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8/29/2003

 


6 Days until the Soliton Sessions, and registration is still open.

Though a half dozen or so of my blogging friends have fallen off the "I'm Coming" bandwagon in the last week or so, many others will be there. Including the tech-guru Jon, who will be staying in my humble abode. So far, the eclectic group of registrants includes (but is not limited to): thinkers, connectors, pastors, architects, artists, programmers, writers, actors, producers, musicians, and canadians. (I had to throw that last one in there.) It appears that the longest distance traveled award will go to a group coming from Conneticut.

Got next weekend open? There's still time. Find out more and register here.

 

Newest Version Ever!

Well, in response to Jon's continual attempt to bring me up to technological par, I've added an RSS feed to my blog. I'm not actually sure if it's working, being that I still have a very fuzzy understanding of what it does, but Blog Matrix says it's there. I'm also testing out a blog thread, which I understand to be a way to track cross blog conversations. Though it doesn't track any of my prior posts and comments, I'm hoping it will for this and all future posts. I don't know. I've been sick as a dog the last two days, and my brain's being seduced to lethargic incompetence by various drugs right now. Am I on the right track?

8/27/2003

 

Insight from Nick Nolte

Monday night I caught part of "Blue Chips", Shaquille O'Neil's less than memorable acting debut with Nick Nolte. But Nolte had a great line--which has stuck with me over the last couple days. He was confronting a player that had sold out--betraying the trust of his coach and team.

"You had something so pure, and you corrupted it. And for what?!?"

8/25/2003

 

witHness

Last night during the gathering of The Bridge Communities, we discussed the concept of "withness" as it relates to embracing humanity and sharing life together in common. Deep into our time of musical expression, when I was finally alone in my thoughts, flushing my heart out with melodic cries to my God--I was interrupted. Tap, tap, tap... The touch on my shoulder was so light. In fact, the touch was so light that I wan't sure if someone was actually tapping me or if my shirt had just settled from the movement of my body's sway. But as I looked back, I realized that it was Anna who had been tapping me. Anna is one of our artists at The Bridge. She pulled me aside and asked if I'd help her create a piece during this time of worship. I was a bit puzzled that she would consider inviting me to share in the creation of her piece. "Why me??", I thought. She took me to a large piece of paper on the wall, perhaps 5' by 4', where an already advanced sketch had been started.

Now, I have no artistic skill whatsoever. Seriously--I mean NONE. Well, that may be an exageration, but it would be accurate to say that I have no artistic skill whatsoever in the arenas of creating visual images from paint, chalk, clay, etc. In fact, I consider myself so inept in these areas that I have never even attempted to engage in them--though every week I encourage my fellow travelers to do so (interesting). I've always considered my artistic talents to lie more in the vein of storytelling, and to a much, much, MUCH lesser extent, music.

But Anna invited me in. She invited me to create "with" her. She created space for "withness", without even knowing that we were about to explore that concept in the gathering. So, with a sense of excitement and reluctance, I accepted her invitation.

She encouraged me to start with certain pigments to highlight and bring contrast to the woman she'd been creating on this paper. Timidly, I lifted the chalk up to the paper and left a small smudge. Then another, and another. My lines grew smoother and more confident, and I began to choose different colors and ideas to add to the image. The three of us--Anna, a woman she had also picked, and I--began to gel. We weaved in and out of each other as we moved to different areas of the design, adding to and improving upon each other's work. Singing, moving, collaborating, creating. It was unreal.

We finished just as the music began to fade to silence, and I found myself broken again. I couldn't articulate my feelings on what I'd experienced, except to note that it was beautiful. And it was. It was intoxicatingly beautiful. After the silence ended, I wan't sure what to do. I considered going to wash my hands, but I had this feeling of dissatisfaction--like there was more in me that needed to come out. So I walked over to an art station, and picked up chalk--for the first time of my own volition. I stayed there for nearly 30 minutes. I had no real agenda or design in mind, so I just began drawing. My crude image evolved through several metamorphises, into what I can only describe as a pool of water, with light coming from the center, causing outward movement of the water. Surrounding the pool were seven white circles, causing a portion of movement to be reflected back to the center, and the rest to be directed outward, into the unknown beyond the paper's edge. Finally, I put the chalk down. I wasn't sure what this design was supposed to be, but I felt lighter--relieved of the dissatisfaction of holding back.

The rest of the evening I wrestled with the tension inside me regarding what I had experienced. And as I woke up this morning, my mind immediately went to that place and continued to wrestle. The following are random thoughts and ruminations.

Anna relinquished control of her piece from the beginning. In our conversation later, I was amazed to find out that she'd created the piece to be as large as it was specifically so that she could not finish it alone. She created the need for withness by taking on a task that required collaboration to complete. wow.

In our dialogue of withness, we centered on the African word for humanity, "Ubuntu". As fellow travelers arrived at the gathering to share their stories from the week, they were greeted at the doors by two of our street family in typical street fashion--unclean and unshaven--holding cardboard signs with "Ubuntu" written on them. Throughout the evening, we discussed our responsibility to embrace humanity, in all of it's forms--depicting those we daily include and exclude from withness. When Anna came and invited me into withness, a few things happened. First, the act of inviting me was huge. She went outside her natural circle of artists, and invited one that shared no commonality INTO commonality. Second, she released in me something that I'm still trying to grasp. She started something in me that led me to explore myself and my God in experimental worship---both with her, and on my own, as the momentum from the first experience carried me to the next. Her invitation to shared experience created in me a sense of my own humanity--my frailty, my limited perspective and abilities.

I love that she had little or no idea of what we were to discuss last night. And I love that though I did, she taught me what it really meant. While we discussed living consciously in a state of being with humanity, I actually experienced it.

At the end of the gathering, myself and 6 others entered the room wearing white t-shirts with "Ubuntu" painted on them. As we stood in the center, we invited the entire community to reflect on the most basic commonality of all Ubuntu, redemption. In the center were bread and cup, and we invited people as they came to the center to engage in remembering redemption through sharing the elements with all those around them. Those of us wearing the shirts moved further and further outward, continuing to encircle the people entering the center. As we were pushed toward the outer rim of the room, we stood on chairs to be able to see the people, and communicate to them to break bread and take drink--sharing with all around them until the elements had reached the outside of the circle. I beamed as I watched, amazed at the beauty of the interaction, as well as by the layers of imagery and communication. As I stood there on that chair watching, I found myself staring at an image in the backround. As that image came into focus, I realized it was the drawing I had created--the pool of water with the light emanating from the center; the waves of change stirred and sent outward; and the seven white circles surrounding the pool. The reflection suddenly occurred to me. I didn't know whether to weep, laugh, or just stand there in awe.

