upper room daily devotions

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christ Candle Reading 2008

We light the Christ candle in celebration of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the Prince of Peace, the Light of the World. Let God’s light shine forth, splitting the darkness of our making to bring God’s everlasting peace on earth and goodwill among all peoples. Amen.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Advent Candle #3 - Justice

Your light pierces the darkness of this world, shining with your justice. You come to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, and to proclaim Jubilee. You come to adorn the heads of the lowly with garland. In your presence, all the earth is restored to wholeness. We light this candle today joyously expecting you to come and break into our world. Christ is coming. God's kingdom is coming. Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Advent Candle #2, 2008 - The Way

Since the Advent candles serve only to count down the weeks to Christmas, they can stand for any theme that a church would like to attribute to them. Historically, certain of the candles have been given certain names like The Prophets' Candle symbolizing hope, The Bethlehem Candle symbolizing humility, The Shepherds' Candle symbolizing joy, and the Angels' Candle symbolizing peace. However, any themes or no theme at all can be used. They can simply be lighted as part of the countdown to Christmas. After all, that was the purpose of the candles for Johann Hinrich Wichern (1808-1881)who popularized the use of them - to help young children know how close Christmas was getting! Have fun with them!

At the church I serve, we are are using these themes this year: Hope, The Way, Justice, Peace.

Here is our reading for Advent Candle #2 - The Way:

We light this candle in preparation for the coming of the Christ child. God sent the prophets to prepare the way for Jesus. John the Baptist cried out in the wilderness that a Messiah was coming. Christ is the embodiment of God's light, love, justice, and peace. We pray to walk in the way of Christ, shining with God's light, brimming with God's love, embodying God's justice, and establishing God's peace. Christ is coming. God's realm has begun. And we are God’s children who are told to prepare ourselves and who are invited to walk in the way of the Lord as we wait in hope for that glorious day.

Advent Candle #1, 2008

Last year I posted the readings that we used in worship during the lighting of the Advent candles. Many people have read those reflections, so I am posting this year's readings as well. They are very similar to last year, but with a few changes.

Here is the First Advent Candle - Hope
We light this candle in a spirit of hope. This Advent season we prepare our hearts for the coming of the Christ child and for God’s realm which he brings to us. In a world deeply divided and often arrested by fear, the promised coming of the Christ child, the breaking in of God’s realm, and the power of God to tear open the heavens to come to us bring us hope. Christ is coming. God’s realm has begun. And we are God’s children who are told to keep awake and who are invited to walk in the light of the Lord as we wait in hope for that glorious day.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Churches and the Economic Crisis

The effects of the financial crisis have begun to translate into real economic hardships for everyday folks. As the Dow slipped below 8,000 at today's close while the Senate refused to bail out the auto "Big Three," people far away from Wall Street are beginning to feel the ripple effects. Our churches are made up of the same hurting people as those that make up the rest of society. As the old song goes, "The church is not a building/The church is not a steeple/The church is not a resting place/The church is the people." People in our churches have begun to hurt. How will we respond and how will the hurt of our people affect our ability to help those beyond our church doors?

Every year the church that I serve donates animals through the Heifer Project. It's typical for us to raise 10, 11, 12 pigs (we always give pigs). I was concerned that this year we might not be able to raise quite as much as people nearing retirement feel cautious about their pensions, as people in retirement worry about rising prices, and as those in the earlier phases of life worry about job security. And yet, we raised enough for 16 pigs! I was surprised and impressed. However, that was a few months ago.

As Christmas nears and I hear more and more stories of hardship I do wonder how we will respond? How will we interpret what our baptismal vows demand of us? How are we to take care of one another? Will we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and open and accepting of care? Will we retreat and hold one another at bay?

People inside and outside of the church are feeling the hurt of our current economic crisis. I don't keep a log of the number of calls I receive for help, but I can say that I have received a marked increase in contacts from people seeking help. I hear reports of food banks are running dry. I also am aware that as the city of Seattle creates its budget for next year, it faces some difficult choices given the economic report of our area; Washington faces a $5 billion shortfall as lawmakers try to create two year budget. How do churches respond to the need of their city and also care for those in its covenant community?

Reuters has a video on how the crisis is affecting the ability of churches to maintain themselves.

These are big problems and many of us are in small churches. I am hoping that this will be a time of loaves and fishes; that God's abundance will find its way into our communities. If you have any ideas of how to offer care for one another as our neighbors lose jobs, file bankruptcy, or struggle to make ends meet, I would love to hear them. I am also interested in knowing if your communities are doing anything differently in the running of your congregations in order to stretch the dollars that you do receive for ministry.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Tracing Today's Election

Today the US hosts an historical presidential election. A filibuster-proof Senate and control of Congress also hang in the balance. State and local elections also take place. Please VOTE!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Sabbath Poems - Wendell Berry

As I've been thinking a lot about worship this Sunday during which we will remember our saints and as I've been thinking a lot about the election next Tuesday, this poem by Wendell Berry came to mind. It comes from the book "A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems, 1979-1997." Every Sunday after church Wendell Berry walks the grounds of his Kentucky farm and then writes. This is the collection of the ideas and thoughts that came to him during his walks. Here is one poem:

"A gracious Sabbath stood here while they stood
Who gave our rest a haven.
Now fallen, they are given
To labor and distress.
These times we know much evil, little good
To steady us in faith
And comfort when our losses press
Hard on us, and we choose,
In panic or despair or both,
To keep what we will lose.

For we are fallen like the trees, our peace
Broken, and so we must
Love where we cannot trust,
Trust where we cannot know,
And must await the wayward-coming grace
That joins living and dead,
Taking us where we would not go--
Into the boundless dark.
When what was made has been unmade
The Maker comes to His work."

Thank you, Wendell Berry.

The New York Times on a "New" Kind of Hospice Chaplaincy

One of the most sacred things I do as a pastor is be with people as they end their lives. Rarely am I there at the moment of death, but I am very often there within hours of someone moving from this world to the next. People often want to talk about the most interesting topics right before they die - how they met their spouse, whether or not they have regrets, how their families should act once they're gone, what their service preferences are, how the weather is, why they liked certain foods, why they never did certain things. Listening to people - deep listening - is probably the most important things I do. It's how I best understand chaplaincy - listening. Occasionally people ask questions, but more often than not those questions are not for me.

Today the New York Times has a very interesting article on hospice chaplaincy. The article was written in part because of a sharp rise in chaplain services since 2004, nearly doubling in this time period. However, the article's main focus is a change in what chaplaincy has become. What does that mean? More secular, less religious. To me it just looks like plain old chaplaincy.

This article raised some questions for me. What do the authors think traditional chaplaincy is? (It appears they see it as death bed conversions or long talks about God.) What has traditional chaplaincy been? (Are they correct?) And how long as this "new" chaplaincy been around? (It's all I was ever taught.)

Like the chaplains in the article, it's been my experience that when someone who is not a member of the church I serve asks for a chaplain (me), then that person has at best a loose affiliation with religion. They aren't looking for orthodoxy or conversion. They are looking for confession, tenderness, companionship, and care. It is my job to help make the transition out of this world as painless and loving as possible. Perhaps I've only been trained in this "new" chaplaincy.

I encourage you to read about the rise in requests for chaplain visits and about a "new" kind of chaplaincy taking place in hospice care.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

"Father, Just..." - Communication Filters

I am in Fayetteville, Arkansas for the second session of the New Church Leadership Institute, which is a training to help people plant new churches/faith communities. I grew up in Arkansas, with a seven year interruption during which my family lived in Mississippi so coming back to Arkansas should be a form of coming home. In many ways it is and in many it simply isn't.

When I return "home" to Arkansas, there is so much that is familiar. I remember how much I miss the warm nights, the sound of crickets and tree frogs, and the warmth of the people. People are hospitable, intrested in you, and kind. I hear turns from phrase that I haven't heard since the last time I was here and when I hear them I hear my dad speaking (he passed away four years ago). And yet, even as so much is familiar and reminiscent of home, I realize how I have changed (although if you ask my mom or sister, I've always been a bit on the outside of the culture which reared me).

One of the great challenges that I have faced during these two training events - the same challenge that I faced when I attended the Congress on Evangelism in Atlanta a few years ago - is the contant necessity to filter and translate the language used in talking about ministry, mission, and even about God. Often I struggle to get to the speaker's core message because I get hung up in the colloquialims, cadences, and language choices made by the speakers. What catches me up?

*When people talk about "unbelievers" and "believers." I want to know exactly what they mean by that. I make assumptions and translate this language into what I would have it mean, but I'm not sure if it's exactly what they do mean.

