And and But

And and But.

I wasn’t always good about spiritual disciplines, but after my divorce twelve years ago I fell into a morning practice that included about a half hour of gentle yoga, a short reflection on some piece of reflective writing and a form of prayer journaling called Morning Pages. I was searching this week for the right Holy Breadcrumbs topic. Usually the topic is waiting for me minutes after completing my prior blog, but this week I just couldn’t seem to land on something that just had to be said.

god and improvThat is…until I opened the book I am currently using for my morning reflection, God, Improv and the Art of Living by MaryAnn McKibben Dana. In this book she discusses God as one who honors the Yes/And. Apparently it is an improv rule that when one person makes a statement the other person has to affirm it and add to it. One cannot say to a statement that the sky is purple, “No, actually the sky is orange today.” One has to say something like, “Yes, it is purple and I plan to hold our Advent services outside today since the sky matches our liturgical colors.”

Where MaryAnn threw the arrow of self-revelation at me is where she said, “Many of us tend to be “Yes/But” people. Right away I knew that she was talking about me. I remember working with a spiritual director over twenty years ago who kept encouraging me to link two thoughts together with the word “and” rather than “but.” BUT, unfortunately I was unable to do it!

Even in my first paragraph I was careful not to censor myself for the purpose of this blog and discovered the word but naturally flowing out of me. I used it twice in a blog that is not supposed to be about buts! Alas, MaryAnn has nailed me. As much as I try to be a Yes/And person my default position is more often Yes/But.

purple skyAs I reflected on this I realized that something happens when we change our language from but to and. Instead of two ideas or two statements being in conflict with each other in either/or thinking, it opens up the possibility of a third way where two seemingly opposing ideas can both be true. But puts a brake on possibility thinking; And opens up the window to a myriad of possibilities and ways that haven’t even been dreamed up yet. The sky is purple! Okay, let’s hold Advent services outside and sing Prince songs (reference to his Purple Rain album)!

I think this is going to be important as we learn to live into a new future as Presbyterians in this beautiful Cascades region. We will have to learn to live with both despair and hope, endings and beginnings, deaths and resurrections. It’s not that the church, as we know it, is coming to an end, BUT a new beginning is just around the corner. It’s more that the church, as we know it, is coming to an end AND a new beginning is just around the corner. The first statement minimizes the experience of endings since beginnings are on their way. The second statement asks us to embrace the divine character of both endings and beginnings, death and resurrection all at the same time.

you got thisI realize that I have caught myself saying, “I believe that this presbytery has a very hopeful future, BUT we are going to have to change how we do church.” I wonder what would happen if I began saying, “I believe that this presbytery has a very hopeful future AND we are going to have to change how we do church.”

Can you feel the difference? One puts the brakes on; the other invites us to move forward. But seems to separate hope and change into two separate events; And says the two can co-exist like good marriage partners.

I have been aware of my obsession with but-thinking for over twenty years. I have to admit that this will be a difficult shift for me. AND I promise to do my best (it took all my will power to not say “but” there!).

I invite you all to join me in moving from BUT to AND! I believe we have a very hopeful future before us AND I believe that we will have to embrace a radical reorientation of what it means to be church.

Change and hope can exist in the same sentence.



Barbershop Education

“I don’t know what I would need the church for. I can go out and make a difference on my own.”

Hair stylistIt’s amazing what one learns at the barbershop. This past week I was part of a conversation with a person who had grown up in the church, had participated in numerous mission trips as a high school student and had, as is stereotypical, slipped away from the church in her late teens. Eventually she went on to get a license as a hair stylist.

Knowing that I was deeply involved in the life of the church she honestly admitted, “I don’t know what I would need the church for.” Then she proceeded to tell me how every two weeks she donates half a day at the local shelter for homeless youth. There she offers free shampoos and haircuts to these youth whose hair is often matted, unwashed, and out of control. What a gift she offers. What a gift she receives.

homeless youthBut I was struck by her revealing admission that she didn’t see any need for the church since she could go out and make a difference on her own. The good news is that her perception of the church is largely about serving others and reaching out to the “least of these” in true Matthew 25 fashion. At one level she clearly gets church. Many Sunday church services end with some sort of admonition like, “Now go out and serve this world in the name of Christ.”

