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Life Together: The Diomass Intern Program

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Consider this your sign

This post was contributed by Micah Intern Ben Whaley. It is a sermon he gave on Thursday, January 14 at The Crossing worship community in downtown Boston.

So… I have a ritual of doing holy reading each week. And I do it on Saturday nights, just before I go to bed. And you might be thinking that I do this reading then to prepare myself spiritually for church on Sunday mornings, but no.. I do this reading then because that’s when Post Secret updates.

Post secret is a community art project that allows folks to mail in post-card sized secrets and confessions to this artist who posts them on his blog on Saturday nights. Sometimes the secrets are funny, sometimes they are intimate and painful. But this week I was especially moved by a post card that wasn’t a secret at all. It simply said “This is whatever sign that you need it to be. Good luck.”

I don’t know about you guys, but I often find myself looking for a sign. I remember a year ago now I had just graduated from college with a degree in theatre and no idea what to do with it. I loved the kids I worked with as a youth minister, but that wasn’t a full time job and I really had nothing else to do with myself. I was standing around with my hands in my pockets, constantly praying, “What next?” and waiting for God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit to give me the answer. Little did I know the answer would come from my friend Clay. He suggested I do this thing called the Micah Project. And here I am in this internship, living in an intentional community and serving the young people of St. Peter’s/San Pedro in Salem. I’m finding myself really filled by the work I’m doing – mentoring, advocacy, community organizing. But I also know it’s temporary. I’ve got about six months left in the program, and then I have no idea what’s next. I am exactly where I was a year ago today, asking for a sign.

And as I started working on this reflection, that question wouldn’t let me go. And I heard that question echoed in Jesus’ voice as he sits at the table arguing with his mother about his future.

Woman, it’s not my time yet, Jesus says. I’m not ready. What is Jesus waiting for I wonder? Is he hoping to have a little more time to prepare before he has to go to work? Does he have a plan all set for his entry into ministry? Is he waiting for a sign? And why does he change his mind and decide to take his first step here?

Here he is a guest at his friends’ wedding - two people who are in serious danger of being shamed. To run out of wine at their wedding celebration would be a serious embarrassment. But, like Jesus says, why should that matter to him? Remember, this is the first miracle we’re dealing with. Up until this moment, Jesus hasn’t done anything crazy. He hasn’t said anything radical. Sitting at that table with his friends, he’s just an ordinary guy and he could very easily choose to continue living a normal life, according to his plan. He could go back to Nazareth and be a carpenter. He could wait for a moment when the properly applied miracle would gain him hundreds or thousands of followers in a single moment.

And so Jesus has a choice to make – is he going to follow the plan that he has and wait for the opportune moment. Or is he going to use the power that he has to help the people that need him?

I think about the way we choose to respond to the needs of those around us.

I think of the pain of our brothers and sisters in Haiti as they wrestle with the aftermath of this earthquake and I am moved by how quickly we as a diocese are mobilizing ourselves to support them. But it seems like in times like these there can hardly be a question – what we can give, we do.

I don’t think the choices are always that clear in our day to day lives. You don’t always get a phone call from a friend saying “Go to Boston!” Sometimes, like Jesus, you just have to take the first step. Even when the calling seems inconvenient or ill-timed.

What call have you been putting off?

What’s holding you back?

Are you looking for a sign?

Well, consider this whatever sign that you need it to be.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Phyllis Tickle brings generosity, rich understanding to LifeTogether visit

This post was contributed by Micah Intern Natalie Finstad.

She may have titled herself a “one-trick pony” but those of us who spent the afternoon with Phyllis Tickle, author of The Great Emergence know this demarcation is deceiving. Filled to the brim with knowledge of polity, history, science, and philosophy – Phyllis came to teach us much more than just “one trick.” Guided by the Spirit, she bore news of a movement currently transforming the church. She came, not to “endorse” this movement but to share her “observations,” additionally she shared with us her soul.

Her soul was beautiful. In my years working with the church I have met many people, rarely do I encounter a person as authentic and graceful as Phyllis Tickle. Her wealth of knowledge – overwhelming to us novices– rolled off her tongue like nursery rhymes. In addition to her knowledge she had a grace about her that made you feel loved. Through all her learning and teaching and writing and traveling – she has not lost sight of the goodness of God which resides in each one of us.

This quality certainly results from her full encounter of humanity. Phyllis is without a doubt a product of a rich life. At 76, she has seen almost everything: a parish community hatefully shun a divorcee, birth control’s effect on theology, gay men become priests, women become breadwinners. All things her childhood church swore would never happen, yet they did and Phyllis is here to bear witness.

She came also to bear witness of facts – emotions can hardly carry a movement as powerful as Phyllis describes. Phyllis talked about the inevitable 500-year cycle of the church. According to church scholars the church experiences a major shift of sorts every 500 years, The Great Schism and The Great Reformation are both examples of these. These shifts occur when political, social and religious climates are ripe for change. Phyllis Tickle believes we are as ripe as can be.

Political and social causes such as the: family planning movement, women’s liberation movement, gay rights movement, abolition movement and the normalization of divorce have caused us to evaluate how literal scripture is really to be understood. Church rifts over issues such as these are abundant and more often people are seeking other venues to experience God. Whether that may be a home meeting of Christians, an AA meeting, a social justice cause or a quiet meditation pillow – the traditional church is losing ground because of its refusal to acknowledge the urgency of these matters.

