Category Archives: Evangelism

If churches want to be more diverse — maybe we should start with worship

I was just listening to a fascinating episode of Radiolab that took a look at race and racism in the world of debate. In short, they talked to black debaters about the ways the language and norms of the debate world excluded black people. The main subject of the show shared a story of walking into a national debate competition in high school and having everyone in a large cafeteria stop talking and stare at the black students who just walked into the room. Then he participated in a debate with a partner who instead of arguing the topic at hand, she argued that the debate itself did not allow for black voices, black culture, black ways of being and speaking. She argued that the basic setup of debate set up a ton of obstacles that kept black students from not only winning, but participating. It’s a fascinating episode and you should check it out.

This got me thinking about how we in the mainline protestant church, particularly in my home denomination, the ELCA, tells people of color, women, people with disabilities and the LGBT community (among others) that they do not belong in our pews through the norms of our worship. As we worry about how to become a more diverse denomination, we cling to what might be the main thing that keeps us inaccessible to people from so many other places on the margins. Our worship norms, our language, our music — our frozen chosen style — may create so many barriers to entry it is no wonder we are so damned white (96%, if you are wondering). The way we worship and the way we react to different styles of worship, music changes, etc (either protesting or tokenizing) reinforce white supremacy and keep people who are not a part of the dominant culture (or who don’t speak/have an affinity for the language of the dominant culture) away.

Nettie Jahns 003

Most of our ELCA churches still look like this, only the clothes are way less cool.  (1902 Confirmation photo, St. John’s Lutheran Church, Fremont, OH)

 

This is not new information to me. But I had mostly looked at it from the point of view of including other white people — white women, white people with disabilities, white members of the LGBT community. I hadn’t thought enough about how the very language we use may be a reason that people of color stay away.

For example: When I go to churches that have a ton of Father God talk, I get tense. I get annoyed. When I see a large amount of masculine language included in prayers, I get irritated. I want to see myself in worship; I want to hear that my LGBTQ community is included and that those who don’t identify with male or female gendered language have a space in worship. But I don’t consider how the worship might be exclusive to those for whom our the language of the dominant culture doesn’t make sense. I use music in worship that is accessible to people who like predominantly-white hipster music, but I don’t work to include much music that might be accessible to non-white people (which is some ways is because I don’t have those skills). I mean, I use some of the stuff from This Far by Faith, my denominations African-American liturgy, but that’s as far as it goes (also, I would highly doubt that anyone would have any idea that was what I was doing. In fact, I actually quit the gospel choir in my seminary because of the constant drone of masculine language in gospel hymns, preferring my comfort over the comfort of others who experience far more oppression than I do as a white woman.

The language, music and style of our worship services are, in general, that of the dominant culture. With the exception of the non-white Lutheran congregations out there, we all do the same thing in the same way (to one degree or another). Even when we are doing something “different” we are using the language of the dominant culture whether we know it (admit it) or not.  When we tell people of color that their songs aren’t Lutheran enough, when we exclude the possibility of including non-hymn music in worship, when we stick to the script, we reenforce whiteness on a grand scale. Some people in oppressed groups like our theology and our community enough to stick with it, but most will just walk away.

Last week, the ELCA clergy Facebook group did an experiment. All white clergy were asked to step back and listen to provide space for voices that are generally marginalized on the page. While there were many postings that caught my eye and tugged at my heart and my social justice bones, there was one I saw that pertained to this writing. One woman pastor of color posted a gospel hymn with the words, “It’s nice to post a non-Lutheran song here without worrying that it will be completely dissected for its non-Lutheran message. We can simply enjoy the song and singer. Also, realize that this is typical of the music that many of those not in church listen to and which inspires them.” This is what we white pastors have a horrible tendency to do: we explain away all of the reasons something doesn’t fit into our culture when it is incredibly meaningful for someone and make assumptions about whether the person who loves the songs understand the theology behind it. This is a shining example of how we, in the church, reinforce white supremacy and keep other cultures out of our pews and our lives, whether we mean to or not. We whites plain to others (or straightsplain or mansplain) why their language does not belong, and by doing so, we claim the space as “ours.” We tell other people that they do not belong, that they do not matter, and that our cultural preferences win. Every. Time.

