Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Transformational Hospitality

Here's the post I started last week, but didn't finish until now, due to my son's concussion -

A week ago I attended a conference on the Sacred Art of Hospitality based on the book, Hospitality~the Sacred Art: Discovering the Hidden Spiritual Power of Invitation and Welcome by The Rev. Nanette Sawyer (purchase at: It really gave us the basis for all of our relationships as well as mission and ministry. Nanette pushes us to see hospitality not in terms of setting a pretty table or hosting dinner parties, although it could very well include these. Hospitality is the quality of one's inner spirit and how this creates an openness and welcome in all our relationships which can lead to the transformation of ourself and others.

Transformative spiritual hospitality is rooted in three qualities: receptivity, reverence and generosity that reflect a basic pattern of movement: in-with-out. We can engage in each of these stages with methods of awareness, acceptance and action. A chart helped us:
Inner Spirit: Receptivity Reverence Generosity
Movement: In With Out
Method: Awareness Acceptance Action

Receptivity which has to do with preparing our inner state to be able to invite others in to our lives, hearts and sometimes, our homes. We explored this spiritual approach in being not only receptive to God’s welcome of us, but also our willingness to be hospitable to ourselves. Like other spiritual disciplines, true hospitality begins with our relationship with God and our ability to care for and love ourselves, so that we might be open to others and able to care for them out of our own spiritual center. The method for this stage is awareness—awareness of the sacred in and around us, awareness of ourselves, awareness of our needs and a willingness for self-care.

Reverence is the state of being with others—honoring and welcoming them. Reverence involves acceptance of others as they are, but it also goes deeper than that. It moves us to see and honor the presence of God in each created being—humans as well as the creation. Being with others in a hospitable and reverent way, means giving up trying to control them, letting go of specific outcomes and not judging them. It also means letting go of the dualism of comparison—that we are better/worse than others or they are better/worse than us. Instead we identify with them, in our common humanity, in the presence of God that exists within each one of us. Rev. Sawyer challenges us to practice this with our families on a daily basis, with neighbors, with strangers and even with enemies who may wish us harm.

Finally, hospitality involves generosity—a flowing out in physical, emotional and spiritual care of others. This involves action of some kind—whether it is regularly inviting people into your home, caring for a sick friend, making intentional conversation, making eye contact and smiling to strangers, practicing non-retaliation in conflict, or making green choices to be hospitable to creation--a crucial part of hospitality is outward action motivated by compassion and openness to new experience. In class we were able to practice spiritual meditations that moved us toward this deeper hospitality.

A great blessing of this conference was that it embodied the topic by its structure! The conference was held on a cruise ship out of Miami that made 3 stops in the Bahamas. It created an environment where could engage in hospitality at all levels-- "re-creation" with God through rest and renewal which deepened our hospitality to God and ourselves; opportunities to learn new people, places and cultures (a friend and I went to a Botanical Garden in Freeport that included a history lesson and a prayer labyrinth in a healing garden) enabling us to grow in our reverence for others; and finally the opportunity to reach outward in generosity--strangers on the ship and with one another as we built a new community of support as ecumenical women clergy and Christian educators. This redefined for me, an understanding of hospitality as the core of our inner spiritual life, our relationships and our outward mission.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Finding a Usable Future in our Past

Our congregation is part of a mission transformation process called "Partnership for Missional Church" (PMC) run by Church Innovations and sponsored by our local judicatory (called a Synod in the ELCA). The purpose is to engage in a process that will help our congregation become more missional in our local community based on the gifts, strengths and energies of our specific congregation. There's not a set program to implement because the missional focus is different for every congregation based on their particular community (demographic analysis) and the charisms of their congregation. So it's a process of discovery--discovering the needs and character of our community and how they can be met in a specific way by the gifts, abilities and resources of our congregation.

One step in the process is to do a congregational Timeline--not just a history of the congregation, but the highs and lows people experienced as part of the congregation. One of the missional questions to reflect on is "Can you find a usable future in your past?" It's an interesting question because it implies that to become mission-focused in a new way in the present does not mean making a break with the history and traditions of the congregation--those may be the very source of an idea on how to move forward in the present and the future.

