Stubborn Love!

SextonsGravelings

Stubborn Love.

Keep your head up, my love

I don’t blame ya’ dear for running like you did, 

all these years.

I would do the same, you best believe

and the highway signs say we‘re closed, 

but I don’t read those things anymore

I never trusted my own eyes

  • From the song, “Stubborn Love” by the Lumineers

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

  • Romans 8:35-39, TNIV

I’m not sure where you are as you read this blog.  But I want to share OUTSTANDING news:  God is madly in love with you.  This Love is stubborn and pursues you no matter where you are in life at this moment and every moment.  Feel the embrace of this Love.  You have a God who does not close the door on you.  A God who understands you…even if you cannot understand this mysterious God!   A God who says “yes” to you, even if you say “no” to the Life that is yours in God.  A God who created YOU out of Love, a God who redeemed YOU out of Love, and a God who carries YOU out of love!

As we approach Easter and the promise of new beginnings…of celebrating God’s loving flow that overcomes all obstacles, even death, I cannot help but to be consumed with this Love that God has for us and how this God demonstrates that Love through the community of faith that surrounds us and the “God encounters” we experience while engaging with our neighbors.

God’s Love is all around you and flowing in and through YOU!  May you experience that Love as your hearts and ears are opened to the new creation that comes through a very stubborn and steadfast Love!

It is my hope that you can come and be an active participant in some community of faith on Easter Sunday or celebrate in some way this amazing love that God has for you…and not only on this day, but on each and every day!  Together we can be a strong “communion” exhibiting God’s loving Presence in our lives and in each others’ lives!

Christ has Risen!

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New.

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Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: [SEE] the old has gone, the new is here!  (2 Corinthians 5:17, TNIV)

New.  Greek:  καινὴ

strange, something quite new 

See.  Greek:  ἰδοὺ

behold, look, or SEE

I love celebrating Easter.  I love everything about this day.  The kids getting up when they were younger and looking for Easter baskets, the meal that afternoon, family coming into visit, all of it!  I especially like going to church and hearing folks say “Christ is Risen” and the response “He is Risen indeed”!

There is something powerful in those words.  It is giving voice to the new Reality.  God has come to this earth in the most humble fashion, as a baby.  God in the flesh, with us.  Jesus.

This Jesus loved, healed, hurt, laughed, and gave of himself.  Jesus represented us, demonstrating how life was meant to be lived, to be truly human..and he lived it to the full.  He died a humiliating death on a Roman cross because of his actions on our behalf, for all of humanity.  I believe that he loved us so, that death could not contain him and he rose again three days later.

Through this one single act of Jesus coming, living, dying, and rising from the dead, all of creation gives testimony that something new has happened and is happening.  This phrase, “new creation has come” in the Scripture passage above has a meaning in Greek of a completed action that continues to this day.  There is a new reality that gives testimony, not only on Easter, but every moment in history that has now been redeemed!  Jesus absorbed all of the sin, all of the ugliness, all of the hurt and pain that has happened and will happen through his actions of being born, living, dying, and rising…actions that we live into as well.

The Roman Catholic philosopher/theologian, Pierre Teillhard de Chardin, talks about a “spiritual evolution”, that throughout history, the actions of God in and through humanity cause a progression towards growth, maturity, awareness.  Spiritual growth is a constant whether we recognize it or not.  It’s happening all around us!  We are given new eyes and ears to see and hear God’s actions on our behalf, creating and recreating…even co-creating with us, a new life.   A life that is filled with possibility, imagination, risk, adventure, as well as stability in relationship in community with others.

Friends, this Jesus is alive!  His Presence is in this place, this people, the particular church called Fleming Road UCC that I serve as pastor and every faith community, my neighborhood and every neighborhood,  filling every nook and corner of our lives and all around us!  God’s Spirit is moving powerfully through this church.  May we continue to have our eyes opened to “see” this new Reality as we grow together as a community!

