Life, Faith and Urban Farming

The life and happenings of an unconventional pastor and urban farmer living in the city with a family of five.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Monday, March 13, 2017

I'm calling it "Solace"

Over the past few months, basically since I returned from Standing Rock in late November, I've put a lot of my mental and creative energy into music. I've played music, written music and led people in worship for over twenty years, since I was about 17 years old. Started playing guitar at about 13. Today I actually get paid to play music for our church, Alyssa and I love doing that, but we also dream to get back to creating music outside of the church setting. Over the past few months I've been able to write more music than I have in the past 10 years combined. Experiencing Standing Rock, the devastation of a Trump presidency and what that means for and about our country, and the difficult struggles that my family is going through have all probably played a significant roll creating a need within me to write and play music. Most recently, on Ash Wednesday, actually, I began recording an album of ambient instrumental music. I was inspired first by Nils Frahm, but he's way too talented a musician for me to copy. His music has taught me the importance of simplicity and minimalism, even when you CAN play something much more technical. Second, on Ash Wednesday, at The Open Door's contemplative service, I was introduced to Moby's recent release "Long Ambience1: Calm, Sleep" a beautiful, meditative work of around 4 hours of music. It's extremely simple, no melodies, just auditory textures, layers of sounds, beautiful chords moving so gentle one cannot discern one chord from the next.

So, I've been taking my turn creating something with my guitars that is meant to be simple, minimal, relaxing and pleasing to listen to. Some of it is more complex than what Moby's album, some of it builds a bit more and have a bit more expression. But I think it fits in with the genre of ambient artists that I have been learning from lately.

Again, if you're like me and suffering these days as you discern a way forward for your work of justice and peace in this world, or your struggling to help a loved one through a particularly difficult time in their life, or you're going through a particularly difficult time in your own life, I encourage you to create. Don't try to be perfect or compare yourself to others who are better at your craft of choice, create for yourself, create for the sake of creating, and when you do that honestly and thoroughly, I promise it will be a blessing to others as well as a blessing to yourself.

I'm calling is Solace, recordings forth coming!

Monday, February 27, 2017

Resistance is Slow and Steady

I'm good at seeing a problem and working hard to fix it, get the job done, feel good about my work, and move on. I'm good at getting others excited to make a difference with a short concerted effort. I've always struggled with long, slow-moving, work. I've struggled with follow-through when there are other things calling for my attention. I'm often impatient.

Resistance in the face of oppression, hatred, the slow moving and latent racism that put DJT in the White House, requires steadfastness. What I'm feeling lately is that my impatience is a reflection of my privilege as a white, middle-class, straight man. I have always had the privilege of doing whatever gives me energy, whatever excites me, whatever seems fun. Even the activism I do is ego-centered, I have the privilege of being an urban farmer working for social justice through food justice.

I need a community of people that understands the necessity of selfless activism in the face of all that we are facing as a country. I need others to remind me that we will press on. I need people of color to remind me that they've been in this struggle for centuries, not months, and that they know how to resist oppression. I need to follow, not lead. I need people who want to follow the oppressed, seeing them as our leaders. I need people of privilege to join me, not get frustrated when things are very slow, and get in line behind those who are suffering the worst of white America's injustice.

Resistance is slow and steady. 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Standing Rock Letter to Banks

Today several dozen pastors and elders of the Pittsburgh Presbytery signed on to a letter I wrote voicing our disapproval of our city's local banks that are lending to Energy Transfer Partners for the Dakota Access Pipeline. Read the letter below. Please feel free to cut and paste and write your own! Here's a link to learn more about the funding of this pipeline. DAPL Funding



February 16, 2017

PNC Bank
300 Fifth Avenue
The Tower at PNC Plaza
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Investor Relations:

Dear Bryan K. Gill and PNC Bank Executives,

PNC Bank prides itself on being an industry leader in green building and environmentally sound practices. We have commended you for this in the past. But, it is with sincere sadness that we write this letter in opposition to PNC bank’s funding of the Dakota Access Pipeline through Energy Transfer Partners. We have found that PNC has lent $270,000,000 toward the partners completing the pipeline. It has been clear since before construction began in August of 2016 that the Sioux Nation of Standing Rock have opposed the pipeline for reasons of environmental risk factors and proposed destruction of sacred land. PNC bank has remained invested in the project, while Native Americans have persistently ask that it be halted.

