Simple Questions: Inward


This past Sunday, we began a short series on Simple Questions. The idea was inspired by something Anthony Bourdain said about his television show, Parts Unknown: “We ask very simple questions: What makes you happy? What do you eat? What do you like to cook? And everywhere in the world we go and ask these very simple questions, we tend to get some really astonishing answers."

Why is it that sometimes something so simple can have such a great impact? While exploring this idea, I saw the Fred Rogers documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? If Bourdain hadn’t convinced me before (though he had), Rogers solidified my conviction that simplicity doesn’t mean superficial. Simplicity in all of its straightforwardness allows for accessibility and commonality. And when offered with genuineness, simple questions may elicit deep, meaningful, and insightful answers.

We spent some time going inward during our last gathering with a few simple questions: What makes you happy? What is your primary motivator? What are you afraid of? If you could change one thing about yourself (and it’s something you are able to change), what would that one thing be? The idea was to ask ourselves some simple questions and see what answers, if any, surprised or interested us. Differently stated, we utilized some simple questions in hopes of discovering some insightful answers of our own.

Next week, we’re going to continue to explore simple questions, but this time withward. (I know that is a made up word, but bear with me.) I suspect from what I learned of Bourdain and Rogers, when one navigates the profoundly simple depths, there is quite a heavy burden that goes with it. Both gentlemen sacrificed much to navigate this space and advocate for others. And so it seems important to talk about how we do this Simple Questions thing in community, together, withward.

In the meantime, I invite you to take this week and see what simple questions you encounter. Don't be too quick to dismiss one as too simple. Rather sit with it. Let it ruminate within you. You just might be surprised what answer(s) you come up with!



Some Thoughts On Divisions

"There is a lot of arguing going on lately. We feel deeply and find offense quickly. The thing is, most of us know which side of an argument we will stand pretty early on, and that rarely changes no matter what evidence we hear. And yet we keep trying to convince others to join our side, our cause, our 'right side of history'. Instead of seeing change, all we seem to do is stoke the fires of our own side and further the divide from those who disagree...

I love to engage in conversations with diverse opinions being expressed. The point in doing so isn’t to convince others to see things my way. My hope is that each of us participating leave that conversation having taught something and having learned something, not with that as an agenda but with that as the outcome. But that is a choice we must make. And that is how we bridge the divide. When was the last time you learned something that surprised you? When was the last time a conviction changed, even slightly? These questions will help to determine whether you are up for the challenge these days require, or are part of the impasse that is getting us nowhere."

This is an excerpt from Jennifer Potter's latest blog post, A Great Divide: Challenge or Impasse. You may read it in its entirety here.


What if Sabbath isn’t this grandiose gesture?  

What if it doesn't call us to set aside a day to rest and restore, but desperately sought balance can be found in creating a series of small sips of time for restoration? 

We are responsible for the upkeep of our own spirit and it takes time.  Without taking the time it is easy to lose focus of our heart center.  We can begin to feel ungrounded.  Some people would say in this quiet they find the company of God.  And from the making of this time what is important is put squarely in our gaze while letting the rest fall to the periphery.

With this new framework for sabbath, I created a space with pictures of my family and one of my daughters stained glass pieces over the window.  This space, standing at my sink in my closet has become one of my favorite places to find sabbath.  I can see my bird feeder out the window if I choose, with its many colorful feathered creatures politely waiting in line for their snack.  I see the trees and plants that I put in the ground over the many years of living at our house. I admire their growth and measure it against my memory of our house when we first moved in. I absorb the changes over time.

If it’s dark, I take in the dome of light and stars. Sometimes, I just look over the pictures of those who are most important to me.  My children at varying ages over the years. A record of those entities who ground me and have groomed me to be the person I am.  I calm my thoughts, I slow my breathing, and I become washed with gratitude.  I don’t spend a long time there, maybe 10 minutes a couple of times a day, but I find it helps me focus on what is real.  I am forced to feel my internal rhythm. To assess what I need. It serves as a reset.  I am washed with joy for what I have and momentarily suspend what I have to do.

How will you create sabbath today?

- Elizabeth Shuba

From Jennifer Potter's blog:

Messy Relationships

I am frequently reminded of the fragility of life. I am often reminded of the fragility of relationships too. I came to a crossroads with a friend, someone who didn’t like what I had to say about how it felt being his friend. My words had been carefully chosen because I cared deeply for him and for our friendship. It was because of my care for him and the hurt I had experienced from him that I felt I had to say what I was seeing and feeling, and what was causing me concern. He didn’t want to hear my words.

