worship

Sparkling Water Happens

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I recently went on a hospitality tour with my bread baking friends (one of whom I'm married to, btw). The plan was to spend a day hopping from shop to shop--evaluating our experiences as customers. I am a GREAT eater and drinker, so I begged my way into this rolling feast. At each stop, we looked at signage, how we were greeted, vibe of the space, cleanliness, menu and finally, product. Guess what matters a ton? To not be treated like an idiot when you first enter a shop. And by that, I mean...you walk into a shop for the first time and wonder what the rules are--it feels like the person behind the counter has the power and the info and it's up to them to impart it or not. I like to be welcomed and then given the tools to make my way. I don't want to be fussed over---but a genuine welcome is essential. Then I want to be told anything that would be helpful (daily specials not listed on the menu, etc). Also, anything that seems above and beyond is wonderfully memorable. One coffee shop automatically offered a glass of free sparkling water with every espresso drink. What?! Delightful. Of course I want some sparkling water. We talked about that experience for a long time.

What does this have to do with us, Humble Walk? We are not in the baking industry. We are not offering goods to a carload of consumers. But. We do want people to feel welcome and included and met the very first moment they walk into our gathered space.

All of this is to say, we need a Welcomer. A Julie McCoy. An Usher. A Pointer. Someone who volunteers to come early and stand at the door and say, "Hi. Welcome. I'm (your name). You will need this bulletin today. And here is a snack if you are hungry. And would you like to lead a part of the liturgy? Take one from this pile."

Prepare yourself. I'm doing an altar call this very Sunday. I will have a clipboard to sign up. But wait. There's more. Because we are resurrecting other places to sign up to lead (communion, bringing a snack). Clean up will still belong to everyone.

Are you wondering what our sparkling water--above and beyond at HW is? Oh mercy, that's you. You are our complementary sparkling water which comes as such a delightful surprise to every single person who arrives at the service. Above and beyond in every way.

Boundaries for Sabbatical

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A year and half ago, we sat around the big executive table at Acme (our former worship space in the art studio) and talked about the possibility of a sabbatical. A year and half in the life of this church is a lifetime--we are in a different worship space-people have moved, new faces have joined us, our kids are two grades older, jobs have come and gone, I started to like radishes and we applied and received a fat sabbatical grant.

It's all happening.

Specifically, my sabbatical begins August 1. I know that should be followed with a “sigh,” but it actually feels like more of a “gulp.” When my friend, Kara, began a sabbatical-she had this lovely image of putting her church in a boat. She stayed on the beach—and launched them off. They patiently shifted their legs around to make room for some of her baggage and then off they sailed. Way off on the horizon, Kara could just barely see the sail being raised for worship each week. She knew it was happening-but she wasn't a part of it. Because she had to stay on the beach. To rest.

It's a good image.

What it feels like to me-as the pastor who started this church seven years ago-is that I'm sending my kids off to sleep away camp for the first time. Up until this point-it's been me. I've been the main influence-the person tending to the needs and the dreams and questions. And now, you are going to have other influences and people to tend you. Now, there are amazing camp counselors who know things. Different songs and ideas swimming in heads and hearts. A whole different rhythm to the week. Teeth brushing and showering? It's camp-do whatever you want. (No really-do whatever you want to). You will change and grow-and I'm going to change and grow and it will be beautiful. A tiny bit scary, and mostly beautiful.

I've been thinking about sabbatical boundaries for myself for the last 18 months. Let's just say that it's complicated. I was a at party last week, and the host introduced me as, “This is my pastor. Well, and friend. And neighbor. Oh, and boss.” I laughed, because it was all true. It's true for most of us—we have multiple layers of relationships. So, a few clear guidelines for August-Oct are necessary.

1. Social media: I'm taking a full on break from facebook. You'll all keep the fb dream of memes alive while I'm gone.

2. Email: all work-related email (pastorjodihouge@gmail.com) will get an auto response that says I am unavailable-give the names of the people who are available-and instruct you to resend it in November. These emails will also automatically delete on my end. Doesn't that sound terrifying? What if people don't resend it? What if I miss 1000 opportunities? Well, yes. Those things will happen. But my work is actually stopping for 3 months—it's not just on delay. I am fully setting it down.

3. Will I be at worship or Wild Week or Beer and Hymns in the Fall? No. But you will be and it will be amazing.

4. What if there is a crisis? What if someone needs pastoral care? We have two amazing pastors who are covering for me and they are available. Pastor Angela offthegridpastor@gmail.com Pastor Phil pastorphil@epchurch.org. Also, you can do this for one another. Look around you-this community is filled with skilled listeners and prayers. Lucky us.

5. Can you still talk to me when you see me? Yes, of course. I'm traveling nearly the entire month of August (Enneagram 7's dream). So, this won't really be a thing until September. Invite me to social events? Etc? Yes. Sure. Just no business talk.

6. What about my family? Well-they are their own agents and this community is such a vital force for them, too. You will likely see them at worship and events.

7. Texting me or calling me. Don't. Not even to ask me a question.

8. I am doing two speaking events that are 100% business. These are exceptions and extraordinary and just happen to fall within the sabbatical. In August, I am traveling to Iceland for a pastor's event-they asked me to talk about the theology that supports Humble Walk and how we do experiential worship. They other is Why Christian? in September.