*Talk about "bringing people to Christ." I never understood this even when I lived here. Is this simply a prayer, a profesion, or a new way of life in which a person learns to walk the way of Christ? Too often it just sounds like a profession - a statement with no long-term impact. Some speakers talk about a life of discipleship - this is language I understand. Is discipleship what others mean when they speak of "bringing someone to Christ?"

*"Lord (Father) just..." is a phrase that creeps into prayers. I never heard it growing up. "Lord, we just ask you to, Lord, fill ___ with your power, Lord, so she can bring the lost to you. Lord, we just..." I don't know why a little smile crosses my lips when I hear prayer expressed in this way. This is a perfectly fine way to pray; it's "just" that it isn't my way.

*Saving souls for Jesus. Hmmmm. I am a Wesleyan with a strong understanding of salvation, but there's something about this phrase that catches me up. I get hung. I pause and wonder if the speaker and I really mean the same thing. And, sometimes, I am quite sure that we aren't.

*When speakers talk of the supernatural. I have a strong and abiding belief in the mystical presence and infinite ability of God, but that word - "supernatural" - just makes me shake my head. To me, that relegates God to a marginal position. I clearly hold a negative feeling toward the word "supernatural" when used in conjunction with God and God's power.

*The conversation between the preacher/presenter and the congregation/conference attendees. I grew up in a United Methodist church in Arkansas. The loudest unplanned sound I ever heard was a hymnal falling off a pew. While I certainly visited many churches with lively conversations punctuated with "Well," "Preach it," "Amen" and other things; this conversation simply didn't happen in my white, upper middle class home congregation. But at both NCLI trainings, not only have attendees participated, they have done so vigorously.

None of these differences is in and of themselves good, bad, right, or wrong. They simply highlight the importance of language. These gatherings remind me of how out of sync I might be with visitors that attend the church that I serve, especially those who are unchurched or dechurched or who come from other traditions. Is the language that we use in worship and in our communications (newsletters, bulletins, etc) clear for everyone? I suppose this rambling post is really a reminder to me that I need to be mindful and careful about the language used in teacihng, preaching, and communicating the gospel, the mission of the Church and the nature of God in order to speak through people's filters and reduce the need for translation.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Religious Oppression is an Opportunity for the Church

An article came out today about the difficulties that Iraqi Christians face. Rather than stay in Mosul and face pressures to convert, Christians are leaving the city. On a recent radio broadcast, travel expert Rick Steves advised those of the Baha'i faith not to travel to Iran because the religion is outlawed. Earlier this year, Tibetan monks engaged in severe conflict with Chinese authorities. And, of course, we hear a good bit about the prejudices of people who still believe that Barrack Obama is a "secret Muslim" - whatever that means. Unfortunately, religious oppression is alive and well in the world. This month Bill Maher's movie "Religulous" sets out to show the inherent insanity in all religions - and it would seem that perhaps he has a point: If religion demands that one leave critical thinking at the door and incites within that person a hatred of "others," then why tolerate religion at all? Especially during a time of economic and financial crises when people are apt to regress, retreat, and revert to their most own kind, succumbing to their prejudices, isn't this the time for religion to shut up and sit down?

No. I don't think so. While religion can certainly be used to scare, oppress, demean, and diminish, so can any powerful philosophy, social structure, or world view. Religion is dangerous because it is powerful. And, power is neither good nor bad - it simply is. It's how we understand power and how we use power that reveals the worth of any person or any power structure. Jesus redefined power as life poured out for many. He set forth a program for the world that challenged the production-consumption society of his time, that looked the might of Rome's military in the eye and declared it impotent over him and his God, that told the people to seek a new power, born of the Spirit.

As religions begin to slide into their worst selves during this time of world unrest and financial crisis, there exists an incredible opportunity for the Church to witness to Jesus-power. Too often the Church has stepped away from the Jesus we claim to follow and we have embraced systems and structures of coercion, exclusion, and oppression. Even as early as twenty years after Jesus' death, churches became embroiled in battles over purity, inclusion, and identity. These conflicts gave rise to the letters of Paul. We have a two thousand year history that includes horrible acts of violence against Jews and Muslims, humanists, and animists. It seems that whenever a religion finds itself in ascendancy, it inflicts harm on the weak, the outcast, and the other. Christianity has no monopoly on this behavior, but it is to Christians that I write since I myself am a Christian.

In this time of upheaval, the Church and those of us who are part of the Body of Christ have before us a choice. We can slide into old ways of being, into old arguments, fighting old fight or we can become our best selves. My heart aches for the Christians fleeing Mosul who face death because they won't convert to Islam. How can we support these people in their quest to live whole and joyful lives free of persecution and oppression? How can we tend this part of the body that is hurting and wounded? Additionally, we can speak up for Tibetans persecuted by China. We can welcome our American Muslim brothers and sisters, challenging the prejudices held by too many Americans against them. We can pray for peace in the Middle East between Jews and Palestinians and between Israel and Iran.

Christianity is a powerful belief system. Our local churches need to teach a gospel of love and care. Too many churches teaches hate and intolerance. We allow ignorance to flourish; too often we promote ignorance among our communities. A faithful Christianity cannot allow vitriol to take hold, set down roots, and grow among us. We have a gospel to share and at its core is a message of love, grace, and peace. It is also a message of impatience in the face of intolerance, hatred, and violence. We have opportunities - as individual Christians, in our local congregations, and in our larger assemblies.

This year our church's ecumenical Thanksgiving service is changing into an interfaith service. Bill Maher is right - religion is dangerous. He is also wrong - it should not be abandoned. When our congregation worships with Muslims, Jews, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Buddhists, we will be declaring to the world the religious oppression is not inherent to any of our world views - not a part of our God - not a part of who we are. As a matter of fact, violence encouraged by religion is a perversion of any world faith. Religious oppression is the use of powerful and meaningful symbols in a perverted way to forward the unjust agenda of those who are unfaithful.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Bones - The He in the She

This week Bones dealt with redemption thru transformation by using a storyline about a pastor who undergoes a sex change.

Have you seen it? If so, what did you think?

Watch the episode here.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Happy Feast of Saint Francis

It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.~ St. Francis of Assisi

Today I am off to bless gardens, pets, and animals (i.e. animals that are not pets) in people's homes and neighborhoods. This is the first year I've done a "I'll come to you" day of blessing. It's kind of nice. People have asked me to bless ducks in their neighborhood pond, their gardens, their community pea patches, and animals in a shelter. Many of us have become used to the joy of a service of blessing, but this year when I thought of Saint Francis, I thought of the quote above and of his love for the least, last, and outcast. These will not come into our churches for blessing. I thought of homebound people who have only their pets for company, the local shelter, and animals in the zoo that are far from their natural habitats. I also thought of the environment as a whole. Later today I will go to Golden Gardens a bless the beach and Puget Sound, one of the world's most diverse ecosystems. I am privileged to live next to it.

Too often the church has tamed Saint Francis. While the blessing of pets is a wonderful and joyful experience, we need to remember the wildness of his love and the unwavering commitment to a God of radical inclusion. There is nothing tame about such a God.

Happy Feast of Saint Francis.

Biden and Palin on Church/State Separation

Katie Couric asked Joe Biden and Sarah Palin to speak to the separation between church and state. Here are their responses.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Nothing But Nets Featured on "The Colbert Report" - But Not Methodists!

I'm excited that this got such great publicity! However when Rick gave props to Bill Gates and Jimmy Carter I wondered when the UMC would be mentioned. It wasn't! Hmmmm...I guess that's how the ball bounces (poor net-related pun).

For that rare United Methodist out there that somehow doesn't know yet, the UMC is a founding partner (along with the United Nations Foundation, Sports Illustrated, and the NBA) of the Nothing But Nets Campaign.

I hope lots of folks respond by going to www.nothingbutnets.net and give $10 for a net.

Abundance in an Economy of Scarcity - This Week's Lectionary

The US economy is in quite a bit of trouble with investment houses, insurance companies, and banks failing and teetering on the edge of failure. Even government bailouts seem to have had little positive effect in curbing the panic on Wall Street and around the globe. Today the market fell another 450 points, which, in real money, totals $700 billion. That's a lot of zeroes. That's a lot of money. That's a lot of scarcity. Our lectionary readings for this Sunday may have more important and direct relevance this week than on other Sundays.

