Monday, December 28, 2009

Charter for Compassion

I learned from one of my favorite bloggers, Baraka, that the Charter for Compassion has become a reality. It was the wish expressed by Karen Armstrong when she was selected as a TED Prize Winner:
I wish that you would help with the creation, launch and propagation of a Charter for Compassion, crafted by a group of leading inspirational thinkers from the three Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam and based on the fundamental principles of universal justice and respect.
I remember reading about the process in a fantastic post written by my friend Mike two years ago.

The Charter for Compassion was unveiled on November 12th and is available for all to sign and affirm, online and in their lives. I have signed it because it resonates so much with my spiritual practice that seeks justice and compassion (to feel with) on both a systemic level and a personal level (the second is harder than the first, for me).

In Mike's post, he writes about immigration but his words are applicable to foster care or education or any number of societal ills that are perpetuated by institutions. He writes:
Would you say "Well the law's the law," or would you say "Laws can change, and this one needs to, because justice and compassion ought never to be opposed to one another"?

I think Karen Armstrong says something similar when she writes:
"I say that religion isn’t about believing things. It’s ethical alchemy. It’s about behaving in a way that changes you, that gives you intimations of holiness and sacredness.”
It seems to me she is saying that whatever unseen thing into which we put our faith is important to each of us as fuel for our spirit but what we do with that energy is even more important. And no one would claim that we are called to act selfishly when we experience these intimations of holiness and sacredness.

I am excited to see that one of the paragraphs of the Charter addresses our participation in systems of injustice like sweatshops and harmful farming techniques.
It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others—even our enemies—is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.
This is the area where I am working the hardest on a personal level, committing to buying organic and fair-trade food(chocolate is a recent tough addition to the list) and buying all of my clothing second-hand or from scrupulous vendors. I will think about how I can live more deeply in accordance with this Charter, which I think accurately describes what God wants for my life.

Please learn more about the Charter below and here and then consider spreading the word to your networks.

Monday, December 07, 2009


Hello good people doing good things out there in the world!

I have a favor to ask.

Tonight, several people are driving in through the snow of the suburbs to attend our up/ meeting with the hopes of meeting Christians who won't be mean to them. They are just dipping their toes into this emergent stuff and I'd love to have a large welcoming committee for them.

If you have ever thought to yourself, "Wow, I've been meaning to go," consider making tonight the night. Don't let the snow hold you back from folks in need.

7:00 at 1741 N. Western. We'll provide the tea. You consider providing some snacks. God will be there.


Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Church profile: First Lutheran Church of the Trinity

So, the benefit of being unemployed is that, in an effort to expand my network, I get to meet with all sorts of interesting people. I decided that while I was doing this, I would work on behalf of up/rooted and find some leaders of spiritual communities that might not self-identify as "emergent" but who are walking down the same types of paths toward God. If you know any of these folks, please send their contact info my way and I'll try to have a little coffee and write up a profile for you, the readers of this blog.

Yesterday, I had lunch with Tom Gaulke, the pastor at First Lutheran Church of the Trinity. Tom is probably around my age (late 20s, early 30s) and speaks with that slightly twitchy passion that I have come to associate with folks who have seriously bought into Jesus's commandment to give up their wealth and serve the poor. It's like the personality equivalent of the giant pores on a nun's face: who needs uber-refined social skills when there's work to do? I find that my life is much better when I interact regularly with folks like this. It's like they have gotten to a point where their self-confidence in being a loved child of God lets them be more vulnerably themselves with other people rather than spending all of their energy on controlling their image. He smiles a lot above his clerical short-sleeve maroon button-down shirt and ducks his head boyishly when he realizes he has talked for awhile on one subject.

One of the topics that he is was clearly quite passionate about was the Monday afternoon study group. He told me that an extremely diverse group of about 8 people gather every week to study primary source theology. You know, Augustan and the like. They meet at noon since a lot of folks work afternoon or night shifts so evenings are not available to them. His twitchiness got super-intense as he talked about his excitement that these folks - most of whom don't have formal educations - are doing graduate-level study about how people throughout history have thought about God. I knew that I could recommend this community when he said, "There is this elitism in seminary that I hate. It's like people believe that they have learned the right way to follow God and then they become pastors to teach others how to do it that way." This girl is a sucker for flat social networks.

The church is located in Bridgeport, which has a local history of being an Irish Catholic enclave and does, in fact, house the Daleys. However, Bridgeport is also in the top five neighborhoods in the city for diversity and so the rest of the population that isn't wealthy, white and Catholic end up needing churches like First Trinity. Tom ended up there as a supply preacher while he was studying for his MDiv and made a connection with the congregation which led him to stay on after graduation even though the congregation had been without a pastor for 12 years. He is currently bi-vocational and works a second job to afford to lead this community. I don't necessarily agree that all pastors should live in penury and we had a lively discussion about it but I have to say he was somewhat persuasive when he pointed out that if he made what others starting pastors make, he's earning three times what his parishioners earn and that's a major justice issue. I'm not in his camp on this one yet, but that particular bit of truth got me one step closer.

The church runs a clothing pantry and has an intentional community of about 15 people living in the building itself. The Sunday services are traditional liturgy with hymns and gospel music but the people Tom described were a variety of spiritual identities and cultural backgrounds. He pointed out that the mess of human need and diversity in this community is similar to the mess of the stable in Bethlehem and it is only in that mess that God can be born.

Powerful stuff.

You can get more information about First Trinity at their Facebook website here. If you have trouble accessing their site, email us and we'll get you connected. You can also take a look at Tom's blog here to get a sense for the types of sermons he preaches.