FIRST, WHAT'S WITH THE NAME?
The River NYC has been inspired by an approach to spirituality which promotes a conversation about meaning, religion, and culture while helping churches connect with an increasingly secularized and pluralistic world. It's called Blue Ocean Faith. Originally taken from a business strategy, the name Blue Ocean has grown to represent so much of what we feel faith in Jesus can offer us. It expands rather than narrows our horizons. It seeks connection rather than separation. The ocean, after all, is what connects all the land masses on planet earth. Nobody owns the big blue sea. No one can claim to have plumbed its depths. It’s dynamic, always moving, always changing. It humbles us. And when you see a picture of planet earth from space, what you see is blue ocean. Here are 9 perspectives of Blue Ocean Faith:
#1 - THERE REALLY IS SOMETHING GOING ON OUT THERE.
It seems that we human beings have a mystical side - although we all express it differently. In our view, the universe is richly relational. That makes a big difference in how we connect with other people, but it also points us to a God who, we believe, wants to talk to us and guide us and encourage us and motivate us. That seems like an important place to begin the story.
#2 - EVERYTHING IS SHOT THROUGH WITH MEANING.
Where we once, perhaps, were tempted to believe that if we just studied enough we could learn the whole truth about everything, we’re now discovering that God’s reality is quite large! Taking a more humble approach offers us an encouraging sense of wonder about each moment and each person. The possibilities for growth really do prove to be immense.
#3 - WE NEED CONNECTION MORE THAN WE NEED ANSWERS.
We all have big questions about life, about the universe, about God. And yet we’ve found pursuing iron-clad answers doesn’t actually feed us. Instead, we’ve found what's even more meaningful is connection — with God, with our world, and with ourselves. When that connection exists, all sorts of great things happen. And, when it doesn’t, no amount of answers or insights seems to help us.
#4 - THERE IS NO BAD NEWS IN CONNECTING WITH GOD.
We wonder if this verse from Jeremiah 32 is God’s most-central mission statement towards us: “I will delight in doing good things for them with all my heart and soul.” We’ve found that there is only good news for us as we re-direct ourselves toward God. And actually, our lives seem to lose their shine when we veer off this course. This means that reality is the friend of religious and nonreligious people alike— it will always tell us how we need to course-correct. And God is cheering us on as we do.
#5 - EVERYONE IS US.
It’s tempting for those of us in religious circles to divide up the world into people like us (who share our culture and values and preferences) and people not like us who are either— at worst— enemies of the things we hold dear or are— at best— unenlightened people whom we should guide into our truth. But what if, in the end, there is only one real “us”— fellow human beings? And what if that take on the world, rather than somehow “watering down” our convictions, actually opens up powerful opportunities for the kind of potent connection and growth we’re so excited about?
#6 - JESUS HAS PROVEN TO BE A PARTICULARLY HELPFUL 'NORTH STAR'.
All of us in Blue Ocean Faith have had consistently positive interactions with Jesus. In our experience, he has proven to be delightfully responsive to our efforts to connect. Without this external reference point, we are burdened with being our own, which makes for a very small and self-referential system of thought and vision. We've found Jesus to be a reliable authority and a guiding teacher - one who orients us toward an ever-expansive view of the world around us.
#7 - MY DRIVE TO JUDGE OTHER PEOPLE IS A BIG PROBLEM.
Many of us come from religious backgrounds in which good people are expected to “draw clear lines” against evil people. But we’ve found that our quick urge to judge people has in fact been the bigger problem for us. Words like “love” or “humility” get very good raps in the Bible, while Jesus and the Apostle Paul are particularly hard on judgment. We find ourselves motivated less by “being a witness for the Truth” than by joyfully offering what we know of Jesus - even as we learn from those around us.
#8 - WE FLOW EASILY WITHIN SECULAR CULTURE.
Secular culture, like religious culture, has good and bad qualities. In the past, many of us with religious backgrounds have shaken our fist at it. But we've come to realize that, rather than defending God, we’ve often been defending things like “the way I grew up” or “a particular perspective that I assumed was universally true.” In addition, we often find that some secular person really helps us at a deep level— maybe they make a movie which blows us away, or they write a beautifully insightful novel or a wise and helpful op-ed...etc. We hope that we can offer our best insights within our culture even as we receive the best things it has to offer us.
#9 - WE GROW BY TAKING OUR OWN UNIQUE, HIGH-RISK JOURNEY.
