Passsion.

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In my role as a pastor, I have the privilege of officiating weddings from time to time.  They are usually great moments in the lives of those getting married.  The persons who are in attendance at weddings are usually family and friends who are genuinely excited for the couple.  One of the best moments of a wedding is the processional.  The wedding attendants proceed in, the music is playing, then everything changes…oftentimes with the change of music, or simply a nod or motion by the minister.  Everyone stands and all eyes are on the bride as she walks in.

Yes, for me, it’s a privilege to be witnessing that.  I also know that in my own wedding several years ago, it was emotional to watch my best friend walk down that aisle.

Of course, after the processional, there are some serious life altering words that are shared.  A commitment is made.  After the ceremony, there is usually a party, a honeymoon, and then life.  Sometimes that life is up and down, hard and joyful at times.  Decisions are made, people change.  Life happens.  Sometimes life prevents those commitments from being fulfilled.  Oftentimes the marriages don’t go the way that folks entering into those commitments hoped they would.  People get disappointed, let down.  Sometimes even filled with despair.

Of course, there are also stories where folks get through some of the hard times.  But, life together can bring deep growth and joy, it will also bring scars and pain.

And, yes, whatever the outcome in a marriage, or whether ones gets married or not, there is always something deeper going on, something beautiful, something worth seeking out eyes to see, ears to hear.

Last Sunday was Palm Sunday.  We commemorate this day by waving palms and singing “hosanna”.  According to Scripture, Jesus entered Jerusalem the week of passover to celebrate this occasion with his disciples.

In the Gospel accounts, we read that Jesus rode in on a white donkey.  The writers want to give us a picture that Jesus was not on a warhorse, not coming to establish some type of earthly kingdom that folks in Jerusalem thought they wanted.  Common folks such as merchants, clergy at the time, or others would ride donkeys.  The message is that Jesus is like one of us and comes to bring peace, not war.  It was also prophesied that the Messiah would enter Jerusalem on a donkey in the old testament.  This Jesus knows what it’s like to be “us”.

The people of Jerusalem were gathering from all over the countryside to come to Jerusalem to celebrate passover.  They had heard about Jesus and the miracles he had performed, some were curious, most were hopeful, they were caught up in the festive atmosphere.  They welcomed Jesus with shouts of hosanna, which literally means “God save us”.  The people of Israel were under Roman occupation, they wanted to be liberated and free to live as they thought they should.  They were hoping for this Jesus to deliver them.  They probably were enslaved by even deeper things within their own lives, their way of thinking that prevented them from being the people they wanted to be…and, as is often the case in history, placed their trust and hope in an idea of a person.  They were transferring their hopes and dreams on to Jesus.

So, they waved palms, symbols of expressions of joy, even the coins at that time would have had inscriptions of palms and the words the “redemption of Israel”.  Again, different ideas of what that meant.  They welcomed Jesus and Jesus entered into the moment with them.

Jesus knew that things were probably not going to go so well in a few short days based on his words that he had shared with his friends.  Just like when we come to a wedding, we know life isn’t going to be easy for the couple getting married, yet, we celebrate and we know that something deeper, somehow, some way, is going on.

There were some though who didn’t enter into the festivities.  The religious rulers, those involved in the maintaining of the institutional temple worship had been trying to discredit Jesus, trying to gain the upper hand in discussions with him, attempting to validate their roles, the status quo if you will, by winning an argument, or by other means.  It’s easy to get frustrated with them, yet, we also know what it’s like to have anxiety over change, even if that change is going to be good.  The religious leaders may have known that their system wasn’t perfect, wasn’t sustainable, wasn’t good for everyone, yet it was the system they knew and they didn’t want to have that boat rocked.

They saw the crowds changing for Jesus, they saw the hope for something more in people’s faces and in their actions, yet they couldn’t enter in to the joy.  So, they began to conspire in even more sinister ways.

