Sunday, July 15, 2007

It Is Doing

Last week, a friend of ours reminded us of a Buddhist community in California that has, as its core philosophy, three rules:

  • Take care of this space.
  • Take care of yourself.
  • Take care of each other.

This morning, Kevin Rains, our pastor at Vineyard Central, reminded us of the two great commandments of Christ:

  • Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.
  • Love your neighbor as yourself.

As I see it, the approach of that Buddhist community is not vastly different than the approach of the VC community.

Each is more difficult than it sounds. And each is more about what I do than what I believe.

As Kevin said in his teaching this morning, it is doing, and not just professing to believe, that will make me a Christian.

Thursday, July 12, 2007


Prayer plays a key role in the story of Vineyard Central (VC) and St. Elizabeth’s. Prayer has a key role in our ongoing efforts to restore St. E’s as well, although it did not start out that way.

We first started meeting in late spring of 2006. We were scheduled to host an ASG Civic Engagement Series (CES) in St. E’s in October. Our first task was to prepare the community and the space for that event, providing focus for our first meetings. When we met we used the rhythm of the CES: Convening, welcoming those who chose to attend, thanking them for the accepting the invitation, breaking into groups of three and four with instructions engage in one of the six CES conversations around one of the powerful questions.

After the CES, we continued to meet. Often those attending asked questions about why VC owned the building, why it went unused and fell into disrepair, and what VC wanted to do with the building. No one at our meetings had an answer, so we decided to ask the VC leadership. We arranged for a dinner meeting with the Nixons and the Rains, where they told us the story of VC and St. E’s. During the re-telling, Kevin Rains remarked how he was struck by the how much prayer was involved in the process.

“That’s all we had,” he said. And so prayer became the focus of our St. E’s team meetings.

We decided to hold a St. E’s prayer vigil, and we began planning that event. At the urging of Kenny Havens, we agreed on a 24-hour vigil, from 7 p.m. Friday, April 20, to 7 p.m. Saturday, April 21. Lily Lewin joined the planning process to help us think about and develop creative ways of praying. We ended up with a number of different prayer stations that included drawing, asking God to guide our vision, writing answers to questions, sitting in contemplation, listening to a guided prayer, hammering away doubts and fears, and writing our dreams for Sts. E’s on paper leaves and attaching them to a tree.

The result of the vigil was a subtle but powerful change in our focus. Restoring St. E’s had always seemed too big, too daunting, too much. The clear message of the vigil, it seemed to me, was not to worry about tomorrow. Do what was in front of us, give up trying to control the outcomes, trust in God.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

How I Got Here

And by here, I don’t actually mean to a physical space, but to the place where I am concerned with being a steward of a Sacred Space.

First, the Earth cooled …

Okay, okay. It’s probably an obscure reference to a movie (Airplane II) that I don’t really like, except for that one line. (If you google “first the earth cooled” you can learn more about the origin of the reference and how it is now used as a teaching point.)

I place the starting point at a Saturday intensive of A Small Group (ASG).

A Small Group is a loosely organized organization of people who would like to create an alternative future, a future distinct from the past, for ourselves and Cincinnati. ASG is loosely led by renowned author and consultant Peter Block, who happens to live in Cincinnati. You can find out more about ASG here and more about Peter here.

At the intensive, late in the spring of ‘06, I was pondering one of the powerful questions: What promise are you willing to make without an expectation of reward? Until that point I had always answered, “Nothing.” There was nothing I would promise without expectation of reward.

This time I had a different answer: Restore St. Elizabeth’s.

At Vineyard Central services the next day, I spoke it out. I got up in front of the congregation and said this is my call. “Restore St. Elizabeth’s.” There was some interest: enough to begin the process. What progress we’ve made has been in fits and starts.

But we have made progress. And we continue on the journey. More about that later.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

By the Mark

It was too much – His blood sacrifice.
Most days I turn away, not bearing the idea.
I deny truth’s power
And live comfortably, but not comforted.
If I try to fathom the unfathomable
I weep, I fall, I fail. I cry out, tormented
By this demon: A love so strong He died for me.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Space Matters



Presence matters.

Mindfulness matters.

St. Elizabeth’s reminds me of these things.

St. E’s is a beautiful, 100-year-old, formerly Catholic church in West Norwood. Her eight large stained glass windows, two rose windows, and two stained glass domes combine to let in a subtle natural light. Her disrepair—the water damage, the places where plaster has come off the walls exposing the brick underneath—only adds to her grandeur. Visitors are always moved by her beauty and brokenness and (perhaps) feel the presence of God when they enter.

I know I am reminded to be mindful when I enter St E’s. I become more aware of the presence, or at least the potential presence, of God. I slow down, try to remember, try to feel my bones, try to feel myself in my skin, try to be aware of my footsteps.

Try to listen. Listening is so critical, and I do it so badly.

I know the danger: By locating God in a particular place, one can start to worship the place instead of God. It is what we humans do. God is immense, huge, unfathomable, ineffable, utterly unexplainable. So we shrink God to fit ourselves, rather than expand ourselves, as best we can, to reach out to God.

In addition to feeling called by St. E’s, I am also attracted to the Vineyard Central community. Vineyard Central is not a congregation, but a collection of house churches. The community has many artists and musicians, and I am sure that is part of the attraction. I connect to those people. I hope that being part of the community will help me bring forth whatever gifts I have for art, music, and writing.

The age of the members of the community may be an issue as well. They are, for the most part, about half my age. I like that. I guess it is their sense of openness, of being still incomplete, that attracts me. I am not yet complete myself. I am still writing my story.

As yet Elaine and I have not found our place in the Vineyard Central community of house churches. We tried a couple but did not seem to find a fit. We stopped exploring house church options. We thought about leading our own, but chose not to. The season seemed wrong.

Our search continues, however. We continue to seek, to grow into who we are, what we stand for, and what we will stand against.

That is why, for me, mindfulness matters; presence matters; place matters; space matters.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Welcome to God’s Space

Last Monday night, after our first regularly scheduled meeting of the St. Elizabeth’s Community Restoration Team, when I came out of the building, I noticed three of the neighborhood kids sitting on the steps of St. Elizabeth’s, and I thought:


I have never seen the kids at Sunday services, and I doubt they belong to any of the house churches, but it was great to see them around St. E’s.

Elaine contends that God is using St. E’s to draw people to Him. I think she’s right.

So, however you get here, and whoever you are, welcome. God accepts you.

We should, too.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Interior Space, St. Elizabeth's

The photos shown here were taken recently by local photographer John Cremons. They show much of the grandeur and some of the vulnerability of the interior space at Saint Elizabeth's. After his visit, he sent us an email with the following message:

Thanks so much for letting me photograph your beautiful church. The character and presence in this sanctuary is powerful. I noticed that you have great respect for the past and your predecessors. This is good.