Monday, August 29, 2011

Where In The World Is The Church? The Stillwater Sermon, with readings


From Jorgen Moltmann's "The Source of Life"...Moltmann saw the devastation first hand of whole communities in Europe during and after World War Two:
The ideology of “there is never enough for everyone” makes people lonely. It isolates them and robs them of relationships. The opposite of poverty isn’t property. The opposite of both poverty and property is community. For in community we become rich: rich in friends, in neighbours, in colleagues, in comrades, in brothers and sisters. Together, as a community, we can help ourselves in most of our difficulties. For after all, there are enough people and enough ideas, capabilities and energies to be had. They are only lying fallow, or are stunted and suppressed. So let us discover our wealth; let us discover our solidarity; let us build up communities; let us take our lives into our own hands and at long last out of the hands of the people who want to dominate and exploit us.
From John Perkins, Welcoming Justice:
“So what does it take to make beloved community happen? I really believe that it begins with a place. I’ve preached relocation all my life because the communities I’ve been a part of have been abandoned. Everybody left, so I called them to come back. But my real concern is for the place. If the church is going to offer some real good news in broken communities, it has to be committed to making a good life possible for people in the place where we are.
It may sound simple but I think you’ve got to have neighbors you talk to and get to know before you can love your neighbor as yourself. As we commit to our communities, we also need to learn how to see them as economic places. It’s not enough to just move into a place, plant some flowers and be nice to your neighbors. All of that is good, but that won’t address the brokenness of people’s lives because the structures of the community are broken. People need work, good housing, education and health care. So the church has to invest its resources in developing the community. We also need to use our influence to get businesses and government to invest in the community. ..I wish churches spent more time thinking about how their members could love one another and share a common life by working together as a community. Part of the reason our churches are so individualistic is that we just accept the economic systems of our culture without question. We assume that the people who can get the good jobs should go wherever they have to and the people who can’t get the good jobs should just take what they can get. But churches that want to interrupt the brokenness of society ought to be about creating jobs in the community and giving neighbors an opportunity to work together. If we take our communities seriously as economic places, we’ll spend more time thinking about creating good work than we spend thinking about more relevant worship styles or bigger church buildings."
Matthew 16: 24-26
24Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

Sermon: Where in the World is the Church?