The good news is that this person clearly got the message in her youth that church and faith and life are about service. She didn’t say it this way, but it was as if her explanation for not going to church was about taking out the “middle man.” “Why waste two hours on Sunday hearing about my need to serve when I could just use those two hours actually serving,” seemed to be her thinking.

mentoringI share this with you because I think it is important that every church and every pew-sitting Presbyterian wrestle with her question of “why go to church if I can just make a difference on my own.” I also think it is important because I have heard stories, too many to count, of life-long Presbyterians who say, “My children puzzle me. I raised them in the church and now they just see no reason for going. And it’s not that they are bad people. They are teachers and social workers and counselors and caseworkers. They just don’t go to church.”

If we are to have flourishing congregations and practicing Christian communities well into the future we will have to have an answer for those who are out doing Matthew 25 ministries despite their lack of church membership and participation. How do you reach people who are doing our service work as well or better than any one of us who are card-carrying members of the church?

This particular hair stylist grew up in the church, participated in mission trips and clearly got the message that faith is about service. She just doesn’t go to church now.

My question for you to ponder is this:

“Is this person now a lapsed Christian or is she a missionary out working on our behalf?”

How do you see her?

(Comments are invited. I would love to see the discussion this starts.)

Dots. Lots of dots.

Connecting the Dots.

This will clearly just be a picture into my mind and my thinking. I can’t tell you exactly where these thoughts are going to lead. They might dry up and die almost as fast as I write them. On the other hand, they might just be the seeds that blossom into a much broader vision for the presbytery. But for now I simply want to give the benefit of what is going on in my chaotic mind and in my dreamy head.

I have a number of dots, some isolated experiences that when taken together might just paint a bigger picture. Here are the single dots:

  • At the presbytery meeting at Columbia, Vancouver we heard the report of First, Trout Lake and their ministry to the Pacific Crest Trail hikers. Trout Lake is a major re-supply site for the hikers, but it is about twelve miles from the trail to the town. First Church leaders organized a shuttle service that runs about four times a day transporting hikers to and from the trail. In addition, they offer their property for overnight campers and make available bathroom and kitchen facilities.
  • spokenhostel beds
    Spoke’n Hostel in Mitchell

    This last Sunday, while driving back from a long Thanksgiving weekend I located a place in the tiny town of Mitchell (where the Painted Hills are located) that I had heard about, but not actually seen. Spoke ‘n Hostel is a church building that has been re-purposed as a combination hostel for cyclists on the Transamerica Bike Route, a Sunday worshipping community, and a once a week community center.

  • Tuesday I attended a regional planning meeting in Newport for the completion of the Oregon Coast Trail (a 357-mile hiking trail). At this meeting that attracted mayors, county commissioners, Travel Oregon, and even the governor’s office we were told this interesting fact: Currently hospitality on the trail is limited to either expensive motels and hotels or to camping. What was missing were the $20-$25/night community hostels that many pilgrims prefer.
  • caminoLast night while researching a possible study leave for this next year I came across an interesting fact. Many of the albergues (pilgrim hostels) on the Camino de Santiago in Spain are run by churches. One church had bunk beds put in the loft of their building to accommodate Camino pilgrims.
  • I have thought deeply about how the spiritual discipline of hospitality runs deep in our tradition and how we are always looking for ways to practice Christ-like hospitality in our changing contexts.

Those are the dots. It makes me wonder, though, whether these are not just isolated and disconnected dots, but represent the faint outline of an emerging picture.

Pilgrimage. Hospitality. Making room at the inn. Partnering with the community. Reimagining building use. Responding to God’s gentle nudge.

Dots. Lots of individual dots.

I wonder if there will be more to connect the story.

Gratitude is Gratitude

I will admit that I have not read Diana Butler Bass’ book Grateful: the Transformative Power of Giving Thanks.” I am relying completely on the reviews of her book to feed the subject matter at hand—Thanksgiving and gratitude.

I do feel a great sense of responsibility in


this position as your Presbyter for Vision and Mission to find the ways and the places where we in the faith community can connect with the broader culture and the secular society in which we find ourselves nestled. Given that this is the week when most of us—family, friends, neighbors, and strangers alike—will celebrate Thanksgiving I found myself pondering the place that gratitude plays in our lives.