9. Periodically, I will send a blog post about how things are going on my end. Remember, I am not dead. I am just on break. And I am coming back (it's actually written into the grant agreement that I return for a minimum of a year).

Like Ross and Rachel, we're on a break. Like Ross and Rachel, we will get back together.

10. Pray for me. I will continue to pray for you.

Today. (Not yesterday or tomorrow)

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Sunday was Pentecost Sunday (Acts 2). We ate Hot Tamales during the sermon to remember what fire feels like in our bellies. Also, because they are delicious. We spent a good amount of time talking about the Holy Spirit-how the Spirit moves in with an invitation into the present. Being invited to notice what is happening in the present isn't usually where we spend our time. Our time is consumed either bemoaning the past or planning for the future—both of which are also often bathed in anxiety.

But, what if...what if the Holy Spirit calls us to notice what is right before us? The Spirit is at work here—today--offering life, connection, agitation, creativity, comfort, unity. All good things! All gifts.

I spend a good amount of time with other church leaders-in meetings and such. And usually this is an exercise in praying for the down-hearted. Sheesh. It's a hard time to be pastor. No one really knows how to do this job anymore.

But, what if...what if we let go of the past. The bemoaning and grief of how we experienced church in our youth-or the church we knew in our first call. And what if we stopped trying to project what the church will look like in ten years? We let go of all the articles about who or what the Millennials are and the “Nones” and the latest stats about how the church is tanking? What if we stop trying so hard to crack the code?

Letting go of what was and what will be absolutely frees us to attend to what the Spirit is doing right now. Right now! God is at work all around us-and I think we forget that. Sidenote: the world will say this is crazy. That living in the immediate is unsustainable--like being drunk at 9:00 in the morning (Acts 2). Yet, the invitation is here--an invitation to be present to your life.

Humble Walk is uniquely gifted in being able to attend to the immediate. We don't have a long history. Just shy of seven years. We've learned from the beginning that we have to hold what we have loosely. Being roughly...mildly...financially unsustainable means you need to live in the immediate. So, we look around and listen and respond to what God is doing this season. 5 Year Goals are cute-but that's a few lifetimes away for this community.

For now...today...we'll gather to hand out summer fliers. Later in the week we'll tie dye, eat ice cream and plant a garden. On Sunday, we'll gather for worship and hand out bibles. Beyond that? Who knows where the Spirit might lead us. (I keep hoping it leads us to a Roller Skating rink.)

Beyond the Frond: Songs for Palm Sunday

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Our in-house mix tape creators are above average. It's hard to keep humble about the mixes they do because they are so stinkin' good. Brie Marie made one for our very first Easter Vigil after party. During a cleaning spree, I unearthed it and have been listening to it over and over. For Palm Sunday, we asked Sara K to create one inspired by the tone of the day. We said, "A party that's about to crash/go south. Or a sense that the other metaphorical shoe is about to drop." Here it is. Download all these songs and enjoy. In this order (she employs a well-established formula for awesomeness. Don't mess with it. Trust the system.) Or just hop in my truck and run errands with me. You can still hear the music over my truck's tiny exhaust issue.

1 Harlem River Blues 2:49 Harlem River Blues Justin Townes Earle 2 I've Got Your Number, Son 3:11 Volume 3 She & Him 3 Visions 3:20 Dark Arc Saintseneca 4 Fisher Of Men 3:13 Hold Time M. Ward 5 Let Me In 3:07 Dogfight The Sensations 6 my, you look ravishing tonight 2:49 kleenex girl wonder 7 H.S.K.T. 4:18 Sylvan Esso Sylvan Esso 8 What Do All the People Know? 4:20 What Do All the People Know? The Monroes 9 Beginning To Feel the Years 3:09 The Firewatcher's Daughter Brandi Carlile 10 Off The Bone 3:11 Do It Yourself The Holy Broke 11 Angeles 2:57 Either/Or Elliott Smith 12 No Diggity 3:42 Thinking In Textures Chet Faker 13 Pressure 3:57 This Is My Hand (Prismatic Edition) My Brightest Diamond 14 Love Like This 3:58 Isles Wild Belle 15 My Silver Lining 3:35 Stay Gold First Aid Kit 16 My Special Prayer 3:06 When A Man Loves A Woman Percy Sledge 17 Sharp Cutting Wings (Song To A… 3:27 Niagara, Niagara Lucinda Williams 18 My Bucket's Got A Hole In It 2:04 Greatest Hits Ricky Nelson 19 Somebody That I Used to Know 2:23 Seth Avett & Jessica Lea Mayfield… Seth Avett & Jessica Lea Mayfield 20 Amsterdam 3:19 The Weatherman Gregory Alan Isakov 21 Working Titles 3:47 Maraqopa Damien Jurado 22 Another Saturday 2:56 Dark Was The Night: A Red Hot C… Stuart Murdoch 23 Turn Away 3:06 Morning Phase Beck

Wabi Sabi

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Today, I picked up the book Everyday Sacred by Sue Bender and it fell open to this page: October Tea One day, in search of something else, I found a book called Wabi Sabi. Wabi sabi are the Japanese words for a feeling, an aesthetic that is hard to describe.  I read: "It's a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent and incomplete. It is a beauty of things modest and humble. It is a beauty of things unconventional."