One example Church Innovations gave us was of a congregation that was started as a Sunday School. Several decades ago, the founding pastor spent an expensive 30 cents to take the trolley from one end of town to the other to develop their congregation, but could only begin a worship service or a Sunday School and the people voted for a Sunday School. In it's missional process, the congregation reflected on the importance of ministry with children and their families that has been present since the founding of the congregation; this focus shaped their outreach in the present to families in the community. People in the community were so busy with children's activities, that the congregation developed a family worship service, somewhat structured like a Sunday school lesson, which enabled families to worship and learn together. They found a usable future from their past.

I have been reflecting on this with regard to the congregation I serve. After months of reflection, it finally occurred to me that perhaps our future is in our first name: First English Lutheran Church--St. Mark's was the first English-speaking Lutheran Church in the St. Louis area. While other Lutheran congregations were still offering services is Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, German and so on, St. Mark's identified itself as a congregation that speaks the language of the culture. This language is still English of course, but more and more this language is being spoken through the use of technology. How might we use more advanced technology to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to our community? As a congregation, we are at the very beginning stages of using more advanced technology. We don't use screens or power point in worship, but we are expanding our presence on our website, Facebook and using more advanced technology to share information with the Board. We are hoping to reach out in mission to the hospital down the street from us. How this all works together with the charisms of music, food and fellowship, I am not sure; but I am glad to be here and see what the Spirit does next!

To Tease or Not To Tease

The other day, my daughter came home from school describing how one of the girls in her class said, "I hate you" to her a number of times that day. I listened and figured it was pre-adolescent girl banter. The next day, she came home and said the same thing. I decided to pursue it. She explained to me that this girl said it when she was walking by her desk. I said, "Well if I called this girl's mother and asked her to talk with her daughter--what would she say was happening before she said these mean things to you?"

My daughter was mortified--"Don't do that!" she exclaimed, alarmed that I might actually do it and cause her mortal embarrassment. Fessing up to me became the lesser of two evils. "Well..." Daughter started, "I might have said that she and the boy she was sitting next to made a cute couple." "So you were teasing her?" I clarified. "What do you think would happen if you didn't say these things to her--would she still say that she hates you?" Daughter pondered this possibility and thought that she would try it the next day.

Sure enough, Daughter came home the next day and said, "I didn't say or do anything today that caused someone to say that they hate me." Breakthrough.

Of course we don't make or cause other people to be mean--they make their own choices. But learning that our behavior and words create an environment for positive or negative behavior to be directed toward us, is a lesson I hope she continues to absorb. We can act like victims and never take the time to look at our part in the situation. When Daughter changed her behavior, the other girl changed her behavior in response. It was the Serenity Prayer in action--being aware of who and what we can change (ourselves) and accepting what we cannot change (another person) and acting on our power. It was a good lesson for me, too.

Saturday, April 3, 2010


The other day I was walking into the living room, tea in hand, to sit in my prayer chair (an Amish bentwood rocker by the window). It was after breakfast and the boys were already on the bus (see The Aroma of Axe post, below). Our dog, Marcie, was lying near the window with her head under the rocker. As a I stepped into the room, she threw up her entire breakfast and medication underneath where I was headed for my morning prayers. Lovely.

I cleaned it up and soaked the spot with Resolve pet stain cleaner. I sat down to do my devotions while the Resolve beneath me worked its magic. The irony was not lost on me. While the cleaner was lifting the stains on the carpet, I was praying for my own stains to be removed. Some days devotions are murky and the messages unclear, but this day, it was a little too plain. When I resolve to do to my morning prayers--no matter what--my issues, concerns, anxieties, and sins are resolved more peacefully and lifted more easily. I've often said that the Spirit needs to hit me in the head with a 2 by 4 to get a message across, but in the future, I will keep my eyes open for messages with a little more subtlety.