Monday, October 29, 2007

First Church of Chicken Little

Last week, the Central States Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America held its annual Bishop's Convocation, which is your typical professional leaders' conference. The bishop chooses a topic, invites speakers, and we learn and worship and play for three days.

I love the Bishop's Convo, for a whole bunch of reasons. There are often very good speakers; it's a pretty laid-back affair; there's the Area 7 "hospitality" room (that's church speak for food and drink of the most delightful kinds); you get to go to the Lake of the Ozarks in the middle of fall, which is nice; and I like seeing everyone.

It's always a little scary to go to Convo, since I know everyone isn't always glad to see me. Inevitably there will be someone who stands up on the floor and expounds upon our call to hold people's sinful feet (and other parts) to the fire. The year we talked about "sexuality" (which is church speak for "homosexuality"), I couldn't quite make it through the last session. My dear friend and colleague Tim--who is currently on internship in Oregon--came with me that year, and we made it until the last day, when we felt that our dignity had been attacked quite enough, thank you very much. So we left an hour early and had a fabulous ride home, complete with show tunes and a wrong turn through Gravois Mills, Missouri, where the Baptist Church had on its sign out front: "Homosexuality is an abomination." We stopped and took a picture of Tim by the sign, looking as gay as possible, and another picture of the wrought iron words along the stair rail: "All are welcome."

Yeah, sometimes churches are bad at irony. Or really good at it, but unaware they're practicing it.

Case in point: The people who lead the church of Jesus Christ are pretty cynical about the church and the world. I know some cynicism is going to be the order of the day when you're in a profession that asks you to be equal parts fundraiser, counselor, volunteer coordinator, community leader and proclaimer of the gospel. Most of our pastors are underpaid and overworked. And when we get together all by ourselves, there's gonna be some whining.

But, hello? Were there people who went to seminary thinking they were going to work a standard forty hour week and make a barrel of money? We joked about weird hours and bad pay for four years, even as we borrowed money we could ill afford to pay back. That's what you sign up for. As Niki's friend Lisa P would say, "Build a bridge. Get over it."

What is more troubling to me, though, is listening to people talk about "The Church" as the place where people just want to be spoon-fed "feel-good" messages and not asked to do much.

I don't find that to be the case. At least not in my parish. I'm willing to bet that it isn't the case in most of our parishes. I think most of our parishoners want to be challenged by the gospel, to hear the call of Jesus as a mission for their lives. I know the folks I preach to each week do. I know the folks in most of the churches in town with which I'm acquainted do.

I think there's a kind of fatalism creeping across the church today. We're struggling--financially and spiritually--and folks are growing weary. To hear some of them talk, the sky is falling on us. People are chasing after the idols of money and cable television, and soccer is played Sunday mornings on suburban fields across the U. S. The church is no longer at the center of community life. It's no longer a given that people will be in church on Sunday morning.

Unless we give them a reason to be there. Unless we offer them something they can't get on a soccer field or a television. The church has something no other institution or pursuit has: it has Jesus. It has the witness of the apostles. It has the ability to create communities of the gospel. You can't get that anywhere else. You can't get someone to love you as neighbor, the way Jesus taught us to love each other, anywhere else.

I think it's pretty important for the people who lead Christ's church to practice that kind of love for their people. Both their parishoners and the people who walk by their doors. I think it's pretty important for us to speak and act lovingly, even when we're in the safe space of a professional leaders' conference.

Doubtless it could be said, "physician heal thyself." Some of the cynical words I heard at the Convo were coming out of my own mouth. My cynicism tends to be directed primarily at the world, okay, the world of Washington DC, mainly, but still it is probably counter-productive. I'm going to work on that. And I'm going to pray for us all, that we'll find the courage to lead with love, to practice the kind of acceptance we see modeled by our Lord. That we'll be a little less anxious about the future, and a little more trusting in God's promise.

Feel free to call me on it, too. I don't mind my feet being held to that particular fire.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Now Isn't that Special...?

Hat tip to Lutheranchik, whose blog is so much better than mine.

She found this letter to the editor in her local newspaper. The writer is concerned about the "Gay Bill of Special Rights," which I assume is the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and the "Thought Control Bill," which I assume is HR 1592, the legislation to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of categories protected under hate crimes statutes.

For the letter-writer, these are "special rights." The right not to be fired for being a gay man is a "special" right. The right not to be excluded from a job because you are a lesbian is a "special" right. The right not to be beaten on the street because you are transgender is a "special" right.

I know, this debate is old and at least dry, if not totally stale. Still, this writer offered a new reason (or vocalized an old reason, perhaps) for people to lobby against these protections for LGBT people. These protections, she writes "would invite hordes of other groups of all sorts to demand their own rights."

My, we wouldn't want to have that, would we? People running around the United States of America demanding their rights! Heavens to Betsy.

(And who is Betsy, anyway?)

Saturday, October 13, 2007


Hey friends, I have a request. I know Blogger gives you the opportunity to be anonymous when you leave comments. In fact, if you don't have a Blogger account, you have no other choice than to post as "Anonymous."