A friend, a student of the Japanese tea ceremony, mentioned "October tea." She said it's one of the most important times of the year for tea, the most wabi. November celebrates the new tea, but October is the time to use up the last of the old. Instead of letting it dribble out, or be thought of as the dregs--"We cherish what remains of that which is in the process of passing."

This month only, mismatched dishes are used. The utensils are ones that have been broken and repaired. "Not just repaired, but carefully and beautifully mended," she added.

I feel like this describes so much of Holy Week at Humble Walk. Modest, humble, unconventional, imperfect, impermanent, incomplete. Each part of the week had all of these elements-each time we gathered, it was holy--it felt like time was suspended. We walked the razor-sharp line of joy and pain, of suffering and delight. I felt my Grinch heart grow. It was as if we were, as individuals and as a community, being not just repaired, but carefully and beautifully mended.

We wabi sabied the hell out of Holy Week.

Well-rested People

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I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. (Exodus 20) On Sunday, we talked about this verse (and the rest of the assigned reading: Exodus 20: 1-17). In this one little verse, we get a peek into who God is and how God is faithful to us. God tells us that God is ours--that the relationship is already established (your God. The "your" is singular...meaning you--your God). And that we have already been delivered from slavery. We no longer work for Pharaoh.

Pharaoh is not our god.

Of course, we forget this in a heartbeat. All week long, we think we are slaves to our jobs and obligations so that when Sunday rolls around (or a day off)--we want to be free.

The word from God is this:

I brought you out of slavery. I already did that. You are free.

That inner committee—those voices in your head that tell you the opposite—those voices that say “produce, produce, produce ” the voices that say, “If you stop, if you rest, you are nothing.” The voices that cause all that anxiety---silence them. Say, “Get behind me Satan.” Say no.

We wear our exhaustion with pride. It's a trophy—our ability to withstand stress is a mark of real character. The busier we are-the more important we seem. We even say dumb things like: "Are you keeping busy?" As if that's a goal. 

When in fact, the world aches for well-rested people.

When God stopped to rest, God did not show up to do more. God did not just check in on creation in anxiety to be sure it was all working. God has complete confidence that everything will do what's it's intended to do. That the world will hold. The plants will perform. The birds and fish and beasts of the field will prosper. All will be well. (So says Walter Brueggemann. So say we all.)

God, in whose image we are made, is not a workaholic.

God is not Pharaoh.

In fact, God rescued us from Pharaoh.

God does not keep jacking up production schedules.

God doesn't add another device with the false hope of being more efficient (lie).

When we stop production.

When we rest.

When we resist the urge to check in. To check email. To do just a little bit more.

When we stop—it is an act of faith.

It is an act of resistance.

It is absolutely counter cultural.

You want to keep church weird? Stop producing.

Maybe an entire sabbath day is a luxury that you cannot even imagine. Maybe you have such a patchwork of part time jobs and grad school and and and that 24 hours seems unfathomable. I understand that within Humble Walk, there are about 2 people with traditional 9-5 jobs. The rest are part time plus contract work. Or a mishmash of contract work. Which means, if you don't work--you don't eat.

So it is very tricky to talk about taking an entire day off.

Maybe then, it's a 2 hour block of time.

When we do,

We declare with our own bodies that we are not ruled by the god of anxiety.

We declare that we are not ruled by busyness.

By accumulating.

By the pursuit of more.

We declare that we are not a commodity.

We are not a transaction.

Walter Brueggemann (theological hero, in Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now) says this:

The “other gods” are agents and occasions of anxiety. Be we, by discipline, by resolve, by baptism, by Eucharist, and by passion, resist such seductions. In so doing we stand alongside the creator in whose image we are made. 

By the end of the six days, God had done all that necessary for creation...so have we.

Think about what kind of friend, neighbor, parent, citizen, student you are when you have had a bit of rest. If you are wondering what the church community has left to offer the world. If you have ever wondered how we as a church might meet a deep longing—something that nearly everyone in your life is aching for...it is permission to stop.

We are going to keep practicing in May, June and July. In August—I'll be gone on sabbatical so you can do whatever you want.

My friend Glenn says that practicing sabbath is like riding a bike. Talking about theories about riding or telling someone how to ride a bike is way, way different then putting your butt in the seat and your feet on the pedals and pushing off. It takes practice.

So, we are going to practice.

Good News that's actually Good.

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This morning at my clergy text study (which I call preacher's round-up), someone made a comment that we have spent 2000 years trying to turn Good News into law/bad news. I'm sort of scandalized by the thought because...well, crap...because it might be true. I know we can't help it. It's the way the rest of the world works. It's a system that we understand--getting what we deserve, proving our worth, getting what we deem as fair, digging our own grave, seeing the whole thing as a business transaction. One person said, "Actually, I am pretty sure that most people in our congregations do not feel deserving of love." Crushing! You are not a business transaction. God's love for you is not a transaction.

Maybe you are having some trouble believing that God in Jesus loves you whole-heartedly, as you are...and that is actually the point of everything. The point of the bible. The point of creation. The point of 2000 years of retelling these stories.

