Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Team Thomas - 2 Months Later

ESPN reporter Steve Cyphers did a masterful job of telling the story of Parkersburg, IA and Coach Ed Thomas. I think you'll find it's worth the thirteen-minute investment to watch this video.

Elizabeth Merrill also logged an excellent article about the A-P football team, which includes links to additional Coach Thomas video footage.

Aplington-Parkersburg opens their season against Dike-New Hartford on Friday night. The game will be televised on ESPN at 6:00 p.m. CST.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

No Longer Red or Green

Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber (blogger, pastor, author, friend) offered a sermon today that incorporated both the appointed gospel lesson for today and what happened at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly this week. Reading things like this make me happy for the church...for the Luthermergent conversation...and for my sister, who is a member at Nadia's church.

Read the entire sermon here
...and then a young pastor got up to speak at the green microphone and the first thing he said, in a quivering voice was “anyone else frightened to speak? I’m shaking. Please pray for me” and the man standing right next to him in at the red microphone reached over and laid his hand on him and prayed while his brother of the opposing view point spoke. Then I knew that Jesus was really in between the red and green microphones. Not in some sort of neutral “Jesus as Switzerland” sort of way, but in the you must lose your life to gain it sort of way. Jesus is between the red and the green microphones…between the red and the blue states offering us life and salvation in the Words of eternal life and in the Sacrament of his own body and blood. Jesus right there between the liberals and conservatives speaking the word that the first shall be last and the last shall be first

Friday, August 21, 2009

Cigar Night

I'm not a smoker. In fact, I don't think I've smoked a cigar in over a year. On the rare occasion that I head to the humidor, it's usually because I have some heavy thinking to do. It's not a "victory cigar" (a la Red Auerbach)'s more like the reflective exchange between Bilbo and Gandalf in Fellowship of the Ring. My cigar nights are always spent in the company of a close friend or loved one. It is a time to ponder the hypothetical...share deep personal feelings...or dream up solutions to all the world's problems.

Tonight is the first cigar night that I've been alone...

...well, with God, that is.

I've spent most of the week following the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly on-line. As I've listened to the sexuality discussions in the plenary sessions, I rarely paid attention to the personal stories of those at the microphones. For whatever reason, I wanted to wrap my head around the various points of view on the issues at hand and not invest in the attempts of people to tug at my heart strings. I desired to sift through agendas, motions, and amendments so I could come to a clear understanding of what was being debated and how it would impact the church.

So it is odd that, as God and I share a cigar on this night, we're spending a lot of time talking about people...stories...friends.

We're thinking of the gay, life-long Lutheran who couldn't come to terms his own homosexuality until his church did.

We're thinking of the Bible scholar who desperately wanted to vote "yes" on the social statement on sexuality and the resolutions on ministry policies, but couldn't do it because of those darn verses in Scripture that condemn homosexuality.

We're thinking of the old couple who will never again call themselves a Lutheran because they feel their church turned its back on God's Word.

We're thinking of the woman who recently fell in love with another woman and will finally begin the process of becoming a pastor because she can do so without fear of being defrocked.

We're thinking of the faithful, devout, compassionate mother who feels like a bigot for not wanting to be in a church where openly gay people in committed relationships can serve as her pastor.

We're thinking of person who will start going to church again because the church has said that he's fully welcome.

We're thinking of the pastor who can't wait to bless the union of gay couples in his congregation.

* * *

It's been a good conversation. We haven't solved any problems per se, but it has been important to consider the personal implications of this corporate decision. Some interesting days lie ahead.

The cigar has disappeared into the night sky. Our conversation is done, for now. The conversations with the aforementioned friends will begin anew in the days ahead. I only hope that I will be able to speak to everyone with the kind of grace, patience, and respect that Lutherans have been able to show one another in these last few days.

"We meet one another finally, not in our agreements or our disagreements, but at the foot of the cross, where God is faithful, where Christ is present with us, and where, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are one in Christ." ~ Bishop Mark Hanson

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Sex or Scripture?

Many people think the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly is all about sex. Much time has been spent in the plenary meetings discussing the social statement Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust and the four resolutions on ministry policies pertaining to homosexual clergy. Local, national, and even global media have latched on to these topics, which gives credence to the notion that SEX is the defining topic of #CWA09.

Having heard much of the plenary debates and read hundreds of blogs and Twitter posts, I've come to the conclusion that this Assembly has very little to do with SEX and everything to do with SCRIPTURE...or, more specifically, the authority of Scripture.

