Common Table

Sep 10

"Flash Benedictions"

One tradition that has evolved over the years of our history is a kind of hybrid between ‘flash poetry’ and ‘benediction’.  The former is the practice of writing a short poem in the moment, composed of ideas, images, and experiences that are shared by that group.  The latter is a more ancient tradition of a kind of ‘marching orders’ and a blessing as people depart from the meeting. 

Here are three flash benedictions that Mike Stavlund composed (he is unfortunately still looking for the one that referenced the disco ball that spins over our heads in the meeting space). 

Inner Peace (following a Midrash/Radiolab service on pacifism)

call up your personal HR department,

and demand some change

First, fire the you who is consumed

with being right and setting everyone straight

Then, give a raise and promotion 

to the you who cares for people

who practices love

who pursues peace

Go then in that way,

in God’s strength

and in God’s peace.

Creation (following a collaborative Trinity Sunday service)

join in the song

the great symphony of creation

looking back

and looking forward

an announcement, and an invitation

rising up, to and from and through the heavens

calling you, and me, and us, to join in

flinging light into the darkness

Abundance (following a Pentecost Sunday service where we talked about sharing our resources via Common Change)

 enmesh yourself

in the world-wide network

of Spirit-fueled collaboration

sharing of needs

sharing of resources

an economy of abundance

the great grand dream of God

Doug and Mike’s Post-Denominational Dream

This service in August of 2014 featured plenty of insight, vibrant discussion, observations from pre-Civil War American church history,  exegesis about the conflict between Peter and Paul, and a Eucharistic meditation on ‘not fencing the table’.  But the centerpiece was a great joke by comedian Emo Phillips. 

Our benediction was a bit of ‘flash poetry’ composed of various elements of the service as it was happening.  

Called to unity, we demand uniformity

Called to righteousness, we seek rightness

called to be followers, we become pharisees

but there is freedom in forgiveness

and you *are* forgiven

forgiven as much as your adversaries and opponents

the ghosts who haunt your past

forgive them; forgive yourself

Go in God’s peace

Go in God’s acceptance

Go in God’s forbearance

Go in God’s love

Go love God’s people

Addendum to the CT Anniversary/Matthew 18

by Mike Stavlund, and based on the Lectionary reading from Matthew 18

Let me start with a disclaimer: I didn’t pick this passage.  It’s in the Lectionary, and I’m merely being dutiful.  

This passage brings up a lot of fear.  Many of us have been around lots of churches for lots of years, and plenty of pain has been inflicted via this passage, on us and on others.  

So let’s first acknowledge that there is a lot to be afraid of here:  

»Fear of confrontation.  

»Of being confronted, but also the painful place of feeling— rightly, wrongly, or a little bit of both— that we need to confront someone.  It’s not easy. 

»Many of us have terrible memories of being confronted, and/or of watching attempted confrontations go from well-intentioned to bad to worse.  Of people bringing their best efforts and intentions, but only achieving alienation and pain.  And of course justifying the whole mess by saying they were just following Jesus’s instructions.  

(I wondered if we should maybe replace the ‘passing of the peace’ by giving everyone a hug and saying, “I’m sorry you were mistreated in the name of Xian community”.  I get it, I see it, Mt. 18 has become a slow-motion train wreck happening all throughout the Church, again and again and again. )

So along those lines, let me just make two brief observations. 

  1.  Jesus is talking here about the rare occasion when someone ‘sins against us’.  This is not about someone getting their feelings hurt, or being disappointed, or being angry, or having the ‘wrong’ political view, or disagreeing with the pastor, or a long list of lesser offenses.  This is about someone taking some action designed to interrupt our relationship with God and inflicting it on us.  

It’s a quite high threshold, but this passage is often commandeered for much lesser things, and that’s not a fair reading of Jesus.  In extreme situations we may need to confront our sisters and brothers, but it is unusual, and it is to be done out of a deep sense of love.  The overriding rule is LOVE. 

