Sunday, February 28, 2021

Family Secrets (sermon at Judson Memorial)

Still lots to learn...need a better microphone windscreen.  


Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Clergy License Plates

Several years ago I was at stop light on my bike.  I was returning from the hospital and dressed in my generic pastoral uniform: khakis, clergy shirt and collar, and navy blazer. Next to me was another clergy person in a car, dressed in the exact same generic pastoral uniform.  The main difference was our mode of transit.  I was riding a bike, they were driving a car.  

As the light turned green the car moved forward and I started pedaling.  As the car passed me I noticed a bumper sticker:

I have no qualms with a clergy person driving a car (it is sometimes necessary for the position).  But why is the car the only form of accepted transit for clergy?  I am trying to create space within American Christianity for a non-car-centric form of the religion.  I am trying to make the argument for more people-centric forms of the religion.  Why are cars more synonymous with Christianity than walking, bicycling and taking public transit? 

Why is that church supply companies have Automobile Accessories departments in their catalogs, but not walking, biking, and public transit gear.  What if there was a Clever Hood with Social Gospel symbols and sayings?

Why are clergy bike license plates not easily available?  Who doesn't want a bike license plate?  Remember this Honey Comb commercial.

Instead of finding them readily available I have to contact this company who manufacturers customized PVC bike license plates, for about $10.00.  

Walking, bicycling and taking public transit are measures the Church, people of faith, and people of conscience could practice right now to battle climate change.  We could start the conversation now while we are still scattered so come time when we gather in person we could be ready to roll (or walk).  

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Sermon on a Lake: Ashes to Action - February 21, 2021 Worship

There are millions of things Jesus did in his life that I will never be able to do.  Like change water into wine, multiply loaves and fishes, resurrect people from the dead, and make fig trees wilt on demand.  But there are a few things that I can do that Jesus could not. Like last week when I preached while sitting on Lake Nokomis...

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

An Ash Wednesday Alternative: Church-Incentivized E-Bikes?

Typically I observe Ash Wednesday by going down to the Basilica of St. Mary and have ashes imposed on my forehead.  Then I go back to church and impose ashes on the congregation.  But this year there will be no imposing of ashes.  Typically, I would figure out a program of traditional Lenten practices of fasting, almsgiving, and prayer.  But this year, being a different year for sure, I am imagining the promise of ebikes.  

One of the most promising possibilities of reducing our carbon footprint is the mass production of electric vehicles:
(you gotta admit, this is a great commercial).

But I think the promise of electric vehicles is over-hyped. Because how does this change the world?    

The electric hummer seems more like eating organic cocoa Krispies.  

Just because they are organic doesn't change the fact that they are still sugar-filled cereals that are terrible for your teeth and gut.  Or it's like thinking smoking organic cigarettes is somehow better for you.  Organic cigarettes, by the way, that are owned by Reynolds!  

Indeed electric vehicles are better than gas powered vehicles for the planet.  But they are still traffic.  


At the end of the day switching from gas to electric will reduce our carbon footprint and improve air quality.  But at what cost?  Car owners will still be in debt with the costs of new vehicles (for up to seven years), we will still be alone (because we transit alone) and we will still devote a major portion of our finances to a thing that sits unused more than 90% of the time.  

What if as a way to change the future churches and faith communities championed ebikes this Lenten season instead?

What if on top of the 30% proposed ebike tax credit, churches and faith communities pooled money to offer downpayments on ebikes for members, people from the community, or people with their backs against the wall?  Or what if churches prayed for local manifestations of Dave Cohen to emerge in their neighborhoods?

Churches could provide the down payment and partner with bike shops and local credit unions.  Did you know some credit unions now have loan programs for ebikes? They do!

I think ebikes can get more people on bikes and out of cars.  But this move needs help.  GM and others has millions of dollars for advertising budgets. To get to critical mass with ebikes (and regular bikes) other institutions need to fill in that void.  Here is where a Christian imagination, or a faith imagination could step in...

What if instead of smudging ashes on your forehead and promising to give up something you don't really like in the first place, we reimagined the three traditional Lenten practices: Fasting (fasting from cars), prayer (re-imagining an auto-centric culture) and alms giving (the establishment of a fund to help with the down payment of ebikes)?

Imagine Easter.  Imagine the transformation of individuals and neighborhoods and institutions of people whoa re healthier, happier, and less in debt?   Imagine testimonies like this one from Gary A. Fujioka, Sr put together after his 1000th day on an ebike. 