In December of 2016 the Obama Administration, along with the Army Corps of Engineers, ordered the pipeline be stopped pending a full environmental study and consultation of the Standing Rock Sioux nation. We were in support of this decision. Just days after the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump an executive order was signed to complete the Dakota Access Pipeline with no environmental study and no more consultations with the Sioux people.

The fast tracking of this pipeline represents a continued marginalization by our government and the fossil fuel industry of Native American people and their voices. This pipeline also represents a national commitment to long term infrastructure designed for a future of increasing fossil fuel extraction and combustion. We believe this pipeline is unjust both environmentally and socially and we are calling on PNC Bank to remove all funding from this project. We also call on PNC Bank to take the environmental risks associated with the oil and gas industry more seriously and choose to invest in socially and environmentally responsible projects, such as wind and solar energy production.
It is with our faith and our faith communities that we request you make these changes and hear our voices. We will consider other banking options if we feel PNC continues to ignore the issues most important to our callings as people of faith.

With Faith and Hope,

Rev. John Creasy, The Open Door Presbyterian Church

Monday, February 13, 2017

A Sermon: 1 Corinthians 3: 1 - 9

 This is a version of what I preached yesterday at The Open Door. It didn't get recorded, so if you missed it, you can read it instead.

Human nature is a dynamic and ever growing area of science, why do we do what we do? Psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, neurologists, and many other branches of science study the human brain and try to figure out why we do what we do. In Paul’s writing today we’ll read that Paul sees an innate human deficiency built into the physicality of our being. Paul struggles with it in himself, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Romans 7:15) We might call it our sinful nature, or maybe our less-than-human nature, anything that keeps us from living into the fullness of who we are and who God created us to be. Paul sees a way of pressing against this less-than-human nature through the way of the Spirit.

Have you ever heard the term “failure to thrive” for a baby that’s not growing on a healthy growth curve? I always thought it sounds like such a harsh phrase, it must be really hard for new parents to hear their baby is failing to thrive. And yet, it’s a necessary term, it helps the parents realize they must take action to help diagnose the problem with their doctor and do whatever is necessary to help that baby begin to grow and become healthy. It seems adults can have a “failure to thrive” spiritually too. Listen to Paul’s words to the Corinthian church.

Read part of our Scripture:

3 And so, brothers and sisters,[a] I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations?

Many churches, especially church plants, move from quick growth to a failure to thrive. Many other churches in our day have other medical conditions, like the 10k+ megachurch that functions like numerical growth is all that matters, It’s like they have a spiritual cancer, church growth can be an unhealthy cancerous growth.

In the scripture we just read, a new church in Corinth is suffering from some “failure to Thrive”, they are not able to move from liquids to solids in there spiritual food because they are not able to love one another, they are not able to let go of their selfish, sinful nature.

Read remainder of Scripture (The Message translation):
3 1-4 But for right now, friends, I’m completely frustrated by your unspiritual dealings with each other and with God. You’re acting like infants in relation to Christ, capable of nothing much more than nursing at the breast. Well, then, I’ll nurse you since you don’t seem capable of anything more. As long as you grab for what makes you feel good or makes you look important, are you really much different than a babe at the breast, content only when everything’s going your way? When one of you says, “I’m on Paul’s side,” and another says, “I’m for Apollos,” aren’t you being totally infantile?

5-9 Who do you think Paul is, anyway? Or Apollos, for that matter? Servants, both of us—servants who waited on you as you gradually learned to entrust your lives to our mutual Master. We each carried out our servant assignment. I planted the seed, Apollos watered the plants, but God made you grow. It’s not the one who plants or the one who waters who is at the center of this process but God, who makes things grow. Planting and watering are menial servant jobs at minimum wages. What makes them worth doing is the God we are serving. You happen to be God’s field in which we are working.