2.  The ultimate negative outcome  in the even rarer case that the person confronted refuses to listen to one person, then several people, and then the whole community should as a consequence be treated like a Gentile or an unbeliever.  This phrase is one that we tend to assume a lot about and rush right past, because we have been enculturated to read it in a certain way.  

….but how did Jesus treat Gentiles and unbeliever?  It’s kind of embarrassingly obvious when we stop and think about it.  …Pretty well.  Pretty warmly.  With lots of love and miraculous healings.  With plenty of hospitality and welcome.  

If Jesus wanted us to give someone a hard time, he would have said, ‘Treat them like a religious leader!’.  

We have tended to understand Jesus to say that we should banish a person from the community, but I would suggest that Jesus is instead encouraging a renewed outreach and engagement with that person.  With some distance, yes, and some wariness.  But it’s not a complete and eternal exclusion.  Again, if it’s within the ethical purview of Jesus, it’s about love.  

So there is lots of fear here, negativity and baggage from our past.  But I’m hoping we can see past some of that today.  I’ve been thinking a lot about getting past all of the fire and smoke and sound and fury (and baggage and bad history) of Mt. 18 to take a renewed look at the wonder of the good possibilities of real community.  

Because there is a whole other aspect of fear here, and it’s a very good thing. We of course feel fear about confrontation, good bad and otherwise.   But what is even bigger, I think, is the fearsome power of real community.  The shocking degree to which we affect one another.  The assumption that Jesus seems to make about the degree to which our actions affect one another. If we can affect one another so profoundly in negative ways, then it must also be true that with love we can do even more amazing things.

So let’s do our best to not hang on to our — understandable, and rightly earned!— baggage, and look at the wonder of interconnectedness and community life.  Let’s  consider the power we wield in each an every one of our interactions.  

Our words matter.  Our actions matter.  They have the power to build people up, to alter their stories, to change their destinies.  The very act of listening, of attentiveness, of observing God’s work in someone’s life is like life-altering alchemy.  Praying for one another is not some throwaway thing—is a powerful act of subversion against the status quo.  Loving one another is one of the most powerful forces for change in the universe.  Taking the time to carefully restore or repair a friendship is a life-changing endeavor, for both parties.  

Our community has been at so many crossroads that it’s become a cliche.  Let’s just say that we hold onto our existence lightly, and that we’re constantly debating what’s next, what’s best, and in what kind of form we should continue (if any).  And we are in the process of doing all of that again— or continuing to do it, I should say.  

Last weekend as we celebrated our 13th anniversary at Shrinemont, we soaked in a passage from Romans 12, and considered the nature of our life together.  My suggestion there was that one of the unique aspects of our community is that we exist for the sake of that community.  We are committed not to an idea or a book or a particular religious expression, but to one another.  We maintain fidelity, not to a creed or a vision or a doctrine or a set of values, but to one another.  

And the funny thing about that was also the most true thing about that.  I was right, I think, but not because of my words.  We saw that truth, not in the attempted eloquence in the beautiful stone shrine, but in our actions. 

I made the bold declaration that we are a church that works hard to include everyone, no matter how or why they are with us. And I think I noticed a few nods when I said this, and maybe even some mumbled ‘amen’s.  

But those were just words.  What matters is that it just so happened that a lady and her husband joined us in that outdoor shrine.  Welcome guests, of course, but perfect strangers.  And lacking any obvious social awareness, this sweet lady jumped right into the middle of our sedate sharing circle, peppering us with tons of questions.  

We took these questions as rhetorical, of course, because those are the kinds of questions we ask around here.  ”Wow, that’s a great question!” is one of the highest compliments a CTer can give.  

But we quickly realized that this lady’s questions were most certainly not rhetorical.  She meant them, every single one, literally and absolutely, and she pressed us to resolve all of the inherent tensions of her existence.  Long term health problems, unfair accidents, relational difficulties, deep and yet invisible disappointment with God, barely-veiled criticism of her obviously long-suffering husband.  

It was awkward, really awkward.  

