A Great Cause Really Needs Your Help!

These are my friends Zach and Bob. I worked with them last summer in Bend, Oregon to help start a non-profit cafe called Common Table. It’s an incredible project and ministry. They operate much like any for-profit restaurant does — they have a menu and tables and people come there to eat. But unlike most restaurants, all of their profits get put back into the restaurant to help feed people in the community who may not be able to get a good, healthy meal elsewhere. It’s an incredible vision for what a community can be. In their own words, they describe it like this:

Common Table is a non-profit Social Entrepreneurship project for the betterment of our community and world.  At the core of Common Table is a café from which we endeavor to serve extraordinary food to all people, both those with the ability to pay, and those who under typical circumstances would not be able to eat at a café…. In addition to providing meals for all people, we will train workers in the food service industry; offer education about healthy eating, sustainable agriculture, local sources of food, and ethical sourcing; gather a diversity of people in the same space for many kinds of public discourse, music, and learning opportunities.  We will use the proceeds from our breakfast and lunch business to pay for the expenses of the facility, evening events, speakers, films, music, discussions, classes, etc. – all pieces of the full Common Table vision.

It really is an incredible vision of some real good that’s going on in the world and they need your help.

Times are tough and donations have been down a bit. They set up a Paypal account on their website or they will also take mail-in donations addressed to:

Common Table
150 NW Oregon Ave
Bend, OR  97701

It’s almost become cliche to say it, but every little bit does help. Please take time to consider it. It would really be a shame to see them close their doors.

Please consider even a $5 donation. It’d help a lot.

Cheers,
Eric

Words For the Future of the Church

We had our council retreat this morning, which looked at a lot of long-term goals — 5-year plans and such. After I got home, I remembered a great poem/sermon from Oscar Romero. What follows is that meditation. It has some great images and words of challenge and hope for the church.

“A Future Not Our Own”
By Archbishop Oscar Romero

It helps now and then to step back and take a long view.

The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives include everything.
This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow.

We water the seeds already planted knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing this.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning,
a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.

What images or phrases stuck out to you? What can you take away from this for your faith life today?

Cheers,
Eric

What If Seminaries Were Like Tech Startups?

I have some awesome news! I only have one more class period left in my time in seminary. I know. Super exciting. After a 3-hour block on March 28th, I’ll be done. Yes, I still have an online class and that whole “12-month internship” thing, but still. Exciting. But I have to tell you something… After 3 years of school, I feel like 87% of the stuff I’ve learned, I’ll never need again.

Now there are really two ways to look at the educational process of seminary. There’s either the reference book way which is education gives you the information to look back on and discern how to incorporate it into ministry. Then there’s the eyeglasses way (the term isn’t perfect, but follow me anyway) which gives you a set of lenses through which you can see the world and articulate ways to lead the church.

I can’t help but feel that most of my seminary education has given me a reference book. Which gives me all kinds of information to look back on, but not keen enough sight to see. Is that model really preparing anyone to take part in ministry with and for a world that, for the most part, doesn’t see the point in going to church? I don’t think so. But it forces me to ask the question…

What if church was more like a tech startup? What is it in startup culture that seems to bring out the most creative and innovative ideas? When we look at some of the most successful tech companies (Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon), we see some of the best innovation in the communications world today. And these companies are thriving. Ahead of everyone else in their field.

And then there’s the church. The morality police. The out-of-touch place where people go to get married and buried.

The essence of a startup is that you create new solutions to new problems. It means being creative enough to come up with new ways to fix old, broken processes. The church had a problem in the late 90’s when church membership (hardly a barometer of religiosity, but still) began declining. So, as all good seminarians would, pastors racked their brains to find answers. But you know what was one question I bet they didn’t ask? “What did I learn in seminary that would help here?”

Creativity and innovation come up nowhere in the seminary curriculum, and yet I can’t help but think that those are the traits necessary to be successful when you’re trying to help form communities. I’m not saying that church history and all the stuff we learn now doesn’t have it’s place… But what would it look like if one class for one semester simply asked us to go find something in the church that isn’t working well and come up with a better way to do it?