Where in the World is the Church? This question itself carries within it the seeds of the future that is emerging now for the church.
The questions used to be how to get the world into the church. So we produced a “come to us” church based on the model of the Marketplace, the dominant culture and myth of our time; the question was how do we attract and keep more people so we can build bigger buildings and more staff to attract and keep more people, or to even just stay the same, all so we can get more and more people in tune with our message, get them thinking like us, which we believed would change the world.
Now the world has changed all right, into an unchurched postdenominational, definitely not one size or kind fits all world, and the churches that will be sustainable and influential in the new environment are those who either have loads of resources to compete in the come to us religious marketplace culture, where rewards are fewer and fewer all the time at higher and higher costs, or they are ones who are changing from a “come to us” church to being part of a “go to them” church, or even more radically, becoming “come out of them” church that erases distinctions between us and them.
These new, actually also ancient, kinds of church expressions in the world have different measures of success; instead of being about ourselves, they will be about others. Not how many do we count as part of us, but how many are we serving, and serving with, beyond ourselves.
The new measures of success will be more aligned with what have been called the Three R’s of Community Development, which I think are also the Three R’s of a Spiritual Life. Instead of how many people come to our place, the first R is about how are we relocating ourselves to the places where there is the most suffering and wholeness needed. Instead of how big a budget and building and staff and programs for us can we create, the second R is about how many ways are we working to redistribute goods, and The Good, to those without. Finally, instead of making religion foremost about what an individual thinks and feels, about what one believes, and about getting that into a marketable message to get others to think and feel like us, the third R is about how much Reconciliation is going on, about how are we, as a finite imperfect in process hurting broken people ourselves, engaged with the problems and issues and histories and messiness of ourselves and others as a people, for the mutual healing and transformation of all of us.
These Three Rs of Relocation, Redistribution, and Reconciliation come out of the life and work of John Perkins. He was born some 80 years ago in rural Mississippi into his poor African American family. His father left when he was very young trying to find work; as a young man, John saw his older brother, a returning WWII veteran, killed while standing in line, unarmed, at a movie theater, gunned down by a white police officer. John was full of anger, a ticking time bomb; he also hated church because it seemed to do nothing for the community in the face of such injustice. He had had quit school at third grade to work. He married but continued to drink and party. His family, seeing his anger and despair and fearing for his life, managed to send him out of Mississippi to work in California.
There he began to settle his life and became part of the black middle class of the time and in that place; then through his young son Spencer he began attending a church, one that had a prison ministry; and there in meeting with the inmates and encountering the bible for really the first time in depth he began taking seriously a new Jesus he was meeting for the first time. A prophetic Jesus that calls out for justice for the poor and oppressed, and who goes where they are rather than waiting for them to come to him.
This was in the late 50s, in the thick of the growing civil rights era in the South, but the Jesus he was now following, who calls us to pick up crosses, to risk all for justice for the poor, this Jesus now pointed him back home to rural Mississippi, back away from the relative safety of California. At first he was only going back to teach this new understanding of the Bible and its justice mandate, primarily to the youth, he told himself, so they would get the message earlier than he had when he lived there. But soon the needs of the community, and the voice of this Jesus, were calling out to give the people more than a message:
So the church began a community center and then a farm, food was distributed, health care given, child care provided, adult classes begun, and worship held, and civil rights supported. But then the more public his ministry became the more it was seen as a threat by the powers of the status quo. One night he and a van full of youth coming back from a rally were stopped on a rural road by police who arrested him for contributing to the delinquency of minors and took him to jail where he was beaten and tortured near to death.
There, In the hospital, in the caring response of a white nurse coming so soon after his treatment by white jailers, he received an epiphany that helped him to put his hatred into a larger vessel of God’s love, and gave him a new focus or aim to his work, reconciliation, especially among the races.
It all begins with the realization that Where We Are Matters.
Our church couldn’t do what we have done and what we will do if we had stayed in the fast growing suburb where we began, where certainly there is a need for a spiritually progressive message, but where our meager resources were dust in the wind at even trying to get that across to a culture that likes their churches like their box stores, fully equipped from the get go. And besides, more importantly, was that the Mission that most needed us? When nearby was the far northside Tulsa area. A healthy food desert where 55 percent worry about how much food they have and 60 percent say they can’t afford healthy food. Where Our average household income keeps going down and is now just barely above $20,000; where our life expectancy is the lowest in our metropolitan area, fourteen years lower than the highest area that is just six miles to the south of us along the same Peoria ave.
If church is about finding and gathering in people like us, then this is the last place to be; but if church is about being sent to serve among others and finding ourselves there, then this is the first place to be.