If you are following the continuous reading, this week's scripture is Exodus 16:2-15 - the story of manna from heaven. This lesson instructs, tells, and reminds us that God's economy is not bound by the economies of our making, which are based on a zero-sum society - a place of scarcity. God is a different power that makes life abundant even in lean times, even when we are in the wilderness, even when the stock market tumbles. Our text this week is not about a Santa Claus God, but a God that calls people to structure their lives around a different economy that believes in abundance such that all are cared for during lean and difficult times. In God's economy we both receive a gift from God and we are required to share the plenty with others. God's economy reorders how we structure the world and it calls into question our reliance upon certain ways of believing and behaving.

When Christians read stories of our ancient mothers and fathers, we often pass them over too lightly. We miss the depth of life they offer us. Even the stories that make for good Sunday School get dumbed down and prettied up. Take the story about manna falling from heaven. This comes right after Miriam dances for joy after the people pass through the Red Sea and Pharaoh's army is swallowed by the water. The people move from a time of joy at their good fortune to despair at perceived scarcity. They say, "If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpot and ate our fill of bread..." (v2b). Pharaoh's economy makes sense. In his book "The Covenanted Self" Walter Brueggemann says,
"People in our tradition of faith have endlessly struggled with a departure from the myth of scarcity, a liturgical, imaginative, political, economic act of resolve to situate our lives outside this powerful ideological claim. Did you notice I used the word 'departure?' The Biblical word for departure is Exodus. Exodus is not just a geographical event. It is an economic act. It is an imaginative act, to begin to live without permitting the necessities of Pharaoh to dictate the circumstances of our life. Pharaoh, then and now, is endlessly powerful in his definitions of reality, and it is not easy to depart"(pp 113-114).
Brueggemann finds the answer to Pharaoh's strong grasp in a three-fold communal response of "counter-practice" that is a turning away from Pharaoh. In order to break from the economics of scarcity, Israel had to "leave" Egypt, they had to "believe" that "food will be given" to them during their time in the wilderness, and then they had to "share" (pp 114-115). He goes on to say, "Sharing in covenantal solidarity is what distinguishes Israel from the 'atheists of scarcity' who turn neighbors into competitors for bread and finally into enemies with whom there must be endless wars for control of the bread supply" (p 117).

It's no less difficult for us to believe in God's ability and agency today. We live in a world completely circumscribed by production and consumption. Furthermore, Americans have created a myth about ourselves that declares the unlimited potential and ability of each person to accomplish on his or her own whatever he or she would like, if only enough work, know-how, and good ol' moxie are employed. In many ways this is a wonderful characteristic, but it has its limitations. It also inscribes in our hearts a reluctance to believe in the agency of another, particularly God. The idea of receiving a free gift from God seems, somehow, wrong, unfair, ridiculous. People get what they work for. People receive what they make in life. While on many levels we know that people don't always receive what they deserve - for good or ill - on a deep and primal level we do believe this. We have structured our whole economy, our whole lives, even our churches on this premise.

Is it possible to live lives of counter-practice when certainty has transformed into uncertainty? Can we believe in God's agency, in God's abundance, in God's economy when our own economy is in shambles? I believe we must do just this and more. It's time for congregations to enact policies of abundance during this time of scarcity and to make real in people's lives the claim made in the Exodus story. It's time that we allowed God to move among us in unexpected ways, offering us wonderfully fragile bread for a journey to places unknown through territory that can be daunting and stark. In the end this is an invitation to a life of Sabbath and not just a weekly observance of it. Receiving from God the necessary bread for the journey as a free and unwarranted gift is a radical departure from the normal way of operating. It is counter-intuitive; it is counter-practice. Sabbath, if you want one word for it, is God's Economy.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

In Search of Adult Curriculum

I don't know about other clergy, but I struggle to find curricula for adults that engage, teach, and challenge. I can't seem to find very many curricula that do all three. Oddly, engaging people seems the be the most difficult thing to do. The readings are either too dry, too academic, too emotional and not academic enough, or they contain incorrect information and I won't buy them. There must be small group materials out there that invite people into the journey of spiritual and faith formation - materials that are substantive and real and wonderful. I want these materials. People need them. People deserve them.

Over the past few years I have been delighted to see an increasing number of books and curricula developed for questioning Christians. "Companions in Christ" and "Living the Questions" have tried to meet the needs of these kinds of folks. I've used both of these with mixed results. "Companions in Christ" has tried to speak into the spiritual vacuum left by many curricula that only address the mind. While being a Christian entails learning about the Bible, church history, tradition, and theology, there is more to one's identity as a follower of Christ. What about prayer? community? forgiveness? grace? and call? "Companions in Christ" has dealt directly with these and many other topics. However, I have only seen it be a partial success. Some men complain that it's a bit too feeling oriented; it feels too "girlie" for them. I know that men need spiritual formation; they need to delve into the mystery of God, too. I wonder what would work better for them. Additionally, like "Disciple Bible Study" and other similar curricula, "Companions in Christ" has homework for people to do. Most people don't want homework. There are too many people who just don't do it. However, I have seen this quite successful in small groups of women.

Another curriculum that I've used is "Living the Questions." This has, by and large, been more successful than "Companions in Christ" with the folks I teach. We've used this series extensively. We have tried almost all of the series in "Living the Questions." People like that it is video based, that it deals with relevant topics, and that it stretches their understandings of God. They also like no homework! More basic information and teaching aids would be helpful, though. In the newer series "Eclipsing Empire" they used maps and other teaching aids that assist the average person in more fully understanding the material. Because this curriculum deals with difficult to grasp concepts, basic introductory background information would really enhance the learning experience.

There are a number of good books to use in book clubs/discussion groups. Increasingly these books have discussion sections at the end of chapters or at the end of the book.

Last, the Teaching Company produces teaching videos that give excellent information. While they are dynamic as far as lectures go, they seem to fall a bit flat for the typical class. I have loaned videos the individuals who have found them very helpful, though.

What have you found? Do you have ideas that will promote a deeper commitment to discipleship, challenge the mind, engage the spirit, and allow room for big and wonderful questions to arise? I especially want to know if anyone has used "Journey Through the Bible" and if so, how successful was it?

Curricula I already know; some are worthwhile, some not:
*Adam Hamilton's various studies - doesn't work for the congregation I serve.
*Disciple Bible and its new shorter "Invitation" series: We're trying to get a group for "Invitation to Genesis" - we'll see how this goes. No one will make the all year commitment for the traditional studies.
20/30 Bible Study - Young Adults: Great topics but the form and some content are dumbed down for older young adults.
*NOOMA - good conversation starters.
*Living Faith with NT Wright - This was so promising. It is so boring (sorry to be blunt).
*"Beginnings" - reviewed it but never used it. Both format and content did not meet our needs.

Successful book studies that we've done:
*New Christianity for a New World by John Spong
*Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time by Marcus Borg
*Walking the Bible"
"John Wesley: Holiness of Heart and Mind"

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Cleaning the Wound

I remember the first time that I heard about unethical behavior by a professional staff person in a congregation. It was while I was in divinity school. A person at a prominent church had mishandled money...big money. This ethical breach resulted in deep congregational wounds as well as a huge financial mess. Up until this point,I had never come in contact with significant unethical behavior in the church. Unfortunately, this was not the last story that I have heard about actions by lay staff and clergy that create deep wounds for individuals and for congregations. Of course, the media picked up on the sexual abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church, but abuse or actions that result in broken trust can happen in any congregation. Too often it does.

Since I've been an elder in The United Methodist Church, I have heard too many stories about the wounds left by clergy and lay staff. Sometimes the actions don't seem terribly bad even though they result in deep wounds. For example, there is the pastor who complains constantly about a packed schedule, but who really isn't busy at all. Who can trust this person? There is also the controller, the micro-manager, and the preacher who uses theology to further her or his own agenda. Who can trust these people? There are famous and infamous (as well as just ordinary ol') preachers who use the pulpit to deride, condescend, and patronize. We don't want people to trust this kind of leader, do we? And then, of course, there are the really big biggies: sex abuse, theft, and abandonment. Again, trust is broken and the church is wounded. It does the church as a whole an injustice when we don't deal openly and honestly with these realities. We, of course, don't want the public the believe all clergy are abusers (we're not), that all treasurers abscond with the money (they don't), or that all preachers belittle others and live as hypocrites (most don't, we're just human). However, our desire to say, "NO! We're not all like this" can result in acting as though these wounds don't happen at all. And, they do.

Covering up wounds does not help them heal. They fester under the surface, growing little green germs that will flourish in the most unhelpful times. Wounds need to be cleaned. Sometimes we even need to pick a scab (sorry to be gross), drain the wound, and add some medicine to it - even when the wound occurred long ago. Time doesn't heal all wounds. The church must come to a point where it can look at the hurts it has and perhaps even has inflicted and seek healing. The church must become able to seek forgiveness for the wounds it has inflicted, offer grace and healing to those who have been wounded the most in this world, and help those who have done the wounding to find accountability and accept God's grace for their actions. This may, and perhaps often will, be a painful process. But it is the healthy thing to do. It is my understanding of what Jesus did. He named the woundedness of the world and then he acted to heal it.

