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Saturday, October 27, 2012

LIFELINE Sunday's Community Prayer On Giving.

Abba Father,

Thank you for giving us another day full of grace and opportunity.

Thank you for inviting all of us to connect with You and each other this morning.

Thank for your Son and our Liberator, Jesus Christ.

You revealed your giving heart when you sent Him to redeem the world, including ours.

Thank you for His story which enfolds and gives our stories meaning beyond what we can imagine right now.

And give us everything we need so we are able to give you all we are, one day at a time.


Saturday, October 13, 2012

imagine/Northampton's Very First Arts Night Out Exhibition, October, 2012.

Wow! We've been wanting to do this for a long time! Being able to connect to the community through art has been one of our core values. We've had a Poetry reading, a Place and Possibility Seminar, a short film and dance experience, and we formed 1FlightUP and played jazz in clubs, but we've wanted to do more. It's taken us awhile, but last night we began the journey by becoming a gallery space and participating in Northampton's Arts Night Out. The second Friday of every month, 37 galleries, restaurants, retail stores, and food establishments offer some of their space to showcase artists. We're number 14 on the list. The city fills with all sorts of people having dinner, shopping, and visiting the "galleries" It makes the town come alive, and feel very vibrant.

Catherine Elliott, an old friend of ours from Simsbury and the BARN, graciously agreed to be our first artist. We've had the blessing of watching her grow as a painter over the years. She brought 19 small and large paintings, and transformed our space into an Art Gallery. Visitors remarked, young and old,  what a great gallery space this is, and how beautiful Catherine's work is. They used words for her such as: "peaceful and beautiful," "love, love. love," "intricate and beautiful," "thoughtful," and my favorite, " you have a great vision, beautiful work."

We had no idea how people would react to her work or our space. We're rookies at this, being our first time and all.The evening started slowly. Imagineurians Jenn and Kristen at 6PM or so went and stood outside our front door on Main Street and told people there was art to be seen upstairs. No one associated imagine/Northampton with being a gallery. A number of our guests said they'd walk by before and wondered what the heck we were ... a church? What kind of church has a weird name like that? Indeed.

So they started coming up the stairs and into our gallery. There were students, couples, and retired folks, many from Northampton. We had people who knew art and people who were just curious, and enjoying an evening out in Northampton. We got to meet some jazz musicians our age who have had the great blessing of being able to pursue their art for decades. We met a woman who weaves tapestries, an art form dying out until the 1950's. She has been working for years, among other pieces, on a large tapestry commemorating the Holocaust. She's part of a Guild of American Tapestry Weavers, and may be one of our next exhibitors. She was intrigued by being able to do so. We also met illustrators, and teachers, young people seeking alternative spiritualities and communities, a postman, culinary arts trained professionals, and photographers. They all loved Catherine's work and our space. Even our landlord, showed up! The guests we knew brought friends.

It all felt so right. As I mentioned, we've wanted to connect this way. Getting to know folks and talk to them is the primary way to build relationships through which we might be able to love, serve, and share the hope we have in Christ with them. We felt part of Main Street in a new and fresh way last night. We were contributing to the good of the city. We have credibility now because it was well-done as a gallery space. people are becoming aware of us. And we got to talk to some genuinely lovely folks.

Then there was the food. We do food with great passion and excellence; always have. We decided for the reception to have hors d' oeuvres, red and white wine, cider, coffee and tea, and chocolates. It wasn't over-the-top-fancy, but as you might expect, the table was lavishly appointed with delectable cheeses, meats and sophisticated pastries, hot and cold. Imagineurians Tricia McDermott, Amelia McCain, and Wednesday contributed, with Tricia leading the way. The quality of the food caught people's attention and were overhead to say, we offered, "the best hors d' oeuvres of anyone that night." We firmly believe attempting excellence in everything we do, as much as we are able, reflects the beauty, goodness and  glory of our magnificent God. People notice. They scarfed up the what was presented.