A phrase has sprung up to describe places like where John Perkins lives and where we live, the abandoned places of Empire. It harkens back to the Roman Empire, there at a time when the Empire was crumbling, and new communities on the edges were being created as small alternative socieites with values of cooperation instead of conquering. But now The Empire we feel at odds with is a contemporary American Consumer Entertainment Marketplace with dominant cultural values that champion Appearance, Affluence, Achievement, Uniformity, Coolness, Convenience, Comfort, Strength and Safety. And above all, perhaps, this Empire prizes personal autonomy full of choices never ending. This Empire says the good life, even the spiritual life, is found in being surrounded by the so-called best things, smartest people. The goal of this Empire is for places like ours to exist only as places people leave, as places where people live as a kind of punishment for not being able to buy into all the Empire provides us.
John Perkins says think of the shame people fall into who have remained with constant reminders they have not been good enough or smart enough or lucky enough or young enough to leave as they should. That shame breeds a paralysis that makes it hard for people to become active with others for their own and their community’s behalf. It makes it hard for them to see the counter-truth, that as theologian Jorgen Moltmann says, the opposite of poverty is not property but the opposite of both poverty and of property is community.
Our mission as church responding to the world, rather than expecting the world to respond to us as church, our mission is to initiate and imitate beloved community in places and people others abandon.
What might these “go to them” or “emerge out of them” churches look like and do?
Well, If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the photograph of me that was on the cover of this past Spring issue of the Unitarian Universalist World magazine answers much better and more completely that question, and captures the essence of our mission on the northside of Tulsa, and of the missional reformation of the church underway.
The cover photo showed a room inside a building. The building is an abandoned rundown exposed to the elements vandalized woodframe ruin. It used to be a parsonage, the home for the ministers of the oldest church in our community on the northside of Tulsa. The parsonage sets on a corner of the same property as that church’s former building, a redbrick complex itself having likewise been abandoned, rundown, exposed, vandalized and foreclosed.
And as the church had once been near the actual center of the community, one of the largest and oldest of buildings of the community, it is no surprise that the community itself has in large measure become abandoned, rundown, vandalized, and closed. Since the magazine issue was published just a few months ago, our community’s oldest school across the street has been closed, and our post office has been ordered closed.
The photo shows the room with broken and boarded up windows, and a recliner which has either been left behind by a previous owner, or equally possibly, it is one that had been dumped on the road and left for months until someone decided to drag it into the old parsonage to use as they camped out there. It is the only piece of furniture in the building.
The photograph is both a literal representation of a real place in our community, and it is a metaphorical representation of the whole community, evoking its history and evoking its current state, and I hope a little of its future too. Because there in the photo I sit on the recliner, looking very much at home, a representation of our group’s hopeful presence in the ruins.
There are a lot of homes and businesses in that kind of shape where we live, but the photograph was taken there because our church, our missional community, and the nonprofit foundation we created to better reach out to our neighbors, was at the time in the process of buying the house and the old church building. We have since moved in and we are, amid the still vandalized structures, relaunching our community center, food pantry, clothing room, computer center, library, and health hub there, and soon we hope a room dedicated to veterans and their needs, and perhaps even becoming a postal home, and perhaps a school of sorts, filling in the gaps of what has been closed.
And the center is just one of the projects we are engaged in. With the help of many others, our small group also bought an acre of abandoned homes nearby and are actively turning that space into a community kitchengardenpark where we have recently added a 40 fruit tree orchard. And we have other sites nearby that we are turning from blight to beauty, and we have partnered with the University of Oklahoma on a radical new health care for the poor initiative, aimed at training some residents of our zipcode to be medical mentors, or master patients, and connect them with others in their neighborhoods who are repeat and unwarranted users of the emergency rooms. It is a way to turn medical clinics inside out the way we have turned our church inside out.
And with other partners we are addressing other aspects of the life and death matters in our zipcode. For example, this week we host another meeting trying to organize people and resources to bring some simple things like sidewalks and better street lights to our area where a neighbor was recently killed by a truck while he was pushing a shopping cart load of groceries in Peoria, which is also a state highway where we are, at twilight. We have families where the mother or father is in a wheelchair and they are without transportation except for it and whole families, including children, often walk around the mom or dad in the motorized wheelchair in the lane of Peoria on their way to the store or other businesses.
To us this is being church; we talk about all our community work as the body, the arms and legs, hands and feet of the church, what we do with people of many different faiths or none at all, with our own worship time in a small group as the heart of the church. The important thing to me is that we have done all this with no paid staff, some of us have jobs elsewhere and some of us have no jobs, and we have usually just from four to fourteen in worship on Sunday mornings. It is always enough. We are always enough. Sometimes in fact you need to become smaller to be able to do more to change the world.
It is all part of the new missional reformation of the church; something we as participants in the original radical reformation of the church in the 1500 and 1600s should know something about. Or as our theologian James Luther Adams once wrote, our church history is a history of always reforming. The church is dead. Long live the church.