Jesus saw the injustices, Jesus also heard the deeper cries of the crowd for salvation, for hope, for something more.   Throughout the week between Palm Sunday and that dark Friday where Jesus was crucified, he spoke openly and honestly about deliverance, about the need for a God who was on their side.  Really on their side, not on their side for an earthly or temporal “win” but for the deeper things of life, the hard things and good things that produce a deeper sense of worth, of value, of forever permanence.

At the end of that week, the crowds turned on Jesus as the religious leaders stirred them into action.  Fear and anxiety overtook hope and the deeper need for love, change, and growth.  They, we, wanted to go with what we knew, rather than have faith and hope in something even better.  So, we killed Jesus, we experienced brokenness in our relationship with God, and with others.

I know it’s easy to judge the folks in Jesus’ time.  To ask why couldn’t they see.  Yet, it’s a drama that’s played out in our lives everyday.  We put hopes in something or someone, and when life happens in ways that we don’t anticipate, we get disappointed, hurt, fearful, anxious, and may experience brokenness and despair.  We may even make unhealthy or unhelpful decisions that have dire consequences.

In my new church Immanuel and in this neighborhood of Clifton…and in our own families and some of our deep friendships, we have experienced weariness, tiredness, anxiety, and disappointment.

As the pastor here, I know that I will get tired, weary, disappointed, maybe even a bit anxious.  Immanuel will with me as well, and with others.  We all know that, we’ve experienced that over the years.

Yet, that’s not the end of our story, nor is it the end of the story with Jesus.  He was crucified.  But, there was something deeper going on in Jesus’ coming to us, his life, and even his death.  Jesus rose out of the grave three days later.  Jesus’ love for us was stronger than all of the disappointment, all of the weariness.  His love was deeper than our desire for an earthly king.  He overcame death and showed us that God’s belief in us, God’s expansiveness, God’s love for those on the margins, God’s desire for change, growth, and for a more just system…God’s pursuit of everyone and Jesus’ model of radical inclusive community, is stronger than anything in this world.

This same God does not want us to be ashamed of our lives, ashamed of how we have reacted to our disappointments in life, but to realize the gift of growth, change, and relational presence God has given us.  To own our space and to celebrate with God what God has done for us and who believes in us.

That gives me, and all of us, opportunities for strength as our minds and hearts are inspired and renewed, by a God and God’s presence in our lives.

I used the example of weddings for this conversation.  It is interesting that we, the church or God’s people, all of us, are Jesus’s bride.  Jesus is the groom.  This metaphor is used in scripture.  God is standing at the front of the sanctuary, looking out at our lives, and sees us proceeding in and is filled with Joy.  God’s glory is wrapped up in our being who we were created to be.  The disciples didn’t get it at times, but they began a journey of deeper understanding after Jesus rose from the dead.  This gave them hope and a sense of purpose that they could face anything, that their momentary disappointment would give away to growth and a promise of even more beautiful things to come.

This same God calls us into deep community with him and with others.  As we move through the throes of life together with others and with a God who believes in us, all of us, and we will begin to see a future filled with promise, even as we live in the moment, present with each other!  We have a God who does save, who does give us a deeper hope and imagination than we could even hope for.  Makes me want to wave some palm branches and not just say God save us, but thank you God for saving us!

Rich and Travis’ Community Hubs Fundraising Link!

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Here’s the link to make online donations for Rich and Travis’ Marathon Race in October to raise funds for Cincy Community Hubs…or to make general donations to Cincinnati Community Hubs:

https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=PRAZND2N7BWQL

Thanks!

Rich and Travis

ALL DONATIONS TO CINCY COMMUNITY HUBS THROUGH COMMON EXCHANGE ARE TAX DEDUCTIBLE. 

Community Hubs in Cincy!

