Lovers of the Light

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4 But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; 5 for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness.

– 1 Thessalonians 5:4-5 (NRSV)

Stretch out my life and pick the seams out Take what you like but close my ears and eyes Or watch me stumble over and over

I had done wrong you built your tower But call me home and I will build a throne And wash my eyes out never again

But love the one you hold And I will be your gold
To have and to hold
A lover of the light

– “Lover of the Light”, Mumford & Sons

In this crazy winter that we are having in Cincinnati, one day snow, the next day sunny and 60, it can seem like things are bleak. In Cincinnati, we seem to get a lot of “in-between” weather.  We long for spring to get here and stay!

In our lives this past year, we may have experienced things that have been bleak, dark, and we may have felt like we are in an “in-between place” as well. We may have been sensing that a change is necessary, we have longed for the warmth of hope, just as we may have longed for the hope of warm sunshine in the spring after a long winter.

Maybe the change we were hoping for did not materialize, or the change that happened was not what we had in mind. Maybe the shock of unwelcomed change has left us in a place of grief, numbness, despair, and/or situational depression.

Yet, change can also bring growth, expectation, hope. I know that has been true in my life the past year.  Right now, I am energized and ready for that growth and change as we begin our lives collectively in my neighborhood, church, and the networks I am in.

Most faith communities know that they need and want to change.  They see the signs all around them, pointing towards change and a chance for transformation.  The church, in many places, has been asking some of the deeper questions of what it means to be a faith community, my faith community is no different. We have come to a place of realizing that the world has inevitably changed, and the church needs to adapt and re-function. I have been so impressed with the process that has led my church want to be become more “community engaged” and be a source of light and neighborliness, along with others in this particular community and within the communities that they live.

So, obviously, at times this past year has felt like it has been a place of searching. As a collective group of persons, it seems like we have been in an “in-between” place. We dealt with (and continue to deal with) questions of calling (personally and corporately) around where we are going as a church, what does it mean to grow as God intends as a church, we have seen folks come and go, and we have experienced hurt and pain in relationships, as well as joy and hope.

Yet, here we are, ready to grow and ask these questions together. We are still a church called out by God and we still muster up the courage to look forward to a new year filled with hope and expectation of change and growth, healthy change and growth.

As Jesus followers, or as “children of the Light and Day” as the above Scripture passage says, we should not be surprised when darkness comes. It happens all around us and we not immune from darkness, evil, and pain…within our church and within ourselves.

Darkness does not win out, we are not consumed by it. Darkness can also be a necessary part of our journey towards light and a sense of wholeness and growth. Darkness shrinks at the slightest beam of light. As events and occurrences in our lives as persons and as a church or exposed to the Light, we can see clearly who we are as persons and collectively. We may not always like what we see, but the Light not only exposes us, but can transform us.

I like this Mumford & Sons song, “Lover of the Light”. They are a great popular band these days, but their words often have deep insight (and my son loves this band). I find these words hopeful. As the writer grapples with his shortcomings, he still has hope and proclaims to be a lover of the light. And as a lover of the light, he can and will change.

Friends, as we live into the present moment within our lives and our church’s life, may we be lovers of the light. May we look around at the darkness in our community and go there so that we can be children of light in that darkness. As I walk around our neighborhood and talk to folks inside and outside the church and listen to them, I see so much potential for the church universal to step in and be the Light that shines in darkness. We can be in our communities faithfully present to others right at our doorstep and even inside our doors through the many assets that we have (people, finances, building space, imagination), while also providing a context for genuine friendship to folks that need to know that they are not alone.

 

May it be so, may we all be lovers of the Light.

Stubborn Love!

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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!

Re-Imagining Neighborhoods!

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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.

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@ 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.

The Conspire Gathering!

Register now!

The Conspire Gathering.

May 3-5, 2016

Cincinnati, OH in the Northside Neighborhood (North Presbyterian Church and The Hive located at Urban Artifact).

We Are Convinced

A Conspiracy Is Needed.

We want to subvert the small story of church competition and awaken our collective imagination for how we join in God’s renewing/restoring/reconciling work happening in neighborhoods all around us.

