Tag Archives: mission

Fear, hope, and Jesus the refugee

Cranach_Massacre_of_the_Innocents_(detail)

Twas the night before Christmas

America cried out in fear

of foreigners coming from far and from near.

“They might take our jobs, they might take our life!” the people shouted out, overtaken by strife.


Many seemed to forget the savior they claim

was also a foreigner with little to his name.

His parents, unmarried, far from their home,


as foreigners they were completely alone.

No room at the inn, they gave birth homeless, in a manger

to a son whose life would soon be in danger.


The baby, a king, born in poverty.

Lowly, unknown, a king he would be

.
A king who would turn the world on its head,

proclaim good news to the poor,

call for the hungry to be fed.

The embodiment of love, God in human form,

come to save us from the sin with which we all are born.

The way of peace, the way of love,

the way of the cross, and for these teachings he would pay the ultimate cost.

And so we remember, this wet winter night

what happened, what is now and what is not yet.


The hope that was born long ago in a manger

that love that calls upon us to love our neighbor

that peace which passes all understanding

come to Earth in Jesus Christ, our Savior.

Live into love, cast out all fear, act in the hope the Christ child is here.

 

Tomorrow, the church universal will celebrate the Day of the Holy Innocents. The day when King Herod, terrified of this baby of whom he had been told, this child he was warned would grow up to destroy all that he had built, called for all of the children under the age of two to be killed. Mary and Joseph, having been warned of Herod’s wrath, escaped to Egypt, where they lived until the reign of Herod had ended. Mary, Joseph, and Jesus became refugees, fleeing an oppressive government that threatened the life of their child. Had they not been able to flee, had the neighboring nations thrown up walls, fences, or red tape, we would not have the story from Luke today, the story of Jesus the smart, devoted, yet petulant twelve year old. We would not have the gospels. We would not know of this thing that God had done, coming to earth to be with us. The miracle would have ended just as it was beginning.

As we are given these stories of Jesus in his early days, we are given the story that Jesus was some of the things that we look down upon, some of the things we fear, some of the things we despise. Jesus was homeless. Jesus was a refugee. Jesus was a petulant preteen.

We do not have the details of Jesus’ time in Egypt, but they likely sought out other Jews, people with whom they had a common culture, a community of faith, people whose scriptures taught them to welcome the stranger, to welcome the alien for they had once been aliens. This is a heavy emphasis of Jewish scripture – scripture that we happen to share.

Were Jesus to be born today in a similar way, he could be born to a family in Guatemala, living in fear of gang violence, a family in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, South Sudan, Nigeria, or any of the many nations that are embroiled in civil way – a family running for safety, looking to find safe harbor in any nation that would take them – and the current dialogue in our nation would make it somewhere between difficult to impossible to come here. We would build walls, create red tape, to keep him and his family out, because we are afraid. We are so very, very afraid.

And I get the fear. The world seems to be a very dark place right now. As a campus pastor, I am afraid. I fear for my students safety. This fall, the day after the shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, I was walking to campus and heard helicopters above and sirens seemingly all around me. My first thought was oh dear god, no. Not a shooting, not here. I quickly realized that the helicopters were for the fall startup activities on the quad and sirens were unrelated, but for a brief moment, I was terrified. This low grade fear lives within me – I am gathering the campus religious leaders to try to form a unified response to a shooting in the event we ever need one. I get the fear.

But we worship a God who tells us again and again to not be afraid. Fear is the enemy of love. When fear has a grip on our hearts love has a hard time finsing its way in. One cannot simultaneously fear and love ones neighbor. And so God says to us, through the scriptures, the ancient stories of our leaders and prophets, do not be afraid. Do not be afraid, the angels said to the shapers in the field, to Mary, to Joseph, to the prophets — to us. Do not be afraid.

Fear is the weapon of Satan. It is the sword Satan yields to keep us separate from one another, to engender strife, war, envy, hate… all of the things that lead to violence, all of the things that block us from the ability to love as God loves us, the things that cloud our hearts so that we cannot hear that still, small voice inside of us pushing us to love, to trust, to forgive – to be willing to give our lives for the lives of others. Fear keeps us not only from one another, fear keeps us from God.

Fear would keep us from welcoming this homeless, refugee baby into our nation, into our homes, into our lives. And the rhetoric of fear that pervades the conversation in the United States today is working. It is driving us to violate the Christian love we claim to hold so dear, to push away the stranger, to ensure that there is no room at the inn.

