Saturday, October 30, 2010

Kudos, Bishop

On October 12 I wrote a post titled Seeds of Irony in which I (poorly, according to some) observed that the ELCA Churchwide Organization announced the reduction of sixty-five staff postions on "GLBT Coming Out Day."  Though the ELCA social statement on human sexuality doesn't "affirm" (my original word choice) the practice of homosexual sex, it has opened the door for congregations to call gay people in publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous relationships to serve as their pastor.  In light of this change in ministry policies, I offered this analysis:

I think lots of people - many of them unchurched - believe that Christian churches are full of judgmental hypocrites that refuse to acknowledge their own sin while amplifying particular sins of others.  The ELCA has taken a different posture, embracing the “simultaneously sinner and saint” dialectic and committing to live together faithfully in the midst of our differences.   I think that this posture has a chance to help bring about reconciliation and healing for people - regardless of sexual orientation - to hear the gospel in a new way.
What are we doing to capture the imagination and inspiration of people who think the ELCA’s acceptance of gay pastors is a really good thing?  

Some people on both "sides" didn't like my use of the word acceptance.  Nevertheless, the sentiment remains: after 15 months of absorbing crossfire for changes made in August 2009, I think it's time for many of our churches to think creatively about how to articulate this interpretation of Scripture to those that need to hear it. 

With that in mind, I was pleased to see that our presiding bishop joined the It Gets Better project with this video:

As I tweeted on October 20, I believe that "it is neither provocative nor political to be anti-bullying."  I'm grateful that Bishop Hanson has joined the chorus of people who denounce bullying in any form, especially to the GLBT population.

I also echo the sentiment of my Methodist friend, JP, who also had this to say on 10/20:

When I got bullied, it was by kids who shot rubber-bands. Today, kids are bullied in ways which would make most of us blush...
I don't know if wearing purple will really fix anything. But no one deserves to be robbed of their LIFE by those who think it is funny to push someone...often over the edge. Please MAKE time today to talk to your kids/friends about why wearing purple wasn't just a fashion statement...

Indeed, the solidarity of purple-wearing brigade and the words expressed by the It Gets Better videos are great; but they're ultimately meaningless if they don't translate into courageous action.  As one who was bullied by people who thought I was gay, I am grateful for the people who demonstrated God's love to me through their actions.  My parents...Calvin...Eric...Matt...Stephen...Jonette...and many others.  

My tearful prayer that everyone who is mistreated - especially young people - can be shown the unwavering love of God in the midst of their sadness.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Here I Am, Send Me

A pastor friend of mine (to whom I am related by birth) is preaching at a jr. high event next week.  The theme is "Sent to the ends of the earth: Here I am, send me."  He asked for some ideas of videos that would connect with the's what I came up with.

When I think of "here I am, send me" I'm reminded of the old Fogerty song, Centerfield.  

"Put me in coach, I'm ready to play today."

Continuing the sports metaphor, there are two movies that come to mind:

MIRACLE, the movie made a few years ago chronicling the 1980 USA Hockey Team.  Here's the locker room speech before the game against the Soviets:

I love the line "great moments come from great opportunities."  Young people might need to have their eyes opened to the opportunities that exist in their world.  Often times young people don't see the unique opportunities for being SENT.

The other great line (which probably boarders on pre-destination theology) is "you were born to be hockey players."  This could be tweaked to be "you were baptized to be evangelists." 

* * * 

HOOSIERS also has this great scene

"I'll make it"

Knowing the opportunities for failure (missing the shot, a bad pass, a steal, blocked shot, double-team) Jimmy trusts his ability and shoulders the responsibility.  This is the same kid that didn't go out for the team until the town voted to fire the coach.  

Being a "sent people" means being confident, assertive, well-prepared, and trusting the support of people who love you.  You might be able to do a little character study on Jimmy Chitwood and its implications for "here I am, send me."

* * *

There's also a great scene in FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING where the great leaders/warriors are arguing at the Council of Elrond about who will bear the burden of destroying the ring.  Through the din, little Frodo volunteers to destroy it; knowing it will likely cost him his life.  

Perhaps a great time to talk about Bonhoeffer and the cost of discipleship.  It's also a good example of how a small, young person can accomplish great things.  There's also solid examples of how community (the fellowship) supports the efforts of young people.  

It's a long clip, but I think it could be a marvelous example of what the event's theme is about.

