Learning again

Many of you know I’m on sabbatical. Having witnessed other people take sabbaticals, I had a vague idea about what it would be like. I thought I’d enjoy it but wondered if I would be a bit lost without a regular schedule and if I would have a had time getting motivated each day. Others worried I would have a hard time not being around other people on a regular basis. (A far concern from my perspective.) Almost one-fourth of my way through and I am happy to say – I am loving it.

It didn’t take me long to develop patterns for organizing my time. (Working with a coach probably helped! Thanks Dawn!) I do commit to showering and “going to work” each morning (in my office across the hall) and I have enough connections to the outside world that I haven’t lost contact with colleagues and friends or my social skills. And, believe it or not, I run out of time each day, each week, and each month to do all I had hoped to do. Needless-to-say, motivation has not been a problem. My lists of books read and to read are both growing. My time writing is both focused and spontaneous. My networking is strategic and open to new possibilities.

Reflecting on this first chapter, my biggest discovery is I’m learning to learn again. I love learning, well mostly. I love the kind of learning that happens on my terms – when I get to choose the topic, the timing, and the grading scale. I don’t love learning that is forced on me,  that disorients me, and that exposes my weaknesses or blind spots. As an educator, my “business” is to cultivate environments were others learn and to learn myself. Most of my world lives in the first category – learning that happens on my terms. I am in this work because that is an environment where I can thrive. And I got to this place by being a learner…mostly through traditional avenues of campus classrooms and accredited degree programs, with some contextual learning thrown in. Yet in today’s networked, information age, traditional pathways of learning (at least in my 53 years experience) are being disrupted and learning itself is being reimagined. This places me more in the second category – learning that’s hard and not on my terms. This disruption has challenged me as a teacher. In the past several years I have been rethinking “the classroom,” and even more importantly, my own approach and paradigm for learning. But I’ve been doing it all in the midst of a long to-do list. Learning with limited time and tight deadlines is instrumental, and while there is a place for that, what I need is to do the harder, transformational work that comes from the second category.

This year, I get to open up space to rediscover what it is to be a learner in the midst of new realities and challenges. My learning is not guided by a professor, and I’m not learning to get credit for a course. I’m learning because as an educator, I need to rediscover the joy and pain of transformational learning. I have goals for my learning (mostly attached to my writing project and to the courses I teach), but they serve more as guideposts along a journey than agenda items for each day. As you can see by the picture above, the pile of books on my desk is diverse, and that is just the current “to read” stack. I’m also learning from podcasts, online lectures and presentations, and experiences in the world. Finding resources for learning is not the problem, the challenge is creating space for reflecting and processing the ideas- that is where I need to exercise discipline (and perhaps interrupt my preconceived schedule for the day).

This morning I had the joy of stumbling across a podcast with one of the authors in my stack of books. (Kate Bowler is the author of Everything Happens for a Reason and is a colleague I’ve appreciated for years.) Wavering between curiosity and procrastination, I started my workday by listening to the podcast. Kate’s words provided theological language for my own experiences, challenged my thinking about leadership, and expanded my thinking about this journey of learning I am currently on. I invite you to take a listen – the link is below. And here are some ideas and phrases that stood out to me today:

  • are we willing to abandon our own assumptions? about life and about God?
  • facing our own arrogance is painful and a deep sense of gratitude might be a gift on the other side.
  • there is freedom is knowing our limits.
  • the resurrection is real – and all around us.
  • resurrection is preceded by death – real dying and decade.
  • death is coming to the end of ourselves.
  • hope (and faith) is knowing God is present.
  • God makes things new.
  • community matters – and maybe we need to lower our bar and receive what others have to give.
  • needing others is hard – at least for those of us who value individualism and illusion of autonomy.
  • loving a preschooler through the journey of death and new life makes it real – and perhaps forces us to name the hard parts of life in simple, honest terms.

Podcast – Can These Bones w/Kate Bowler

I’m going to dwell in Kate’s words – and these takeaways – today as I get back to my previously “scheduled” day. I’m going to let these ideas interrupt me, as I also am not going to force myself to name three concrete lessons I have learned by dinner time.