The point, the point, the point.

Beloved. Beloved. Beloved.

Thanks. I just needed to be sure you heard that. (Also, I am not preaching this week because Justin Rimbo is---so I had to sneak my sermon in somewhere.)

Whole-hearted Living

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Growing up, every single Sunday we did the same public confession in worship. Part of it was, "We have not loved you with our whole heart. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves." I have been thinking about this all week--both what it means to not love with our whole heart (fairly easy to think of examples). But, maybe more perplexing--what it means to do it. What does it look like when we love with our whole heart? Over the course of the last year, when have we loved with our whole heart? What does that look like? Where are we being called  (or perhaps, like Jesus in Sunday's Gospel from Mark, being kicked/thrown into)? Where are the places where we might love with our whole heart within and around Humble Walk? As we communally discern where the Holy Spirit is moving us in the coming season, these are some of our guiding questions.

I asked those who gathered for worship to brainstorm ways in which they have experienced or shown whole-hearted living.

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Here is what they said and drew:

Buying coffee for strangers and friends Forgiving Taking care of yourself Sending kids and self to bed on time Outside comfort zone for sake of others Not using people's past against them Recycling Listening to someone you disagree with To honestly see the world Love despite the bad Love enemies even when you don't mean it Loving without regard for boundaries Loving others regardless the little annoying things they do Loving another even when it's not convenient An image of a big heart with these words inside: empathy, being brave, stranger, serving, forgiveness, being uncomfortable, enemy, respect, God's work, our hands. Forgiving readily Accepting "Other" focused Believing without proof Giving people the benefit of the doubt Giving of yourself and what you have to offer Giving without expectation of something in return Sacrifice for another to exhaustion Focused, attention on one thing or one person Joyful, not matter the situation Loving their flaws To get married Friends and forgiveness (70 x 7 style) Parents loving kids/grandparents Love within a family Coffee (encased in a heart)

I would add that our lenten season of secretninjas is an example. Those secretninja's where flung far and wide--along with all sorts of joy and love. Our bar events are whole-hearted living. Many times, the room is filled with new faces. Someone in worship commented that when he looks through the fb list of people who are attending, not only does he not recognize those who are coming--but he doesn't even know the people who invited them. A third example is when we are in the park in the summer time--particularly during the meals of Wild Week. I look around at a playground area filled with people sharing a meal who might not ever otherwise come together. Thereby the grace of God. These three areas (secretninja's, bar, park) began with "What if we tried..." and have completely taken on their own life--well beyond anything that we can control or manufacture. This is whole-hearted living.

Celebrating

Within the Humble Walk community, we have had our share of heartbreak. We don't hide that from one another. Every week, we gather in prayer around very painful things-broken bodies, strained relationships, financial stress, scary transitions. We carry one another's burdens and offer support to one another-and we lift it all to the Creator of the Universe. I want to make sure that we remember to celebrate with one another, too. There are so many good things happening within our community. You people are just soaring right now. You are out there-shining-taking risks with great courage. Art is being made, kids/adults are coming into their own skin, health and healing are arriving in all forms. This, too, is the body of Christ.

I am blessed to be a witness.

Milestone. MILESTONE!

Milestones Today, your generosity is a milestone for Humble Walk. Every week in worship, we celebrate milestones. Just before the dismissal, we invite everyone who has a one to come up around the altar. “Maybe you lost a tooth or job, maybe you got a tooth or job. Some milestones are joyful and some are not. We welcome them all.” The idea came from one of our seminarians-as a way to recognize our whole lives. We want to honor the moments that are significant and make up a life. It acknowledges that our lives are holy-sacred moments in the absolute ordinary. Each person takes a small stone from the pile and shares their milestone. When they are done sharing, they put the rock in our big milestone jar and the gathered say, “MILESTONE!”

Enjoy this final video, “Milestone.” Count how many stones actually get into the jar—and enjoy Jeremiah's hair keeping the beat. Thank you for your gifts of support. You make this church go round and out. Praise be to God for you. YOU.

 

Experiential Worship

It's Experiential. The very first time Humble Walk gathered for worship, kids outnumbered adults. This remains our constant around the the table and font. We decided from the beginning that we would live out the Gospel's great reversal within worship by putting our most vulnerable in the center. We want those with the least amount of power to lead this community. For this community, that means we put the youngest worshipers' needs first. God bids us to come and die and to lose our lives in order to find it. We see this lived out in our worship life every single week.

While some may be put off by this initially, if you stick around long enough you will see that it's not about sacrifice but of receiving a gift. It might be easy to think in this model that the adults sacrifice so that the kids are met or that those without kids sacrifice so that the kids are met. If you regularly show up where we gather for worship, you will find your heart being opened by our youngsters' prayers spoken for hurting people and impossible situations. You will see them lead us into the Gospel with questions, artwork and unfiltered commentary. You will receive the broken and spilled body and blood of Christ from the hands of small prophets. Beyond precious, these moments are gifts because they transform the rest of us (who are protectively trying to guard our hearts from any such transformation). Knowing what it's like to be left out or bullied or without power, kids have a way of pointing to justice and mercy and truth. Thanks be to God.

So, our worship is experiential and engaging. We also eat bread.

