There's Treasure In 2016!

a post by Rachael Tanner

A new year approaches! In our culture, it's a common time to declare resolutions: swearing off past vices, seeking new habits, and resolving that this year will be better than the last!  If you're anything like mea controlling Scorpio or a Challenger according to the enneagramthen this time can be fraught with disappointment and even guilt.  

I look at my list of goals from the past year and count up all the ones I have failed to achieve. Did I meditate every day? Not even once a week! Call my family and friends more? Heck, I didn't even call my dad on Christmas!  Work out three times each week? Maybe three times a month.  

This year, let's try something different: Instead of resolving to change, let's discover who we already are, what brings us joy, and create a map that takes us deeper into our authentic selves. To do this, we'll create a personal treasure map instead of a list of goals. The mapping process comes from Sarah Ban Breathnach's Simple Abundance. In the book, she describes the personal treasure map as "a collage of your ideal life that you create as a visual tool to focus your creative energy in the direction you wish to go." 

The process of creating the map asks us to look within, and consider "our wishes for the future, our hopes, our dreams, our aspirations," which are our truest treasures. The mapping process doesn't stop there! We then use magazines, poster board, and rubber cement to literally create a collage that is our treasure map. 

On Wednesday December 30, 2016, the Holy Ground community will gather together and make our maps!  If you feel inclined, please join us! 

Or feel free to make your own.  Sarah's excerpt provides some guidance for you!

Better Together: The Chemistry of Communion

A post by Rebecca Neil, Holy Ground's resident baker.

Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve loved to bake. Baking is such a strange thing. You take all of these seemingly unrelated and unpalatable raw ingredients, mix them together, and put them in the oven. Some of my first, and fondest, memories are of measuring, sifting, mixing, and sitting on the floor in front of the oven waiting for the magic to happen. In most cases, what comes out of that oven bears no resemblance to those raw ingredients. When you bake, the whole is so much greater than the sum of its parts.

The Mystery of Baking (and Church)

Church is a lot like baking. Especially the way that we do it at Holy Ground. When you look at us on the surface, we can seem like an odd bunch. Like the concoction of oil, flour, and yeast that makes up one of my favorite bread recipes, we don’t always appear to have much in common. A mouthful of any of those leaves much to be desired. Together, though, we have the capacity to be so much more. And like a loaf of bread fresh from the oven, something mysterious happens when we gather that knits us together into a cohesive whole.

Sharing One Loaf

At Holy Ground,  one of the times when this is most palpable is during Communion. In our practice of Communion we share one loaf. Each person breaks off a piece of bread and places it into the outstretched hands of another. We pass a cup of wine and either dip our bread or drink directly from the cup. We make eye contact, we stumble over the words, and sometimes it’s messy and awkward. But, you know what? I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s in that messiness and awkwardness that I experience what it means to truly be in community. Those moments are when I am reminded that God shows up in the most mundane parts of life: in bread and wine, in eyes and hands, and in shaking voices. In those moments I am reminded that God is in me, and in every other person with whom I share that loaf.

Gluten-Free for Everyone

This is why it was so important to me that our Communion table is accessible to everyone. When we share in Communion, no matter where we are, it truly becomes holy ground. At Christ’s table, we’re all equals – food allergies notwithstanding – and we have several people in our community who can’t eat gluten. For months I’ve explored the world of baking without gluten and dairy, since it’s important to us to share one loaf, rather than offer multiple bread options. In most breads, gluten is the glue that holds it all together. It's what gives bread its texture and keeps it from falling to pieces. There's no easy automatic substitute. So, I started researching, reading, and playing with different ingredient combinations. I spent a lot of time sitting on the floor in front of my oven watching bread bake and trying to understand what's really going on when all of those ingredients work together.  I’m a Chemistry teacher, so this process has a unique fascination for me.

Through trial and error, revisions, more trials, and a lot more errors,  I’ve finally found a recipe that works. It’s sweet and hearty, freezes and defrosts well, and doesn’t crumble to bits like most gluten free breads. I know a lot more now than I did when I started this process about combining unrelated ingredients and facilitating the process of becoming something together. But in spite of all that knowledge, it all still seems a little mysterious.

And so, the moment you’ve all been waiting for… here’s our recipe.