So how is your learning going? Do you have some practices that allow you to shift from pragmatic learning (think YouTube videos to fix the toilet) to transformational learning? As I continue on this sabbatical journey I will use this space to periodically pause and offer some resources and reflections. Drop in if you are interesting. And I’d also like to hear from you about your own journey of learning in this information age. How are you pairing old ways of learning with new ways? In what ways is your learning being disrupted? How are you finding learning partners?

Thinking about Complexity

I’ve been reading on my sabbatical. Of all the books on my list, I choose to start with this one – Simple Habits for Complex Times. The simple premise of the book is that we are living in a new world where volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity are on the rise and we need to develop a new mindset for leading. The authors, two consultants from New Zealand, offer three habits for developing this new pattern of thinking and acting: talk differently, gather information differently, and build strategies and plans differently. (If you want to see a short video on the book, check out this out.)

But this blog isn’t an ad for this book. This post is about mindsets. A mindset, or frame, is a set of ideas or beliefs that form a lens that enables one to see and understand what is going on in a situation. So I ask: What mindset frames your view of ministry? Not sure? Try this. Pay attention to the questions you ask. Over the course of a week, write down the questions you ask about the ministry situations you encounter. Then step back and reflect on what those questions say about your current view of ministry. Part of a team? Then do this exercise together, sharing your reflections at the end and trying to get a sense of the similarities and differences each of you bring. Once you have done that, create a 2×2 matrix to see if your mindset is more opened or closed. Label the first row narrowing and the second row opening. Label the left column threat and the right column opportunity.

So, what did you discover? Living well in a complex world requires a shift in mindset from one where probability was the norm to one where possibilities are the norm. Leading with a possibilities mindset means being open to opportunities and other ways of understanding. If you want to practice being more open, one skill to develop is asking different questions. Here are some to get you started:

  • When faced with a complex problem practice using “and” (rather than “or” or “but”). Using “and” doesn’t close down options or narrow choices prematurely. “And” lets ideas build on each other, creates a relationship between ideas that might be in tension with each other, and invites collaboration.
  • Are the questions you ask taking time into account? Time offers perspective, brings forth realities, and opens up new possibilities. Asking questions about the past, present, and future is all worthwhile.
  • Do your questions come with a genuine curiosity? Asking questions, or getting feedback, to confirm what we already know is a waste of energy. On the other hand, asking questions with a posture of deep interest and openness to be impacted by the response is really valuable. What to do with the answers/feedback is the second part of the process, but being open begins with reflecting on our own attitudes.

 

 

Grading

I’m doing what I normally do during my holiday break – grading.

For over ten years while my family has these days around Christmas and New Year’s “off” (or at least some version of being on vacation), I have work to do. It’s hard to see my work because I do not head into the office or have meetings, but my time between the fall semester and J-Term is filled with something important – grading papers. With a January 4th deadline looming, I have work to do and people waiting to hear how their semester turned out. Yet during this holiday season, the thought of grading does not get me excited. (In fact, I can usually find many things to do to put off grading each and every day.) But grading is part of my job, and it is part of the learning process that I value. So I press forward.

When I finally get mentally (and physically) prepared, I open my computer and lean into the work. Looking at the rubric for the assignment, I remind myself of what we were doing in the course and I open a paper – glancing at the student’s name, I start reading their work. These assignments are their final ones, so I not only read the words on the page, but also see their faces and remember the encounters we have had throughout the semester. I now have a relationship with these students having spent 13 weeks together. Therefore, these assignments are rich; there is more to them then what I read on the page. Maybe one of the questions a student asked in class has found its way into their paper or echoes of the ministry situation we talked about in break sits behind what is described in their work. I read aware of how personal and taxing this work of ministry is for many – and the price some have paid to lead and study Christian public leadership. Grading these assignments is only partially about the content of the course, it is more about their call to lead. Over time I stop watching the clock and let myself be transported to various ministry settings – literally around the world – and into the lives of these students.