We’ve found that spiritual (and personal, and intellectual) growth doesn’t happen as we might expect - it's not just a matter of learning interesting new ideas and insights. Instead, we’re each invited into the kind of adventure that Abraham had. He was called "the father of faithful people” and he left his comfortable spot in the known world to take a trip somewhere he couldn’t exactly place on the map. He took a journey that required close attention to a supernatural guide and periodic miraculous interventions. That involves some vulnerability and some risk-taking. It means sometimes we wonder if we’re on the right track. It means sometimes we might be misunderstood. Above all it means praying at a gut level rather than as an arid “spiritual discipline.” That’s the stuff of Blue Ocean faith.
Have you heard of a “5 Finger Story”? It’s meant to be a “handy” way of remembering key elements in a tale you want to tell. Not long ago, a friend challenged us here at the River to come up with our own "5 Finger Story" — as a way of capturing our church's deepest convictions and our community's distinctive identity as succinctly as possible. This is what we came up with:
1. The River is a diverse, open & inclusive church in heart of downtown Manhattan.
How do you describe New York? Those 3 words - diverse, open & inclusive - capture a lot of the energy of the City and they also describe our community. At the River you’ll find people from different ethnic backgrounds, different faith backgrounds, different orientations, different life experiences etc. What we share in common is a desire to pursue the “life in all its fullness” that Jesus offers.
2. The River is casual and lively.
This describes our non-denominational “style”. Our church is relaxed, laid-back and informal (we meet in a high school, not a cathedral). We like to have fun! While we take our faith seriously, we try not to take OURSELVES too seriously. As author C.S. Lewis once said, "Joy is the serious business of heaven!"
3. The River believes God is love and Jesus is good news to everyone, everywhere, at all times!
God is endlessly knowable and way too big to reduce to a slogan but we’re convinced that LOVE and GOODNESS go a long way to communicate God’s essence. These are core convictions for us. And the benefits of faith are not just for some folks who have their “act together”. There are NO LIMITS or RESTRICTIONS to the wonderful things Jesus has for each of us.
4. The River believes God is moving the Church forward:
5. The river aims to create safe space where we can have actual experiences of the living God.
This states our goal — ultimately we want to help YOU facilitate your own meaningful connection with God in a way that makes your life better in tangible ways.
It's been said that a church is more of an organism than an organization. A community of faith is a living, breathing entity, and that is pretty hard to nail down with words on a page. But if we had to try - this "5 Finger Story" gets pretty close! Which of these points resonates with you? Feel free to leave your thoughts in a comment below.
By: Charles Park
I just finished up a year-long Sabbatical. After so many years in full-time ministry I appreciated having an extended break! I was able spend a good deal of time working on my chronic back problems and, fortunately, I’m seeing some real improvement on that front. And with more space in my schedule I found myself full of thoughts about faith, many of which I’m anxious to share in upcoming sermons. I’ve even begun writing a book - that’s what people do on sabbatical, right? But some of the thoughts I had during my sabbatical were more troubling. One question in particular plagued me: “Am I enough?”
By: John Furste
.Perhaps you noticed the recent New York Times article: Christian Couples Guru, Now Divorcing, Is Sorry for Bigotry. The Times reports: A former relationship guru and megachurch pastor who advocated premarital purity in his million-selling 1997 book "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" now says he's "not a Christian" — and he hopes gay people will forgive him for contributing "to a culture of exclusion and bigotry."
Here's a bit of context: Back in the 90s, many conservative churches promoted a sexual purity movement for teens that included things like abstinence ceremonies and pledges. The apex was the mega-selling book which argued that not just pre-marital sex, but any pre-marital romantic entanglement had the power to derail God’s perfect plan for your future marriage. Then author Joshua Harris stunned many people with a recent post on Instagram saying, ". . . I have undergone a massive shift in regard to my faith in Jesus. The popular phrase for this is 'deconstruction...' "
Many of us have been wrestling with the implications of this interesting news. We too have undergone a shift in how we regard faith (learn more about the River's decision to become LGBTQ inclusive and how it impacted us). A couple of years ago a long-time River member and youth leader Tim Abrahamsen wrote a provocative piece entitled, "I Kissed Dating Hello" where he describes the negative effects he experienced from the purity movement. In addition, Tim appeared on the popular Blue Ocean World Podcast hosted by author Dave Schmelzer for a freewheeling discussion about the effects of the purity movement. Tim shares:
"I didn’t begin to learn healthy relationship skills until I unpacked and let go of the fear and shame surrounding dating and sex that I had internalized as a teenager . . . the church at large needs to take responsibility for these ideas that have led to so much harm. But I also believe that we can learn from the mistakes of the past, pursue healing and reconciliation with a message that combines God’s boundless love and acceptance with a healthy and positive view of our sexuality."