These words today from the Apostle Paul are a prescriptive against fear. To begin, we are reminded that we are holy and beloved. You, people of God, are holy and beloved. They, people of God, are holy and beloved. We are called to clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. To bear with one another, and to forgive. To forgive, To forgive. Forgiveness which, through the power of God’s astounding love, frees us from hate, from anger, from the desire for retribution. Above all, writes Paul, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. This clothing sounds awesome. It reminds me of when you get a new pair of sweats and they are soon soft inside and you don’t want to wash them because you know that will ruin the amazing softness. It’s like wearing that, but a softness and comfort that will never wear out, like wearing that all of the time — to work! To the mall! To fancy gatherings! We would always be soft, always comfortable, always ready to love, no matter what the situation. We are called wear these clothes; to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts.

Fear cannot co-exist with this clothing. This clothing destroys fear and opens us up to be the people of God we have been called to be.

What would it look like were we to let go of this fear? What would it look like were we to let go of our anger, our hate, our suspicion of others, to give and love freely without worrying about what would happen next? To some, it may look like foolishness. But, for real, is this the most foolish thing in which a Christian believes? We believe God came to earth in the form of man, died and then was physically resurrected! So much of our faith can be called foolishness. To believe in God is not foolishness. To love without fear, without asking for anything in return is not foolishness. It is the Christian life. To live this way looks beautiful. It looks like heaven. What if were were to welcome the stranger, the refugee, the homeless, the petulant teenager into our hearts and homes the same way we welcome the sculptures of the baby Jesus that lives in our cresh?

Hope was born in that manger 2000 years ago. Hope that love would be the law of the land, that fear would be no more. Fear cannot coexist with hope – at least not the hope that was born in that manger. That hope is a living hope, an active hope that we live into each and every day as we wait for Christ to return, a hope that calls to us to prepare the way of Christ each and every day, to love as we are loved. This hope is alive, it is calling to us to put down our weapons, to put away our fear, to say yes to love, to say yes to Christ.

Because we are loved. Deeply. Without requirement, without payment, without earning it, we are loved. The proof of this lovelies in a manger, in the child of an unmarried couple without a home, who would soon become refugees, This proof of love lies in the man who would die so that we might live an abundant life, a life free of fear.

Hope is calling. Listen, do not be afraid.


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!


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?


And this is why it’s dying

I’m on fire right now. Irate. Burning. I went to chapel today. I don’t go to chapel often. Here’s why.

Chapel has been arranged so that it is impossible to sneak in unnoticed if you are late (as I often am).

I remarked to a classmate, “There should be some kind of warning that you can’t sneak into the chapel anymore!” Said classmate was like, “Yeah, right?”

Another classmate said, “Well maybe you should come to chapel more.”

Me: “I would if I liked it.” (I admit, this wasn’t the best statement, but it is very true)

Another classmate (with much snark): “Good luck in your future parish, then.”

Wow. Yup. And that is why the church is dying. I don’t get much out of “traditional” worship, therefore I have no future in the church. To quote Cee-Lo, “Forget you.” Seriously. (Not the person, the attitude.)

Worship is so much bigger than we’re allowing it to be! It doesn’t have to be anything other than preaching the word and administering the sacrament — the form can be so many different things as long as it reflects the community! Acoustic guitars? Great! No instruments? Great! Hip-hop? Go for it! Bluegrass? Right on!

If your community wants to sit still in worship or they want to clap and dance, let them do it. If they want to stay quiet or they want to yell out, “AMEN!” let the spirit move them (and you), let the spirit fill all y’all! If your community wants you to preach for a half an hour, work into it, ask for help!  Yes, I realize I am using a lot of exclamation points!!!!

If we insist on restricting worship to what we know and what we are comfortable with and what we have historically done we are restricting the ways people can encounter God, Christ and the Holy Spirit. Yes, I understand the irony in me not wanting to go to a type of worship I don’t like. It’s not even about whether I like it or not. That’s actually not what bothers me. Most of my church life has been in congregations that are fairly traditional and I can hang. It’s the attitude that this is the way it has to be, that this is the only style of worship that should exist or that is right or valid that gets my panties in a bunch. This is a learning institution, for crying out loud! We should be learning about all of the possibilities in worship, experimenting with styles and genres. STUDENT WRITTEN LITURGIES SHOULD BE SUPPORTED!!!! I have had enough conversations with my community here to know that the style of worship we have every week does not reflect the skills, desires or voices of the entire community. There are many people who are fed by “traditional” worship. There are many, many more who are not. This might explain why so few people go. This is also a reason why so few people go in the rest of our society. It’s certainly not all about worship, but the refusal of so many to even think of trying anything different most certainly contributes to our declining numbers.