There are exceptions to our (Lutheran) tendency to adhere to the cultural norms that are rooted in our European heritage, and I believe that whenever possible we (rostered and lay people) should get outside of our comfort zones and experience the worship of communities different from our own. When I was a student at LSTC, I attended a predominantly black church in Harvey, IL. What I experienced there blew my mind. I cannot express how uncomfortable I was at first. People would (gasp!) speak during worship, uttering “Amen” and “Praise the Lord!” during sermons, prayers, etc. Everyone would hug during the passing of the peace. There was a hip-hop liturgical dance troop, and the music was far more along the lines of Kirk Franklin than Martin Luther. But the members of that community went out of their way to make me feel at home. Every week I would try to escape before the passing of the peace, avoiding the barrage of hugs (I grew up in a shake hands with the people in front of and behind you church). One week, this little old woman stood in front of me as I moved to leave. I told her I had to go to the bathroom. She said to me, “No you don’t. I see you every week. you’re passing the peace today!” Then she hugged me. In that hug, she shattered 24 years of frozen chosen-ness inside of me. I began to enjoy that people were so into worship that they would vocally respond to things that resonated with them, to look forward to the gospel songs (I always liked the hip-hop liturgical dance troop and think that should happen everywhere). I had to make a cultural commute to be there, but the people helped me along. Making it easier was that the words for the liturgy were, by and large, the words I knew in my heart, so we were really meeting each other halfway. What can we do in our predominantly white spaces that meet people who aren’t of European descent halfway? How can we open up our spaces so that there is something for everyone?

Yes, we have an African-American liturgy and a Latino Liturgy, but for the most part they stand alone or are only included for theme times like Black History Month (and, honestly, I am probably just being hopeful here about what we do) or Pentecost. Pentecost — the one Sunday a year when we all welcome other languages to be spoken in our space. What would it look like if we used pieces of these liturgies every week? If we intentionally brought the languages (liturgical style, music, structure, tone, etc) communities that we don’t think of as “traditionally Lutheran” into our spaces. What if we examined our norms to think about the kinds of barriers they might put in the way of people seeking community in Christ? What if we occasionally used our bell choirs for a little hip-hop or meringue, or we got in the habit of using a more call and response style of liturgy? Or if we taught our congregations that it is okay to speak when the spirit moves you (there is no side eye like the side eye given to someone who Amen’s through a sermon at a predominantly white church). How can we remove barriers to not only white women and white queer folk, but to errybody? What would an intersectional* worship look like?

I don’t know if this would have a huge effect on our abysmal diversity statistics. But It seems like a really good place to focus some attention.

Friends who are not of the dominant culture: what do you think? How can we as a church become intersectional in worship? Would it matter?

 

BTW, I am not remotely saying that there aren’t people of all races who enjoy hymns or that classical music is a white thing. But I am saying that these are things that our white culture is most comfortable with and it might behoove us to look at the ways these things might be creating barriers for people who aren’t Scandinavian/German Lutherans.

 

*Intersectionality is a concept often used in critical theories to describe the ways in which oppressive institutions (racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, xenophobia, classism, etc.) are interconnected and cannot be examined separately from one another. So, by intersectional worship, I mean a worship that allows people to see their whole selves, all of their identities, reflected in the worship service. This definition is from Wikipedia 😉


How to be a Christian without being a jerk about it

Dan Piraro so often gets it right.

Dan Piraro so often gets it right.

A few weeks ago, the marvelous Lindy West over at Jezebel wrote an excellent post called, “How to be an Atheist without being a dick about it.” As someone who has been the target of my fair share of dickish Atheists in my life, I really appreciated it. However, the behavior of dickish Atheists pales in comparison with some of the behavior of my Christian brothers and sisters. So, dear people, I give you some recommendations on how to be a Christian without being a jerk and turning everyone off to not only Christians, but to Jesus. (I’m going to try to cut back on the language in the event that some Christians who need to hear this are turned off by the swears. Let’s see how I do.)

1) Stop threatening people with hellfire and damnation. Nobody likes it. It achieves approximately nothing so far as spreading the gospel is concerned.

I don’t even know where to begin with this one, and I’m not going to get into my thoughts on hell and the existence thereof. I have no idea what threats of hellfire are supposed to accomplish. It’s like screaming at someone, “I think you’re ugly and awful! Date me and I’ll fix all of your flaws!” Sign me up? Not to mention the fact that most people who don’t believe in the Christian concept of God DON’T BELIEVE IN HELL. Therefore, your threats are meaningless. How does threatening someone with something they don’t believe in do anything other than make you (and by extension all Christians) look silly? That’s like telling me that if I don’t behave, Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy will boycott stopping by my home with their treasures.