We’re gathering to conspire together.

Join together with global thought leaders and innovative practitioners from across the region and let’s scheme together. It’s time to plot out a collaborative future that can make an on-the-ground difference. If you’re part of a faith community looking to grow neighborhood renewal, you’ll want to be a part of this gathering.

More information to come soon!  Until then, spread the word, look at your calendar, come and join us for a great couple of days of fellowship, conspiring, inspiration, and goodness.

For more info, contact Tim Soerens, Paul Sparks, Brooklin Taylor, Rich Jones, Troy Bronsink, Daniel Hughes, Chandler Meador, Joshua Stoxen, or Jane Gerdsen.

Or go to The Conspire Gathering!

 

We are also thankful for our partners and sponsors!

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Join.

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We need you.  “You” if you are interested in being bound together in a “New Parish” that is emerging at Immanuel Church in the Clifton neighborhood of Cincinnati.

We are a church with a 134 year history.  We have seen God move in beautiful ways in those years.  We have also seen hurt and have been wounded in many ways in many of those years.  We have experienced death and resurrection.  We are experiencing the midst of transformation, as we listen to ourselves, our neighbors, and God.

I have been the pastor here for a year now.  I am truly excited to see what God is doing in each of us, in our church, and in our community.  Even writing these thoughts out gives affirmation in so many ways of God’s call for me and this church.  I too have experienced death and resurrection in recent years.  I am being transformed by this “call” at Immanuel.

This “new Parish” is not really a new concept, but a new practice emerging from the old tired forms of programming and ways of “doing church” of the recent past.

Our hope is to be a Presbyterian parish (Middle English: from Anglo-Norman French and Old French paroche, from late Latin parochia, from Greek paroikia ‘sojourning’, based on para- ‘beside, subsidiary’ + oikos ‘dwelling’.) in the Clifton neighborhood of Cincinnati.  We become this by simply being good neighbors and engaging in meaningful ways with our community, not doing “outreach”, but by simply “coming alongside” and  engaging in real friendships with those that we meet.

So, here we are.

“Here” is more about a community of relationships struggling to understand where “new church” is emerging.  We recognize that transformation is happening all around us.  “Church” is not like it was 50 years ago, or even 5 years ago.

We know we have to change and that will be difficult.  Yet, it will also be beautiful.  We will be a church attempting love our neighbors well and be “outside-in” focused.

But, we need some folks to join with us.  Not to simply fill our pews, but to join into community with us.  Community that is more than just gathering one morning a week.  Community that is willing to struggle, laugh, cry, and celebrate with others in the midst of everyday life.

We are a small congregation with an emerging new vision as we begin to see God’s activity revealed around us and in us.  Slowly, surely, and not all at once.

We have a great building, resources, and are situated in the middle of a great city in a walking, eclectic, and diverse neighborhood next to the University of Cincinnati.

It is my calling along with others to be here at Immanuel.  It is my hope that a few more folks would experience this as their call and come be a part of this transformation.  In this process, we could see church emerge in new ways that could be a source of hope and deep relationship, deep community for ourselves and so many others.

Yes, we need you, if “you” want to work, play, pray, worship, and see transformation happen in sharing life together in community and through this emerging relational space called Immanuel in Clifton.

If you are curious, and are interested in some other resources for what this “new church” could be emerging towards, we have some conversation partners, organizations that share our ethos that can be found at our website at this link:

www.immanuelpresby.org

Also, if you are looking for a great conversation on “reimagining the church in the 21st century”, come and be a part of this conversation on December 5, 2015 at Immanuel with New Parish author, Paul Sparks:

The New Parish Conversation

Restless Ramblings.

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Last week I opened my mouth a bit with my friend Nicholas Yoda, who is the chair of our Presbytery Council, where I serve as a member as well.  I was a bit frustrated.  I have loved being a part of Presbytery Council, a Presbytery transformation task force, and all the good work and the wonderful story that’s emerging out of our Presbytery.  But, I’ve also been frustrated.   So, he asked me to do the devotion at the next Council meeting, which I did, and here are some of those thoughts.