It seems that the Corinthian Church had problems. Some people claimed Paul as their leader others claimed Apollos. These two groups took great pride in who they claimed. When there is in-fighting in a church, the church cannot fulfill it’s mission. This is as true today as it was in the ancient Roman world. The Corinthians were allowing their human nature, their desire to be right, to prove themselves, to keep them from serving one another and the world. These things kept them from developing a deep spirituality. 

I think that what Paul means when he says he is feeding the church milk and not solid food has to do with how much he is able to push the congregation into missional endeavor. A church that is focused on quarreling and dealing with jealousy has no ability to do mission, they are too focused on themselves. 

I love it that Paul uses agricultural imagery again to help us understand the role of church leaders, of pastors like myself and BJ. Many, many church plants are built around their leader, their pastor. Many fail to exist when that pastor steps away. Eugene Peterson does a great job translating and giving some interpretation to the original greek. He says that his role and any other church leader’s role is the simple task of putting seeds in the ground and watering those seeds. It’s God who allows people and church to develop into health and maturity.

Last summer I did something I do many times throughout the year, I planted lettuce salad mix in our backyard garden. Salad mix is one of the main crops we grow at Garfield Community Farm for sales in restaurants, at our mobile farm market and even for donating to the Valley View Church food pantry. This time I planted a few thousand seeds, did it just right, watered it perfectly, and waited. I waited and waited for the baby lettuce greens to begin to emerge from the rich healthy soil in my garden. But, the seedlings didn’t emerge. For some reason the seeds did not germinate. I waited another week, watered the bed, and watched… nothing. Two weeks later I raked it up and replanted. Again! the seeds didn’t germinate. It seems those seeds had a germination problem. I could plant things perfectly, water everyday with just the right amount of water, but if the seeds aren’t good it won’t matter. The same is true with our spiritual growth. The leaders in our church may plant, they may water, they may work hard to help us grow, but it is only through the Holy Spirit that we will become what God desires us to be.  Many churches rely so heavily on their pastors and leaders for their teaching and spiritual growth that they lose sight of where true connection with God comes from.

Here’s the good news, from me to you, I think The Open Door has moved from breastfeeding to solid food! I think we are a healthy church, learning to deal with our struggles, continuing to be focused on making the world a better place, focused on caring for one another and our neighbors. I think we have a long way to go, but I think we are on a healthy growth curve.

But, The way forward for Contemplative Activists is not going to be easy, many activists in our country are going to become angry, tired, burnt out. But you, you all have each other and have the Holy Spirit to revive you and keep you strong in the way of the Spirit.

Last week BJ said that the way of the spirit comes through prayer. BJ shared that our lives can be transformed by a life of prayer. I have to tell you, for years I heard this, I believed it, but I did not experience it. For years I did not know what to pray, why to pray or how to pray.

A few years back our church had a ministry called the House of Saint Michael. It was a gathering of people committed to prayer and the contemplative way. This group lead a larger gathering a few times a year. Each January I would go to the 24 hour prayer vigil that happened, I did not to the over night part. We prayed, sang and prayed more, we read passages of scripture and passages from the early church fathers and mothers. It was torturous to me! I struggled to engage in prayer that seemed to do nothing. I struggled to quite my heart and my mind to focus on the Spirit for such long periods of time. I struggled.

What is the opposite of the contemplative way? For me, it’s the preoccupied, distracted, scattered way. That was my brian for a long time. During those years of trying to enter into contemplative prayer I was struggling with anxiety and struggling to find any consistency in my life.

For me the opposite of the contemplative way is quite possibly the way of Facebook! Seriously, Facebook has a way of providing us with unlimited unfocused information, causing our brains to lack an ability to focus. Facebook and other such entertainment based media are designed to create a dopamine loop in our brains, they actually cause an addiction through brain chemistry, thats why so many of us find ourselves dwelling on our phones and computers, scrolling from one status update or news headline to another with little real interaction. We leave feeling overwhelmed, hopeless or maybe agitated and angry. Facebook may not really be the opposite of the way of the spirit, but it can be a dangerous distraction. The way of the flesh is this distracted, agitated, self-focused way of life that takes us away from any self reflective way. The way of the flesh is the addiction to selfishness and instant gratification, addiction to being focused on ourselves and our own selfish gains, training our minds to avoid concentration, to avoid being focused on the work of the Holy Spirit.