May we also continue to invite others to see and live into this new Reality that Jesus demonstrates.   Really, our faith communities and neighborhoods have amazing legacies.    There are times when I don’t see it or experience it, times when I may want to give up, but then, somehow, I see or experience the “deep magic” that C.S. Lewis writes about and hope grows for the places and people that I am privileged to know.  And now we have a new history in our neighborhoods and faith communities rising up, new stories of being engaged in the places we reside with the people we encounter.  It’s beautiful and needs to be celebrated.  All of it, the good and the bad …God’s redemptive work is evident throughout all things.

God is doing a new thing, God is calling us towards a resetting of our story together.  We have a gift of listening, seeing, experiencing our neighborhoods, loving them well, and simply being a part of God’s story emerging in this place…and, as we experience our growing together with one another, our neighbors, our faith communities, and God, we take those lessons learned and practiced into whatever context we find ourselves and experience God’s faithful presence and work there as well!

New eyes.  New ears.  Celebrating our experiences, the good and the bad, and anticipating what is to come.  It is new, and it is beautiful.  It is the Easter story.

If you want to be a part of this story, give me a call, let’s grab coffee and chat about how our stories fit and to shape the new story that is emerging in 2018 and beyond!

Five Hopeful Signs that Dare Us to Be the Church

 

parish collective

Five Hopeful Signs that Dare Us to Be the Church

by Tim Soerens & Christiana Rice

If you take five minutes to scan through your Facebook feed or even the headlines of the news, it sure does seem like there are good reasons to start freaking out.

Easter day bombings in Pakistan, ISIS terrorist attacks in Brussels, Global Climate Change. Mass Migration. Growing Inequality. Nations constantly at war. Societies perpetually distressed.

Regardless of whether you are Republican, Democrat, or something in between, if you care about the future of the church you probably also find yourself shaking your head in bewilderment these days.

As some churches battle with each other on political issues, the tsunami of both the “nones” (the quickly growing demographic of folks opting out of Christianity) and the “dones” (those who, because of their faith, are opting out of institutional church) continues to swell. If you are paying attention, you’ll notice plenty of hand wringing in both the pews and denominational boardrooms all across North America. People fear things are getting out of control. And maybe they are.

So where do we find hope?

In recent years there has been a diligent hunt for signs of life within Christendom. But if we are honest, our search has left us wanting and confused (or do you need to check Facebook again?).

We find ourselves asking: Are there any signs of life beyond the forms and structures of church that have dominated the mainstream Christian imagination?

Most of us know that there is a rapid decline in what is commonly measured as “church growth and success.” That is, decline in membership, shrinking attendance and aging congregants. Church leaders are scrambling to attract more people to their church community, particularly Millenials, in order to increase their cultural impact. Yet these approaches don’t seem to be addressing real problems that God is inviting the church to help alleviate.

Perhaps we are asking the wrong questions and looking in the wrong direction.

While some may grieve the conclusion of church forms of the 21st century, there is, in fact, great hope out ahead of us. The next chapter of God’s story of renewal might be happening so close that it’s difficult to see. Just look more intently and you’ll notice that in our backyards, across our streets and in the very center of our cities, towns, and villages, God is birthing something profoundly beautiful. Beyond our church growth charts and measurement sticks there is a movement bursting up from the ground, a counter narrative to the anxious grip of the past. A movement is growing to reclaim the ancient idea of the parish for the 21st century. When we say the word parish, we mean that people are weaving their lives together in actual places large enough to live much of their live (live, work, and play), but small enough to be known as a character within the story of that place. In neighborhoods, suburbs, villages, and towns followers of Jesus are learning how to be the church in the everyday context of their actual lives.

Here’s what we’re talking about: People everywhere are coming together to follow Jesus and join God’s renewal in every neighborhood, every sector and every culture. We could call it ecclesial kenosis. Communities of faith are taking shape by letting go of the small story of church growth and embracing the big story of joining God right where they are.

The signs are everywhere! Out in the streets, the storefronts, small businesses, parks, porches and playgrounds… life is happening, abundantly. God’s love in Jesus is renewing the world and through it, the church is taking root in some of the most innovative ways we’ve seen. In suburbs, in city centers, rural communities and small towns all over North America and likely all over the world, the people who make up this movement are countering darkness with light, forming deep human connection and contending for God’s shalom in everyday faithful ways. They’re not only reclaiming a sense of place, but partnering with God to alter the paradigm for what it means to be the church.

