Sundays Gatherings in September

2015 Beach Day - 2 copyOver the summer The Commons has been meeting in Beasley Park. Our last 2015 Park Gathering will be on Aug 30th at 6pm (Corn Roast to follow Gathering). Starting in September there are going to be some major changes to our weekly Worship Gatherings.

First Change: we are going to take one week off on Sunday September NGen Side View - Commons Location copy6th, 2015 for our annual Beach Day.  So there will be no worship gathering that daySecond Change: starting in September 13th, 2015 we will be meeting at our new location: N-Gen (a the corner of 24 Main St. W. and MacNab St. S.).

N-Gen is a funky little space that is right across from the MacNab Bus Terminal and beside New Vision United Church. (formally Centenary Church).

This new location has a number of Processed with VSCOcam with c7 presetbenefits, just to name a few:

  • Wheel Chair Accessible.
  • right in the heart of Downtown
  • Lots of Bike parking
  • Ridiculously close to the MacNab Bus Terminal
  • Free parking near by. Any of the parking meters (there are some on King and Main) , and the City Hall Parking Lot are all free on Sundays.
  • Lots of Windows!
  • Space is fun and funky.
  • There is lots of cool things going on in the space the rest of the week.

We look forward to growing together into this next phase of our community journey!

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Parables in the Park off to a great start.

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P1000526We have had 3 great Sunday nights in Beasley Park. In our first week we talked about the parable of the Mustard Seed, and spent time scouring the park for items we could use to also talk about the Kingdom of God and recreate the Mustard Seed story. Last week we talked about the parable of the Lost Sheep on a very hot day over cold drinks of fruit punch, lemon aid and iced tea. Each drink was attached to a Question station at a tree in the park. You want a glass of Iced Tea, you’ll need to visit the “When have you been a lost sheep?” tree. Want a glass of lemon aid? You’ll have to visit the “Who are the lost sheep in our society?” tree. I’m always amazed at the creativity of Commoners as they reflect on the words of Jesus.

sacred daysI’m currently working through a book called “Sacred Days” by Thomas R. Steagald. Here is what he has to say about parables,

“Jesus spins his tales; some have the ears to hear and eyes to see but some not. … Even those who want to understand don’t. The kingdom of God is like new wine, like treasure buried in a filed. it is like a mustard seed or yeast in three measures of flour. It is like birth  like death, like the wind. Jesus tells parables, and a scholar i used to know would say that they are like a good joke–if you get it, you really get it; it opens your eyes. If you don’t get it, you fell blinder, deafer, dumber than you already know yourself to be. Parables tell the truth, but they tell it “slant,” as Emily Dickenson wrote in her poem “Tell the truth but tell it slant.” The kingdom of God is like a bush with lots of different birds singing lots of different songs. It is like a fig tree. It is like a vineyard. The parables “dazzle us gradually” as Dickenson advises so that bolts of lightning do not rend our darkness. No, the surprise of truth comes more like fingers of dawn at the far edge of our incomprehension as a promise of incremental understanding. The light gradually enables us, bit by bit, to see. A parable resembles the sunrise for those who are awake and looking.” (Thomas R Steagald, Sacred Days, p.44-45)

Parrables in the Park copy

Waging Peace

Pen Pals Slide -April-June copy“Waging Peace”
Teaching Segment Notes
By Randell Neudorf
June 21st, 2015
Passage: Ephesians 6:10-24

The Commons is part of Mennonite Church Canada. This isn’t the tribe most of us grew up in, so we have been working hard to dive into the theological lens of our wider tribe.

Slide5The Mennonite Lens has three core values:

  1. Community
  2. Discipleship
  3. Peace

As we are looking at the end of Ephesians I want us to view this passage through these Values

Slide6Community Lens:

Thomas R. Yoder Neufeld (who I like to call Tom) has written a commentary about Ephesians from a Mennonite perspective. As a Mennonite Tom cautions that,

“…most commentators like to envision the individual Christian in the armour… Support for an individualistic interpretation grows if the passage is read in light of Cynic-Stoic views of life as battle… However this limits what kind of struggle is imagined and misses the biblical allusions to God as the divine warrior. It is much more in keeping with the gist of Ephesians to see this summons to battle directed to the church as a whole, to the body of Christ acting as a unified divine force.” (Thomas R. Yoder Neufeld, Ephesians Believers Church Bible Commentary P.291-292. Please Note that any citations unless otherwise noted are Tom’s words and ideas.)

