Monthly Archives: December 2012

Our broken world


When tragedy strikes, we search for a reason. Many of us plug ourselves into the 24 hour news networks or social media in order to get constant updates, hoping that one of those updates will give us a reason, that one of those bites of news will answer our questions and the answer will make everything understandable. Then everything will be okay.

But it won’t.

Because we are broken people living in a broken world.
We live in a world in which it is all too often easier to blame others than look at ourselves.
–in which men are mocked if they show their softer side, and are implicitly, if not explicitly, told that displays of physical strength are a sign of manhood and you are less than if you back down from a fight.
–in which people are encouraged to meet violence with violence. After all, this is our national way. It is what our government models for us.
— in which people are more interested in protecting their right to guns than in looking at ways we can reduce gun violence.
— in which it is never the right time to talk about gun violence (or any other violence).
— in which we have completely forgotten how to disagree civilly and regularly resort to demonizing (and threatening) those with whom we disagree
— in which mental health issues are surrounded by an air of shame or brushed under the rug, and in which getting help for these problems is difficult and expensive

— in which we repeatedly cut from our schools the exact people who most trained to recognize and help the kids who are on the road to violence — guidance counselor and social workers — and we over stuff our classrooms, overwork and underpay our teachers so there are too many kids and not enough energy or time to really notice who is in trouble
— in which we prefer the illusion of security provided us by guns, alarms, bombs, security checkpoints and ideologies to getting to know and *gasp* loving our neighbor.

We don’t just live in this world, we are active participants in it. We make the guns, we make the bombs, we argue angrily until we are red in the face, we spew hate, we ignore our brothers and sisters in need, we mock men who show tenderness or back down from a fight, we stigmatize the “weird” ones in our communities, we mock those who seek help for mental illness, we vote for people who continually make mental health care more difficult to afford and access, we blame each other instead of supporting each other (I’m looking at you, Monday morning parenting quarterbacks and other interweb commenters), we refuse to pay more taxes or elect different officials so that our schools are better, we vote to underpay our teachers, remove arts and counselors from the schools, we assent blindly to security checks and pat downs while people buy assault weapons.We hold tightly to what we have (money, possessions, food, love) because we are so afraid of not having that we neglect those who have real and true needs.

Many Christians hold more tightly to their right to bear arms than to Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek or to love your neighbor as yourself.

We bear responsibility every time someone is shot, whether in a mass killing in a school or a lone murder in an apartment. We have done this.

It is our responsibility (humans in general, Christians in particular) to work for a just, peaceful and loving world.

“Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

But instead of leaning into hope, we lean into fear. Instead of leaning into love, we lean into anger and resentment. Instead of leaning into God, we lean into material possessions and trust in our own power. And we have been doing it this way for thousands of years. We are in the same place as the Biblical prophets, only our weapons are much more destructive.

This is not about putting God back in school in some official capacity. God is there. God doesn’t need an invitation to enter into our live, into our suffering. God is there. Always. To walk with us through the pain, to guide us through the darkness and to be our light at the end of the tunnel. God is there. In fact, God wa there – in the form of teachers giving their lives for students, protecting their kids, showing love and calm in the face of danger. God was there in the first responders and in everyone who has shown up and who will show up to care for the victims, their families and the community.

God did not do this, God did not “let this happen.” We did.

How do we ensure this never happens again?

We choose love over fear.

Love and trust and faith and hope aren’t easy. And they don’t guarantee comfort or a life free of pain or danger. In fact, they pretty much guarantee the opposite. Loving and trusting will bring pain. Working for peace and justice in our world will put you in danger (of being an outcast of nothing else). Being a voice for the voiceless has a cost. Loving deeply, in the way Christ asks us to, WILL change you. And that is terrifying. But we must change.
Love is a surer plan for peace and justice than guns or bombs or security checkpoints or wars or ideology will ever be.

So as we search for something to do to comfort the people of Newport, CT, recognize that we just might be assuaging our own guilt, our own complicity in this act. This is not a bad thing, but it is an important thing to recognize.

Light a candle, say a prayer for those little souls lost in Connecticut.

Then use that guilt, use that pain, use that anger to CHANGE OUR LIVES AND THE LIFE OF THE WORLD.