Holy Ground’s Gluten-Free Communion Bread Recipe

[During my experimentation, I discovered that when it comes to non-wheat flours, measuring by mass is far more accurate than by volume. However, since not everyone has access to scales or feels comfortable measuring by mass, I’ve included both measurements.]

2 tablespoons instant yeast

1 ½ cups warm water (approximately 115°F)

¼  cup olive oil

½ cup honey

472g oat flour (3 ⅓ cups)

65g tapioca flour (½ cup)

88g sweet white rice flour (½ cup)

11g xanthan gum (2 teaspoon)

8g salt (1 teaspoon)

½ teaspoon cinnamon

4 eggs

Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine the yeast and water and let sit for 5-10 minutes. Add the oil, honey, flours, and xanthan gum. Beat until combined. Add the salt, cinnamon, and eggs. Beat for several minutes until fluffy. The dough will be sticky, so it’s best to wet your hands with water before handling. Form into loaves. We use 6-inch round pans, and it makes approximately 8-10 flat loaves.  Cover with a towel and allow to rise for about 45 minutes. The loaves should about double in size. Bake until internal temperature reaches approximately 210°F. For the small loaves, this should take approximately 12-15 minutes. Allow the loaves to cool completely. Store in air-tight container or freeze in individual ziploc bags.

Recipe adapted from:

Picture: the author baking at age 6.

A Holy Grounder on "Why I Go To Church"

a post by Emma Roy

I have a mild anxiety attack every time someone asks me what kind of music I like.  I'm sure in the history of human conversation there have been people who have asked this question in sincere and generous curiosity, but most of the time I think it's a simple shorthand for, "What social sub-cultures do you most identify with?" or, more to the point, "Do I think you're cool?"

These kinds of pop culture questions have become something of personal challenge for me, a way I rate my level of self-acceptance in any given situation.  Will I admit to these punks that I love the Indigo Girls?  Will I tell a new friend that I un-ironically watch Maroon 5 videos?  Are bougie white girls allowed to like NWA?

But the reality is of course that we judge ourselves and each other on much more serious criteria than pop culture preferences.  The anxiety that comes up when I am asked about my musical taste doesn't exist simply because I have been judged for liking the Indigo Girls (though I definitely have), but because the judgment triggers memories of countless other dismissals and rejections: all the times I felt too lame, too slow, too preppy, too hippie, too slutty, too loud, too chunky, too scared, too spiritual, too boring to be worthy of acceptance, much less love. For every time I have been encouraged to "be who I really am," I have been reminded dozens and dozens of times that "who I really am" is only really wanted within very specific guidelines.

Normally what comes next is the part we are all used to, where we encourage each other by saying even though it's natural for social primates to have in-group/out-group policing, if we are going to be spiritually fulfilled, we have to let go of so much of that, be who we are, risk being vulnerable, live each day to it's fullest, blah, blah, blah—Facebook is sagging under the weight of so many reminders to "Live, Laugh and Love."  Despite this, it remains incredibly difficult and transgressive to actively practice deep acceptance of ourselves and of other people.

It's difficult, because the bare fact is that most of us don't feel right now the love that we want to feel.  A logical next step is to assume there must be something to DO about this predicament, some other way to be to get at the love, to be worthy of it, to win it.  Here, then, is a crucible of spiritual life: we don't feel the acceptance, we don't feel the love we crave right now, so…nothing.  We don't try to feel better so fast.  We stop trying to fix it.  This doesn't mean in any way that we agree with everything that happens or that we don't intervene to make positive changes.  But it does mean we accept all people, all situations, and all emotions even when they don't solve any problems for us.  We wait in the uncomfortable room between wanting and not having and praying for help to wait longer.  Like Jesus, we never stop calling out to God even in the face of great suffering and apparent defeat. And this experience—longing, waiting, praying and not stopping—over time, it breaks our hearts open.  

Even then, getting to some mystical open-hearted place doesn't seem to be the true end-game either, as far as I can tell.  The real promise that I see in Jesus' life is that when you give up trying to make yourself feel better and have unconditional acceptance for all the uncomfortable, disgusting parts of life, you can finally meet other people in those same places.  Through the grace of God, you give away for free the thing you were always trying to get for yourself.  It's a transformational, healing practice of love.  

