Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Gospel Writ Large

I am unabashed in my affection for Nadia Bolz-Weber...but not because she's edgy, or tattooed, or "emergent", or even because she's unapologetically Lutheran.  I love Nadia because she is the pastor of the only church home my sister, Krista, has known since moving to Denver in 2003.  Pastor's kids can have a difficult time finding a place in the church; especially 500 miles from their hometown.  Krista's spiritual journey collided with Nadia a few years ago, and it has been fun to be connected to her strange faith community from afar.  In that time, Nadia and I have become friends - again, not because of our Lutheran connections, but because we both love Krista.

I was excited when I found out that Nadia was preaching at the ELM Rite of Reception service last weekend in San Francisco.  I knew that she, more than anyone, wouldn't make the sermon about anything other than the proclamation of the gospel.  It would have been easy, mind you, for a preacher to claim the kingdom of God is at hand by admonishing the "conservative, Bible-beating, gay-hating modernists" and claim victory over the "evil church system" that oppressed these seven openly gay pastors for so many years.

Instead, Nadia, citing the Parable of the Workers / Landowner, talked about the kingdom of God in these terms:

The kingdom of God is like a glorious mess of a kingdom where Paris Hilton and Hilton Perez and Fred Phelps and Fredrick Beuchner and ELM pastors and CORE Lutherans all receive the same mercy we never saw coming because we were too busy worrying about what everyone else is doing.

And again:

...the kingdom of God, is founded not on the quality of the people in it but on the unrestrained and lavish mercy of the God who came and got us.

And finally:

...what makes it the kingdom of God is not the worthiness or piety or social justice-yness or hard work of the laborers…it’s the fact that the trampy landowner couldn’t manage to keep out of the market place. He goes back and back and back interrupting lives…coming to get his people.

You can watch the sermon video and read the transcript here.

Tucked away in the comments section, but no less beautiful than the sermon itself, is a reflection from a prominent member of Lutheran CORE:

While I disagree with the CWA votes, while I disagree with the new policies, while I disagree with what happened in the service yesterday, (taking a deep breath), there is much in this sermon that I know is the Gospel writ large. Pastor Megan, peace be with you and with your ministry, now recognized in this church body that we both labor in and love. From South Dakota and Lutheran CORE, 
Your sister in Christ,
Erma Wolf 

Wouldn't it be great if we could stop all of the inflammatory, partisan bullshit and start treating others like brothers and sisters in Christ?  Wouldn't it be nice if our leaders and preachers wouldn't use the privilege of their status to tear others down, cast judgment, and exalt their own piety?  Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could find a way to live in the tension of our religious and philosophical disagreements without fearing the wrath of a God that we have made in our own image?

I think Nadia's sermon and Erma's response could spark a change in the way we approach differences.  I'm grateful for their witness and continue pray for the renewal of the church.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


I'm always amazed at how young people unwind after a long day on a mission trip.  For example, we stayed at a church in Huntington that used their basement for a Zumba / yoga studio.  We made use of this space by...well...just watch and see for yourself:

Irreverent...silly...spontaneous...somewhat dangerous.  Much like young people.

I love my job.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Ecumenism According to Cheers

I love this bit from Cheers, where Woody Boyd and his wife, Kelly, experience marital strife when they discover that they espouse "different religions" -- LCMS and (E)LCA.

Is it possible that Christians (especially Lutherans) sound this ridiculous when airing our disagreements?

Thanks to Erik Samuelson and Dave Brauer-Rieke for posting this on Facebook earlier today.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Where To Live

"Where is the best place to raise a family -- city, suburbs, or small town?"

My wife and I have wrestled with this question dozens of times since our oldest child was born.  Many friends have joined in the conversation as well, bringing their own perspectives on pros & cons of various places to live.  Most of the opinion is swayed by experiences / baggage from each person's upbringing.

The question arose again this afternoon when taking a drive through the country.  We came across a beautiful home in a tiny town, about 25 miles from where we work.  The house is currently owned by a bank, after the owner went bankrupt.  It was built in 2002 with 2,000 square feet, 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, 4-stall garage, 1/2 acre lot with a neighborhood sweet corn patch next to it...all for less than $100K.  Obviously, the allure of buying that kind of home for way below market value (and the possibility of living debt-free) is more than a little enticing.

