Tag Archives: mission

A Christian without a Church

The other day our nine year old came home from school with a coin collection box for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. “Do you have any coins, Mommy?” she asked, and I sent her upstairs to raid the plastic jug on our dresser. The cardboard bank is now sitting on our kitchen table.

What’s not on our table? One of these:


For you non-Presbyterians, that’s one of the infamous “fish banks” handed out to children in church during Lent. These are turned in as part of the One Great Hour of Sharing, collected on Palm Sunday or Easter and benefiting disaster assistance, hunger relief, and self-development of people.

In terms of church attendance, our family is nomadic at the moment. That, plus some crazy Sunday morning weather recently that impacted church attendance, means we didn’t receive a bank.

It feels strange not to have a bank, but not for the reason I might have thought. Yes, a fish bank is a connection to a particular Presbyterian community, and sustained action is important, and we can do more together than separately. This I believe. But it also feels strange because it’s not strange at all. In fact, there are abundant opportunities to share my resources, all around me, all the time. And whenever I give, whether it’s to the church or the American Cancer Society, I do so out of my Christian values. (Others share their resources out of their own values as well, which may not be Christian or even religious at all. So much the better.)

I’m glimpsing some of what Barbara Brown Taylor talks about in Altar in the World when she talks about people seeing God show up in places they never expected to. I always knew this. Now I’m experiencing it first-hand. To be clear: once we land in a local congregation, we will support that congregation financially. But this nomadic period is reminding me that even though I am a Christian, I don’t need the church in order to give to organizations who do mission, charity and justice.

My running group takes up collections for food pantries and Toys for Tots. My email box is full of appeals from organizations I believe in and support when I can. My children’s schools have clothing drives. Friends are running and walking various events and I am supporting them. I can give $10 simply by sending a text message, not unlike throwing some extra cash in the offering plate when the Spirit moves. Opportunities to give are folded into every facet of my life.

Some church folk might balk and say that this leads to a scattershot approach, that there’s no substitute for sustained collective action. Yes. But a lot of crowd-funding and peer-to-peer fundraising is communal–it’s friends asking friends to learn about a cause and join in with the contribution of funds. Maybe the church does the sustained part better than some. But even that can be present without the church.

I was at a workshop on financial stewardship in the church a few years ago. The speaker is one of the respected names in this field and is helping all kinds of people think more creatively about giving and yes, fundraising, in a way that gets beyond outdated ideas of duty and institutional maintenance. During a break, a colleague told him she was thinking about editing her church’s pledge cards to include a place to (voluntarily) share of the giving people do beyond the church. The idea is, when we collect those cards in worship we should be lifting up prayers for all of our giving, not just the giving we offer to the congregation.

My ears perked up because this is something I’ve thought about too. (As another friend says, “The congregation ends up becoming a money-laundering organization for other charities. Let the people give directly to them!”) To my surprise, the stewardship guru rejected the idea: “You want to encourage church giving. Bringing in these other organizations just muddies the waters.”

Lots of us are thinking missionally these days. The church is not a location but a people–a sent people. Wherever we are, that’s where the church is. If that’s true–if we really believe that–should we not encourage a lifestyle of giving to all kinds of organizations, not just the church? And what is at stake if we don’t? If we feel that giving to a local congregation is paramount, is that a sign that we’re only intent on our own survival? Or are there larger theological issues at play?

My Friends Make Stuff: Unbound by Jann Treadwell

060002I have an embarrassing confession to make—well, embarrassing for a pastor:

I’ve never been on a mission trip. 

I’ve visited other countries for learning and cross-cultural work, and I’ve done mission projects in my own community, and I even planned a mission trip when I was a youth director, but I went to seminary before the trip took place. When I got ordained, I was busy having babies, so the month-long trip to Kenya sponsored by the church I used to serve wasn’t feasible. I wasn’t involved in the church as a teenager so I missed the boat then too.

Jann Treadwell is a retired certified Christian educator and was the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators’ 2010 educator of the year. Her book is Unbound: The Transformative Power of Youth Mission Trips, and it is both theological and practical.

Jann weaves together the “why” of mission trips (what makes them powerful and transformative) with personal stories and lots of nuts-and-bolts stuff as well. As someone on the outside look in on this whole experience, these stories are inspiring.

The appendix, full of release forms, suggested bible studies, and chore charts would be invaluable to someone planning a trip for young people that isn’t just feel-good tourism but something deeper. Is that you? If so, give this resource a look.