The contemplative way that Paul teaches us is the complete opposite of a distracted and agitated way. Paul teaches us to dwell with the Holy Spirit. Paul teaches us the way of the Spirit throughout his writing. In Philippians 4 he says, “8 Finally, beloved,[a] whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about[b] these things.”

Paul also gives us the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22 and 23 22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.

When our minds are focused, our spirits become tuned and aligned with the Holy Spirit. Contemplative prayer and meditation train our minds to focus on the ways of the Spirit. That’s what I was missing. I thought prayer could fit right in with my unhealthy, distracted, disorganized way of living. Instead, prayer redefines and reshapes all of those things.

I love it when science and spiritual practice align. Some Christians are threatened by science, I’m not. I was reading about meditation in the Scientific American recently and was amazed that our brains physically are changed, measurable changed when we engage in prayer and meditation. Gray matter in and around the amygdala is reduced, that part of our brain actually becomes smaller. The Prefrontal cortex actually gets thicker. That’s the place in the brain that makes us most human, it gives the ability to make good decisions, allows us to stop, pause and act with compassion and empathy. There’s science now showing that Paul was right! The fruit of the spiritual life, the fruit of the Holy Spirit!

As BJ said last week, the way of the Spirit takes practice. Richard Rhor says that it takes about a year of practicing contemplation, really practicing it, before you actually start to feel comfortable doing it and like you’re doing it well.

Just a few weeks ago my family escaped the crazy and anxiety filled inauguration weekend in a little cabin in western New York state. While there my friend, who works with some amazing high tech medical gadgetry, offered to let me try out a new product that actually measures your brain while meditating, and through an AP on his phone tracks your meditation. I had been practicing meditation for about a year and so was kind of excited to try it out, though I knew pretty much for sure that I was still terrible at prayer and meditation. I’ve always said it, I not gifted in prayer. I’m terrible at meditation. I do it now, never used to, but my mind wanders terribly and I can’t focus. Well, I was wrong. I scored 96% out of 100 for my 10 minutes of mindfulness! That doesn’t mean that I am now able to clear my mind of everything and meditate in some perfect state of peacefulness. What I’ve learned is now to focus on my breathing and allow distractions to pass through my mind, but not to dwell on them or be preoccupied with them. If I can learn the ways of the contemplatives, anyone can! 

Here’s an idea, lets all meditate on the Fruit of the Spirit this week. Here’s how we do it, first memorize the verse or print it out on a piece of paper. Focus your mind on each of the nine fruit that Paul lists. Take time to dwell on each of those words for at least a minute. Repeat that word in your head and visualize yourself loving more, loving your family more, loving your neighbors more, loving your enemies. Or just repeat the word with little more intent than focusing on breathing the word saying it as you breath in and as you breath out. If you’ve done this kind of prayer before you might meditate on each word three minutes before you move on, making for a 30 minute mediation exercise. If this is new, you might focus on each word for one minute, making for a 10 minute practice.

Prayer actually transforms us. When we live the contemplative way we become people who are able to face the world we live in today. We become people who are equipped with the Holy Spirit and the Fruit of God’s spirit, able to take action on behalf of others and the planet.

3:9 For we are God's servants, working together; you are God's field, God's building.

It is through the Holy Spirit that we become fully who God created us to be. Human beings are changed through the practices of prayer, meditation, of being mindful of how we act a react. When we live by God’s spirit we develop good and healthy fruit in our lives. Paul describes these fruit throughout his epistles. When our minds are transformed by these spiritual practices we become more and more able to deal with the world around us, we become more able to look hatred in the eye and proclaim love inn it’s place. We become more able to see injustice and help people struggle out from under oppression. People of faith are able to give of themselves without being worn out because of the spirit of God working within them.