“Oh, you think I’m going to hell? Well, then I’d like to be a part of your community and worship your God!” said no one, ever.

2) Stop “speaking truth in love” or whatever you call it. This includes love the sinner, hate the sin (which sounds more like hate than love every time).

Let’s be honest, the most often I see this line used is in the attempt to “correct” the gays, so that’s my primary focus here. Look, I get that for many Christians, correcting someone on their behavior can be a soul saving act. But, let me be clear: speaking the truth in love just about never feels like love. It feels like judgment, anger, hate, prejudice, bigotry, evil, immaturity and a bunch of other negative adjectives (and often times, that’s because that is what it is). Now, there may be times someone needs to be called out on their behavior, like when they are being a total jerk (see this post) or when they are harming themselves or others. Usually, it is best when someone has given permission to have truth spoken into their lives. That means they are ready for it, and what you have to say is valued. Proceed with caution and love. It is important that, in the event you feel the need to correct someone on their behavior, you ask yourself some things:

A) How well do I know this person? If the person you are about to “speak truth in love” to isn’t a close friend, stop yourself right there. Just stop. The phrase “speak truth in love” comes from the letter to the Ephesians, a worshipping community of the early church. These were people who lived in community together, not random people shouting at each other what they were doing wrong.

B) Is anyone getting hurt by this person’s behavior? And by hurt, I am not talking about the state of their everlasting souls regarding eternity in heaven or hell (which is up to God, BTW, not you or me). Drugs destroy bodies and relationships; abuse of a partner or child is life damaging and soul killing. Have the talk. The sex lives of consenting adults (unless they are cheating, knowingly spreading a disease, or engaging in super risky compulsive behavior) are not hurting anyone.

C) Have I thoroughly examined my heart to make sure I am acting out of love, not fear, prejudice, or wrong teaching? If I am not engaged in a regular prayer practice that involves looking into my own heart and confronting my own sin, I am are in no place to correct someone else. And I don’t know about you, but I still have a lot of confronting to do. A lot. Try thinking of what love is according to 1 Cor 13: 4-7:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Which brings me to #3:

3) STOP WITH THE JUDGING ALREADY

In the gospel of John, Jesus comes across a crowd of people about to stone a woman who was caught in adultery. He says to them, “If you are without sin, go ahead and cast a stone. If you have sin (which face it, is all of you) go ahead and stone her but make sure you throw some stones at yourself for good measure after you stone her.”

Wait, that’s not the story.

All too often I hear people talk about other’s sins, convict others of sins, then add at the end, “But, I mean, I’m a sinner too, I know that.” Dude, that’s not what Jesus said to do. Jesus said to stone her only if you were without sin. How about instead of stoning/judging each other, we love each other? Real, deep, compassionate love that sees the brokenness and aches to see it healed with love.

4) Stop saying that God is acting in destructive ways because of the gays, feminists, Muslims, Atheists, abortionists, communists, socialists, Obamacare, liberals, pornographers or whatever. I’ve already written about it here. These storms are happening at an increased rate not because of our personal “immorality” but our corporate sin of degrading the environment and acting like we’re just gonna get another one.

5) Get right with science. I don’t even know how to explain this one. Climate change is a thing. Evolution is also a thing. The ancient people who wrote the Bible would have looked at us like we were nuts if we told them we were taking their stories as actual fact. The United States is falling behind in global education ranking because of our math and science scores. Kids from very religious households are going to college unprepared for intro science classes because they haven’t learned about evolution and they think the Earth is 6,000 years old. There are plenty of scientists who are people of faith and believe that there is an unmoved mover behind all of this. In fact, many people believe that knowing more about science actually makes God all the more wondrous.

If you can’t get right with science, try to understand that there are very valid reasons to believe in science (I really can’t handle that I just typed believe in science, like it is a choice). We would do a better job of spreading God’s love and salvation if we listened and loved instead of shouted and judged.

6) Understand that there are people who are never going to believe, for whom the idea of God makes no sense whatsoever. Faith, according to the Bible, is a gift of the Spirit. Some people don’t have it. Be cool about it. Be friends. Love, laugh, chill and talk. Have conversations about ultimate things, come to understand why a person wouldn’t believe in God. Even for those who have been given faith, it is a hard thing to sustain in this world. Know someone who doesn’t believe in God? Love her. Be salve to his wounds. And let up on the witnessing.

