abused…
Power, basically is neutral. It simply means the ability to do things. Power is needed if you are going to do anything good, as well as if it is used for evil. Power is the capacity to accomplish goals, or to influence the outcome of events and processes…
Power, then, is effective action, making a difference, influencing events, changing the way things are or will be.
What if we began to use our power to do good? What if we intentionally used our power to accomplish goals of making a difference in Jesus’ Name? What if we used our power to influence the outcome of events and processes that marginalize people, any people?
He goes on:
It is not surprising, then, that the Spirit of God in the Old Testament is commonly linked with power, for the biblical God is nothing if not effective in action in bringing about change! Indeed, when the Israelites spoke of the Spirit of Yahweh, it was often simply a way of saying that God himself was exercising his power on the earth, either directly or, more commonly, through human agents. The Spirit of God is God’s power at work–either in direct action or in empowering people to do what God wants done.
At VCC we are looking at the person of the Holy Spirit. Wrestling with what it means to be entrusted with the empowerment of the Spirit in our everyday life. With all the hoopla going on in the internet over Lakeland, what I don’t want to do is throw the baby out with the bath water. The power of the Holy Spirit has been life changing for me. The different expressions of a “Spirit filled” life is multi-dimensional. We would not be able to do the work we do without the empowerment, grace and life the Spirit gives.
If you want to assess whether your life or your faith community is living out a Spirit filled life, read and reflect on Luke 4.
August 24, 2008
This article by Lee Grady is a good read on Lakeland
August 22, 2008
Dutch Sheets has issued a statement…
August 14, 2008
I am not surprised that things are a mess in Lakeland. I am not happy at all about hearing that the Bentley’s are having marital problems. The bad, bad theology of this thing from the beginning had me very concerned for all involved. I am sure Jesus is shedding more than one tear over this entire fiasco. Do I think God was/is there? Of course, God is everywhere and meets us when we have faith and when we don’t. If you are interested you can read about it here and here
Lest you think I don’t have a desire for the power of God to be present, that is not the case. I will say again, when these situations come, we have to be discerning. So many vulnerable, desperate people can be and are very damaged from the lack of discernment and theology of the Kingdom that often accompany these “hot spots”. I hope the Bentley’s will get much needed counsel.
August 12, 2008
Summer seems to be going by quickly. Rich and I were not able to take a real vacation this summer. We tried to figure out a good time but it didn’t seem to work out this year. We had other things that we felt were more important happening the last few months. I have worked at home all summer, trying to get course work done. I have made good headway on finishing up (almost Winn) an Old Testament Theology course and I have started a New Testament Theology course. I have decided to take the pressure off to have my dissertation completed by this January. There was no way I could make that deadline. I am going to take January – January to go through the dissertation process. Making this decision has actually vastly improved getting to sleep and staying asleep at night. It’s also calmed down that feeling I get in my chest that makes me wonder if I am having heart problems:)
It has been nice to be at home with Alex this summer. I am watching him turn into that person that is a preteen but still in some ways a little boy. He just has fun all day long whether he is with a friend or by himself. I love working in my office and hearing his laugh. He has had a great summer. On Saturday we are going to Port Angeles for 5 days. I am working with the Vineyard church there. One of the families has graciously offered us to stay in their lake house. So Alex and I are heading over on Saturday and Rich will join us on Sunday. I am looking forward to being on the lake with some time to be with friends, get some solitude and hang out with Rich and Alex.
Last week Rich and I were in Chicago for the first meeting of the Women’s National Task Force. It took us a while to get there. Chicago was having some sever weather. When we landed the thunder storms and rain were like nothing I’ve seen here in the Northwest (well maybe that famous Columbus day storm in 1962). The drive from the airport to our hotel was incredible, hearing the thunder, watching the lightening and navigating through the torrential rains. When we woke up the next morning we learned that three tornadoes had touched down in Chicago that night.
At the meetings we met some great people, saw some good friends and when it was over had an afternoon and evening to spend in the City (thanks Scot for your recommendations). I am looking forward to the Vineyard moving toward changing the structures to grant women access to all levels of leadership.
August 10, 2008
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:
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.
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.
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.
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
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.