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Interview with Adjunct Religion Instructor and Author: Chris Stedman

Quote from The Velveteen Rabbit by Marjery Williams

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

Reconnection 

As we sink deeper into our June theme of RECONNECTION, we are excited to share the great privilege we have at Augsburg University to stay connected with incredible people like Chris Stedman (he/him/his). Chris is a 2008 graduate from Augsburg and is now a writer, activist, and professor who currently teaches in the Department of Religion and Philosophy at Augsburg University in Minneapolis, MN. 

chrisstedman
Picture of author Chris Stedman

He is also the creator, writer, and host of Unread, named one of the best podcasts of 2021 by the Guardian, Vulture, HuffPost, Mashable, and the CBC. Additionally, Chris is the author of IRL (2020) and Faitheist (2012) and has written popular essays for outlets including the Atlantic, Pitchfork, BuzzFeed, VICE, and the Washington Post. Previously the founding director of the Yale Humanist Community, he also served as a humanist chaplain at Harvard University and a trainer and content developer for Interfaith Youth Core, he has most recently served as an Interfaith Fellow with the Interfaith at Augsburg center. 

In Chris’ most recent book, “IRL: Finding Realness, Meaning, and Belonging in Our Digital Lives” – which will be coming out in a new edition this August – we are invited to get curious about what it means to have connected lives both in real time and online. For so long, online sharing was seen as shallow and disconnected from truth and honesty. Chris invites readers into the possibility that we can find connection in those spaces and that through that experience we might experience fuller reconnection in our real lives. 

We caught up with Chris and asked him a few questions about his book and the concept of reconnection. Thanks so much Chris for sharing your wisdom and insight.

Interview with Chris

WHAT DO THE IDEAS CONNECTION & RECONNECTION MEAN TO YOU? 

We’ve spent the last few years navigating what has been, for most of us, an entirely unfamiliar landscape when it comes to connection, disconnection, and reconnection. 

In the early days of the pandemic, for example, I was working from home and living alone, so for the first time in my life all of my interactions were digitally mediated. Though I’m probably more online than the average person, it’s impossible to overstate what an immense shift this was. It gave me more of an appreciation for the internet’s ability to connect us in unprecedented ways, but also of its limitations, and our need to not only connect but also disconnect.

Even before the pandemic arrived, we lived in an age of constant connection, where we spend more and more time on digital platforms designed to monopolize our attention. Because of this, we have to be intentional about taking a step back from them sometimes—not because life online is inherently fake or inherently harmful, as some argue, but because we need the kind of perspective we can only get when we’re alone.

Continue reading “Interview with Adjunct Religion Instructor and Author: Chris Stedman”

Faith, Sexism, and Justice: A Call to Action

The following contribution is shared by Dr. Mary Lowe, religion professor at Augsburg and member of the task force and writing team for the ELCA’s new congregational study guide to accompany the ELCA’s social statement, Faith, Sexism, and Justice: A Call to Action.

The ELCA’s 2019 social statement, Faith, Sexism, and Justice: A Call to Action provides a powerful framework for gender justice work in the church. “Because we rely on God as a God of promise, this church speaks about sexism and the harm it causes for all people,” says the statement in its introduction. “Those who support gender justice are intent on righting gender-based wrongs that prevent the abundant and flourishing life God intends.”

Cover Image of "Faith, Sexism and Justice: A Call to Action stude guide"This historic document draws on the richness of the Lutheran theological tradition. Four primary themes are woven throughout the statement. God desires abundant life for all. Sin subverts human flourishing in many ways—especially the sins of sexism and patriarchy. The Christian tradition holds challenges and resources for resisting sexism. And the ELCA calls for justice and action to foster flourishing in the church and in society.

You can read the full statement here.

Now a new ELCA study guide makes the 80-page document more accessible for individuals, congregations, students, organizations, and faith leaders as they pursue equity for women and girls. It features six flexible sessions that can be customized for in-person gatherings, virtual discussions, or interactive virtual meetings. Each session incorporates hymns, prayers, videos, engaging activities, and invitations to live out the social statement’s call to gender justice in the world.

You can access the study guide for Faith, Sexism, and Justice in the button below.

Study Guide for Faith, Sexism, and Justice

Continue reading “Faith, Sexism, and Justice: A Call to Action”

The Final Step: Reflections by Lara Moll

Lara Moll sitting on a rock in Duluth
Lara Moll, CCV Staff 2021

Where has the year 2021 gone? It should not be looked back as simply done in the blink of the eye, especially since so much has been built. In this space of walking along congregations, our work has been able to see emotion, evolution and growth. I would say the same to my time as the Communications Coordinator for the Riverside Innovation Hub. For the past 12 months, I have strived to share the stories that have been written and told in the first track of this work of building a public church with Minneapolis congregations.