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We are excited to post today on my blog about an opportunity that we (Travis and Rich) have been in conversation about for several years.   It is a conversation centered on our shared belief in the importance of persons and organizations engaged with each other in meaningful ways for community transformation.  Out of these conversations (many of which we’ve had on long runs together) between us and others, we are developing what we have termed “community hubs”.   A hub is rooted in a local neighborhood for the purpose of building relationships and highlighting services already in the community, and where there are needs, finding ways to service those needs.

This is a growing discussion that has also included a wide range of other friends and colleagues from diverse backgrounds, but all who share a desire to see communities come together for the common good.  These friends are corporate leaders, educators, community leaders, church leaders, artists, high school students, and young adults.   We are inviting you to participate in a fundraising project for community hubs.

There are discussions around specific projects in several neighborhoods in Cincinnati where there could be potential hubs emerging.  These communities include Finneytown, Clifton, Norwood, and Wyoming for now, others could be added in the future.

Some specific projects that have been discussed and that we’d like to raise seed funds for are:

  • A Finneytown summer camp program starting in 2015.  This will be a camp for elementary-aged students with educational, nutritional, and recreational opportunities.
  • A community garden in Finneytown.
  • A community youthworker in a nearby neighborhood mainly financially supported by several churches, but  possibly under the umbrella of the Community Hub.
  • A gap year exchange program for young adults from Cincinnati to work, learn, and grow in London, UK with OasisUK, and for UK young adults to come and serve in Cincinnati.  As of writingt this letter, it looks like we  will have one young adult (and possibly 2) going to the UK to work with Oasis this fall (2014).
  • A high school student gathering, that has decided to call themselves the “hubba” group.  These students met for several months at Finneytown last spring in Lynn Volz’s classroom for lunch and discussion centered on community building.  They have discussed several issues and ways that they can be leaders for positive change and growth.  For example, they have had discussions on economic, religious, and ethnic division and how to honestly listen to one another.  They have also come up with several ideas for community building at Finneytown such as hosting a community potluck, taking surveys, etc.  Many of these projects will come to fruition this fall.

We (Travis and Rich) have several passions.  One is this community hub concept, another is running.  So, we have decided to raise funds for these community projects by running a marathon this fall.  We will be running the “Wine Glass Marathon” in western New York on October 5, 2014.  Would you please consider donating a certain amount per mile or a flat donation to this endeavor?   Your donation would be very appreciated and also tax-deductible.  100% of your donations will go to Cincinnati Community Hub projects.  You can donate online through Common Change using the PayPal link on Rich’s blog at https://rdjonesy2013.wordpress.com or you can mail checks to: Common Change, 484 Lake Park Ave #665, Oakland, CA 94610.  Please make checks out to “Common Change” and in the memo write “Cincinnati Community Hubs”.

Thank you for your consideration of helping out with this project.  If you would like to know more about Cincinnati Community Hubs or other ways of getting involved, please feel free to contact us (Travis and Rich) any time!  Travis’ contact info:  glendenningt@wyomingcityschools.edu or (740) 974-2738.  Rich’s contact info:  rdjonesy@icloud.com or (513) 295-5818.

Sincerely yours,

Travis Glendenning

Rich Jones

Beauty.

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Oil and perfume make the heart glad,

    and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel.

–        Proverbs 27:9

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.

–        Ecclesiastes 3:11

Having just returned from the UK, I have much on my mind and heart to process.  It was an amazing trip filled with great conversations, meetings, sights, and new and old friendships strengthened.

It was beautiful.

Not just the landscape, but the relationships.  My family and were poured into by friends who have journeyed with us over the years who now live in the UK.  We met with many other new friends who have a kindred passion for authentic living and a quest to see church be the Church…for everyone and from the “outside-in”.