To change your life: Instead of adding to the teddy bears that the kids in CT have received, find a local group home to give to. Go to a nursing home and visit someone who hasn’t had visitors in years (they are, in my estimation, the loneliest places in the world. Except maybe jail, but I haven’t been there). If you go to church, see if there are homebound members who could use a visit. Sign up for Big Brothers/Big Sisters or some other mentoring program. Tutor in a local school. Ask what teachers need for their classroom and donate it. Talk to the homeless people you pass on the way to work every day. Show them kindness. Buy then a coffee or a sandwich. If it feels right, invite a stranger to eat together. Engage in a political conversation with someone with whom you vehement disagree and listen. Really listen. Don’t shout. Engage. Love. Trust. Allow yourself to be moved.

To change the world: Become an advocate for schools, for mental health, for gun-restrictions, for global health, for the homeless, for victims of domestic violence, for the poor. Work to teach young men how to be men in a way that allows for tenderness and noes not allow for abuse or rape. Work with and/or on the behalf of someone who has no voice. Get loud. Create change. Make sure that the deaths of those children in Newport, in Columbine, the people at the movie theater in Aurora, the students at Virginia Tech, Darius Simmons (shot in front of his mother in Milwaukee this summer), Kasandra Perkins (girlfriend of Jovan Belcher, murdered by him late in November), and every single victim of violence in the United States and around the world.

Choose love. Act on love. Let it disturb you, let it change you and the world will be changed.

Can an introvert (or shy extrovert) start a church?

This is me, peering out to see where I fit in. Is it safe to come out yet?

This is me, peering out to see where I fit in. Is it safe to come out yet?

I have spent most of my life in traditional church settings, but I have never really felt at home there. I wanted church to feel like camp, but it never did. So I went to regular church. For most of my years, I didn’t know there were other options. In seminary part I, when friends and I dreamed of coffee house or bar churches, it seemed like a pipe dream. Now it is happening. People I know, respect and love are starting their own churches. Church bars, congregations centered around meditation and service that flow from word and sacrament, congregations that speak to the people on the margins. It is everywhere. In my head, I will pastor a congregation like this. I will start something new, I will find the people on the margins of the church and of life and we will work together to build life in Christ and walk in God’s path. I have a million ministry starts in my head. I love each of them and want one of them (or all of them) to happen.

There is just one problem.

I am really, really shy. While I process thoughts and feelings like an extrovert (outside of myself), am comfortable talking to a few hundred people in a pulpit or performing on stage, and I even get energy like an extrovert sometimes (by going out and being around people), I am equally drained by people and am completely uncomfortable, sometimes downright afraid, of introducing myself to people I don’t know. It takes every ounce of my energy to start a conversation with someone I haven’t been introduced to or don’t have an express, and narrow, reason for approaching (approaching people because I like people, because I am curious, or because I want to build a ministry are not easy reasons for me).

When I understand my role and my context, I am fine. I can walk up to people and have a conversation. But when my role is unclear (or isn’t the role of a leader), or I’m learning my context (it is new to me and I to it), I am painfully shy.

At the moment, I am in a rather traditional congregation. I enjoy it. I like the people, I enjoy worship, I respect the leaders and the congregation’s place in the community. And I still have to force myself to not hide in my office after worship and, instead, go into the hallway and meet new people. I like it here, but I don’t know if this is the kind of ministry I feel called to. I could do it, and I could probably do it well. But it would be like wearing a really nice suit that doesn’t fit me quite right. I’m not sure if it is what I am meant to do. I feel called to church planting (Mission Development in the language of my church), but I imagine “ability to talk to strangers regardless of context” is pretty integral to mission development. There are places and times I can talk to people apropos of nothing, but it’s certainly not my norm.

Can I be an introvert and a church planter? Is that possible? Or do I have to either sacrifice the call I feel or my emotional/physical comfort? Or can I find a more traditional parish where I can do new weird things and where I will feel like I am in a comfy pair of jeans and not a nice but ill-fitting suit? Is there a middle path?

What say you, friends?

An apology

I was blessed to be raised in a very healthy, supportive, loving Christian environment. Many have not been so fortunate. I have long been aware of the damage done by Christians (mis)using the name of Christ and the cover of the church. Recently, however, I have been reading more and more about the scars left by spiritual abuse, by excommunication, exclusion, slut shaming, sin shaming, church sanctioned homophobia, sexual abuse and more. I’m kind of overwhelmed by it. It makes my heart-sick to read so very many accounts of pain and suffering caused by those who call themselves “Christians” (or Jesus followers or whatever was trendy that month). It pains me beyond words that so many Christian leaders are more interested in personal power and glory than in spreading Christ’s love to the world. So many stumbling blocks have been placed in the way of God’s people by individuals and institutions. So many have been hurt.

