Thursday, August 4, 2011

Transition time…

I’ve written before about the Celtic concept of “thin spaces”; an idea that particular geographic locations contain more spiritual possibility than others. Ancient Celts thought manifest (everyday) reality was but a thin veil separated from divine reality. And sometimes you’d encounter someplace where that veil was routinely lifted. A dedicated worship site. A hidden glen or valley. The gravesite of a renowned leader or saint. These were ‘thin spaces,’ where gods regularly abided.

As well, the Celts suspected particular times were thinner than others. In the twilight of early evening or the haze of ending dreams, the spirit world invited humanity to commune, to seek guidance, strength or hope in the brief thinning of holy moments. Ancient Jews intuited a related respect for sacred time; commandment four in God’s Top Ten says, “Honor the Sabbath, and keep it holy,” suggesting a dedicated day of rest and worship was thin enough for God to enter in power.

But in normal life, we rarely encounter thin spaces with regularity. That’s partly our fault- our indifference to God’s guidance, our frantic pursuit of comfort, gain or security, our need for personal control and so latent distrust of God’s supervision. Another factor, however, is the elusiveness of thinness itself. I’ve been to Stonehenge in Southern England, and can easily understand how ancient peoples found that massive monument overwhelmingly sacred and set apart. But now, surrounded by highways and gift shops and teems of visitors snapping pictures, the space feels to have thickened. And in the workaday rush of bills and home improvements, even regular church attendance can fall short of the Sabbath ideal, another in a list of to-dos.

Occasionally, though, thinness forces itself upon individuals and communities. The Church Calendar of holidays, at its best, allows Christians annually to redouble our efforts to experience holy thinness. And in the long-term arc of a community’s life, another forced thinness will- or can- present itself every several years: the transition from one leader to the next.

One of the Boards on which I’m privileged to represent Plymouth Creek and MN Disciples has entered a thin space. Gary Reierson, President and CEO of the Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches for the past 22 years, has announced his retirement, effective next July. Yes, that’s a long transition. But considering his length of service and wonderfully effective leadership, it makes sense to transition deliberately. I’ve been asked to serve on the selection committee for our new CEO, along with other Board members with much greater experience in such matters. Thankfully! And in the short time we’ve been working together, I’ve gained appreciation for the opportunity before us. Critically, we’re not trying to replace Gary with Gary 2.0. Rather, we hope to reflect deeply and prayerfully on what the future holds for GMCC, and identify the leadership needs that future will demand. Will we continue to grow, or get better at a few core functions? Are there unmet community needs we’re uniquely positioned to assist with?

It seems to me that thin spaces, being so fragile, can be easily overlooked. If you’re not prepared, they rush on by. Transitions- of leadership for organizations, but also in our personal lives with new births, moves, job changes- carry that same fragility and potential. And oftentimes, what leads us to miss the chance for experiencing God’s thin space guidance is simply anxiety that we’re in transition at all. We liked where we were. Or, at least, understood it. So when something new presents itself, rather than stare boldly into that uncertain future, seeking first God’s Kingdom, we get hung up on the fact of being in transition. Alas, by the time we’re ready to move on, time has thickened.

I’ll appreciate your prayers for GMCC’s search committee. Being the largest Council of Churches in America, it’s critical we get this decision as right as possible. But also in the other transitions we all face, some large, some simple, may we have courage to encounter God in God’s fullness. Being rare moments, they might feel overwhelming, even frightening. God, however, in every situation retains a name that provides hope: Love. Which is as thick as can be!

Grace and Peace,
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Monday, August 1, 2011


One thing I love about my job is the chance to represent you in the community. I believe Plymouth Creek has a wonderful, unique take on living faithfully, and sharing that with our neighbors is for me a privilege and source of pride. I hope you feel the same, often seizing your opportunities to shine as a beacon of openness and service wherever you may be. You do, right?

Anyway, one place I do so is on the Board of our friend and local social-services provider, Interfaith Outreach and Community Partners. Plymouth Creek has long supported IOCP and the good work they do of feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, loving the downtrodden and standing up for outcasts in the northwestern suburbs. Faith in action is real faith, I believe Jesus would suggest, and so when Interfaith helps struggling single moms stay in their homes, provides employment assistance to fathers without work, gives scholarships so children from low-income families can attend high quality childcare (which some claim is the #1 most effective way to sustainably combat poverty…), well, those are everyday examples of faith coming alive. And it’s something our church contributes to consistently, more generously in fact than an outside observer might expect. So on the Board I try to accurately represent your commitment to living, compassionate, generous faith. God knows, there are too many these days who need Christians of that ilk to step up and make a greater difference.

I mention that this month for two reasons. #1- To remind us again to let our faith lives be about more than belief or making ourselves feel good, but also about impacting our neighborhoods with goodness. A message we should keep before our eyes always. But more timely, and #2, I want to celebrate with you something shared at the last Board meeting; the culmination of years of hard work, courage and visionary leadership on the part of IOCP’s Board, staff and its many supporters and donors. Perhaps you’ve heard, but if not, you ought to know that this month, August 2011, IOCP will be moving. Or rather, expanding into a grand new facility on the corner of Hwy 101 and County Road 6 in Plymouth!

Long time residents tell me that the building IOCP has purchased and renovated (all thanks to the generosity of community residents, which included some of you…) was once a local grocery store. Now, it will house IOCP’s administrative offices, caseworkers, volunteers and social services (transportation assistance, housing aid, childcare scholarship program, etc.), along with an expanded food shelf more like that at their sister social service agency PRSIM, and a Resale/thrift shop open to clients and all the community (clients getting better deals). Also, within the building, some “community partners” will have offices, including the Wayzata Public Schools’ Community Ed (great if, say, an IOCP client needs GED help) and a satellite for Hennepin County Government Services. There will be other non-profits setting up shop, a community room for educational programming of interest to our cities’ residents and even a meditation room for spiritual renewal. I’m probably missing some stuff, but you get the gist. Within a few short weeks, IOCP will experience much increased capacity for effecting positive change, all with the goal of changing the odds for the most vulnerable amongst us.

If you want to celebrate this achievement with IOCP, here are dates to keep in mind- August13, staff move in, begin unpacking and organizing; August 18- IOCP will host a ‘Grand Opening’ for clients and their families; August 22- the building officially “Opens for business” (alas, to get everything ready, they’ll halt normal operations from Aug 15-19, which IOCP is prepping clients for); and finally, on September 8, from 4:30-6:30 PM, IOCP will host a ‘Grand Opening’ for the entire community to come and see this monumental success we’ve helped make happen. I’ll be there. I hope you will be too. But if not, please join me in prayer that day, and on all those dates, lifting thanks and praise to God who inspires us not only to believe in love, but to put love in action.

Grace and Peace,
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