7) Empower women. Paul had women working with him. The woman at the well brought her village to belief, women were the first to witness the empty tomb and tell others. Women are smart, strong and equipped for leadership at home, in the workplace and in the congregation. Our bodies are not made to be ogled at, commodified or make medical decisions about. How someone else feels about my body is not my fault. I will show others respect and Christian love. I don’t owe anyone fielty or subservience disguised as complementarianism, and I don’t have to wear long skirts or cover my head, TYVM.

8) If you know/hear/suspect someone has been molested, sexually assaulted or sexually harassed by a church member/leader, listen, trust and report it. That’s just a big old duh.

9) Stop trying to legislate using the Bible as your main argument. The Bible can’t be used to make public policy. It can certainly influence reasoning for supporting or opposing a policy, but it must not be the sole reason. Evidence, studies, economic impact, human rights and constitutionality — these are reasons to make or take down laws. Not because the Bible said so. Even in situations when our religious beliefs call us to end injustice, we must (as people living in a democracy, not a theocracy) find reasons to supplement/complement our Biblical reasons for legislation.

10) Focus more on corporate sin than personal sin. Care more about racism than what a woman is wearing or who someone is sleeping with. Get more outraged by war and poverty than something scandalous and/or titilating on tv. Worry more about the melting glaciers than who is marrying whom.

11) Understand you lose any and all moral high ground when you decide to support a racist, xenophobic, sexist, petulant, lying, cheating, oppression supporting demagogue WHO DOES NOT BELIEVE HE NEEDS TO CONFESS SIN TO GOD OR ATONE FOR ANYTHING for president. You cannot talk about the sanctity of marriage and at the same time support someone who has been married three times, cheated on his wives, and likely continues to sexually harass/intimidate women (and who will be on trial in December for raping a child). You cannot talk about how you value life and support someone who a) refuses to allow people seeking life into this country b) seems to be fine with people threatening the life of his opponent and c) still thinks innocent men should get the death penalty. And you can never, ever ask others to repent when you claim into the Christian family someone who believes he is above that.

When I was going to church camp, we used to sing a song with the refrain, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” I want that to be the truth. I want to know that when I tell people I’m a Christian, they will think of all the work my people do on behalf of the poor and outcast. I want to be proud not only of my God, but of my people. But that’s really hard. Because, right now, our public image is more like, “They will know we are Christians because our leaders say weird things about AIDS and storms, support sexist, xenophobic racists, would rather refugees die, and we yell a lot about who can marry whom.” So, let’s cut that shit out, shall we?


Celebrate the good in the church

buddychrist Every now and then, church stuff gets me down. I have decided that, when that happens, I’m going to look to the many amazing things I know are happening in the name of Jesus.  I need your help. There is some amazing stuff happening in churches around the country (and the world) that should be lifted up, but it is hard to know about all of it when we’re in our little corner of the world. I’m going to list some of the exciting stuff I know about and the awesome people I happen to be connected to. In the comments, add amazing stuff you know about and pass it on. I don’t want to put any parameters here; I’m looking for ministries that are life giving, new and/or renewed, and are moving the people of God into the future. New ways to reach people, interesting ways Christians are working towards the kingdom here on earth.

In no particular order:

Luther’s Table. My friend Gretchen Mertes (with the help of a number of churches and a million volunteers) runs this Lutheran cafe/bar/music venue in Renton, WA. There, one can rock out with a beer and with some Jesus. It is clear you can come as you are and you will be welcomed. The food is good too 😉 They do some great service for the community, including free holiday meals. Luther’s Table is also home to a growing congregation, Roots of the Table, where worship is very different from traditional Lutheran worship and the music is very good.

All People’s Church in Milwaukee, WI. All People’s is an vibrant urban church with an amazing vision and incredibly strong sense of community. If you ever want to listen to a sermon that will get you up out of your seat, listen to Pastor Steve Jerbi (another good friend of mine). The congregation does amazing community education, they are working on issues of food insecurity in their ‘hood (and education around the topic), have a community garden, a food pantry, are building a green house, do job training, and are just generally awesome. I wish I lived closer so I could go to there. I’ll have to subsist off of Pr. Steve’s sermons.

Church of the Apostles in Seattle is one of the original ancient/future or emergent churches. I keep trying to describe aspect of their ministry and, each time, the adjective I want to use is dynamic. I recently went to the ordination of their new pastor, Ivar Hillesland, and it was wonderful. I look forward to what they do in this new phase of their lives together.