If your church hasn't dealt openly with issues of sexual boundaries, financial responsibility, appropriate care for the weak in your congregation, or sex education for the young, do so in times of relative health. Don't wait for a crisis to arise before talking about healthy ways to be in community. Once the crisis arises, people's individual wounds will be too raw to deal well with these issues.

If we begin to establish healthy boundaries, engage in difficult but healthy conversation about woundedness, and stay together during the messiness of this work, then we are doing real ministry. We are sorting through our sins and our shortcomings with grace and love. We are being church.

Does one group of people have too much power in your church?
Is there an uncomfortable silence about a former pastor?
Does your church have a past that includes sloppy bookkeeping?
Has your church had a series of short-term clergy appointments?
Does your church teach sex education to children that includes what good/bad are, healthy boundaries, safe touch, telling secrets?
How do you accomodate the special needs of people living with "disabilities" such as those who are wheelchair bound, hard of sight and hearing, and those who are in frail health?
Who receives your finance reports and how does the congregation gain access to this information?
Does your pastor know who pledges what?
If you call your pastor, does s/he return your call in a timely manner?
Have you experienced trauma in your past that makes you susceptible to boundary issues today?
Does woundedness in your past make you want to run away from difficulties, resist offering grace, or confuse you in knowing what is healthy and unhealthy in terms of limits and boundaries?
How does your church deal with GLBT people? If they are not welcome, how do you tell them? If they are welcome fully, how are they to know when so many congregations deride and demonize them?
Do you run background checks on people working with vulnerable people?

For more information on sexual abuse and the church, go to the Faith Trust Institute's website.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Worship and Sustainability

I am wondering how other congregations deal with sustainability issues in relation to worship. We are still a church that produces a bulletin to help people move through our service. In fact, we do not have integrated multi-media technology as a part of our sanctuary. From time to time I do use a projector, but it is cumbersome and ill-suited to the space. I am one of those folks who tends to believe that no high-tech is better than bad high-tech. But I digress...

On the one hand, I like the idea of bulletins - something for visitors to hold on to, to look at, to find security in. I feel lost when I attend a new church - as I did on vacation last week - and there is nothing to let me know what's going to happen and when it's going to happen.

On the other hand, producing tons of paper for a one time use seems very wasteful.

I have been to churches that don't use bulletins. They opt for a more media-oriented presentation of worship. Aside from whether or not this is a type of worship that speaks to me, I can't get in to those services because I don't know what's going to happen next. Therefore, our church most likely won't be dispensing with worship guides altogether. I did visit a church once that produced generic worship guides that included the general flow of worship without printing specific hymn titles and other details that change from week to week. These cards were gathered up and used again. This would require a fairly close adherence to the same order of service each week.

Paper, of course, is not the only sustainability issue that our churches need to face, but paper is the one thing that we waste more than any other material. It goes without saying that we recycle. However, we'd rather not use up trees in the first place. It's an issue of life stewardship, of living the care for creation that we preach.

Has your church begun to face the issue of sustainability, especially in relation to worship? If so, what have you tried? What do you find working? What have you found not to work?

As always, I welcome your replies.

Monday, August 11, 2008

"Crappath" - When Sabbath Goes South

For the past couple of months I have been trying to faithfully keep Sabbath. Every Sunday evening I light a candle, turn off the computer, and begin a day of remembering God's day of rest. While I know that the Sabbath is properly from Friday evening to Saturday evening, I observe from Sunday evening to Monday evening, and I have tried to stay clear and mindful about how I spend that time. That is, until this week.

One of the things that I do every Sunday is call my mom. I am, after all, a good Southern reared girl with a deep sense of family. I touch base with my sister and my mom. When I was growing up I remember my parents calling their parents on Sunday. It is a Sunday ritual in my life. Sunday when I picked up the phone to call my mom I saw that I had an email. For, you see, I have a Blackberry, which is a completely evil tool. I couldn't resist checking the message. It was a reply to an email that I had send previously in the day. And it was an upsetting email. For the past day I have been unable to stop thinking about it, about work, and about my shortcomings at work. In checking that email I tossed this week's Sabbath time right into the crapper.

I have really enjoyed the past couple of months Sabbaths. After demarcating Sabbath time from the rest of the week by lighting a candle and saying a prayer, I read fun books - nothing about work. I sit on my deck, listen to the trees rustle in the breeze, make dinner and eat with family, sleep well, and spend time with friends. I turn off the computer, leave work stuff alone, and don't spend money. It's true that I have struggled to find a rhythm and a set of rituals that feel authentic and right. Being a Christian doesn't bring with it easy to use observance related activities! I enjoy the celebration of the Lord's Day, but I also have been craving that sense of relief that I have discovered in observing Sabbath.

Today was a disappointment. My actions were a disappointment. Why didn't I just leave the email alone? My refusal to do so underscores how far I have to go in remembering that my work is not the most important work; God's work is. The world will wait one day for me to check email. And perhaps if I can learn this lesson then I can get back to observing "Sabbath" and not "Crappath."

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Neil Young's Hymn and Cultural Relevance in Worship

Churches can easily be caught up in culture wars. I don't just mean cultural issues like abortion or homosexuality, either. Rather, the cultures of many congregations are stuck solidly in the 1950 (or possibly the 1960s if you have lots of Boomers in the congregation). Culture wars reveal themselves in a number of places, most pointedly in the music we use. If faithfulness is the most important aspect of worship, it is vital for us to honor the power of cultural contexts without becoming divided by culture. We become sidetracked from our purpose: to honor and praise God, to be inspired by the proclamation of the Word, and to be transformed by God's holy sacraments. True worship isn't about us, it is about God and for God. The joy is that when worship is oriented in a God-cetered way, we receive the benefits - our souls are comforted, our spirits lifted, our hearts touched, and our lives transformed.

Several years ago Neil Young wrote a hymn called "When God Made Me." Is this a song that could be sung in your church? Or is it too human-centric and too musically dated for a postmodern congregation?

I've been wondering about how to maintain the integrity and power of traditional liturgy while presenting a culturally relevant worship service. Are there worship services equally comfortable with gospel, hymns from the 1600s, music from the 80s, and music written today? Every now and then I run across a worship service that deeply moves me. Usually this occurs when I find some kind of familiarity in the liturgy, a lot of honesty in the liturgy, comfort with silence in the service, a joyful expression of the sacraments, and music that is indigenous and intentional - intentional in its place in the service, its theology, and its musicality.

So, is Neil welcome in your service. If not, who is? And how does the overall liturgy include a variety of musical expressions that are found in our culture today?

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Gorillas and More Gorillas

It's been a while since I've made a proper posting...and it will be a little while longer before I am able to sit down and write about topics directly related to progressive Christianity, or, as I would prefer to call what I'm interested in, deep Christianity.

For now, let me highlight an article that is receiving wide attention. According to a recent census, the number of lowland gorillas appears to be almost twice the population size that scientists have been estimating.

This is excellent news, but it also raises concerns for the continued protection of and care for these animals. We now run the risk of people feeling more free to kill (I would say murder) them for bush meat. It is also possible that the strong laws protecting these animals may come under threat. Let us hope not. This is one of those rare times when we have learned, without caveat, some good ecological news. So, I'll just try and receive it as such.

People have asked me why I post about gorillas (usually the mountain gorillas of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, and Rwanda) on a progressive Christian website. I will admit the decision to post articles here is a bit arbitrary. However, the plight of the gorilla, especially the mountain gorilla, is a living example of the interrelatedness of life, the power of politics, and the consequences of actions taken every day taken by everyday people. I find this deeply connected to my faith and my understanding of God.

Life is radically interrelated. It is folly for me to believe that my search for cheap goods doesn't connect to slave labor, deforestation, or oppressive politics. It is important for me, for you, for all of us to realize that as the world's most active consumers, we have a power to affect the rest of the world in ways never known in the history of the world. This becomes, to use a Christian term, a question of stewardship. The plight of the gorilla raises for me real life questions of stewardship: Do I need a new cell phone that uses Coltan when my old one works just fine? When I buy patio furniture, where does that cheap wood come from? How much packaging should the West be exporting to Africa where they have even fewer options for disposing of plastic? What are we going to do about clean drinking water, waste water management, and the politics of water? Can't we make more progress on alternative fuels so people simply trying to subsist don't cut down trees for charcoal, thus destroying the habitat of gorillas?

