"There is an intellectual desire, an eros of the mind. Without it there would arise no questioning, no inquiry, no wonder." Bernard Lonergan

"It seems clear that humans cannot significantly reduce or mitigate the dangers inherent in their use of life by ccumulating more information or better theories or by achieving greater predictability or more caution in their scientific and industrial work. To treat life as less than a miracle is to give up on it." Wendell Berry

"Do not be afraid, my little flock, for it is the Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." Luke 12:32

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Next 2014

This logo is from the first Next Church back in 2011.  It's old.  It was in Indianapolis.  And the logo is now obsolete.  Little did I know then that I would be still going 4 years later.  And even less I knew that I would be on the Strategy Team, trying to figure out how Next Church can provide leadership and space for congregational leaders to dream and share.  Little I knew how much energy I would be giving to trying to discern how Next might be a vehicle for transformational dialogue and practices.  All the while trying to do this work without being dogmatic or overly didatic.

This work is vital work.  I will confess the exhilaration I feel in being involved in a conversation that seeks to walk longside and with our larger church.  There is an excitement when I see an idea that we might apply in Raleigh.  There is enthusiasm when I hear a young pastor or speaker I have never met before who shares an aspirational idea.

I truly love that Next is optimistic.  There is a confidence about the future of the church, rooted in the faith that the church belongs to God and not us.  This is vocational and it is confessional.  Next is optimistic because there is a trust that God will deliver.  To be sure, things will have to change.  They already are.  But the response to change does not have to be crisis.  It can be hopefulness.   Which is always optimistic.

While optimism is not a fruit of the Spirit, I sure wish it was.

Over the four years, it is apparent to me that Next is growing.

Growth, because of the Spirit, is always to be celebrated.  God calls, Jesus directs, the Spirit equips the church to tend the garden.  

Next is changing.

We are committed to inviting more and more people passionate and optimistic about the future of the Presbyterian church to share and we are going to try to make that more available even beyond the national gatherings.  We are learning as we go, and by God's grace we'll be nimble, adaptive, and find pockets of positive deviance.

Next is impactful.

Reading through the blog-o-sphere we are hitting a stride of a sort with the conferences and we are (I think) about to hit some strides with our other other attempts to connect congregations and promote great ministry.  God has not created a complacent world or church. Jesus did not call the church to stagnate.  We want to be part of positive inertia and when we help that energy be felt, shared, and known then that feels like success to me.

I don't speak for Next Church, but it is an important part of my ministry.  I thank the people who came, who watched online, who have blogged or shared your impressions, your praises, and your critiques of what we offered and what we did not offer.  I want to personally thank Minneapolis and Westminster for their incredible welcome and hosting hospitality.  I learned the phrase "Minnesota nice" this week, and I felt it at Westminster.

If you are someone for whom the ideas, conversations, or connections of Next Church is aiding your ministry, or helping you ask some new questions, or even explore where the Spirit might next be leading you, I (and we) would love to hear your story.  

Looking back over the last 4 years, Next Church has impacted me with its optimism, its growth, its changing and adaptive nature, and its impact.

How has Next Church impacted you?  

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Final Thoughts (for now) - Yad Vashem, the Jerusalem which was, the one which is, and how travel changes (nearly) everything

They don't allow photographs in Yad Vashem.  It is most likely for copyright reasons, you know some proprietary protection of intellectual protperty.  Regardless of the reason the "no photographs" policy is a good one.  There are some stories which are so unique to their locations that they are not easily captured and then retold.  Some stories belong in their fullest telling in a singular place.

(Peter Sabella, our talented tour guide, preps us for our visit to Yad Vasem.  It is there, over that bridge just behind us.)

Yad Vashem, the museum and memorial in Jerusalem which commemorates the Holocaust is one of those places.  Not that there are not other Holocaust memorials - there are.  It is that here we are reminded that the horror of the Holocaust and the creation of modern Israel are intrinsically intertwined.  There is no centrifuge which may separate one from another.

So, no pictures inside.  The books of names, the photograph, upon photograph, upon photograph of faces felled by the worst of humanity.  Some things are too sacred to capture:  digital memory cards and old fashioned film make the holy trivial.  Some sacred things are preserved best by memory

There are some things there which one may photograph.  This is the memorial flame.  Indicative of the architecture of the entire site,the architecture here makes one think of a tomb, of a sealed hall, of a cap being placed upon a vault.  The names of the death camps spread out on the floor.  And like the beautiful stones and places of biblical lore, these places of anything but beauty, well they are real too.  Like the people who lived and breathed the biblical story, the names and faces at Yad Vashem, yes, real too.

It is all horrible.

Yet necessary.

Evil has the potential to win the hearts of men and women until it is named.  Yad Vashem names the evil.

It also makes space for hope.  At least at the end.  This is the final view, leaving the main hall, the main memorial.  Again, the concrete, the triangle, the feeling of being trapped is all around - only here it gives way to light.  It focuses the eyes upon the hope of the land itself.  Think Moses, Mt. Nebo, looking over the Holy Land.  Think the end of death and the coming of spring.  Think new promise.  Because when nearly all has been lost, there is nothing else to do.  When behind "you" is death, then forward is the only way to go.