The preacher was too frustrated to do all of the necessary work of interaction, but not the church.  The preacher had worn himself out formulating his thoughts and trying to make them provocative and delivering them with maximum winsomeness. So it was the church that stepped up to love on that lady, and respect her questions, and to offer some aid to her poor husband, and to walk with them and talk with them and invite them to our communal house to talk even more.  

That’s what we are talking about.  That’s the foundation upon which Jesus makes his comments in Matthew 18.  There is power in this beloved community, the power of love that changes lives.  

And actually, the best thing happened before that.  While the sermon sat in a folder and the church gathered around a campfire on Saturday night.  There, it was the kids led the way.  Fueled up on s’mores, they showed us something that night. 

After indulging themselves in acquisitiveness and decorating themselves with an abundance of glow sticks— bracelets, necklaces, belts, bandoliers, whips, frisbees, and tiaras— and running all around in the dark, they decided somehow to enact a kind of early-church instantiation of Kingdom theology.  

Each and every kid dispossessed themselves of their accoutrements, then patiently linked them all together, then took turns pulling that long multi-colored undulating ribbon through the dewy field.  It was at least 15 yards long.  It flickered behind the blades of grass and the little legs that ran alongside it before the lead runner stopped and offered the pole position to someone else, and so on.  Sometimes the long chain broke, and the call would be hailed to stop so repairs could be made. 

It was beautiful.  Powerful.  Memorable.  That’s the kind of community that Jesus thinks is possible.  That’s the kind of power we wield when we come here to care for one another.  To share.  To love. 

The church is a living organism, and it needs to be nurtured like one and cared for.  It is a heavenly opportunity, a holy responsibility.   It deserves our very best efforts. 

…and yes, eventually the ultimate glow stick was deconstructed and everyone brought their own fistful of little glow sticks to bed to use as night lights.  And yes the kids were rude to their parents later that night, and mean to one another the next day.  Community is not some kind of unwavering utopia, but it is real, and it is organic, and it is good, and it is powerful.  It is a gift, my friends, awesome and exhausting and breathtaking in its beauty.  

Let’s be grateful for it. 

Flash Benediction (created during the Prayers of the People)

darkness dwells all around, lingering

not yet pushed back by the light

yet the Kingdom forces advance

in the laying down of rocks and sticks

spontaneous songs of children

school supplies on their backs, somehow

subversive twinkles in teachers’ eyes

brave people crossing boundaries

librarians fighting for good

an unarmed army of love

Go.  

Go in that strength

Go in that weakness

Go in that community

Go in that love. 

CT 13th Anniversary Sermon at Shrinemont

by Mike Stavlund, from the Lectionary

It happened again this week.  Yet another FB PM from an old friend in a church I used to go to, telling me yet again that the pastors and elders have called out another person for perceived bad behavior.  I always feel sad because of whatever choices the person has made, and the breakdown in communication that led to this confrontation, and the uneasy future that such moves create.  And i feel awkward too, because former pastors should be like former presidents and keep their yaps shut about situations to which they are not fully apprised.  But the worst thing about these situations is that they just seem entirely backward to me.  

So.  A person is acting at odds with the larger group.  Maybe just plain old bad behavior/bad choices, and/or divisive situations or actions.  I get that.  That stuff is, in many groups, a perceived threat.  I can’t change the system, and I shouldn’t try.  The kindest thing is to just leave the system, and that’s what I did so I’m not going to go poking holes in other people’s balloons.  It is what it is. 

The part that doesn’t make sense to me is that there is this enmity of whatever kind, and the perceived solution is to *kick that person out*.  What?  Why?  No matter how many ways I turn it around, it just doesn’t make sense.  This person is doing something the group doesn’t like, and so how does it help to send them even further away?  How you gonna show them how to live right, encourage them to the good, get them back on the path, etc., if you never see them again?  How are you going to love them if you don’t see them anymore?  

But it’s that last question that unravels the whole thing, and that’s what makes me saddest of all.  When I ask that last question it becomes clear to me that these churches aren’t about love, not really.  They are about control, safety, perception, and anxiety.  They are about scapegoating others so that those left inside can feel secure and superior.  