Wow God, you are amazing.

As I meditate on what I experienced last night, one thought continues to hold its own in the chaos of the rest. It seems to me that most every instance of remarkable beauty that I've encountered in my experience of God has been accompanied--even heightened--by an increased awareness of the collective humanity around me, and my connection to it.

 

Adventures in Highway Conflict


This morning as I drove to work I encountered an individual who was obviously not having a great day. As I calming weaved in and out of traffic on the 101, I met an older gentleman. As I began to change lanes, I noticed a late-model white Ford Probe accelerate to close the gap I was attempting to fill. Naturally, I stepped on the accelerator and changed lanes anyway. To thank me, this gentleman maintained a 6 inch distance between our bumpers for the the next half mile. One finger went up into his windshield, then two. "Amazing", I thought. "How does he steer with both hands in the air?"

Recognizing the difficulty of that maneuver, I became thoroghly impressed with his committment to communication with the other drivers on the road. With my left hand steadily fixed to the steering wheel, I gestured an "I'm sorry" with my right hand in an open palmed wave out the rear window of my car. But he would not relent--it was almost as if he was excited to have an audience with which to exchange this high speed interaction. From his repertoire of sign language he pulled out a maneuver that is normally reserved for the pros. Continuing to drive without hands, he formed a fist with his right hand, and began to pummel it strategically into an open left hand. And he didn't stop there! Patiently he waited for the right lane to open up, and announcing his intentions with his blinker (which I believe was being operated by his knee), he cautiously changed lanes. He was so committed to communicating with me that he pulled up next to me in the right lane. This was too much! As he tactfully yelled words that my innocent mind cannot comprehend, he continued to act out a potential meeting between us, sparing no detail of the proposed engagement. I was very impressed. And so I smiled and gave him the "thumbs up". This seemed to make him very happy, and he could no longer hold his excitement in. He began bouncing all over the inside of his car--obviously too overwhelmed with elation to communicate any more.

But alas, the very next exit carried my newfound friend off of the highway and into his day. I wonder how his day is going?

Seriously though, most of the time that something of this nature occurrs(not that it happens with any regularity) the other driver will glance over at me, and then calm down considerably. I don't think that I am all that intimidating, but I am fairly thick, and I think that when most drivers recognize that, they decide to reconsider their rage and dismiss it. Thus, regardless of the fact that the only memory I will probably have of this guy is the one he afforded me this morning, I have to have some respect for him. The reason? Not only did he continue to harrass me until his convenient exit, but he was much older than the demographic you'd expect to engage in this type of exchange. He was at least mid fifties. Seriously. White beard, glasses, wrinkles--the works. And he was challenging me as if he wrestled for the WWF, or whatever it's called nowadays. Just think what a firecracker he must've been in his youth.

Aaahhh, the violence we inflict on humanity with our self-centered existences. And rather than remove myself from that indictment, I'll contemplate instead what measures of self-promotion I would have inflicted on him if he would have followed me off of the freeway. It's amazing how quickly my attitude can change from that of critical pious empathy to convicted sorrow.

8/20/2003

 

Another Article

This article was the feature article in the Ventura Reporter This last week. I wanted to post it here, to record it for my personal record as much as anything else. But it's written by someone that actually gets us, and the article is great.

Building the Bridge

A church for and by artists spans the gap between high art and the higher power
by Michel Cicero


If it weren’t for the cryptic message, “b: it is here,” on its tiny marquee, most people wouldn’t give the plain building at the corner of Palm and Santa Clara streets in downtown Ventura a second look. As is often the case with scattered letters on old marquees, it could mean anything.

Step inside the deceptively cavernous structure and the contrast between interior and exterior is immediately arresting and quite possibly intentional. The community of artists, musicians, writers, actors, dancers and filmmakers that call this place home have left no detail to chance. From the art gallery to the women’s lounge to the main gathering room, the physical and celestial fuse in a visual love poem to the bridge community’s muse, Jesus Christ.

The bridge community was conceived over dinner five years ago by lead missionaries/pastors Greg and Michele Russinger and friends Aimee and Bill Denzel. The Christian couples had been discussing culture and God when Bill brought his idea for a rave-style worship to the table. Greg offered some even meatier food for thought: What would a whole church run by artists look like?

At the time, Greg was working with the youth parishioners at Horizon Church, where his father in-law was the pastor, but a change was near. “There [was] too much tension in me to remain in one situation with all this imagination and dynamic flowing out of me,” he explained.

That nagging impulse to create, which is shared by the majority of people involved with the bridge, has resulted in a multi-discipline, multimedia showcase that would have Ventura’s secular arts community drooling.

The inspiration behind the name chosen for the community is revealed in a heading on the opening page of their Web site: The Architecture of Connection. Greg told the Reporter that “God is the ultimate bridge builder. He pursues the heart of man, woman and child. He pursues it all, and in Christ it’s the ultimate bridge.”

The arts are another bridge. The lobby area, which doubles as the Render Gallery, is designed with a nod to modernism yet is totally free of pretension. Some extraordinary examples of fine art flank the seating area, where visitors are treated to a rich pageant of photography, paintings, collage and sculpture.

Before entering the main gathering room, visitors are greeted by hip young men dressed in black with identification laminates dangling around their necks. The rock concert atmosphere intensifies inside the candlelit room, where a surprisingly accomplished band bathes the audience in a tidally rhythmic array of rock-pop melody. During this, the worship portion of the gathering, performers are not bound by time restrictions and have been known to play into the night when so inspired.

Friends and strangers sharing velveteen-covered cocktail tables are free to express the moment however they wish. Some bow their heads in quiet reverence while others stand and sing. The tables are arranged in a circular pattern around the room’s center, which serves as a pulpit of sorts for whomever’s facilitating the evening’s discussion.

