Friday, July 24, 2009

Friday Five at the Perfect Church

Singing Owl has posted an interesting Friday Five.

Please pardon me for talking about church in the summer when many of you may be on vacation. However, the church we are talking about today is the one you dream of. I've been thinking about this because I miss pastoring and preaching, because I am sending in resumes, and because...well...jut because. So have some fun with this. Tell us five things that the perfect church would have, be, do...whatever.

We can dream, right?----Singing Owl

Singing Owl has been without a church and is wondering what the perfect church is. This is hard for me especially when I am just coming off my “honeymoon” with my new congregation. This is not to say that my present congregation isn’t a “perfect” parish. And the comments I make should in no way be a critique of my present church. I love my bunch of Germans and Scandinavians. But I would answer this Friday Five after having served 7 or 8 different congregations in 3 different denominations. Some of them have been huge (over 7,000 FAMILIES) some have been quite small (36 Average Sunday Attendance). In church work, Size matters, in my estimation. It tells what kind of leadership strategies I must use. LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION, matters—whether it is rural, small town, city, urban, suburban and Culture makes a difference too. And the following matter:

1. Humor: First a congregation must have a sense of humor or a sense of joy. I remember one church I served couldn’t laugh in church. They had never read the story of Baalam’s donkey, I guess. They couldn’t embrace a God who calls us to foolishness. It was a difficult call for me.
2. Honesty/ Integrity: A congregation must be willing to look at itself and speak its truth as a community. There are certain questions that one can ask in the interview stage that will help you figure out if the congregation is willing to be self-reflective enough to be able to own its own sinfulness, its own failings and even its own reservations about the Gospel message.
3. Welcoming/ Inclusive. A congregation or parish needs to be open to new people, ideas and different cultures. Of course they would have to be open to LGBT folks and different ethnic groups. I would love a church in which different faith traditions (not just denominations) could find a home.
4. Community: I need a parish that is sincere about the respect that they have for one another and act on that sincerity.
5. Sense of Liturgy—I don’t care what kind of music it offers; I do expect it to be able sing in harmony and with a sense of joy.
6. Bonus: My perfect parish needs to be willing to learn. I guess this could be a part of Welcoming and Inclusive but often parishes only want to be tended. I believe that parishes are to be willing to challenge their corporate faith as well as their personal faith. I agree with the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church who has said that personal salvation is the heresy of the modern Western Church.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

For a Season: The Ministry of Blogging

I have for some time now wanted to start a blog for the congregation. I would like to post my sermons for those who like to read on line as well as discuss issues that are central to the congregation. A blog like this can bring sermons, Scripture and events to the mind of the congregation.

I am aware that some of the congregation are not computer literate. There are other programs that can meet their needs. I am generally available to those who are more senior to discuss the issues in the congregation. But many of us do not have time to “drop by” the office or even set up a meeting with me to chat about things that under gird our faith. What I am hoping to do is provide a place where everyone who has internet access can follow such a blog and comment on the articles. Blogs often are places where community develops.

Facebook for the Congregation might be a good place, but I find that Facebook does not provide the place where we can go deeper than just facile comments. It does not provide a place where we can follow a topic that permits people to give feed back.

For A Season is my personal blog. On it I have discussed my feelings or my ideas. The title of the blog comes from Scripture—Ecclesiastes 2 ff. But it was with these words that the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church at our 2006 General Convention used to put a moratorium on the ordination of LGBT members as bishop and developing blessings for same-sex couples. For those of us who are part of that lgbt minority it was a devastating blow. Just last week, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church reversed that decision and the season of waiting is over.

For A Season also became a place three years ago to grapple with the issues of being a pastor of a Lutheran Church. Over the past few months, I have found that what I thought would be interesting about working in a tradition not my own, would be interesting to the congregation. I am finding that it is not—in fact it seems to tear at the thread of community for some members of the community. So I probably need to develop a place where issues that are completely centered on life at St. Luke’s can be addressed.