I was struck that this is one theme that generally ties both the religiously faithful and the secular spiritualist together. One does not have to search very far to find a whole array of resources on gratitude. There are gratitude journals, gratitude cards, dozens of Ted Talks on gratitude, and even a whole tome by Butler Bass on the power of being grateful.

GratefulWhat I found interesting, but not surprising, about the reviews of Butler Bass’ book is that, despite being a Christian, it appears that her book is not a reflection on why we should be grateful to God, but is a reflection on the power of gratitude to make us healthier people, more connected to the earth and to each other, more aware of the presence of  the one we call God, and able to create a world that is more nurturing and hospitable to all of us.

I am sure that this sounds like a “Big Duh!” But I believe this distinction between focusing on God as the object of our gratitude and focusing on our healthier lives and world as the result of our gratitude is important. It is important because it may provide a natural bridge between those who believe in God and those who just believe in living good, moral, spiritually rich lives.

I found myself wondering, “Do we believe in God as a first step toward becoming grateful people?” Is gratitude the goal or is belief the goal? Is the object of our gratitude more important than the actual practice of gratitude? If gratitude is disconnected from a belief in God does that disqualify the practice of gratitude as a spiritually rich gift?

smiling gratitudeThis Thanksgiving some of us will gather around tables with family and friends and express our gratitude to God for all the blessings of this year. And some of us will gather around tables with family and friends and express their gratitude to life in general and to each other for the blessings of this year.

We in the Christian community believe that blessings come from the very source of our lives—namely the Creator God to which our Biblical narrative points. But our next door neighbors will likely be practicing gratitude as well. Our friends and co-workers and people we have not yet met will also be giving thanks in their own way.

I am grateful for that we have a religious narrative that grounds our gratitude in the One who is the beginning and the end and the reason for our very being.

I am also grateful that others will express their gratitude in way that makes them emotionally and spiritually healthier people, connects us to each other, and creates a world that is more nurturing, forgiving and hospitable to all of us.


There is gratitude for God and then there is just plain gratitude.

I am not sure the two are all that different.

Happy Thanksgiving!

I am grateful for all of you.

“Now That’s Something!”

Now that’s something!

Common Table 1
One of the questions we used for discernment

I just returned from a 3-day retreat at Pacific City for a new initiative called Common Table. Sponsored by our partner Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon and the Portland Leadership Foundation, 32 of us met to explore whether we, in the faith community, could present a unified face in the state of Oregon during this time of troubling divisiveness. We thought, “If a diverse bunch of people in the faith community could find ways to come together, treat each other with respect, and unite around some common goals then the rest of the community should be able to do the same.” It is no secret that in this divided nation some of that division has its origin in religious fervor and narrow agendas.

Attracting as much diversity to the proposed meeting was central to our goal. We were a diverse bunch of folks. Here is a snapshot of the diversity represented around the table:

  • Mainline Protestant (including yours truly)
  • Buddhist
  • Evangelical Protestant
  • Sikh
  • Native American
  • Muslim
  • Jewish
  • Church of Latter Day Saints
  • Welcoming Congregations (LGTBQ)
  • Roman Catholic
  • African Methodist Episcopal (AME)
  • Young Life
  • Religious Society of Friends

As you can see it was ecumenical (meaning many Christian voices), it was interfaith, and it crossed numerous spiritual traditions.

The goal was to see if we could come together around a common purpose, a shared agenda, a mutual mission. Wisely the organizers facilitated this around a “common table.” We shared many meals together, prayed, meditated, sang and walked on the magical beach just outside our conference room.

Common Table 4
The sunset that united us all

One evening we simply stopped. If our traditions had a way of reminding us of our differences and uniqueness the sunset reminded us that we all belong to the same earth and enjoy the same mystical connection. At 4: 52 p.m. we all stood together facing west and stared in awe as the sunset massaged our souls in unison.

I want to tell you that I went away feeling very hopeful. But don’t get me wrong. It’s not that we resolved everything or that we came up with a mission statement to which everyone could agree. No, I walked away hopeful because even in the places where we still had division and suspicion, we were able to say those things aloud to each other.