At a recent retreat gathering of pioneering place-based churches, we rummaged through treasures of stories and statements in an attempt to convey what we’ve experienced as the most common threads of practices, values and distinctives that seem to be evident in this movement of God in neighborhoods all over.

It became apparent that these were indeed signs of life worth celebrating and marking. We’re calling them signs because they’re not meant to prescribe a particular method or propose a formula for doing church differently. Rather, these signs are drawn from stories, pictures and expressions of what God is already doing to love the world.

The Five Signs of the Parish Movement

  1. Centering on Christ: Formed by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we seek to share life together as a tangible expression of Christ’s body in our parish. Saying that Christ is at the center is not just a statement of belief but a commitment to a way of life together. As communities we commit to love one another and grow together with Christ within the grime and beauty of our everyday stories.
  1. Inhabiting Our Parish: Rooting our lives in our neighborhood, we seek to join God’s renewal in, with, and for our place. Rather than trying to be all things to all people, we are learning to accept our limitations as a gift from God, live with intentionality, be known by our actual neighbors and tangibly love those around us. We seek to participate in God’s renewal by listening to, serving, and caring for the land and the people where we live, work and play.
  1. Gathering to Remember: Trusting that God is at work, we draw together in worship to remember the larger story of our faith, rehearse the kind of people God desires us to be in the parish, and encourage one another in love and discernment. We have discovered that the more active we are in joining God’s renewal in our neighborhoods, the more crucial it is for us to gather back together to grow in our faith, strengthen one another and remember that we are a part of the massive story of God.
  1. Collaborating for God’s Renewal: Joining God’s renewal within the broken systems of our world, we seek to reconcile fractured relationships and celebrate differences by collaborating across cultural barriers and learning to live in solidarity with those in need. It’s never been more important to foster unity between all the diverse followers of Christ within our local contexts. Just as important, we are learning to collaborate with neighbors from other traditions, faiths and experiences as we journey alongside the suffering and pain of those around us. If ever there was going to be a robust movement of unity in the 21st century church it will likely be lay-led, local, and in the neighborhood. When unity and trust grow between us, it is amazing how we can work together and build peace for the common good.
  1. Linking Across Parishes: Actively connecting with other Christian communities across parishes regionally and globally, we grow in mutual learning, friendship, and life giving partnership. We live in the most interconnected moment this world has ever experienced. We are learning how desperately we need one another if we are going to step into the challenges and opportunities set before us. Not only do we need to trust God but we are committed to learning how to trust one another as well. This is not an easy task, but there is no other way to be faithful, much less effective, if we don’t learn how to link up at an unprecedented scale.

We should say in conclusion that these five signs are not a new gimmick or fad. After all, the Church through the ages has certainly been living into these themes since the beginning. But it does feel like there is something new in the air. And while there may be plenty of confusion and frustration swirling around our broader culture and within the church, we find ourselves brimming with hope. If more and more communities take on this God sized dare to faithful presence in our neighborhoods, then we couldn’t imagine a brighter future.

The Conspire Gathering 2018! SAVE THE DATE!

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End Church Competition. Conspire For Community! Join together with a movement of practitioners across North America, and around the world, who are reimagining faithful presence in the everyday life of the places we live.

Multi-site in various Cincinnati neighborhoods

Main Site:

North Presbyterian Church

Hamilton Ave.

Cincinnati, OH 45231

October 12-13, 2018

Presented by The Parish Collective 

In partnership with Oasis, The Hive, Common Good Fellowship, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology, The Economics of Compassion Initiative, Designed Learning, and Inhabit.

CG banner(Photo credit – Michael Wilson; Design credit Ana Goldaday)

The Conspire Gathering is a two-day conference intentionally designed to engage, encourage, and empower innovative, practitioners as they go about practicing the way of faith in place.