The mountain gorilla serves as a symbol for me of how I am called to live as a follower of Christ. It reminds me of the covenant between God and humankind and our commission to tend all of creation. I could just as easily see a wolf, a sea turtle, a Western pond turtle, a sea lion, a whale, or a polar bear. These are all fighting for survival amid the press of human consumption.

I am glad to hear this news about the lowland gorilla and I hope for good things to come for the mountain gorilla. It would help me believe that humans can be good stewards of God's precious creation.

For more on the article, go here.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Elaine Stanovsky Elected Bishop

At 12:53 AM this morning, Elaine Stanovsky was elected bishop with fifty-three votes. I suppose I'll be getting a new district superintendent!

Here is an article from the United Methodist News Service about the election.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Western Jurisdiction Elects First Bishop - 2008

The Western Jurisdiction of the UMC is in process of electing two bishops. After sixteen ballots, Grant Hagiya of the Cal-Pac Annual Conference was elected. Voting continues for the second bishop elect. As of ballot twenty, Elaine Stanovsky of the PNW Annual Conference was in the lead with thirty-three votes. A thirty minute recess was called. Voting will continue later this evening. If you would like to follow the WJC's process, the Cal-Pac Annual is giving news updates after every ballot as well as posting other elections within the denomination. Here is their website.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Accountability and Membership

Accountability and membership have been on my mind a lot in recent days. How important is the covenant community to a member who attends worship 1, 4, 8 times a year? How has the church failed its members if some aren't compelled to come for their own spiritual nurture or in order to be with one another to "shoulder the burdens, share the risks, and celebrate the joys of fellow members" (BOD, Para. 218)? And how can the issue of accountability be spoken of with love and care and not in a way that is off-putting, shaming, or just down right annoying? This concerns me not because I want more butts in the seat; that will always be true. It concerns me because the strength of the covenant is weakened, the depth of relationships is hindered, and the nurture of people's spiritual lives is compromised if we aren't engaging in ongoing maintenance of the covenant-. How can we be a community if we don't spend time with one another? How can we be Christians if we don't study and learn together? How can we worship God - our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer - if we never attend worship? And, how can we attend to the hard work of being a community of the baptized if we don't live out our baptism on a daily basis?

It shouldn't surprise anyone that as a clergy person church is more than an activity for me. It is more than just one option among many that vie for my time. Is it possible to build a community of lay person who also burn with a passion for God's gospel, for God's realm, for God's dream for this world? Clergy are here to serve congregations; we aren't here to be the congregation.

I understand that laity have busy lives. They have children, aging parents, hassles at work, vacations, spouses and partners. They have hobbies, illnesses, and families spread all over the United States (and sometimes all over the world). And yet I wonder what the church might do better in order to speak to the deep places in people's lives so that they yearn to come to church, to join a covenant group, to study their faith history, and delve into their faith traditions. I wonder how we might jettison all of the extra fluff that makes church "work" and "superfluous" in order to get to the core reason for our existence. We don't exist to get members. We don't exist to build our budgets. We don't exist for the sake of clergy. We exist to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. That's pretty exciting. And to do something this exciting requires us to build and maintain a strong and healthy covenant community that rests on accountability within the membership.

If you have had a history of strengthening your covenant, of creating healthy accountability within your congregation, or of growing an informed and invested membership, I'd love to hear more about it.

Friday, June 20, 2008

I Leave Annual Conference More Mindful and Hopeful

The PNWAC held its commissioning and ordination service this evening. After a week of worship services plagued by technical difficulties, the abysmal worship space dictated by an arena, and a seemingly lackluster spirit in the air, tonight something happened. The worship went smoothly. Even better, it was clear that God was in our midst and something holy was taking place. Six women were ordained Elder (no men). Two men were ordained Deacon (one to permanent Deacon status, the other still under the 1992 Book of Discipline in a transitional Deacon status). And several others were commissioned for their work in the church. Elaine Stanovsky, District Superintendent of the Seattle District, preached a poignant sermon about baptism, ministry, and ordination. A choir of laity and clergy sang God's Holy Spirit into the place. Tonight reminded me that the Church is indeed a gift to the world. Despite all that we do to limit it, diminish it, or make it irrelevant, God continues to work in the world and even through us.

Tonight's service came at the end of a long and powerful day. Every year the clergy women of the conference vote to give a woman (often lay, sometimes clergy) an award for groundbreaking or pioneering work among the conference. At our annual winter women in ministry retreat we spend time in conversation about the good and holy work of women who have made it possible for us to stand in pulpits as clergy. We remember the lay women who served as missionaries when they weren't allowed the weight of a stole around their necks. We honor those who continue in mission work today. We celebrate women who have nurtured the whole Church, who have stretched it to be better and bigger, and who have been prophets among us. This year we decided to give the award to a lay woman who among many other things has championed the care of victims of clergy abuse. Because of the importance of her witness among us, the bishop also gave her the Bishop's Award. And, as a part of this witness a victim of abuse addressed the whole assembly. It was a hard word. It was a holy word. And, unfortunately, it was a necessary word. This was holy conferencing.

This evening the Reconciling Ministries Network hosted a dinner during which delegates to General Conference shared stories about the work of the denomination. They named the pain of that gathering and they lifted up moments of God's grace at work in our Church.

So this evening's service comes after a long and full day. I am proud to be a United Methodist tonight. We did good work today. More accurately, God did good work among us today.

I leave Annual Conference mindful of who I am as a United Methodist, as an ordained Elder, and as a child of God. I am hopeful for the church when I think of those commissioned and ordained. They are gifted for this holy work. And, I am inspired to explore my gifts more fully. I want, when people look at me, for them to see someone who embodies a faith that embraces pain and brings life. I want to be a clergy person who never loses sight that it is my job to remind those whom I serve that they are the ministers of God's gospel and that they have a holy task of proclaiming it for the transformation of the world.

I can't wait to go home, but I'm happy that I came. I am rejuvinated for my walk with Christ and my work for his gospel.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

When Parishioners Mock...

I have a new T-shirt that has the United Methodist Cross and Flame logo and motto "Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors." I wore it this evening to a church gathering wondering if anyone else might like to have one. It's a tasteful shirt - no cheesy scripts or weird sentiments. It's a white shirt and the logo/motto is small. Well, it became clear quite quickly that some people in my church just don't believe that our church has "Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors." One person asked if I was going to add the word "except" on the back.

Good responses and good question. I know that at at least a couple of General Conferences our denomination has debated the veracity of this slogan. What happens when the image that a church tries to project doesn't match the image that even its members have of it?

I realize that the congregation that I serve is particularly wounded by the church's exclusion of LGBT people, but are there others who aren't welcome? I also am aware that there are some who say that our "minds are so open that our brains have fallen out." And, are there others who experience a church with closed hearts? Could the Lord's Table be a place to set aside our need to agree so that we can all commune?

I love the heritage of my faith and I struggle with the current reality of my denomination. I firmly believe that God can overcome the frailties of the human condition; that is, after all, the core of our faith story.

Just so you know, I came home and hung my shirt in my closet. I wonder if I'll wear it again soon.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Some Thoughts on Appointments and Leadership

Every Thursday I join about eight other clergy for a text study. Interestingly, they are all Lutheran, with the exception of one other United Methodist and myself. Through the years I have gained a better appreciation for the Lutheran tradition and for my own Wesleyan tradition. I have also had the opportunity to understand more clearly how our respective polities support and promote different things within our communities. One thing I have grown to envy in my Lutheran clergy brothers and sisters is that without the pressure and anxiety that accompanies a year long appointment, they have more influence and more time to focus on mission and vision.

It is very difficult in the United Methodist Church for a clergy person to get a congregation on the visioning train. I mean, after all, the clergy person before tried to get them to to it, but she left in the second year and nothing was resolved. Or, they started a process three years ago with a different approach and a different focus. By the time a United Methodist clergy person has been at a congregation long enough to build the necessary trust, lay the important groundwork, and build strong relationships, more often than not we are moved. This is especially true in small churches which have shorter tenures for clergy.

Our appointment process makes a great deal of sense if we understand the pastor's presence to be primarily priestly and pastoral in nature. If the leadership resides among the laity and the pastor is there to teach, administer the sacraments, tend the flock, and lead worship, short tenures are fine. In theory, it matters not whether we are there one year or thirty years. The congregation itself provides continuity, vision, and leadership. However, if the pastor is going to be the primary visionary and leader, then enough time must be afforded for the pastor to become a trusted leader so that the vision gets shared, embraced, and put into action. And, it seems that pastors are being asked to be just this person - the one who provides the stimulus for and often the core content of the mission/vision of the local church.