Church of the Beloved is a new monastic community in Edmonds, WA. Their music is excellent, as is their idea of communal living. I couldn’t do it, but I greatly admire the way they live.

Valley and Mountain is a community that is also here in Seattle (see, I mostly know what is happening around me) and I love what they do. The way they worship is so life giving. Their tag line on their website is “deep listening. creative liberation. radical hospitality.” That’s a good description. I’m kind of sad I can’t be a part of their community, but that is the life of a pastor.

Trinity Lutheran Church in Lakewood, Ohio is my home church. The people there are a large part of how I grew to be the woman in faith that I am. They have a strong community presence, a soup kitchen, food pantry and community garden. They’re been Reconciling in Christ (open and affirming to the LGBT community and everyone else) for as long as it has been an option (I think) and instead of VBS every summer, they have Peace Camp. They’ve also had a woman pastor for as long as that has been an option. If you live in the greater Cleveland area and are looking for a church, go there. Oh, also, for you Lutherans out there, they’re a mostly white church that uses This Far By Faith. That is another thing I love about them.

Phinney Ridge Lutheran Church is my current internship site. I am an intern at a church that has young people showing up and becoming very active in the church. My first few weeks here I met so many people who were interested in joining who were in their 20’s or 30’s. This is an organ and choir church. This is a church where there is processing and elevating of the gospel and my supervisor wears a chasuble for worship (he gets really dressed up in fancy pastor things). Somehow, with all of the liturgy and hymns and organ, this church feels very alive, like the people aren’t just going through the motions. They’re super into it. And that draws other people in. Also, they are very, very into rite and ritual here, particularly baptism. The membership class is no joke — it’s an adult catechumenate. All potential members gather every Sunday night for months to eat together and have fellowship in small groups. In small groups, people share their faith stories and talk about matters of faith — no questions or topics are off limits. I love this. I’m kind of almost a little Baptist when it comes to asking people to make commitment to their faith, and too many churches seem to be afraid to ask much of members. Phinney asks, and in turn it receives many new members every Easter Vigil.

Re:Imagine out of San Fransisco. I love what they do. Mark and Lisa are incredibly warm people, and the one time I had the opportunity to experience their community, everyone was so welcoming. I wanted more.

Quest Church in Seattle. Multi-ethnic, social justice oriented, prophetic, welcoming… Just rad.

Sorry if I forgot anyone I should have thought about.

Now, what do you know about? Who is doing good work around you? Who is inspiring you? Let’s share the good news!


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.


Why can’t Christians agree on one thing: love our neighbors (and that this doesn’t look like “speaking truth in love”)

Dan Piraro gets is, why can’t we?

I am regularly frustrated by the plethora of examples in this world, in our society, and in our media of Christians being jerks. Just today, I read a blog article about a couple who berated a gay Obama supporter about his vote and his sexual-orientation, all the while using the language of faith to do so. It sickens me. This is not what God wants of Christians, and it’s really not helpful regarding bringing people to faith.

So, what does God want? God wants us to follow and be faithful. This is the first commandment, the first thing God had to say to Moses about how to live as God’s people and the thing God repeatedly laments people are not doing (see: all of the prophets).

How do we do this?

  • Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8)
  • To lose the chains of injustice, and untie the cords of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free and to break every yoke… to give your food to the hungry and provide the homeless poor with shelter… (Isaiah 58)
  • Love the Lord your God with all your heart, strength and mind and love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12, Luke 10, Matthew 22)
  • Love one another because love is from God and everyone that loves is born of God and knows God. (1 John 4)
  • Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christs sake has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:32)

Here we have a little something from the prophets, the gospels (AKA stuff Jesus said and did) and the letters to the early church. God is a little repetitive on this point and Jesus came to try to clarify even further — because people were still missing the point. We still are missing the point. We are still paying more attention to the letter of the law than the purpose of the law. It’s tearing our churches, our traditions, and our nation apart — and yet we still don’t get it. Jesus said that the sum of all of the laws was that we should love God above all things and love our neighbors as ourselves.

Why isn’t this how we live? Why isn’t this what people see of us when we are on the street, on the news or on Facebook? By we, I mean all Christians? Why do we defer to judging (which Jesus totally says not to do), and being mean and then — the worst — disguising it as love? Why do we use “I’ll pray for you” as an insult?! What is wrong with us?!!! What are our churches teaching that leads us to be so mean, spiteful, callous, uncaring and downright awful? Cause that ain’t what Jesus calls us to be. It’s not what he taught and it’s not how he lived.