Get out of the box. God is bigger than the box. It’s fine if you keep your feet in, but get your arms out there and see what the world is telling you it wants and needs. More importantly, see what God is telling you the world needs. I bet you it will be much bigger than traditional hymns and a mediocre sermon on a Sunday morning.

End of rant. For now.

I am, we are 32 flavors and then some.


If you program it, they will come (please stop thinking this way)

This is not a balm for the church's lack of young adults.

Programs, programs, programs! Let’s start a new program! We want more _________! What kind of program should we start? Where should we advertise it? What kind of publicity should we do?

Stop. Right now. Just stop. Stop with the programs, stop with the “if we do it and it’s cool and edgy and whatever they will come” mentality. Help me, help you. Help me, help you (add your own movie reference here).

Don’t get me wrong, I think theology on tap/theology pub is a cool idea. It gets church outside of the building and makes theology and worship a public act — and some are really cool and successful. But anymore it makes me cringe when I see someone starting one. We keep picking up things that have worked well in one context and plopping it into others. We keep looking for a cool idea or a program to solve all of our problems with church attendance in a neat and easy way. Have you ever tried to wrangle an escaped sheep? It’s a total pain in the ass. They don’t come when called. The run faster if they are chased. They occasionally respond to bribes, but, really, they are surrounded by grass when they escape and don’t really feel like they need you for anything. They don’t realize that you are there to help, to guide them, to keep them warm and safe. They see you as their captor and they want to keep away from you. You get the sheep back by getting them to trust you, to see you as a safe place. They come back when they see you as the best option in a big world. But you have to be careful, if you push too hard, they will get scared off and run away from you again.

This is not dissimilar to those who are un-churched or de-churched. They won’t come back just for a program that sounds cool. They won’t look at a poster and think, “Holy shit, church people drinking beer? I must see this!” It’s not that easy. You have to go to where they are and be present. You have to talk to them about their lives and not bring up Jesus beyond what you do for a living — until they want to talk about it. You have to build relationships. You have to walk slowly. You have to work and be patient. You have to be willing to have it not be neat or easy.

If you want the young adults in your community to actually start coming around, find out who the most receptive young people might be and give them a call. Offer to take them out for coffee. Say you just want to get to know them or to catch up. Say you need help understanding social media. Ask them to fix things. Let them know that the church is open for their bands to practice. Go hear their bands play or go to one of their art showings or hang out at a bar where some of them work. Just be present. Get to know young adults. Be real. Be honest. Be you. Don’t push. Just by showing them that you are a Christian person who cares, you’re going to make huge inroads. Then, one day, he may call you because of a dream he had or she may come to tell you about an experience in yoga class or someone might stop in in an existential crisis and that’s when you know that you have a relationship. That is when you know that you have shown them a little bit of Jesus, that’s when the grace breaks through. And it will be messy. Then it will be awesome. And, if the young adults say that you should totally start a Theology Pub, do it. Follow them. Let those who have come back take the lead.

My husband red the first iteration of this and reminded me of something. The motivation can’t be to bring the people to Jesus Christ. That’s disingenuous (Hi, I want to your friend, but only so that you come to Jesus) and totally obvious (and kind of creepy). The motivation has to be to love, as Jesus would have loved, and to be the presence of Christ in this broken world.

Less programs, more relationships. Less neat and easy, more hard and messy. Less cool/trendy/hip, more Jesus.


Want to make a mainline protestant uncomfortable? Ask for prayer. Out loud prayer.