I was sharing this with a colleague shortly after my return and she said, “Wow. That sounds like you had created a safe space for people to be honest with each other. Now that’s something.” She was right. We didn’t resolve everything and go away singing “Kum Ba Ya,” but we did acknowledge that which still separated us and decided to stay at the table anyway.

I am hopeful.

I am hopeful because I have seen numerous protests across our country where division is the source of hurled insults and thrown rocks…

I am hopeful because a day does not go by where Republicans and Democrats don’t demonize each other and tear each other down…

I am hopeful because much of what I see in this time is rooted in hatred and fear…

I am hopeful because despite all the negativity that we have experienced, at this retreat faith leaders acknowledged that we still have work to do, we still have great differences, we still harbor lingering suspicions of each other…

…AND we sat at a common table anyway.

Now that’s something.

Brian is a Big Tease!

I wonder if many of you think that I am just a big tease!

crystal ballIf you have been around me long enough you will have heard me say something to the effect, “We are going to have to tease this vision thing out.” I imagine that that might be frustrating for some. “Why can’t Brian just come up with a vision and then tell us where we are going?” Believe me, I would, if I had access to the magical PCUSA crystal ball!

But since I don’t have that crystal ball and I don’t know of anyone else who has it either, I guess I’ll go to Plan B—that is, to tease this vision thing out!

I write this not just because I want you to understand my style and the method to my madness. I write this because my style is absolutely dependent on you and your response to “my teasing.” Until this vision thing becomes clear I am likely to toss out all sorts of ideas and possibilities. I am likely to play it too cautious at times and not cautious enough at other times. I am likely to risk offending you, even if only for a moment, for what I do say and don’t say.

Why do I do this? Because how you choose to respond or not respond tells me a lot about what you care about, where the energy is, how the Spirit might be working, and under what rocks this vision thing might be hiding.

people in parkI truly believe that the vision for the presbytery already exists within the hearts and the minds our members and congregations. I truly believe that our future vision already exists within the souls of our communities and among people we have not yet met. We don’t have to come up with a vision; we only need to discover it!

But how do we discover that vision? I suppose one could send a survey to all 14,000 Presbytery of the Cascades members and compile our answers. But honestly that is so old school. We Presbyterians have engaged in dozens of surveys like this and, as far as I can tell, it hasn’t shifted the momentum of the PCUSA. We still lose 3%-4% of our members every year despite filling out numerous surveys year after year. Surveys give us information, but don’t shift our life.

I biteI believe that this vision thing can’t be accomplished by our usual tactic of coming up with a surefire 7-step plan to vitality and growth. This vision thing is going to have be teased out. And teasing has a way of getting to the truth of a matter by pushing a person’s buttons. Have you ever teased someone and discovered their boundaries, discovered the line that shouldn’t be crossed?

So here is the deal I will make with the presbytery. I will take the risks to tease this thing out. I will sometimes say something when I shouldn’t have and I will sometimes not say something when I should have. I will push the envelope a bit. I will test our limits. I will take the risk to cross some lines.

What I need from you is to engage in this process. Tell me when I have gone too far. Tell me when I have not gone far enough. Tell me when I am playing it too safe. Tell me when I am not taking enough risks.

In order to get through this we will need engagement on all our parts. I will need to step out into new territory, but I will also need you to slow me down when I am going too fast and kick me in the butt when I am going too slow.

How do you let me know when I am on the right track or off the deep end?

Respond to my blog.

Email me or call me.

Discuss any wild hair ideas with your committee, your Bible study, your congregation, your clergy support group, and with your hairdresser.

Agree with me. Disagree with me.

Support me. Oppose me.

Compliment me. Complain about me.

Do anything except stay silent and non-engaged!

I need you and you need me.

Okay…enough teasing for now.

Words Matter

“In the beginning was the Word…” John 1: 1

For many years the opening prologue to the Gospel of John has given me much to ponder. I still don’t know exactly what those words mean, but I do know that they have a way of working on me, pulling me into some sacred direction, and giving more depth to my life and my faith. Today, in our current environment, that opening prologue clearly is calling me to say out loud, “Words matter.”