A congregational blog would be one which I would be presenting topics that are pertinent to the life of the congregation, issues that are discussed at ministerium, discussions developed at various Lutheran or Episcopal clergy gatherings or theological issues that I have read about.

I know that several members of the congregation both real and virtual read this blog. I would invite you to comment as you would like. I do not mind pseudonyms or nicknames. I merely ask that you do not post anonymously so that if there is a thread that develops I can keep track of who is posting. I will not tolerate inappropriate language as there are too many with varying sensibilities who read this blog. But if you want to comment, go to the bottom of the article, click on comments. It will ask you to sign in. Just give them the information that they need—Blogger does not publish this info. But I will be able to see, if I need to, who is commenting on the church’s blog. I will moderate and eliminate any comments that are inappropriate or abusive. Blogs do not cost anything to the blogger so it will not be an expense to the congregation at all. But it will be a place where folks can ask questions, make statements at their leisure and I can respond at a time that is not frazzled such as before church services, or when there are many people vying for my attention.

I would appreciate any comments.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Struggling With Faith

I have always found it difficult to understand those who would opt for and easy faith, an understanding of Christianity that is “nice” rather than a continuous call to renewal and hard work of living the life of change and justice that I perceive Christ’ s life incarnates. This difficulty has often put me at odds with those who would opt for a ‘simple faith’ or a ‘Jesus-and-me’ religion that serves no one, certainly not God, but themselves. It is the kind of popular religion that is bandied about by independent churches that have no rootedness in the apostolic faith that is characterized by the mainline denominations.

The history of Christianity bears out that Christianity has changed quite significantly over the past 2000+ years. From the days of the apostles in which some Christian communities lived communal lives through the imperialization of the Church during its Byzantine era, through the medieval era with its embracing of the magical, the reformation’s rejection of that magical era to the present day, the message of Jesus was to repent and to trust in the one and only God of the people of Israel. It was a faith that was based in hope and rooted in a man who incarnated God so that we humans could imagine how we humans can live together with integrity and peace.

However, I often find churches filled with those who learned something about Jesus in their school years and have not bothered to read Scripture, study the faith, or even understand the history of their church who would prefer to hold the church hostage to a facile faith, a cheap imitation of the life that Christ offers. And it is usually those who find the most fault with their preachers, create unrest in the church and live lives that belie the faith that they think they profess.
Over the past 75 to 100 years, Christianity has undergone some incredible new learning. With the development of the sciences of archeology, philology, linguistics and historical scholarship, the incredible finds of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammani library, the knowledge that informs our faith has grown exponentially. There has been more study of the Bible in the past 100 years than at any other time in history. And yet there are those who would prefer to exclude any such information from faith matters. Like those who prefer to embrace that the earth was created in seven 24hour days rather than engage God in that wondrous wrestling with knowledge that is at the center of educated faith.
Granted, faith is a gift from God. It is not something that I can even initiate. It is God’s grace that allows me to grapple with what it means to believe. But it is incumbent upon me to stay current. Salvation does not require our assent, but it I often wonder about those adults who never allow themselves to be engaged by Scripture, never open themselves to the ever-growing understanding of faith through scholarship, and never question their faith to make it stronger.
It is not for nothing that Jacob wrestled with God. Our relationship with God is not passive. It is not just a matter of being ‘nice’ and saying the right things. Faith is learning day in and day out how to trust in God for all our needs. Faith is a wrestling with ethical issues to form consciences that tell me how to live in a world in which addiction assails our children, war warps our young men and women, financial irresponsibility and speculation allows CEO’s millions of dollars at the same time as they are laying off thousands of workers. It is our relationship with God that calls forth from me a conscience in how I pastor, how I preach, and how I live in the world.

I attended a good seminary, studied beyond that Master’s degree and went on for a doctorate not because I wanted letters behind my name, but because I felt I could best serve others if I understood the complexities of what it meant to believe. But when I try to teach what I have learned, I find that the majority of the church would rather be ignorant. They got all they needed in their confirmation class when they were 14. They even become upset when some new archeological find disturbs their well-constructed ignorance and blame the preacher when they have to struggle with a new find.