Form and function work seamlessly to provide a visual reminder of the circle’s relevance to the community and to encourage interaction and conversation.

Within the bridge’s philosophical construct, four “foundational symbols” serve as visual manifestations of the group’s basic tenets. These include “Transforming Culture,” represented by concentric circles; “Tangible Creativity,” represented by a flower; “Fluid Community,” represented by the elemental symbol H20 and “The Touchable Christ,” represented by a cross. “Greg always likes to have a tangible aspect to the message he’s presenting,” explained Aimee, “something solid to connect it to your brain.”

At a recent Sunday gathering, Anna Pelkey, who, along with two other women, runs the Render Gallery, could be seen painting while Greg engaged participants in a discussion about love and tolerance as it pertains to interpersonal relationships and the expression of God in everyday life. The very real blindfolded volunteers seated to her left punctuated Pelkey’s portrait of scissors floating beside a blindfolded and bound man. As the painting was close to completion, Greg, clad in signature baggy pants and T-shirt, left the center of the room to discuss it with Pelkey; a gesture that surreptitiously evolved into a short performance art piece when he picked up an actual pair of scissors and liberated the two models from their blindfolds. “It’s very participatory”, said Greg. “It’s not monologue, it’s dialogue.”

Thanks to the dozen or so screens and monitors positioned strategically around the room, close-ups of the piece could be seen by everyone. The media technicians who control the video displays are put to the test every Sunday projecting song lyrics, rave-style stock imagery, scripture and whatever else can be employed to parlay the message at hand. The same evening, a scene from the film Punch Drunk Love was also used to ignite discussion. Greg, an admitted film geek, understands the power the medium has to communicate and uses it deftly.

While the bridge aesthetic is very cutting edge, being “cool” is not the objective. “There’s a reason behind everything we do, ”said Greg. “There’s a reason for the colors, the things that take place and what we try to facilitate. We are in a culture now that learns through the computer screen to the television to the movie screen. Our young people are ‘screenagers,’ not teenagers. So for us, we’re communicating the very truth of God in a tangible way.” At bridge gatherings, visitors are free to move about the room and express themselves through a variety of creative mediums. “We’ve created stations where you can go paint, or write or draw what’s going on in your heart. We just really allow that to be a part of who we are,” said Greg.

This approach to religious life is itself a work in progress, and a number of people are directly involved in creating the bridge’s style. Aimee, who helped launch the bridge, is in awe of the community’s progress. “When we were planning it in the early days we would try to picture where God would take it,” she said, “and one thing I always pictured was a big dark room, like a big party, with loud music and lights flashing.” Her visions also included the suspended ring of electronic media that hovers over the room’s center. “The first time I walked in and saw that I almost fell down crying,” she recalled.

Pelkey, who has a masters degree in fine art, says she never expected to find a church so well suited to her. “We believe in scripture and teach it, but as far as voicing Christ, our voice, I think, is different,” she said. “And that’s why people who wouldn’t respond to a more traditional church respond to the bridge.” When Pelkey was introduced to the bridge three years ago she was “amazed by how they were incorporating art and visual culture [into] applications of faith.” She was also struck by the deliberate use of language as a tool for connecting people rather than alienating them.

“When we’d go to [other churches] there were all these words that weren’t necessarily used in everyday life but for some reason they were kind of segmented for church,” she said. “If Christ is supposed to be for all people then why would you make language an obstacle?”

Though sometimes Greg seems to have his own vocabulary, he chooses his words very carefully. “Community” is used in place of “congregation.” He prefers “lead missionary” to “pastor.” He even acknowledges the negative associations connected with the word “Christian,” but explains that the way the bridge community expresses their beliefs transcends semantics. “It’s us embodying the understanding of the story to the purest extent.”

While their Sunday gatherings can seem a little like Jesus Christ, Superstar meets Tommy, scratch their artsy, hi-concept surface and the bridge turns out to be a surprisingly traditional religious institution. After all, their emphasis on the expression of faith and passion though tech-driven spectacle and the visual arts is not much different than what other churches have done with gospel and song. And in addition, their parishoners engage in a standard roster of church-lady good deeds. Every Thursday, for example, they partner with Rescue Missions to bring food and conversation to the denizens of Mission Park. And the first Tuesday of the month Bridge volunteers engage in “Laundry Love” where they wash the clothes of 20 to 40 of the city’s indigent people.

Vons grocery stores recently gave them the green light to collect items from customers outside their supermarkets. “For us it’s all about out there,” said Greg. “The times when we get together are to encourage one another in this journey.” The rest of the week, it’s about the real world.

The church’s work with the homeless (in bridge parlance they’re called the “houseless”) is what Greg is most intent on talking about, but he shies away from calling himself an advocate, and makes very clear that the group eschews prostelytization. “We’re just building relationships,” said Greg. “We don’t preach to anybody, there’s not any of that, we just be the very story of God and that’s really important, that’s where it becomes tangible.”

Proselytization may not be necessary. The bridge community’s grandest effort of the year is their Thanksgiving party for homeless and low-income residents of Ventura County. Volunteers treat guests to a full repertoire of dining and entertainment that includes waiters and waitresses, hosts and hostesses, a jazz band, a massage therapist and, of course, a stellar meal. Who wouldn’t leave such a splendid event with warm feelings for the people who put it on?

“It’s all about reflecting the heart of Christ because there was a rawness to the way he loved,” said Greg.

Sure, the bridge community’s creative output is epic, but members remain humble. As Pelkey summed it up, “The bridge really tries to just let Christ show himself rather than having us explain it or botch it up, ’cause we’re only human, you know.”

8/18/2003

 
"We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and private: and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship."

--C.S. Lewis

 

In reflection...

Last night, after the gathering of the Bridge Communities, I met with a group of 4 from Pismo Beach. Pismo's about two hours north of Ventura, and happens to be where I grew up. Anyways, they traveled down yesterday to "see" the gathering, and asked if I would show them around, give them the vision, and then discuss it all over food afterwards. So I showed them around, evaded their questions, and took them out to eat. If I would've had any clue how frustrating the dialogue was going to be...

First of all, I had relationship with two of the guys, as we met in youth ministry years ago in another place. So I already felt obliged to pose as tour guide. And I discovered that I have become a terrible one. These poor guys...