Two years ago, over 100 practitioners, pastors, social entrepreneurs, church planters, community leaders, environmentalists, denominational executives, publishers, professors, urban planners, and artists from all over the globe come together to connect, collaborate, and celebrate the good work being done in hundreds of neighborhoods and parishes. They share a common vision for seeing the transformation of the church through their participation in their neighborhood. They are educated yet grounded in practice, committed to interdisciplinary work, and invested in the flourishing of the Kingdom of God.

Parish Collective is excited to announce that we are now going to expand the Conspire Gathering and make it an annual national conference rooted in the middle of the country, in Cincinnati, OH.

There is very little doubt that our imagination for what it means to be the Church is changing…dramatically. If you believe that joining in God’s renewal in your actual neighborhoods is a crucial step in being the church, you should be at the Conspire Gathering this year.

What’s New in 2018?

Pre-Party. Pre-Gathering symposiums. Happy Hour Gatherings. Targums. Curated Conversations. Small Groups. Forums. Late Night Gatherings. Art Installations. Fishbowls. Poetry Slam. Neighborhood Tour. Interactive Stations. Symposiums. AMAZING friendships! And, yes, much more.

The Conspire Gathering is an initiative of the Parish Collective to gather together ministry leaders and parish practitioners from across denominations, affiliations, and networks who want to subvert the small story of church competition and awaken a collaborative imagination for joining in God’s restoring and reconciling work happening in neighborhoods all around us.

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Presenters/Storytellers/Conveners so far (we will be adding quite a few more in the next few weeks):  Peter Block, Dee Yaccino, Derrick Brazeal, Cormac Russell, Nicole Watts, Mandy Smith, Derek Peebles, Ed Goode, Daniel Hughes, Brooklin Taylor, Joey Taylor, Troy Bronsink, Rich Jones, Tim Soerens, Paul Sparks, Dwight Friesen, Anna Golladay, Mary Laymon, Chris Smyth, Doug Pagitt, Cameron Trimble, John Erik Pattison, Chris Smith, Ronnie Matthew Harris, Paula Boggs-Muething, Karen Rohrer, Lesley Jones, Angela Pancella,  David Gaines, Sarah Bufffie, Steve Pavey, Sean Gladding, Scott Hagley, Bryan McCabe, and many more soon to be posted!

For more info, go to www.conspiregathering.com!  Or, contact Rich Jones @ rich@flemingroaducc.org and 513-295-5818.

Re-Imagining Neighborhoods!

PC Cincy

Presented by The Parish Collective Cincinnati

“Re-imagining Neighborhoods in Cincinnati” with Tim Soerens and Paul Sparks, co-authors of the book The New Parish.

Abbey w: PC Posse

@ The Hive in the Northside neighborhood of Cincinnati

Save the date!!!

May 19, 2018

7-9 PM

 

The Parish Collective has hosted hundreds of “Reimagine” trainings across North America and around the world. This celebratory learning event gathers interested parties from across the city/region to hear parish stories and grow a common vocabulary for learning and collaborating together.  This will be happening at the Hive in Cincinnati on May 19th!  Save the date!

Registration and cost of this event will be posted soon at www.parishcollective.org and www.cincyhive.org.   In the meantime, for more info, contact Rich Jones @ rich@flemingroaducc.org and 513-295-5818.

Transformation.

As a pastor, I have to spend time learning ancient Greek.  Which, can be fun.  Greek and Hebrew words…as with lots of ancient languages, have multiple meanings.

The Greek word for transformation is “metanoia”, it’s a great word which means a shift in thinking, a paradigm shift, a change of an inward reality.    You find it throughout scripture in the Christian Bible.  It seems as if the writers are trying to point us towards an evolutionary shift in our being.  A movement towards growth, empathy, maturity.  It’s also a word that is translated in many different languages and is something that is shared in common with most main religions and philosophies.

We live in a world that often says it wants transformation, but it settles for “transaction”.  In other words, I’ll do this if you do that.  I have to give something in order to get something.  It reduces us to thinking that we can somehow achieve something if we can just accumulate more or get to the proverbial “top”.  We become consumers or commodities and run the risk of losing our humanity.

Yet, there is a movement towards a different way of being.  We still have to live in a transactional world, and not all transactions are bad, but what if we could move towards a transformational way of thinking?