And it's a love so powerful, you don't even have to be very good at it for it to be transformational.  Even just trying open-hearted acceptance of all people and all situations has a kind of magic to it.  It's the thing that touches me the most every time I spend a few hours with the people from Holy Ground. The people at my church want to know who I am—not so I can become a supporting character in their individual lives—but because they earnestly believe in seeing others and being seen. Sure, they have their own agendas sometimes too, just like I do.  But they are actively working to notice those agendas and prevent them from stifling genuine connection.  Through their effort, I feel the love of God pushing through to meet me right where I am.  I feel deeply human, but also very free.  I remember before Whom I stand.


So, What Do You Guys Believe?

a post by Sean Lanigan

"So, what do you guys believe?"  It's a question I get fairly often when I meet new people and start telling them about Holy Ground.  And I sometimes struggle to answer it.  Because at Holy Ground, we don't all believe exactly the same things (and also because I know the questioner is usually trying to test my doctrinal purity, rather than inquiring with real curiosity).  We deeply value the practice of creating space for a diversity of beliefs, while simultaneously valuing deep engagement with the core of our Christian heritage, which we encounter in the life and teaching and presence of Jesus.  So many of us have chosen to leave more rigid expressions of Christianity, and we've come to Holy Ground yearning for more spaciousness and freedom to creatively explore life with God.  Others have come without any faith background at all, also seeking a safe space for questions and uncertainty and doubt.  Many Holy Grounders would describe our faith as "in process."  Yet make no mistake: holding all of this beautiful diversity together takes a lot of spiritual work and a consistent discipline of forgiveness as we struggle to better understand one another and our triune God.  Progressive Christianity is surely not an easy spiritual path, but it can also be incredibly liberating and satisfying and redemptive one.

In the midst of our diversity, the people of Holy Ground have also been discovering a whole bunch of things we hold in common.  So if Holy Ground were ever to adopt a "statement of faith," I think it might just go something like this.  (And while it certainly doesn't cover everything, this feels pretty true to what we've been discovering as a community.)  –Sean

We believe that God speaks in and through all people, even (and maybe especially) those bruised and buffeted by the vicissitudes of this messy-yet-beautiful human life. We know that we have to listen carefully and attentively to hear God's "still small voice" in ourselves and in others.

We believe in the radical healing power of creating spaces for deep and courageous listening. We have often discovered how God is trying to speak through us by hearing God speak (albeit sometimes hesitantly and haltingly) through someone else.

We come together as church to witness to God's ongoing redemptive activity in each one of our lives, pointing one another toward the glimmers of transformation that we hear in each other's stories.

We come together as church to remember that there is a bigger, better, truer story than the one we often tell ourselves, a story in which God often works through the most unlikely of people to bring more healing and wholeness and love into the world. It's a story in which God takes on flesh in Jesus in order to share in our pain and joy so that we might learn to trust his path of death and resurrection.

We believe that God intends to speak powerfully through each and every one of our lives. Practicing Christianity, then, is all about learning to "let our lives speak."

Sincerity's Discontents

a post by Sean Lanigan

Holy Ground has been thinking a lot about liturgy (literally, "the work of the people") lately.  Currently, we use a modified form of an ordo that we share in common with most liturgical churches around the world.  Whether in a big cathedral or a smaller gathering-in-the-round (like Holy Ground), liturgical churches all do more-or-less the same things (in the same order) each-and-every Sunday. 

Here’s the most basic expression of the ordo we use:

  • Gather the Community (using words, songs, and embodied practices)

  • Hear God’s Word (through scripture, preaching, and their intersections with our life experiences)

  • Respond to God’s Word (praying for God’s world, offering our gifts, and receiving Holy Communion)

  • Send the Community (commissioning God’s people for another week of Christ-like living)

Now, this pattern can sometimes get a little stale, as all patterns do.  The repeated “components” that comprise this pattern sometimes end up being done by rote, without much feeling or inspiration.  And as a result, liturgy can sometimes end up feeling like one-damn-thing-after-another – an endless succession of formulaic texts read aloud with little heart invested in their enunciation.

For many people, the solution to this problem is to pray and speak extemporaneously – exclusively “from the heart” – eschewing the use of any written texts in church.  Among its practitioners, this extemporaneity is considered to be a far more “authentic” way of speaking and praying, and it’s the way of doing church that's most homey to many Holy Grounders.  During my time in Long Beach, I’ve worked hard to learn how to pray well “off-book,” and I think the people of Holy Ground would concur that I’m improving.  But I also persist in using written prayers and other texts from the Church’s enormous storehouse of codified liturgical phraseology.