Grading in my line of work is never solely about a grade. Grading is simply one way I join current and future leaders of the church in discovering who they are, what is happening in the world (and church) today, and wondering what God is up to. Assignments provide the opportunity to reflect and put on paper new learnings on a particular topic and grading is one way I offer them my feedback. Both are snapshots in a dynamic learning process that breaks down previous understandings and opens new possibilities. The tearing down is real, and hard. Deconstructing – understandings of the church, the world, and ourselves – opens up wounds, is confusing, filled with pain, and is a journey of letting go and lamenting. Building up is exciting and scary. Constructing is creative, filled with joy and epiphanies, invites dreaming and makes space for new possibilities. Learning needs both. And learning in a seminary recognizes that both movements are truly human or embodied (they are not just theoretical) and God is present. The pain and the joy are real. The tears flow from deep within, the people involved have names, and the situations matter. And at the same time God is with us. Healing happens, hope is found, and love expands and is deepened.

So as I grade, holding these assignments as a sacred trust to be stewarded. I treasure the way students offer their lives to this calling and trust me with their stories. And I try my best to faithfully serve my calling as a teacher of the church. #thankful #blessed #WeAreLutherSem

One Year Anniversary

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Impact One Year Later: A Conversation between Authors and Editor about Leading Congregations and Nonprofits in a Connected World: Platforms, People, and Purpose

Sarah Stanton, Senior Acquisitions Editor at Rowman and Littlefield for Religion, asked us to reflect on the impact of our book, Leading Congregations and Nonprofits in a Connected World: Platforms, People, and Purpose on its one-year anniversary. We invite you into this conversation by leaving your comments on our respective blogsites (Hayim –facebook.com/rabbihayimherring and www.hayimherring.com and Terri – https://terrielton.com), and by purchasing copies for you and your leadership at a generous discount of 40% (available only on Rowman and Littlefield’s website when you click on the book link.

Sarah: How has the book been received over the past year?

Terri and Hayim: As co-authors, we naturally want to say, “the reception has been fantastic,” and we think that’s accurate. We had hoped that clergy, professional and volunteer leaders of congregations and nonprofits would purchase the book and invite us to present our insights. But what we didn’t expect is volunteer leaders whose day jobs are running a business wanting to purchase copies of the book for their businesses. We realized through them that some aspects of our book, which is about 21st century leadership, had broader application. We’ve also heard clergy from both of our respective faith traditions say the blend of theory, story about churches, synagogues and nonprofits, and practical tools and resources enabled them to turn concepts into actionable steps for their organizations. Thankfully, our presentation schedules have been quite full, and we’re gratified that we can support clergy, professional and volunteer leaders who are facing some unprecedented challenges around transparency, engagement with the broader world and innovation–all while trying to deepen involvement of existing constituents.

Sarah: What is the question you wish more people would ask about the book?

Hayim and Terri: One of our key findings was that both established and startup organizational leaders lacked any kind of formal process for planning beyond a year at a time. They all engaged in planning, ranging from what we might call “adhocracy” – planning when needed – to strategic planning on a regular cycle. However, we would like to hear much more interest from them in using existing tools that that they can adapt for congregations and nonprofits to distinguish “the trendy” from trends that they can anticipate and shape to further the impact of their work. Even agility isn’t enough because that still implies a mindset of reactivity albeit at a quicker rate. Learning to anticipate trends is not a luxury but a necessity because of the velocity of relentless change that we’re experiencing.

Sarah: What is the question you’re most frequently ask about the book?

Terri and Hayim: Not surprisingly, questions about membership and dues or finances frequently arise in discussions. However, we try to reframe that question to one of openness and engagement, that is, how open is your congregation or nonprofit to the world, and how does your mission engage people’s hearts and souls with a diverse but like-minded group of individuals? We don’t dismiss the real financial concerns that congregations have, but if that’s their first question, they have already indicated that they are thinking as an Organization 2.0, from the top down, about institutional survival, instead of what we describe as Organization 3.0, which is structured as a mission-focused platform where people can pursue and express purpose and communal meaning.

Sarah: What part of the book have readers reacted to most strongly?