But what about the rest of the stuff that comes with it?

The town has fewer than 1,000 people and has consolidated their school with a larger, growing community nearby.  We met some of the neighbors, who appeared genuinely friendly (sipping beer while tending their flower beds on a Sunday afternoon, waving at the crop-dusting airplane that flew overhead).  Across the street from the home is a park with lots of grass, some swings, and a big slide.  Simple, quiet, not much to look at...sort of like the town.  The focal point of the community is a grain elevator in the middle of town.  There are no gas stations, restaurants, or even a business district.  It's nothing more than a little bedroom community with a slowly blossoming group of young families moving in.

We have lived two years in a rural area, four years in the city, and the last three years in the suburbs.  There was a charm about living in a small community, though I often felt suffocated by the "everyone-looks-out-for-each-other" mentality.  The city was enjoyable for its diversity and proximity to downtown, though rising crime rates and deteriorating public school funding were concerns.  Our time in the suburbs has been wonderful, and we are by no means seeking a move.  We love our neighborhood, the close proximity to everything, the excellent schools, and (above all) our home...and yet, there are aspects of suburban living that are making us spoiled; and not in a good way.

My wife grew up in a small town of 2,500 people, whereas I lived most of my formative years in a community of nearly 100,000.  Both of us had positive experiences and would be comfortable raising children in a similar community...and both of us can see the benefits of trying something different.  In a way it's good to have lots of options, but it would be much easier if the answer were staring us in the face.

Which brings us back to the original question:
"Where is the best place to raise a family?"

There are so many variables in life (and in the lives of our kids) that it's impossible to predict the "right" decision.  Will Isaac want to go to a big school so he could compete against high-caliber basketball players, with the hope of playing D-I hoops?  Will Anna wish she had gone to a smaller school so she could participate in a variety of activities without narrowing her focus at a young age?  Will Evan wish he had gone to a academically diverse school that gave him an opportunity to take a full year of college-level courses before graduating high school?

At the core of this question is a desire to create the best possible scenario for our children...but it is also a futile attempt to exercise some measure of control.  There's no way to anticipate which teacher, friend, coach, or neighbor will make a positive or negative difference in our kids' lives.  I'm reminded of this every time I watch Finding Nemo.  The dad, Marlin, is a neurotic, over-protective parent who learns that letting go comes when your child is very young.  He also discovers that trusting his kid's ability to navigate the turbulent waters of life can be rewarding beyond words.

So here's what I think -- at the end of the day, our kids are ours to teach, love, discipline, nurture, and empower...and that can be done no matter where you live.

I'm interested to hear your thoughts on the the good/bad aspects of living in different kinds of communities.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Conservative Christians

In the days following a most unique mission trip, I have been thinking a lot about how a person's faith might play out in a political arena.  As one who is not particularly interested in politics -- I become disillusioned pretty quickly -- the notion of "advocacy" is something I'm growing into.  As part of this journey, I've been reading the Religion section of various news sites and blogs.  (As an aside, it's nearly impossible to find something that doesn't address the Glenn Beck circus.)  One of the most thought-provoking pieces I've come across is Mike Lux's analysis of "How Do Christians Become Conservative".  Here's an excerpt:

The Jesus of the New Testament was of course extremely concerned with spiritual matters: there is no doubt whatsoever about his role or interest in the issues of the day, that the spiritual well-being of his followers was a major interest of his. How much he was involved with or interested in the political situation of the day is a matter of much debate and interpretation. Some say it was a lot and others that it was pretty limited or, as conservatives would say, not at all. However, much of a priority or focus it was, though, if you actually read the Gospels, it is clear that Jesus' main concern in terms of the people whose fates he cared about was for the poor, the oppressed, and the outcast. Comment after comment and story after story in the Gospels about Jesus relates to the treatment of the poor, generosity to those in need, mercy to the outcast, and scorn for the wealthy and powerful. And his philosophy is embedded with the central importance of taking care of others, loving others, treating others as you would want to be treated. There is no virtue of selfishness here, there is no "greed is good," there is no invisible hand of the market or looking out for Number One first. There is nothing about poor people being lazy, nothing about the undeserving poor being leeches on society, nothing about how I pulled myself up by my own bootstraps so everyone else should, too. There is nothing about how in nature, "the lions eat the weak," and therefore we shouldn't help the poor because it weakens them. There is nothing about charity or welfare corrupting a person's spirit.

He goes on from there to lift up the issues that appear to be important to Jesus, including a relatively comprehensive exegesis of portions of Matthew, Luke, Acts, and James.  It's worth a read.  I'm interested to know what you think of what Lux has to say.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Keepers of the Mountain

This entry was written by Hannah Parker, a senior at Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, IA, and a participant on the Windsor Heights Lutheran Church 2010 Mission Trip.

Coal mining is one of the oldest industries in America. Does that mean it is okay to take away people’s homes and take away their rights as Americans? 

Today we woke up early to drive an hour to Kayford Mountain. It was a gravel road the whole way up. As we drove up the rocky, shaky road we were surrounded by beautiful scenery the entire time. We were following a man in a truck that had bumper stickers covering the entire back window. Larry Gibson is an activist for all the people whose lives have been destroyed or affected by Mountaintop Removal. We had been told previously in the week that this was a man that had more experience than anyone with the people who support the coal industry. When we arrived a small man in jean overalls and a plaid shirt got out of the car. Little did we know that, although he was small, he is a man with bigger passion and determination than I could have ever imagined.

I didn’t know much of anything that was going on in West Virginia before this point. Most people know that coal mining is a heavily used industry in the Appalachian Mountains but I never knew that there were problems to this extreme. Larry kept describing it as a war. West Virginia’s own war against the mining industry. It is a war. A war for the right to land, clean air and clean water.

We arrived at the top of a beautiful mountains surrounded by trees and greenery. He owns a house at the top of the mountain. In my mind I was not prepared for what we were about to be told. He sat us down at a picnic table near by and started to tell his story. He came from a family with a long tradition of coal mining but he knew from a young age that he would never do it. He grew up wondering how people could destroy the land around him. He told us stories of how people drive up the mountain to send him threats. A threat as extreme as drive by shootings and other harmful acts. Larry Gibson is known all over the world for telling his story to people. He tells stories of how the blasts send debris into his yard and cause kitchen cabinets to rattle and paintings to fall off the walls. He lives in a constant worry of what will happen next but these threats haven’t stopped his fight.

Larry takes us on a tour of the land. We start walking down the road and his shows us piles of coal that remain on the land. The coal companies have given several offers for his land but as he described to us, his land is something that can’t have a price be put on it. As we continue to walk we see other homes along the way. They are old and fairly dilapidated homes but no matter the shape they are in, they are someone’s homes. We walk up a fairly steep hill and come to a wall of greenery. There are signs posted all over saying, “no trespassing” and “private property.” We continue to climb this wall and over the hill we see the destruction of the mountains. We look down at the Mountaintop Removal site and the mountain is no longer a mountain. Larry informs us that the ground we were standing on used to be almost 450 feet taller. It made everything come alive. It was shocking to see how the land has been treated. 

As we looked farther we could see towns at the bottom of where all this is taking place. Almost all the people in the towns have some type of illness due to the air and water pollution caused from coal mining. The blasts can go off at any moment. It shocked me to think about having to live in a place with that kind of threat. I can’t imagine living with that kind of fear everyday. Larry Gibson is one of the most courageous people I have ever met. He is fighting for “the people of the mountains” and he puts up with all the threats against him to try to win the fight.

As we leave we drive back down the gravel, bumpy road back into town. We follow a truck that is used to haul the coal to the dumpsite. As we drive by we see the train carts filled with coal. The whole experience was shocking and eye opening to me. Here is a man fighting for something with more passion and determination than anyone I have ever talked to when I barely knew anything about the issue before yesterday. Larry left us with one goal. He wants us to make people more aware of what is going on in West Virginia and in the rest of the Appalachia area so that maybe something can be done to fix it. He doesn’t want his land to be a tourist site. He wants people to go out and spread the news about what is being done and find ways to fix it so that the people living in these communities can rest a little easy and know that the air they breathe in on a daily basis may not cause them to have cancer someday. He is fighting for his rights and the people’s rights around him and he wants us to spread the word to help him in a fight that seems like it may not end until the coal runs out.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

WV-DC 2010 Mission Trip Pics

Here's proof that the WHLC Mission Trip group is alive and well.

Hiking the Beech Fork trails near Huntington, W

Visiting our friends with the Sludge Safety Project

We have been shown gracious hospitality by several churches along our journey

Unwinding at the end of the day

Larry "Keeper of the Mountain" Gibson (and his dog, "Dawg")

Preparing for one of our many community meals

We have driven 1,400 miles in less than four days

Clean Mountain Water

This entry was written by Rebekah Reynolds, a recent graduate of Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, IA, and a participant on the Windsor Heights Lutheran Church 2010 Mission Trip.

Sludge is the result of the debris left over from mountaintop removal surface mining mixed into the rivers and creeks and eventually becomes part of the surrounding area’s tap water. Obviously this problem has greatly affected West Virginia particularly because of its abundance in coal but what is most surprising is that I live several states away and never knew that our country was struggling to have clean tap water.

We arrived at the center for the Sludge Safety Project this afternoon and were greeted by Matt, one of the full time volunteers. After talking for about an hour about what sludge is and the effects of mountaintop removal, several other volunteers arrived with lunch. While eating sandwiches and chips the three told us in more information Matt hadn’t covered, for example, they showed us several pictures of tap water that was blood red and water heaters that leaked water that was coal black. Although the colored water is something you would not want to see coming out of your sink, what is worse is when the toxins are in the water and the water looks and smells normal. Sicknesses have been linked directly to the water and complaints have been made about the water but awareness is low enough that sludge continues to be a growing problem. One of the volunteers struck me when she that the people knew the water was coloring was abnormal but they assumed that because the problem had been around for years the water was okay to drink. How could anyone think orange or red water is safe to drink?
This afternoon we walked the surrounding neighborhood and passed out information about the Sludge Safety Project and the upcoming legislative meeting. Although the majority of the homes we visited no one came to the door, the few that did answer were more then willing to listen and several knew a lot about the problems. The though of how large the sludge problem is in West Virginia is daunting but the few that gave their email addresses and phone numbers gave me hope that the SSP had a chance to help clean up the drinking water for the families of West Virginia.

At the end of the day, while shopping for groceries, we bought the movie Erin Brockovich. The movie is a true story about a woman who takes down a powerful company because they are poisoning the water of the surrounding area and as a result causing sickness and even cancer. If you’ve never seen the movie I’m sorry if this ruins it for you but her success against a huge corporations gave me, and I’m sure the rest of the group, hope that eventually a cleaner way to produce coal will be adopted and West Virginia will be able to pride themselves, again, as the state with the cleanest natural well water. 

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Mission Trip Planning

I work at a church with a long history of mission trips.  In the past seven years, I have participated in mission trips to Mississippi (5), New Orleans, Minneapolis, Denver (3), and Mexico City (3).  There has been a different focus for each trip.  Sometimes it's work projects...other times it's service-learning...other times we focus on models of accompaniment...and many times it's a combination of these.

This year, we set out to do things a little differently.  Young people were directly involved with planning the trip.  They picked the dates, cities, and focus for the trip.  The end result was a unique (and somewhat eclectic) eight-day experience in West Virginia, Washington D.C., and Columbus, OH.

Saturday, July 10
  • Drive from Des Moines, IA to Huntington, WV
  • Stay at Bates Presbyterian Church

Sunday, July 11
  • Worship at Bates
  • Visit with Pastor Robin Blakeman about "Faith & Mountaintop Removal"
  • Explore the foothills at Beech Fork State Park

Monday, July 12

Tuesday, July 13

Wednesday, July 14

Thursday, July 15

Friday, July 16

Saturday, July 17
  • Return to Des Moines

Some of the themes that will be interwoven throughout our week include care for creation, wealth & poverty, immigration, church & state, religious patriotism, and the role of political advocacy among religious people.  These are complex, loaded issues for young people to be wrestling with.  The 2,500+ miles we spend in the van will, likely, be blessed by conversations about these, and other, topics.

Additionally, there is a daily emphasis on spiritual practices and living in Christian community.  We will plan, cook, and buy meals together.  We will care for each other by listening, sharing, and praying as a group.  We will take time for individual Bible study, prayer, journaling, and meditating at the close of each day.

I have high hopes (which are different than expectations) for how God will work in and through us this week.  There will be regular posts on koinonia written by our group members.  I hope you will join our journey by reading what happens each day.