But I would appreciate it if folks would sign their posts, at least with a first name. I do that when I sign on in other formats, and I notice that most people do that here. I think it helps keep the dialogue on a respectful and decent level.

You are more than welcome to get on here and disagree with me, especially when I'm being petulant (as in the first lapel pin post). But I blog under my real name, and I'm willing to be accountable for what I say. And to apologize when I am being petulant, which I did.

I really want people to feel free to speak their minds. If the only way you can do that is anonymously, then by all means, be anonymous. But if you wouldn't mind leaving your name, I'd appreciate it.


Okay, Less Wheedling, More Info

My last post was a little strong (sorry), and engendered a strong response from someone who thought I was speaking ill of the American flag. Let me be a bit less obtuse. The post was about flag pins, not The Flag. I love the American flag. It is a great symbol of our country, which I also love.

You're right, Anonymous (more on that in a separate post), I don't love the war. But that post actually wasn't about the war at all. It was meant to be a clear reference to what I thought was a ridiculous attack launched at Barack Obama for not wearing an American flag lapel pin.

See, I think symbols are important, but symbolism is just that: symbolism. It isn't patriotism. Flying the flag, or sticking it on your car, or pinning it to your lapel doesn't make you a great American. Just like wearing a cross necklace doesn't make you a faithful Christian. Those symbols can represent your patriotism and faith, but they shouldn't be mistaken for patriotism and faith.

Which is the point Barack Obama made when a reporter asked him why he's no longer wears a flag lapel pin. He gave what I thought was a thoughtful and reasoned response:

"You know, the truth is that right after 9/11, I had a pin," Obama said. "Shortly after 9/11, particularly because as we're talking about the Iraq War, that became a substitute for I think true patriotism, which is speaking out on issues that are of importance to our national security, I decided I won't wear that pin on my chest.

"Instead," he said, "I'm going to try to tell the American people what I believe will make this country great, and hopefully that will be a testimony to my patriotism."

Here's the whole article from the ABC News site:

Fox News grabbed this story and ran with it, attacking Senator Obama's patriotism with abandon over the next day or so. I realize that it was a custom made bite, and those are more important than detailed information about the candidates in the current political climate. I also realize that these tactics are employed by both sides. The Democrats had a twelve-year-old read their statement about the President's veto of SCHIP legislation last week. I thought that was a cheap attempt to inject pathos into a situation that was plenty full of it already.

It seems that our country is at a crossroads. We need strong leadership, and we're responsible for choosing the majority of our leaders. It would be nice if the media would focus on helping us to understand where the candidates stand on the issues, not what they wear on their lapels. That's all I was trying to say.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

On pins and wheedles

Are you kidding me? Seriously. This is the mark of a person's patriotism?
Of course it isn't. But in a pinch it will work as yet another pathetic salvo in the culture war as fomented by Fox (please don't make me say News.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Good for You, James Dobson!

The honchos of the Christian Right met in Salt Lake City last week to discuss strategy.

Kind of like the Sermon on the Mount. The big guys talking about strategy. Positioning. Sound bites.

Well, there are certainly sound bites in the Sermon on the Mount, anyway. It remains to be seen whose bites will have more enduring appeal, but I have my suspicions. Hey, Jesus does have a pretty good head start.

The biggest bite coming from Utah was the declaration that The Christian Right (which is remarkably good at speaking with one voice) will be really really mad if Republicans nominate a pro-choice candidate like Rudy Guiliani. In fact, they will find themselves a nice third party candidate to vote for. And make all of their millions of faithful followers vote for that guy too. (I'm assuming it's a guy--that seems pretty safe.)

Good for them! That's the way it's supposed to work. You examine your values, study the words of, say, the Sermon on the Mount, and then decide whom you will support. Based on principles, not power.

(Having done that myself, I have to say that I wouldn't vote for Rudy Guiliani either.)

Okay, so I know that this is really a power check. James Dobson and Tony Perkins and the rest of the wild kingdom of fundamentalism are trying to see if they have any relevance left in the big scary world of politics. The answer is "not nearly as much as you want." Which is bad news for them, and mixed news for the rest of us.

Fundamentalism gave us George W. Bush, and this travesty has gone on long enough that I don't even have to comment on that. Just say it--they are responsible for the current administration. They know it and we know it and if they are happy about it, it's a nostalgic happiness, because their influence is waning, and everybody knows that as well.

I find that to be a good thing, generally, as I disagree with the Religious Right about most social matters. (Though we are not on opposite sides on abortion. We're not on the same side either, but you simply can't say they're wrong to fight for the rights of unborn children. I wish they'd choose to fight for better child support enforcement and widely available birth control, but there's where we disagree again.)

Here's the thing, though. The Religious Right has been rendered increasingly irrelevant in national politics because they don't play the game very well. They actually expect to get everything they want from our very broken political system. Even the brazen idealists no longer expect that. We've started settling for people who are "electable" and then looking the other way as they compromise compromise compromise. On their promises, on their integrity, on our future.

So I say "good for you" to the religious right for sticking to their guns and expecting the system to serve them. We could all take a lesson from that. If only they would take a lesson from us in return, we might start getting somewhere.