Terri and Hayim: Innovation and entrepreneurship resonate with leaders right away. We believe that is because today’s organizations know they need to grow these capacities and the four pathways to innovation that we identified helps leaders find their way through innovation and entrepreneurship in tangible ways. The concept that surprised us the most was engagement. Often invited to help organizations think differently about “growing membership,” our work reframes questions about membership into questions of engagement and we think innovation and engagement work together. Engaging the talents and gifts of individuals within congregations and nonprofits is a great strategy for innovation, as it creates shared ownership and produces better results. Using the resources and worksheets in the book, leaders can practice some of the ideas during presentations and bring them home to use with their staff, board, or constituents.

Sarah: Have any questions surprised you over the past year?

Hayim and Terri: Just last week, when presenting a to group of ministers, a participant asked if there was an innovation and entrepreneurship self-assessment tool for congregational and nonprofit leaders. The two academics who invited us to teach were also present, and are very knowledgeable about innovation. But none of us were able to immediately think of a tool that was specifically targeted toward those issues. Certainly, there are some excellent tools that assess personality types and attributes that relate to innovation and entrepreneurship, and corporations and international consulting companies have developed their own instruments, but we invite those reading this blog to let us know if they’re aware of one that would fit a nonprofit or congregational context.

Sarah: Is there something you had to leave out of the book you wish you’d been able to include?

Terri and Hayim: What we couldn’t include in the book were the stories of individual members and constituents of participating nonprofit and congregations. Our groundbreaking research methodology invited members and participants of organizations in our study to directly contribute their insights. A central theme of the book was about engagement, and we realized that we had to engage directly with members and constituents of organizations participating in our research. And we credit the nonprofit leaders for enabling us to find ways to do so. However, we promised confidentiality, so we can only generally say that the work of the congregations and nonprofits in our study is filling those who are involved in their communities with deep purpose.

Sarah: How has the book’s message informed your own work?

Terri: I am different today because of this work. Learning from and with the congregations and nonprofits we studied has convicted me to boldly lean into this new paradigm in my own leadership. One year later the path forward is not clear, but the rewards along the way have been rich. In the past year I have named and reflected on the assumptions I bring into leadership and opened myself to other possibilities. Teaching future congregational and nonprofits leaders I am introducing new ideas and experimenting with new teaching methods and assignments, and these efforts are making a difference in the church. Most importantly, I am widening my circle of learning partners. As Hayim states below, working on this project he and I developed an unlikely friendship. Today we have expanded our relationship by introducing each other to colleagues and friends, all during a time when society was becoming more wary of “the other.” I am convinced that a core capacity of future leadership is the ability to leave one’s comfort zone and create spaces for genuinely encountering strangers. While that work was not the central message of this book, it is trajectory of it. If leaders of congregations and nonprofits live out these principles, that is where they will find themselves. And for that, I am grateful.

Hayim: Before we started researching and writing, Dr. Terri Elton was a complete stranger to me. But we went from potential co-authors, to colleagues and now to family friends. Why? Call it serendipity or providence, but my original co-author realized that he was unable to work on the book, so I decided to look across the Mississippi, to scholars at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, instead of reaching out to familiar colleagues. Our book was published immediately before the 2016 presidential election, when we were already feeling the toxic effects of political messages that warned us of the dangers of trusting “the other” (and I heard these messages from the extremes in both parties). By refusing to believe those messages, our reciprocity of trust in an “other” not only helped to better inform the congregational and nonprofit world about leadership, but transformed me personally. And, thanks to the encouragement of some great professionals at Rowman and Littlefield, I’m well into researching and writing a book on an issue that will be relevant to congregations and nonprofits, but transcends those sectors and reach into our broader communities. That’s part of my ongoing transformational journey that began with Leading Congregations and Nonprofits in a Connected World: Platforms, People, and Purpose.

I don’t have words!

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I don’t have words. Whenever I try to put words together into a sentence to share about my experience in Tanzania, words fall short. I’ve tried several times, with several responses each geared for a different group of people, but each time the sentences trail off…and then I try to end with a story to illustrate my point. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t.

Like there is the story of the college student who waited for our group as we traveled to our partner congregation. And when our can broke down and needed attention, we had a chance to have an extended “unexpected” conversation. The heart of his message was his gratitude to Prince of Peace for the 6 years of scholarships that helped him move from primary school to secondary school and now into the University. Soon, after a time student teaching, he will be a teacher giving back to another community because of the investment this congregation made in him. As a professor and member of Prince of Peace, it was awesome to see the joy in his face and the thanksgiving in his heart.