How does this all strike you? Were you familiar with the purity movement? Do you have any thoughts about "deconstructing" faith? What have you experienced?
By: John Furste
Steve Watson is a close friend of the River and pastors our sister church in Cambridge, Mass. (Reservoir) . He has written this excellent piece as featured in FaithAndLeadership.com. Steve will be speaking at the River on Sunday, July 14. He writes:
Roger stood before our quarterly gathering of church leaders wearing faded jeans and a button-down shirt suitable for the gardening and other activities that occupied his retirement years. He sported a short gray ponytail, reminding us of both his age and his perennial countercultural vibe.
He began telling us that the Bible frustrated and irritated him and he didn’t read it much at all anymore.
Roger is a trusted and respected elder, befitting his decades of church leadership and service.
I had asked him to tell us about his Bible reading, the spiritual practice we were highlighting that evening.
Our church had emerged from an evangelical tradition that emphasized the Bible and the holiness it was thought to inspire. To encourage spiritual formation in our community, we’d taught seven core faith practices over the years. One was regular, systematic Bible reading. But like Roger, most of our members weren’t reading the Bible anything close to daily, and when they were, it was with growing confusion and frustration.
Privately, if I had been honest with myself, I would have admitted that this was true for me as well.
In my training in evangelical institutions, I’d been taught that with sufficient time and tools, the Bible was reliably clear and helpful. Usually, I was told, a plain reading of the text would lead to greater insight about God and direction for faithful living.
But now I found that even I, a trained pastor, couldn’t always fathom or stomach what I read.
Parts of the Bible are violent, and I could no longer make peace with a fundamentally violent God. Other sections require considerable interpretive gymnastics to not undermine the lives and faith of women, sexual minorities and many other people who have experienced marginalization, not to mention how particular readings have been used as active weapons in that harm.
Given the Bible’s age and complexity, its mix of freedom and patriarchy, love and war, beauty and terror, it’s no wonder that many in our church weren’t reading it anymore.
I understood Roger’s frustration. It was also my own.
So what would we as a church do?
(Please read the rest of Steve Watson's blog here at FaithAndLeadership.com)
By: John Furste
On Monday, June 3 the New York Times Daily podcast featured a look at the life of Rachel Held Evans. Rachel was a best-selling author whose unique writing challenged conservative evangelical beliefs and helped chart new directions for people of faith. She died at age 37. Religion reporter for the New York Times, Elizabeth Dias, says this about Rachel Held Evans, “She almost single-handedly brought together an entirely new kind of community that is defining Christianity for the next generation.”
Rachel's story is powerful! We at the River identify so strongly with her work and her transition away from biblical literalism toward an inclusive welcome of L.G.B.T.Q. people in the company of Jesus.
The River Pastor John Furste says:
"I so loved her open-hearted and open-minded approach to faith.
She had a way of removing pretense and just being down-to-earth honest about things. And she was truly courageous. It really takes some guts to ask big questions like she did and to endure the negative reaction from other Christians who often go on the attack.
I think what I appreciated most was her ability to break down barriers. In her writing and her speaking she tore down walls that keep people from engaging with each other and, I think, with God. She helped people to connect.
I find her example really inspiring for what we're endeavoring to do at the River NYC. Here in our faith community, we're trying to live out the values she so articulated so compellingly.
I love that quote where Rachel said, 'allowing yourself to have doubts about Christianity or about your present version of Christianity puts your sense of safety, security, certainty at risk. And yet. It is absolutely 100 percent worth it.'
We couldn't agree more!"
We mourn her loss and affirm her vision of a more expansive view of Christian faith. If you haven’t yet tuned into the work and writing of Rachel Held Evans, here are a couple of great resources:
By: John Furste
During the season of Lent this year (we call it "40 Days of Faith") we read through the Gospel of Mark together as a church. The "word cloud" above represents the frequency of words used by river-ties in the more than 650 comments that were posted in the online conversation.
By: John Furste
We're collecting "God stories" and we want to hear from YOU! What has Jesus been doing in your life over this past season? Has He surprised you in any way? What have you been learning?
Please share your "God story" with others by posting here in the comments. (You may post anonymously if you wish) Thanks!
The Gospel of Mark Chapter 16
Saturday evening, when the Sabbath ended, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went out and purchased burial spices so they could anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on Sunday morning, just at sunrise, they went to the tomb. 3 On the way they were asking each other, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?”
The Gospel of Mark - Chapter 15, v.21
A passerby named Simon, who was from Cyrene, was coming in from the countryside just then, and the soldiers forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. (Simon was the father of Alexander and Rufus.) 22 And they brought Jesus to a place called Golgotha (which means “Place of the Skull”).