Based on what I've heard and read, the Lutherans seem to find themselves in one of three groups:

Group #1 - Scripture Says No
There are many who are wanting to elevate the authority of Scripture within the Lutheran tradition. These folks feel that Scripture is clear that God doesn't agree with homosexuality. They argue there is no Scriptural basis for allowing openly gay people in committed, monogamous relationships to serve as pastors. Not only is Scripture clear on this issue, but these verses are and should be the primary place we look for guidance.

Group # 2 - Scripture Says Yes
Folks in this group believe that the whole of Scripture focuses on a God that forgives and redeems sinners and the ways in which they turn against God. They reference stories where Jesus seeks out the outcast, unclean, un-religious crowd and shows them grace and love. These people talk about the "old law" being thrown out with the "new law" of love of neighbor. They argue that it's not our place to judge what might or might not be a sin.

Group #3 - Scripture Isn't the Only Authority
This group lives in the tension. They believe that Scripture is filled with laws - some that we adhere to and some that we dismiss. They tend to look at the specific "homosexual" verses as well as the stories about Jesus equipping broken sinners with gifts for ministry. In addition, people in this group believe that Scripture is one of several voices that should be considered in debates. Church history, personal experience, and the individual & corporate discernment of the Holy Spirit are all equally important factors for this group. People in this group appear to be genuinely conflicted on the sexuality social statement & ministry policy resolutions, but tend to be in favor of their passage.

From my perspective, the group that is "most Lutheran" is #3. Lutherans believe that Scripture is inspired by God and functions as the "source and norm" for our spiritual lives. Scripture is instructive and faith-formative. It does not, however, stand alone as authoritative. Luther indicated that three things - grace, faith and Scripture - provide guidance and wisdom to the church. All three "solas" are gifts of God that carry equal weight and importance.

(Note: some reformers had 5 solas...and Wesley had his quadrilateral. All were formed under a similar premise that Scripture was important within the context of other aspects of a life of Christian faith.)

The Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust social statement passed by the narrowest of margins - exactly 2/3. As many as 3% of voters didn't cast a vote (for whatever reason). The four recommendations on ministry policies only require a 50% + 1 vote. It appears to some that the passage of these recommendations on Friday is a foregone conclusion. Still questions remain...

  • What is God's will for our church?
  • What role does Scripture play in our discernment?
  • How will the other 4.599 million Lutherans who aren't gathered in Assembly respond to social statement and ministry policies?

Your thoughts???

Monday, August 17, 2009

50% + 1

I got sucked in to geeking the ELCA Churchwide Assembly live-feed and simultaneously following the #CWA09 tags on Twitter. This was a fantastic experience for me. Not only could I watch the event in my sweatpants with my feet up, but I could read snarky comments from fellow church nerds as the plenary session unfolded.

The big debate at Plenary #1 was whether or not to require a 2/3 vote to change ministry policies. Roberts Rules of Order calls for a 50% + 1 majority. Some people felt that requiring a 2/3 vote would be more appropriate when considering the weight of the 4 resolutions proposed by the Sexuality Task Force. Ultimately, the Assembly decided to reject the amendment and allow ministry policies to be changed with a simple majority.

Confused yet?

For many, the passage of the 4 sexuality resolutions is now considered a foregone conclusion. People that I've spoken with in the past few weeks think it will be a 60/40 vote in favor of allowing openly gay people in committed relationships to serve as ordained ELCA pastors. Obviously nobody really knows until the votes are cast on Friday night, but I tend to agree with my "insider" friends. The resolutions wouldn't pass at 2/3...but likely will at 50% +1.

The contrarian in me thinks there has to be a better way to go about "being church" than to spend 2 hours debating parliamentary procedure...but I can't come up with a better suggestion. So, in the meantime, I will have fun following the Assembly on-line.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Eldora Experience

Unbeknownst to most people in Iowa, the community of Eldora was hammered with two huge storms this past Sunday. I had an opportunity to spend a few hours with some young people doing clean-up work on Tuesday.

Click here to see the pictures I took.

A few reflections from my time in Eldora:

  • I spoke with an insurance adjuster who told me that EVERY building in town will need a new roof
  • Most of the crops in Hardin County were wiped out by the hail. Corn stalks that were 7-8 feet tall stood only a few inches off the ground
  • Community leaders in town were very well-organized and ready to receive volunteers
  • We worked with a guy who was on vacation with his family at nearby Pine Lake. He intended to spend his entire week serving as a crew-leader
  • Over 1/2 of the volunteers we saw were under the age of 18
  • One man from Ames took the day off from work and brought his daughter to help
  • Many of the vehicles and all buildings looked like they were fired upon with machine guns
  • I can't understand why this didn't get much more attention in the press