A trip to Jerusalem must include Yad Vashem.  There is no way to understand the Israel of today without understanding the story that Yad Vashem tells.

There are many competing narratives about what Israel is and what it means as a state in the modern world.  One of the privileges  of preparing for this trip was having the time to read so many books, articles, opinion pieces, and the like in trying to understand the Israel that we would see.  Our group met with local folks from Raleigh who had been before on trips.  We met with people who had been born there.  We met with people who had immigrated to the US by choise and some who had fled for their lives.

I quickly learned there was more than one Israel.

This learning was confirmed while we were there.

Ashkenazi Israel.

Sephardic Israel.

European Israel.

Arab Israel.

Oriental Israel.

West Bank Israel.

Galilee Israel.

Secular Israel.  

Religious Israel.  

Those who believe that Israel has no future without a third temple worthy of the glory of the second.  And those who believe that a new temple is not only a foolish dream be a guarantor of wars and fires of conflict.

It is,quite simply, the most fascinating place I have ever been.  Past and future intersect here in a way that is sigular on the earth.

Africa, Asia, and Europe converge upon it.  Islam, Christianity, Judaism all claim it and converge upon it and within it.  And in the convergence is saddness and hope, glory and confusion, divergent opinions, majority rules and minority voices.  I have read and studied for nearly a year and feel as though I know nothing.

(This is the most helpful model I have ever seen.  It is to scale and each stone is real.  This is Jerusalem  at the time of the destruction of the 2nd temple.  So this is the Jerusalem Jesus would have known.  This is the vantage point from the Mt. of Olives.  Worth noting is the size and prominence of the Temple.  All that remains today are foundation stones form this Temple on the Temple Mount and along the Western Wall respectively.  It truly must have been an awesome sight.  How can the memory of something so long ago, and/or the restoration of a house of worship today -- how can it be so painful and conflicted?)

The glory of the past?

The elusive challenge of the future?

A pretty common question I have received since I returned is along the lines of "did you all see or hear any hopeful signs for peace in the future?"

I can't say that I did.

And, listening to the vitriol surrounding the debate in our own national church, the debate about Israel in our own country as an election cycle approaches, seeing the enormous effort that check points and lock downs require in the Israel of today, hearing from people who actively work as peace negotiators during our stay there... well, may it suffice to say that there is very little agreement about anything there.

About the only thing that the Brits, the Americans, the Jordanians, the Palestinians, the French, the Aficans, and the Israelis seemed to agree upon was that Jerusalem is a hard place to live.

Walking the wall of the Old City of Jerusalem, I became more entranced with the city.  I was intrigued by the difference between in the inside and the outside.  I was charmed by the 900 year old houses and the families who in them generation after generation after generation.

It was time to think deeply.  To pray as I walked.  To recite the words of Christ, "Jerusalem, Jerusalem!"  To look from one side of Kidron to the other.  To observe a living breathing contemporary city that is tethered to its ancient relics.  It stuck me that if one sank then both would sink - the relics need the people and the people need the relics.  Call it cultural and historical co-dependency.  

And though I could recognize this status quo, though I could recognize the strange coexistence between the Palestinians and the Jews, though I could read about and see the push and pull between the secular Jews and the religious Jews, and though I made all sorts of observations, none of these made me any wiser.

The past and the present are my comfort zone.  Like most people I have a proficiency with the status quo.

The murkier future?

Ari Shavit (former paratrooper in the IDF and now self-described peacenik) writes these words in his book, My Promised Land, "What is needed to make peace between the two peoples of this land is probably more than humans can summon."
That is either profoundly depressing or bracingly real.  You can judge as you see fit.  I still do not know and don't expect to know, either.

As we left the Holy Land, I was inundated with layer upon layer upon layer of feelings.  I "walked" where Jesus walked.  I told the story of baptism on the banks of the Jordan.  Our group saw antiquities' finest treasures and we journeyed through the seedbed for the Bible's most sacred claims.

Travel changes everything.  Books can only takes us so far.  Both are necessary and both have value.  But when one travels, one takes some things home and one leaves many thing behind.  I first learned this from a book as a boy (The Hobbit, of course).  I have confirmed it many times as an adult.  One leaves the gate and boards the plane and the world is changed.

The only response can be profound gratitude.  Gratitude to our church for prayer and support.  Gratitude to my family for letting me be a pilgrim far away.  Gratitude for the 18 kind souls who journeyed with me.  Gratitude to those early foremothers and forefathers who opened their hearts and minds to hear the voice of God.  Gratitude for the land which preserved their stories  Gratitude for Christ and his teaching, healing, and redemption here in this very land.

And now that I am home, I am even more grateful.

We prayed that we would be better people upon returning than when we set out.

Indeed, may it be so.  I pray to God that I will remember what I have learned, what I have seen, and what I have heard.

"Thank you, O God.  Thank you.  Thank you.  May your Spirit bless your Holy Land.  May the grace of your Son touch the lives of the long suffering.  May your kingdom come and your will be done.  Amen."