While in the UK, I was reminded of a conversation that I had with a fellow Presbyterian pastor who works for Young Life in Nicaragua.  We were talking about the concept of doing ministry that we call “quality of excellence”.  This means that we want to do ministry at a high level, we want to do it well, pour in resources, and make it attractive.  There is some good to that, but it’s not what they strive for with Young Life in Nicaragua much anymore…they don’t have all the resources that we have in the states, so they strive for something better:  “beauty”.  It’s beautiful to see teenagers sitting on a hill at a camp sharing life, laughing and crying together.  It’s beautiful to see folks believing in each other and giving and receiving grace.

I have seen this beauty at Northminster in many ways the past 13 years.  I have said often to our NSM leaders that I’m not so concerned any more about “how” we do ministry, but that we “be” a community that is marked by a deep and abiding Love.  That we look at each other and see persons made in God’s image, and see the beauty.

As my family embarks on a new adventure, I cannot tell the future.  I do not see all that God is doing.  But, I am sensing a deep beauty in the past, present, and future for our family, for Northminster, and for Cincinnati as we explore building community hubs and discern where God may be calling me as a pastor.

Our trip to the UK was fruitful, and it will continue to bear fruit…beautiful fruit of friendships and community with God and with others.

Community. Outside.

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13 Let mutual love continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.

 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. 12 Therefore Jesus also suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood. 13 Let us then go to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. 15 Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.  (Hebrews 13:1-2; 11-16) 

I’m writing this on Ash Wednesday.  Last year, outside of our church, we stood around fire pits sharing words of Jesus and life together, marking each other with the sign of the cross with ashes.  It was a beautiful moment to celebrate our commonness with each other and with Jesus.

As I looked around the circle, I could not help but to look at the cars passing by the front of our church.  I mentioned to my friend Troy, “what are they thinking when they see us?”  At that moment, I was thankful for our community, but also thankful for the greater community happening all around us.  Community with God and with others gives us hope that we bear all that we may experience in this life, and in the life to come.

God’s Presence is everywhere.  And where God’s Presence is, community can spring up and flourish.  Jesus demonstrated community by including those who were excluded, bringing persons in from the margins to the center of community life with God and others.  Jesus was even crucified OUTSIDE the city gates of Jerusalem.

As we live our lives outside of the church walls, as we go “outside” where the drama of Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection is happening every moment, let us worship God wherever we are in whatever we are doing, and even being.  Let us also be mindful that God lives in us and through us and all around us, reconciling the world to God’s self, bringing community to all who have eyes and ears to see and hear!

Desert.

 

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Thus says YAHWEH, who made a way through the sea,…No need to remember past events, no need to think about what was done before.  Look, I am doing something new, now it emerges; can you not see it?  Yes, I am making a road in the desert and rivers in the wastelands…for my people, my chosen one, to drink.

–        Isaiah 43:16, 18-20

Our church staff went on our annual retreat last week.  A couple of the highlights (in addition to playing cards and late night talks) were practicing the spiritual discipline of daily prayers using Phyllis Tickle’s prayer book, The Divine Hours, and having Sibyl Towner come and lead our church staff in her life mapping material for two of the days.

The above passage was from our reading the last morning of our retreat.  Sibyl also led us in a visual journaling experience.  The theme of “desert” was prominent on my mind and heart that morning and I kept on bumping into it.

Part of the reason is that I love being in high deserts.  I think they are places of immense beauty, expansive vistas, and evoke deep emotion within me.  One of my favorite deserts is Joshua Tree National Park in southern California.  When we lived there while I was attending Fuller, we went to Joshua Tree often.  I had several deep emotional and spiritual reactions there on each visit.  One visit in particular I remember sitting on the top of a boulder in the middle of wide open space, surrounded by Joshua Trees and  boulders scattered about with mountains way off in the distance.  It was early morning, very quiet, not much wind.  I had a lot to process as we were getting ready to move back to Cincinnati.  It was a time of deep transition and I wasn’t sure how to process all that I was experiencing.  In many ways, I felt like some would view the desert:   barren, lonely, and in need of something to hang on to.