There is the string of stories that highlight the Bega Kwa Bega – Shoulder to Shoulder – partnership between the Saint Paul Area Synod and the Iringa Diocese. We signed guest books filled with familiar names from MN, we met Tanzanians who have worked on projects with our friends (i.e. Fred Bergsrud, my childhood neighbor, working with them in agriculture) and we made instant connections, like finding out our interpreter went to seminary with one of my PhD colleagues. With so many ambassadors going back and forth between MN and Iringa, many conversations found common ground very quickly even though I could not speak Swahili or get around town on my own.

Pictures do a better job at communicating, but they too can be flat. The relationships cultivated between members of our group goes beyond the smiles seen in our pictures. The appreciation for church leaders in Iringa is hard to capture in the “group shot” at the DIRA office. The pictures of faces of children, mothers, and farmers are beautiful, but hardly capture the full essence of their lives and community. And the sunset photos do not begin to shed light on the stunning views we had from the top of the mountain, say nothing about the ones of elephants, lion, and giraffes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Relationships provide the best avenue. So many – new and old – and so diverse. Traveling with a group ages 15 to 76 provides it’s own richness. Add to that the vast array of experiences of the people we encountered that surfaced in conversations around meals, in worship, in celebrations, and in times of trial. The book of Romans reminds us we are one body with many members…and to see that sameness and difference at play over the course of two weeks was amazing.

At the end of the day, I’m grateful to be part of a global church that is rooted in relationships, cares about the world, and takes seriously its call to love God and neighbor. My heart of full. I learned a lot, and have much to reflect on. And my web of ministry partners has expanded.

I’m home from Tanzania, but my experience in Tanzania is still living within me.

Ready for 2017 – Tips from 2016 Bike Rides

We have had a beautiful spring, inviting people young and old to get outside!

I, of course, had to get my bike out early and have already taken in some gorgeous days biking. After my #BikeMN52 goal last year, biking 52 different rides in MN, several people have asked for tips on finding places to bike. So today I’m sharing my top resources for finding bike routes…and a little commentary to go with each.

#1 – Traillink is a great resource to check out. You can search around the country, state, city, or by trail name. This site is helpful describing the details of the path (like where it starts and ends, the length, and the trail surface). Here is a link to the Metro area. It is run by a non-profit and the site has more than 300,000 miles of trails. (That’s enough to keep you busy all summer!) Some of my favorites are: Brown’s Creek Trail near Stillwater (it is attached to the Gateway Trail which is also awesome), The Elm Creek Park Reserve in Maple Grove, Cedar Lake Trail (with its beautiful view of Minneapolis and lush green space), Lake Minnetonka Regional Trail (starting in Hopkins and heading out toward Excelsior), the Samuel Morgan Trail along the St. Paul side of the Mississippi, and of course the Midway Greenway (and the Minneapolis Lakes). (I placed this app on my phone!)

#2 – The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources also has a good list, and they note what types of recreation is available at each park. Trail length ranges from 4 miles (Goodhue Pioneer Trail in Zumbrota) to 100 (Paul Bunyan Trail between Brainerd area and Bemidji). If you want to make your ride more than an afternoon outing they have great ideas for adventures.

#3 – Bikeverywhere has a great physical map that I used, but they also have resources online. (For example, if you are interested in doing a century ride – 100 miles – there is route around Forest Lake.)

#4 – Know the trail you want? You can also check if they have their own site. Like the Cannon Valley Trail, the Mesabi Trail, Root River Trail, and Central Lakes Trail. Often these sites have more detail, for example if you are looking for housing nearby or places to stop for lunch.

#5 – The StarTribune ran an article last summer and has a nice map for metro AND state trails.

And “just in case” I always used my Google maps app on my phone. Just turn on the biking option and it will highlight bike routes and paths. This app helped me do get lost many times!

Also – one more resource – I highlighted some of my favorite rides at the end of the summer in this blog. Check it out. 

If you are interested in following my rides, I’m posting again under #BikeMn53 on FaceBook and Instagram.