Salvation is not the sum total of my faith life. Salvation is perhaps the ground floor of faith. But it is the use of my faith that makes for a deepening of my relationship with God. It is the daily struggle with what it means to live with others, cheek by jowl, in the light of Christ’s love for me and for all Creation that requires something more than passively listening to a ten minute sermon.

Luther said that a sermon should not be longer than 45 minutes. I think I am safe there. But when I was in seminary we were trained to preach 20 minute sermons. It allowed for three points to be developed and addressed in the span of one sermon. The attention span of congregants has gotten much shorter. Partly this is due to television and sound bite news reporting. However grappling with faith is not a twitter or a tweet. It is a profound engagement with difficult issues. It is not merely Law and Gospel or repentance and hope. It is nourishment for those who dare encounter God incarnated in the lives of those around them.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Friday Five: GAMES!

Jan is looking at games for the family vacation. I am not much of games player. But it is fun to do this Friday Five.
In less than three weeks, my family, including children and their partners, will be gathering in Seattle, WA for 12 days. After various days in Seattle sightseeing and in Bellingham seeing family, we will travel to the coast of Washington State to spend three nights in a large rented house. With nine adults (from almost 20 years old and up), I am thinking that we need to have some activities pre-planned--like GAMES! (Any ideas will be appreciated.)

So this Friday Five is about games, so play on ahead. . . .

1. Childhood games?
When I was a child, we played pickup games of baseball, football, whatever we had on hand. Some of us had equipment and some of us did not. I learned to catch softballs without a glove before my folks had enough to buy me a glove. After Christmas we would drag discarded Christmas trees to build forts for mudball fights. We learned strategies of attack and defend of which Sun Tzu would have been proud. We didn’t need any equipment for that. Make believe was an important part of our childhood games. Most of us didn’t have TVs until later in our childhood so we learned to play Cops and Robbers, G-man, Wonderwoman from the comic books or the radio. Of course we played Cowboys and Indians which probably isn’t PC anymore but in TX?....of course we played Cowboys and Indians! Our imaginations were creative and fertile. A finger was a gun, a broomstick was a horse and a towel tied around the neck was a superman cape. All we needed was another kid to play with.

2. Favorite and/or most hated board games? Because we didn’t have many board games I remember only parchesi, checkers, Chinese checkers, dominos and yatsi. Monopoly was a colossal bore for me. I couldn’t understand how you could charge someone money for just landing on your property. It wasn’t fair in my young mind. I have always been a communalist at heart.

3. Card games?
We played fish and slap jack. We didn’t have special decks then, just the discarded decks that some of the adults would hand down to us: Rummy, gin, poker with matchsticks, and later, cribbage. Finally, we learned canasta, bid whist and pinochle. I was never really good at them, but it was good for rainy days. J plays bridge but I can’t count cards worth a damn.

4. Travel/car games?
License plates (seeing how many different states we could count on one trip), Trying to find all the letters of the alphabet in license tags. We sang a lot too. All the camp songs were sung on the way to camp and back. There was no radio in the car during my childhood. I think I can still sing a pretty good rendition of Skidimerinkidink, Skidimerinkidoo.

5. Adult pastimes that are not video games? READING!! Reading funny books outloud while others are washing dishes, or fixing dinner. Doing the NY Times cross word puzzle as a community project. Somebody has to have a dictionary and an atlas. Handwork—knitting, sewing, tatting, quilting, while carrying on a conversation with others. Word games—scrabble, etc. I am a lousy speller so this is not fun for me.

Bonus: Any ideas for family vacations or gatherings? I still think that a good game of softball or red rover with all members of the family playing, or volley ball or badminton or even basketball HORSE are fun. Croquet can be fun if you have space. Even grandma can play HORSE even if she can’t run anymore.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Friday Five: Exercise


I just got back from an 8 mile bike ride down the beach boardwalk near our home, and was struck with the number of people out enjoying physical activity. Runners, other cyclists, surfers, swimmers, dogwalkers, little kids on scooters....