Enjoy this Slow Jam and give us all your money. We promise to keep living out the Gospel with the most vulnerable at the helm.

Darkness (The Good Kind)

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At the end of November, I gathered with my clergy retreat group for 24  hours in the woods. We have been doing this monthly rhythm for over three years-thanks to a generous grant  and continually saying "yes" to the gift. Each month, we rotate leadership. The leader picks a theme and makes a soundtrack based on the theme. We pray and tell stories related to the theme. Our November theme was Darkness (the Good Kind). We have so many associations with the dark being bad. "Going through a dark time." "Dark night of the soul." "I've always been afraid of the dark." Even in scripture-"A light shines in the darkness-and the darkness shall not overcome it." What if we consider other connections? If the only associations we have with dark and darkness are negative/scary and things we want to avoid--what an easy, subtle leap toward those same scary feelings about those with brown skin. Could there be a better time than right now to unravel that (perhaps even unconscious) connection?

My colleague, Joy (pastor at Christ Lutheran on Capitol Hill) challenged us to consider the gifts of darkness. She said, "Think of images related to darkness that are good. Like seeds, new birth, Advent, cool shadows, deep sleep, mystery, chocolate, dark earth, indigo night." It's nice, isn't it? To consider the gifts that these hours of December nights bring us? Particularly now, as we close in on winter solstice.

It's no secret that I love to sleep. These days, if there isn't anywhere to be in the evening--I can call it a day at 4:30PM. Yoga pants and pj's without fear of being caught (shock!) giving up on the day as the sun sets. This doesn't even feel possible in July. At 4:30PM in July, we aren't even home from the pool yet. Oh, the gift of crawling into bed and feeling the weight of quilts and giving into sleep. Sometimes, at 9PM.

Each night during Advent, my family meets at the table and lights tea lights...one the first night, two the second...until we get to Christmas. We read a chapter from our Advent story book and everyone gets a piece of chocolate. It's one of my favorite things in the world. It's complete gift. I welcome it and look forward to it all year. Darkness is a gift to me.

Interested in listening in on Joy's Darkness soundtrack? Here's the list. I have played All the Stars and Winter Song over and over and over. Go buy these or create your own soundtrack (and share it with me, please).

All the Stars (Wailin' Jennys) Bird Song (Wailin' Jennys) Anjo Da Guarda (Airto Moreira) Cancion De Cuna (Eliot Fisk) Winter Song (Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson) Lazy Bones (Joel Plaskett) Wedding Song (Tracy Chapman) Spirit in the Dark (Blind Boys of Alabama) Dark Night of the Soul (Loreena McKennitt) Night Ride Home (Joni Mitchell) Closing in On Midnight (Tiller's Folly) El Noi dela Mare (Jean-Felix Lalanne and Muriel Anderson Vicky Cristina Barcelona) Holy, Holy, Holy (Sufjan Stevens) Slouching Towards Bethlehem (Joni Mitchell) Common Threads (Bobby McFerrin) Midnight (David Wilcox) Blessed to be a Witness (Ben Harper) Gratitude (Eric Bibb)

These kids are alright

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Our kids have sort of been blowing me away lately. Always. Of course. But lately, they have been breaking my heart in good ways. When Nate and I talked through Advent worship, we thought about an even simpler service than our regular worship. We wanted it to be a bit shorter to allow for ample time to transition to the post-worship meal at a host home. Which, on paper and in theory and in our heads, looked like it was true. In bulletin form, it was simpler. Streamlined. (Which is tricky because there isn't much fluff in that service to begin with). But then the first Sunday of Advent rolls around and our Humble kids were there en mass. The youths basically led the whole service. Not because we planned it that way--or because it Youth Sunday (every Sunday at Humble Walk is Youth Sunday). They led it because that's what they do. They filled the baptismal font with tea lights to set the theme from the Gospel of Mark's "Keep awake" message. They made the advent candle for the wreath. They created art in response to the Gospel (quietly, in their seats, while listening to the sermon). We know they were listening, because when we moved into the prayers of the people--they prayed for things directly connected to my sermon. Communion rolled around and they rushed up to serve and to receive. As is often the case, one child even abandoned her back-row sitting family to secure a seat in front. Closer to the action and the communion bread.

Do you know who is not efficient and streamlined? Kids. They will not be rushed. They don't give a rip about your plans for a shortened worship. Thank God. Because it's way better this way.

On Saturday, our fifth and sixth graders shopped and put together kits for Lutheran World Relief. They made 5 Personal Care Kits-and along the way, learned about situations where someone might need a kit. Those who experience natural disaster, or those fleeing violence and war. It's thrilling to witness their worldviews expanding before our very eyes--and to make the connections of a church at work far beyond this West End community. Why do we give offering? Well, because we are created with a need to give--and it reminds us that none of this belongs to us anyway. And our offering not only funds youth group outings, but a portion goes well beyond our border to places of great need. These connections are shaping who these kids are growing up to be.  At the end of one of these conversations about LWR, one child said, "They do such good things. I want to work there when I grow up."