Last Sunday, for our Pentecost liturgy at Holy Ground, we concluded our worship with a wonderful commissioning from the Church of England, which appears in a slightly modified form below.

Blessed are you, sovereign God, overflowing in love.  With Pentecost dawns the age of the Spirit.  Now the flame of heaven rests on every believer.  Strong and weak, women and men tell out your word; the young receive visions, the old receive dreams.  With the new wine of the Spirit they proclaim your reign of love.  Amid the birth pangs of the new creation the way of light is made known.  Source of freedom, giver of life, blessed are you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

For the fifty days since Easter we have celebrated the victory of our Lord Jesus Christ over the powers of sin and death.  We have proclaimed God’s mighty acts and we have prayed that the power that was at work when God raised Jesus from the dead might be at work in us.

As part of God’s Church here in Long Beach, I now call upon you to live out what you proclaim.

Empowered by the Holy Spirit, will you dare to walk into God’s future, trusting God to be your guide?  We will.  Will you dare to embrace each other and grow together in love?  We will.  Will you dare to share your riches in common and minister to each other in need?  We will.  Will you dare to pray for each other until your hearts beat with the longings of God?  We will.  Will you dare to carry the light of Christ into the world’s dark places?  We will.

One person responded strongly to these words, telling me: “I feel like we could spend months exploring what each of those phrases could look like if we really lived into them.” 

My response to her was something like this: “Yes, that’s the beauty of liturgy!  You just keep saying things until they’re real.  You affirm things that are not-yet-true with the trust that they can become true, with God’s help.”

And yet, for so many people (myself often included), the language of liturgy can sometimes feel less-than-authentic ­– not fully sincere.  And this lack of sincerity can feel disappointing and discomforting.  Doesn’t God want (nay, expect) our utmost sincerity?  This nagging question often fuels a yearning to find ever-fresher words for worship.  And while I think the search for new words by which to approach the Divine is a project that God’s people must continually undertake, I also accept the following caution.

Sincerity is concerned with the "as-is"—reinforcing our present collective self-concept—and the subjunctive (language employed in traditional liturgy) with the "as-if," a reality we bring into being through collective ritual practice.

Following this provocative statement, taken from an article by Catherine Madsen on the challenges of creativity in liberal Jewish liturgy, the author continues by quoting from a book entitled Ritual and Its Consequences: The Limits of Sincerity.

In doing a ritual, the whole issue of our internal states is irrelevant.  What you are is what you are in the doing, which is of course an external act.  This is very different from modernist concerns with sincerity and authenticity…Get it right is not a matter of making outer acts conform to inner beliefs.  Getting it right is doing it again and again and again – it is an act of world construction.

And isn’t the construction of another world – a new heaven and a new earth – what we Christians want most deeply?  My yearning for a radical wholeness that far exceeds any remediation of our present reality is far stronger than my desire heartfelt (yet momentary and fleeting) sincerity.  And it’s why I repeat the well-worn phrases and actions of ancient, traditional prayers again and again, even when they fail to excite or inspire my emotions.  Because I know that my emotions are excited by all kinds of things – holy and unholy – and I'm learning that they are not always the ultimate and most trustworthy spiritual barometer.  God transcends even my feelings about God.

Of course, I don’t want to abandon the process of discovering new words and rituals, either.  Rather, I want to hold old and new in creative tension because I believe that this in-between space is often where God shows up most palpably.  And I think this is why I often experience God so strongly among the people of Holy Ground.  For we are a people who are making a fine art of living between old and new, desire and actualization, the already and the not-yet – yearning together for the dawning of God's new creation.  

We'd love for you to come yearn with us!   –Sean


Catherine Madsen.  “A Heart of Flesh: Beyond Creative Liturgy.”  CrossCurrents.  March 2012 (14).

Adam Seligman, et. al.  Ritual and Its Consequences: The Limits of Sincerity.  Oxford University Press, 2008 (24).

Why We Don't Do Self-Serve Communion

a post by Sean Lanigan

The church I pastor, Holy Ground, just passed our 6-month anniversary.  (It snuck up on me, and I forgot to throw us a party – eeeeeeek!).  It’s really hard to believe that we’ve already been worshiping together for half-year, as we’re still so much in the midst of figuring ourselves out as a church community.  It sometimes feels like we’re going to be in this awkward pre-teen phase for quite awhile still, because the way we’re building Holy Ground is a little different than how a lot of church planting generally happens, at least among our plant-happy non-denominational cousins here in SoCal.