One of the gentlemen was a "senior pastor", one was an "associate pastor", one was the "worship leader", and one of the "youth pastor". As we sat down and ordered our food, the questions started falling like a mad hail.

"What methods of control do you use to prevent things from getting out of hand?"
"How do you ensure that proper doctrine is taught?"
"Are people really becoming free, or just comfortable in their brokeness?"
"What's the chain of command?"
"Do you believe that other churches have to be "trendy" in order to be effective?"
"How do you protect yourselves from becoming like the culture around you?"


And on, and on, and on, and on. And on, and...

It's so hard to be a part of conversations like this. People often come to you to prove something, to validate some idea or interpretation of spirituality that they have--the best thing you can do is to receive them, love them, and respond with as much patience and humility as possible. I woke up this morning still perturbed by the events as they unfolded. I think the worst part for me wasn't necessarily the frustration I felt with these guys, or the answers they sought as a qualitative validation for their own vision. The worst part for me as I recall last night's events, was that in the beginning, I dodged their questions--and rightfully so. Why toss pearls out to be trampled on by those looking for their next slop-fix? I would answer every question with a question, revealing the heart of the interrogator, as well as the answer itself. When asked, "What methods of control do you use to prevent things from getting out of hand?", my answer would be a question.

"What are you afraid might happen if you were to let go of control in your setting?" Then, without pondering, they'd immediately answer. Again, I'd ask humbly, "What would it look like if Christ tangibly interacted with your church in everyday life? Do you believe that he can--and wants to?" And while they sat unsatisfied, I continued. "Maybe it's not altogether that important what we do in this place we are called to, but what you can learn about your own calling to make room for him and deal with the fears you have about letting go."

Of course, that didn't go over so well. They continued to hunt for the answers, rather than allow the answers to find them by reflecting on the questions. One after another, the questions continued. Finally, I got so sick of playing John Lennon, that I let go. I caved in. I began simplifying, organizing, supplying and prescribing answers to every question. And it made me feel terrible. Like I'd sold out. And what's worse--they still weren't satisfied. They insisted on making value judgements about various assumptions of the linearity and continuity of the Kingdom of God, extrapolating so simply every answer to questions of life, community, personal development, and so on based on their enlightened perspective. Aaarrgg.

We finally parted ways at about 11:30pm last night, and I felt sick. Even though I felt my attitude before them was honorable and my answers to their questions were perfect, I still felt dirty. Like I'd bought into cheapening the mystery of God in order to affirm someone... And I feel like they walked away unchallenged and unchanged, with a "that's what I thought" bounce in their stride. It gave me a lot to think about. What I risk in conversation, why, whether any fruit comes out of it, and the nature of my responsibility to assist others in wrestling with important questions.

Though my wife was very encouraging, doing her best to remove all blame from me, I learned a couple of things.

1. I need to allow people to be uneasy. It is their state of unrest with the questions that will lend them to wrestling with them--not my ease of that unrest.

2. It is not my job to be an answer-giver. It is my job to love, and to lead--however provacative. I need to be ok with being misunderstood.

8/15/2003

 

Behind door number 1...

I think we may decide to give these out in registration packets for the Soliton Sessions. Actually, we will not. But if you follow the link and choose "DSL / Cable Connection" when it asks for your connection speed, you get a special treat. To get to "take aim at the world" through a rifle scope.

I don't know if hunting the world down and killing it is the best metaphor, but I could be wrong. They do say it's a great "oureach tool", and who am I to argue with religious merchants? Uuggg.

 

Leadership & Community

As we(The Bridge Communities) enter a season of redesigning our leadership culture, I've become more aware of the thoughts and questions we must wrestle with about how that culture is to exist and grow, and how the various micro-organisms within it are to relate to each other and the whole. Ultimately, I have a sense of great anticipation and excitement as we continue to risk our own status quo with our ever-fluid, ever-experimental existence.

There is a great article that Todd posted on the writings of Elizabeth O'Connor on the Allelon site. It was very stimulating and encouraging.Check it out.

Here are some excerpts that stirred me up a bit.
On Discovering Gifts
“When we describe ‘Church’ we like to say that it is a gift-evoking, gift-bearing community—a description based on the conviction that when God calls a person he calls him into the fullness of his own potential. This is why ‘Church’ implies a people; no one enters into a fullness of being except in a community with other persons. No community develops the potential of its corporate life unless the gifts of each of its members are evoked and exercised on behalf of the whole community”(Elizabeth O’Connor Eighth Day of Creation. 6).

"…What the Lord requires of you, what life requires of you, is that you should knock yourself out your whole life long to find out what is required of you. And until you do that, you are not really being honest to God, or to life. You are trying to get by with something less than what is really required, to come by reality at bargain basement prices. But reality is never on sale; its price is never marked down. We are all required to sell all that we have in order to be able to pay for it” (66). "

Fear of Failure stifles the Expression of Gifts
“When we do not allow ourselves the possibility of failure, the Spirit cannot work in us. We are controlled by perfectionistic strivings that inhibit the mysterious meshing of divergent lines within us. Spontaneity dies and the emergence of the unexpected ceases to be a possibility. We are literally tied and bound” (48)

“In our culture we are so success-oriented that we have little understanding of the creative act. We want to know in advance that what we do will measure up and be judged acceptable. We applaud those who are successfully repeating themselves, while the innovative person is, at best, tolerated. Even if the creator should succeed, he is in difficulty because the new is threatening in that it differs from the norm” (48).

“We cannot exercise our gifts and at the same time be defenders of the status quo. Our gifts put us in tension with things as they are. Often the creator takes us where we do not want to go, trampling over our stereotypes in an effort to show us what we have not seen before. This is another reason why the creative person needs a patron saint who will not only comfort and protect him from envy, but will be around to encourage and support when the exercising of his gifts evokes fear in others” (49).

“Ultimately the fear of failure must be conquered in ourselves. I doubt that one ever wins this battle without having learned humility” (49).