As I sat there with my journal, thoughts, and prayers, I began to feel and hear a subtle breeze.  As I looked down on the desert floor, I began to see so much life around me.  A rabbit, a bird, a beautiful cactus, and other living things…in this barren place, life was  coming into focus all around me.  It became an overwhelming experience where I began to sense that I was truly not alone and the realization that God was with me and wanted to give me life in deeper ways than simply living.

I remember those moments in my life, especially when I feel like I’m in barren places within me and around me.  I am reminded of looking for signs of life, moments in our days and lives when we experience God.

I’m not sure what 2013 was like for you or the beginning of 2014.  Maybe you, like me, have experienced some times in the desert this past year.  Maybe you are in the midst of transitions in life and in need of reminders that you are not alone and that life is springing up all around you.

It was a good retreat.  If for no other reason than this:  to be reminded that God surrounds us with community that has life when we stop, listen, and really look.  And, that we have a God who is intensely loyal to us and whispers gently in our ears that we are not alone and that someOne believes in us.

Expect.

To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. 29 To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me. (Colossians 1:27-29, TNIV) 

Hope.  The word in Greek is  ἐλπὶς, this has a meaning of prospect, hope, and “expectation”.  Glory has a meaning of grandeur, splendor, majesty, of power.  However, it is not for worldly power or as we understand it.  It means something different, something deeper and more powerful.  It means finding an identity in the One who came to give himself away to others, while having confidence in his identity.

When I was a kid, I wanted a bike like my best friend, Jeff Hume, for Christmas.  Jeff was cool, if I had that bike, I’d be cool.  I didn’t get that bike…and, at age 8 or 9, I kind of moped around a bit and wondered, why didn’t my parents give me the bike that I wanted, I even showed it to them in the store!  Later, as I matured and grew older, I realized that my parents made sacrifices for me and it made a huge difference in how I viewed them, and myself.  My attitude changed.

Friends, God has made huge sacrifices for us, even the ultimate sacrifice.  His relationship with us cost him greatly, on the cross and throughout history.  Yet, this God continues to love us and shares his love with everyone (vs. 28).

We have a deep need to cultivate this awareness that Christ is residing in us!  Not in some building or program, but in us!

As we approach 2014, may it be a year filled with expectation!

Relationship.

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Relationship really is what makes the world go around.

We experience this reality every day.  I’ve heard it said that we are the sum of our relationships.  All of our relationships form and reform us.  They give us perspective, hope, acceptance…and oftentimes, rejection, despair, and discontent.  That’s why it’s so important to approach every relationship with as much grace and honor as one can muster.

It’s also important to have that “long haul” perspective that helps us realize that we do indeed have grace and are free to give and receive each other in a way that brings growth.  We enter into relationships knowing that they are risky, yet so worth it.  We learn from mistakes, we understand the importance of confidence in ourselves and the frailty of ourselves.  We gain wisdom through relationships even as they are oftentimes “messy”.

We cannot escape relationships really.  We are not created to live as isolated individuals, but as whole persons interconnected with each other.

We were created for relationship out of relationship.  As a Jesus follower, I believe in a God who is relationship in it’s very being.  I believe in what Christian orthodoxy calls the “Trinity”.  God in three Persons.  God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit.  Three distinct beings that mutually indwell in each other.  Relationship.  This God relationship is the creative force that gave earth it’s form somehow, gave life to it somehow, and with a word of relationship, created us and even became one of us.

It’s not only relationship with others, but with a God who understands relationship, invites relationship, and gives us relationship.  A God that is not trapped in the four walls of a church, but is out in the community dancing and crying, laughing and frustrated, committed and loving.  A God who we can love well, doubt, question, and struggle with.  A God who’s relationship with us will not end, even when we think we may want it to.

Yeah, relationship, it says a lot to me about how I should interact with creation, with my wife, my family, co-workers, friends…and with God…especially when I understand the relationship that is the creative, regenerating, renewing force all around me…shaping me into the person that I am becoming.