The second week of Advent had us asking questions about John the Baptizer. When I started talking about John, one 4-year-old turned to his mom and said, "I know that guy. He's in my book. He's hairy and eats bugs." Yeah right, mom thinks, like he would really eat bugs. Sure enough, that boy was right. John the Baptizer was totally hairy and ate bugs--so we all ate Bit O Honeys and organic, kosher, candy-coated locusts* as we thought about questions we had about John and his message. Score one for Spark Story Bibles and giving those books away like candy-coated locusts!

These kids are alright. Thank God they are leading us along the way.

*Yeah right. Like we would really eat bugs. They were candy-coated pecans from Trader Joe's. But whatever.

Blessing, Transformation and Heartbreak

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Two weeks ago, Nate and I spent five days with the Lutheran Outdoor Ministry leaders at their annual conference. Do you know how much I love camp people? Plenty. So when they asked if we would plan and lead worship for this event-it was a fairly easy decision. I spent all my summers in college working at Lutheran camps. After I finished undergrad, I spent an entire year at a camp. These are my people. But, you know--it's been a while since I was surrounded by camp people.  It's fun to come into this gathering from the outside. Here are a couple things I noticed that feel true.

Blessing  At the final evening meal, this community of about 150 executive directors, program directors and emeritus directors were all gathered in one room. Keep in mind that some of the emeritus directors are in their nineties. These are the souls who followed the Spirit's leading to start camps--to dream, to invite people to pray about the dream, to raise huge sums of money, to physically build buildings, to steward it all well. These people stood in the center of the room. The newest, brand new leaders in the room were placed right around the emeritus directors. And then everyone else filled in all around. They all laid out-stretched  hands of blessing on one another and someone led a prayer.

Good grief. What an amazing model of former and present leadership...of passing on the mantle...on recognizing the gifts of leaders throughout the years...on support and wisdom. Let this be our model in our congregations. Let this be our model among clergy and mission pastors. I know what it feels like to not do this among clergy--let's try on what it feels like together.

Transformation and Heartbreak I spend a lot of time thinking about worship and preaching. Duh. That comes with the collar. Truthfully, much of Sunday worship is so very boring. Don't freak out. I am not talking about yours. Obviously. Or ours. Obviously. Let's just say...some. Nah. It's actually most. I don't want to be entertained or wowed. What I want is transformation--transcendence--to be moved. I want my heart ripped out and replaced. I want to be broken by beauty or by heartbreak. I want it to matter. And I don't care what the packaging around that transformation looks like (that's a tiny bit not true because I have all sorts of personal opinions)--but give me something. All those beautiful phrases and words and litanies and prayers don't mean anything unless they mean something. They have to break in and connect to my life. It doesn't matter when it happens--it can be during the confession or the songs or the preaching. We all want it to matter. I know that. So maybe we can take a few risks with vulnerability and standing up and telling the truth.

What I realized about these camp leaders is that they spend their lives creating places where people might transformed. Can this be used as emotional manipulation? Of course. But that is such a small percentage. Most of isn't. What I have experienced of camp leaders is the ability to take risks, use wildly creative ideas, offer words and storytelling in language that people can understand and connect with their lives.

Camp leaders called me into ministry and still continue to lead me. Thank God for the gifts of Lutheran Outdoor Ministry.

Saints and Blessing

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Of  course I love All Saints Day. It's one of those clergy gold mines. My fb and twitter feed fill up with people's fervor over it (and remind me, once again, how many church nerds are in my sphere). A liturgical container for grief and mourning? A day to remember those we have loved and lost to death? A chance to remember that we, too, are saints? Yes, sign me up. This year, we decided to have a Show and Tell All Saints service. We invited everyone to bring an object that represents a dead loved one.  We carried in and lit all of our extra candles. We filled our sand cross with playground sand and votives and put it in the center of our gathering. Normally, we put our chairs in an arc, but yesterday, we gathered them in a circle around the cross. (May the circle be unbroken). As people arrived, they were invited to write their name and the names of all their dead saints on the white altar cloth.

We heard All My Tears (Julie Miller) as a prelude and then sang For All The Saints together.

We invited people to participate in the Show and Tell Litany of Saints. Those who wanted to held up their object and told us why it reminded them of their loved one, each person ending with "I remember (saint's name)." The assembly responded, "We give thanks for (saint's name)." Then they lit a votive in the sand cross.

What an honor it was to hear about these people. One minute into this Show and Tell, I was struck by the trust/risk/vulnerability. I find myself so incredibly grateful for each soul gathered--and each story we heard--which allowed us to get a peek into their holy lives. (Thank you for trusting us, Humble folk).

When we gathered for communion, the words from the Great Thanksgiving that I could not remember in the moment were, "joining with all the saints of all time and all places..." But we got the idea. The names on the altar helped.

And then I got to remind everyone that they are blessed. Not one day. Not when we have it together. Not when we are fixed. Not when we feel like it. Today we are blessed. Jesus says we are blessed and that creates a new reality.

There were a number of people who for a variety of reason couldn't be with us physically. Conflicts or travel or because they live across the country. They sent me a message (and one posted a pic) with their object and loved ones name. A good reminder that every time we gather for worship, we gather on behalf of those who cannot.