Innovate and Imitate: What’s Cooking at Tiny Church


Conflict Kitchen in Pittsburgh

Our kids like to ask us, “Who invented ________?” Some of the answers are easy: Alexander Graham Bell. Thomas Edison. Percy Spencer. (OK, we had to look up the last one—he invented the microwave.)

But inventions are hard to pin down to a single person or moment. Who invented the Internet? You could come up with a single name, but really it’s the product of a lot of discoveries and advances. Even big names like Bell and Edison and Spencer stood on the shoulders of people who came before.

Some months ago I read an article about how creative people are called to innovate and imitate. The article is long gone, but it went something like this: if there’s an approach out there that works, use it, even if competitors are doing the same thing. Imitate without shame the good stuff going on out there. Where you distinguish yourself is in how you innovate—how you make changes and improve on an idea, product or service.

Innovation is vital, but not everything needs to be innovated.

The key is to find the right balance and configuration of imitation and innovation so that you provide something unique, yet don’t wear yourself out reinventing the wheel.

This has played out at Tiny Church in a number of different ways. For example, in worship. I love crafting liturgy—writing prayers, thinking up cool interactive elements, and so forth. I also love preaching and crafting a strong sermon. But I simply don’t have the creative energy to do both.

Over the years I’ve noticed that there’s not much difference in people’s response when I knock myself out writing liturgy v. borrowing stuff. So for liturgy, I imitate. I grab things from the Internet and adapt them. I mine Pinterest and Theresa Cho’s blog. I incorporate prayers from the Feasting on the Word Worship Companion.

But for the sermon, I innovate. That’s the piece of worship that gets my best creative self, because that’s the piece that people respond to. It also happens to be the element of worship I’m most passionate about… and I’m sure those things are related.

I suspect many of you do this as well. I sometimes feel a little guilty, like I should be crafting everything from scratch. (I feel guilt easily, have you noticed that?) The innovate/imitate balance helps me get over myself.

Another element of the imitate/innovate dance comes when you start out imitating and end up innovating. Rocky Supinger wrote about this evolutionary process recently at the NEXT Church website, and we’re in the midst of this dance right now at Tiny. I wrote during Lent about our Journey to Jerusalem, in which we encouraged folks to walk, bike, run, swim, etc. and turn in their miles each week to see if we could make it from Falls Church to Jerusalem by Easter. I stole this idea, blatantly and unimaginatively, from someone at the Presbyterian CREDO Conference. I loved it because it connects the biblical story and our lives as pilgrimages with health and fitness.

Well, a funny thing happened. We got to Jerusalem and the next week people started asking, “I’ve got miles to turn in. Who do I give them to?” So when our transformation team met last week we decided to keep the journey going. We’re going to spend the rest of 2013 wandering around the world, plotting our paths using the big map in our fellowship hall. We have members who have lived all over the world so when we arrive at a place, we will experience something of life in that place. Our first stop will be the Democratic Republic of Congo where one of our members has traveled countless times with her job at USAID. We hope these stops will involve some kind of cultural experience, a learning about how Christians experience life and ministry in that place, and maybe even a mission opportunity that connects to that place. We have a general idea of where we’ll end up but we’re also going to be open to the Spirit.

(This idea came completely from the team and not from me, but I’m realizing now that these pilgrimage stops are akin to Conflict Kitchen, a Pittsburgh restaurant that features food from conflicted countries as a way of educating patrons about these places.)

Imitate… and innovate.

How are you doing this dance in your own context?

Friday Link Love

Away we go:


Winners of the National Geographic Photo Contest — The Atlantic

My favorite:


New Orleans Pastor Known as ‘Da Condom Father’ Couldn’t Just Watch People Die — Nola.com

According to the article, black people are 32 percent of the Louisiana population but, according to the state Department of Health and Human Hospitals, account for 73 percent of the newest HIV cases and 76 percent of the cases that progressed to AIDS. So this pastor hands out condoms to his parishioners and community. For him the ethics is clear:

Is such the Lord’s work? Davenport is convinced it is. What is he supposed to do? Stand back and see his people die ? Preach to them about sexual purity — then stand back and see his people die?


Julia Child Visits Mister Rogers’s Neighborhood — The Fred Rogers Company

A video from the archives, in honor of that wonderful dame’s 100th birthday:


The ‘Open’ Office is a Source of Stress — Time

The modern open office was designed for team building and camaraderie but is mostly distinguished by its high noise levels, lack of privacy and surfeit of both digital and human distractions. And indeed, several decades of research have confirmed that open-plan offices are generally associated with greater employee stress, poorer co-worker relations and reduced satisfaction with the physical environment.