All my life I’ve resonated with these words from the Bible, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn.”  With the words, “Live in harmony/peace with all.”  That idea— that vision of a blessed community that is itself a blessing to the world— has appealed to me (and long before I had anything substantial to mourn).  I used to think I could get there by careful study of Bible verses, and good preaching, and pure doctrine.  Turns out I was completely wrong about that.  

If you want to do community, you need actual people (imagine that!).  It’s not about doctrine or preaching, it’s about empowering people to use their own blessed common sense, their own emotional intelligence, their own connection to God’s Holy Spirit to LOVE PEOPLE.  

You gotta let messes happen, and allow some of them to be made better, and others to be made way worse.  You gotta learn to apologize, and (even harder) accept apologies.  You gotta be real with people, share your fears and warts and scars.  

You gotta learn about holy silence, and thinking before you speak, and just sitting quietly with someone.  

You gotta put others before yourself, and be more excited about your friend’s promotion at work than your lousy job (at least right in that moment).  

You gotta eliminate the exalted elocution, and be friggen real, yo.  

I got my real education in this kind of community with a group that gathered 13 years ago.  There were of course various reasons and motivations among that initial group, and most all of them have moved on to other communities.  But the thing that got distilled here— like a fine bourbon, if i might say that here, or perhaps a spicier rye whiskey— was a focus on community for the sake of that community

People who decided to put people above ideas and ideals and doctrine and purity.  People who decided to pursue fidelity:  not to a creed or a church or a pastor, or an elder board, but fidelity to one another. 

People who decided that they would try their darndest to actually love the actual people who identified with this group, no matter who they were or why they were there.  Sometimes successfully, sometimes in spectacular failure, and always imperfectly.  

But that’s the thing— we try.  And we’re always trying, always failing, always imperfect.  

"What kind of church are you?" people always ask me.  Croghan coined the term ‘Transdenominational’, and I love that.  We are Common Table. Stacy coined that term, and I love that.  

We are just a Common Table.  Let’s sit down and try to love one another.  

That’s beautiful.  

All of which is why I love the reading from today’s Lectionary.  Paul gets all of this, planted a bunch of messy churches that worked and didn’t.  So his advice is perfectly messy and direct and a bit disconnected.  It’s not a logical construction, but rather a list, for crying out loud, full of wisdom and world-worn advice.  

We’re going to marinate in that list today, and then we’ll carry it down the path to the labyrinth.  We will have more reading of it.   Then we will have Doug lead us in a ‘Prayer of the Faithful’, and then we will invite you to come and pick up a phrase from this passage, and we will invite you to literally carry it down the path to the Labyrinth where we will have some time for sharing of ideas around this passage before we walk the labyrinth together.  

[more readings, and Doug’s ‘Prayer of the Faithful’]

Walk as a Journey.  

Thirteen years has brought us laughter and tears, weddings and funerals, joy and pain, graduations and job losses, faith and doubt.  The thing I love about CT is that we do all of this stuff together.  By which I mean at least two things.  

First, we have a relational connection that carries us through all of this wherein we walk through the stuff of life as a collective.  We do life together.  In a few minutes we will enact this as we take literal steps from here to there, walking together through life.  We encourage you to make the journey in a contemplative way, reflecting on our past, present, and future together.  Though of course this is still Common Table, and not all of us are as quietly contemplative as others, so we won’t be hushing anyone, either.  

And another way in which I see us doing things *together* is this:  we find a way to bundle all of the positives and negatives of life together as we honor one another’s journeys.  The person experiencing joy can at the same time sit down with someone experiencing grief, and the person overcome by doubts can speak a word of encouragement to someone whose faith is ironclad.   I’ve been around a lot of churches, but I’ve yet to find one that has learned how to ‘rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn’ like this one.  As we walk, let’s give thanks for that aspect of our life together, and honor these friends who constantly set aside their agendas for our sakes.  Thanks be to God.  

As you get up to go, if there was a phrase from the Romans passage, please come pick it up and carry it with you.  Let’s find a shady spot close to the labyrinth where we can circle up and share some of those thoughts with one another.   

