Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A World Cafe Winner, by Ken Baierl

The congregation at Sunnyside Church rose to the occasion once again on Sunday. Most of you had never participated in a World Café discussion. The Stepping Stones team had never organized one. No one knew what to expect at the Conference on the Present. But at the end of a two-hour, robust discussion of our culture and our church, we knew each other better, we were a little smarter, and we had taken another step in our journey to discern God’s call for Sunnyside Church.

The Fellowship Hall was buzzing with conversation, as we reflected in small groups and then all-together about the challenges facing Sunnyside in today’s culture and the strengths at Sunnyside that help us deal with the issues of an exhausting, self-centered, instant gratification, 24/7 society. There were nearly 100 people around 24 tables that changed five different times in a World Café conversation. The Stepping Stones team collected nearly 50 table-top sheets with notes, drawings and doodles that captured the individual discussions. We have a treasure-trove of information from the youngest participant to the oldest. When combined with the notes from the Conference on the Past and the knowledge gained from two recent sermon series/Bible studies, the Stepping Stones team and the congregation are walking the path to discernment together. We have not arrived at our destination but I believe we are on the right track. Thank you for your participation, ideas, energy and support. More to come.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Cajun Cookin’ and Camp Fire Smoke - That's Mission for Me, by Larry Savage

What does a Mission smell like? I understand the imagery, but the “smell” is very real to me. For me, it’s the home cooked Cajun meal served by families of the Homa Nation in Louisiana and the camp fire smoke during a youth mission trip to Heifer International in Arkansas.

You might remember the generous gift given by one of our Sunnyside families after the Katrina event. This was an important opportunity. Sunnyside organized a canvas of the storm area affected and selected the Homa Nation IndianTribe as the recipient of the grant. We organized a group of Sunnysiders to travel to the Homa Nation , to add our backs to the clean up. I wish the whole Sunnyside family could have been with us. There were so many in need. Yet, there was courage and determination within the Homa Nation. It was a great spiritual renewal for all.

At the end of our time within the Nation, we were invited to a going away dinner. Homa families brought their favorite foods to provide a real banquet. The smells of home cooked Cajun dishes and the fellowship within the tribe was a treasure.

I also had the opportunity to travel with our youth on a Mission trip to Arkansas where we did maintenance work around the Heifer International Farm. This was a different kind of focus. Painting fences and debugging gardens was the work. Time spent with our youth was the reward. Rebecca did a great job of organizing the trip and keeping the “missional” event in the forefront of the teenager’s minds…if that is possible.

I will always treasure a quiet walk with a young adult with a true Christian heart.

So, to me, the smell of Mission is very real. But, back to the figurative, I think a “Missional” church, maybe Sunnyside, may look different than it does now. Maybe our Gathering Space takes on the look of a “situation room”. The various missional activities having a space assigned for posting of recent activities, successes, assets (labor and $) in use,and key issues needing to be addressed. A center where we all can get updated on our external activities and, hopefully, find activities that are a good fit for us personally. It may not be a perfect fit but one that can take us forward.

I suspect that the eleven disciples, when challenged by Jesus to “…go and make disciples of all nations…” were very full of doubt and feelings of inadequacy Maybe, the missional spirit of a “situation room” type environment can slowly bring each of us put a toe in the water of mission.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Filling the Void by Pastor Rebecca

I think it is actually pretty easy to answer the question of what kind of people our consumer culture wants us to be – on the surface it would seem that we are people who are very concerned about how we smell, how our clothes smell, how our homes smell, and how our cats smell, insecure people, people who are not satisfied with the way they look, people who find their status in having the newest the biggest and the best of whatever is being sold this year or this season, people who find their value, their self worth, in what they own or in others opinions of them.

I do believe that there is a chicken and egg thing going on here – is it the consumer culture that has shaped us into people like this, or it is our very nature as human beings that has created the hyper commercialized world that we live in?

Most of us if not all of us have a need for something intangible that we try to satisfy in less than productive ways, and often with material possessions. Philosophers and theologians have described this need in this way: that all human beings have a God shaped whole in their hearts, that we are longing for something to complete us, to help us make sense of the world, and we spend our whole lives trying to fill it with everything but God.

The 17th century philosopher and mathematician Pascal described it like this:
What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.

The crisis of our consumer culture today is not just about the ultra expensive, bigger is better world, it is the cheap, disposable culture as well, where we can get our fix for something new, where we can try to fill the hole with material junk no matter our income level.

How does the church provide a voice of leadership in the mist of these needs and in the midst of this culture?

Let’s be honest here – the only Christian voices in our culture today, the only ones speaking as loud as the commercials are on the television are all about telling us who is in and who is out of the boundaries of God’s love or they are preaching a gospel of prosperity that tries to convince us that God’s purpose and intention for us in the world is to have financial success.

It is hard to hear the voices from the church telling us that we are beloved children of God. It is hard to hear the voices from the church telling us that God is right here in our midst waiting for us to pay attention to how we might experience God in the real moments of our lives. It is hard to hear voices from the church telling us that it is okay to be on a search for something more and to acknowledge that we are in need not just in our bodies but in our hearts and our souls. The voices on the television are just too loud and the voices in our head can be even louder.

The second question in today’s hypothesis is who does Christ call us to be? I believe Christ calls us to be people who identify ourselves as God’s children first before we give in to who the world tells us we are. I believe that we are called to seek after real experiences of God first instead of satiating ourselves with what the world tells us we are missing.

It is important for me to say that the material world is not bad, that things in and of themselves are not the problem, and there is no better way to make that point than to remind us all, that Jesus Christ himself loved a good object lesson, whether it was a net, or a coin, a fish or a jar of costly ointment, whether it was the cool waters of baptism or the satisfying taste of bread broken and wine poured.

Christ calls us to fill this God shaped hole with these gifts of bread and cup, the questions that we are continuing to ask in this stepping stones journey is how does Christ call us to share these gifts with the rest of the world. Christ calls us to live into our baptismal identity and so we ask as well how we proclaim that outside of these walls loud enough for the rest of the world to hear.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Church and McWorld by Mary Cory

We see it everywhere, YOU need to be thinner, YOU need more money, YOU need the newest car and it goes on and on. The billboards grab your attention, television and radio commercials, newspapers and in store ads. It's all day and night, it's everywhere you turn. You're not content and we are going to tell you what to buy to be happy.

Television ads yell at you, the radio has a catchy jingle that you hum all day. Some are more subtle but they are always there.

We are told never to be satisfied. Doesn't everyone want the newest, biggest, brightest...? Most important, don't forget, “It's all about me”.

Is this the kind of person Christ wants us to be? Doesn't the Bible teach us to “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience?” Colossians 3:12

It also teaches, “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” 1Timothy 6:6-8

As Christians, we must be vigilant and keep reminding ourselves what it is we truly want. Is it the newest, the biggest, the brightest or is it a close relationship with God? Only He can satisfy our longings. “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4: 12-13

Only God can show us how to be the kind of “Christian consumer” He wants us to be.