WordI feel like I shouldn’t have to say this, but recent events such as the pipe bomb scare and the horrific massacre of Jewish worshipers in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh and the ensuing dialogue about who is responsible, forces me to say what shouldn’t have to be said, but must be said again.


Why do I say this? Because I wouldn’t be writing this blog every week unless I believed that my words had some impact on the life and the spirit of the presbytery. I don’t HAVE to write a blog. In fact, my life would be much easier if I didn’t carve out a three to four hour period every week to write. I have enough emails to respond to, committees to support, staff to supervise, and churches to visit that adding a few hours just to write a few words takes a monumental effort of discipline and organization. If words don’t matter I will quit this silly exercise right now.

CrosswordBut I write because I believe that words matter. I write because I believe that a few words can actually have more effect on our presbytery than checking off a long list of “to do’s” in my daily calendar. I write because words have power. I write because worlds are not built just with our hands, but are built by the sentences and paragraphs that we fashion into concepts, inspiring sermons, and revealing poems.

And here is the thing about words. I am in a position of some authority. I don’t believe that I am so powerful that I can say something and expect that everyone will immediately follow my lead. But I do believe that my words have the power to subtly shift how we think about ourselves and what commitments we make. I might be wrong but I believe that my words have a subtle way of giving permission for our behavior and for constraining our behavior. I am in a position where I get to set the tone for the life of our presbytery. I am in a position where at least some people are taking what I say seriously and acting on what they hear. I do not take this responsibility lightly.

Here is the deal. If I say something that causes you to act in a way that is irresponsible, you are responsible for making the choice that you made. I can’t make you do anything. You get to be ultimately responsible for your choices, whether they are good or bad. But that doesn’t get me off the hook. Because I am also responsible for creating an environment where your irresponsible choice was made easier, seemed more permissible, and had encouragement from me in my place of authority. I can’t make you behave badly, but I can nudge you in that direction by what I say.

Jewish signTo those who say that our highest elected officials can’t be held accountable for the decisions and the actions of a pipe bomb suspect, I would say that they are technically correct. To those who say that blame for the slaughter of innocent Jewish worshipers can’t be placed on the shoulders of those who overtly endorse violent behavior, I would again say they are technically correct.

But those of us in positions of authority don’t get the same pass that Joe or Sue on the street get. It’s one thing for your next door neighbor to say “Any guy who can do a body slam is my kinda guy.” It’s a whole other thing for me to say something like that, for a parent to say that to a child, for a principal to say it to a student, for a pastor to say it to a parishioner or for a president to say it to a country.

Those of us in positions of authority recognize that our greatest tool is not our ability to fix a car or serve a meal or design a house. Our greatest tool is the platform we have been given to use the power of our words. Words always matter. But in our positions words can mean the difference between hope and despair. Words can make the difference between feeling a violent impulse and hearing permission to act on it.

“In the beginning was the Word…”

Don’t tell me that words don’t matter.

This is the stuff of life and death.


What to Say about Pipe Bombs

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.” Ecclesiastes 3

This morning I woke up to the news that pipe bombs had been sent to several Democratic leaders and supporters. It right away renewed an internal struggle and dialogue I have been having with myself over the last few months—“When is it important to keep silent with regard to our political life and when is it time to speak up as the conscience of our nation?”

Obviously, over the months I have landed more often on the side of keeping silent. I feel (and our laws enforce it) that my role as presbytery staff is not to endorse or condemn any particular political leader or political party.

silence and shhhBut I am also deeply troubled by my silence. What if those bombs had reached their targets and were successfully detonated in the hands of those who were so carefully selected? What if today we were not just expressing our dismay at how far we have fallen as a people, but were actually mourning the assassinations of a former president and former presidential candidate? What if today was not just another Wednesday, but the day that marked the beginning of an outbreak of national violence?

Would I still feel that my silence was the best way to honor the delicate balance between church and state, faith and politics? Would I still feel that my role had nothing to say to a society hell-bent on violently destroying itself? Or would I feel that my silence would make me at least partially responsible and guilty for whatever destruction I refused to condemn?