I know, frustrations come and go, we all experience frustration in all sorts of ways in the work that we’ve been called to do as faith and community leaders.

Where was my frustration showing up?  Well, in a string of meetings.  Now, if we’re honest, all of us have certain thoughts and opinions about meetings.  We have momentary frustrations that come and go and can be influenced our day, situations not related to those meetings, issues we are dealing with, etc.  Yet, those things pass.  Well, my frustration has been growing.  Really, into something else:  restlessness in the church and with the church.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the church.  But, I often find more encouragement for the work that I do from outside the church.  I also find that there is life emerging all around this city and that life is being born out of God’s heart.  God also has a heart for this Presbytery and the church universal, and this same God is calling this Presbytery and church universal to enter into the work God’s doing in the city.

But, that takes a sense of movement, on my part and our part as a church.

Many of us are restless, and that’s good.  That can move us towards action and relationship with others if we are willing to be uncomfortable, and even go through some suffering with those inside the church and outside the church…and within us personally and in our communities.  Suffering can often be a catalyst for change, and change is central to transformation.

Over the years, when this restlessness comes around, it’s pushed to try and see what God is up in the world around me, and in the world inside of me.  I’ve been able to do some work with the enneagram (https://www.enneagraminstitute.com if interested to find out more info on the enneagram).  I am a “3”, so I’m wired to work towards goals and I want to see and experience transformation and growth in my life and in the work that I am a part of.

But, as I sit in some of the church meetings that I’m called to be a part of, meetings where I can look around a room and see folks that I genuinely love and want to be with, I want to see transformation happen in my life and in the bodies in which I serve, and I believe others do as well.  Transformation that leads to a sense that the Kingdom of God is upon us, that God’s Presence is being made real and communities are being built on an authentic sense of self, others, and God awareness that leads us towards depth, maturity, and a sense of biblical eternal life which not only gives witness to a quantity of time, but a much more meaningful and engaging quality of life.

In the church, it seems like we focus so much on how to get folks in the door, how to fill our pews, how to “win” folks over, etc.  But, is that really all that the church is called to be about?  Aren’t we supposed to be more about serving the world around us and sharing with the world a God who isn’t to be confined by four walls?  Is it about “winning” and how does that measure up to Jesus’ imperative for us to “lose” ourselves?

Are we simply about building up an institution, or are we genuninely interested in what seems to be on God’s heart?  The Hebrew word hesed is used often in the Old Testament to describe God.  It’s a relational attribute that says a lot about God’s commitment to community, compassion, and character awareness.   This is a God who wants to liberate us from our false selves, our lives that can be some so focused on our image, and give us the gift of Presence that calls us to be image bearers of a God who believes in us even in our deepest pains, struggles, as well as joys and moments of bliss.

My true Self as found in and through Christ is much more than what I often experience.  As I was talking to my Spiritual director recently, I realized again, that my cynicism and restlessness is born from a desire to see the church be much better than what it is, that I love this Presbytery and my city, and want to see the Kingdom of God visible in our communities.  I want what’s best.  Really, what I want is resurrection.  But, as we are reminded in Scripture, if we are to experience resurrection, if we are to gain life, real life, not only as persons, but as persons connected together as the church, then we must suffer, we must die, in order to experience resurrection or new life.  I have to realize that my role, my calling, is to lose my life and to invite others to do the same.

31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel,[b] will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 

These are hard words.  We are called to lose our lives.  That could mean losing some programs in our church, chasing after ideas that may fail, and losing our image.  Yet, the good news is upon us, the whole world is opened to us.  Are we willing to risk everything in order for resurrection to emerge?  I am restless for resurrection, and I know many of us are as well, even if we can’t always identify it.  So are the folks in our churches and in our communities.  Yet, I am also reminded that this death and resurrection is a cycle that brings change which leads to this beautiful transformation in our lives and neighborhoods…and, as a friend of mine reminded me lately, change, transformation is happening and it can’t be stopped.

My prayer:  May we be restless, may that restlessness move us towards deeper and more honest questions about ourselves and our communities, especially our faith communities.  And, may we be moved towards growth and action within ourselves and our communities towards transformation as we lose our lives in order to experience real life.