Expressing Gifts evokes certain Godly Nonconformity
“Nonconformity is not only a desirable thing, it is a factual thing….that every great historical change has been based on nonconformity, has been bought either with the blood or with the reputation of nonconformists…to create anything at all…of outstanding worth, requires nonconformity, or a want of satisfaction with things as they are. The creative person—the nonconformist—may be in profound disagreement with the present way of things. Nonconformity… is the precondition of good thinking and therefore of growth and greatness in a people. The degree of nonconformity present—and tolerated—in a society might be looked upon as a symptom of its state of health” (102-103).

“Everyone of our great creators has testified to the element of courage that is needed in the lonely moment of creation, affirming something new (contradictory to the old). This is a kind of daring, a going out in front all alone, a defiance, a challenge. The moment of fright is quite understandable but must nevertheless be overcome if creation is to be possible. Thus to discover in oneself a great talent can certainly bring exhilaration but it also brings a fear of the dangers and responsibilities and duties of being a leader and of being all alone. Responsibility can be seen as a heavy burden and evaded as long as possible. Think of the mixture of feelings, of awe, humility, even of fright that have been reported to us, let us say, by people who have been elected to some office” (90-91).

“One reason for difficulty in our lives is that others have confirmed in us the obvious or what they, themselves, wanted to see. To please them, or to get ahead, or to make more money—we then developed those gifts, meanwhile putting aside and forgetting the gifts that were neither so evident nor so valued by others. If our unused gifts have any strength or power of their own, they cry out for recognition—to be given a name. They are not only disturbers of our sleep; they make our days uneasy” (30).

8/14/2003

 

Rumination of Soul


I was thinking about that scene in "City of Angels" when the angels gathered every morning in silence to hear the voices of heaven sing as the sun rose. Beautiful.

My Lectio Divina this morning is on Revelations. I wandering through the Story of God, reading through Habakkuk and a few chapters of Lamentations, when I had a desire to visit one of my favorite places of imagery--the Soliton Session of Worship from the throne of heaven, before all of humanity, as described in wonder by John in
Revelations 4-5. John describes an emotional explosion of worship. The throne in the center. The pentrating light that emanated from the One that sat there. The indescribable creatures and angels that encircled the One. The lesser thrones of 24 heroes of faith that encircled them--as the heroes throw their crowns of achievment in desperation before the feet of the One as they fell down to worship him. And the vast sea of people that encircled all--all nations and tribes, all races and languages--crying out with one voice to the One--"Holy, holy, holy is God our Master, Sovereign-Strong, THE WAS, THE IS, THE COMING." That picture, to me, is beautiful. One of the most captivating images in the story of God.

Anyways, that's why I went there-- to marinate in that imagery. Instead, God interupted me with a question he asks seven times to seven churches in Revelations. He asks, "Are your ears awake? Listen. Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches."

It arrested me in my reading. This was not a statement to arouse attention for a subsequent point to be made. Each time it was said, it was done so conclusively, with no further direction. Are my ears awake? Am I listening to the breath of God? How is that wind blowing through my community right now? The people around me? Meditating...

Also of note: Revelations 8:1 "When the Lamb ripped off the seventh seal, Heaven fell quiet--complete silence for about half an hour." My God. What a deafening silence that must have been. I wonder--why the silence? I wonder if heaven was grieving over what was written in that last scroll? Or maybe there was a sense of the completion of humanity's struggles? Was the Lamb weeping over what was to come? What was God thinking?? Though time does not hold him, he experienced silence, and something was communicated to the rest of heaven, that was strong enough to shake them from their worship of the One. What could be that strong?

Father--awaken my ears, my eyes, my spirit. Allow me to hear the wind of your breath blow through the earth around me, and allow me to see it rustle the trees. Do not become silent,my God, but rather allow me to become silent. To watch you and to bear, in my finite means, your burden. And if you must be silent, arrest me in my words, so that I can be silent with you. In that silence, arrest me in my worship, my noise, my words and stir my spirit to attend to you; that my rituals of worship would not become empty.

8/11/2003

 
Interesting. That post that I lost on Friday found its way into discussion at the gathering of the Bridge Communities last night as we explored the ancient practice of Lectio Divina. As I was meditating most of last week on Kenosis, the act of preparing oneself to interact with God by "emptying", an image began to develop in my mind. Many in the conversation around me, both in physical and virtual spaces, have recently been discussing the nature and purpose of reading the Story of God. I love the synchronicity. Last week much fruit was cultivated in my life as I presented myself to be read by the story of God. I think it may be of some value to post again the imagery from Friday.

A Derivative from the Deep



I've been really contemplating lately how and why I read the Story of God. As I was contemplating the act of emptying oneself, that Story began to read me.

Here's an image.

In my mind's eye, I saw a grand ship sailing through endless waters, and I began to explore that image. Immediately, I began thinking about my faith--not the act of believing itself, but rather the system of beliefs that I've established through the sequence of my experiences. In many ways, my faith was like a ship. Strong and gleaming, it gave off an air of safety and togetherness for travelers that wanted to cross the sea. But one day while sailing alone, my ship was caught in an unexpected storm. It had survived many of these, boasting infallible buoyancy. But this time, God’s grace drove my ship by the waves of his Spirit into The Rock. Chaos erupted as the thundering collision sent splinters and fragments in all directions. I was thrown from my ship during this collision, and found myself clinging to some of the debris in the water, fighting for my life. I would surely drown if I let go, I thought.

The storm passed and I boarded the wreck again. After surveying the damage, I found that much of my ship had actually been deteriorating for some time, rotting from years of pretentious neglect. I gathered up the debris that appeared somewhat intact, and went to work. Laboring intensely under the hot sun, I began fitting this piece with that, repairing what I could—starting with the “essential” parts. Working day in and day out, measuring, analyzing, accepting what my ship had now become. But as I worked, the supplies grew scarce. Most had been crushed by the blow; others had decayed from their utility. Finally, one day, I exploded. In immense frustration I cried out to God. I screamed my frustrations to him, pitying the wreck my ship had become. When I had screamed everything inside me, there was nothing but silence for some time. And then I heard,
”Finally.”

“Finally?”

“Yeah, finally. I 've been waiting for you to let go.”

“Let go? But God, I—Wait a minute. You want me to give up?!? This is my faith God! I can't let go--I would lose complete control!”

"Jared, I’ve been watching you--and it was I that drove your ship into the Rock."