Ecclesiastes tells us that in God’s realm there are seasons for silence and seasons for speaking up.

we are better than thisThis blog is not to tell our churches to either speak up or stay silent in the face of ongoing attacks on our national civility. It is not to tell our churches what I believe is the right and moral thing to do. It is not to get the Presbytery of the Cascades to uniformly adopt a response to our destructive political environment.

This blog is simply to ask you, “Are you wondering too about when to speak up as a religious body? Are you wrestling with what the right thing to do is as a Christian congregation? Do you wonder if God respects our silence as much as we respect the boundaries between church and state?

Today (Wednesday) the news broke that pipe bombs were sent to a number of high-level political figures. Thank God, the bombs did not explode in the hands of their targets. For one more day we are allowed the luxury of our silence. For one more day we can get away with saying nothing. For one more day there is no blood on our hands.

“There is a time to keep silence and a time to speak,” writes the author of Ecclesiastes.

I am wondering, “Do we want to be judged by what we say or by what we don’t say.”

It is Time to Listen!

How does a church that is rooted largely in a tradition of proclamation shift to a position that is largely rooted in the practice of holy listening?

Recently, I was at a small gathering where the facilitator was encouraging us to listen for our truth. Then she added as a guide to our process, “Speak only when you can improve on the silence.” Ooooh, did that ever resonate in my soul! What I loved about it was the acknowledgment that sometimes our words actually violate the wisdom of silence. What I loved about it was this unspoken assumption that listening was as important, if not more so, than speaking. Don’t speak, she implied, until your truth is more meaty than the delicious silence!

silenceBefore I took this position as the Presbyter for Vision and Mission I had served the church completely as a solo pastor—meaning that I was called upon to have something pithy and inspiring to say every Sunday at 10:00 a.m.! I remember a few years ago that a nagging voice started to pester me before Sunday mornings that said, “I don’t want to HAVE to say anything. I just want to listen. I am so tired of words, words, words!”

Of course, I never stopped preaching, but I did notice that my preaching prep shifted toward many hours of silent contemplation. In the past I would have read books, done research, pulled out the commentaries and searched the web for the perfect story. Today my preaching prep includes very little research but hours of holy listening and contemplation.

I would rather be silent than to preach and have nothing to say!

I do hope that every time I blog I have something important to say, something that gives the reader a nugget or two to reflect on, something that tweaks your usual way of seeing the world and life and faith and God. But this week I believe that what I have to say is not just important, but is central and paramount to this winding journey of faith we find ourselves on.

I am convinced that the future of the church will be dependent on our ability to listen to the Other and our willingness to engage with people who do not think like us, look like us, or believe like us.

Fearless DialoguesLast week Paul and I were in Chicago for the national meeting of mid-council staff. The first day we were led by a dynamic duo, the Rev. Dr. Greg Ellison and Ms. Georgette Ledgister, in a retreat-like process following Greg’s book Fearless Dialogues:  A New Movement for Justice.  How they took a room of 300 executives and stated clerks and created an intimate environment for holy listening, I’ll never know. But they did it!

Our first exercise was to look at individual pictures that were placed in the middle of our group of five chairs. Most, if not all, of the pictures represented people and activities and cultures that were not typical of a Sunday morning worship service in the PCUSA. In other words, we were looking at the Other. Then we were asked to reflect on three questions:

  1. Who do you see?
  2. Who do you not hear?
  3. Where is the hope?

What struck me about the process was that there outside of our normal church setting we tended to listen to the unwritten stories of these people pictured rather than seeing them as objects of our church outreach and membership needs. They were not potential church members, but people with their own stories, own strengths and fears, own hopes and concerns. In other words, they were not objects of our needs and wants, but subjects with their own needs and wants.

This exercise really hit home for me. I am convinced that the future of our church is going to be based on our willingness to listen to and engage with people who do not think like us, look like us, and believe like us.

corinna nicolaou noneIn that vein, I am trying to model for the presbytery this willingness to listen to and get to know the Other. What I need from you is to take advantage of this opportunity. In recent months I have gotten to know Corinna Nicolaou, the author of A None’s Story: Searching for Meaning Inside Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and Islam. Corinna is a “none,” that is a person who checks the none box on the census form with regard to religious affiliation (like 37% of the people in the Pacific Northwest). But Corinna is also a spiritual pilgrim who set out on a journey of discovery in response to a yearning, “I wished to know what the faithful knew,” as she put it in the introduction to her wonderfully revealing book.