Benediction: 

Lord, in our walking, let us thank you for our journey. 

Good, bad, and ugly, it is ours and we honor that. 

Lord, in our walking, let us do it together.  

You have not left us alone, and we are deeply grateful for this community.  

Lord, in our walking, let us go with you.  

You have been present in our past, and we want our future to honor you.  

Amen. 

Dec 04

What Does It Feel Like To Wait? Advent Week One

Liturgical Raking

by. Mike Stavlund

Today we begin another Advent, another season of restraint and wait, of delayed gratification, of waiting and longing for deliverance and salvation.  It’s a nice antidote— a kind of gentle resistance against the rampant consumerism and competitiveness and rush-rush-rush that seems to prevail in this season.  Advent reminds us that we are more than our shopping, more than agile animals who can hunt down stuff and drag it home.  It is a time to slow down and wait to be humane again, and not simply human.   

Yet for some of us, more deeply in places we’d rather not admit, Advent is another season of wondering if this deliverance we’re waiting for has ever come, will ever come, is actually on the way.  Experience a couple of advents, and you start to wonder if we’re not just hamsters in a wheel.  Has our deliverance come and gone, leaving only absence in it’s wake?  

But I’ve got this rake, see?  What a beauty. 

I waited for it for years, and it came to me when I wasn’t looking for it. One rainy Saturday in October, I dragged my kids to an estate sale. They are savvy enough by now to know the real reason why:  ”Daddy, look, a Weber grill!”.  It’s out on the deck, but there is no need to go see it because it is a gas grill.  

So we check the kitchen naturally, and the dining room for cool serving platters.  And then of course the garage for tools.  And there it is, leaning against the wall.  The son-in-law says 3 dollars before he even asks me what it is.  What I tell him is that it’s a de-thatching rake.  What I don’t tell him is that it’s worth at least 10 times that.   

So I’m happy for the bargain, and giddy that it’s a Craftsman, from an era when hand tools were much more special.  An era when graphic designers worked on wooden desks, and typography was something that some person *made* with their own hands.  

Just look at that logo!  You can have your picture taken with it later.

It’s another piece of Americana for my tool collection.  I’m happy at what it is, but even more for what it represents:  the fulfillment of my waiting.  When I assumed ownership of a lawn 4 years ago, I knew I needed a de-thatching rake, but I refused to pay full price for one.  And now here it is.  It’s like a sharp comb for the lawn, cutting out crabgrass tendrils, rooting out weeds, teasing out dead blades of grass and broken bits of leaves.  Leaving behind green shoots of grass, healthy and seemingly grateful for the soothing scratch.

My new rake moves with efficiency, collecting a full tine’s worth of dead stuff in just a few strokes, and depositing said detritus with a flick of the wrist.  It is the right tool for the job, worth the wait and appreciated all the more because I’ve been trying to hack my way through the same job with a common garden rake for several years, swinging and jerking and yanking and grunting.  But this thing?  It is elegant and efficient and beautiful.  

You don’t really appreciate driving a Benz until after you’ve done some time in a Chevy.  

There is something deeply satisfying about finally getting the proper solution in your hands, you know?  It makes all of that waiting seem a lot less onerous, and the fulfillment of that expectation that much more sweet.  

At the same time, it is work.  

My arms get tired, hands get calloused, and my back is a bit stiff. Pull, pull, pull, piling up a berm of bad stuff that’s been choking off the lawn all season.  Displacing what is detrimental and making space for something better.  Making room for light and rain to get in there and encourage some new growth.  It is beautiful, and it is efficient, but it is not easy.  Not by a long shot.  

The dirt that is left is dark and cultivated to a perfect consistency to receive some grass seed.  It’s probably not great botany, but it seems like good liturgy to plant some seeds.  Even in the cold, and even in the darkness that prevails at this time of year. My kids and I walk through the area, hands full of grass seed, flinging it around.  

It won’t grow this fall, probably, with insufficient heat and light. It’s getting too dark these short days.  And it certainly won’t grow this winter, when the dirt is frozen and the rest of the grass is brown.