I believe we are ready for the solid food that Paul talks about. The solid spiritual food that produces compassion, empathy, patience, steadfastness, love, joy, peace and much more. As we continue to strive to be the church that God has called us to be, let us look inward to develop deep spiritual practices in our lives so that we may develop the fruit of God’s spirit for the sake of a world where they are being forgotten and plowed under the soil of anxiety, hatred, and fear.  Let us be people of Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Gentleness, Faithfulness and Self Control.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Letter to the Churches of the Pittsburgh Presbytery (and you)

Below is a letter being sent to all churches of the Pittsburgh Presbytery on behalf of the Peace Making Ministry Team of the Presbytery. I wrote the letter and we had it unanimously approved by the Executive Committee of the Presbytery. I'm proud of the leadership in the Pittsburgh Presbytery and their willingness to stand with Water Protectors and the Sioux Indians of North Dakota. While the pipeline is now being fast tracked and oil will being flowing in the few weeks the legal struggle for hundreds of Water Protectors continues and the legal struggle against the federal government for the unjust completion of this pipeline are still in need of financial support. Please read the letter and consider financial support through our Presbytery.

February 7, 2017
Churches of the Pittsburgh Presbytery
Attn: Clerks of Session and Mission Committee Chairs

Greetings in Christ
Indigenous peoples all over the world have faced injustice and oppression for hundreds of years at the hands of colonizing nations. Our history in the United States consists of repeated and ongoing marginalization of Native Americans. As the struggles of the Sioux nation at the Standing Rock Reservation have garnered indigenous, grass-roots support from all over the world many non-native people have desired to support their cause. In November of 2016 Rev. John Creasy was able to visit and participate at the Oceti Sakowin resistance camp just north of the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota. His time there was rich and extremely meaningful. 
As you may know, Energy Transfer Partners has been funded with billions of dollars from thirteen international banks to build the Dakota Access Pipeline.  Just north of the Standing Rock Reservation the 30 inch pipeline is to be constructed under the Missouri River. Indigenous peoples from all over the country, and in fact the world, have joined together to resist against the construction of this pipeline. The Sioux people have shown that the pipeline will put their water and land at risk. Though the pipeline had been halted by the Obama Administration and the Army Corps of Engineers, an executive order by President Trump signed on January 24th will fast track the pipeline. 
The Peace Making Team of the Pittsburgh Presbytery believes that the construction of the pipeline should be stopped at the request of the Sioux people. We also believe that further investment in high-risk fossil fuel infrastructure will lead our nation toward a high-carbon future and continued dependance on fossil fuels, leading to greater social and ecological damage from climate change and degraded water and air quality.
The struggle of the Sioux people will continue into 2017 as they work to keep the oil of the fracking fields in the ground. This will largely be a legal struggle. Even if the pipeline is completed we desire to support those who have participated in this struggle and their legal expenses. Will you consider a donation to the Pittsburgh Presbytery designated toward their ongoing work? The Peacemaking Team will match all donations, dollar for dollar, up to our resources of $2500. We hope to raise more money with your help, which will all be given for legal defense and the legal struggle with Energy Transfer Partners and the policies being put in place to fast track pipeline construction. If you cannot give financially, please pray for the Dakota and Lakota people of Standing Rock South Dakota and their continued struggle against oppression. 
Please send checks before March 30th. Make checks out to the Pittsburgh Presbytery with “Standing Rock Sioux” in the memo and mail to the Presbytery office attn: Ayana Teter. Funds will be sent to The Synod of Lakes and Prairies to be given for the legal needs of the Standing Rock Sioux.  
For more info on the Pipeline and Rev. John Creasy’s experience at Standing Rock please visit. johncreasy.blogspot.com
With Hope and Peace, 

Pittsburgh Presbytery Peacemaking Ministry Team: 
The Rev. Mr. John Creasy, Member of the Peacemaking Ministry Team
Dr. Ronald Stone, Coordinator of the Peacemaking Team

The Rev. Ms. Ayana Teter, Staff to the Peacemaking Team

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Standing Rock, Post Gazette Article

The Pittsburgh Post-gazette  did a good article on some of the people from Pittsburgh who spent time at Standing Rock over the past few months, myself included. Check if out.