Some of our guests were also curious when they found out we were a church. They also took our materials and asked what we were about. Sometimes, it felt a little awkward, but for the most part, because of the atmosphere: a beautiful space filled with beautiful art, scrumptious food, jazz in the background, and imagineurians who are gracious, warm, and friendly, people interacted. I think we "blew some categories," for a few people. We want to do that, but with grace and simple elegance.

I need to thank Jim, Jenn, Kristen, Trey and Amelia, and Tricia for helping make our first Arts Night Out exhibition a success. We created the atmosphere we wanted (Tricia had the lion-share of that), had art which engaged people (thanks, Catherine!), connected with some folks (thanks all of you), and felt we held our own with the other spaces in town. We're not professional gallery owners, for sure, but many people commented very affirmingly on what we presented, and where we presented it, so we know God is in it. Sure we have a long way to go, but it was a wonderful first start, and we are very grateful.

So for the next two Friday and Saturday nights (October 19 & 20, 26 & 27) from 6-9PM, we'll be open for you to view Catherine's paintings. If you know folks who are interested in buying original work, invite them to join you. Make it a night out! We'd love to see you all!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

living/ALIVE As If God Is Really God So That Your Life Uniquely Reflects Him - A Meditation.

A month and a half ago, imagine/Northampton launched it's series for 2012-2013 called "living/ALIVE as if God is really God so that your life uniquely reflects Him." At it's heart, in my view, is the notion that a genuine relationship with the living God in it's essence is a promise of living fully alive and revealing the effects and reality of his Presence through each of our unique persons.

The Scriptures allude constantly to such quality of living with the triune God of the Old and New Testaments:

1. John 10:10:
"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly."
2. 2 Corinthians 5:17:
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!"
3. Ephesians 2:10: "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."
5. Isaiah 58:11:"And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail."

These are a mere jot of all the texts describing life with God for those who love him as being far more rich in experience and blessing than what we can manage to remember over a lifetime, or even hold in view for a day or two. Our memories are limited, and our hearts are fickle. Many of us possess what Paul Simon referred to as "a short, little attention span," in his song, "You Can Call Me Al."

What we hope to do in our 9-month series is draw attention to and even embed a quality of life with Christ in imagine folks so they can become resplendent with the thoughts, ways, and purposes of God. We think such a life is the biblical, normal Christian life -- life as it's intended to be lived within, and for the pleasure of our beneficent King.

So let's look at each phrase of the theme:

  • living/ALIVE:
This deliberate pairing of words captures a particular quality of living. It means being deeply engaged, or fully present to one's life in God. Such life has richness of meaning, and the person living it pursues with heart what matters to him or her because of the astounding stature of being a son or daughter of the Most High. Living /ALIVE has fire in the belly. It's passion is directed not diffuse. It sees the Gospel as a miracle and the Kingdom as a pearl of inestimable worth. This life invested, not detached; committed, not pacified; dedicated, not vacillating; in, not on the fence.

living/Alive summons the shedding of tears at the sight and sound of human suffering, oppression, injustice, cruelty, and virulent sin crushing hearts.

living/Alive entices Christ-followers to gradually surrender their wills toward righteousness, love and holiness because flows from and gathers around God.

living/Alive laughs and celebrates and shouts and dances when joy breaks out and calls the beloved further into gratitude and worship.

living/Alive studies and contemplates to sink deeper into the truth that sets us free.

living/Alive rolls up its sleeves and goes to work for more than just a paycheck.

living/Alive seeks humility, prizes goodwill, delights in integrity, lauds a servant heart, longs for courage fueled by righteousness.

living/ALIVE prays as if its natural to do and often; it sees prayer as glorious lever creating change by  connecting the grace of Almighty God to the suffering of a broken world.

living/ALIVE assumes that living any other way is a tragedy no matter how it might be packaged.

