Category Archives: Parables

The Wild Goose Festival

Wild Goose Festival 2011What do wildness, geese, and the Holy Spirit have in common?

How about social justice, spirituality, art, music, and camping?

In a little over a month, the US version of the longstanding Greenbelt Festival will plant its tent pegs, portable generators, and biodegradable  soap dispensers firmly into the North Carolina soil.

If done right, this could be more than Greenbelt 2.0.  This could be a chance to rip theological authority from power grip of empire assumptions, colonial presumptions, and the religious elite – to open up faith & spirituality to dialogue, discourse, and subaltern perspectives in an uniquely American context.

Ok, maybe that’s hoping for a little bit much.  Who knows, it could go any which way if the Wild Goose* shows up!

Check out the Wild Goose website and the Wild Goose blog.  See you there?

*The Wild Goose is a Celtic metaphor for the Holy Spirit.  The Wild Goose Festival is followers of Jesus creating a festival of justice, spirituality, music and the arts.  The festival is rooted in the Christian tradition and therefore open to all regardless of belief, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, denomination or religious affiliation.

So You Want to Go to Seminary?

So You Want To Go To Seminary

So You Want To Go To Seminary?

Hilarious animated video from xtranormal.  We recommend you watch this as you discern your call… “Seminary will teach you what a lot of dead white men thought about God.”

The Art of Peace

Speaking of Faith has a recent podcast up on their website under the title: The Art of Peace.

Speaking of Faith the Art of Peace

John Paul Lederach describes what really happens when people transcend violence while living in it, and so find the moral imagination to live beyond it. Also, stories you’ve never heard in the news — from Colombia, Nepal, Tajikistan, Sierra Leone, Northern Ireland, and Burma.

Access the program at the Speaking of Faith website.

Unfortunately, Violence is not just a Chicago Problem

Chicago And Minneapolis skylines

I have really come to love Chicago, that endlessly bustling city next to an endlessly stretching lake, but I do have to admit more than the occasional pang of longing for the city I grew up in.  Minneapolis and St. Paul are like toddler cousins compared to Chicago but they do share some great commonalities with their diverse and expansive fields of art, cuisine, music, and a distinctly Midwestern urban beauty.  Unfortunately, these cities also share a struggle with violence that is becoming increasingly common in American cities of all sizes and localities.

Just this past weekend my parents passed on a letter to the editor from the laudable Minneapolis rag the Star Tribune.  I can’t help but feel that the experience of this European sums up a perspective that we Americans may be too close to see.  Something about our history and culture has tied us too closely with guns to really have an accurate perspective on their influence in our lives.  Perhaps it is time to lay aside some of our American self-confidence and give a patient ear to the perspective of countries that have very little problems with hand-gun homicides.  Are we really that afraid of what we’ll hear that we refuse to listen?

Here is a clipping of the letter to the editor from July 30th, Star Tribune:

Restoring Urban Communities

Mary Nelson teaching at Lake & Pulaski

Last weekend I spent some time in the West Garfield Park neighborhood of Chicago with Dr. Mary Nelson’s “Restoring Urban Communities” class.  If you haven’t heard about Mary Nelson you’ll want to – especially if  you’re involved in community development, community organizing, or just live in a neighborhood you care about.  Just as Dr. Nelson’s approach to C.D. (everyone in this field loves acronyms) is firmly rooted in the context of the community so is her May SCUPE/Loyola class.

Downtown From Rooftop Prarie on Eco-building

On the particular day I visited with the class Mary had us all cram into a 15 passenger van as she zoomed around the neighborhood.  At every corner of every block there was a story about a struggle the neighborhood had faced and how the community overcame, or at the very least challenged, the issues.  In 30 years of existence, Bethel New Life (the non-profit started by the Bethel Lutheran congregation) has joined the neighborhood in its joys and its struggles and has provided a model for the way church should be.

Two key elements of the way of church-life which Mary teaches are listening and an asset-based approach to looking at communities.  Listening is probably the more difficult of the two while Asset-based community development (ABCD) is the more counter-intuitive.

Reflection Back in the Classroom

The reason for this is that we are all quite used to going into communities and situations with our analytical minds probing for deficits and deficiencies.  Actively seeking out assets and proficiencies is hard-wired into the human brain.  From the dawn of conscious thought ancient humans analyzed their environment in search for the “wrong” factors that might prove dangerous: a sharp sudden cliff, a structurally un-sound cave, a bog stiff with lurking log-like snouts of crocodiles.  Our very survival has for centuries, and does still, depend on our ability to scout out what is wrong with a situation or an environment.