It's time to shift our understanding of the appointment process. Clergy, congregations, and conference leadership need to enter into partnerships with one another so that our congregations can fully embrace the idea of being missional. A missional outlook is an intentional orientation to ministry. And, an intentional orientation takes time and risk, which require trust. Let's stop changing appointments every two, three, even four years. Longer appointments are needed... If clergy are being moved because of an inequity in pay, then we need to address that issue and not submit our congregations to continuous clergy turnover that results in leadership vacuums. It isn't far for them and it isn't a way to spread the gospel.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

the anglican communion and homosexuality: harper's mag

If you read this blog with any regularity, you know that I have begun the spiritual practice of keeping Sabbath. One of the first things that I learned is that I don't know what I'm supposed to do with my Sabbath time. If I'm not working, cleaning house, watching TV, checking email, or paying bills, how am I supposed to spend a whole day? While I still haven't found a satisfactory answer to this question, I have begun reading magazines, something I haven't consistently done in a long while. Last week I picked up Harper's Magazine, which featured an article called "Turning Away from Jesus." In the article author Garrett Keiser takes a good long look at the strains within the Anglican Communion and how those strains make their way felt through the issue of homosexuality. He begins the piece with the decision not to invite Bishop Gene Robinson to the Lambeth Conference this year, but the article moves quickly to deal with the vast changes that are in play within the Anglican Communion. Keiser digs deep into the communion to get at the heart of things. He interviews people from around the globe and he sets this one "issue" within its larger global, cultural, traditional, theological, and historical contexts. If you haven't picked up a copy of Harper's, do so. The article challenged me; I have been thinking about it for days.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

What happened to "covenant"?

Not that long ago I talked with a potential new member of my local congregation. During our talk, it became evident that this person wants to attend worship, has a belief in God, wants to grow deeper in his/her spirituality, and is finding a spiritual home in this church. But there is no desire to enter into membership through covenant. In another conversation with someone else, that person indicated a desire to join the church because she/he likes the congregation, but there was little interest in spiritual formation or discipleship. What has happened to the idea of membership in the local church.

Covenant is such a strong biblical principle. It undergirds all that we are as descendants of Abraham and Sarah. God has covenanted to be our God and we are to be God's people. In baptism we covenant to nurture one another and hold one another in prayer. In Holy Communion we remember God's faithful covenant with us and we pledge to go into the world as Christ's body, sealed in sacrament sent in service. Somewhere along the way, however, "covenant" seems to have lost its power in our lives. Whether it's covenanting with a partner or covenanting with a congregation, we have grown "covenant-shy." What happened? And, is there anyway to address this growing condition?

Alternately, there are those who simply want to belong regardless of the "terms" of the covenant. Evidently, the specifics of the covenant don't really mean anything as long as the person gets the "card" and "belong." While I understand the pull to community and the power of friendship, there are other places to "belong." So the question remains: why would someone want to covenant with people around beliefs that are, if not meaningless, not compelling?

Or...am I the only one who notices that we appear to want to stay a bit on the fringes of relationships rather than deeply transformed by them?

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Practicing Sabbath...Is it Possible?

For a little over three years, I have wondered if/how Christians can keep Sabbath? I suppose more accurately I have wondered if I can keep Sabbath. It has become clear to me that if I mean what I say when I profess God to be at the center of my life or that I intend to live in the center of God, it is incumbent upon me to give God God's day - to rest as God rested, to engage in acts of worship, and to participate in the act of justice of allowing all the earth to rest as well. So I am committing to keep Sabbath in my own way.

The evolution from Sabbath to the Lord's Day was a natural one for Christians. Initially we were not asked to give up Sabbath but to add a day of joyful celebration and communion on the eighth day, the day that Jesus was raised from the dead. It didn't take long, however, for the Lord's Day to supplant Christian observance of Sabbath, and thus began our tradition of meeting and worshiping on Sunday. In many places, the Lord's Day retained a sense of Sabbath, even though we weren't remembering and keeping the seventh day as commanded by God.

Even when I was growing up Sundays were lazy days. We got up and went to church. Other than a few choice restaurants the entire town was shut down. Nobody went to malls or shopped. Dinner was a big family affair, but mostly we didn't do a lot of cooking on Sunday itself. Food was prepared the day before or cooked by a crock pot to allow us time to attend worship and come home to a steaming hot meal. I'm sure that other families, towns, and cultures had/have their own traditions. However, in the United States, with increasing secularization and awareness of other religions the lazy Sunday has disappeared. Those few who attend worship squeeze it in between brunch with secularized friends and the afternoon soccer game/birthday party. Sabbath is gone and so is the Lord's Day...and I feel it...AND I'M A PASTOR.

In an effort to quell this growing desire for more intentional spiritual practice and more serious commitment to discipleship, I have been talking with several people about covenanting to keep Sabbath - of a sorts. The overall vision is to begin by covenanting around Sabbath, eventually covenanting around Sabbath, Sacraments, and Service. At some point I would like to see an intentional living community in which people give a specified amount of time 1-2 years (you can stay longer if you like) in the community and give time for the benefit of the neighborhood. And one day I hope that we can add a farm/retreat center. For many years I have wanted to participate in this kind of intentional and deep Christianity and it seems that I need to take responsibility for making this happen.

So, I'm starting with Sabbath. Twenty-four hours (evening to evening) of resting as God rested, having fun with family and community, and worshiping the Author of us all. I pledge to do this for at least one month and then assess how things are going. I am interested to see how this Sabbath experiment works for all of us who are covenanting to do this.

As always, I'm interested in your thoughts... My file on Sabbath and the Lord's Day is growing leaps and bounds!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

GC Blogs that I Read

General Conference is almost over, but a good bulk of the plenary work is being done in the last days of the assembly. I am keeping up by reading at the official UMC website, but I also am reading a number of blogs. These are the ones that I have kept up with. Who are you reading?

Jan Bolerjack - page from the PNW
The PNW delegation is blogging, too.
Reconciling Ministries Network is maintaining a GC site.
The official UMC GC site.

As I keep up with the legislation and watch via streaming online the sermons and addresses, a mixture of feelings bubbles around deep in my insides. Hearing the president of Liberia? Very inspiring. Listening to the address about the ELCA and the UMC moving closer to full communion? Very hopeful. Watching the failure (55% to 45%)legislation to pass that would name the division in our church about homosexuality? Demoralizing, disheartening. Reading petitions that want to prescribe how we interpret scripture? Scary (but heartening that it failed).

I try to keep my eyes on the long road ahead. I remember that God hasn't finished with us yet. We aren't perfect. We are very imperfect. GC just reminds me of how imperfect!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Today is World Marlaria Day...Uh, Let's Celebrate? No, Let's Do Something

Today is World Malaria Day.

My hometown in Mississippi had a legacy of death from malaria (as well as yellow fever and typhus) in the 1800s, but Americans have, by and large, been unaffected by this disease since that era. Yet people all over the world are dying form Learn about this preventable condition. Last August when I spent time in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I met too many people living with malaria and heard about too many others who had died from it.

Through water treatment and maintenance, the distribution of bed nets, education, and the availability of medicine, we can prevent thousands of unnecessary deaths.

Learn more about malaria and how you can help.

Committing to Sabbath...Maybe

I have written several posts that highlight my increased awareness that Christianity - and the people that make it up - would be stronger, more spiritual, more connected to God and one another, more committed to justice, and more healthy if we were to embrace the practice of Sabbath. I have preached on this in my church and I have read widely about the importance of setting aside one day for God. I guess it's now time to put up or shut up, so I've decided to try keeping Sabbath...in my own way...soon.

What I've learned is that I am not particularly invested in keeping Sabbath as defined by observant Jews - that is, by refraining from the 39 activities used to build the Temple. I have also learned that keeping Sabbath will be less informative to my spiritual life and less effective if I do it alone - outside of community. So, I've been meeting with a friend for several weeks to discuss what Sabbath might be for a group of Christians. And now I've talked with a few other friends who have mentioned some interest in joining the conversation.

This conversation is only part of something I've dreamed about for a long. Ever since divinity school I've wanted to be part of an intentional community based on Sabbath, Sacraments, and Service. Circumstances have been kind to me and I've had the opportunity to participate in a couple of intentional communities; they were wonderful experiences. They stirred up a sense of hope that a community centered on Sabbath, Sacraments, and Service is possible. The overall hope is to create a covenant community of just a few people who will covenant to a shared understanding of Sabbath and Service (and take part in Holy Communion regularly) eventually adding a living community in the city that will share Sabbath, Sacraments, and Service with one another. One day we will hopefully have a farm/retreat center.