  • "as if God is really God":

Isn't that the Assumption of all assumptions for anyone seeking to live a life devoted to following Christ? If God is actually who he says he is in the Scriptures, and through the Holy Spirit in real-time, then he and what he cares for should become our preferred path and chief end. Living as if God is actually God : eternal, omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient, immutable, sovereign, triune, self-existent, self-sufficient, holy, just, good, loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, etc., should alter how we choose to pursue our lives.

For instance, living/ALIVE as if God is really God means to be fully attending to the unfolding story of our lives, and what God desires us to be and do with all he has given us. If God is really God, living/ALIVE accepts he has a primary say in the trajectory of all our enterprises and relationships. Such a spiritual perspective also assumes a manifest trust in his wisdom and goodness, such that we seek his counsel and provision to fulfill our destiny. Without such trust we sink into self-support, or the faux comfort of our prized routines on paths well-worn by habit.

With God really being God, we can risk more than Sundays, tithing, mission trips and outreach events for the Kingdom. We can take chances which bloom from humongous God-breathed dreams not our own, and we can expect his help when there's no gas left in the missional tank. Trusting God is really God can make all of us ordinary Joes and Josephines into radicals of the fire-heart called disciples; not glittery superstars or ripped, flying superheros, just people found by a Shepherd King who invited them to help heal and redeem the world through him, step-by-step.

It might simply be more than we can imagine, yet it's true. So for God to really be God in our lives he must test and try us to see if our trust in him is more like whistling in the dark than a firm grip no matter how overwhelming the ordeal we face. Without such refining, our trust slowly becomes flaccid and juvenile reducing Jesus to Santa Claus who shows up, showers you with grace presents, and then stays safely out of the way until you really need him.

  • so that your life uniquely reflects Him:
Every follower of Jesus with his or her unique DNA, genealogy, racial composite, personality, temperament, motivational gifts mix, intellect, life experience, and spiritual/theological bent has the grand opportunity to reflect who God is in a way which reveals his nature. We all don't do it the same. That's a wonderful reality!

By living/ALIVE as if God is really God, we have the chance to show forth his excellence and beauty and goodness and truth in a manner winsome and intriguing. Exuberance with wisdom and charity can melt a heart frozen by sin and pain.

God has made you and me to resonate with his heart, and when we do, we reflect him like a kaleidoscope refracts light into the colors we can see.We are like a great mosaic, each unique piece filling in a picture greater than itself. Another fascination mystery is that our uniqueness fits the uniqueness of others in ways no one else can. There are people in your journey you've not encountered yet who will resonate with who you are, and have the chance to find Christ within you.

What a wonder it is to know that seeking to be fully alive to ourselves, God and others gives us the opportunity to be a conduit through which something of the gracious refulgence of God can be experienced, especially when we love them.

So here's a prayer for you [and me] to pray daily for at least a month:

 Father of wonders and goodness and lavish grace,

Creator of rainbows and ice cream, and the smell of pine trees

Help me learn your wonders within my ordinary days:

        Where my heart is listless and feeble,

        Where my imagination has dimmed and stilled,

        Where I'm mostly obeying routine's subtle numbing,

Lift me to delight and make me sensitive to the beautiful all around.

Show me your exuberance in everything you've made: tastes and smells and sights and sounds galore for the sampling.

In my troubles, give me music I can hear;

Over my pains wrap a soft, warm comforter of healing and calming I can feel;

In my comfortable narrowness, liberate me by a sky filling with Northern Lights and shooting stars I can shout about;

In my many distractions, let me stumble into exquisite goodness and symmetry that might marvel and be glad.

Free me from everything stifling wonder, smothering joy, and turning my faith to brittle, dreary unbelief.

Make it be, Lord

Monday, October 1, 2012

imagine/Northampton's OPEN TABLE Opportunity.

Sometimes frustration initiates an earnest search for change, doesn't it.