In order for a new way of thinking, and even being, we have to be open to taking some risks, asking hard questions of ourselves and others, and then working together towards deeper relationships and authentic community that can lead us towards healing and growth.

A few years ago, I attended a conference exploring how change happens within our movements and institutions.

The analogy that one of the facilitators used was of the need for “adaptive change leadership”.  Often we feel like when we have challenges put before us in the church, or in any organization or institution, that we can fix our issues that need fixing by simply making technical changes.  For instance, if we break our leg, we can put it in a cast, take care of it, stay off of it, and rehab it.  If we do steps A through B, then our foot will probably come back stronger than before.   That’s also the mentality in organizations when faced with a changing culture or challenging issues, as well as our own personal lives.  If we just “work harder” or “smarter” (terms I’ve personally used!), we can “right the ship”.

However, that’s not what our organizations, or we, need today.  Working harder and smarter does not always produce movement or change.  We do not simply have a broken foot, we have to ask if we have lost our foot completely.  We need to adapt and have “adaptive change leadership” and learn what it means to “re-function” in a new way of being.

When I think of adaptive leadership that is transformational, I think of Robert and Erin Lockridge in Norwood.  They were featured on PBS a while back for their work in a neighborhood in Norwood.  They saw the need for healthy food and access to it.  So, they started a restaurant that’s only open on Fridays, they make gourmet pizzas and pies from ingredients that they grow within the neighborhood.  They show amazing hospitality and foster a genuine community atmosphere.  All are welcome.  They also don’t have a set price on any of their amazing food.  It’s pay what you can or think it’s worth.

They are sustaining themselves while also working towards transformational relationships and have adapted within their community in a new way.  The transaction for good food, hospitality, and community?  It’s what you can bring to the table.  As you do that, you may find yourself in an atmosphere that can leader to deeper awareness and possible transformation within you and others.

I like being around them.  I also like being around organizations like the Parish Collective, Oasis, Economics of Compassion, and so many others that are doing and being the work of building relationships that are transformational, and highlighting others that are doing the same and connecting them.  Places where trust is given and tested.  People that believe in one another and work towards the betterment of communities.

When we look around us, we know that the neighborhoods, the city, country, and world are in the midst of some major shifts and changes.  Oftentimes those changes can be divisive and destructive.  But, we can work towards transformation.  It is our task to have our eyes and ears opened to a deeper reality at work within us and within others, and allow the shift to happen within us as we do the work that leads to freedom.

If we are willing to take risks, to ask questions, to get involved in things and with people and organizations that are good, we can begin the task of working together towards a better way of being and experiencing the abundance that life can offer, even in the midst of cultural, personal, and community upheaval.

Rich Jones is the pastor of Fleming Road UCC in the Finneytown neighborhood in Cincinnati.  He is on the board for Economics of Compassion and Oasis Cincinnati and is an organizing team member and community connector for The Parish Collective.  He also coaches cross country at Finneytown Schools and is an obsessive runner.  His spouse, Debbie, is a PTA and they have two teenagers, McKenzie and Brennan.  

“Change”

When my son was 10, he was having a hard time understanding why things change.  My son likes the idea of change, loves new challenges, but he also wants stability and to know that there are things and people he can count on.

All of us, no matter how old we are can relate.  Change happens.  It causes disruption, which can be extremely uncomfortable, and good.  It leads to questions, sometimes answers, and growth oftentimes when we embrace change and remember that we are not alone.  We have each other, and when we pause for a moment in the midst of change, we begin to sense something of the divine that connects us something deeply personal beyond ourselves.

Our country has experienced a lot of change, a divisive election, hate crimes on the rise, open racism and sexism, heated political rhetoric, the lament of “Black Lives Matter”, and the violence that begets violence, we either react in anger, retreat, or we face it and work towards deeper understanding and awareness.   It’s important to note that the changes in culture cause us to reflect personally and in our communities, but also in our institutions, businesses, professions, etc.

Yes, change can bring anxiety, fear, and even a deep sense of unrest.  In those times, we can have a desire to try and control things, to try to go back to the “way things were”.  Deep down, we know we can’t, that life continues to move forward whether we like it or not.