Corinna has agreed to write a six-month column for the Omnibus in an Ann Landers’ Q and A style. We have a need to listen to the people around us and Corinna has a desire to share her spiritual journey and discoveries as we wrestle with the place and purpose of our Christian worshiping communities in this time and in this particularly beautiful slice of God’s creation, the Pacific Northwest.

If you would like to hear the story, the spiritual journey or even the advice of one who has taken the time to get to know us please fill out the following form with your question for Corinna using this link ( Corinna’s column “None Sense” will run from January through June, 2019.

We are a church rooted in a tradition of proclamation.

Today I proclaim, “It is time to listen!”

Mission Attracts

Mission Attracts

Those were the two words that the Rev. Rosemary Mitchell, Senior Director of Mission Engagement and Support with the PCUSA, spoke as she finished her comments during a panel discussion at the most recent Association of Mid-Council Leaders Annual Meeting in Chicago. It was my first meeting with this group as I am still settling into my first full year of serving as your Presbyter for Vision and Mission. Quite honestly, the meeting was at times as dry as it probably sounds and was, at other times, wonderfully engaging, broadly informative and refreshingly insightful.

tent citiesRosemary Mitchell’s comment, “Mission attracts” was one of those refreshingly insightful moments. She revealed to us that she had spent nine years in secular work before she returned to serving the church in her most recent position with the national church. One could hear the frustration in her voice as she described the difference between her experience in the secular world compared to the sacred world of the church. She said in the secular world when agencies face economic difficulties they double down on their essential mission. In the church when we face economic difficulties we table our mission priorities until things start to look up again.

She wanted to share with us the lesson from her secular work where she learned that agencies survive tough times by asking the community to invest even more deeply in their essential mission until they can get on stronger footing again. She said her experience is that people do respond to pleas to invest in mission. Then Rosemary summed up her comments with this simple two-word reminder, “Mission attracts.”

FearWhen I first took this position I had this vague sense that I had two primary foci—to invite the presbytery into a shared vision for the future and to organize ourselves around shared mission commitments. After all, my title is the Presbyter for Vision and Mission. Of those two foci, I was completely comfortable stepping into the role as a “visionary” as much of my past work has been rooted in helping people and organizations see possibilities and help them live into their imagined future. I was less sure of what I would bring to the arena of mission. Much of my work has been deeply rooted in Christian mission, but for me mission always seemed to be the healthy byproduct of good vision work.

But I am increasingly convinced in this uncertain and vulnerable time that we will not be able to separate out the vision thing from the mission thing. In fact, I am convinced that whatever vision we cobble together over the coming months and years will be a direct result of reminding ourselves, recommitting ourselves and doubling down on our essential mission. Mission shouldn’t be the luxury of having abundance, but the very root of who we are even in scarcity.

Presbyterian pewsI have spent years working with organizations and churches discover and live into a vision. Not surprisingly, mission has, in every case been a natural byproduct of that work. But I am wondering if, in this time, it isn’t vision that comes first, but mission. I am wondering if our vision will become the natural byproduct of work rooted in a recommitment to our essential mission. Maybe the question isn’t who do we want to become (the vision thing), but who are we now in our deepest and most authentic expression as Presbyterian Christians.

Maybe we shouldn’t be looking to the future for our vision, but to the people who grace our lives and our neighborhoods right now. Maybe our vision already exists in the mission that awaits us at our own doorsteps.

Do we have homeless sleeping outside our doors?

Are there people who are feeling alienated, isolated and lonely in the neighborhood around us?

Are children and youth left unattended after school?

Do seniors sit at home all day with no social and meaningful connection?

Is there food insecurity among families around your church?

Do people get along and enjoy a sense of community in your neighborhood?

I am the Presbyter for Vision and Mission. A year ago I was all ready to dive in on the vision thing. Today I am not sure that is best first step. Vision can paint a picture of the future we want.

Mission is what will get us there.