Story.

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*This is an article that I wrote recently for the Clifton Chronicle, a local newsletter.  

You have probably heard the expression, “everyone has a story”.  I believe that to be true.  Every person in your life, that you meet, has a story to tell and to contribute to as well.

I believe stories are not only personal, but intertwined with other’s stories.  Our story is uniquely ours, as well as being connected to the stories around us.  We are simply not “islands”, but beautifully connected with one another.  Our stories are shaped and formed by our relationships.  Our stories, connected and unique, make us a community.

I have been the pastor of Immanuel Presbyterian Church here in Clifton, for all of 10 months.  Not even a year.  Yet, my story has been shaped and formed, and reformed by Clifton and Immanuel.  I have lived in Cincinnati for 15 years.  Most of that time, I have been on the staff of another Presbyterian Church in a neighboring community.  My time there has helped me to see Cincinnati and it’s neighborhoods in beautiful ways.  I have been able to experience my story and the story of my neighbors and friends create within me a deep commitment to this city and to seeing it become all that it can become.

I remember well a story shared with my good friend, Andy Sexton, who lives in England, visiting me almost six years ago.  We were driving down Clifton Ave., past Immanuel on our way out for the evening.  He saw this amazing stone building and that it was Presbyterian.  He asked me about the story of Immanuel.  At that time, I did not know much about Immanuel.  My answer, “Not sure, but if they were looking for a pastor sometime in the future, I’d be interested.”

So, here I am now, and my story is being shaped and formed by Immanuel and Clifton already.  I look forward to many more years and relationships within this community that will build upon our shared story.

I also have the privilege of becoming friends with many of the faith leaders from different religious and denominational backgrounds up and down Clifton Ave. and throughout the greater Clifton community.  Even in this age of decreasing interest in attending church, the story of the church here in Clifton is emerging in incredible ways.  There is a deep desire for collaboration and of being “good neighbors” to ALL who live in our community.  There is an ethos shared by many to work towards, to me it reflects the biblical encouragement found in Jeremiah 29 to work towards the benefit of our city.

With the tragic event of the death of Sam Dubose this past month, we have seen our story, as a community; grow even in the midst of hard realities.  Our stories have the potential to enable us to see each other beyond skin color, economic status, privilege, religious boundaries, various identities, and even neighborhoods.  Because of the work of so many, and the relationships that have been formed between communities of persons who have moved beyond “us and them” to “we”, our stories become personal, deep, and full of meaning.

We are often posed the question:  what story would we like to see emerge in our lives and in our community?

This is what I believe churches can be and are called to be:  a place, a relational space, where we can gather together to ask these questions around our stories with God and each other.  We are given the gift of faith communities to share our stories and to hear how God’s story of creating, saving, and sustaining relationship with us is drawing us together in order to be better neighbors, friends, family members, humans.  It is not simply about the songs we sing, sermons, style of worship, how we dress, or some technique or program.  Those are all things that are of value to a certain degree, but only as long as they help us to share our stories and to see what story God is creating within us in our communities, our neighborhood.

I look forward to meeting many of you in the Clifton neighborhood and beyond to hopefully share our stories and to see what new story may be emerging in our lives and in our city!  Maybe we’ll meet at a local coffee shop on Ludlow or McMillan, or one of the great restaurants or other establishments in and around our neighborhood, or maybe even at Immanuel or one of the other amazing faith communities or gatherings throughout Clifton!

Jean.

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This past Sunday morning at Immanuel Presbyterian Church, the church where I serve as pastor, gathered in the middle of the sanctuary, put our hands on each others shoulders,and did our “prayers of the people” together during the worship service. My friend, Jean, who is pictured, gave the sweetest prayer for our church and community. She is 91 years young and wants to see this church become all that God intends. Her prayer, joined with the other amazing prayers both spoken and unspoken, gave testimony to a God who calls us out and into amazing moments of Truth. ‪#‎thankful‬@ImmanuelClifton.

Deliver…this Sunday at Immanuel!