What’s the result? The Great Emergence.

Out of this turbulent time the church is emerging in a new way. It’s letting go of the traditional hierarchy and acknowledging the power of the Spirit and the Christ in us all. You can see this type of church in many different cities, many different denominations and many different forms. Phyllis described a Catholic Church of 150 whose entire congregation gathers at the alter, something once reserved for priests alone. She talked of Episcopalians who are willing to throw away our “Episcocrat” status and instead welcome the homeless, poor, outcast and unbeliever to the Lord’s Table. She talked about Christians around the country, returning to the central message of how Christ lived and how we can best emulate him. She said this was spreading like a wild fire and it wasn’t up to us to validate it – rather we better just acknowledge it.

I can say without a doubt that we here at Life Together are acknowledging it, even better; we’re a part of it.

Phyllis Tickle says you can tell an Emergent Church by the order of the 3 B’s. Traditionally churches have matriculated members by this process: first you BELIEVE what we believe, then you BEHAVE like we behave and finally, only then, you BELONG. A central part of the Great Emergence is a reordering of our B’s. First and foremost, you BELONG, no matter what. Then, if you hang around, you’ll BEHAVE like we do – primarily referring to the behavior of practicing Christian traditions. And finally, it’s in the experience of those practices that you BELIEVE.

I have never experienced a BELONG> BEHAVE> BELIEVE culture such as Life Together. The night before our training started, many of us gathered together to share in a meal. It didn’t matter where we were from, what church we grew up in or what our core belief about salvation was – what mattered was that we belonged. Together, we made up Life Together; we were an "us." Quite quickly, we began behaving similarly: we read the Holy Scripture, we celebrated Eucharist, we worshiped through song, we served our communities. We did all this in the name of Christ. Sure enough, slowly but surely, we came to believe. We came to believe that we all are carrying a powerful and urgent message. We came to believe that we are bearers of good news that needs to be loudly shared and proclaimed. We all believe that Christ is the center of this message and that in His power we can do anything. I’m not sure we would all have checked the believe box about that statement August 21st when we first met but I believe we would now.

The Great Emergence is about that slow and steady progress towards a powerful and intimate relationship with Christ. It’s about breaking down barriers and co-creating the church we want to be. Phyllis Tickle carried that message loud and clear. She may only have “one trick,” but the ability to arouse and inspire in the name of Christ, that’s a incredibly good trick to have.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

January Flowers Bloom in Dorchester

Relational Evangelist Kelsey Rice Bogdan wrote the post below. The picture was added separately and is from an image search for 'spiritual garden' on

The business of planting seeds sometimes seems like a lot of work with very little to show for it. In the Relational Evangelism Pilot Project, we spend a lot of our time planting seeds in coffee dates, church services, volunteer fairs… anywhere where we can learn a little bit about others’ dreams for the world and inspire them with God’s dream. But as this fall wore on, I became impatient to see those seeds grow into full-blown flowers. We listened a lot, we talked a lot, but I longed for the time when we would see more fully how God is bringing about justice through our fledgling campaign.

Well, I can now say that I see some flowers blooming. The Hope in Action Leadership and Organizing Training, January 8-10 at Epiphany School in Dorchester, brought together more than 70 people from all over Boston and Cambridge to develop skills that will empower us to be agents of change in the community. A major part of that training was learning the practice of public narrative, a form of storytelling intended to inspire others to action. The library at Epiphany School was abuzz all weekend with clusters of people huddled together, listening intently to one another weave stories of hope and possibility based on their own experience. Some told humorous stories, such as the Hope in Action site event that seemed beset by every catastrophe imaginable only to create a powerful and meaningful action in the end. Others shared stories of courage, such as the woman who stood up to a group of men for verbally abusing a young gay man on a Boston street. And some were stories of pain and loss translated into work for justice. All these individual stories wove together to create the story of Hope in Action—one in which we speak with a collective voice to say that we have the power to act, and we will use it.

But why do we tell our stories? How do we presume to think that a roomful of people in Dorchester, coming up with stories about their experiences, is supposed to make any difference in the world whatsoever? What I discovered this weekend was that every time someone gets up to tell her story, she claims an agency she didn’t have before. One of the most powerful moments of the training for me was on the last day, when one young woman got up and told that room of 70+ people what it was like to find yourself homeless. It wasn’t just the story that drew me in, either—what moved me so deeply was the power the speaker claimed through storytelling. In the very act of talking about such a devastating experience, this woman refused to be the silent, downcast figure we so often associate with homelessness. She refused to allow others to define her, to talk about her as a statistic or an abstract problem. She challenged us to understand her experience in the context of her essential personhood, as a beloved child of God. And she invited us to be transformed with her in the end. After getting back on her feet, this young woman now works at a homeless shelter. She provides others with the generosity and respect so often denied to her in her own experiences. Those of us who heard her story are now also called to offer respect to the homeless we meet because of her narrative. And that is the beginning of power, for her and for us.

As I listened to so many stories this weekend, I realized that I was seeing the blooming of so many seeds we had planted in the fall—seeds of hope, seeds of empowerment, seeds of God’s dream for our world. It happened every time someone shared, saying in essence, “Yes, I am important! I am beloved! I am going to make a difference!” That was worth the work this fall. And it is only the beginning.