My original hope is for solar powered regular bikes (solar powered being human beings since our energy derives from the photosynthesis that creates our food). But I am not a purist.  If ebikes gets more people out of their cars and on bikes - so be it.  I think a world of more pedalers is a better world.  

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Jazz Sunday at Judson Church

At least three times a week there is live jazz music at Judson Church.  A group of professional musicians get together to practice and keep their skills and craft alive and well.  I love to hear them and this morning, you get to hear them too! 


Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Church Land Use: more than just meeting and worship space...

Whenever I open up a copy of The New Yorker I first go to the cartoon contest and think of a clever, non-winning, caption. Then I read the other cartoons, then I think about the yearly income one must have to afford the items advertised throughout the pages, then I start going through the articles.  

The last issue had this headline: How a Young Activist Is Helping Pope Francis Battle Climate Change by David Owen. nearly exploded off the page.  I thought to myself, "Either this is going to be 40 minutes of my life I'll never get back, or this could change my life."  It was the latter.  I am glad I did not know about this article when I was writing my chapter on church parking lots, I think I might still be deep in the weeds researching and exploring and trying to steal away for field trips.  

The young activist is mapping all of the land the Catholic Church owns.  She is then creating ways for the Catholic Church to use this land for environmental justice.  I feel like selling my car and giving her the proceeds from it.  

Why stop with the Catholic Church?  Imagine if all of the land owned by faith communities was mapped!  Imagine if all of that land was used for environmental justice!  This could change America and change the world.  Now getting all of the faith communities on board is another issue, but for the moment think if churches used their land for environmental/economic/racial/gender/housing justice!!!

Here is a tale of two stories of how two churches are using their land.

Last week was an amazing church parking lot news week.  I had three stories sent to me about church parking lots (I am lucky to find one every few months).

First, a story from the national United Church of Christ webpage, about Pass-a-Grille Beach Community Church in St. Pete Beach, FL.  The church was being sued by the local government because it was offering "free parking" for beachgoers.  I cannot ascertain why the town was suing.  Does the town charge for parking and thought the church was undercutting their revenue expense?  Did someone on the city council have it out for the church?  Who know the motives.  

I looked at a google map of the church property and it appeared to me the church had maybe 10-15 parking spots.  But when I emailed the pastor, who replied instantly, he said the lot in question had between 70-90 parking spots.  A normal parking spot is 200 square feet, so 70 X 200 = 14,000 or 18,000 square feet of space + lanes for cars to operate.  We are taking about 20,000 square feet of space dedicated to the temporary storage of automobiles.  Indeed, the youth does, sometimes, collect donations for parking and sometimes prayers are said for those parking their vehicles.  But why are we limiting our vision of church space only to the temporary storage of automobiles?  

Here is another story, which appeared on my Facebook feed (it was neither sponsored nor promoted), about Heart of the Rockies Disciples of Christ Church which is donating its land for the building of housing units.  

I chose both stories to show the contrast between church land use.  One is land locked, one is land blessed.  One is in a city-neighborhood, one is in a suburban area.  One has both land and plentiful parking, one has just plentiful parking.  Before you go and make up your mind about which one is truly practicing gospel-centered living, recall there is not one gospel but FOUR.  There is more than one way to get to heaven.  

There is another way for the St. Pete's Beach Church.  And the model is right here in the Twin Cities.  Sacred Settlements.   Here is a nice story about this program.  

In this hybrid model churches give up some of their parking spots for tiny houses.  Hybrid because most of the spots remain for cars.

photo credit: (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

The two churches participating in this program, one is right on the border of St. Paul, MN, the other is in Forest Lake, MN (about 40 minutes south of the cities).  I think this model might be a movement for urban and city-neighborhood churches and suburban and small town churches (and people of conscience) to partner together to eradicate homelessness.  

Why in church parking lots?  Why not mall parking lots or abandoned car lots?  Because of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000

The land use provisions of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA), protect individuals, houses of worship, and other religious institutions from discrimination in zoning and landmarking laws. 

RLUIPA is not a blanket exemption but rather it requires that the government not “impose a substantial burden on the religious exercise,” unless it shows that the burden furthers a "compelling governmental interest” and does so by the “least restrictive means.” We have found this applies well to zoning matters and serves to enable development where it would not otherwise happen.

