16 September 2014

Five Days of Thankfulness, Day 2

My sister-in-law tagged me to do the Five Days of Thankfulness thing.  Going to do it each day this week.  I'm not going to tag anyone else - you get to be thankful if you choose, and to express that thankfulness if you choose.  I'm easy-going like that.

15 September 2014

Five Days of Thankfulness, Day 1

My sister-in-law called me out on the Five Days of Thankfulness thing on Facebook.  Given that this is the sort of thing I used to do here, it seemed like a good chance to return to blogging a bit more regularly.  So, here goes.

05 September 2014

On Sports and Faith and Life and Balance

Bruce Feiler wrote a great article a few weeks ago that my friend Erik Ullestad shared in his weekly "Recommended Reads" email from Elbow Co. (link here)  Take a few minutes and read what Bruce has to say about sports, faith, and families today, and then come back here for just a bit of me pushing back but also heartily endorsing much of what Bruce says.

27 June 2014

An Open Letter to the Democratic National Committee

I get it. It's rough as we approach what could be a disappointing midterm election. Between recurring gun massacres and our national apathy toward violence, an unhealthy obsession with denying whatever President Obama proposes regardless of merit, and the endless assault on a duly passed piece of health care legislation, you're feeling the strain. I am, too.

But your recent emails have gone too far. I'm not a Democrat because I don't like John Boehner - he seems a decent guy who just doesn't see things the way I do. I'm not a Democrat because I want Republicans to lose (okay, maybe Steve King, but I bet there's plenty of Republicans who feel the same way). I'm not a Democrat because I like Nancy Pelosi and President Obama, even though I do. I'm a Democrat because I believe our vision for the future of the country is a good one, and I'm willing to vote for that vision. I vote for ideas and for policies, not for people - and not against them, either.

Sending me an email saying "If we sit this out, these guys win" is not the way to get me to pitch in another $5. Any politics or policy founded in fear is going to fail miserably. Tell me what we're doing FOR the country and I'll support it. I don't have to be afraid of Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan or Scott Walker to believe that their policies will continue to widen the gap between the plutocrats and the rest of us. I know that just by listening to them and using my head. I also know that even when I disagree with people of other parties, it's more than likely they will bring perspective to my own beliefs and help me see things in a different light. Single-party rule is tyranny regardless of which party is ruling.

Enough of the scare emails. Enough of the polarity. Enough of the attempt to target people for defeat. That's the sort of anxiety-riddled jingoism that caters to the lowest common denominator and debases the entire country. Plenty of people are already playing this game and exploiting it to fill their pockets. We have to be better than this. We used to be better than this. Let's be better than this again.

26 June 2014

Sermon Podcasts - Ten Commandments, Weeks 1 and 2

Two sermon podcasts just so you know I'm still here!  First, Luther Seminary student Emily Martin preaches a poetic reflection in three parts:

This past Sunday, I was intrigued by Dr. Thomas Long's vision of the Decalogue (another name for the Commandments, from the Latin for "Ten Words") as something to be danced rather than a burden to be borne.

Enjoy, and have a great week!

30 May 2014

Festival of Homiletics: Convicted

Like I said: the Moleskine got a workout
I was in Minneapolis last week for the 2014 Festival of Homiletics, which is fancy church-geek speak for "preaching."  Four full days of lectures on preaching and worship services featuring great preachers from a wide array of Protestant churches.  I heard from Walter Brueggeman, Anna Carter Florence, Barbara Brown Taylor, MaryAnn McKibben Dana, Lauren Winner, Otis Moss III, Karoline Lewis, John Bell, and Brian McLaren, and I regrettably had to miss lectures and sermons by M. Craig Barnes and Will Willimon (good news, though - for a small fee you can buy recordings!).  My hand was cramping from all the notes and my Moleskine filled up rapidly.