The new reformation says the church should not worry about itself and its own life but worry first and foremost about the life of the world dying around it; not worry about having a mission and trying to create a statement to describe it in order to attract people to come to an organization and building called the church; instead, it should worry if a Mission has it, and if that Mission is worthy of the precious lives that will be called to serve it, and if that Mission is dedicated to serving others in the world, including those who may never seek to become its members, and especially those most vulnerable, most abandoned.
A reformation that asks not how can a church get more of the world to come to us and become like us, but ask where and how, in the world, is the church finding and making and sharing itself? A Reformation that even says don’t talk about the church and its problems before you talk about the world around you and its problems; because they will then lead you into the kind of church you need to become.
Here is what we need to remember: The church is not, at heart, or need to ever be, fundamentally, a 501c3 nonprofit religious organization; it can and has existed, ancient and emerging times, without bylaws, boards, budgets, and buildings, and clergy. Church does not have to be thought of as “a” church, that one “goes to” on the corner of this and that, and is even named a certain thing—what the modern culture made its dominant traits--but church can be lived out organically as a way people, two or more at a time, participate as expressions of “the church.” Imagine. Church anywhere, anytime. Random acts of Church.
For some groups in order to become church, become disciples of love and justice, means having no name, fearing, with some cause, that even naming inevitably turns us toward ourselves and turns us more into an organization than an organic movement.
My favorite story in this category comes from Australia where a young man named Sean had grown up having a hard time, as a sufferer of ADD, sitting still in worship every Sunday in the spectator-manner of his church, and so when he became a young adult he decided that he didn’t have to keep “going to church” and so one Sunday he followed the invitation of a friend to go out on the lake in a boat; while out there, in a lull from swimming, his old habits reared up and he felt guilty for not “being in church” and he asked his friends if he could say part of a psalm and then say a short prayer, and his friend said sure, and he asked his friends if there was anything he could include in his prayer for them, and he did so. And he went back swimming and partying. Next Sunday the same thing happened, but this time he had also brought a Bible with him, and after a short time reading and praying they kept on partying. Gradually more and more friends were joining them. Gradually the prayers had more things mentioned. Soon they were spending time at the lake helping tow boats that had broken down, and were cleaning the park, looking for other ways to do random acts of kindness. They began to take time out for more bible reflection and they held communion on the picnic tables, and they kept partying before and during and after. Pretty soon worship was more party than program. And all the while his worried family kept bugging him to “come back to church.” They thought church is something you attend; but it is something you become.
Now imagine Sean hadn’t accidentally created this way of being church, but if he and others had been intentionally sent by his church to the lake to serve, create community, and celebrate. Some churches now tell some of their members to stay away from church and take their money away from the established church for a year and go build relationships and serve and be the church outside of their worshipping community, perhaps in apartment complexes, one of the most unchurched places of culture, or a garden in a food desert, or a school where the children have many strikes against them, and they only ask them to then come back and share their stories of how community has been formed and their church has been renewed and grown outside of itself.
Another time there was a church of 80 members and it had of late always struggled to grow, to make building expenses, to pay a minister; it just seemed stuck, and turned inward, turning on itself. Then one day the minister called them all together and divided them up into eight groups of ten based on where they lived. Then announced that he was downsizing and simplifying and moving into a poor part of town and going to work part time at a body shop where he could make the money he needed in his new environment, and he told them to look around at their group, and he announced this was their new church; they were to meet in homes and where they could near where they lived and worship together weekly and serve their neighborhood and one another, and he would be their minister and help coach and connect them and they would come together as they had just every so often, now to hear and celebrate their stories in worship.
Reggie McNeal, author of Missional Renaissance, writes: “An explosion of missional communities…will occur…They will range in size from a handful of participants to a few dozen. Gatherings will take place in homes and restaurants, bookstores and bars, office conference rooms and university dorm rooms, hotel meeting space and downtown Ys, and yes, even churches. Their community life will center on an intense desire to grow spiritually and to aid the community. Some will be connected to churches; many will not be.”
I hope some of these communities seeded by churches or networked as grassroots missions by groups of two or more people will be from our free churches, because we have a tradition and faith stance of openness and embracing freedom and abundance and hope for all that others could be enriched by, especially others in abandoned places and abandoned times in their lives when reactions of not having and being enough, and feelings of fear, so often rule how their world is seen.
But first, like John Perkins, like Sean, like those who Jesus said would follow him, we must go to the deserted places, and there be willing to be changed without knowing into what, trusting when we do the counter-intuitive, when we let go and turn ourselves and our churches and other groups inside out, that this is when new life comes, when crosses become communities with a cause.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