Because of the RLUIPA church parking lots may be the one place in America where this model could work!  

Monday, February 8, 2021

Worship Service from Sunday (7.Feb.2021): Lending a Hand

One of the many things I miss is the chance encounters that take place while riding public transit.  In the homily/meditation/sermon I talk about a time myself and the bus driver helped a rider.  

I wish I had included Elon Musk's quote about public transit,

“I think public transport is painful. It sucks. Why do you want to get on something with a lot of other people, that doesn’t leave where you want it to leave, doesn’t start where you want it to start, doesn’t end where you want it to end? And it doesn’t go all the time.”

This kind of elitist charge against public transit is exactly the opposite of Jesus' action in the gospels and the exact opposite of the gospel-centered liberalism I try to follow.  Reading this quote over and over makes me think that maybe Mr. Musk was the anonymous commentator on my piece in the Star Tribune from January 2018?    

Friday, February 5, 2021

How Judson Church became a Welcoming and Affirming Baptist (LGBTQIA+) congregation

Last Sunday for worship I shared an interview I taped with Rev. Dale Edmondson about a hymn he wrote for the 25th Anniversary of American Baptist Churches that were disfellowshipped because they Welcoming and Affirming.  During the interview Rev. Edmondson tells the story of how Judson Church became a AWAB (Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists) church.  Hope you enjoy.  

Listen to hear Dale's hymn and listen to hear the story of the person who thought Judson was just a naive Baptist church that liked colors and flew rainbow not knowing what the flags meant!  

Thursday, February 4, 2021

But You're on a Major Bus Line (with a bike lane)!

Maybe you are like me and walk everyday.  Working, mostly, at home is too sedentary, therefore I  walk.  If you need a walking nudge or impetus, just read Peter Walker's new book, The Miracle Pill.  While I walk I listen to podcasts.  No big deal, we all do that.  But something happened last week that has not happened before...

While listening to a Lewis Center for Church Leadership podcast on Leveraging Your Church Assets featuring Rev. Jacquline Jones-Smith I yelled "But you're on a major bus line (with a bike lane)."  Luckily, no one was around - to my knowledge.  

So what brought about this, uncharacteristic, raising of my voice?

This particular episode is absolutely wonderful, it tells the story of an amazing and talented and strategic pastor, Rev. Jacquline Jones-Smith's, and her work to revitalize a downtown congregation in St. Petersburg, FL (Christ United Methodist Church).  One part of her strategy included asset mapping of her congregation.  If you are not familiar with asset mapping, here is a quick tutorial.  

Rev. Jones-Smith noticed a 2/3 acre parking lot across the street from the building that the church owned.  Rather than seek to preserve an empty downtown lot, Rev. Jones-Smith formed a Taskforce and charged them to investigate.  The Taskforce discovered this lot was a goldmine.  How much of a goldmine?  $5.3 million dollar goldmine!  Although the land was valued at $6.3 million they sold it for $5.3 with a deal that included a parking variance - the church, in perpetuity has access to over 100+ parking spots.  The genius behind this move was twofold: one the church received a ton of money, and two, they actually increased their parking capacity.  

I acknowledge the business savvy and shrewdness of this move, but as I heard this description in the podcast I screamed aloud, "But you're on a major bus line (with a bike lane)."  I love the deal they made and the money they raised.  But why, when asset mapping, is public transit and bike lanes and sidewalks, also not included as positive factors?

Again, I love the creativity and work this church and pastor accomplished.  I tip my hat to them and thank them for their inspiration. However, this story reveals a common practice for nearly 99.99% of all churches and houses of faith in America: building a membership on solely a car-centric model.  This model limits our imagination of what is possible.  

Rather than succumb to this model, I challenge churches and houses of faith and other nonprofit institutions to look beyond car-centric models.  Christ United Methodist Church is on a major bus line, which also has a dedicated bike lane (and on-street, probably even free, parking).  Therefore why not incorporate those aspect into your church strategic plan?  Why not start with a hybrid membership model built around both people who drive in from outside downtown and those who ride the bus, bike, or walk to church.  Why not challenge those who drive in to church to experiment one Sunday to take the bus, ride their bikes, walk (or at least car pool into church on Sunday mornings)?  

I propose when you do this, you will also find another significant asset just waiting for them to explore and incorporate.  

And as you may have surmised, I have an entire chapter of church parking lots in my forthcoming book!