* * *

As for any movies that have come out in the last few years, I'm afraid I'm little help.  There are, however, a couple of good websites that recommend video clips for Christian youth groups:

* * *

Koinonia readers -- what songs, video clips, or movies resonate with you on the topic "Sent to the ends of the earth: Here I am, send me"?  Feel free to share them in the comments section below.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Kids in Worship

Our congregation is trying two new methods of getting young people involved in worship.  Like all good ideas in the church, we borrowed/swiped these from other congregations.

Creation Station
There is a 15-20 minute stretch in the middle of the service where the sermon is preached, a song is sung, and a lengthy prayer is prayed.  This is a brutal time for parents who strive to simultaneously participate in the service and keep their kid(s) quiet during these subdued portions.

The Creation Station is a set of tables in the back of the sanctuary where kids can color, cut, paste, and mold items based on the theme of the day.  There are some coloring & activity pages (similar to a "children's bulletin) that are available as well.  During the offering portion of the service, kids bring their creation up front to the altar as their offering to God.

Joyful Noise
Shortly after a young child enters the sanctuary, they are typically given something to play with or eat so the adults can sing gathering songs.  The immediate message is "you might be in the sanctuary, but you are not a part of worship."  So, in the spirit of Psalm 100, we invite little ones to the front of the sanctuary to dance and play Orff instruments during the gathering song(s) and Gloria portion of the liturgy.  We mostly incorporated egg shakers and jingle bells, so as not to obstruct the singing.

We had a great response from members of the congregation after each of our three worship services this weekend.  Parents appreciated the chance to listen to the sermon, knowing that that their kids were still in the worship space doing something to connect with the sermon theme.  Many older folks (60+ years) loved seeing the PreK group accompanying the opening songs, and they really loved watching kids come forward to lay their creative gifts on the altar.  A couple of people even came up to me afterwards with tears in their eyes, filled with gratitude that we had carved out space for young people in worship.

It's worth noting that not everyone was enthusiastic.  Two people seated near the back commented that twenty kids moving around and shuffling papers during the sermon was distracting.  Another person, while pleased that the kids weren't very noisy, expressed a belief that Sunday School (not worship) was the appropriate venue for "arts and crafts."  Someone else wondered rhetorically why the kids needed to be moving around so much and why they couldn't just sit still in the pew.

I mention both sides, not to put a damper on what was a marvelous worship experience, but to be realistic for anyone who might read these ideas and want to implement them in their worshipping community.

What about your congregation?  How do you involve young people in worship?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Consumer Church

Great post by Brian Beckstrom about Opting In.  I love the last two sentences:
The good news is that (churches) may not be dependent on providing the most entertaining worship experiences or most tantalizing programs. People are looking for a place to belong, and as our understanding of hospitality and mission increase, we are in a great position to provide just that.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Seeds of Irony

Yesterday was National Coming Out Day; a day set aside for gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, queer, or transgender persons to make a public declaration of their sexual identity.  Attention was amped up this year because of the recent string of young gay people who have committed suicide.

The irony was not lost on me that the big news of the day in the ELCA was (for once) not about the debate over human sexuality, but about restructuring the Churchwide organization.  Yet, in some ways, what happened in the Lutheran Center was an extension of how volatile conversations about sexuality have become.  

Reductions in the Churchwide organization were a necessary response to these four factors:
  1. An economic downturn that has reduced financial stability across the country, especially in non-profit organizations.
  2. A cultural shift that places less emphasis on centralized institutions
  3. Denominational shrinkage, both in numbers of church members and congregations across mainline Christian denominations
  4. Congregations that have left the ELCA and/or withheld their financial support to ELCA synods and the Churchwide organization after changes to ministry policies were approved at the 2009 Churchwide Assembly.

In the 14 months that the ELCA officially became “gay-affirming” there have been many more individuals and organizations that have reduced their giving than have increased their giving.  

Whether people like it or not, the ELCA is the largest Christian denomination that allows congregations to call openly gay persons in “monogamous, life-long, publicly accountable relationships” to serve as pastor.

And we aren’t capitalizing on it.  

We are, as Len Sweet says, “missing our moment.”