When I started with this work, I was given resources to help me understand this work. It was and is a privilege to learn and envelop the mission of an organization. I knew from the time I applied for this position that the work done here is not work I have heard nor seen before. Had you? The work here of bridging congregations with a facilitator to the bridge church and community should not be a new concept. A public church is indeed what churches ought to strive for. Without community building and relationships, where can the church grow and take hold? That is what I ask of you to consider after this year of transition. 

For those who might have finished their time walking with the Hub to those who are just beginning to learn the steps in which we encourage to build connections in your neighborhoods. I encourage you to take the resources given to your or those that you seek out and actually take a step. One step is all it takes to walk a mile, to meet someone halfway or making that change you have longed for. Everyone strives for resolutions at this time of the year, when one chapter seems to be ending and the next is just beginning. I have this hope as well, that I might be able to leave behind parts of 2021 that I don’t want to take with me, but truly without my experiences how would I know what I may need coming forth?  Continue reading “The Final Step: Reflections by Lara Moll”

Advent Vespers: Adrienne Kuchler Eldridge,’02

Hark! the herald angels sing – stanza 1

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

 

Hark! the herald angels sing,

“Glory to the newborn King:

peace on earth, and mercy mild,

God and sinners reconciled!”

Joyful, all ye nations, rise,

join the triumph of the skies;

with th’angelic hosts proclaim,

“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”

 

I experience many emotions throughout the Advent season: anticipation, inspiration, content, curiosity, joy, and awe. Growing up one of my fondest memories of this season was the variety of music. The proclamation that rings out when “Hark! The herald angels sing” is sung in a chorus of harmonious voices, with the piano, strings, and trumpets all playing along, bringing me back to a joyful memory that I can only feel in my body. I can feel it out to my fingertips and up through my center, the feeling of inspiration that something wonderful has happened. The music fills me down to my toes as I reach deep down into my diaphragm for a full breath to proclaim through song, “peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!”

Continue reading “Advent Vespers: Adrienne Kuchler Eldridge,’02”

Advent Vespers: Kristina Frugé

The Angel gabriel from heaven came

The angel Gabriel from heaven came, with wings as drifted snow, with eyes as flame: “All hail to thee, O lowly maiden Mary, most highly favored lady.” Gloria!

“For know a blessed mother thou shalt be, all generations laud and honor thee; thy son shall be Emmanuel, by seers foretold, most highly favored lady.” Gloria!

Text: Basque carol; para. Sabine Baring-Gould, 1834-1924

Photo by eleonora on Unsplash

A rabbi friend told me that the Hebrew word for blessing and the Hebrew word for knee, share the same root-word. The rabbis, therefore, teach that God’s blessing is anything that brings you to your knees. Whether you drop to your knees in thanksgiving or find yourself crumbling to the ground in despair, God’s blessing is that God is with you.

Continue reading “Advent Vespers: Kristina Frugé”

Advent Vespers: Jeremy Myers

Psalm 91:9-16 

9 Because you have made the Lord your refuge,
   the Most High your dwelling-place,
10 no evil shall befall you,
   no scourge come near your tent.


11 For he will command his angels concerning you
   to guard you in all your ways.
12 On their hands they will bear you up,
   so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the adder,
   the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.


14 Those who love me, I will deliver;
   I will protect those who know my name.
15 When they call to me, I will answer them;
   I will be with them in trouble,
   I will rescue them and honour them.
16 With long life I will satisfy them,
   and show them my salvation.

If you camp a lot, then you know tent placement is incredibly important. A slope can cause the blood to rush to your head. A hill will send pools of water into your tent during a rainstorm. Dead branches above might come crashing down on you in a windstorm. Boulders uphill might let loose during the night. Your body is only as safe as your dwelling-place. 

 

Many sleep in tents across our country tonight who are not in safe dwelling-places. They are temporarily homeless or have chosen this tent as their home. They are not safe. There is a scourge that comes near. This scourge is wealth inequity, the opportunity gap, racism, unjust housing policies, and our inability to address the mental health crisis. Yet, even to these, God promises to “be with them in trouble”, “to rescue and honor them”, and to “satisfy them”. 

 

Oh, Lord. Send your angels to those with danger just outside their tents. Bear them up, and may we together tread on the lion and the adder of injustice that threatens them.