Do you work in an open office environment? What do you think of it, dear readers?


War Some of the Time — Writers Almanac

A great one from Bukowski:

when you write a poem it
needn’t be intense
can be nice and
and you shouldn’t necessarily
concerned only with things like anger or
love or need;
at any moment the
greatest accomplishment might be to simply
up and tap the handle
on that leaking toilet;

More at the link.


Why Be Grateful? — Jana Riess

There’s actual science between the practice of gratitude:

In one experiment, students were given different topics on which they had to write a paper. Some students were then given scathing criticism of their papers, while others were praised lavishly.

Then all the students were given the opportunity to go up against their teachers/ graders in a computer game. Not surprisingly, the students who had been sharply criticized retaliated in kind during the game, blasting the heck out of the perpetrators who had made their lives miserable. The ones who had been praised were not aggressive in the game.

And then things got really interesting. There was one exception to the rule about students who had been criticized turning around and retaliating.  This was a small group of the mocked students who had been assigned in their papers to enumerate the things they were grateful for in their lives.

Here’s the thing: those students who had written about gratitude didn’t react negatively to the criticism they received on their papers. They did not retaliate in the computer game.

Apparently, the simple act of counting their blessings had given them enough positive reinforcement about their lives that any criticism of their papers just rolled right off them.

I’ve been working on gratitude this week. It’s been hard. I am very concerned for a family in our church whose little boy is battling ALD and he continues to struggle. I feel very weighed down on their behalf. But I’m trying.

Videos like this help:


My Own Rice — Church World Service

I love Church World Service. They are a modest organization but very effective, with low overhead. Remember that old Cadillac slogan, “quietly doing things very well”? That’s CWS.

Here’s a story of a young boy in Myanmar who was one of two survivors of a flood in his village. He received a micro-loan and is now growing his own rice.


Peace be with you, friends.

Unless I See


MaryAnn McKibben Dana
Idylwood Presbyterian Church
April 15, 2012
Second Sunday of Easter
John 20:19-31

“Unless I See”

Poor Thomas, or should I say, “Doubting Thomas”… for indeed that is the name we hear more often. I saw a cartoon this week that features Thomas, hands on hips, saying, “It’s just not fair. It’s not like people go around calling him ‘Denying Peter.’”

It’s a dreadful mislabeling of the man, if you ask me. Thomas only wants what everyone else has already received—a glimpse of Jesus, resurrected. In fact, the word “doubt” does not appear anywhere in this passage if you go back to the original text. The New Revised Standard Version renders Jesus’ words, “Do not doubt but believe.” But Jesus doesn’t say not to doubt. He says, “Do not be unbelieving.”

Doubt, after all, is an element of faith, not a sign of unbelief. And I don’t think Jesus need have worried about Thomas being an unbeliever. Because if Thomas were an unbeliever, he’d be off living his life. He wouldn’t be sitting up there with the rest of the disciples, hoping Jesus might show up again. He is there because this was the place where Jesus was last seen. He’s up there, waiting, wanting to see evidence of this amazing thing that has taken place. Those aren’t the actions of an unbeliever. That’s someone who’s still engaged with the push and pull of his faith. Who’s willing to struggle and wait and watch and hope.

Thomas means the Twin, and as my friend Deryl likes to say when he preaches this text, he’s your twin, if you want him. And I know he is the twin of many of you, because you have told me your struggles and your questions…  and yes, your doubts.

He’s a twin that folks would be blessed to have. I’d certainly like to write him into my family tree. Rather than trying to diminish him as many have done with the “Doubting” moniker, today I suggest that Thomas has the most robust faith of any of the disciples. He doesn’t grandstand like Peter: Watch me walk on water! Jesus, you will never wash my feet! Nor does he jockey for position like James and John, who elbow each other out of the way to see who might sit at Jesus’ right hand.

Consider the places we meet Thomas in the gospel of John. We see him in the story of Lazarus (ch. 11), whom Jesus loved, and who is ill, and later dies. Lazarus’s sisters have called for Jesus, who is game to go to Judea, but the disciples say, No, don’t go there, the Jewish authorities want to stone you. That’s the last place we want to be. But Thomas, notably, does not join the chorus of people eager to save Jesus’ skin, and their own. He says, Let’s go, so that we may die too.