If you've followed imagine/Northampton on Facebook in the last few days,, you're aware of our visit with Jon Katov of the Open Table ministry,, Saturday and yesterday. His being here in Northampton stemmed from frustration a few of us have been experiencing because of what felt an ineffective approach to helping the poor and homeless who populate Northampton. Dave Sweeney took the initiative to do an Internet search, and found some options. I looked at them and agreed with him the Open Table was something we needed to look into. Dave took the lead in making the connection. Happily, Jon was going to be on the East Coast last week, and we met. He also joined us yesterday at imagineWORSHIP, and told his compelling story of how God set him free and drew him into helping the poor transform their lives.

Jon is a true believer in Christ, and in the travesty of how the poor fare in America. He's determined to be a part of the solution and travels hither and yon motivating the Church to adopt a different approach. He talks much of how Christians have adopted the transactional model of helping the poor: write a check to a ministry to the poor; hand them a buck or two at an intersection; give them a meal or money to get one; offer them a bed for the night in a shelter; give them used clothing, blankets, etc. All these transactions are well-meant, and handle an immediate need, but they do little or nothing long-term to help lift poor folks from their predicament -- band-aids never set broken legs, or mend broken hearts, no matter how genuinely offered

Jon says the Gospel, by its very nature calls for transformation. He makes, with great conviction and passion, a strong case for gathering weekly around an individual (termed a brother or sister), or family who demonstrates the will and volitional potential to overcome the many obstacles enmeshing them in the devastating cycle of poverty (including working poverty). He references Jesus's words from Matthew 25:35-40:

35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

The transformational investment Jon has experienced and champions comes in the form of gathering a team from collaborators in the church and local community, people with practical skills, networks and resources, and having them dedicate a year to help an individual or family tackle their obstacles to get up on their feet: .For most of these people, they've never experienced having a team of folks gather around them to share the burden of changing their lives. Jon says most of the poor people he's encountered are so weighed down with repeated failure and crippling shame that they have no way of working through the multiple problems they'll have to address to get free. It's utterly overwhelming. To not have to do that alone; to have help with legal, medical, criminal, vocational, housing, educational and relational problems is monumental for them.

We also find compelling the notion that if we do this, and can build a team of collaborators -- not necessarily Christians, by the way -- from folks in the community, we have the wonderful opportunity to create relationships with people with whom we have no substantial relationships. We become partners with them in helping Northampton's working poor and homeless break free. We get to know folks who get to know us as friends working together on a common goal. Jon says he's been amazed at the generosity of people who don't get a chance to give back in the way an Open Table affords. They want to, but don't know how either. imagine/Northampton would be able to initiate the opportunity as well as partner in the work. Wow!

Also, Jon is offering us the chance to be the first church in New England to adopt the Open Table transformational model. We didn't realize that. They're happening all over the country, but not yet here. What if?

As I mentioned, we've been looking for a way to make a bigger difference in the lives of the poor in Northampton.. We work at the Interfaith Shelter, the Northampton Survival Center, and have relationships with many of the "regular" homeless on the street. It's just not transforming lives to any substantial degree.

We really want do do that on our watch.

So as we listen to God and one another this week, please pray for us. Ask God to make it clear we are to become part of the Open Table movement or not. I need to tell you we are intrigued, and some of us are ready to get going, so we're not cool to the idea at all. There will important practical decisions to make and a substantial commitment for some of us, so we need to proceed with wisdom. We know imagine/Northampton is not to become the Open Table ministry; there are many other things God has for us to do as well. But this is the best format we've encountered for helping people heal and find their way back into a fruitful life. We also see the remarkable potential for opening people to Jesus, just by helping them find their way. Our Kingdom mission embraces the Open Table idea, so it feels right. We just need to know God is calling us for such a time and opportunity as this.Our Leadership Team will meet tomorrow night, and it will be on the agenda.

If God tells you anything he wants us to be aware of, please don't hesitate to let me know.

You know where I am.