Steel Wool Anxiety

“Thus says YHWH Omnipotent, the God of Israel, to all the exiles I deported from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses to live in. Plant gardens and eat what they grow. Marry and raise daughers and sons. Find wives for your sons and husbands for your daughters, that they may bear daughers and sons. Multiply while you are there. Do not decrease. Rather, seek the peace and the prosperity of the city to which I exiled you. Pray to YHWH for it, for if it prospers, you will prosper.” Jeremiah 29: 4-7

Sometimes when you find yourself in exile—rather than groaning and longing for home, you do better to just plant a vineyard. Suck it up, says our prophet. Build a life where you are—even if it is not the home you thought you would have. This passage is the foundation for a local conference in which several of us participated on Saturday August 13. It was a beautiful  chance to speak honestly with other souls about liminal Christianity.

Suzanne Stabile, conference organizer, describes liminality as that experience of finding oneself on the edge of something new and contending with two honest and competing urges. People tend either to run back to the familiar saying “this is how it has always worked…” or to force an answer– to build their own landing spot and jump to it. Anything to get over that “in between” feeling and the anxiety it provokes. The trick is to learn how to plant a vineyard in an unfamiliar landscape. Or to live faithfully in a liminal spot.

On Monday the week of the conference I spent some time in Home Depot pondering scouring pads. Rosetta was strapped to me, making eyes with other folks in the cleaning isle. I held various options in my hands: round ones and flat ones, synthetic ones and metal ones, brillo pads with bright pink or blue industrial soap inside. It was a moment of prayer. What is the texture of anxiety? —I asked myself. I was searching for a prayer object to have on the tables at lunch at the conference: something people from different denominations, congregations, and communities can meditate on as a symbol for the anxiety we feel as a transition Church.

At the planning session, we had talked stones. Stones are dense. I think fear might be a stone. But anxiety is like steel wool. How easily the spaces the Spirit opens in our souls or in our connections with each other become filled with this prickly stuff. It functions as an unhelpful buffer between our hearts and reality. Between our hearts and others hearts. Steel wool is conductive: it has the power to move energy. In the same way, anxiety often moves through us and we pass it onto the next person, infecting the whole system with vibrations that make it harder to sense the Spirit.

So, we had 120 Brillo pads for our center pieces. Anxiety is not all bad. Actually it is a useful energy that is trapped—something like an ingrown hair. So in the experiential breakout room hosted by Church in the Cliff people had a chance to donate their anxiety pad to a place where it can be put to good use (United Community Centers, a UMC Mission to Children which also distributes cleaning supplies to families). The donation a small offering to support growing edges of relationships and concern for those on the margins. The invitation was to hold and then to release Brillo pads as just the symbol of a consent for transformation. The meditation strove to create a space for individuals and communities to release the words and concerns that keep us trapped: “we are too small.” “We are irrelevant.” “Our work doesn’t matter.” “Our relationships stretch us too far or are too weak to hold and birth this new thing.” “The way is too opaque.” And on and on. This same invitation is open to us all to name our anxieties as emerging-oriented folks in this time and this community. At the conference, the drop off point was a bucket at the center of a small spiral labyrinth of stones. Then people have the opportunity to receive another symbol: a simple waffle-weave white cloth. Kind of hip in a grandma’s kitchen sort of way, and attached with one of two quotes: “If there is anywhere on earth a lover of God who is always kept safe, I know nothing of it, for it was not shown to me. But this was shown: that in falling and rising again we are always kept in that same precious love.” — Julian of Norwich “Do exactly what you would do if you felt most secure.” Meister Eckhart Anxiety is a daily thing. It is normal. We don’t say goodbye to it on Saturday or any day. But rather hello—to our willingness to handle it day in day out. To sit in liminal space is to be willing to pick up a rag and wash the dishes from the Feast with care and attention, again and again. We are faithful to the work at hand as we listen for our future story. My hope is that every time we gather our community invites people to lay down the brillo pad and pick up the cloth. For surely part of our work as church is to remind each other how harsh we often are with our souls as we long to scrub out fear and anxieties, when, in the end, it’s the gentle and powerful nature of love that transforms them. peace, Courtney PS I am indebted to Genny Rowley as creative partner in the crafting of this meditation and creating of the CitC experiential room.

Like the sound of this conversation? Join us at our next upcoming conference on the Four CornerStones of Emerging Christianity on Sept 30th and October 1st. Register now.

Saying Goodbye and Saying Hello

This month we are rotating off three board members and bringing in four new ones including filling a vacant treasurer spot. I celebrate our recent elections and am excited to have strong leaders in place. Below I share the litany we used to bless our outgoing board members in worship on their final Sunday — it is my ongoing prayer for our church—especially the last phrase “So it should be in the Body of Christ: we take turns with the work and care of Church. Always listening for God’s invitation to conspire with one another: to breathe deeply and to plot goodness and to join God as co-re-creators of the world. AMEN.”

All of of our outgoing board members brought different gifts as co-re-creators: We are grateful to Ross for his stabilizing presence, dry humor and long-term commitment to our community, to James for his many practical skills, including knowledge of real estate, and to Kristin for her willingness to do often thankless work of crafting agendas, recording minutes and attending to administrative details. All of them brought a passion for missions and social justice and a willing heart. They have served us well. If you were not able to be with us to thank them in person , I provide their contact info below.

Our new board members brings different skills and strengths to build on what has gone before. With a treasurer in place again the incoming board is equipped to do some deep financial analysis and make plans for our budget— Teri is hard at work on these things so that we can better dream and vision for the upcoming year. Mikal brings a natural leadership, passion and honesty and also a connection to music, which is such a part of our community. Alan brings a quick wit and a deep sense of empathy, as well as professional skills in the mental health arena. Clint is our resident mystic and plant-whisperer—and one who has access to a lot of information as a librarian. And Stephanie brings her experience in leadership with another emerging church in Seattle as well as all her other passions and skills— making her a helpful bridge from the retiring board into a new working relationship those recently elected. I invite you to say thank you and welcome either in person or via emails provided below. Courtney

Gratitude: A Blessing for Outgoing Board Members The people stand as they are able God is never finished with creation And God is never finished with us. We are constantly being re-created, as individuals and a community And we give thanks for leaders who have given freely of their time, energy, and resources to guide this church. Kristin, James, and Ross— as board members you have led us and loved us well for over two years We celebrate your contributions and know that your passion and kindness is forever woven into our ecclesial DNA We also celebrate a smooth transfer of power and release you from your roles, now publicly, so that you may tend to other concerns, rest and renew. So it should be in the Body of Christ: we take turns with the work and care of Church. Always listening for God’s invitation to conspire with one another: to breathe deeply and to plot goodness and to join God as co-re-creators of the world. AMEN.

Outgoing board members: Kristin Schutz, clerk. Ross Prater, moderator. James Fairchild, trustee.

Newly elected and continuing board members: Mikal Hughey, moderator. Teri Walker, treasurer. Clint Chamberlain, clerk. Stephanie Maxson, trustee. Alan Stephenson, trustee.

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