This is why we are using this Mennonite commentary, written from an Anabaptist perspective. Anabaptism is a communal faith, and that changes things as we learn. In the Mennonite Anabaptist tradition a community reading of scripture is valued. God isn’t just in relationship with us as individuals, God is in relationship with us as a community, so it is in community (even reading the bible together) where God is made known. That is why we don’t have the same person speaking every week. We know God better through a diversity of people seeking God together. Remember that an individual faith is much easier, because you get to ignore everyone else, but I have found this is hollow and incomplete.

Slide7Peace Lens Slide

Warfare symbolism is sometimes really hard for people who have grown up in the Mennonite Tribe or other Peace Church Traditions. The language grates on their desire for peace in all things. Now that might not be the case for some of us who were raised in other traditions, but it is still important to not confuse the metaphor for the message. Tom says “…truth, justice, peace, faithfulness, the word of God, and prayer, are the effective means by which the powers are overcome.” (p.298). The armour is the metaphor not the actual ingredients. We shouldn’t get hung up on the metaphor. It is also really important to note that God’s armor & tools looks nothing like our own.

Another element of peace making can be found in the description of our enemy. Tom say,

“Verse 11 identifies the enemy as the devil … the term devil appears also in 4:27 but is rare in the letters bearing Paul’s name… Verse 12 stipulates that the struggle is not with blood and flesh. Why does that need to be said? Perhaps some believers were experiencing firsthand the hostility of authorities or rival religious groups, even if this letter gives no specific evidence of that. They might have been tempted to see such hostile persons as the actual enemy.” (p.295)

This whole naming of the real enemy leads to peacemaking – People are made in the image of God and are to be part of God’s forgiveness plan. They are our potential future brothers and sisters not our enemies. Tom asserts that “Blood and flesh are not the enemy. Blood and flesh are under the control of the enemy. The church must struggle against the enemy, not against the victims of the enemy.” These powers this enemy can also be spiritual or systemic evil. (p.296).

Thinking of the weapons and tools of peacemaking reminded me an Activist Drumming Workshop I went to 2 years ago at Cahoots Festival. It is amazing what a drum line can do in the service of peace and justice. At a protest the drum line can be used to combat Police and Military. If it seems like they are tense the drum line plays something fun to help the authorities chill. It is as if the drummers are putting on their own armour or riot gear, but instead of vest and helmets they have a whole bunch of drums and noise makers. The Drums also inspire protesters – If the Drum Squad want to help knock down a fence they play a pulsing rhythm that helps the crowd gain momentum to beak the barrier. The drums are a motivating call to action. Tom says that this armour section of Ephesians is also supposed to be a “Rousing Call to Action” (P290).

Slide8Discipleship Lens:

Discipleship is a word that isn’t really used much in society, and when it is used in church circles we may not even be all talking about the same thing.

Some people use discipleship as short hand for teaching converts the things you need to know about God. It is a passing along of head knowledge. You need to be able to say the right things.

This isn’t how the Mennonite Anabaptist tradition uses this word. Discipleship is about following Jesus (God who came to us as a Person). We are to be Disciples of Jesus, copying the actions and values of Jesus so that we can be more like Jesus. So by putting on the “armour of God” we are trying to emulate the character of God – Following Jesus as our example. Tom says that whenever Paul talks about “putting on” or “taking off” something that what is being hinted at is a connection to baptism. Putting on the armour of God is a reference to following Jesus in baptism, putting on new life and way of being in Christ. (P 311)

Baptism is a symbol of our commitment to be disciples (or followers) of Jesus. We symbolically wash away our old self and put on Jesus as our new self. In this passage this idea is framed as putting on God’s own armour. Tom says that Paul is referencing another Armour of God passage in the Old Testament, “…by drawing explicitly from Isaiah 59 for several items of armor, the author makes sure readers see that it is God’s own armor that the community is to don.” (P293)

“The Lord has seen this, and he is displeased that there is no justice. 16 He is astonished to see that there is no one to help the oppressed. So he will use his own power to rescue them and to win the victory. 17 He will wear justice like a coat of armor and saving power like a helmet. He will clothe himself with the strong desire to set things right and to punish and avenge the wrongs that people suffer. 18 He will punish his enemies according to what they have done, even those who live in distant lands. 19 From east to west everyone will fear him and his great power. He will come like a rushing river, like a strong wind. 20 The Lord says to his people, “I will come to Jerusalem to defend you and to save all of you that turn from your sins. 21 And I make a covenant with you: I have given you my power and my teachings to be yours forever, and from now on you are to obey me and teach your children and your descendants to obey me for all time to come.” Isaiah 59: 15b-21

So as disciples we are to follow after Jesus to the point where we put on God’s own Armour the very Characteristics of Jesus.