Reflections on the Word “Yes”

Today’s blog post has been commissioned by the Riverside Innovation Hub to bring in the stories and views from our partner congregations forward. We continue with a piece by Ryana Holt, a member of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church.

Artist, Angela Two Stars is speaking in a microphone, spaced between 4 volunteers.

I have been reflecting on the word “yes.” This word or similar affirmative phrase mark the cusp to new beginnings. Like Samuel’s “here I am”. How do young people become leaders? Some create opportunities for themselves. Others find themselves saying “yes”, “here I am,” and the journey thereafter unveils and develops their leadership.

“Yes” was the beginning to my involvement at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church (HTLC) when I only knew only about five people’s names and it was likely that less than five people knew mine. After a service, one of my pastors must have recognized I wasn’t just a 20-something passing through and asked if I would join other young adults in the Riverside Innovation Hub grant team. 

Yes, of course. I was there to root in community. Take my email, I am ready to participate. 

Continue reading “Reflections on the Word “Yes””

From Frustration to Transformation: The Public Church Framework as a Process

This week’s story is written by Stephen Richards, a congregational learning partner at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. Steve writes about his transformation throughout the process of practicing the Public Church Framework. 

Ever had an argument in the car with your partner about the “right way” to get somewhere? My wife and I frequently have such “debates”, and it often boils down to this: she likes to plan how to get somewhere in advance, whereas I’m more of a “wing-it” guy. She likes to pre-navigate potential traffic snarls and find the most economical route to get somewhere, whereas I know where I need to go, have a vague idea of how to get there, and if there are any holdups along the way I’ll navigate my way around them based on what looks like the best option at the time. Needless to say, my wife and I often find driving together a frustrating experience.

 

church with people outside
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.

This past year, working with the Riverside Innovation Hub has felt a lot like driving with my wife. When St Luke’s first started this journey and I was invited to be part of the team, I was excited about the idea of working to get more young people to come to church. Of course I wanted more young people coming to church; I wanted lots of people to come to church. However, I quickly began to realize that this was not the point. So I pushed back. If this is not about getting people into church, then what is it about? I remember regularly expressing a sense of frustration to our coach that I simply had no idea what we were trying to achieve. The “goal” was to find ways to connect with young adults in our community, but how to do that and what that might look like was opaque. “So what” and “What next” questions dominated my thinking. I found the process frustrating. I wanted a road map. I wanted a planned route from Point A to Point B. The trouble is, that’s not the way this works. You see, when you start asking “What is God up to in our community?” you’re heading into uncharted territory. 

 

For too long I’d been looking for God inside the church building, and many “solutions” for how to address the dearth of young adults in our churches often begin there. If only our services were more exciting, if only we had better programming and the like. Using such reasoning we also talk about how God is or is not working in our midst. More people in church equals God is working, and vice versa. But instead, we were told to reflect on Ezekiel’s vision of the river flowing from the temple, and imagine this flowing out into our community. I liked the image, but continued to push back. I made the point that if the river was flowing from the temple then surely this means the river is flowing out from our church building? Our coach patiently allowed me to navigate my way through this. 

When I joined this project I thought it was about connecting young adults to God in church. However, as we began to follow the river (both inside and outside of our community), I suddenly realized that it was about a different kind of connecting. In fact, it was me who was connecting with God as I began to realize my entire understanding of mission had been grounded in the notion that there was nothing of God going on outside “in the world.” Sitting inside a church building, I’d been staring at the walls wondering why more people weren’t inside with us, rather than going outside and asking them. The walls were preventing me from engaging with people. They were a physical barrier between our community and our neighbors. Whereas the veil separating us from God had been torn down in Christ, and in the years since then we had been physically and theologically putting it back up.

 

As we walked the three art forms, I became to see where God is at work outside the church. I should not have been surprised, because God is always at work everywhere! How do I know this? Because God is everywhere. There is no place where God is not:

 

“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there” (Psalm 139:7-8).

 

Once I began to realize that church is not the Ground Zero, the modus operandi of God’s activity in any community, I began to realize that the roadmap of mission I had been using had been leading me away from young adults; leading me further inside the church building (where they are not), instead of outside and into our neighborhood (where they are).

 

As we continued with Interpretation and Discernment work, I sensed that not only I had changed, but the team had also had a transformation. Our focus had shifted. We had begun to dream and imagine how we might go and meet people, rather than sitting in church waiting for them to come to us. Jesus told us to “Go,” and we were going. We began to look at ways we were already connecting with our neighbors; the Montessori School in our church building was an obvious one, but also the green space out front. We learned that people were using the chairs we had placed out there, they were tying ribbons to the Peace Pole and using the food box. We decided to focus on that as space as a place where God was present; Holy ground where we could start wading into the river.

people talk in groups outside
Folks from the congregation and the neighborhood gather at St. Luke’s “front porch” to be together and share ice cream.