So we know that we are waiting, and hoping, for what will come after the darkness.  Even in the coldest, darkest time of year, we sow seeds of hope, for we know that hope is right. 

Waiting Liturgy/Advent Trees

We’d like to lead you through a waiting exercise.  An exploration of waiting, and of the feelings it evokes.  An honest pursuit of healthy waiting this Advent season.  A chance to sit and wait and explore the space of waiting.

What Does it Feel Like To Wait?

by Stacy Stavlund & Mike Stavlund

We invite you to respond to these vignettes, by  writing a word or phrase on a star, and then hang it on the advent trees on the tables.   

 » You are waiting for a train.  The sun is bright, but the air is cold, so you are smelling the crisp air and feeling its sharp sting on your cheek.  You are also smelling the perfumes and colognes and scents of the people crowded around you, also waiting.  Everyone going in the same direction, but to different destinations, and for many different reasons.  

 What does it feel like to wait? 

» You are waiting in line.  There are a lot of people here, and everyone is waiting for their turn.  Your feet are hot, and your legs are getting sore.  You’d like to distract yourself, but your phone battery is really low and you don’t want it to die on you.  You’d rather be somewhere else.  Or failing that, you wish that everyone in front of you were somewhere else.  

What does it feel like to wait? 

» Let’s sit with Elizabeth, the elderly, expectant mother of John the Baptist, and the future auntie of Jesus.  After a lifetime of waiting, she hears wonderful news— she will bear a son! Finally! It’s a miracle, and one which lights up the gossip all over town.  But it is also more of the same:  waiting.  She waits now for her son to be born, knowing that she will then wait many years to see the fruit of his life.  

What does it feel like to wait? 

» You are sitting in the waiting room of a health clinic, doctor’s office, or hospital.  Maybe waiting to hear about a loved one, or waiting to hear about some test results.  Trying not to think the worst, but trying not to assume the best, either so you can be prepared.   There are a lot of people here, all seeming to look right through everyone else who is here.  Everyone’s mind is somewhere else.  

What does it feel like to wait? 

»  Imagine you are sitting with Zechariah, the husband of Elizabeth.  Who completely lost his voice when he doubted that his wife was pregnant in her old age.  He too has waited a long time, and now he waits  until the time that his voice will return and he can begin to talk about what has been on his mind for months— the joy and fear and amazement and confusion and questions.  He really wants to talk to someone about what he’s gone through, and what he knows is to come. 

 What does it feel like to wait? 

» You are very hungry, or very thirsty.  Your stomach is tight, and your mind is starting to perseverate on that one thing…  A slight headache is growing, and your brain is slowing down.   You are wondering when you will get an opportunity to satisfy your appetites, and feeling a growing sense of urgency as time ticks by.  

 What does it feel like to wait? 

» We are waiting with Mary, the expectant mother of Jesus.  She waits for her baby, and she waits for the salvation/deliverance that he has been promised to bring.  She waits in wonder, aghast at how she was chosen to bear God’s son.  She waits too for the vindication of her reputation, which has been smeared and questioned and maligned all over town.  A lot has happened, but she knows that a lot more is about to happen— enough to move heaven and earth.  

What does it feel like to wait? 

» We wait with the World itself.  Waiting with expectation, waiting with groaning beyond words, waiting for justice.  For deliverance.  For salvation.  For harmony between creatures and their creator, harmony between people and their planet, harmony between people and their neighbors.  The world is so burdened that freedom and fulfillment seem impossible, but there is this promise of peace, of shalom, of everything in its right place.   

Responses hung on the Advent trees:  

What does it feel like to wait? 

 Like a never ending listening to Christ, who says, “Patience son, I’m here. Wait for me to work.”

Like a lack, loss, and dissatisfaction. Waiting sucks.

I try to find a way to satisfy my longing before then.

A dangerous lullaby that sings, “You’re okay, stay where you are. Don’t change.”

Distraction. Distraction. Distraction.