08 May 2014

Book Review: Mediating Faith by Clint Schnekloth

(c) 2013 by Fortress Press

Contemporary media studies would remind us, if nothing else, that all of life is mediated, and much more is media than we are often aware. (p. 3) 
Humans, though they speak of technology as if it were separate from them, are virtually incapable of living a nontechnological existence. (p. 102)
--Clint Schnekloth, Mediating Faith:  Faith Formation in a Trans-Media Era

It is with these thoughts in mind that Clint Schnekloth embarks on an examination of what it means to be faithful, as an individual Christian and as a leader of Christian community, in an age of constantly developing media and technology.  Published from a dissertation presented toward earning the Doctor of Ministry degree at Fuller Theological Seminary, there is much here that will be helpful for all of us trying to navigate the waters of our trans-media times.

01 May 2014

Book Review: Wide Welcome by Jessicah Krey Duckworth

Wide Welcome by Jessicah Krey Duckworth
(c) 2013 by Fortress Press, Minneapolis.
"Congregational life today for many Christians is much more an experience of organizational membership...it usually does not matter what expectations or intuitions newcomers bring to a congregation, because what newcomers encounter is a comfortable, closed gathering in which their presence is not necessarily needed." 
"To be a Christian church is for the people under the cross to practice a confession of faith, hope, and love, welcoming newcomers into discipleship practices where faith meets doubt, hope meets despair, and love meets the suffering world." 
--Jessicah Krey Duckworth, Wide Welcome:  How the Unsettling Presence of Newcomers Can Save the Church,  from the Introduction.

Full confession:  I count Jessicah Krey Duckworth and her husband Chris as friends in addition to being colleagues in ministry, so I was predisposed to think highly of this book before I even cracked the cover.  That having been said, I think Wide Welcome brings a needed and valuable point of view to those of us who are concerned with the future of the church, particularly as the church moves from the age of American Christendom to the emergence of whatever is coming next.

01 April 2014

The "How I Met Your Mother" Finale: Heartbreaking

So incredibly beautiful.  How disappointing to discover
this beautiful relationship was a distraction in the minds
of the writers.  They, and we, deserved better.
Yeah, okay.  I'm writing about a television show.  And I'm really mad.  Heartbroken.  Good art can do that to you sometimes.  Unfortunately, this time it did it because what happened in the last few minutes nearly ruined the whole run for me.

31 March 2014

On Movies, Faith and What's Worth Watching

Movies and people of faith are all the rage right now, what with "Son of God," "God's Not Dead" and "Noah" being in theaters now and "Exodus" on its way later this year.  Given that a few weeks ago we took our girls to see a movie and spent what I used to spend for a decent pair of shoes, it's worth taking a moment to think about where to spend your hard-earned entertainment dollars.  Maybe you were wondering how the average ELCA pastor thinks about such things.  If so, keep reading!

07 March 2014

Tired and Suffering...Somewhat

Paul Walters and I share more than just being members of the Luther Seminary class of 2003.  Apparently, for the past few years we've shared the status of suffering from back pain.  I don't know how it happened for Paul, but for me things just got worse a little bit at a time until all of a sudden they got a LOT worse very quickly.

05 March 2014

Sermon for Ash Wednesday: "I can't... I won't..."

Sermon texts:  Psalm 23 & John 10:1-18

January's always bitter
But Lord this one beats all
The wind ain't quit for weeks now
And the drifts are ten feet tall
I been all night drivin' heifers
Closer in to lower ground
Then I spent the mornin' thinkin'
'Bout the ones the wolves pulled down

Charlie Barton and his family
Stopped today to say goodbye
He said the bank was takin' over
The last few years were just too dry
And I promised that I'd visit
When they found a place in town
Then I spent a long time thinkin'
'Bout the ones the wolves pull down

Lord please shine a light of hope
On those of us who fall behind
And when we stumble in the snow
Could you help us up while there's still time

Well I don't mean to be complainin' Lord
You've always seen me through
And I know you got your reasons
For each and every thing you do
But tonight outside my window
There's a lonesome mournful sound
And I just can't keep from thinkin'
'Bout the ones the wolves pull down