So, here’s to biking another season!

What Target can Teach Religious Leaders

Like many Minnesotans, I am a regular Target customer. There are several that I visit on a regular basis – one near my house, another near work, and another “on my way home.” It use to be that I could visit a Target store in Apple Valley, MN or Fargo, ND or Anaheim, CA and easily find my way around because the layout of the store was basically the same. Sure they had different items (especially seasonal ones), but overall there was, what seemed to me, a universal pattern.

Recently that pattern has changed. For example, the Target by my work in St. Paul added a liquor store at one of the entrances. And the one “on my way home” had the home decorating items laid out in a display similar to someone’s living room. While I can still find the groceries and cosmetics, sporting goods and books, over the past several years I have begun to seen changes…most of them subtle, but some a bit more dramatic.

Last night I had to get groceries (and a few other things), so I went to my local Target and noticed more changes. In addition to the redesigned self-serve check-out lines there were several displays “between departments” that integrated various items from across the story and created “real life” scenarios. One scenario was all things “heading to the beach” and another was “what you need for your office.” It was interesting because they took things from different sections of the store and they put it together in a way that made sense to me. It was how I use their products at home. (A chair from the furniture section, with a pillow and rug from home decorating and a book from the book section with a Mother’s Day card sitting right next to it.) Not only that, but they put them at intersections or places that I would pass for various reasons. It was like they had mapped people’s travel patterns and were creating hubs throughout the store. While I noticed this new feature, I didn’t think much of it the rest of the night, as I had groceries to put away (along with the other items – planned and not planned – that I had purchased).

Having also been to worship this weekend, another place I visit regularly, I paused today to reflect more on my visit to Target. Maybe there are lessons religious leaders can learn from Target? And in fact, I think Target is embodying several of the principles Hayim Herring and I discovered in our research. Let me offer two thoughts:

  1. From departments toward “real life scenarios” – The universal pattern that I have come to appreciate at Target had all of the products separated into departments. If you want to be efficient, that’s a great plan, right? Well maybe. It is what I grew-up with and what I was use to, but sometimes the separation isn’t the most helpful. Take this example – Let’s say it’s summer and I’m having people over for a backyard BBQ and I forgot the marshmallows, chocolate bars, and graham crackers for S’Mores. That’s a lot of running round to get three items. And some time, like before the 4th of July, I’ll find S’More stuff in a display together, but mostly these three items live aisles apart. You see departments cluster things with the idea that like will be with like. But often times, things don’t fall neatly in those categories and/or items that are often used together are separated. But Target is taking the “S’Mores display” a step further. What if items where both/and? What if putting things together, rather than separating them, was most useful? And what if, like the S’Mores display, these “integrated” displays changed on a regular basis? Like Target, congregations have believed departmentalizing was the best way to help people navigate ministry opportunities. But maybe those days are changing? Maybe what is most helpful for people wanting to engaging in ministry is “putting the pieces together” in a way that reflects their everyday life? Target didn’t throw out all their departments as they began this new approach, and congregations don’t have to either. What I learned from Target is that a shift is taking place, from segregation and efficiency toward integrated and “real life.” And for now, we live in a hybrid.
  2. Tending to flow and intersections – I personally don’t mind numbered aisles and orderly traffic patterns. In fact, I love being efficient. But what I noticed when Target created these new “real life display areas” is that they caught my attention. I slowed down, stopped and looked at several items. And not only did my pace change, my mood did as well – I didn’t feel like I was in a warehouse, but rather in a more “intimate setting.” Sure, this might seem like an exaggeration, but think about the difference between going to a large chain store and a small boutique. What if you could create a bit of both in one? Tending to traffic patterns, or the people’s patterns, congregations create create smaller meeting points that brought people together from various “departments.” If you could create such an intersection, what would you do in that space? What might invite people to slow down their pace and have conversation? What Hayim and I did discover is that intersections, hubs, help not only information flow, but also are meaningful in cultivating relationships.

I’m not ready to say congregations should become Target. What I am suggesting is that there are lessons to be learned from a variety of places on how people can gather in meaningful ways. We as congregational leaders need to pay attention. It is time to rethink our patterns, because people’s patterns are being reshaped in all areas of their lives. And changing patterns is not about being novel, it is about realizing that the way congregations remain faithful is by engaging people in ministry. Therefore, stepping back and reflecting on what we are doing and while is so important.