It's easy to lose track of my physical self-care in the midst of flurried preparation for a final on-campus interview Monday for a college teaching position in the Midwest (prayers welcome!) and the family move that would accompany it. But each day that I do make time to walk or ride my bike it is such a stress reliever that it is well worth the time invested!

So how about you and your beautiful temple of the Holy Spirit?

1. What was your favorite sport or outdoor activity as a child?

I loved playing soft ball. I wasn’t especially good at it but I loved to play. We had separated play grounds in those days—the boys and girls couldn’t play together and the ball diamond was on the boy’s playground. But on the block we had a good bunch who would play scrub in the street until they rerouted the busy street down ours. I loved to swim but there weren’t pools near us. As a family we went to Burger’s Lake several times a summer.

2. P.E. class--heaven or the other place?

HEAVEN up through 8th grade. I had a crush on my 7th grade PE teacher. But once I was in band, I had to choose between music and exercise in high school. Music was my life then.

3. What is your favorite form of exercise now?

I am a true couch potato. I have definite knee problems and have had since I was in high school. It curtails walking, running, playing sports. I have tried all kinds of exercise: spinning, walking, swimming, weight or strength training, cardio work outs, etc. None of them make me feel any better or do much for my spiritual well-being. And any lower body work will cause my knees to swell to the point that they will not bear my weight. Grrr. I have been to orthopedic folk galore. The problem is not necessarily the joints, they say. We have tried therapy for long enough even the therapists are bored, but to no avail. I end up with having to have shots of cortisone and I think that defeats the effort. The steroid isn’t good for my heart either.

4. Do you like to work out solo or with a partner?

So I couch potato alone!

5. Inside or outside?

I will sit and do online exercises of the mind and the spirit inside or outside. My summer haunt is the screen porch which is where both J and I hang out. J is there all winter too since she does not smoke in the house, but when I sit on the porch it is always up wind.

Bonus: Post a poem, scripture passage, quotation, song, etc. regarding the body or exercise

Sunday, July 5, 2009

On Being a Prophet in a Not-for-Prophet World

July 5, 2009

I generally do not title my sermons. In either of our traditions, sermon title sare not very important since we generally preach from the lectionary-that three year cycle of readings that most of the mainline traditions follow. But today I am making an exception and am going to steal a line from my friend’s Elizabeth Kaeton’s blog: This sermon title is going to be “On being a Prophet in a Not-for Prophet world”.

In the reading from Ezekiel we find in the call of God to Ezekiel one that is painful. Ezekiel lives during the Babylonian Captivity in the 6th century BCE. He had been taken into captivity when Nebukenezzer carried off most of the Judean elite to what is modern day Iraq in 586 BCE. The call of God comes to Ezekiel in this passage and calls him “Mortal” The Hebrew word is “Bar Adam”—son of Adam, Son of the mud. God tells this son of the earth to stand up and speak the word of God to the Jews in captivity. God also tells him that “the people are a stiff-necked people who probably won’t listen to you, but you are to tell what I put in your mouth” Now; I can assure you that that is a thankless job. It is hard to speak God’s word when no one is listening—when no one will pay attention or when people don’t like what you are saying. The role of a prophet is not one that people want to be. It takes God putting a fire in one’s heart. Or in Isaiah’s case, put what felt like burning coals on his lips so that he would speak. No, the role of the prophet is not a role that one chooses. It is a position that one cannot keep from doing.