Oh Lord keep me from bein'
The one the wolves pull down

        Tonight we come to an end.  We come to what we hope is the end of a long, hard winter.  We come to the end of the season of Epiphany.  Most importantly, we come to the end of believing we can make things right on our own.
500 years ago, an Old Testament professor named Luther posted a list of statements or “theses” for discussion about the practice of indulgences.  The first was this:  “Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said ‘Repent,’ willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.”  This is our business here tonight.  We publicly state our repentance.  We gather to admit, before God and each other, this simple truth:  “I can’t.”
I can’t control my temper.
I can’t maintain my patience with my family.
I can’t think well of the people around me.
I can’t stop wanting what my neighbor has.
I can’t get my priorities in the right order.
I can’t make everyone happy.
I can’t trust in God above everything else.
I can’t…I can’t…I can’t…
That Garth Brooks song is all about what we can’t do.  It’s been running in my head ever since I saw that our gospel text for tonight was John’s story of Jesus the Good Shepherd.  “January’s always bitter, but Lord, this one beats all.”  It’s March, sure, but it’s all we’ve been talking about these past few weeks.  This winter’s been so very hard, in so many ways.  We just can’t overcome it.  And with that particular “can’t” weighing so heavy on us, all the others seem that much heavier.
I’m also afraid to say it gets worse before it gets better.  Sometimes we have to admit that “I won’t” is as much or more of a problem than “I can’t.”
“I won’t forgive him after what he did to me.”
“I won’t ever let anyone treat me like that without paying them back.”
“I won’t believe that God could ever love someone like that.”
I won’t…I won’t…I won’t…
When we read the 23rd Psalm, or this wonderful passage from the gospel of John, we put ourselves in the role of the sheep that Jesus is protecting.  But that’s not the whole truth of what Jesus is saying.  The whole truth is that sometimes we are the thieves, the bandits, the strangers and the hired hands.  The whole truth is that sometimes we are the enemies sitting at the table Jesus has set for someone else.  We won’t, and we can’t, and we come to the end of any hope that righteousness is something within our ability to achieve.
But our end is not the end.  We have hope in something other than ourselves.  The apostle Paul wrote, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”  Jesus is the one who promises that death and dust and destruction will not be our final end - and it is our hope in him that sustains us even as we are nearing the end ourselves.
So we come to this Ash Wednesday, wolves, thieves, bandits, strangers, hired hands and sheep, to be marked with ashes and to remember:  we are dust, and to dust we will return.  But we will not go alone.  We have gathered because we know the voice of the Good Shepherd, the one who calls us home and leads us through the darkest valleys, where death and winter and all that is bitter and cold threaten us.  We remember that it is the breath of the Shepherd’s Spirit that made us more than dust, and we trust that when the last winter of death has come and gone, that breath will raise us out of the dust and lead us home one final time.
So, come.  Take your place with your brothers and sisters.  Be marked with the cross of “I can’t.”  Admit to the ashes of “I won’t.”  Be the dust that has no hope of life within itself, and be raised by baptism to new life in the Good Shepherd who welcomes us all.

Ash Wednesday: Let Envy Die

I'm a firm believer in the potential of social media (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, etc.) to influence the world for good.  There are simply more stories out there that point to the benefit of instant connections than there are stories of how things can go wrong.  That being said, one of the things I'm trying this Lent is getting on top of one of my biggest social media problems:  envy.

04 March 2014

Ash Wednesday: Bring Your Kid

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday.  For Christians, the Ash Wednesday service marks the beginning of the season of Lent, a penitential period in which we fast, discipline ourselves, and reflect on the life and love of our Lord Jesus Christ.  It is a holy time of anticipation and purpose, and for many it is our "favorite" season of the church.

But Ash Wednesday begins with a stark reminder of our mortality.  Ministers dip their thumbs in a bowl of ashes made from the palm branches waved to honor Jesus on Palm Sunday and mark a cross on the foreheads of all participants, while pronouncing a death sentence on us all:  "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

01 March 2014

2014 in Books: February Update

Here's the list of books I've read in 2013, updated monthly (more or less), for fun or for some sort of edification, professional or otherwise. 

Recommended titles are in bold, and formats are +(Kindle/eBook), *(audio/iPod).