So let’s quickly go through the list of armour:

  • TRUTH is associated with a belt, some translations use the phrase “Girding your loins.” That phrase might need a little explanation. The idea is that you don’t want to trip in battle over your own clothes, whether it be a flowing robe or our pants falling down. Holding on to the Truth (tying the truth close to us) keeps us from getting tripped up. (P299)
    Slide9
  • RIGHTOUSNESS which can be thought of as JUSTICE is the Breast Plate. – Doing the right thing is not a passive protection, but an active making things right. You wouldn’t carry all that weight around just in case. Following Jesus is actively working for Justice. (P 300)
  • PEACE – shoes of readiness to announce the good news of peace. (P 300)
  • FAITH (or faithfullness) – is a shield. Shields are not just defensive, they are also offensive tools. When laying siege to a fortress it is the aggressors that stand behind a wall of shields (think of roman times where shields were linked to form a sort of human tank). This shield is not just that we have faith in Christ, but that Christ is Faithful to us. God is so Faithful that He is in Solidarity with us humans. (P 301-302)
  • SALVATION – is a helmet – Salvation isn’t a word that has a lot of meaning in our culture. Tom likes to equate it with LIBERATION. If we are putting on the Helmet of Liberation, it is not that we are just experiencing personal liberation/salvation, we are working to liberate others from oppression as well. (P 302)
  • WORD of GOD – the sword of the spirit – It is important to remember that in the bible Spirit, Wind, and the Breath that is used to speaks Words are all interconnected. Tom says, “This sword is the Word of God. In Ephesians the term word of God has not yet come into use as a synonym for Scripture [the bible]. Instead it refers to the whole variety of divine revelation and intervention.” It is closer to the word Logos (translated as Word) used in the beginning of the Gospel of John. (P 303-304). So this sword has more to do with the Holy Spirit then the Bible specifically.

Slide11In the Book of Revelation we see another image of a sword. This sword comes from the mouth of Jesus, God the Son. This is also an image of The Holy Spirit, Jesus’ own Spirit. The Sword is the Breath or Spirit of God, the Word or Logos that speaks things into existence. It is a sword used as a creative act not a destructive act.

I would like to end today by us listening to a mash up of this idea of Sword/Spirit/Word/Logos using the opening of the Gospel of John.

I’m going to read the passage and every time I say the word “WORD” I’m going to get 3 people to echo me by saying Logos/Spirit/Sword

John 1:1-5 READING (based on the CEV)

In the beginning was the one who is called the Word/Logos/Spirit/Sword

The Word/Logos/Spirit/Sword was with God and was truly God.

From the very beginning the Word/Logos/Spirit/Sword was with God.

And with this Word/Logos/Spirit/Sword, God created all things.

Nothing was made without the Word/Logos/Spirit/Sword.

Everything that was created received its life from this being,

and the life of this Word/Logos/Spirit/Sword gave light to everyone.

The light keeps shining in the dark, and darkness has never put it out.

The last 2 verses of Ephesians is a prayer for the listeners of the words spoken today, and I would like to pray those words for you as a Benediction or Blessing for you. If you are able please stand.

I pray that God the Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ
will give peace, love, and faith
to every follower!
May God be kind
to everyone who keeps on loving
our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Amen

 

Ephesians 6:23-24 CEV

 

Slowing Church Down

6J1A1910 The Commons Labyrinth - photo by Jennifer Kellner - 75 DPI

The Commons is starting to slow down. No, we as a church are not retiring, we just think it is time for a little different pace.