"Father...I don't understand."

"My son--when I led your ship to its demise, you became afraid, angry, and embittered toward those that help your build it. It was, in its season, a tool for your growth--it fed you from the sea, taught you of the sea, and carried you on a course through its many waters. But in time, you became more dependent on the ship than on the sea it was designed for. In that, your ship had become your prison. It held you captive form exploring the depths of the unknown. The very thing that carried you across the surface of the sea prevented you from truly experiencing it. You were protected from the deep by boundaries, parameters, and understanding of your own mind. My son, I Am the Sea. I gave you the ship, because it would create an ongoing relationship for us. You would exist on the ship, and it would exist on me. But now I want more--you want more--and that ship was standing in our way. I want to carry you through my depths. Remove from your mind the agendas of destinations. My mystery is dark, unpredictable, and daunting for those who fear losing control. But that is to be your future. Let go of the monument you've created to your own understanding of my mystery, and allow me to envelope you in it."
As I lay there in the water, clutching the last remaining pieces of debris to keep me afloat, I understood that my future is to lose myself in that mystery, without thought to "emerging" from it to again. I must relinquish my grip on those pieces, if I am to truly experience the deep. As I slip beneath the surface now without agenda or breath, I have this picture. I am sinking slowly, looking up toward the surface, bathing in the glittering rays of the sun as I watch my past move further and further away. I am submerging--being permeated with, immersed in, and even suffocated by the most beautiful, indescribable, immeasureable mystery. The darkness of the deep surrounds me, and I have this intoxicating sense of complete safety, as I embrace the future of my life in the deep. Maybe finally, lost in the mystery of God, I am found.

I have been ruminating this past week on the concept of "emptying" as denoted in Phillipians 2. We always talk about allowing the Story of God to read us; and that is exactly what I encountered. It read me and is continuing to. I've realized that though I've taken many dives down to quickly explore and collect the many treasures that lie in the depths of God, I continue to shoot up to the surface for air, grasping again those buoyant constraints to keep my head above water. If I truly am to empty myself, maybe the question is, "Will I let go of what I understand, in order to be submerged in what I do not?"

Do we rest in the mystery of God? Or do we rather rest in our understanding of that mystery?

8/08/2003

 
I just lost a huge post. Huge. Like an hour long--huge. I feel like punching someone in the face. frick.

8/07/2003

 
Some have asked us for a statement of faith. For whatever reason, they resist joining in the work of the kingdom going on in and among us for fear of theological soundness. Interesting. Kenosisweb has articulated insight that has really helped me. We have no desire to be theologically innovative. We like Thomas Aquinas' own view of his great final work, the Summa Theologica. Thomas tried to explain the Faith in detail in this lengthy work. But he laid it aside for the remaining few months of his life, averring that it was but straw. Like him, we must understand our faith accurately and propound it accurately, but our beliefs are intentionally derivative—for who would presume to improve upon the truth?! It is our form which is different.

So true...how can the reflection of truth--it's "form"--ever be anything but a derivative?

Hmmm...

8/06/2003

 

Nothing like being misquoted

Forgive the rant, but I'm a bit frusterated right now. Here's the article that was printed in the Santa Barbara Times. It got a page and a half of coverage with some great photos, but the story is full of half and misquotes, and labels to pigeon-hole The Bridge Communities into something that the religious community can relate to.

Nightclub atmosphere of alternative church offers a BRIDGE TO YOUNG BELIEVERS



Group uses art, technology to attract worshippers

8/6/03
By RHONDA PARKS MANVILLE
NEWS-PRESS STAFF WRITER



It's 5 p.m. on Sunday and dozens of artist and musician types with tattoos and shaggy hair -- some from Brooks Institute, Westmont College and UCSB -- are hurrying into the funky American Legion building in downtown Ventura. Striking artwork greets visitors in the entry, and past the doors into the main hall is what looks to be an urban nightclub, with dark walls and dozens of round cocktail tables draped in crushed velvet, arranged around a center stage.
The song "Roxanne" by The Police is wailing from the speakers. People are laughing, hugging and talking. Musicians are setting up on a side stage and a fast-changing photo montage is shown on seven video screens while a couple of deejays work in an techno booth that looks like a tree house. A mini gallery of artwork occupies another corner of the room, with paint and easels for visitors inspired to create art or prose; in an alcove is a glittering array of candles.

But no, this is not some artsy new club. It's a church, and it's called The Bridge.

The church is heavily influenced by culture, the street and the arts, and yet it is firmly grounded in Biblical teachings, a "church plant" of Ventura's Horizon Foursquare Church.
Just when I thought it was shaping up to be a good article...wow, that didn't take long
Westmont Alumni Jared Williams and his wife, Regina, moved from Santa Barbara to Ventura a few years ago to be a part of the religious community. It meets on Sunday evenings for worship -- offering an intriguing blend of music, video, Bible teaching, discussion and performance art -- but during the week its members meet for soccer, meals, prayer, music- and art-making sessions and service projects, such as doing laundry for the homeless.

"There is a new breed of Christian emerging who looks at church life and the community of believers as something different," said Mr. Williams, who described the church as "pioneering" in its commitment to community and to authenticity, "the very least of which happens on Sunday night."
Hmmm...I almost said that...
But Sunday night is when 200 + people converge -- from Santa Barbara, Ventura and Oxnard -- for a night of alternative worship that is nothing like church as most people know it. The differences go beyond the strikingly different setting of The Bridge community, said Greg Russinger, 32, who with his wife, Michele, is the lead missionary/pastor of the 4-year-old community.

Creativity is mixed with theology as the church's members "wrestle with being authentic and raw and true about life, and true to the story of Jesus and the story of the 12 (disciples) and how they lived with one another," the Rev. Russinger said.

People are encouraged to experience faith through artistic expression, even in the middle of the sermon if they choose, as part of the church's emphasis on finding relevance in the faith through what they call "the touchable Christ."

"God is the master artist and we are his piece of art . . . the human spirit wants to create, which you see from the beginning of childhood," the Rev. Russinger said. "We are walking artistry, and for us, this tangible creativity is the touchable Christ. So we have dancers and musicians and filmmakers and storytellers in our services. We don't do this to be cool; we do this because that is who we are."