Look, I know that there are a lot of things upon which we can’t agree. And I get it, sort of. I understand that Christians who believe that the Bible is the inerrant word of God and Christians who believe the Bible is the inspired word of God have a really wide gap between us. It can be really, really hard to talk over that gap. And I get that because of this literalism some people can’t believe homosexuality is a part of God’s gift of human sexuality. I get that there are a lot of things we all read in(to) the Bible and believe are Truth and we cling to them because these things are the pillars of our faith, they are what hold us together when everything is falling apart. I get it.

What I don’t get is how the main pillar we all cling to is not God’s love shown to us in Christ Jesus, how it isn’t the self-sacrificing love of the Christ who told us explicitly to love our neighbors, who told us not to judge one another and who showed love to the most despised of society. How is that not the main pillar of our faith — of all of our faiths, literalists and non-literalists alike? How is that not what supports and holds up our faith and our life day after day? How is it that we are, instead, clinging to an obscure law in Leviticus (while ignoring all the laws around it) or to some unwritten command to tell everyone about their sins, loudly and vehemently? How are these the things we are communicating as church leaders and laypeople? This isn’t rhetorical. I really want to know. How did the face of Christianity become so mean — and what can we do to change it?

Jesus’ love should be the pillar we cling to and the bridge that allows Christians to talk across the divide of literalism. Why isn’t it? More importantly, why isn’t it the way we live every day as a witness to the love that was given to us?

Some help here?


Reimagning Church Camp

Imagine this: there is a place where you can be completely yourself, and be loved for everything you are. In this place you can sing, dance, laugh, pray, play, run, create, explore and live more fully than you do in your every day life — possible live the most full life you can. This is a place where you can ask questions you may be afraid to ask in your every day life and those questions will be explored, not ignored or put down. This is a place where you feel God as a real, living presence and become more aware of the value and example of the life of Jesus and of the movement of the Holy Spirit in your life. When you leave this place, the relationships you have formed will support you throughout your life. When you experience crushing loss, these friends will be there to carry you. When you experience immense joy, these friends will show up to celebrate with you. This place will feed your faith in God, in others, and in yourself.

This is how I experienced church camp. Sure, there was teenage drama — the boy I liked who didn’t like me back (oh, Cory… sigh…). But I don’t remember there being cool kids or losers like there so often are in teenage life. I do remember learning to love people I never would have talked to in my daily life and being loved in a way I never thought possible. It is the experience of Camp Mowana that grew my faith as I spent most of my teenage years at punk shows with Atheist friends. It is the love I felt at camp that lives in my heart and reminds me of God’s love when I feel unloveable and worthless. It is the friendships that I made at camp that kept me faithful during the lean years, the times when it seemed like everything was dark and God was nowhere to be found. I have said many times that my camp experiences and relationships have possibly saved my life — and definitely saved me from myself more than once. I am not the only person who can tell this story about church camp (I recognize that there are some awful church camp stories out there, that’s not what I’m goin’ for here).

There is a whole lot of happiness in this picture. You have no idea. Unless you are in it, then you do.

And yet traditional, cabin in the woods church camps seem to be dying. This makes me so sad — not just because I am so attached to my beloved Camp Mowana, but because losing camps will mean losing an amazing way to foster and feed the faith of young people. We are losing the very people we need to reach the most. The problem is, we are trying to reach them by going to places they aren’t. If our churches are shrinking and youth involvement is particularly struggling, how does it make sense to depend on local congregations to  fill the cabins? Why are camps fishing in ponds that are, by and large, dying?

The big question here is this: How can camp be missional?

What if, instead of focusing on the people in the pews, we focused on the people in the surrounding towns? What if we made camps a place where people could explore faith, not just a place where it was fed to them? Would it be possible to be open to the “spiritual but not religious” and yet retain Christian (Lutheran, in my case) integrity? Can a camp be Christian “under the hood”?

What if our camps were also vibrant spiritual communities where regular worship happened once a week? What if we invited the community in for weekend meals? Or, even crazier, what if we invited local bands in to perform, hosted yoga retreats, provided levels of Christian experience for people who weren’t too sure about church? What if we had weeks that taught farming or primitive skills or computer skills with a side of Jesus? Is any of this possible?

I’m scheming and dreaming new ways we can do church camp. Help me out. What is being tried? What is working? What isn’t? If any of my non-Christian friends read this – could anything draw you/your children/your family to a camp that was identified as Christian? What can we do to revive or rebirth outdoor ministries?