To help go to this link....see post below for more.

To help us replace the air conditioning in the building, which wore out from the use during the fire response and heat wave, or to help with the replacing of the computers and phones and television and a volunteer's guitar that were stolen after we were open as a red cross center during the fires, or to help in general with our food pantry and purchase of bottles of water to hand out, or for the plumbing work, or the community celebrations and community health project, or the kitchengardenorchard park project, and more, go donate easily and safely at... for our community foundation, A Third Place Community Foundation, and our mission of renewing community, empowering residents, growing healthy lives and neighborhoods, all through small acts of justice done with great love....

A Ministry of Presence in the Fires and Heat Wave

CBS Radio just interviewed, after AP did yesterday, about our church and community center response during the heat wave, fires, and all here in our community lately; not sure I do well with sound bites and blurbs that fit though so not sure what all will be used because once you get me wound up :)....

about life in poverty areas especially when heat wave makes it even tougher on folks without ac, without cars, without access to malls, who walk without sidewalks to grocery stores and schools, and then the shutting down of post office coming after shutting the school, and the fires and home losses and depletion of resources for the fire department and the community center....and those with AC, like our situation, are having theirs breaking down and not able to replace; fortunately schools going back here this week so kids will have a cool place, though for many walking back in the heat is tough.

and then our center which acts as cooling station in afternoons and provides water, food, TV computers, games, etc. has its own AC wear down from so much use and eventually this past week wear out, plumbing breaks, and the breakin after the fires takes computers, phones.. with all that hard to contain to a cute blurb and hard to shut me up, but I do appreciate very much of the national news and attention, helping people perhaps to see what they don't in normal run of their day see or experience; like how hard it is for people in the heat wave who work day labor outdoors and rely on mowing lawns and small day jobs, working in heat or not being able to find work like they used to; worrying about paying electric and water bills so not eating but very little to save up for the bills to come....

but like we said at worship in the park this morning, being here is what counts, and doing things poorly but doing them is what counts and what lasts; so tomorrow we will be taking again the ice chests of bottled water out to the streets, and hope to get AC replaced asap and then find ways to pay for it later....and to learn from this summer and disasters how to be present even more and better; we will be meeting at the center thursday sept 1 at 2 pm, if AC gets replaced, with area leaders and those from Tulsa Partners about the disaster response plan ideas and process for next time we have mass evacuations from fires or possible floods tornadoes etc. And we are still out promoting all community events like the fund raiser for the Turley Fire Dept. Sat. Sept. 3 noon to 5 pm $5 per person bean dinner at the fire station 6408 N. Peoria; don't want to miss that chance to help and get some good food....And we will keep hosting community celebrations to remind us of the abundance of life together even in the midst of the things that try to drive us to thinking only about ourselves; and we have a community history and heritage lunch planned at the center for noon on Sat. Sept. 17 after a morning of service cleaning up our community. and our Sept. focus will be on educational justice, and our movie will be "October Sky" Wed. Sept. 28 6:30 pm.

...we will continue to look at the deeper systemic issues of justice at the same time we do the daily response of one to one needs that comes up; we will be talking Tuesday Aug. 23 at 1:30 pm with politicians about trying to get the post office to work with us to staff our own postal center with their help here in the center or with a local business interested in it ...On Wednesday Aug. 24 we keep our focus on Community health month here with the movie "Sicko" and discussion and free food at 6:30 pm and hope we can do it in the center but if AC not replaced by then will find another place for it...Then thursday evening Aug. 25 we host the local neighborhood leaders safety and watch meetings of the turley area alliance against crime...

....and speaking of community health month, we found out we can extend for a few more weeks our summer health survey program with OU where we give out to local residents gift cards to use for their time taking the surveys with us; so we get more data, can reach more areas of the community, and pump more money directly back to the people here in our neighborhoods, and build connections to our projects and one another at the same time; we hope to have more health events at school, community meeting, and again at the north tulsa farmers market to reach people living here on the northside....another reason to get our AC replaced in time for our the community meeting next week and the community leadership meeting....

...Even when the Center is shut down because of the AC out we take the Center to the Community as we did this past Wednesday providing a pizza and salad lunch for all the teachers at the Horace Greeley Elementary School, now our closest school; it was a time to promote reconciliation of teachers from two schools that had merged due to the closing of Cherokee school; allowing teachers time and place to eat together and visit all together is a rare thing for a school where schedules and more keep all so busy and apart, but we want to do more of this and find ways to promote teachers building relationships with one another in order to help foster that among the students who are going through all the changes of closed schools and new schools too.

....finally while all of this is the arms and legs hands and feet and body of the church being the church int he community for the community and with people of varying faiths and no faith communities, our worship circles, like this morning at the park in the relative cool of the early morn, are the heart, and we have real, relaxed, and relational times, sharing life, getting in touch with all that sustains us, so that we can share and be the church in many ways while we are out in the world....So this Thursday we will be sharing worship with Phillips theological Semianry, 905 N. Mingo, at 11:30 am followed by lunch as some of us in the Unitarian Universalist sphere provide the chapel liturgy for communion. You also get a good homily from PTS President Gary Peluso-Verdend....Then next Sunday The Welcome Table Universalist Church will go on the road to Stillwater as I will be preaching at the UU Church there; we will carpool and caravan and then have some fun in Stillwater after the fun of worship of course.

will try to post more links and updates at and

Sunday, August 07, 2011

The Fires and More: Our Lives, Our Spirit, Our Mission

Hi to all. When you see the stories below you will know why we haven't written lately...But let me put it in a few words: Because You Have Been With and For Us, from wherever you are, near or faraway, We Have Been Here For Others The Past Few Days in a Deep thank you...