We see and experience change happening throughout our neighborhoods in Cincinnati.  If there wasn’t change, then there would be status quo, which leads eventually to decline and death.  An argument can be made that any change is good change, but I would say one should anticipate change and inserting one’s self into the conversation around any change in order for it to be beneficial for all persons affected by that change.   Trying to anticipate change and being a change agent can be a a risky, anxious, and exciting, energizing, and good for the world.

The Economics of Compassion Initiative (ECI) that I am involved with is a risk taking, exciting, and energizing movement of good people.  Our desire is to see neighborhoods change and grow into all that they were intended to be, places of community, friendship, cooperation, and equal access to an economy that can sometimes be a barrier to reaching our God-given potential.

At ECI (https://www.econofcompassion.org), we believe that transformational growth is the best kind of change.  We can see transactional growth in the form of new developments that can be prohibitive for many.  But, transformational growth starts and ends with authentic relationship.

One of our Economics of Compassion board members, Rev. Daniel Hughes, is a great example of a transformational change agent.  He is involved intimately in his Price Hill neighborhood, building friendships, listening to folks, asking questions, and doing “experiments” that can lead to a further sense of deep community.  He’s wiling to take risks, he may fail or succeed, but the energy he brings into a conversation or project always leads to something good.

I have also seen the neighborhood that I live in, Finneytown, experience deep cultural change.  Over the past 17 years that we’ve lived here, we have seen our community become more of a “melting pot” creating a dynamic blend of persons who have lived here for generations, with persons moving in from the city core and refugees from all over the world.  They are drawn to cheap housing and a good school district, as well as a group of neighbors that have self-organized around the school, churches, non-profits, and other groups to figure out ways to build community.  Some efforts have not gone well, others have.

One organization that I have been involved with is Oasis, which started in London (http://oasisuk.org).  We have had a desire to build a community hub for people in our neighborhood to come together for opportunities of relationship.  We use the principles of Asset Based Community Development to create opportunities such as our summer camp for Finneytown students to have academic and social enrichment, as well as some amazing adventures and opportunities to engage parents, guardians, and others in community.

I have found that same spirit in everyone that I’ve had the privilege to work with at ECI and Oasis.  These are folks who are simply committed to practicing goodness.  I’ve also seen that same spirit in so many other organizations across this city.  It is truly an exciting time of change, of transformation.

In times of change, the practice of being rooted in a place where relationships can flourish is important.  I believe that neighborhood living, being in community with others, can help us move through change and come out stronger.

There is something deeper at work in our neighborhoods.  If we follow the practice of Daniel and so many others by listening to our neighbors, staying curious and patient, asking questions, and looking for opportunities to build bridges, not walls, we can begin to see authentic community arise where we can find cooperation and real progress on some of the issues that surround us.  A friend of mine, Cormac Russell, reminded me recently that it’s far more important to stay connected rather than correct.  Relationships “trump” everything.  That doesn’t mean that we don’t make a stand at times for what is right, but it does mean that we have to remember the humanity of every person.  If we can practice authentic empathy and friendship, then trust can develop.  That trust leads us into deeper places within ourselves and our relationships with others.

I know that we have issues to confront in Cincinnati, but there are stories of immense goodness in every neighborhood of our great city!  If we can listen to those stories, learn and grow from them, we can confront almost anything that we face, especially as we do that together in community with others.

In my faith tradition as a Jesus follower, we draw upon the richness of a shared history with Judaism.  I especially enjoy some of the multiple means of words in Hebrew.  The Hebrew word “hesed” is found throughout Scripture describing God.  It means unfailing love, compassion, and intense loyalty to community.  May we trust God’s “hesed” and live in community/relationship with each other as we grow and live into changing times.

Rich Jones is the pastor of Fleming Road UCC in the Finneytown neighborhood in Cincinnati.  He is on the board for Economics of Compassion and Oasis Cincinnati and is an organizing team member and community connector for The Parish Collective.  He also coaches cross country at Finneytown Schools and is an obsessive runner.  His spouse, Debbie, is a PTA and they have two teenagers, McKenzie and Brennan.