A prophet in Hebrew thought was the mouthpiece of God. The Hebrew word for prophet Navi comes from the word for a hollow reed, like the reed that one made a whistle, or a musical instrument from. A prophet, then was one who did not play his own pipe, but became the pipe that God played. One third of the Hebrew Scripture, what we call the Old Testament is the writings of the Prophets. It was so much of Jesus’ tradition, that we cannot ignore the work of the prophets.
The role of the prophet in Jewish society was to wake people up to the message that God was still present to them. Whereas other nations had soothsayers and diviners who attempted to discover the will of their gods, according to Abraham Heschel the Hebrew prophets are characterized by their experience of God turning towards humanity. Heschel argues for the view of Hebrew prophets as receivers of the "Divine Pathos," of the wrath and sorrow of God over his nation. He says:
Prophecy is the voice that God has lent to the silent agony, a voice to the plundered poor, to the profane riches of the world. It is a form of living, a crossing point of God and man. God is raging in the prophet's words. (The Prophets Ch. 1)

Prophets always sound angry. There is a temptation to think that the Old Testament God is an angry God, but I would suggest to you, that it is not God’s wrath that we see, but it is the frustration of the prophet who must each day speak God’s promise only for it to be ignored.
In the Gospel reading from the Book of Mark we find Jesus teaching in his home synagogue. Why can Jesus can do no miracles in his hometown? It is because the people have no faith. They know him. Jesus’ family is not up on the social scale. After all he was just a carpenter—of the artisan class, not a land holder. They mention that he is Mary’s son—they may even know that Joseph may not have been his father. They don’t know what rabbinical school he attended. He is just a hometown boy. He doesn’t have anything to say.

This reminds me when I was looking at colleges, a small college in Illinois was recommended to me by a friend’s mother who was a school counselor. Mom had lived in the town where that school was. “Aw, that is a nothing place” Mom said. Even though it was one of the best small schools in the country, Mom could not countenance it because it was from the same place she was. It obviously couldn’t be any good.

Often the reverse is true. It is the person from the outside that cannot be trusted. “What does he know of OUR situation?” we ask. “Or we don’t know who her family is, how can we believe her?” We cannot trust the prophet so we cannot hear the words of God coming from his or her mouth.

If we are to be able to hear prophecy, if we are to hear the word of God in our world today we must find ways to have faith in not in the prophet, but in the prophet’s words. Sometimes we would rather to disregard or guard against hearing God’s wrath or sorrow over our sinfulness. We try to avoid hearing the hard words that God has for us. In the gospel of Luke, this same story ends with an attempt on Jesus’ life. The people of Nazareth cannot tolerate for someone to preach God’s law to them so that they might have to repent of their deeds and their attitudes so that God’s message of love, peace and acceptance can be lived out in their lives. All too often the prophets in Old Testament times were killed for their faithfulness. Often they were excluded or ignored. But their word lasted. Their word hung around the necks of those for whom the word was meant like millstones. It was written down because it was true and important to the health of the community.
Prophecy is that call to honesty and justice that is God’s will for us in the world. It is the guard against falling into the dominion of power or privilege. It is the call to step beyond ego and into the land of promise and hope. Prophecy is what Jesus lived out in his life so that through his death we might know salvation. It is God’s word. But God’s word is not just something written on a page, or a word spoken. God’s word is not a noun—it is a verb. It is an action, a living out of God’s goodness. It is the thing that drives us to our knees. Some would call it law. Some would call it Gospel. It is God’s life working within us that draws us to Divine goodness, that draws us to what is always life-giving and healthy.
Is our day any different that those of Ezekiel? Are we not exiles just as intent upon ignoring God’s love for us and others as were those in Babylon? I find it incredibly ironic that we are still fighting in Babylon today. I find that the lure of Babylon’s wealth just as strong as it was 2500 years ago. Is our day any different than those of Jesus? Are we just as tempted to ignore the call to newness that the Nazareans did? Are we just as tempted to pay no heed to the life of justice and caring that is preached today?

The call today is no different. We must be willing to hear with the same kind of action that the word of God is proclaimed. All too often we have become so passive that the word of God cannot not root itself in us. We have become spiritual’ couch potatoes’ rather than the ambassadors of Christ that our baptism calls us to. Or we are more likely to fight against the true word of God and try to kill it by trivializing it, excluding it or demonizing it because we do not want to make the changes that God is calling us to.