In addition to these covenant communities, I see the addition of physicians, physical therapists, nutritionists, spiritual directors, life coaches, chiropractors, trainers, and other professionals who will work with people seeking a holistic approach to life. The would help people set goals, keep focus, care for our bodies and connect them with our spirits. Eventually, this would become a holistic coop in which all people could participate, but one that would have a special emphasis for working class and poor folks who could never afford these services in the free market.

The goal is to create an ever-expanding community with varying commitment levels for people to seek centeredness in life with a core group focused on the power of Sabbath. This is a dream that has lived inside of me for a long time.

But I have to start somewhere and I'm starting with gathering serious people to dialogue about the initial covenant to Sabbath. I'll see where this goes.

Any history of participation in like communities? Let me know...

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

More Earth Day Stuff

The Earth Day Network has several resources for faith communities to help with the observance of Earth Day.

Earth Day Television also has a panel discussion about climate change and communities of faith. The info is interesting; the format a little less than riveting.

Coinciding with the "Seeds of Compassion" activities in Seattle, the Episcopal Church hosted a conference called "Healing Our Planet Earth" (H.O.P.E.). They have posted information from that gathering on their website. Check it out!

One of the best resources that I've seen on Christian stewardship of the earth is produced by the United Methodist Foundation of the Northwest. The publish a weekly e-bulletin on "radical gratitude" which serves to remind us that stewardship is a whole life issue not simply a finance drive at the local church. You can subscribe to their their e-newsletter and it's more than worth it. It's an outstanding resource!

If you are are in the Seattle area, Earth Ministry has monthly calendars of events for both April and May posted.

I am always looking for more resources for and by people of faith in addressing earth stewardship. If you know of one, please tell me about it.

Happy Earth Day - It Isn't Easy Being Green

Earth Day is today. Does it make a difference? How many people will do anything differently today - much less change ingrained habits - than any other day?
Even the Wall Street Journal is asking whether the hype about this day might be obfuscating the importance its message. Have we commercialized Earth Day into another marketing gimmick much like Christmas?

We have now reached a point where changing a light bulb and separating recycles just won't be enough. The reality is that while we can make many small changes in our lives that may impact the earth in little ways, deep commitment is needed for the earth to be healthy and vibrant once again. As that great frog Kermit once sang, "It isn't easy being green." And...why should it be? Isn't something worthwhile worth making significant changes for? I think so. That's one of the core messages of my faith.

Rather than succumbing to a feeling of powerlessness in the face of the enormity of our environmental problems, wouldn't it be wonderful if they could serve to wake us up to sacramental lives and set us on a life path rooted and anchored in deep stewardship? My faith teaches me that with every breath I can be a better steward - of the earth, of the air, of plants, of my community, of my church. To be a steward is to be one who cares for the integrity of another. It's a holy obligation that we have to care for one another and for all of creation.

Like everyone else, I stumble around trying to become a better steward of the earth. Like everyone else, I have a long way to go. Earth Day may be wrapped in too much commercialism, but it still serves to remind me that radical stewardship is needed and that it is needed from me. It may not be easy to make the deep and radical changes necessary to do what I can for God's great creation, but that's no excuse not to try.

Here's a shameless plug:

One way I stay connected to "on the ground" work for the conservation of some of the earth's most precious species is by financially supporting the work of Wildlife Direct. I've decided that Wildlife Direct is where I'm putting my green bills partly because they are active in a variety of places in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Kenya, two places which I adore and to which I feel connected. They do a brilliant job through their blogs of keeping supporters updated on day to day activity, real time needs, and breaking news. I also value the ability to give in specific ways to each conservation effort. This is a commitment that I've made, but there are many great environmental groups that need financial help.

Happy Earth Day!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Reflection on "Seeds of Compassion" with the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu

While the rest of the United States awaited Pope Benedict XVI, Seattle braced itself for a week long event called "Seeds of Compassion." Organized to highlight the importance of teaching compassion to children, over the course of five days teachers, lecturers, workshops, and presentations of all kinds invited the entire city to explore the power of compassion. His Holiness the Dalai Lama spoke in several venues and on Tuesday for the concluding panel he was joined by several prominent religious leaders from various religious traditions. Archbishop Desmond Tutu was one of the people who took the stage with the Dalai Lama along with Sister Joan Chittister, Rob Bell, Dr. Ingrid Mattson, Rabbi David Rosen, and others.

I was fortunate to attend the closing event on Tuesday (along with 9,999 lucky souls!). My church had 65 tickets and we spent the whole day listening as the panel discussed compassion, interfaith dialogue and respect, hope in the midst of despair and destruction, and the inviolability of the self. This event not only helped us remember that children need to learn about compassion; it also reminded adults that compassion is possible in a world too often characterized by war and injustice. The panelists spoke from their own contexts and told us about real acts of daily compassion that make the world wonderful and rich.

Archbishop Tutu and His Holiness the Dalai Lama played around on stage like 4 year old boys. It was really pretty wonderful - humanizing and personalizing. At one point Archbishop Tutu told the Dalai Lama to behave and to "act like a holy man" should. All of the speakers were joyful while very aware of the pain that exists in the world. We prayed for the Dalai Lama and for the people of Tibet as well as for those everywhere who struggle for justice and liberation. The energies of the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu made everyone on stage seem a little brighter. They both give off feeling of love that is deeply rooted in histories of pain. They have found the ability to rest in the present - fully and wholly in the present - and see the divine, even when it isn't pretty or easy. I'm sure that I won't ever have the words to express how this has affected me.

The Seattle Symphony and chorus provided music throughout the lunch break. Those six hundred people brought "Ode to Joy" alive for all of us.

I was also fortunate to attend a dinner on Thursday evening at which Desmond Tutu spoke. I will always remember how humbled I was to shake his hand and to break bread with him.

If you would like to watch the events from that week, you can find them online at the Seeds of Compassion website.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Marsalis Writes Jazz Mass

Marsalis' Mass Blends Gospel and Jazz
By CHARLES J. GANS Associated Press Writer

Apr 9th, 2008 | NEW YORK -- Wynton Marsalis will be turning the House That Jazz Built at the Time Warner Center into the House of the Lord when he premieres his first jazz Mass, which blends the gospel and jazz traditions in a celebration of the 200th anniversary of Harlem's Abyssinian Baptist Church, New York State's oldest African-American congregation.

The 100-plus Abyssinian Baptist Church Bicentennial Choir will lift their voices in song as they make their way through the Rose Theater in the traditional Processional to join forces with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra to perform Marsalis' "Abyssinian 200: A Celebration," a 19-part piece based on the liturgy found in many African-American Baptist churches.

"When we get in there, it's just a big musical auditorium, but when we do the Invocation, it becomes a sanctified place because God's presence enters into it," said Abyssinian's pastor, the Rev. Calvin O. Butts III, who will deliver a sermon on "the uniting power of prayer."

"I see this jazz Mass as an opportunity of not only bringing together the jazz and gospel traditions, but as a way of talking about the unique and important contributions of the African-American religious experience to life in America and around the world," he said.

The Mass, with "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" actor Avery Brooks serving as the stage director, will be presented Thursday through Saturday nights at JALC's main hall, with the last performance recorded for later broadcast on XM satellite radio. The following Saturday there will be two performances at the Harlem church.

Marsalis says that though the piece was commissioned by JALC to celebrate the Harlem church's bicentennial, the music has a deeper, personal spiritual meaning for him. The trumpeter says he wrote the piece for his grandmother and great-aunt, both born around the turn of the 20th century.

"Both of them were domestic workers and very religious and quiet spiritual people," said Marsalis. "I love those people because of the feeling they had and the religion gave them a large part of that feeling. It was a feeling of warmth and of a soulfulness and an engagement with the world ... not by escaping things but through confronting them with the power of love."

Before composing the music, Marsalis spent hours talking with Butts about the significance of each part of the prayer service. He further drew upon his diverse influences: his music professor father's lessons about traditional spirituals, hymns and gospel music; his own experience as a classical trumpeter playing the religious works of Bach, Handel and Palestrina; and his encyclopedic knowledge of all styles of jazz dating back to its roots in his native New Orleans.

Marsalis also highlighted the common links between jazz and the African-American religious rite by including call-and-response patterns and leaving room for improvisation.

Both Marsalis and Butts acknowledge that such a collaboration would have been unlikely a century ago when many black preachers denounced jazz as the "devil's music."