We meet Thomas again a few chapters later (ch. 14). Jesus is teaching about God’s house, which has many rooms. “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” he says. “I go to prepare a place for you… You know the way to the place where I am going.”

And Thomas answers, Umm, actually, we don’t know the way.

We might ding Thomas for interrupting what is one of the more eloquent discourses of Jesus, except that his question is vital if you actually care about following the man.

You don’t ask that question unless you intend to go where Jesus wants to you to go.

So. That’s Thomas in chapters 11 and 14, and then we have chapter 20 to round out our character sketch. We just heard that the first time Jesus appears post-resurrection, Thomas is off somewhere. I preached two years ago that Thomas is the patron saint of the day late and the dollar short crowd. They all get to see Jesus, while he’s off buying Cheetos and Mountain Dew at the 7-11.

But that’s not right, either. Where is Thomas? What is he doing? It seems obvious, doesn’t it? He’s not on a beer run; he’s looking for Jesus. Mary Magdalene said he’s risen, so Thomas is going to find him. He’s certainly not going to cower behind a locked door, quivering with the other disciples for fear of the religious authorities. Thomas is the only one brave enough to be on the outside. So let’s call him Courageous Thomas, not Doubting Thomas.

In the years to come, after Jesus is no longer with them, the disciples will go on to spread the good news and found churches. Thomas has a special distinction: he is the only one of the disciples to have ventured beyond the Roman Empire to spread Christianity. The tradition tells us he established churches in southern India, for heaven’s sake!

Thomas is a man of movement:
“Let’s go to Judea, even if it means our death.”
“I don’t know the Way, Jesus, but I want to know, so tell me.”
“I’m not going to sit up here in the upper room with the door bolted. If Jesus is alive I’m going to go find him and I’m not going to be afraid.”
That search takes him all the way to India, further than any disciple was willing to go.

*          *          *

You may have heard the story this week about the mayor of Newark, New Jersey, Cory Booker. Booker was coming home the other night and saw his neighbor’s house engulfed in flames. A woman standing nearby screamed that her daughter was still inside, and so without thinking, Cory ran into the house. He and members of his security detail were able to save the woman and others. Cory threw her over his shoulders, sack-of-potatoes style, and ran through the flames. He suffered smoke inhalation and a few second-degree burns, but he and the others are OK.

Now as often happens on the Internet, people decided to have some fun with this and inflate this government bureaucrat into a butt-kicking hero. A twitter feed sprang up on Friday called Cory Booker stories, and they are the 21st century equivalent of the tall tale:
“When Batman needs help, he turns on the Cory Booker signal.”
“When Chuck Norris gets nightmares, Cory Booker turns on the light and brings him warm milk until he calms down.”
“Smoke was treated for Cory Booker exposure.”

Those are fun, aren’t they? But the detail that made me sit up and take notice was from an interview Booker gave the next day, in which he said that the decision to go in was a “come to Jesus moment.”

Now, he probably means “come to Jesus” as in a moment of decision. That’s how we normally think about “come to Jesus.” But think about what the phrase means literally. Come. To. Jesus. He went toward a person in grave danger and called it a come to Jesus moment. I hear strains of Matthew 25 in that: For I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was perishing in a burning building and you dove in and saved me. That which you did to the most vulnerable and imperiled, you did to me.

Thomas, our disciple with the robust faith, would approve. He was a Come To Jesus kind of person.

*          *          *

This morning, several of my friends are preaching from the book of Acts, one of the other assigned texts for this day. A few of us were puzzling about how to connect Thomas with this snippet from the early church:

4:32 Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common….
4:34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold.
4:35 They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

Sometimes we press this text into arguments about communism and socialism, and I think that misses the point. The point is this: the church helped create an alternate system in which everyone’s needs were taken care of. Nobody had too much; everyone had enough. Everyone.

It is the church’s job to lift up an alternate vision in which that is possible. It takes a robust faith to do so…

And if Thomas is our twin then we have no choice. Notice he does not say, “Unless I see Jesus walking around in a perfect body with a halo…”

He says,
Unless I see the puncture wounds in his hands… unless I see the split in his side.
Unless I see that Jesus is a Jesus who suffered the depths of human pain and lived,
then what’s the point.
Unless I see that Jesus is the one who goes right to the heart of human suffering, taking it on…
then I have no use for him.

That’s the Jesus worthy of Thomas’s faith. And ours.


 photo credit: Roo Reynolds via photopin cc