I think lots of people - many of them unchurched - believe that Christian churches are full of judgmental hypocrites that refuse to acknowledge their own sin while amplifying particular sins of others.  The ELCA has taken a different posture, embracing the “simultaneously sinner and saint” dialectic and committing to live together faithfully in the midst of our differences.   I think that this posture has a chance to help bring about reconciliation and healing for people - regardless of sexual orientation - to hear the gospel in a new way.

What are we doing to capture the imagination and inspiration of people who think the ELCA’s acceptance of gay pastors is a really good thing?  

We are certainly good at licking our wounds and grieving the loss of people who think we are apostate.  Perhaps it’s time to be more creative about how we engage the world.  

I’ve said it many times -- the Lutheran expression of Christianity just might be the perfect vehicle to bring the gospel to an emerging, post-modern realm.  

The ground is fertile.  It’s time to start planting seeds.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Change of Seasons

“It’s a sad day for the ELCA.”

The is the sentiment held by many upon hearing the news that 60 full-time staff positions and 5 global mission positions have been eliminated from the Churchwide Organization. 

All over Facebook, people have expressed their prayers of grief, lament, and sadness for those who were affected by these cuts and for those who have been grappling with this decision in recent months.

I weep for the people that now face the dark uncertainty of unemployment in a crappy economy.  Many of the people who were laid off are friends of mine.  These are good people who have faithfully served the church in countless ways.  

If I put on my Pollyanna glasses, though, I think this could mark a very positive day for the ELCA and its people.  

Much of the conversation and research on the LIFT Task Force has pointed to something painfully radical:

The mark of a vibrant organization in a post-modern, open-source world is not a large national expression headquartered in a high-rise building, but instead consists of strong, healthy local expressions that network together for mission and ministry.

As such, the new Churchwide structure might be smaller, but that also might mean expanding the structure and function of congregations, conferences, synods, and networks.  My hope is that the people who have lost their jobs in the Churchwide organization can still live out their vocation through other expressions of the church.  

Becoming a smaller, nimbler church doesn’t come without pain and loss.  It also doesn’t mean that we have to say “goodbye forever” to the people who have served the larger church.  I pray that we can be bold enough, creative enough, daring enough to cast a vision for how we can embrace these 65+ individuals in the other aspects of the church.

At the risk of being cliche, I have spent the last few weeks dwelling in the Word that comes from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.  I think it's instructive as we discern the new season our church is entering.

3For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: 
2 a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 
3 a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up; 
4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 
5 a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 
6 a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away; 
7 a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 
8 a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Jack Benny: Lutheran Witness?

The October copy of The Lutheran magazine arrived on my desk today.  A large, caption-less picture of an old man wearing a suit, black-rimmed glasses, and a donning peculiar pose is the cover image.  

Having no idea who this man is - or, more important, why he's on the cover of The Lutheran - I asked one of my older co-workers.  

His name is Jack Benny.  

Bob Sitze alludes to a Jack Benny comedy sketch in his cover story, "It Really Is Your Money or Life." 

In one of his ageless sketches, comedian Jack Benny (right) is confronted by a robber's insistence, "Your money or your life." Benny defers for several moments. When pushed by the robber for his decision, the characteristically frugal Benny replies, "I'm thinking about it!"

According to Wikipedia, Benny's comedic character is "cheap, petty, vain, and self-congratulatory."  

So why am I annoyed by this picture?

Because Sitze writes a great article!  Here's the best sentence in the whole piece:

Heading toward simplicity means slowing down; living within your means; saving more, ramping up your understanding and practice of generosity; and finding satisfaction, serenity and joy inside of what others might think of as scarcity — all good ideals for the life of a reformation-minded steward of God's gifts.

He makes ONE reference to a dead comedian (1894-1974), and it becomes THE image for the primary publication of a 4.6 million member church.

Furthermore, this is the featured image on The Lutheran's newly formatted web site.  People who are visiting this site to check out the fresh look will be presented with images of...Jack Benny.

For Lutherans who don't know of Jack Benny, or his reputation, this is just another in a long list of occasions that the church is skewing-old with references that mean nothing to people under the age of 40.

For Lutherans who do know of Jack Benny, they have confused a frugal, selfish life turned inward with a Christ's call for a simple, sustainable life turned outward.  

For non-Lutherans who are looking for an identity snapshot, they will likely see us as a bunch of old tight-wads that are trying to cling to archaic traditions and images that don't point to our mission or identity in Christ.

If a picture is worth 1,000 words, what is being said about this?