Worship is Work

I was on a clergy retreat last week. (Thank you, Austin Theological Presbyterian Seminary for this gift). It's a group of pastors, so of course we spend a good deal of time trying to figure out how to do our jobs. A couple of us talked a long, long time about worship. How to lead with integrity--how to walk alongside people without judgment--how to listen and respond to the Spirit moving us--wondering if there is still a place and need for this strange weekly gathering around wine, water and word. It's probably the most mystifying part of leading Humble Walk. I learned long ago-and actually have to keep relearning-that there is very little predicting who will arrive together on Sundays. Will it be half visitors? Half youngsters? Will all the stars align and nearly everyone will arrive together? Who am I preaching to (and sometimes with) this week?

Park events, bar events, neighborhood gatherings, online discussion--all fairly predictable patterns. But worship? Well, that's anyone's guess.

Worship asks something of us. It requires setting down 100 other things demanding our attention. Worship requires us to show up in person. When I think about creating space for this weekly pattern in my own calendar, the image that comes to mind is boxing out. (Yes. I actually just made a sports reference.) In basketball, boxing out is using your whole body-to get as big as possible-in order to create space to (hopefully) receive the ball.

So on Sunday, you have boxed out a little slice of time and come straggling in the door. Amazing. But then, we ask more from you because worship doesn't work without you. The liturgy-which actually means, "the work of the people", needs you. To sing, to respond, to pray, to carry the service. And those people sitting around you are going to want to interact with you before and afterwards. They will want to say hello--they will ask about your life. They might ask why you are in wheelchair and then with great earnestness, pray for you and your well being during the prayers of the people. I've seen it happen.

Humble Walk worship often feels like a reunion. Beloved people wandering in from all the corners of the world. Some who have followed us online and now are here in the flesh. Some who have been far off and now back. Many who we see every week. All of us, together, being re-oriented. All of us, together, remember who we are and whose we are--Beloved. God's beloved.

Secret Ninjas. Revealed.

It's time to come clean. We are responsible for the secret ninjas. I know you have been wondering and wondering who unleashed them into the world. It all started with Ash Wednesday. Which is where all good things begin, amIright? The text for Ash Wednesday is from Matthew 6--where we are told not to be like the hypocrites who pray in public and make a show of it. Well...as it turns out...we are a pretty public church. Years prior, we offered the imposition of ashes at the bus stop. In 2013, we smashed tiles out front on the sidewalk (narthex) on W 7th street before entering worship on Ash Wednesday.

So, what does this Gospel have to say to a church that lives in public? Leading up to Ash Wednesday,  the entire polar vortex winter felt penitential. We felt like we had already been living lent. So, what might connect with our community and this text and is actually just a bit playful? Which, I concur, is not our normal tone for lent. But we dared to ask it and that's where the idea for secret ninja was born.

We began Ash Wednesday service with a hot baked potato bar and then spent a good amount of time painting little peg people. As we moved into the liturgy, we offered some guidelines for secret ninjas.

Every Sunday, our prelude, prayer time and postlude included time for painting secret ninjas. At the end of worship, people were invited to take one (and a guidelines card) and then find a way to send it off into the world. Hundreds were painted and loosed.

A delightful embodiment of the season and the Gospel ensued. Because guess what? We were instructed to tell no one. No one! But most of us just couldn't contain it. "I felt like I was bursting. So, I just told my sister. Just one person. And then I felt better." "I can't help it--it's just too fun to keep in."  We began worship each week with secret ninja news--so that people had a place to share sightings of ninjas.

We invited people to tell the stories for the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday with secret ninja dioramas. And they did.

Then it was Easter and our time with Lenten secret ninjas was over. Except, it wasn't. Or isn't because it just keeps going...secret ninja sightings and rumblings are still occurring.

Movement

Yesterday in worship, we asked and responded to questions together. We had great big clown-size post-it notes all over the room and time to respond.

At the heart of all of it is the central question, "Where has God moved and where is God moving us?" Here is what we heard and it makes me love this church even more.

Pray your way through this list and then add what's missing.

What is working?

space, people, liturgy, most things allowing people to just be free-range children theology pub public events being able to do something easy or hard beer and hymns being able to go to the park our new space small community carrying the load/responsibilities together drawings of dog bones, sunflowers, sweet people. in purple. camp/retreats guest artist Sundays giving hope to the greater church hands on/interactive worship risk-taking

What are we proud of?

all of my lego/lego sets solid music always being creative, welcoming, diverse quality music and musical guests the songs community outreach-wild week, beer and hymns receiving people sending out people the community making this happen amazing family camps time together at Bay Lake radical hospitality food dogs awesome friends smooth transitions including children in worship Jodi being loving you are in. unless you want out. that's good news! social media/blogging/ennouncements acceptance of all people our kids good stewards of our resources sweet drawings of people. or possibly birds. in yellow. that we respond to ideas with "Yes, and..."

What is our role in this community (individually and collectively)?

harbor help each other grow gathering/safe place a place to be to be a light and a place of hope dog watching safe place for wounded or tired or burned out Christians care for and encourage the people in this community of faith an example of church outside the typical churchy box milestones daughter, babysitter, sibling a drawing of someone meditating. in purple.