On Tuesday afternoon, when the temperature was setting record 115 temperatures, our community began burning from grassfires that spread to homes and several hundred were ordered evacuated. The fires were concentrated two blocks from the community center but were moving the other way so within an hour we were the first home for the first response with red cross and fire officials and others setting up in our community center; we helped supply cold water and a cool place for all, including the bedfast who were brought here too. One of our volunteers who coordinates the clothing room, an 81 year old widow, lost her home; the first fire trucks responding ran out of water and her house burned before other trucks could arrive; others had their endangered and worked with the firefighters for hours to keep it from spreading. We were here through the evening and held a board planning party previously scheduled even amidst the response; by night the red cross had moved to a church with shower capabilities we don't yet have, thanks Antioch Baptist Church; we had planned a catered dinner for our board members and other volunteers for that evening already and so, in loaves and fishes style, we offered it to all who were at the center; thanks to Elote Restaurant for catering our event; it went much further than we had intended. We supplemented it with a free pizza dinner we purchased from our local pizza place.

On Wednesday we took ice and water out to the burned home area where folks were congregating, and on Thursday we dedicated most of our monthly area planning group here at the center with State Rep. Seneca Scott and Fire Chief of our volunteer fire dept and others to the fires and response and to launching a community wide emergency response so we can do even better the next time this or something like it happens. We will be collecting food and personal supplies here at the center and coordinating more with the Red Cross for followup, especially in the weeks after the immediate emergency response is over....We also continued our planning toward a small area plan involving the community, and moving toward incorporation of our community to give it more of a voice.

But during all the emergency response of the first days, we also had people come into the center and unlock doors we keep locked and don't check as often as we should, and they came back in during the night and stole a volunteer's guitar and our computer center equipment and a phone. One of the things we were glad to offer people on the day of the fires was the ability to get on computers and communicate with others.
Also the constant use of the air conditioners during this heat wave now in to its third month has caused our airconditioning unit to break down this weekend. Thanks for our partners who helped us with big oscillating fans on the day of the fire for the areas of the center we didn't have ac yet. And thanks to all of those of you who were able to find ways past the roadblocks to get here to the frontlines and bring assistance.

Also on Thursday we were able to pause and celebrate up at the kitchengardenpark, where the orchard has been planted too, as we received our $25,000 grant for the park and our production and distribution of healthy food in our zipcode here which has the lowest life expectancy of any area, by a wide fourteen years, in the Tulsa area. We look forward to it also being an economic stimulus for our community as well as a place for community connections. Thanks to Channel 6 News for covering the event. Last summer we were furiously trying to raise funds to just buy the abandoned homes on the acreage; this summer we are celebrating having bought the land, having cleared the homes, having planted garden beds and an orchard and kept both alive and productive in the worst summer in a long long time, and now with funds to keep the transformation going, with more to come in what we rightly call our Miracle Among the Ruins.

This week we are also keeping going our summer free daily lunch program for all under 18 years old, being held at Cherokee School. It was scheduled to have closed down on Friday but the Tulsa Schools asked us to keep it going because we are serving more children than any other area, and have been throughout the summer and not just when school is in session as at most sites; so it is costing us extra but we are keeping the program going an extra week and will finish on Friday, Aug. 12, closing down the last program in Cherokee School, the historic school for Turley which dates back into the early days of the 20th century but has been closed by school officials. We should find out this week Wednesday or Thursday if anyone has made a bid to the school district to buy the Cherokee building; if so we will begin evaluating that bid and its positive or negative effects on the community; we also are hoping the school district will work with us to allow us to keep up the grounds we have planted at the school in hopes it will decrease vandalism as the school sits empty in the heart of our community. Three summers ago I was writing about how kids in our area were going hungry in summer because they received free breakfast and lunch throughout the year at school but without school their families were not able to compensate in budgets; now we are feeding more than anywhere else, and even with Cherokee School closing, we are hoping to open up not just one but two more feeding sites for next summer.