A few weeks after that incident, I wrote the following about my work as a pastor:

My dream of a church came from my desire to be part of a community that goes deep. It is in the depths that relationships are forged that can last a lifetime and withstand the storms that can come with life. I also believe that it is in this depth God is most profoundly experienced. The heart of The Other Church’s vision is connection. Connection is fun, but in ways it can feel painful too at times, because in the depths we are most vulnerable, most human. Our flaws are laid bare along with our hopes and dreams and disappointments and hurts. I have felt this pain, along with great joy in these last few years as I have done a lot of my own work as a pastor, spouse, mother, chaplain, friend.

I wrote these words because maybe I needed to remind myself. To be deep, it will be messy. And painful. But it will also be healing and hopeful and sustaining. This is the kind of community I have been called to serve. This is the kind of person I am called to be.

Sometimes when we stumble upon a wound, we touch it and feel pain. I realize now that this is what I did to my friend. I didn’t look for a wound. I didn’t know I was touching it. I didn’t intend to cause him pain. But in my passion of connecting deeply, I did just that. We have a choice whether or not we want to tend to our wounds. My friend had a right to walk away, and he did.

I know the pain because I have felt it frequently in my own work of healing. And I will feel it again. I am thankful to have some people in my life who, when they touch my wounds, stay with me as I work towards my healing. All relationships are messy. But not all relationships are healthy. It is worth the work to find those who will take this journey with us. Jesus is quoted several times saying, “Follow me.” But he didn’t walk ahead of people like the leader of a parade. He journeyed with people. He ate with people. He got to know people. And he touched their wounds. He didn’t judge those wounds or shame the wounded. He offered healing. I think this is why I have so profoundly experienced God in this work. It is about connecting honestly, deeply, meaningfully, sometimes painfully, certainly safely and joyfully too.

I hope my friend is doing okay. I still sometimes feel my own tinge of pain when I think of him. But the pain is my reminder that I connected with him.

(Read more of her musings here.)

A Summer of Philosophy: Connecting With Others While Honoring Oneself

A reflection by community member John Shuba:

At the worship committee meeting earlier this week, I agreed to lead everyone in the call to worship and benediction, bookending this week's service.  Both pieces were prayers that spoke directly to god and referenced Jesus' divinity.
As time passed I began to be more uncomfortable with the idea of leading all of you in these prayers.  I have never been involved in religion.  Most of my life I have been a vehement, unapologetic atheist.  I have never prayed, even silently to myself.
I have only put real thought into god in the last year or two, and I am still working on my own definition and philosophy about what god might be.  And while I have come to admire Jesus and his teachings, I do not consider myself a Christian and do not "feel" any special relationship between Jesus and whatever god is.  
If there is a god, regardless of the definition, it must be a pretty big deal.  And if you can literally talk to god through prayer then that is not something to take lightly.  For me to lead these prayers would be insincere.  It just didn't feel right.
With this in mind I contacted Jennifer a few hours before the service and informed her that Elizabeth (my wife) would be leading the call to worship and benediction. I explained my reasons why.  Not surprisingly, Jennifer accepted my decision without scorn or censure, and invited me to perhaps lead a future, sincere prayer if my journey takes me there.  
Which brings me to Sunday's service, highlighted by Dr. Lee Barrett and his discussion about what makes a church.  To summarize (excessively) Dr. Barrett presented churches as groups of people who gather together and share common heritage, common belief, common feelings and/or common practices.  He then asked us which of these commonalities applies to The Other Church.  
And none of us could say definitively that ANY of those commons applied to The Other Church.  What we did have in common was not what we believed to be the "correct" way to worship, but that all of us have heavy unanswered questions about the mysteries of life.  We don't come to The Other Church seeking institutionalized answers.  We come to explore those questions within our community.  Our members don't all have the same questions, but all of us have the right to ask our questions, no matter how unconventional, and to discuss them with each other in an effort to broaden our perspective and understanding of ourselves and the world we live in.  
This was exemplified by my hesitation to lead a prayer and Jennifer's acceptance of my decision.  And THAT is what I like about The Other Church.