And so we began. It was the start of summer and one of our team suggested we might offer people free ice cream after church on Sunday. So we did. We named it Ice Cream Sunday. For three months we stood outside the church eating ice cream, and inviting our neighbors to join us. In doing so we met lots of people and got to know their stories. We got to tell them our stories, but we never used this as a recruitment tool; just a way of showing love to those around us, you know, doing the very thing Jesus told us to do (Matthew 2:39). And as we did this week after week, relationships began to form. Barriers came down. We began to wade into the river; first ankle deep, then knee deep and finally waist deep. Some people came back just to hang out with us; people who had never stepped inside our church building. And as we listened to their stories we realized that God was at work in their lives and in our community. In fact, God had always been working in our community, we’d just never taken the time to go outside and listen. But now we were outside, and listening, and starting to see the walls come down. We’d torn up the roadmap, and with the Spirit’s leading had started to “wing-it”…

The Healing Power of Dirt

This week we hear from Ellie Roscher, a congregational learning partner at Bethlehem Lutheran Church. Ellie shares a story about the mutual transformation that comes from listening to and empowering young adult leaders. 

 

plants and welcome sign
The Garden at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Minneapolis.

Siri, a talented and emerging folk singer, spends significant time on the road playing music. In between tours, she works at the front desk at Bethlehem even though she is skeptical of institutional religion and questions the existence of God. 

About a year ago, Siri found herself in a cycle of despair. She was feeling adrift and unsure of where her community was. And she was feeling cynical, angry and overwhelmed about climate change. She could hear the earth moaning and see it crying out. One night, in response to her lament a friend kindly offered, “Would it help to do something about it?” 

Siri took the challenge to heart. She floated her idea of starting a community garden to me and some other folks at Bethlehem. Yes, yes, yes. We helped her flush out her vision and celebrated with her when she received a generous Foundation Grant. Then it was time to begin. 

At the Riverside Innovation Hub, our guiding text is from Ezekiel 47. In it, we are led away from the temple to deeper water. Along the riverbank there are lush trees with fruit for food and leaves for healing. Siri had a prophetic vision to grow a garden outside the walls of Bethlehem. Bethlehem, a large and resourced church, had not yet leveraged its voice and power to address climate change in real and meaningful ways. We recognized Siri’s passion and vision as beautiful, and we met her there, downriver, to put her plan to action. 

Planting a seed requires the audacity of hope. Tilling the soil quiets the mind, brings peace to the heart, and slows time just a bit. Weeding is a spiritual practice. Watching seed transform is a living metaphor. Fresh air shakes the dust from our souls. Billowing clouds invite us to look all the way up and remember that we are small.

flowers
The late-fall blooms of the garden.

Siri was ready to move from despair. Her leadership invited others to do the same. She built beds, planted seeds, watered them and tended to them. She showed up week in and week out and created a space outside the walls of Bethlehem for folks to gather. Sunday school kids came out into the sunshine to guess what sprouts would become. A neighborhood kid asked if he could help water the beds, another asked if he could have a cucumber. More neighbors, who previously did not engage started congregating when Siri and volunteers showed up to work. More congregation members lingered outside the church. 

Now, at the end of the summer, the garden has exceeded all of our expectations. It is bursting with life. The sun flowers tower over us. The pollinators bring life and vibrancy and splashes of color. We tended to the earth and it is showering us with bounty. The neighbor who was the most skeptical has thanked Siri for creating a space for folks to gather. Congregation members have thanked her for inviting them out of the sanctuary to God’s nature. 

Siri, too, has been amazed at the transformation inside of herself. She is a pastor’s kid, and she has a lot of hurt toward the Christian institution. She sees the harm the church has caused in the world. “It has felt like

gigantic tectonic plates shifting in my being,” she said. “It has been truly transformational to go from overwhelmed to empowered. And to grow a garden on the grounds of a church has been important for me. I’m not ready to worship yet, but growing flowers and vegetables here and having the community rally around me has ushered in healing.” 

garden boxesBethlehem’s innovation team recognized Siri’s vision and leadership. We built our vision around the growing garden and our growing partnership with folks doing conservation and reforestation in the cloud forest of Guatemala. Siri will be one of the young adults traveling to Guatemala come January, after our garden is harvested. She kept asking me if I should send someone else instead, someone who has more clarity about God and church. I think of Ezekiel and smile. “No, you are perfect.” 