I just want to say, as a born and raised Christian, and a leader in the ELCA, I’m sorry.

I may not be the right person to say it. I am just one person, and I’m not the person who hurt you (or, rather I hope I’m not). But I am all too often driven to apology by the acts of other Christians in the name of God/Jesus/Church. I apologize to friends, to God, to the air around me. But I want to put it out to a wider audience, if possible.

I am sorry.

I am sorry that you were taught that you must be quiet, obedient and submissive in order to be a good female child of God, in order for God to love you, in order to be a good wife, mother, daughter, and woman. I am sorry that you were taught that men’s desires, thoughts and needs were and are more important than yours. God has called so many strong women into ministry in life and in the church (Deborah, Priscilla, Mary, Elizabeth, Sarah, the woman at the well, Phoebe). You are not called to silence. Your desires are no less important in marriage, church or life than those of men.

I am sorry that message of submissiveness has told you to stay in abusive relationships and has led confused children to be stuck in abusive situations out of a misplaced and damaging call to respect authority. This is wrong. God does not call anyone to be abused or to be a victim of violence. God offers shelter and love to the outcast, the forgotten, the imprisoned. Christians should too.

I am sorry that Christian leaders use their power, influence, charisma, position and perceived relationship with God to prey on you. I am sorry that you have been sexually abused/assaulted by Christian leaders. This is completely unacceptable, and violates quite a few commandments (as well as modern-day laws that are there for a reason).

I am sorry that you have been kicked out of their homes, families, faith communities, schools, circles of friends and other relationships because of their sexual orientation and/or gender. I am sorry that we have failed you, our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, in times of crisis and need as well as joy and celebration. Love and sexuality are gifts from God, and when love exists in an environment of mutual love, respect and power, God rejoices. Those quotes people have thrown at you from Leviticus are part of purity codes we long ago stopped living, Sodom and Gomorrah is about lack of hospitality/ welcome to strangers, and Paul’s writings use a word for homosexual that can’t be found anywhere else in ancient Greek texts — so we don’t know what he is referring to (for sure). What we do know is that Jesus never said anything about it, and certainly never excluded anyone from his ministry (find some great resources on homosexuality and the Bible/Church/Christianity here).

I am sorry you have been made to feel like God doesn’t love you because of who you are, who you love, what you look like, what you believe. I am sorry you have been made to feel like a failure at faith because you have questions or doubts.  God created you, God knew you before you were born and God wants to be in relationship with you. Every relationship has questions and doubts (especially with an entity that is invisible and is represented by broken people). Doubt is the seed of faith.

I’m sorry for all of the times Christians have used the Bible to back up their prejudices, for every time you have been the victim of verbal, physical, spiritual or sexual violence because of your race, nationality or religion. Jesus called everyone to the table, preached a gospel of love and never violence. Christians are called to do the same. We fail a lot. I’m sorry.

I am sorry for the times you have been called out for your sin in ways that were judgmental, inappropriate, unhelpful, and painful (or just plain wrong). We are all broken, we all mess up, make bad decisions, hurt others and ourselves. When the people were about to stone a woman for her sins, Jesus had her back and convicted those who wanted to stone her at the same time. Someone should have done that for you.

I am sorry you have been threatened with hell and damnation. No one has the right to do that to you. I really wish everyone would realize that threatening people with hell is not a conversion tactic. Nobody likes it. If it’s any consolation, I’ve been told I’m going to hell many, many times, so at least we’ll have each other. Fortunately, I believe in a God of grace who asks for faith, not works, so I feel pretty good about my access to the kingdom of God.

I am sorry for any and all of the ways you have been injured by the church. God does not call Christians to judge people, God calls Christians to love radically and sacrificially (part of that sacrifice is suspending judgement, I think). While many of us have succeeded, many of us have failed.

And for that, I am so, so, so very sorry.

Lots of Christians are sorry for the injury done in the name of Christ. Missiongathering Christian church in San Diego put up this billboard in Cali in response to prop 8 and in NC in response to prop 1.

Lots of Christians are sorry for the injury done in the name of Christ. Missiongathering Christian church in San Diego put up this billboard in Cali in response to prop 8 and in NC in response to prop 1.