Come and be with us this Sunday, April 21st at 10:30 AM.   I’ll be leading us in a discussion on “deliver”!

The teaser: “hold on, there is a God who will deliver on the promise that you are not alone, that there is relationship, there is hope.”

Join us after the service for a potluck lunch with Steve Chalke, founder of Oasis, and Dave Parr, Oasis UK staff, as we discuss Oasis’ unique model of Christ-centered community transformation and the theology that drives it. RSVP by emailing us at secretary3445@cinci.rr.com.

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Rebirth.

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New life.  Starting over.  A fresh beginning.  Rebirth. 

 

Every year for the past 25 years or so I’ve been taking personal retreats to the Abbey of Gethesemani monastery in Kentucky.  Sometimes I’m there for a few days, other times I’m there for just a day.  But, I try to take at least one multiple day retreat there around New Years.  Every retreat that I’ve taken there has been fantastic.  It’s simply a time to relax, refocus, and have some time to get beyond the distractions and listen to rhythms of your life with yourself, with others, and with God.

 

I came to Gethsemani a couple of years ago with a lot on my mind and on my heart.  2013 was a hard year filled with lots of questions and a time of seeking out some deeper understandings of myself and what God is doing in and through me.

 

I also came to Gethsemani with a deep realization that there are so many folks in our communities in Cincinnati  that are also in a place of searching and yearning for something more in life.  They, like me, all of us really, have a deep desire for belonging.  Belonging to God, others, as well as a need to see themselves and others as God sees them.

 

On my third day of the retreat, I went for a hike through the woods surrounding the monastery.  I hiked to one of my favorite spots where the philosopher/theologian/writer monk Thomas Merton would hang out.  I sat there for a while and read some scripture, wrote some of my thoughts and prayers in my journal, listened…and was given a word:  “rebirth”.

 

I didn’t experience any earthquakes or a lot of deep emotional responses.  I didn’t dance.  I just had a seed planted that I believe will continue to grow in some beautiful ways…rebirth isn’t easy, it can be painful, but it does bring beauty!

 

Rebirth is really just a start, a new beginning, a new chapter.  The old is behind me, I can learn from the past, but there is a far greater future ahead.  I can’t save myself.  But, I can experience a renewal, a deeper reminder or recognition, that God is at work and doing new things in my life and in the lives of those that live in my community.

 

So friends, out of darkness, Jesus shines a light and our lives are found and renewed in relationship with him, with ourselves, and with others.  He gives relationship to us and God’s Spirit moves in the relationships around us, making all things new and redeeming everything.

 

When I think of Immanuel and being its pastor for a relatively short time, I also think of “rebirth”.  In a short time, Immanuel has been a place where I’ve been experiencing a sense of “rebirth” in so many ways.

 

Immanuel is also going through a period of rebirth.  Ithas been through a lot over its 134 years of existence.  It’s had some amazingly hard changes in just the past dozen years or so.  Yet, here we are today, in the beginnings of a “rebirth” in so many ways as a parish.  We are moving into a sense of newness as we become more community focused than ever before.  We want to be a Presbyterian parish that is a blessing to ALL in this community.

 

If you have been at Immanuel for a while, or maybe you’ve stopped coming, or have never come to Immanuel, I’d invite you to come and see, check us out!  Maybe even consider being a part of this rebirth that is happening in and around us.   With rebirth comes the hope and promise of growth in our lives, and in the lives of others as we come together.  We may even change the world!

 

So friends, receive this blessing:  “may we live into that reality and experience rebirth in our lives…may we know that in Christ, we belong, and that belonging brings hope for rebirth and new beginnings”.

 

So what do we do? Keep on sinning so God can keep on forgiving? I should hope not! If we’ve left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there? Or didn’t you realize we packed up and left there for good? That is what happened in baptism. When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace—a new life in a new land!

 

That’s what baptism into the life of Jesus means. When we are lowered into the water, it is like the burial of Jesus; when we are raised up out of the water, it is like the resurrection of Jesus. Each of us is raised into a light-filled world by our Father so that we can see where we’re going in our new grace-sovereign country.

 

-Romans 6:1-5, The Message.