The only area of life that I cannot control or use logic to control or change or understand. 

Like a scream from a  mountain top that seemingly falls on deaf ears.

I need a hug. 

Anxiety — is it going to be everything I hope it will be? 

Like vindication may never arrive. 

A conversation with myself. A desperate longing to know and to be known. To speak and to be heard. 

It leads me to lose all value in the present. I hate fillers and time wasters. I must be okay with my “now” and my “to come.” 

It’s the yearning for someone you love to arrive. It’s the waiting in a bar, nursing a drink, stealing glimpses of the door. 

Introspection. 

Hope is all that is tangible. 

Slow Train Coming 

by. Leigh Finnegan 

Lectionary Reading:  Matthew 24:36-44

Between Austria and Italy, there is a section of the Alps called the Semmering. It is  a very high, impossibly steep part of the mountains. They built a train track over the Alps to connect Vienna and Venice. They built the tracks even before there was a train in existence that could make the trip.

They built it because they knew some day, a train would come.

The content of our lectionary text for today seems to be about “rapture.” It’s the kind of topic WASPS avoid at all costs, and evangelicals base book series on. 

Rather cryptically, Matthew tells us: "two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left, " and that, " two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”

But understand this,” he warns, “if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour” (24:42-44).

We in the Church sometimes speak about Advent as a season of passivity — a length of time we we have to endure to make it to Christmas. 

On the other hand, the kind of waiting Matthew describes in these verses is active, dynamic, and preparatory. 

God is on the move and we are asked to prepare for Her coming. 

But what does it look like to prepare?

I think it looks like naming the places where we’ve fallen victim to cynicism and bitterness. The ways we have allowed our lives to be pushed by the past, instead of allowing ourselves to be pulled into what could be. It’s being aware of how we’ve been disappointed or hurt by the people around us, who promised us something they couldn’t deliver. 

Advent reminds us that there are things in this world that can deliver on what they promise. 

Advent is about holy expectation. It’s a time for healing our imaginations, about learning how to dream again. 

Advent is a time when we learn how to trust God’s promise that another world is possible. 

And if we all begin to trust this promise, than a new community begins to develop. I think this is what church is all about. Church is where we come together to model this new reality. We publicly witness to a new humanity.

I don’t actually think Matthew wants us to model ourselves after the “raptured.” Rather, I think he means for us to live like the ones “left behind.” The ones who’ve radically engaged with making the world a better place, because they knew, the Lord was coming. 

Why did they build a train tracks between the Alps before there was a train in existence that could make the trip? Because they knew someday, a train would come. 

As we anticipate the incarnation may we begin to build the tracks, because we know, a train is coming. 

Flash-Poetry Benediction
by Mike Stavlund
the days are short
cold permeates the landscape
ground hard as stone
but we lay the rails anyway
building the tracks to the mountain Kingdom
iron picks driven into hard earth
fires lit along the way
circling around to warm our hands
and dream out loud
about the new reality to come
waiting, and not waiting
come, Lord Jesus, come 
wait in peace
wait in strength
wait in hope

Nov 10

Braid.

My sister never braided her hair. I remember her with a tomboy haircut—short, often tangled. Dad stayed at home while mom worked—we never matched, my hair didn’t see a comb. Wild—lost in imagination—resisting order.

And so I am attracted to messy things. My sister and I did not learn the same lessons as others—her strong (or so I always think of her)—me, the sensitive child. We laugh about our parents—parents who did not teach us to braid. Who taught us, instead, to imagine something wilder than the lives we had inherited. 
We are being woven together, gently, by a hand that knows when to hold and when to release. To let us run, wild and free. Woven together, beauty emerging, from this distraction or that tangle. 
I don’t know how to braid. How to order. My bedside table, my pillow, my dresser, covered in books and unfiled papers. A pair of basketball shorts and a half drunk glass of water. Pills and change and set after set of keys.
I don’t know how to weave, how to turn the separate threads into something to show, something to warm, something to cover. 
But I know the hand that touches my wild hair and says:

"You are enough."