The plan is to switch things up in the fall for our Sunday Worship Gatherings. We are going to use our Gathering time to dig a little deeper into liturgy, spiritual practices, hospitality, old traditions and new creative expressions. To do this we are going to have to slow down a little. Think of it as “Slow Church.” There is a book by the same name, which I must confess I haven’t read but the phrase has been rattling around in my head for a while now. For me, the idea of being a slow church is; instead of just getting a quick taste of something novel (like a one off liturgical reading or a cool creative segment), we are going to try and slow down and savor what we are learning for a month or so. We want to turn exposure into long lived practice. The hypothesis is that the repetition of segment or practice would help us to enter into a deeper from of spiritual participation, and with practice become more aware of what the Holy Spirit might be whispering to us as a community as we seek to get to know God better.

Previously at The Commons we have worked to keep trying something new, to not get stuck in a rut. Gatherings could take on many shapes and forms from week to week. A panel discussion, tag team preaching, a lament, a meal, a party. Even communion might look different from month to month for us. This creative drive will still be true for us but the pace of trying something new will now slow down. We will live a little longer in each new experiment.

We believe that this slower repetition has the potential to spill over into our lives beyond Sunday Gatherings. Imagine taking time to practice the same breath prayer for 4 weeks within a segment of our Worship Gatherings. The chance that those same words might come to you outside of a Gathering are much higher than if you just recited those same words for just one week, as a novel experience. With the slow church model we hope to not just expose our community to interesting spiritual tools but to actually embed practical spiritual tools into our collective spiritual journey.

The first step in this slow journey is to put together a diverse Gathering Planning Team (which definitely needs a cooler name like “The Avengers,” or “The Alchemists.” I’m open to suggestions). This team has already begun to brainstorm about which portions of our Gatherings and learning opportunities need to be slowed down. Even something as seemingly simple as being responsible for hospitality (coffee, tea, snacks, etc…) can morph into a spiritual practice if we slow down and become intentional about it. Are we welcoming the other? The new comer? The outsider? Has the coffee been brewed to perfection out of love for our neighbour or just quickly done as something that needs to get checked off our list? Is there room to pray for the people you serve? Can fair trade coffee, loose leaf tea, and ice water become a form of communion? I think it can. Are you starting to see how slowing down can change everything?

As we slow down we also want to increase the sharing of responsibilities. We believe that this combination of collaboration and repetition will be a formative experience for both the community as a whole and individuals stepping into leadership. Take for example, if we decided that we were going to engage in a Lectio Divina reading for a month. We would pair up two people to craft, prepare and lead the experience each week as mini team. The benefits of this are:

  • Repetition reduces preparation time. When a jeweler prices a new necklace they have created, they don’t factor in the time needed to create the first prototype (that would be too expensive for almost all potential buyers), rather the jeweler prices out their time for the next 10 necklaces they make based on that prototype. The repetition reduces the time needed to create all subsequent objects of value and beauty. The work that use to go into a single gathering segment will now be spread over to an entire month.
  • You get a chance for a redo. So many times when I have tried something new at The Commons I have only been 50-80% happy with how the experiment went. Imagine if you put time and energy into a creative reflection and then were able to improve upon it for 4 weeks in a row you might be surprised where that could lead. • Diversity reflects God better. Two people (rather than one person) crafting an opportunity to learn about God is richer and truer for everyone. We are all made in the image of our creator but only each reflect a unique finite portion of our infinite maker. As more of us become involved we reflect a richer fuller image of the Triune God.
  • Collaboration can promote deep friendship. The hope is that this collaboration would lead to stronger community ties, compassionate support and deep friendships. As people take the time to chat over coffee about their Gathering project, they will also inevitably begin to chat about the rest of their lives, the successes, the struggles. They become co-conspirators in each other’s lives. The Cohort Leadership Team has been function like this for many years at The Commons, and it is time that the joy of leading together is spread around.
  • Our Communal Spiritual Journey is strengthened. It is a reality that not everyone person can be at Sunday Gathering every week. We all have work, family and community responsibilities that prevent us from gathering weekly. The repetition of learning will then allow more people to metaphorically “turn to the same page.” As we grow into new things as a community less people will have to play catch up or get left behind, because they missed one pivotal week.
  • Everyone is needed but no one is indispensable. People will be able to commit to crafting something for 4 weeks in a row because they are able to do it together as a pair. If one person is sick or away the other person on the team can jump right in.
  • It takes a lot of repetition to remember anything worth learning. This true for both learning how to lead something specific and for digging deeper into what God is trying to teach us.

I’m looking forward to seeing where this slower journey takes us. Just like walking a labyrinth, meaning is not always found in the destination but rather in the process and the commitment of repeating the steps.