The Bridge is not the only South Coast church focused on youth outreach.
What the....?!?
In Santa Barbara there is Reality, a college ministry led by surfboard shaper Britt Merrick of Calvary Chapel Santa Barbara. Reality meets on Friday nights in a converted warehouse near the waterfront, up to 500 youths lounging on couches instead of pews, in a cavernous room in which a giant painting of waves at sunset serves as a backdrop for the altar. Where Reality draws upon surf culture as a metaphor for life, The Bridge uses the creative arts.
Ooohhh ok, so we're a college group now...we must be one of those "middle aged" college groups. Or maybe it's impossible to imagine any other setting in which the young are leading the old?
For eight years, the Rev. Russinger (rev??) was the youth pastor at Horizon Foursquare Church in Ventura, where his wife's father was the pastor. In 1998, he and several others in the congregation entered a period of prayer and contemplation on planting a new church, a process of "journeying, listening, questioning and becoming."

It resulted in The Bridge.

The community is collaborative rather than hierarchical, emphasizes experience with God, and conscientiously seeks to foster compassion and acceptance of people, rather than condemnation, members say. (I wonder what members came up with the other half of the botched sentence that I gave her?) There are no hell and damnation sermons at The Bridge. (thank God she put that in there)

"If someone has an alternative world view, and they are not loved and embraced by the church, then where are they welcome?" asked Mr. Williams, an associate pastor (Good. Make up titles so that other Christians can relate) who works as a financial planner in Santa Barbara. "Change in any substantial way happens from the inside out, and if we truly believe that Christ transforms people, we do not need to go around pointing at others to change the way they are. For us to demand that people change their lives is not appropriate."
O.k. this is getting ridiculous. Maybe I'm just anal, but i'm getting really frusterated with these creative half quotes...
The communal spirit of The Bridge is based on the idea that "when people share together in community, there is space for Christ to transform people, whatever their brokenness is. We're all broken," Mr. Williams said. (straight form the blog)

Translating the Gospel into contemporary terms is a hallmark of the Foursquare Church, founded by the exuberant 31-year-old revival preacher Aimee Semple McPherson, who emerged from the Azusa Street Pentecostal movement in 1920s Los Angeles. (whoa!!! what the?!? where did that come from?? Oh yeah, it's too difficult to write about what doesn't fit into our boxes. So let's find one and use it to label and simplify...)

"Aimee used all the modern communication tools of her era to promote her faith, so for this community to use technology is very much in keeping with that tradition," said UCSB scholar Shawn Landres, whose doctoral work is on Gen X seeker services.
(I'm seriously about to cry right now. This lady found an expert on Gen X seeker services? And we happen to fit into that, how?? I guess we're just another group of people placating to a culture, soliciting its interest through any trnedy means we can. [loud, short words going off in my mind].)
The Bridge also remains true to the Pentecostal tradition in its use of art, music and dance as expressions of engagement with the Holy Spirit, he said, noting that many youths today are interested in faith that is "emotional rather than cognitive . . . about connection rather than belief." (Speechless, and now pissed off)

As a nod to The Bridge's experimental nature, the American Legion gathering place is known as "The Lab." Groups that meet for soccer, music, film, and other "connecting" moments are called "tribes."

"The Bridge is on the edge of post-modernity, part of just looking for the next thing that will make Christ relevant in today's culture," said Clint Garman, an associate pastor and father of three. (I'm assuming he was misquoted as well, because i think that's about the farthest thing form his heart and what he would say--"making Christ relevant to culture") There is an effort to make The Bridge a welcoming place for all comers, he said, noting that he decided to join after searching for a church "where we could go as a family and serve God to the best of our ability . . . to make a difference."

"At The Bridge you'll find a man in a suit and tie, a single mom with a baby, a guy with tattoos and a guy that just got back form surfing, most of them in their 20s and 30s," he said. "Every man and woman who comes through our doors is looking for some sign of truth." (note to self: I'm the one that actually said the former, except that the last group in the image of our diversity was an elderly couple...Guess that didn't fit into the whole "youth 20s to 30's" bend she's trying to drive with the article.)

Worship services are set to encourage a communal feeling. The round cocktail tables were chosen deliberately so that people can visit with one another, rather than sitting in pews and looking at the backs of people's heads.

"It's just more personal and more real here. I definitely feel my relationship with God is stronger," said Nina, a young woman who came to the service smiling and happy to be there. "We discuss real problems here. You don't feel like you're being judged."


Services begin with the Rev. Russinger sauntering in and greeting everyone, looking more the part of a singer in a band than a minister -- which is not far off the mark, since he was the vocalist for the rockabilly/punkabilly (punka-what? Oh, you mean psychobilly) band Ruby Joe. Wearing a headset, he urges the crowd to "enjoy the journey wherever it takes you . . . to hear the rhythms and sounds of God . . . to be broken open and touched by God," during the services.

A rock band begins by playing praise anthems (i actualy would've been amped if she called them "power ballads") until they've raised a sweat, the words displayed on video screens so that parishioners can sing along, some with arms lifted heavenward and eyes closed.

Then the spoken message begins. In a recent service, the Rev. Russinger showed a video clip from the film "Punch Drunk Love," starring Adam Sandler, which he used to illustrate Jesus' parable of the prodigal son.

As the Rev. Russinger discussed the Bible story with parishioners, a woman in the congregation painted a picture of a pair of scissors and a person with a blindfold on. Sitting nearby were two people wearing blindfolds. The minister joined her for a discussion about how the painting reflects the common human problem of "impaired sight" when it comes to treating others in a compassionate and reverential way. Using the ministry of Jesus as an example, he suggested that the blindfolds could be removed by following Jesus' command to love one another.

"Truth in the right hands can free us to who we truly are to be," the minister said, snipping the cloth from the two people with blindfolds.


To be thankful, at least it was a positive article, and i believe that my friend from that early discussion truly did the best she could with the context she has. But so much is wrong here...

I want so badly for people to know--to understand more. It's amazing that I saw all of this coming, did my best to avert trouble from a distance with clear language in the interview, and it happened anyway. We were labelled, misjudged, given titles though we have none; and despite our best efforts, could not escape the image of the modern church.