The garden has been a blessing. A physical reminder of God’s abundance. A place to gather and listen to the soil and and remember whose we are. It brings dignity to get down on our knees and get dirty. Get some earth under our fingernails. Siri said yes to an invitation to grow something new and rich and beautiful. It has given her hope. And community. Fruit for food and leaves for healing. We are all better for it. We are grateful. 

God in the Present Tense: A Story of Unfolding Proclamation

Congregations in the Riverside Innovation Hub partnership have spent the better part of a year moving through the public church framework and taking stock of the learning and wonderings these experiences have generated. In the spring of 2019, teams submitted proposals for grant funds that outline their vision of the proclamation work they want to live into over the next two years. One of our innovation coaches, Baird Linke, shares the story of how this movement towards and into proclamation has and continues to unfold at New City Church.

Let’s hear it for the good news! Ten months gone by, and the churches connected to the Riverside Innovation Hub are preparing to put all their hard work and learning into implementing their grant applications! We are gathering to share our stories, to celebrate work well-done, and give thanks for the ways we have grown together. This is the stage in the Public Church Framework called proclamation, but it is not complete just by sharing the stories of the past year. Proclamation is not reporting—it does not live in the past-tense—to proclaim the good news is to invite others into the exciting “we know not what we will be” of what God is doing in the here and now. Proclamation is both remembering together where God’s been with us and joyfully participating in where God is going.

Team member gives presentation
New City presents their grant proposal to other RIH learning partners at the June 1st Learning Event.

I have worked with New City Church in Powderhorn-Phillips through this program, and I want to share their good news with you. New City Church is trying to do church in a new way (shocking, I know). The planters of New City recognize the complicity of mainline Christianity in the history of white supremacy, cis-heteronormativity, patriarchy, and environmental degradation. Their goal in planting the church was to counter that history with a model of church that centers marginalized voices. They do that by prioritizing the experiences of people of color, the environment, LGBTQ+ people, and women in the life of the church. They have grown quickly since starting out in a living room and have done so while talking explicitly about Jesus to a community that, by percentages, does not necessarily identify as Christian.

 

Their plan for the Innovation Hub grant is to use the resources for a new effort called

the Incarnation Fund that will connect people of color in the New City community to healing practices including somatic experiencing therapy, nature-based therapy, and spiritual direction. Participants will work in small cohorts to grow in community while, as individuals, work with practitioners of color on healing from trauma. New City believes that investing in individual healing makes communal healing possible. This vision hinges on a key belief that guides New City Church (and illustrates proclamation well): inward transformation leads to outward

transformation and vice-versa.

 

Many members of New City Church are already engaged in projects for outward transformation in the community. It is an activist church and the wealth of talents and community connections that New City holds was overwhelming at first. How could we choose just one cause to come behind, especially when there are already groups whose entire focus is on one of the many needs that New City cares about?

 

We realized that we needed to dig into New City’s young identity to find a use of the money that fit. We asked people about what value people found in New City and realized that it wasn’t that New City was doing the same justice work that the members are doing. People value New City because it gives them a place to root their work into a relationship with the divine and challenges people to learn how to be in a diverse community that centers marginalized voices. The community organizers didn’t need New City to be another organizer. The advocates didn’t need another advocate. They need a place where they can hear that they are not alone—that God is moving through a community with them. They are hungry for inward transformation.

 

A lot of resources have been spent over the last year on the inward transformation of white people in order to be in a racially diverse community where the cultural norms around white-body supremacy are broken down. That work has yielded huge dividends for the health of the New City community, and at the same time has dedicated time and energy into formation for white folks. Recognizing that disparity, New City wanted to balance the scales and use the Innovation Hub grant—the largest financial investment to come to New City outside of the Methodist church—to prioritize ministry for people of color. The Incarnation Fund took both of these needs we identified and aligned the creation of something new with the story of life that New City Church has been telling from the start.

 

The story of God is evolving and diversifying in different places and circumstances. Small changes in the genetic code result in wildly different forms of life, but it is all life. Our job in proclamation is to be spiritual ecologists, surveying the landscape for life in its abundance, celebrating old connections, new growth, and working to make that growth possible. The Incarnation Fund is rooted in this ecological vision of our communities—the healing of the whole is directly tied to the healing of the parts. The story of New City Church and the Incarnation Fund is just beginning, and it is one of many. I give thanks for the ways that God is moving in your hearts and communities, and I pray for courage and faith as you move forward sharing the good news you have heard and are a part of creating. Let’s hear it for the good news! Amen.