Archives for the month of: January, 2015

Just returned from one of the great things I do… Christianity 21. A place where people explore how Christianity is breaking through and making meaning. Different voices. Opinions. Some speak for 21 minutes. Some speak for 7. I was one of the 7.

I talked about how to do community engagement on tough topics through a process called S T I R. We use it once a month in lieu of our worship gatherings, because we find the conversation to be holy. You can find the whole talk below and link to how it went visually below as well.

If you want some examples, just message me. Always happy to help stir the pot!


STIR: from C21 Phoenix 2015, Suzanne Castle, copyrighted

S T I R. We all know the action in our kitchens. But the verb form means more. STIR means to cause an especially slight movement or change of position of; to disturb the quiet of, or agitate. To mix.  To bring into notice or debate, or raise up. To rouse to activity with emotion.

In a world where bigger is always better, it’s time to stir things up. Don’t get me wrong, thinking up really big, wild, crazy and adventurous ideas is my bread and butter. I’m hired to do that. But life in community is full of tender moments that give life deeper meaning.

We all too often look to a SAGE, that one person who has the most to offer, the most knowledge, the most skill set, the most opinions, the most… well, the MOST. Imagine what would’ve have happened if Jesus just gave answers, instead of stories.

No prodigal son, no pearl of great price, none of the blessed-are they’s. Instead of communities struggling together to live and breathe the message of bringing the kingdom of grace, love, light, justice and hope into the here and the now, I think we would just be about the “yeah, okay, it’s good, I guess” and move on.

Edward Abbey once said: “Society is like a stew. If you don’t stir it up every once in a while then a layer of scum floats to the top.”

The same holds true for tough issues we aren’t sure how to face or talk about in our community, so for many of us, we hold a worship event or prayer service or “issue a statement.” Seems it’s much easier to put something with a hashtag than chat about with people staring at you, then maybe even do a call to action. Especially when we have such a hard time doing so with grace. Or so we have found.

But what if we could get our community actually talking with tenderness, heart and emotion? What if we could open up our living out of love? My community has endeavored to do just that. That’s STIR. Sanctuary offers refuge to the ragtag of this world. In fact, we are a gathering space and safe haven for artists, visionaries, social entrepreneurs, and spiritual refugees. And with that comes an expectation that we don’t all see eye to eye on anything. And so we must have open dialogue about the hard things.

Stir is an idea used to get a wide variety of persons to talk about hard issues: political, theological, soulful. And it’s easy, and doesn’t depend on only having a certain number present. Because you stir up your community into smaller bits. It’s really an idea that is used in educational circles, just taken into our theological realm.

First you divide your group so that about 5-6 are in each group. Or 2-3 or even as many as 8. we have found that having at least 3 groups is the minimum needed to make this successful. The easiest way is just to number off, and ask everyone to remember their particular number during the event. Another way is to have numbers when they arrive, to keep people from always congregating into groups with those that they know.

Round one is the easy, scheamsy, love-y dove round. In communication we call this fostering an open process, but really you are setting the stage. The way to get people sharing. An example: when talking about stars, we asked people if they believed in the corporate way of purchasing a star and naming it for a loved one, and if so/no, why. After about 5-8 minutes, answers are recorded then a random person from each group moves to another group and shares the answers. The importance of this cannot be overstated as each group is reflecting on the ideas from the whole, so ALL ideas are heard throughout the event.  No one group “owns” ideas this way.

Then round two begins. Round two usually involves a scripture reading, a reflection of what the scripture might be saying about the topic, and what we think about that. Often we will have several different versions of the same scripture to review, followed by a question of what the text trying to say, or what is different from the versions that we notice. One session, when exploring fitting in and “isms” we gave a definition of racism and asked the group to explore that wording and if we felt it was accurate.

After about 5-8 minutes more, answers are recorded then again, the groups are stirred up by moving a different person from each group. Once again, at this point, all of the papers are read to the group. Whatever person left takes them all and begins the sharing. By this time, The final round is the tough, application round. Questions about applying the Gospel way to our culture and life in the here and now kind of things. When discussing the meaning of sanctuary and lack thereof in the world, we asked can we be this kind of church that focuses on love and justice? the kind where people don’t have to pretend? and what the potential pitfalls and possibilities would be if we could be. This round focuses really on the possibilities of living out the way of justice, hope, mercy. And it’s a round where people struggle. The questions are deeper.

That’s it. The whole Stir process. At this point, since we are a faith community, we share in communion, and then have a time of fellowship where we have found the discussions continue, more questions are thrown about and many times, more exploration into certain topics begin in small groups, around dinner parties and with some of our outreach opportunities. Stir certainly has become more than a gathering once a month.

Finally, all the answers are compiled into a booklet and available however you like to distribute. It’s a great record of how the community breathes, lives and moves. Stir allows for all the voices and ideas to be heard: The introverts and The extroverts, The believers and The not sure, The Christians and The not-professing. And it allows us to really tackle those hard issues like immigration, sexuality and racism, without alienation.

In a one-on-one conversation if you don’t say much it usually peters out, or one person’s opinion dominates. In group discussions you have the option of hanging back and letting everyone else talk, or taking the chance that a few voices will be heard. In Stir, however, posing the questions to each person allows people to interact with a topic, listen, respond, speak.

It also has allowed for the movement of people around, so the group dynamic changes every 8-10 minutes. A wonderful side effect of Stir has been how people chat, pray, and be with each other outside of Stir. The forced movement and change that occurs, has allowed for people to connect with some they might not otherwise have done so, because they are not with their friends, or loved ones the entire time.

It’s easy to get caught up in the rapture of of life’s brilliant, amazing, huge things. But in the end, our community life, our Gospel life, is the way of love— the zillion little things we cherish together. Without Stir, our community wouldn’t care as much as they do about all the little things: and the big things. This model has changed us.

We started a few minutes ago talking about the verb form of Stir. It’s time to act and move and get VERB-y with our communities. It’s time to stand up for something and confront the dragons of the world, in the process you will change your life, and your community.

Hebrews 10:24: ESV

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another..”

It’s there in the Bible, you know. It just takes us stirring the pot. Not hard at all.



I was a part of this video project with Shane Claiborne, Tony Campolo and many other voices. Today, MLK day, we remember: we still have injustice. 

“How can Christmas be over? The story of the Gospel is just beginning. We who saw the Star now live in its Light. We who saw and heard now believe.” — Ann Weems, January’s Song

I’m in the middle of packing up the many decorations from Christmastime. I always get a little sad. It’s like I haven’t had enough time to really relish in the glitter, the sparkling, the extra-specialness. I always want to leave it up a little longer. I try… but then get the glances. You know, the ones that come from people visiting your home and the remarks: “You STILL have your decorations up?!” The lasting gazes of your neighbors wondering if you have become lazy, a hoarder, or if you will catch a clue. So I always relent.

Last night, my daughter commented about our yard lights. How pretty and magical they were. She wanted to know if we could keep them up all year. “It lights up our pathway, Mom; I think that’s always a good thing.” She is so right. We’ve just now started living in the glow! We’re just now understanding how to change our lives. We are just now at the beginning… does it HAVE to be so soon that we march towards the next Hallmark Holiday and leave behind the words of the Gospel proclaiming “GLORY! ALLELUIA!”

So the lights are still on.