 

And Another

More random thoughts and a sense of re-alignment collided when the question was posed to me in an email, "How much time have you spent resting in the Story over the past month?"

My Response:
"Great question...The last few days I've been meditating on Kenosis, the act of emptying oneself as Christ did in Phillipians 2. I haven't been able to escape the grasp of that word. Saturday in worship at the Soliton meeting, I was captivated by it. Sunday the same. All day yesterday. And then today. Kenosis. Still searching God for what he's saying to me. And I think it's the call to rest, emptying oneself before the king, being filled and shaped and empowered by his story--our story. Kenosis is Selah, the process by which one interacts with God. And I think that the call of my Beloved is to acknowledge an attitude of continual return, continual emptying, continual sustenance in communion with him, and continual empowerment to a life of sacrifice. I enter into God's story everyday--because it is my story as well. His story continues through my life and I conscienciously communicate with him continually, but I've not made near enough room for silent or active reflection of my ancient future and identity. Though I need to to pursue my place in that story, I'm going to have to rearrange my life completely. And I need to. What at one time I may have considered "enough" private uninterrupted bathing in his gaze is now an unsatisfying teaser, and I have no idea what (if any) quantity of time would be enough. Aaarrrg...struggling.

I continue to envy the life that has the capacity for semi-unlimited daily reflection and financial provision for family. Great reminder...very timely with the kenosis meditation stirring in me. "

While continuing to meditate on kenosis, I was captivated by this site. It was an encouraging read.

 

Questions, Questions, Questions

I was caught up in some tough questions this week. One of those required that I step away from blogging to truly look at the nature and purpose of the blogosphere, as well as that of my blog, and the community of thinkers I've surrounded myself with. I suppose every blogger stops at this juncture somewhere along their path and raises similar questions. A friend and mentor that I highly respect found out that I blog. I don't know why it never came up in conversation, it just didn't. Everytime I considered bringing it up, I always questioned why I was going to bring it up, and finally rested in the decision that it wasn't important. Blogging was for me, not anyone else. If it ever came up, fine. If not, fine.

Well, he found out and brought it up. So, I gave him a brief history of what and why, and the beauty I've experienced through this medium. The sharing, the shaping, the searching. But he started dropping some questions that arrested me abruptly in my thoughts...
"More words, do they define and refine, explode or implode, stimulate or stifle?? The blogsphere has millions of these vowels and consonants racing through the unseen lines of cosmic communique, hoping that they will attach to someone, somewhere. And yet, the question can be asked "are we the future 'Athenians'?"

"Question alone, are you? The questioner, maybe we remain truly alone when our mind and thought are being suffocated by the question? Are you truely alone when the question becomes 'game' to those we have connected with through the blogsphere? Or does the question become more defined through the activity of others, which defines the questioner?"

"surfing the blogosphere, listening to the rants of human stories defining their own personal Jesus..."

I had to just sit on that stuff for a while. And I'm not done sitting, either. I have no conclusions, but I have some thoughts that I think are worth disclosing in this space as I work through the tension of these questions.

The Future Athenians. Here he was referencingActs 17:20-21
" 'You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean.' (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.) "
Though I had many immediate reactions, I stifled them because I realized that, as I've heard many others say, "Leaders must run the risk of being misunderstood." As I put my mind back into balance, a thought occurred to me. This isn't about him understanding Jared, it's about you. And that thought was absolutely right. It didn't matter what he thought of the discipline I've come to hold so dear. What mattered is what I did with what came my way. So I swallowed it, I digested it, I marinated in it. I searched myself, I searched God, and I continue to search.

Here's what I've come up with so far. I am genuine--to my best ability. I do this for myself, and it has enriched my life. There are most certainly those that have invaded this space to debate dogma, draw thological lines, convince others of their apologetic, and follow the latest trend in the pop lexicon of church culture. That is not me. Nor do I spend any time in this space with those here for those purposes. I am blessed daily by people that I consider to be the pioneers of the future, those sharing their inspiring stories of what they're actually doing, rather than the same old tiresome whining about the (select your exclusivist label--i.e. traditional, modern, institutional, old, american, consumer). I have not found a community of answers, genuflecting to dominant trends in praxis, but a community of humble risk takers, willing to ask any question that they think may allow people to see our Christ more clearly. I have not found a community that models Christ's image after their own, nor after their desire to make Christ less abrasive to the world around them. I have found people I consider family, though I've not met most of them; people who have pushed me further and further back into the center of God's refining.

Sure, we need to be suffocated by our questions--we need to wrestle. But this space is simply a medium. A medium of conversation, reflection--a textured landscape of opportunity. There will always be the sound byte spirituality that we see on message boards and in chat rooms. But like any other medium--like a conversation between two people--you choose how to operate. You choose whether to escape the trivialities and exist authentically, or reserve and protect yourself. You choose whether to argue answers, or rest in the questions.

I'm still fighting through this, but it seems to me that this space inspires me to become, as much as any space. And I appreciate those of you that have embraced me and my journey, sharing with me the stories of love being born through action, so that we resist ever becoming the future Athenians.

Again, I'll quote Bene Diction's post on Let Your Life Speak.

"The key to this form of community involves holding a paradox - the paradox of having relationships in which we protect each other's aloneness. We must come together in ways that respect the solitude of the soul, that avoid the unconscious violence we do when we try to save each other, that evoke our capacity to hold another life without dishonouring its mystery, never trying to coerce the other into meeting our own needs" -- Parker Palmer

8/05/2003

 
It's been interesting wrestling with all that I have over the last few days. Tomorrow I will be posting again, with a flashflood of thoughts and ideas that need to be unleashed and recorded in this space. After struggling over the past few days with both my thoughts and my schedule, I've come to believe that releasing my thoughts here amplifies the questions, further irritating the searching heart, rather than easing and medicating the tension my thoughts evoke. For some time I had to wrestle with that. And I will continue to. I look forward to returning to the discipline that has released so much beauty in my life.

Thanks for your supportive thoughts and emails.

8/01/2003

 
Been busy contemplating heavy thoughts silently...God's given me a lot to wrestle with recently. I'll post on that soon. In the meantime, I just found this site thanks to the Tall Skinny One. Go check out Clubber's Temple, and really explore it. They've done a great job.

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