"A lot of that feeling came out of ignorance born of the fact that people of African descent had been stripped of a lot of our culture and followed the lead of those who enslaved us ... and were taught to really hate ourselves and our music," said Butts. "But now we've come to understand ... that this is truly the only real American music and it's beautiful music."

Marsalis says Louis Armstrong helped change attitudes when he recorded the first jazz version of a spiritual in 1938, "When the Saints Go Marching In," and many other jazz musicians drew inspiration from black church music, including Duke Ellington, Horace Silver and John Coltrane.

Butts says the Abyssinian Church has its own links to the jazz tradition. Nat "King" Cole was married there, and the church held memorial services for Count Basie and Art Blakey.

In the early '90s, Marsalis performed his only other major religious work at the Harlem church — "In This House, On This Morning," a suite the trumpeter wrote and recorded with his septet. Marsalis' adviser on that project: the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who preached a sermon on the trumpeter's album "The Majesty of the Blues."

Butts says the recent controversy surrounding Wright, Barack Obama's former pastor, has resulted in "a little bit of the maligning of the black church."

"I'm hoping that people will come away with a better understanding of the importance of our religious experience and what it's meaning truly has been for America and the world," Butts said. "I want this expression of jazz music and the African-American religious and sermon tradition to serve as a foundation for unity among all people. That's the height of our religious expression in America ever since we were enslaved people. We've been trying to make sense out of the madness, and reconciliation, unity, peace, prayer, this is what we hope for."


On the Net:

Jazz at Lincoln Center
The Abyssinian Baptist Church
And, click here to listen to Marsalis' first religious piece, "In this House, On this Morning"

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Americans No Happier Now Than Forty Years Ago

On April 2 the Wall Street Journal's podcast highlighted a study that says despite the gains in workforce productivity and an increased standard of living, men and women are no happier today than they were forty years ago. It seems that men work less than forty years ago, women work more than forty years ago, and both spend much more time sitting in front of the television. According to the study, we are not happier because we are not good managers of our down time. Rather than spending time with friends, at the gym, outdoors, in church (or other faith communities), Americans find it easier - if less satisfying - to sit at home at watch TV.

I know that after a long day it's my temptation to enter the fantasy world of television. I also know that I long to leave the boob tube behind so that I can more fully live my life. I wonder how church could play a role in lessening the effect of television in our lives, how community might supplant the temptation to isolate, hibernate, and fantasize, how discipline and order could help us live more routinized lives that take for granted slow time/down time/sabbath time.

Just thoughts after listening to a much too brief discussion...

So, Ted Turner, Bill Gates, and the UMC go into a bar...

What sounds like a joke isn't these days. Ted Turner has joined the efforts of the UMC, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the ELCA, and the NBA to fight malaria in Africa.

This is the article in today's Seattle Times:

"Turner gets religion

Ted Turner, 69, who once called Christianity a "religion for losers," Tuesday launched a $200 million joint health program with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and the United Methodist Church to fight malaria in Africa. The CNN founder said his thinking on religion had evolved and he regretted his words. "Religion is one of the bright spots as far as I'm concerned, even though there are some areas ... where they've gone over the top a little," he said. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation chipped in with a $10 million grant to be used to help publicize the campaign in churches."

Monday, March 31, 2008

Seeds of Compassion Welcomes the Dalai Lama to Seattle

I am so excited that my church has 65 tickets to the InterSpiritual Day on April 15. Joining His Holiness the Dalai Lama will be Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Sister Joan Chittister, Doug Pagitt, Dr. Ingrid Mattson (Pres. of the Islamic Society of North America), Rabbi David Rosen (Chairman of the Intl. Jewish Committee on Interreligious Dialogue), Roshi Joan Halifax (Zen Buddist Master), Rob Bell (Pastor Mars Hill Bible Church, Grandville, MI), Pravrajika Vrajaprana (Hindu philosopher, teacher, writer), Bishop Steven Charleston (Pres. and Dean of Episcopal Divinity School, Linda Kavelin-Popov (co-founder, Virtues Project), the Rev. Samual B. McKinney (civil rights leader, pastor emeritus of Mt. Zion Baptist Church, Seattle), Fr. William Treacy (founder of Camp Brotherhood), Ahmed Tijani Ben Omar (Muslim scholar and spiritual leader), Guru Singh (Sikh philosopher and leader), and Steven Shankman (UNESC( Chair in Transcultural Studies).

This at-capacity event (10,000 people) is a panel discussion about the core value of compassion in all religious traditions and how children need to learn compassion from an early age.

I am looking forward to this event, along with several others that I will be attending during the Seeds of Compassion week long event in Seattle.

For more info, go to Seeds of Compassion's website. There you will learn about the various fora and learning opportunities available during the week.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Ah, Welcome to Holy Week

Holy Week, for most people (which, unfortunately includes a lot of Christians), is a week to skip so that we can move smoothly and without obstacle from Christmas to Easter. It's too bad that so many people miss the powerful impact of the days from Palm Sunday through Holy Saturday. If you haven't taken the time and allowed yourself the full experience of Holy Week, I especially invite you to this sacred journey.

Over the course of the weeks leading to Palm Sunday, our church utilized dramatic presentations of the gospel messages in John. Victoria M. Tufana and David Haas composed "The Gospel Proclamation of the Scrutinies" in 1982, which breaks up the long readings into four voices interspersed with congregational singing. These gospel proclamations are part of the church's intention for those preparing for baptism to be scrutinized by God's word and for them, in return, to scrutinize their own hearts. Is baptism what they truly desire? Are there any obstacles in their lives that keep them from dying with Christ and being raised with him on Easter? While the "scrutinies" are prayers not used in my tradition, the practice of inviting the initiate to serious reflection about this life change is important. And the gospels from John do just this.

We move from this time of discernment or "scrutiny" to a point of crisis as we reach Palm Sunday. The question for both initiates and baptized Christians is, "Do we want to enter Jerusalem's East Gate with Jesus?" I refer people to the chapter on Palm Sunday in John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg's "The Last Week" for more reading on this. During Holy Week God's realm and the powers and principalities of this world collide. Where do we want to be during this cosmic collision? Where is our heart?

On Maundy Thursday, we are invited to participate in remembering Jesus' last meal with his friends before suffering at the hands of the state. They share a Passover meal celebrating and remembering God's mighty acts of deliverance for God's chosen people. This meal is filled with both irony and foreshadowing. Even as Jesus celebrates the passing over of the Angel of Death and the deliverance of the Jews from Egypt, people are conspiring for his death. He will not be passed by; he will suffer a horrible and agonizing death. And yet, his resurrection will show that in some way death cannot hold him. Maundy Thursday is a wonderful observance. At the church I serve, we spend time during a soup dinner sharing thoughts on how God delivers the world, we share in a brief service of Holy Communion, and then we move in silence to the sanctuary where we strip it bare for the observance of Good Friday.

When people think about skipping Holy Week, typically it's Good Friday that they are really wanting to avoid. It is, after all, a real downer! I, however, don't experience Good Friday in that way. It is emotional for me, but not depressing. Good Friday marks the day when Jesus dies on the cross. There are many ways to mark this occasion. Churches I serve typically hold a tenebrae service - a service of shadows or darkness. This year we will turn to the seven last things Jesus has to say as he dies on the cross. This is called "The Seven Last Words of Christ." This service is often done during the daytime hours between noon and three, but we will be having the service in the evening. Good Friday invites us into Christ's suffering and death. It also invites us into the suffering of the world. This invitation is overwhelming if we go alone, but we don't. We go as a community in the presence of God. We are confronted with the ways in which we live outside of alignment with the Holy One. And we are challenged to see how we continue to crucify God even to this day. This is a moment of great importance for Christians. Without this moment of deep crisis the miracle of Easter is an empty ritual. As scary as it may be for you, I invite you to find a church that you trust and enter into their worship on this day.

Holy Saturday is often passed over altogether, but it is also an important day on the calendar. Jesus is gone. Truly gone. It is traditional to pray for him, the world, and for Christ's resurrection. After dusk, it is proper to hold a vigil waiting for the rays of Easter morn to bring new life from the trauma of Good Friday.

During Holy Week we live out our whole faith. Our faith story calls us not to simply assent intellectually, but to participate in death and resurrection, to find the necessary strength to be in solidarity with the crucified Christ among us today, to hold hope for God's heavenly feast which will mark the end of the powers and principalities of this world. Holy Week is the experience of God's reign coming to pass; it isn't easy and it isn't without pain - great pain. But resurrection is worth it. If you have been raised with Christ, you will know that life in God is a wonderful and wild thing. At least that is my testimony.

Welcome to Holy Week. I hope that you find time to explore it with vulnerability, openness, and honesty.

Blog Archive