I’m not trying to say that we should all have this kind of education. I’m just saying there are some people, like me, who don’t do well in the simple transfer of information style of education.  I think there are some students who would absolutely love seminary if they were allowed to be innovative. They would at least be more passionate about what they’re doing.

And in my 3 years of classes, I can count on one hand the times I’ve left a class feeling passionate.

Cheers,
Eric

Japan and the Silence of God

As we continue to hear about rising death       tolls, pending nuclear meltdowns and entire communities reduced to nomads, it comes as no surprise that religious communities are starting to ask (and rightly so) ‘Where is God in all of this?’

Shusaku Endo was a prominent (and underrated) Japanese author in the mid-20th century. But his most widely-read work that he wrote (Silence) deals primarily with the silence of God in life’s most abhorrent tragedies. There is one particular passage that I’ve been drawn back to in the wake of the unspeakable tragedies that continue to happen across the Pacific.

In Silence, Endo portrays the visit of a Portugese Jesuit priest to Japan in the 17th century. In one scene, the priest looks out over a ruined and prays: “The village had been burnt to the ground; and its inhabitants had been completely dispersed. The sea and the land were silent as death; only the dull sound of the waves lapping against the boat broke the silence of the night. Why have you abandoned us so completely? he prayed in a weak voice. Even the village was constructed for you; and have you abandoned it in its ashes? … Have you just remained silent like the darkness that surrounds me? Why? At least tell me why. We are not strong men like Job who was afflicted with leprosy as a trial. There is a limit to our endurance. Give us no more suffering. So he prayed. But the sea remained cold, and the darkness maintained its stubborn silence.”

I can’t imagine what it must have been like to be sitting outside of your house surveying damage from the earthquake when the ocean comes barreling down your street. I have to imagine that at some point we’ll find the limit to our endurance. I have to imagine that the prayers of the world can only take us so far. But the thing that we hope with all of our beings is that there’s something other than the stubborn silence of cold darkness that meets us on the other side.

Cheers,
Eric

P.S. I watched this video right before I wrote this. Check it out. It’s pretty intense.

A Problem of Ashes

I’ve never understood Lent.

When I was growing up, I wasn’t necessarily the first kid in the church every Sunday. I thought church was kind of lame because it was an hour of being quiet, sitting still and listening to somebody talk about some guy who lived in Heaven. (I used to have a pretty crazy picture of God in my head, but I’ll save that for a later post…)

Now, if I didn’t understand why we gathered together every Sunday, then I certainly didn’t understand why one Wednesday a year, we would go to an extra service to get ashes put on our forehead. It sounds weird. And, let’s face it, it is weird. And I think I’ve pin-pointed why it’s so weird to me:

Ash Wednesday is about trauma.

Serene Jones defines trauma as any threat, perceived or real, that brings you next to your annihilation. Isn’t that exactly what Ash Wednesday is? The words “remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return” bring us right next to the fact that we are impermanent. Ash Wednesday, then, sets into action the slow and agonizing descent into our own suffering. It introduces us into a life that is filled with the trauma of knowing we are not meant to stay here. It’s the trauma of knowing this is not our home.

Our Lenten depravations are not a way of purifying ourselves so that we can face the horror of the cross. Giving up soda, candy or Facebook isn’t going to help us identify with the depravity of the crucifixion. But they are there to remind us of who we are, broken people living in a broken world. Ash Wednesday traumatizes us because it snaps us back to the reality that we often deny with the way we live the rest of our year. We consume as if we’ll live forever, but Ash Wednesday stands fundamentally opposed to all earthly messages we are inundated with. The iPad 2 will not stop you from turning to dust (although the iPad 3 may). And the whiplash that we feel is because today sends us into a season of repentance.

We need Lent. We need absence before we can know fulfillment. We need trauma before we can know healing. We need the cross before we can know resurrection.

Cheers,
Eric

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