Change.

DSCF6585Do not be conformed to this world,[c] but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:2(NRSV))

In this passage, the word for transformed comes from the Greek word “metanoia”, which means a shift in thinking, a paradigm shift, a change of an inward reality.

In October, Debbie and I went to the Missional Developers Assessment Conference in San Anselmo, CA.  It was sponsored by the PC/USA and it gave great insight on where the church is today and what kind of leadership is required for the church in this present culture.  It gave us a great picture of the changes in our denomination and helped to further our growth in understanding of the change necessary in the church universal.

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.  If we just “work harder” or “smarter” (terms I’ve personally used!), we can “right the ship”.

However, that’s not what the church needs today.  It does not have a broken foot, it has lost its foot and it needs to adapt and have “adaptive change leadership”.

We are living in a new cultural reality when it comes to church.  People generally have either distrust or disdain for the church, or are simply ambivalent or don’t care.  I meet both students and adults many times who consider themselves “church refugees”.  At one time they felt comfortable, at home in the church, but now feel like the church has left them or has sold them a bill of goods that they don’t understand, want, or need.

The church has often responded to these refugees, as well as to others, with a consumer and/or corporate-business model or mindset that attempts to address perceived needs.  Often, the church simply has not done enough listening, deep listening to the real needs of the culture around us.  We go about “our business” in a paradigm that the world simply doesn’t get, it is foreign to them.

We need to change, we cannot settle for “business as usual” or status quo.  We cannot make cosmetic changes, it’s not simply about budgets or program changes, we need to listen deeply to the culture around us and seek out what God wants us to do and adapt to God’s purposes for this world that may look radically different from the way we’ve done “church”.

People are searching for deeper relationship with others and, ultimately with God.  People desire and need relational connection and they need the Truth.  The Truth, as revealed in Scripture and in the world, which is Jesus Christ.  A God who is incarnate…one of us.  They need to see this Jesus, this God, demonstrated through honest living in the culture, not against the culture.

I do not have the answers.  But, I do know that we need a transformation and renewal of our minds, and our souls, in order to be the body of Christ, the church, to the world around us.  We need adaptive “change”, or metanoia, leadership.

May we all be changed, transformed, renewed as we go on this journey together.

Love. Period.

I have been in a place of discernment lately.  At 45 years old, I’ve been asking myself this question:  where do I see myself in 5 years?  Well, I don’t exactly know.  I have an inkling, but not sure.  It’s more than a physical place, it’s who am I called to be.

What I do know is this:  I am called to be a pastor.  I love coaching cross country, I love being with students, I love seeing folks connect and become friends…some even dream some big dreams together, I love being present in our communities, etc.  But, all of those things can be summed up by saying that I love people.  I really do.

Yes, sometimes I get tired and I need to take my “extrovert/introvert” (or “ambervert”…new word that my friend Kevin Rains said of me.) self out of the social picture and get re-energized or be around a solid small group of people that give me energy.  But, I genuinely love people and want to be authentic in that love.

I understand that love for people coming from a love from and through God.  I don’t understand God or how or why God is and does…but, I know that this God is not me, but lives in and through me.  This God gives me purpose and calls me to my “true self” (see Thomas Merton and/or Parker Palmer).  This “true self” is found in my identity in Jesus.  I am a Jesus-follower and through Jesus I find hope and a desire to love folks and build community with them.

What I know I’m not about is loving others with an agenda.  I’m sorting that out in all sorts of places and relationships these days.  I’ll keep you posted on that one.

We (the Church) are called to love the world.  The church does not exist to perpetuate its self, but to give it’s self away to the world.  We are called to band together to bear witness and to serve (“love”) the world around us.  Without condemnation (see John 3:17).  God calls us into action.

I love being a pastor in this kind of church mindset.  Who knows where God is taking me, but I’m wide open!