At least from my observations, most church plants are affinity based.  People who have a lot of things in common get together to build new churches.  And oftentimes, these people have known one another for years before they ever conceived of starting a church together.  Holy Ground, however, is a bit different.  Most of us were strangers before Holy Ground began.  And the one thing that most of us have in common (besides craving deep encounters with the Holy) is that many of our previous spiritual communities simply haven’t worked.  We’ve come together as a church because we haven’t yet given up hope that redemptive spiritual community is possible, but we’re still a little gun-shy from our past experiences.  Many of us have been rejected (either subtly or explicitly) in other places because of our impolite theological questions, or our suspicion of Biblical literalism, or because we have just a little too much emotional baggage, or because of who we love.  So we’ve got to work at trust.  And we’ve got to work even harder at vulnerability.  And we can still be a little timid and standoffish at times.

Now what does any of this have to do with Communion?  Well, at first I thought that people’s primary struggle with this new community would be theological.  We’d have too many differences in interpretation to really come together as a unified whole.  But theology hasn’t been our biggest challenge, as we’ve succeeded in building an environment that can truly embrace multiple interpretations, questions, doubt, and copious theological wrestling.  The place where we’ve faced a lot more challenges, however, is in the realm of what we do with our bodies.  Because to some extent, in order to avoid total chaos, we have to come to consensus about how we’re going to move and interact in space when we’re doing liturgy.  And this conundrum becomes most apparent and most vexing at Communion time.

Many people at Holy Ground come from non-denominational backgrounds, which generally means receiving Communion pretty infrequently – monthly at most, and usually much less often.  In these contexts, the most common way to receive Communion (at least from the reports I’ve received and from what I’ve witnessed) is at self-serve stations set-up around the periphery of the worship space.  You get up when the Spirit moves you and go to a corner for a private encounter with Jesus.

At Holy Ground, however, we have communion every week.  And to receive Communion, you’ve got to have a human interaction, because I put bread directly into people’s hands, and I say some words at the same time.  “The body of Christ; the bread of heaven.”  Likewise, another member of the community will offer you the cup, saying: “the blood of Christ; the cup of salvation.”  And all this interaction can be a little awkward.  It’s up-close and personal.  We touch one another.  We watch one another chew.  And saliva can even be involved, if you take the risk of drinking directly from the common cup, rather than intincting (the technical term for “dipping”).

When we started Holy Ground, we did all of this “assembly-line style.”  People would file out of their seats and up the aisle, where they received Communion more-or-less individually, albeit obligatorily interacting with the servers.  But after awhile, I decided that this way of doing communion still wasn’t quite enacting or embodying the theology that is at the very core of sharing this odd meal together.  Because here’s what communion is really about (among other things): in the act of sharing one loaf and one cup, Jesus actually makes us one body.  Jesus mystically transforms lone individuals into an interdependent community.  And not primarily a community of preference or affinity, but rather, a community bound simply by the fact that Jesus is making his dwelling place in and among us.  In sharing Communion, then, we become more than just ourselves, as the real presence of Christ expands and perforates our corporeal limits.  Something really happens when we share Communion.  And our flesh is the first part of us to understand that mystery.

So I’ve begun to gather us in a circle.  We see one another’s faces as we eat and drink.  I still offer the bread, but we’ve begun passing the cup around the circle, one-to-another.  Each person receives, and each person serves.  There’s usually some fumbling involved, and people forget what to say, and some people have told me that it’s all just far too uncomfortable.  And my people-pleasing mind, of course, then begins to consider all of the possible variations we could do to make things more comfortable.  And then, the voice of one community member speaks into the midst of my uncertainty: “maybe it’s supposed to feel uncomfortable.” 

And that seems absolutely real and true.  Because eating at Jesus’ tables would have been uncomfortable: all the wrong people, with all the wrong manners, and probably, totally inappropriate small talk.  But they were undoubtedly joyful tables, too.  Because bringing all the wrong people together is really hard, and really messy, and really stinkin' beautiful.  “Behold what you are; become what you receive,” says St. Augustine about the act of receiving Holy Communion. 

And outsiders usually get it more quickly than insiders.  Glory be to God!