We are into the thick of our efforts this summer for community based health in our area. We held our first focus groups this past Thursday, and this coming week we have three major events: Wednesday (note date change) Aug. 10 from 2 to 5 pm we will be doing our surveys on health with University of Oklahoma at the North Tulsa Farmers Market, inside at Tulsa Community College Northeast campus, giving our quick trip gift cards to those who participate; then Thursday, Aug. 11 we will have more focus groups at the Center (assuming we get AC fixed), and then we will finish with a Community Health FunFest of information and surveys and live music and garage sale and family fun and more at the center on Sat. Aug. 13 from 9 am to 1 pm. 5920 N. Owasso Ave. Come be a part of it, especially if you would like a table to set up info on a health related topic or group. Or to bring food clothing or donations. A year ago we were struggling to keep open our health clinic; now we are helping to develop and begin a radical health concept that will keep people out of clinics in the first based and use communities themselves again to foster health.

For the past few weeks we have been trying to let the public know that the Post Office is set on closing our local post office, even though it wasn't listed in the nationwide list of closures released through the media recently and which caused people here to celebrate falsely; finally the Tulsa World was able to track down a document proving the planned closure and stating publicly what had not been stated publicly before; only post office box holders had been made aware of,a possible closure. I had called officials in Oklahoma City and been told we definitely were being closed; the story that came out in the paper on Saturday seemed to leave open doubt or possibility they wouldn't be closed, but ours has been definitely determined to be closed on Sept. 10 regardless of any response from a community just now receiving media notice; just now has anything official been posted on the door of the post office about the closure for the community to see; we have already submitted 25 pages of petitions to the postal authorities and federal legislative offices protesting the closure on moral grounds and on the grounds that the government should help those who need help the most, not those who live in areas where they have the means to access alternatives and they have alternatives like computers and UPS and FEDEX which we don't here; there are no offices of those anywhere on the northside, especially not in our zipcode areas. To save funds the post office should shut the offices in Utica Square where people who frequent there have the means to drive here and who have other alternatives nearby, but folks here don't have the means to drive there, and it is going to be hard for them to even get the four miles to the nearest office on Apache. At the least we want the post office to talk with us and other community leaders about putting in a village post office at the community center and letting us staff it; we are exploring ways to designate a room for box offices too.

We celebrated all of this today in worship held up at the gardenpark because of the AC off in the Center; we broke the bread of communion into separate pieces, each piece stood for a spoken suffering, then we dipped each piece into the cup of hope and blessing during communion and named the signs of hope and thankfulness we have experienced too, and retold the story of Jesus walking on water, and how our community was entering into the chaos and storms of the world around us, called from our times of renewal and rest in summertime, how we were following a vision and trying to walk on water too and doing so, but also sinking down in the stormy waters, but how other hands were pulling us back up, back into community and out of our own separate egos and individual visions, restoring us with community, and we sang about putting down our burdens, and we sang about roses that will open one day, and we sang Dona Nobis Pacem, and Shalom Havyreem, and to Go Now in Peace, and we prayed the prayer of Jesus together, and then left our hilltop space around the picnic table and went to eat together and share more of our lives and our plans together for service together.

Social ethicist James Luther Adams wrote that the power of an organization is for the organization of power, to which I add, for the powerless. We are a pretty poor organization, in many ways here, but that vision of concentrating our abilities for the sake of those without power has shown itself lately to be a strong indicator of a strong organic community that exists not for itself but for its Mission, lifting up lives and neighborhoods, particularly those whom others have abandoned, and doing it through small acts of justice done with great love, all of which is how we strive to make visible in the world the spirit of the Sacred we find most definitely, though not exclusively, in the loving and liberating free radical Jesus way. We have so much still to develop here, in small and big ways, but we have been tested and we know the Spirit is deep and moving among us. And that each of you all is a part of that Spirit.

blessings, from all of us, and special thanks to the communities where I have been guest preaching lately, at Bay Area Unitarian Universalist Church in Houston, and Hope Unitarian Church in Tulsa; looking forward to preaching later this month at the UU Church of Stillwater OK, and to the start of a new semester at Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, to a ministerial study group in the Dallas Fort Worth area next week, to friends from Pathways UU Church in DFW who came to help, to all those in my Missional Progressives Reimaging the World (and then the Church) workshop at the Southwest UU Summer Institute at Western Hills Lodge east of Tulsa, where next year I will be program director and where colleague Rev. Thomas Schade will be theme speaker, coming from First Church in Worcester, MA to Western Hills July 22-27, 2012, and where Rev. Tony Lorenzon of Pathways in DFW will be the Sunset Preacher. and as always, more to come,