The Church, the world has become a Not-For-Prophet country. All too often the newness of our age is fearful. We cannot trust the prophets. There are so many prophets that it hard to know which way to go. But I can tell you that wherever there is fear, wherever there is lack of trust, wherever there is lack of inclusion, God is not in it. Trusting is hard work. It is not warm an fuzzy. To trust in the word of God, in prophecy is cannot be done lightly. It requires goodness of heart. It takes a willingness to let go and let God be the center of our lives and not our personal opinions, or past traditions.

In the Epistle reading from 2nd Corinthians today, we hear the writer of the epistle speaking about just this issue. Paul is speaking about what it means to speak Christ’s word. He doesn’t do it out of a need for power or boasting. He says ,
“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness. So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong."

It is in our weakness, whether we are rich or poor, employer or employe, laity or clergy. Whether it is in expertise or the way we have always done it, whether it is paying attention to that which is new or old, it is always God’s word that we must listen to. Most of the time that word is painful. Always it calls us to change; no matter how content we are with our lives, our attitudes, our education, our skills. It always calls us to change. Living willing to be moved by the word of God means that we must be willing to listen to the prophets in our lives wherever they come from, because it is not their words that they speak. AMEN

Friday, July 3, 2009

It's all about the look- Friday Five

Sally has said:

In readiness for my move in 6 weeks time I spent almost all of yesterday morning sorting through my wardrobe ( closet, I am so British :-) marvelling at how I had accumulated so much stuff! The result is three large sacks full of clothes to be given away. Some came into the category of " what was I thinking", some too big now ( at last), and others I will never shrink into again. Some are going simply because I want to streamline my wardrobe.

So how about you:

1. Are you a hoarder, or are you good at sorting and clearing?

Definitely I am a hoarder. I am not neat. There is a method in my messiness but not one that can easily be detected. We have moved stuff we haven’t worn in dog’s years from one place to another. Now we can’t do that anymore. When we move again, we will have to jettison piles. Sally, I don’t envy your task.

2. What is the oddest garment you possess and why?

I guess my waders. But that isn’t what you wear to the grocery store! There is something about putting on my waders that says “I am taking time for myself.” Of course I haven’t had them on for a couple of years. The streams are getting too hard to wade.
The other thing that is strange is my rabbat—that funny little clerical dickie. It is too hot to wear in the summer and I only wear it when I am looking “Ohhh so clerical.

3. Do you have a favourite look/ colour?

I am always drawn to turquoise blue or dark green. I love orange, but I am too big to wear too much of it. A blouse or shell. I wear lots of black—hmmm, I wonder why? I have been wearing clerics much less the past couple of years or wearing blue or pink clergy shirts. But starting this Sunday, I am going to wear civvies even to Church on Sunday. We are not air conditioned and it gets way too hot on the altar. I hate taking off my vestments and looking salt stained for the rest of the day.
I like today’s look of a blouse worn untucked over a shell. It does seem terribly “dishabiller” but it is comfortable. But most of all I love summer when even I can wear shorts and a shell to the grocery and no one makes a comment. But for professional attire, I like the professional look of a good pant suit. It also assuages my somewhat butch proclivities.

I am really unhappy about the over use of spandex in clothing these days. Jeans, chinos, even shirts have spandex in them and they make me soooo warm. I have not been able to find those really neat blouses or shirts that one could wash and wear without any touch up. There are those “no iron” shirts but they don’t breath. I like a 60%/40% blend and find it hard especially to find pants without having to pay $$$$.

4. Thrift/ Charity shops, love them or hate them?

Hate them—they never have my size!

5. Money is no object, what one item would you buy?

There are a couple of things—a good suite jacket—usually navy. A really good black suit and SHOES. I want good comfortable shoes and usually have to buy them online ever since the one good shoe store left town. When I visit my family in TX, I can go to the shoe stores and try on the things I like and then order them more cheaply when I get home. Once or twice a year J and I will go to the outlet malls and go bananas.