Looking for assets thus goes against a natural grain in our thinking.  This, I believe, is its wonderful offering to us though.  Looking at a community through asset mapping allows us to think in a different frequency and to see things that we would have otherwise ignored or written off.

We must learn to listen, to ask the right questions, and to look forward our neighborhoods walks, to unexpected conversations, and even community changes as chances to see what jumps out at us.  Maybe that lion is also a source of food!

Learning amidst the Rooftop Prairie and Solar Panels


Peter Rollins

Last Thursday I was lucky enough to be one of about a hundred people crammed into the upper room (how biblical) of Trace pub here in Chicago for an evening of poetry, song, dj-ism, philosophy, and some of the most courageous and dis-lodging theology I have recently encountered.  The evening, promoted as a “provocative cocktail of incendiary theology, haunting soundscapes and musical lament”, did not disappoint.  Poet/singer songwriter Pádraig Ô Tuama held court with his arresting verbal imagery and “sad stories and sadder songs but with funny stories in between” while artist/DJ Jonny McEwen provided a musical backdrop that held the evening together like a liturgy.

The real draw for me, and most of us there I suppose, was the esteemed and inspiring Peter Rollins.  Peter has any number of things going for him.  First off, Peter is a master story teller.  He weaves narrative a parables (like those in his most recent book The Orthodox Heretic and Other Impossible Tales) that are effortlessly compelling and, more importantly, impel the listener to paradigm shifts that lead to action.

The second thing Peter has going for him is that he is much smarter than you or and I.  He has a wide and deep understanding of the philosophical and theological conversations that have been going on for centuries and well as a willingness to infuse our current context into the discussion.  Pair this with a wicked adeptness for communication complex ideas with ease and you end up with a situation not unlike someone accurately explaining to you in 30 seconds a ten minute conversation you’ve overheard in a foreign language you don’t speak (like this scene from Lost in Translation).  Long-winded analogies aside: you will like what you hear from Peter, you will be challenged by what you hear from Peter, you will be changed by what you hear from Peter.

The last thing Peter has going for him is that he speaks with the most intriguing and beautiful Irish brogue.  It is so pleasant to the ear that I’d probably listen to a recording of him snoring just so long as the accent came through.

Peter Rollins at Trace Pub - Insurrection 2010

There isn’t enough space here to give this Insurrection experience its fair dues.  Primarily, this is because the evening itself was fashioned like a communal parable.  It provoked, inspired, confused, empowered, and moved those of us in that room precisely with its undefined edges and opaque core.  In a way that church seldom even approaches these three liturgical rabble-rousers allowed the mystery of the divine and the resurrection the breathe into the room instead of merely stopping short at trying to explain or classify.  It really was an upper room experience.

Instead of trying to force this mystery into words, allow me to post a few audio moments from the evening so you can experience it yourself.

Audio from the abbreviated NYC Insurrection here.

Insurrection review article: ‘In an Upper Room’ by Devin Bustin

Radical Disciple: The Story of Father Pfleger

A couple nights ago Roger and me from SCUPE went with our Swiss friends to Columbia College for their screening of the new documentary (10 years in the making) about Chicago’s Father Michael Pfleger.  The 58 minute film, entitled “Radical Disciple: The Story of Father Pfleger“, was begun under the vision of David Axelrod (yeah, the White House Senior Adviser) who passed the helm on to Evanston filmmaker Bob Hercules in 2005 when attention was turning to a young presidential hopeful by the name of Barack Obama.

Father Michael Pfleger

Pfleger is the pastor at Saint Sabina’s Catholic Church in Auburn Gresham, a church with a long history of fostering urban transformation within their community as well as working toward policy change on the city, state, and national level.  As Father Pfleger has worked on various movements during his 29 year tenure at the church he has become a public figure of sorts, love by some and reviled by others, particularly through his fearless use of the news media in the church’s campaigns.

The stakes for the event were heightened by the fact that both filmmaker and film-subject were present at the screening and afterwards would take questions.  Even having met and worked with Father Pfleger I must admit there is a certain level or oddity when watching someone’s life story with them present.  Especially, in tense moments that dealt with some of the controversy that has surrounded Father Pfleger there was an odd sense of his presence being misplaced at a viewing of his own life.  Still, the film dealt quite evenhandedly with the controversy that undoubtedly follows public figures and, to its credit, the film often sought to get beneath these issues to a sense of what compels and inspires Father Pfleger in his drive for social change.

This is the real heart of the story: uncovering the inner spiritual fire that fuels the activist priest who is consistently ambitious enough to believe that real change is possible and then to work towards it.