And I become something other than a tangled knot
- David Hosey

Sep 09

This is a table where:

We get better at loving by tiny increments of grace.

There are sometimes Muppets in attendance.

We fail and learn to grow and maybe fail a little better.

We try to own our shit.

We have to listen to the spirit, never quite knowing if the voice is yours or just the wind, carrying our own words back to us.

Stale bread somehow tastes like redemption.

We look into each other’s eyes as if to say, “me too.”

There is safety and acceptance.

We meet in communion with one another to deepen the awareness of the presence of Christ in daily life.

My expectations are regularly exceeded.

People care, miracles happen, and faith includes fun.

We call God by many names.

We can allow the dust to settle.

We celebrate together, mourn together, and struggle together.

I find myself among family.

We are not only healed, but also recreated.

I can be myself.

All are welcome to a table of grace.

Everything is flexible, unstructured, open, “evolving,” or changing to move towards first church ideas?

We can bring our broken selves.

I cannot control outcomes.

You can share your thoughts and ideas.

We don’t always know what we talk about when we talk about God, but we try.

More is always better.

Nov 04

Perspective & Humbleness

[Service Artifact]

When we look at God’s word, when we spend time in God’s presence, when we talk about God, when we experience God, when we spend time with God’s people, we should ideally start to see things with and from God’s perspective.  We should grow larger, not smaller.  We should be more loving and compassionate, not less.  And we should become more humble. We should understand the universe is less about us, and more about God, and about God’s story that is unfolding.  We should be gaining a Kingdom view.  We should be less parochial.  Walls should come down.  We should come to understand humanity as one – all of us a creation on that 6th day.  Those things that divide us should grow smaller, and even disappear.

Basically a lot of good things SHOULD happen.  But pretty much, historically, THE OPPOSITE is what has actually happened.  Walls have come come up.  Not just between us and them, but within us.  We don’t view the other as equal.  We distrust the other.  Our view has gotten smaller.  More local.  Parochial.  We fight for more than our fair share of resources.  We act like the kingdoms of this world are more real than the Kingdom of God.  We view the other as intrinsically different.  We squabble.  We fight.  We’re small. We’re petty.

Our thesis is that it is not Holy Scripture that is at fault – as Scripture has no shortage of teachings that are meant to expand our way of seeing the world and the other.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"… at the voice of God the earth itself melts" 

Psalms

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Felix Baumgartner's Jump from 128K feet @ Mach 1.24.

Felix reported not noticing when he broke mach (the sound barrier) but he apparently generated a sonic boom.

Tweet  <— click this!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

Romans

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Space Quotations  <— Read all o’ dem!

When you’re finally up at the moon looking back on earth, all those differences and nationalistic traits are pretty well going to blend, and you’re going to get a concept that maybe this really is one world and why the hell can’t we learn to live together like decent people.

— Frank Borman, Apollo 8, Newsweek, 23 December 1968.

Astronaut Biographies.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Voyager 1.

Pale Blue Dot.

Carl Sagan.

* caution:  includes a short segment from both Twilight and The Notebook.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Indescribable.

Featuring:  Maxwell’s equations, and the Calabi-Yau Manifold.

Inspired by Brian Greene’s The Elegant Universe.   Footage from Nova.

Amen.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Hidden seed for this service (never referenced):  Radiolab, Dark Side of the Earth.

Sep 16

[video]

Muppet Service Theme

By popular demand (OK, one person), here are the modified lyrics to the Muppet Show theme from this morning’s Common Table Muppet Service.  Yaaaayyyyy!!!

It’s time to light the candles
It’s time to wire the mics
It’s time to get things started
For the Muppet Service types

It’s time share communion
It’s time to sing songs right
All welcome ‘round the Table
With the Muppet Service types

Why do we always come here?
It might be for the food
Or maybe for the friendship
(Although we’re kind of rude)

And now we’ll get things started
[Why don’t you get things started?]
It’s time to get things started
In the most sensational
Inspirational
Celebrational
Muppetational
This is what we call the Muppet…Service!!!

(Blow a horn really loud)