What would we change if we could?

kosher is hard to find more eating together more people at worship more fun things to do after worship I want all my friends to experience church like this more informal gatherings more points of connection more fun acting things more food together more people more community service no more sadness more milestones more drawing I would change the beginning (before the fall with Adam and Eve)

What causes stress?

pressure to succeed fear of failure fear of expectations when things change loosing a football game in the NFL many things passive aggressive in the name of Jesus not really resting or recreating busy lives cars loosing a job unknown futures hearing or seeing the news not having enough resources to carry out dreams, plans, vision what knowing what each Sunday's congregation will look like (and planning worship accordingly) a picture of a smiling face. in orange. orange is so stressful! middle school kindergarten

What do we need?

faith, hope, trust, God more volunteers and staff support to  help Nate and Jodi more food more food temporary tattoos the ability to not judge others more folks more variety in leadership informal gatherings/opportunities to connect more group events/outings to be present more money collective ownership/leaders dogs picture of a sunflower. in purple.

Where do you see/witness God moving?

friendships here music relationships in chapel through relationships theology pub bay lake...extending time together inside of people wind. with a picture of wind. in purple. bar events inside of people through music drawing of  kids walking into school. in turquoise.

What gives you hope?

feeling the Holy Spirit in this community God seeing children engaged in worship freedom from structure dogs and puppies dogs and puppies Jodi's words and presence our volunteer leaders the kids this neighborhood a new day redemption/redemptive motion the Holy Bible a drawing of cookies and milk. in cookie and milk colors.

Sholom Home/Jewish High Holy Days

This came from the Saint Paul Area Council of Churches and is totally helpful.

Jewish High Holy Days

Acknowledging our Neighbors of Different Religious Traditions. We (name of congregation) extend our prayers and regards to our Jewish neighbors (optional: particularly name of neighboring synagogue) on the occasion of their most sacred time of the year, the High Holy Days, which begin with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year (sundown Sept. 24-26) and climax with Yom Kippur or Day of Atonement (Oct. 4).

Jews will pray and celebrate the gift of the new year on Rosh Hashanah and fast and pray for repentance on Yom Kippur. “Shana tovah” or “Happy New Year” is an appropriate greeting for these holy days for Jews.

Sample Prayer: God of all people, we honor our neighbors who follow the religious tradition of Judaism and we ask your blessing on our Jewish neighbors and Jews around the world as they observe their High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. May the gifts of their tradition be a blessing to them and they to all people as we all seek to find peace, justice and sustainability in our challenged world. Amen.

***

You are the witnesses of these things

5692209386_539215eec3_zOur community is changing. This isn't new. Because we are a mission church--because we move (on average) once a year--because we are nimble--we are repeatedly aware that to live is to change. Have you noticed the new faces around the community? Things are alive. This growth period we are now in, however, feels differently. And not just because we are now kosher on Sundays and have an insulting parrot to visit.

The story that we tell about ourselves (as Humble Walk) might be slightly different than our reality. The story we tend to tell is that we are wildly organic, Spirit-led community. While that is definitely true and awesome, we are something else, too. Friends, we are a church. I know---that sounds strange and perhaps you want to deny it. But it's true. We are absolutely a church. We are part of an institution that has done incredibly gorgeous and completely disastrous things over the last 2000 years (with much of it falling somewhere in the middle).

I know we like to think of Humble Walk as this rag-tag group of alley cats just tryin' to figure life out. Perhaps. Yes. And also, we have been traveling and praying and stumbling for six years. Our hearts have been broken open with Scripture and Holy Communion. Some of us have been drowned in the waters of baptism. We have been formed by music, art and the stories that we all carry. We have shown up for one another and offered support. This is what it means to be church.

My role in this community been to witness this birth (bloody! sweaty! beautiful! terrifying!) and to walk with you--pointing to Christ's presence. That pointing job isn't hard--good grief, evidence of God's good and redeeming love is everywhere.  I get to tell the story of Jesus' love--like, as a JOB and then bear witness to you all living it out every single day.

And a few others things that have become my job over the years. Yesterday, I listed them out on the whiteboard in my office. They are:

Worship Life: preaching worship planning (Nate) Housekeeping (set up and take down) Hospitality

Bar Life: Theology Pub Beer and Hymns (Nate) Storytelling

Park Life: Garden (Sara) Wild Events (Casey) Wild Week (Casey, Emily)

Online Life: Creating fb events for all of the above Web site maintenance (Erin) Blog Promoting events

Other Life:  Pastoral Care Supervising Luther Seminary students Youth Group Consulting with the broader church General administration Treasurer: (Slade) Grant writing Mission support Retreats (Fall, Winter, Summer) What am I missing?

Here is what I want you to think about--I am ready to release a good portion of this list into your care. As you read through this description of our life together, what part do you have some energy around? What is it that you want to do? We have continually added pieces all along the way--perhaps it's time we let go of some. If so, what?

If your name is behind one of these pieces, that means you are the point person for this area. Guess what? You don't have to do it forever. If you want to be released--we will release you. And we are mighty glad you are doing what you do right now.

At my last clergy retreat, we spent some time on this Gospel:

Luke 24:44-53

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

What is this is all true? What if because we know forgiveness (it might all be about forgiveness) --because our minds have been opened --because God has promised --because we have been clothed with power on high --we might go out into the world with great joy? Not when we are trained. Not when we are competant. But now? I believe it is all true.