Some of the most powerful experiences in my ministry have involved prayer. More specifically, they have involved other people praying or forcing me to pray. This is because I am Lutheran, and public and partnered prayer make me wicked uncomfortable (more on that later). When I was a youth director, my mission trips were insane. Ask anyone. They were awesome, but they were totally insane. One summer, my youth, a brave volunteer, and myself headed  CLE –> CHI –> MPLS. We were going to be really late getting to Redeemer Lutheran in MPLS, but that said that would be fine. They had a prayer service at six pm and they could let us in. We weren’t getting in until at least nine pm, so I was nervous. No way would a Lutheran prayer service still be happening after three hours. We arrived a little after nine and the church was unlocked. In the sanctuary there was a group of people drumming and praying. They prayed for us and our journey, for the lives of our youth and their families back home. We were all flabbergasted. Lutherans praying for hours? My kids couldn’t stop talking about it. They loved it. They wanted more.

A few summers later, we went from a coal town in WV –> Asheville –> Charleston. In WV, we were participating in a YouthWorks trip. At the end of the trip, there was a worship service during which the leaders were asked to lay hands on the kids and pray (yes, I know how wrong that sounds. Minds out of the gutter, please). I was TERRIFIED. I was going to have to be really, really intimate with these kids. Some of them I knew way better than others. I hate praying out loud with others. Too much intimacy, too much pressure, too many eyes on me (yes, I know that it’s not about me. But it is). All of those eyes on me meant I had to do it. So I went around and prayed for my kids and my volunteers, one by one. I was totally panicking inside, asking God for words. Please, God, give me words. And God did provide. None of the kids ever said anything to me about it, but I heard from parents afterward that the experience was incredibly powerful for my kids. It was one of the things they talked about most. And me? I discovered (again) the power of prayer.

This past Tuesday, in my Indigenous Ways of Knowing class, our teacher (a Lakota chief) opened up the class in song and prayer (as he always does). I realized that this has NEVER happened during my time in seminary. Maybe at my last seminary; that was a long time ago. But certainly not in the past semester (and if it happened at all at my last seminary, I venture a guess that it was not often). This seemed weird to me. Does it seem weird to you? I asked a professor about it and she said that there are some people who don’t think it is appropriate, that prayer is not what we are here to do. We are here for intellectual pursuits. ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?!!! For real? I’m learning to be a pastor. I will spend a shit ton of my time praying (that is a mathematical term, btw. The vulgar system of measurement). Apparently, this is another thing we are already supposed to know how to do and/or will learn during teaching parish/CPE/internship. We pray before meals, giving thanks for the food and the hands that have prepared it, asking that it nourish our bodies. Shouldn’t we do the same with the information that goes into our heads? A little giving thanks for the people who have gone before us and shaped out theology and a request that it shape our brains for good gospel witness to the world?

This isn’t just about prayer in seminary. This is about prayer in our lives. Most mainline protestants I know are as terrified of one-on-one prayer as I am. We do it because we have to, and we generally only do it when someone is sick or dying or otherwise really needs our help. Often, we wait until we are asked. I am in this boat too. A few weeks back, a student from another denomination started class with an activity that involved one-on-one prayer. My partner was the professor. We nervously chatted the whole time. What is it about praying with another person that is so frightening?

This is what I feel like doing when asked to pray.

When we pray, we are naked. We are needy. We are vulnerable. Most people, particularly most leaders, don’t want to be seen that way. We don’t want to bring our open wounds into the public arena. We don’t want to ask for help from someone else (many of us have a hard enough time asking for help from God), we don’t want to open ourselves up that much. We want to be strong, perfect leader-types. But we aren’t perfect. We are just as broken as our parishioners, just as broken as the rest of the body of Christ.

Prayer, more than almost anything else we do, forces us to give up power. In prayer, the power is God’s. We have to let go of ourself and let God come through. We have to stop making it about us and make it about God and the other person/people in the room. Are we afraid our prayer will reveal how weak our own prayer life is? How tenuous our own relationship with God is? Many of us are afraid we might say the wrong thing. This is where depending on God comes in. And, if I say the wrong thing, chances are no one will notice. If I say a really wrong thing, I’ll apologize. It will happen. It is a part of our brokenness. That’s ok.

Whatever our problems with prayer might be, whatever it is that makes so many of us react to a mention of prayer with resignation, internal panic or the sudden desire to run away (or any combination thereof), we have to get over it.  Because prayer has a profound effect on those with whom we pray and on our own damaged souls.

Sometime in the next few days, ask someone to pray with you. I dare you. Be careful: if you ask me, I just might take you up on it. I gotta get over myself. True story. Maybe you do too.

A lesson from Rev. Hammer: