Thursday, September 30, 2010

Flannel Fortress

I've had a blast these past few years working with Augsburg Fortress and sparkhouse on Here We Stand, Lutheran Handbook II, Akaloo, Spark Sunday School, Lutheran Study Bible, and re:form confirmation materials.  The geniuses at AF put together a clever video that explains what they're all about.

Lutheran Advocacy

I received this note from Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service today.  God bless the work of LIRS and ELCA Advocacy.

LIRS is proud to stand in solidarity with Thon Chol and Elizabeth Anok Kuch, two former LIRS clients, who will testify today in Congress before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission about their experiences as refugeesfrom Sudan. 

After being admitted to the United States as unaccompanied refugee minors, LIRS placed Thon and Elizabeth into local foster care programs that help vulnerable migrant youth to rebuild their lives.

As young children, Thon and Elizabeth fled their homes to escape the violence of the civil war in Sudan. They became part of a group known as the Lost Boys and Girls of Sudan. They will speak today about the violence they witnessed, their journeys to safety, their childhoods spent in refugee camps, and their transitions to the United States. 

Click here to learn more about Sudan's humanitarian crisis.

Thon and Elizabeth will also share recommendations on how to to better protect and assist refugees overseas and welcome refugees to the United States. LIRS is honored to stand with the Lost Boys and Girls of Sudan, remembering the hardships these youth faced and celebrating the blessings they share with American communities.

Watch a video of Thon at the LIRS Facebook page to hear about his experience in refugee camps and the welcome he received in the United States.

Urge your member of Congress to support refugees like Thon and Elizabeth by supporting the Refugee Protection Act and other policies that would offer a better welcome to refugees.

Thank you for standing with Thon, Elizabeth, and the world's millions of refugees seeking safety. 

Consider a donation to support LIRS's work with refugee children and others seeking new hope and new life.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Low Expectations

Some members of the Des Moines area ELCA youth ministry network were the featured presenters at a monthly continuing education gathering of central-Iowa clergy.  The four of us spent the first hour talking about things we're interested in -- hermeneutics, social media, visual arts, collaborative ministry, and church renewal.  The second hour was loosely structured as a panel discussion, where the pastors asked us a variety of questions.  I left pleased; both in the quality of the presentation and in the warm reception we received from the pastors.

So here is where I start to sound spoiled and ungrateful...

For some of the people in attendance, there was a level of surprise (even shock) at the caliber of the youth ministers among them.  One of the pastors asked if we were doing Bible study with teens and was taken aback when asserted that, yes, the study of Scripture is at the center of our ministry gatherings.  Another clergy member told me afterwards, "I haven't learned this much about youth ministry since seminary."  I think this was a compliment...but it made me wonder.

What does the church expect of lay ministers, especially people doing children, youth, and/or family ministry?  Programming?  Counseling?  Theological education?  Cheerleader?  Resident cool, hip person?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Liberation Theology & Lazarus

This sermon was preached at Windsor Heights Lutheran Church on September 25-26, 2010.

In recent weeks much has been made in some social and political circles about Liberation Theology.  This particular expression of Christianity interprets the teachings of Jesus Christ in terms of a liberation from unjust economic, political, or social conditions. Liberation Theology sees Christ aligned with the poor's suffering, their struggle and hope.  To some, this sounds like Marxism or even Communism.  To others, this sounds like the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

I was first exposed to Liberation Theology at the Lutheran Center on one of this congregation’s pilgrimages to Mexico City.  ELCA pastor Kim Erno offered four Biblical arguments for Liberation Theology

The first passage is Luke 4:16-21

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
   because he has anointed me
     to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
   and recovery of sight to the blind,
     to let the oppressed go free, 
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ 
And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’

The kind of “good news” that Jesus came to bring is not for the wealthy, but for the poor.  He also proclaims “the year of the Lord’s favor”, otherwise known as jubilee.  This isn’t “jubilee” in the sense of being happy.  Old Testament jubilee happened every 50 years.  It was a time when all the debts were cancelled, lost land was restored, and slaves were freed.  In technological terms, it was, in essence, a rebooting of society’s operating system.

The second verse offered by Pastor Erno is Matthew 5:38-42

‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

There are several obvious aspects of this text (don’t repay evil for evil), and a few not-so-obvious things.

It’s interesting that Jesus specifies the RIGHT cheek. If a right-handed person (which everyone was back then; even those born left-handed) strikes a person with an open hand, their LEFT cheek is struck.  However, Jesus is talking about a back-handed, humiliating, demeaning strike on the cheek.

Another item of note is when in Jesus’ admonition to “go a second mile” .  Roman law dictated that soldiers could only force a slave to carry their pack for 1 mile.  So when Jesus tells the oppressed to carry the soldier’s pack a 2nd mile, he’s not just talking about an ability to endure suffering.  He is inviting the soldier into a relationship.  I wonder what happens between master & slave in the 2nd mile?  

The third Liberation Theology text is Acts 2:42-47.  Acts, as you may know, was written by the same Luke that wrote the gospel of Luke.

Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

This description of life in early Christian communities includes four components -- share your stuff with who has need, live together, eat together, worship God.

The fourth and final Liberation Theology text is today’s gospel - Luke 16:19-31, commonly known as the parable of the Rich Man & Lazarus.  This story, like the others, proclaims GOOD NEWS to the poor and oppressed.  The “moral of the story” seems clear -- rich people have their reward on earth and are punished in afterlife...and, conversely, poor people suffer on earth and are rewarded in the afterlife.  In other words -- rich people go to hell.

It doesn’t take much to find “good news” for the poor man, Lazarus, in this text.  As such, the first thing many of us do when Jesus tells a story is to try to align ourselves with the good guy.  In this story, we may find comfort in thinking of the people in our lives with more money, bigger homes, fancier cars, or better jobs.   

But, if we stop and consider that 80% of the people in the world live on less than $10 per day, then we quickly realize that most - if not all - of us reside in the other 20%...and, therefore, are more closely aligned with the nameless rich man than with poor Lazarus.  Which is a frightening thing...
Maybe we should take a closer look at the rich man.

An argument could be made that the rich man was “doing his part” by allowing Lazarus to glean table scraps in front of his lavish estate.  The practice of gleaning (which comes from the Deuteronomic Holiness Code) is collecting leftover crops from farmers' fields after they have been commercially harvested or on fields where it is not economically profitable to harvest.  Since the rich man had no crops, he instead “shared” his leftover food with the poor man.  If I was the rich man, I might say “aren’t I doing what I’m supposed to do?”

We often go down this road when trying to assuage our own guilt about the wealth we accumulate. 

“I give my $5 every week to the church”
“I help with IHN a couple of times a year.”
“I donate food to our monthly homeless shelter meal.”
“I pay taxes that support universal healthcare and welfare.”

Aren’t I doing my part to help the poor?

Maybe it isn’t about “doing my part” but about BEING a part.

Maybe Jesus is telling a story that underscores the importance of being in an authentic relationship with the poor, not just doing a few good deeds and throwing a few table scraps in their direction. 

But even that approach sounds like works-righteousness for the wealthy.  “In order to get into heaven, you have to do a bunch more stuff to, with, and for poor people.”

So what is the gospel - the GOOD NEWS - for the rich man in this story and, by extension, us?

*  * *

Back in Mexico, I met a pastor who had spent nearly 20 years serving a few upper-middle class congregations in Pennslyvania before moving to Mexico.  When we met, the pastor was in his 8th year in Mexico City doing God’s work among the poorest of the poor.  Attempting to be affirming and supportive, I said to him, “This must be the hardest ministry you’ve ever done.”  Without missing a beat, the pastor replied, “the burdens of the rich are much greater than the burdens of the poor.” 

The burdens of the rich are much greater than the burdens of the poor.

Mortgage payments...2nd mortgages...home improvement, trendy clothes...crippling credit card debt...communication gadgets and devices...on-demand entertainment...the right schools...the right club sports...the right music instructors...the right brand of coffee...and on and on it goes. 

Brothers and sisters, we are burdened...overwhelmed...suffocated by our own love of wealth.  And it’s such a pervasive part of our lives that we don’t realize just how much we are in bondage to this sin. 

Maybe the GOOD NEWS for we who are RICH is that we can be LIBERATED from the burdens that our wealth places on our relationship with God and others.  We can be assured that God, who is faithful and just, will be with us as we take steps to free ourselves from our dependence on our stuff.  Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 8:9 that “you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” 

Jesus died for the wealthy, too, and continues to lead us into a future that liberates us from the bondage of wealth and brings us into a fuller communion with all of God’s people.

Let us pray...
God may your word be fulfilled by what we have heard and by what we will do in response.  Amen.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Sweet Ideas

Leonard Sweet recently spoke with the LIFT Task Force, offering his thoughts on sociology and ecclesiology.  I took several notes, which I have offered below.  It's important to note that these are my notes, and not a verbatim recreating of Len's comments.  Many of his talking points can be found in the archives of his podcast, Napkin Scribbles.  I commend them to your ears.


Martin Luther King taught a course on Social Philosophy – had only 8 students
Everyone else at Morehouse Bible College “missed their moment”

What is our "moment" today?  Does the ELCA get to wear the IWT button, or an MIA button?
(IWT – I Was There     MIA – Mission In Action)

Two Problems
  1. Sociographic -- We have not claimed the moment that God has given us
  2. Christographic – we don’t know what to “lift” up

It’s in our Lutheran DNA to create revolutions.

The invention of the cell phone in 1973 created two groups
     “Immigrants” – born before 1973   
     “Natives” – born after 1973

We are in a TGIF (Twitter, Google, iPhone, Facebook) world; no longer a Guttenberg world.

2/3 of the world’s population is connected via cell phone
     - It’s not just western, educated, industrial, democratic that use this technology

You don’t get to pick your moment – and the church is missing its moment

Are we going to claim, for the sake of the gospel, the revolution that is taking place in our world?

The bell-curve is no longer the normal distribution of society.  It’s upside-down (looks like a well-curve)

The world is simultaneously becoming more local/tribal and more global/universal

 - Previous Model:  Rural --> Small Towns --> Urban --> Suburban
 - Since 1980s:  People are wanting to live in Small Towns --> Rural --> Urban --> Suburban (last)

People want to be part of an authentic community

People want to walk to church / store / school

We are moving away from “parking lot churches” to “pedestrian churches”

The new standard of excellence is not the quality of the performance but the quality (diversity?) of the participation

The interface that connects with
     Guttenberg Culture --> Rational ~ Linear ~ Performance ~ Principals ~
     TGIF Culture --> Experiental ~ Participatory & Interactive ~ Image & Story ~ Connections & Relationships

We are not a concert culture, we are a karaoke culture

The interface will only last for another 20 years

The worst crisis any species can have is a reproduction crisis


The “operating system” of the Christian faith:
     Mission --> go into all the world
·       How do we re-focus our congregations
·       We are presently more in the business of “come” than “go”
     Relational --> make disciples of Jesus Christ
·       Christianity is the only group that defines “truth” as a person
·       Jesus says follow me…and my actions (not my teachings, sound bites, principals)
·       We need to be in the business of showing love of Christ through relationships
     Incarnational --> be the gospel in all of the world
·       Christianity spreads itself as a seed, not a “potted plant”
·       Accompaniment

The church needs a “re-boot” – get everyone on the same “operating system”

Is the Christian universe really a you-niverse?

If FOOTBALL is the metaphor for the church, we need to move from defense to offense…and not spend too much time in the huddle.

A move toward a centralized church is a move away from Jesus (who always is found in the margins)

What are the administrative structures required for a TGIF world?

We are a church that has memorized VERSES and not STORIES.  We need to get back to telling stories.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

In Praise of Dishonesty

The lectionary gospel text for this weekend is the parable of the shrewd (dishonest) manager...otherwise known as my least favorite parable.  Fortunately, I was scheduled to write a Faith Lens study on this text., which meant I had to spend time praying, thinking, wrestling, and writing about this text.

Here's what I came up with.

Russell Rathbun has some good insights over on The Hardest Question.

Is this about the unjust economy of the world, about idolatry, or the ability to put myself above them?

What do you think Jesus is trying to say in Luke 16:1-13?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Important Questions

My friend, Tammy, sent an email to fellow friends in youth ministry today.  She quoted Hebrews 13:5-8 and then asked a few questions for our consideration.  Her questions are in bold, my answers are beneath.

How do we let the Spirit move us?
This only happens if we become a praying, meditating church.  We are good at teaching the intellectual nuances of Lutheran theology, but we are bad at teaching spiritual practices.  It's messy, awkward, and invasive...yet it's this kind of accompaniment that opens us up to communion with the Spirit.  We can't be called into action if we don't know how to listen to the Spirit's guidance. 

Are we willing to get out of the way?
Probably not.  We create systems and structures to try to make order out of chaos, but we ultimately become wedded to the institution and not the Spirit's moving presence.  We aren't nimble enough to do this effectively in a fast-paced, on-demand world.  This is the struggle with an intergenerational institution.  There are at least four generations that gather for worship in any given congregation on any given weekend.  We're lucky if two of those generations are pleased with our ecclesiology.  This is the great challenge of institutions in our day.

Where is God calling us to action?
I think God still calls us to live out our baptism in the promises we make when we affirm our baptism:
to live among God’s faithful people,
to hear his Word and share in his supper,
to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed,
to serve all people, following the example of our Lord Jesus,
and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.

How can we be content with what we have while learning new ways to be the church?
This is where the church becomes very contextual.  Congregations are going to have to figure out what THEY are content with and discern the new ways THEY can be the church.  This can't come from synodical, regional, or national structures (though they can provide guidance and support)...this must be a natural outgrowth of the congregations vision for ministry in their particular context.

How can we help bring healing?
Healing only comes about when a diagnosis is made.  In other words, we have to figure out what is ailing us before we can heal our illness.  This is why the LIFT task force is so important.  Once a diagnosis is made, we can than move towards healing by looking at existing aspects of "the body" that are healthy.  SYMBOL is a prime example of how "the new church" can be structured.  It's a network of people, called to a particular ministry in a particular context, which exists to support one another and partner in ministry.  Members of SYMBOL are, in many ways, "in-but-not-of" the larger church structure.  Many SYMBOL members are on a synod staff, and yet they relate to each other in very organic, un-structured ways.

This is where my heart and mind are residing these days.  I'm interested to know what you think.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Who is This For?

One of the finest sermons (especially in light of the context) I've heard in a long time...especially the last two paragraphs, which reduced me to a pile of spiritual rubble.  I'm blessed to be serving at a church where the gospel is being proclaimed in all its messy fullness.  Thanks for the Word, Pastor Chris.

Pentecost 13C—August 29, 2010
Rev. Christopher D. Olkiewicz
Windsor Heights Lutheran Church

What would happen if the North Pole and the South Pole were reversed? Well, among a lot of other really ugly things, your compass would no longer work.  Magnetic north would become south, and south would become north, and you would need a new compass to navigate this new reality. It’s something like that that Jesus is up to in today’s gospel reading. And it’s something like that that Jesus is up to because it is what God is up to in the world - reversing the poles, turning things upside down.

“On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.” There is no better recipe for conflict than that. Jesus, who has gotten into all kinds of trouble for doing unauthorized things on the sabbath, is invited to have dinner with a group of Pharisees, with whom Jesus has been constantly arguing, on the sabbath. If Jesus dines with Pharisees on the sabbath, you know sparks are gonna fly.

Further we hear that the Pharisees are “watching him closely.” You get the feeling that this is a kind of setup—that Jesus’ opponents are trying to trap him so that they can point their fingers and wag their tongues (and maybe worse).

The guests at the banquet are all (or mostly) Pharisees. We can assume this because in the ancient world, invitations to banquets were given to people of the same social rank. Your identity and your place among your peers were legitimated by being on the guest list. I’m not sure that dinner parties in our time are so much different. We tend to invite our friends, family, and people who are like us into our homes for dinner.

As this gathering of Pharisees comes together, Jesus notices how they are jockeying for position at the table, angling for the places of honor, because where you sat at the table said something about your importance. So Jesus tells a story.  Look out! Sparks are about to fly.

“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host . . . [for the host] may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place.” 

At first this sounds like pretty conventional wisdom. Don’t assume too much for yourself. Don’t take something that needs to be given to you. You might embarrass yourself. It’s good advice like that of the first reading:  “Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great; for it is better to be told, ‘Come up here,’ than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.” One of the most important virtues of the ancient Mediterranean culture is always staying one step behind your rightful place, so that you don’t appear to be too self-absorbed or overly ambitious.

But Jesus is hardly offering conventional wisdom. He does not say, “Stay one step behind your rightful place.” He says, “Go all the way to last place.” “When you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place.” That kind of self-humbling behavior is not expected. Humility, in fact, was regarded by the Greeks as a vice rather than a virtue. Jesus is turning expectations upside down.

Then he turns to his host, a leader of the Pharisees. “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends (like we do) or your brothers or your relatives (like we do) or your rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return.” Again that’s the logic of his culture: reciprocity is expected. Whenever somebody did a favor for you, it was expected that you would do a favor in return. Those were simply the rules of the culture to which Jesus belonged. But notice that he does not say, “Play by the rules.”

Instead, “when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.” Need I say these were not the sort of people one was expected to invite to dinner, because they couldn’t do anything for you in return. Furthermore, to invite people who were not your social equals would have been social suicide in Jesus’ day, because you will be shunned by your peers and won’t get any more invitations to their banquets. Jesus is turning expectations upside down. In fact, Jesus is turning the whole logic of his world - all the rules by which day-to-day life operated - upside down.

What’s going on here? Jesus is throwing conventional wisdom out the window in favor of a new wisdom, a new logic - the wisdom of God’s kingdom. He’s trying to replace the rules by which daily life is governed with the rule of God. Jesus has come on a mission to declare a divine reversal, to declare that God is turning things upside down in the world.

Let me remind you of the very first thing we hear about Jesus in Luke’s gospel. His mother, Mary, signs a song about what God is up to in sending Jesus into the world. Sometimes this song is called the Magnificat (“my soul magnifies the Lord . . .). Mary goes on to sing about God:

He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the
thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful
from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with
good things,
and sent the rich away empty.

If Luke’s gospel were a musical, this would be the opening theme song that declared what the whole show was about. Jesus has come to proclaim a divine reversal: the last become first—the least, the lost, the lowly, the losers, are invited up to the highest place. This is the gospel, the good news: God has reversed the poles. North has become south. Everything has been turned upside down. You can go on using your old compass, if you wish, but ultimately it’s not going to work, because there are new rules to live by in God’s rule. The last shall be first and all are welcome whether or not they can repay. God has changed the rules, so why not start navigating life with a new compass now?

Biblical scholars like John Dominic Crossan argue that the very earliest Christian movement began to grow because the community of believers dared to navigate life with a new compass. They dared to live as though the reign of God was really at hand. Resurrection stories in the Greco-Roman world were a dime a dozen, he argues, so the story of a God who died and rose again would not have been novel enough to attract outsiders. Rather, it was the way the community lived that attracted attention, especially their way of practicing a radical hospitality where all were welcomed and valued for who they were, independent of their rank or status or ability to repay.

The witness of our forbearers, it seems to me, is a challenge for the church today. As we think about everything that we do - worship, programs, groups, communications, website, etc. - we need to ask ourselves the question, “Who is this for?” Do we do the things we do as Windsor Heights Lutheran Church primarily to keep our current members happy and dropping checks in the offering plate, or do our activities focus on the needs of people outside the congregation? Do we seek to recruit new members because they are key to the ongoing economic viability of the place, or because we value them for who they are - whether they can “repay” or not - and because, like Jesus, we desire for God’s house to be full as a sign of the coming kingdom?

If our activities mainly focus on meeting the needs of members, then essentially we are being led by the desire to be repaid. Jesus calls us to invite to the banquet those who cannot repay us. Might this mean that we are being called to engage in ministries that primarily serve people who are not associated with the church? Jesus does not ask his followers to build a club where members are rewarded. He invites us to give ourselves away for the good of others, as he, thanks be to God, has done for us. May this be the compass we use to chart our course as a community of believers.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Winds of Change

The only redeeming aspect of cleaning basements, closets, and junk drawers is the joy of an unexpected discovery.  You know, that baseball card you forgot about, or the picture album you've been searching for, or the box of clothes that are so old that they're now in vogue again.

I had a discovery moment yesterday while relocating a bunch of VHS tapes at church that were occupying precious storage space in our TV cabinet.  Stuck in between the stacks of old worship recordings and the entire volume of Mosaic videos was something called "ELCA: Ten Years Together" - a promotional video made in 1997 celebrating the first 10 years of the denomination.  Naturally, I found an old VCR and popped in the tape.  This is the kind of stuff I live for.

The video featured Dr. Martin Marty, who offered his reflections on where we had been and where we were headed:

(Church) members who are not often articulate, and don’t often give voice to things, really like it when we deal with the basic issues of faith.  These people in the pews lead very demanding and often prosaic lives.  They are not trained, always, to be highly emotional and enthusiastic about these things, but they have experiences – they’re going to die, they’ve known love, they’ve known hate, they’ve known friendship, they’ve known doubt.  Most of all, they have a daily disappointment; but in the midst of that, they have a fresh sense that they are not alone in the universe…that there’s a vow from a God who cares about them…that Jesus is not a story from the past, but a living presence.
I think the defining ideal and goal that reaches me most, is the very thing Bishop (H. George) Anderson says in his book – “Making the most of who we are instead of dreaming for someone else.”
We are not going to be a church of mega-churches; we’re going to have a few mega-churches.  Most of us don’t have the taste for them or aren’t situated where two superhighways meet.  So why is that our ideal?  On the other hand, we aren’t going to live back in 1859 and 1950.  Why make that our ideal?  I think Bishop Anderson, before him Bishop (Herbert) Chilstrom, and a lot of the bishops, a lot of the teachers of the church, a lot of the seminary professors, a lot of the music people, a lot of the lay workers have been saying all along – “we really have a lot of resources to do a lot of things where we are…let’s make the most of them.”
By constantly quoting the Large Catechism of Luther that pictures the church as a little flock, guided by the Holy Spirit, that is called to be faithful, we will achieve a lot more than borrowing secular norms of how to grow big or nostalgic norms of who we once were.

After watching the video, I hopped in Doc Brown's Delorean and returned to 2010, only to find this Phyllis Tickle quote on Tony Jones' blog:

Q: What will mainline denominations need to do to survive and thrive?
PT: If one were going to put one adjective to the Great Emergence, and thereby one adjective to emergence Christianity, one would say “deinstitutionalized.”I’m Episcopalian, and I hear with the same sorrow as my fellow Anglicans that we’re shutting parishes every month now in the United States in the Episcopal Church. That’s alarming.It’s not just that Christianity is changing. It’s the whole culture. Have you looked lately at the number of Rotary Clubs that aren’t anymore or the number of Kiwanis Clubs that aren’t anymore? American Legion? VFWs?Institutionalization is being leveled. One of the characteristics of emergence thinking is there’s a flattening out.

I also read David Householder's sobering thoughts on the state of the ELCA, some of which I agree with (though he makes too many generalizations for my liking and comes across as jaded and condescending in spots).  This was the blurb I found most interesting:

We have over-merged. In the mid-50′s, when Lutheranism was thriving, we had a bunch of medium-sized denominations which were very relational (every pastor could go do every national gathering), and each one had clear branding and vibe. There was loyalty to their seminary and mission fields. Now we have two mega corporations which have no branding and spend all of their time fighting, because we are forcing together constituencies that don’t belong together. Former ELC pietists have no business slugging it out for turf within the ELCA with former ULCA East Coast types.

All three of these leaders (Marty, Tickle, & Householder) are pointing to the kinds of things the LIFT Task Force is wrestling with.  LIFT is asking for people to offer some future scenarios for the future of the ELCA.  This is a big task; one that will require patience and time.  However, this represents, for me, a major shift in the way church leaders are doing future mapping and analysis.  It's a big step towards the necessary kind of deinstitutionalization that Tickle is talking about.  It's time for Lutherans (especially the ones who feel disenfranchised or unheard) to take a few bold steps and consider:

  1. What is God calling us to be and to do in the future?
  2. What changes are necessary in order to accomplish these tasks most faithfully?