We are bombarded with what to believe and why. But how much time do we take to sort through what we actually believe? How much time do we allow those beliefs to be digested into convictions? John Donne wrote a beautiful poem, "No man is an island." We think he was on to something important when it comes to one's philosophical and religious ideas. Some questions to ponder this week:

  1. How do you meaningfully connect with others? Is that connection dependent upon something shared? If so, what?
  2. How do you meaningfully connect with yourself? Do you take time to listen to what is going on within you? If so, how often? If not, why not?
  3. How do you meaningfully connect with God? How are you both challenged and encouraged in your faith?

A Summer of Philosophy: Relativism

A reflection by community member Jerome Burg:

Last evening we took a journey toward relativism.  What is relativism?  Erik had basically asked that same question .  I was going to contribute with “it’s a made up word” or maybe “a theory presented by Isaac Newton.”  I kept my mouth shut for once.  I never heard the word used so I looked up the definition on my tablet, “philosophical position that all points of view are equally valid, and that all truth is relative to the individual.” Confused no more!  It’s how one individual perceives truth.

Relativism can be applied to moral, political, religious, and objects such as a tennis ball that Erik’s demonstration showed us.   You may perceive it as soft but I may perceive it as hard.  It’s the truths that are relative to an individual.  Your truths may differ from mine.  For example, I may believe there is no God but believe and follow the teachings of Jesus Christ.  My friend may wholeheartedly believe in God and Jesus. And another friend may not believe in either.  None of us are wrong.  It is our own perception, our own truths.

Many churches or faiths will have you believe in absolute truth only.  But I see it “if they want to believe in whatever, that’s their truth, no matter how false I believe it might be.”  

Absolute truth is defined as "inflexible reality: fixed, invariable, unalterable facts." Some questions for you to ponder as you consider truth and relativism:

What are your thoughts on absolute truth? Is there such a thing or is all truth relative?

If there is such a thing as absolute truth, are we always at the mercy of our own perceptions or can absolute truth be discovered?

Join us on Sunday, August 8 at 5:30pm as we continue the conversation.

A Summer of Philosophy begins...

We begin our series by exploring some questions. The questions have to do with our presuppositions, the experiences we have had, and the emotional baggage we carry with us wherever we go.

Presuppositions are what we assume to be true. We may know what our presuppositions are and we may not. We may have inherited them without question and we may have chosen them. Some examples: "There is a God." "There is no God." "God cannot be known." "God is good." "I deserve to be happy." "Life isn't fair." We could go on and on and on. So... what are a few of your presuppositions?

Experiences then shape what we do with our presuppositions. Sometimes an experience will help support a presupposition, and sometimes an experience will significantly challenge one. Choose one of your presuppositions then consider which experiences have impacted it and why. Have experiences ever changed or eliminated a presupposition of yours?

Finally, identify what emotional baggage you carry with you. Sometimes the baggage can be a disappointment from a presupposition that didn't work out, a hurt that has scarred you. What tends to skew your perspective?

We encourage you to take the next few weeks to chew on these questions. Having greater self-awareness will help us to navigate the some philosophical concepts throughout the summer. It's going to be a beneficial journey! 

That's What (S)he Said: Questions part 2

We have spent some time thinking about big questions. While answers sometimes seem scarce, we believe the questions are still worth pursuing. We hope you continue to think about questions that stretch, challenge, and motivate you to act. 

Most recently we explored the big question about what happens when we die. If you are looking for some help on your journey, we would love to talk more with you. Whether seeking comfort or guidance, we can help connect you with something that might be helpful.

If either of us can be of help to you with any of your questions, please don't hesitate to reach out. And thanks for going on this journey with us! //

That's What (S)he Said: Questions part 1






Monday, April 18, 2016

This past Sunday, we spent time exploring the questions: "What does God want from us?" "What do we want from God?" These are questions we could spend a lifetime thinking and talking about because of the countless ways people have answered them over thousands of years.

Regardless of where you are on your journey, we invite you to stop and sit with something this week. It is from the author Brennan Manning who was a complicated, smart, imperfect man who spent his life trying to live in the grace he believed God was offering him. His words strike us as profound and worth sitting with for awhile.

Maybe what he says isn't new for you, but we invite you to sit with it anyway. Because sometimes, what we think we believe or what we say we believe, isn't really what we hold deep within ourselves. Let his words sink in to the darkest corners of your heart. And see what happens if you allow yourself to actually believe what he says.

Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.

(from Abba's Child)