Who knew. Paving a path.

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL (Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)

So this happened today, an article I co-authored appeared in an online Jewish publication.

Seriously. If you would have told my younger self that such a thing would happen, I would have thought you were crazy. Me? Cradle-Lutheran and seminary professor of leadership. What conditions would ever be right for such a thing to happen?

Well it did. Today. And the path from my childhood to this moment was not linear, and frankly the article was more about an opportune moment than a strategic plan, but today Rabbi Hayim Herring and I have an article published in the The New York Jewish Week. “Toward Paving A Path Between Religious And Cultural Wars” is a response to Peter Beinart’s “Breaking Faith” (an article that appeared in the April edition of The Atlantic) but it is also a testimony to the partnership we develop in writing Leading Congregations and Nonprofits in a Connected World (our new book).

SUCH A TIME AS THIS

As our country seems to be separating into enclaves and seeing difference as division, Hayim and I were quietly talking with leaders of Jewish and Christian congregations and nonprofits who were discovering innovative and creative ways of cultivating communities of meaning and purpose. These communities operated with a posture open to difference and used practices that created dialogue and nurtured relationships. As we learned from each of them, we (as researchers, authors, and religious leaders) were doing the same ourselves – opening ourselves up to a particular other and discovering practices that created rich dialogue and nurtured a deep friendship. All while the national commentary, in the shadow of the presidential election, was highlighting divisions and trying to instill fear. There was a disconnect from our lived experience and the national rhetoric. There have been more times then I can count this past year when I have said, “There has to be another way.”

And then two weeks ago, as Hayim and I are both entering each other religious spheres and co-leading learning events, this article starts circulating around social media, and we decide to offer our voice.

PAVING A PATH 

Today I taught seminary students, current and future leaders of Christian communities, about how God calls us to open ourself to others – both known and unknown. This call from God is counter to what I have learned and been taught as a person who grew up in Western culture; a culture where individualism reigns and personal happiness has replaced visions of shalom and working for the common good. I believe these words, but I must admit, I am a novice in living them out.

Today I share with you, others known and unknown, my commitment to be part of the movement of paving a path to a new future. I will, in my spheres of influence, be a curious neighbor, open to hearing the stories of people I encounter, and working for justice and peace. And I am grateful for a conversation partner outside my usual circles who is also on such a path. And I invite you to consider ways you too can be part of this movement – a movement where difference does not have to lead to division and otherness does not have to be feared.

Love > …

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Old Lutheran is up to it again. This time they are reminding us, anyone who loosely considers themselves a church person, of the power of love. Love is greater than many things. It is certainly greater than hate, but it is also greater than status, than tradition, than money, and fear and jealousy (you get the point.). Old Lutheran has asked church leaders from around the country to write short reflections that draw us into discussion with one another on the power of love, and in particular God’s love. (You can search them with the hashtag #loveisgreater.)

I had the opportunity to write one on Love > Grief. Check it out. (Here are other short reflections  on Love > Hate – Go to the bottom of the page.) And my greater invitation is for  you to be part of a movement that spreads love, God’s love in the world. Read these reflections, talk about the power of love with your friends, get yourself a T-shirt and spread the word, or simply let love be your driving force today and in the days ahead. Remember #loveisgreater

Created in God’s Image

Video

We often read passages that note humans are created in God’s image, and we might even find ourselves repeating these words, but how often do we really stop and ponder what an amazing reality and gift that is?

Art is one way my ordinary routine of daily living is disrupted. Art in its final form is amazing and an take my breath away. As an observer, not as an artist myself, I’m drawn to art that helps me see the world in new ways or exemplifies the beauty already present. Here I am taken in by the imagine of the artists vision.

But art in it’s becoming form has a different impact on me. Art “becoming” transforms materials of this world, materials I often see as ordinary, and makes them into something more than…more than what they were and more than what I could see. Observing the process of art becoming captures my spirit differently than art in it’s final form. This video is an example of art becoming. Watch it and see what you think.