*1.  The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
*2.  How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn
*3.  Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow
4.  Prince Caspian (The Chronicles of Narnia, Book 4) by C.S. Lewis
+5.  Eat, Sleep, Ride:  How I Braved Bears, Badlands and Big Breakfasts In My Quest to Cycle the Tour Divide by Paul Howard
*6.  The Cardinal of the Kremlin by Tom Clancy.
7.  Wide Welcome:  How the Unsettling Presence of Newcomers Can Save the Church by Jessicah Krey Duckworth
8.  The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (The Chronicles of Narnia, Book 5) by C.S. Lewis
9.  Clear and Present Danger by Tom Clancy
10.  The Silver Chair (The Chronicles of Narnia, Book 6) by C.S. Lewis

26 February 2014

Evangelism, Anxiety, and False Choices

Jane Trimm posted an article today at MSNBC about the flood of millenials leaving the church and a possible reason why:  
A full 31% of young people (ages 18 to 33) who left organized religion said “negative teachings” or “negative treatment” of gay people was a “somewhat important” or “very important” factor in their departure, as surveyed by the Public Religion Research Institute. A strong majority (58%) of Americans also said religious groups are “alienating” young people by “being too judgmental on gay and lesbian issues.” A full 70% of young people said the same.
Disturbing news, of course.  But then the article presented the reader with this survey: 
Do you think churches will change their policies on gays and lesbians to appeal to young people? 
o   Yes, churches will adapt to a new generation.
o   No, they will stick to their values.
o   I’m not sure
Articles like this make me want to scream in frustration.  It’s obvious that the writer has no understanding of the wide array of churches that are all over the place on human sexuality, and that’s both her failing and ours. 

07 February 2014

A Sermon Double Feature! (ask your grandparents, kids)

2014 in Books: January

Here's the list of books I've read in 2013, updated monthly (more or less), for fun or for some sort of edification, professional or otherwise. 

Recommended titles are in bold, and formats are +(Kindle/eBook), *(audio/iPod).

*1.  The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
*2.  How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn
*3.  Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow
4.  Prince Caspian (The Chronicles of Narnia, Book 4) by C.S. Lewis
+5.  Eat, Sleep, Ride:  How I Braved Bears, Badlands and Big Breakfasts In My Quest to Cycle the Tour Divide by Paul Howard
*6.  The Cardinal of the Kremlin by Tom Clancy.

This is why...

First, you get a question.  "What is God's will for my life?" or "Are my parents really in purgatory" or "What about babies who die before they are baptized?" or "What about all those people who lived before Jesus was born?" or any one of a number of questions you get when you wear the funny shirt with the little white tab in the middle.

28 January 2014

The Most Thankless Job in the ELCA

"I was stunned to see the cartoon (December, page 45) of Mary and Joseph at the inn with a note on the door reading 'Closed forXmas.'  I would never have expected a Christian publication to "X" out Christ in Christmas.  Shame on you."  Kathleen Mayberry, Austin, TX.

24 January 2014

Friday Five: Church Olympians

This week's Friday Five (surprise - I'm playing again!), posted by Deb at RevGalBlogPals:
With the Olympic Games in Sochi just around the corner, I started thinking about all the athletes who attend the Games and never win a medal. The hours of practicing, sacrifice and dedication don’t get noticed by the media. Yet, for the love of their sport, they persevere.
Then I began to reminisce about the “Olympians” in the Church. Perhaps you can think of faithful ones who never get up to preach, sing or read, but faithfully come, week after week, to serve. It seems to me they deserve a medal of sorts.
So, for this week’s Friday Five, share stories or memories of those “medalists” of the Church who have encouraged you in their faithfulness.

23 January 2014

It's Not Work, Even When It's Work

I wrote this blog a while ago but held off on publishing out of respect for some grieving families.  I'm writing here about meaning and what this daily work as a pastor is like for us.  In the midst of life-altering experiences for families, pastors who minister to them are still dealing with deadlines, office issues, the annoyances that come with every job on the planet.  I didn't deal well with one such day a while back.  Here's the story.

Today was not the best day.  It started with an early morning call from the chaplain at our local nursing home, letting me know that one of our church members had just passed away.  As I was at the church assembling funeral planning materials before meeting with the family, I received another call from another family, letting me know that another member who had been in hospice care had passed away while I was in the office.