Tuesday, December 27, 2005

What really matters

We were called "pathetic" in the Pitch Weekly last week--my congregation, that is. Or the part of it which had gathered in a very cold wind to pray for a sea change in the budget-making process of our nation.

Now, some would say we weren't really being called "pathetic"--my wife among them. The article was supposed to be satire, after all--the writer told us that himself. So "pathetic little gathering" was supposed to be some Swiftian turn of phrase. I'm an English major (and that and a few bucks will buy coffee these days, but I'm still proud of that degree). The satire didn't work for me, at least not in that section of the article. It just felt like a community of people whom I love dearly was being called names.

Maybe if he'd said "paltry," it would have been a less bitter pill. The point was (and this did work) that liberal Christian communities like ours don't often have numbers on their side. Point taken.

But that "sad little congregation" (which is, indeed, a congregation, and not large) is pretty amazing. And Christmas morning, when I was certain I'd be worshipping with the five people scheduled to lead worship and a handful more, we were the liveliest "little gathering" around. I was quite pleased to see the fifteen people who had arrived by five minutes to ten. That was more than I expected.

Imagine my true delight when Ricky Williams came running into worship, followed by his little sister, mother and father. They were at church the night before, and I didn't expect to see them again. Then Bill, who sits in the back and smiles at me while I preach, arrived.

It was a most excellent service, due in small part to my preaching and worship leadership, and in large part to the joyful presence of those in the room. This is a community of people who truly love one another, as evidenced by the cookies being passed around, and the hugs gleefully exchanged at the passing of the peace.

That was my first lesson in What Really Matters this week, and the Pitch article, which really wasn't so bad anyway, just melted away.

Then this morning, Richard Williams, father to Ricky and Gwen, and husband to Niki, went to the hospital. He had chest pain and that awful tightness that usually means something bad, and it was indeed bad. Four stints later, he'll be okay, though he'll likely have to slow down some.

Richard works very hard, taking care of a family in a world which throws up a lot of roadblocks. He is a man I like very much and respect even more. I spent the day trying to keep orders straight at the Bristol and saying a prayer every couple of minutes.

Talk about a lesson in What Really Matters. It's not so easy to be parents, these days, and Richard and Niki do it well. Their family is central, and that is apparent by the way they prioritize their time and energy. That family was blessed today, by the gift of skilled doctors and technicians and nurses. But what is more striking is the way they bless each other every day, and the way they bless our "little congregation" and those who know them.

When Jesus said "I give you this commandment: Love one another," he wasn't offering an abstract platitude that we might reach for but we'd never achieve. He was talking about love, the kind that is simple and oh-so-human. He was talking about real love, the kind one witnesses in a family like the Williams family--love that is patient and kind and strong and constant.

On a day like today, when all that mattered was that family, and the health of its father, it was sure nice to talk to Jesus, and to ask him for help. And to know that his love was there too. When I couldn't get there soon enough, that was what really mattered. In this time of recovery and healing, it will be mirrored by the love of a family, and a community, both of which are pretty darned good at loving one another.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Being Vigil-ant

So Rick tells me I should post more blogs, and I try to do what he says, wise man that he is.

We did this vigil last Wednesday night, and it went quite well. It was called the Vigil for a Moral Budget, and it was just that--prayer for a change in the tide of the budget process, which seems bent on rewarding those who have already rewarded themselves (through hard work, certainly, but I'm not the first to say that the rich "have received their reward"). The federal budget, when all is said and done, will likely be one of the most lopsided, rich up/poor down, budgets ever written. So we gathered to pray about that, and mainly to pray for those who will be left out when the goodies are distributed.

Wednesday, it turns out, is not a great night to invite people of faith to a vigil. I invited a lot of folks who had other engagements. December, it turns out, isn't the best time for folks either. But there were twenty folks there, on a chilly, windy Kansas City evening, gathered in prayer for our elected officials, who don't always seem like "ours" any more.

I believe in the power of government. I believe in democracy. I believe that there are many women and men serving in our democratic government who really want to do the best for the citizens of this country. Unfortunately, there isn't one great answer to the question "what is best?" Well, maybe there is. It is found in the words of the prophets--Amos, my favorite cranky proclaimer among them. It is found in the words of Jesus. It's also found in the proclamation of the Buddha, Muhammed, the Tao, and the scriptures of virtually every religion.

Those with more should give to those who have less--that's pretty much The Answer in a nutshell. And they should do it directly, toute suite. Not by "investing" it in business and waiting for it to trickle down. Come on, we can't really with a straight face (or as close as we can manage) ask a mother trying to raise four children by herself on a meager salary to wait for some help to "trickle down." In fact, we probably ought not to have governmental practices that involve the word "trickle." Language has power, and that language has the power of actually conveying what's really going on.

So the process is broken, and the government seems broken, and soon all of those who've read those scriptures and try to live them may be pretty brokenhearted. Brokenheartedness isn't enough. As hard as it is to try to speak a word of justice to the nations (see Isaiah), it must be done. And we can feel good about ourselves after we speak that word, but our work is not yet done. There are still a lot of people without food in a country with more than enough.

What would happen if we redistributed the wealth of this nation to those who need it the most? Some of them would make really poor purchases. Some would buy drugs and X Box 360's (which may not be that different). That's always been the argument, hasn't it, for keeping the poor on a short leash? They just spend their money on things they don't need. But if "spending your money on things you don't need" was a real reason for the government to control people's access to wealth, then all the yacht companies--not to mention the restaurant where I earn student loan payments--would go out of business.

I happen to think that most hungry people, if given enough money to live on, would buy food.

S o let's just give them the money. And wait for it to "trickle up." What an interesting world we'd live in then.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go

So this post I write not only standing up but dressed in my robe and stole. The pastors and candidates of the Extraordinary Candidacy Project are robed and visible outside the Assembly Hall in order to provide pastoral care to those who need it after yesterday's session. And no doubt to answer questions about why we would dare presume to become pastors in this church.

But mainly to care for those people who are upset over the decisions. If you have seen the news you may have read a bit about it. The short report is that the Assembly really declined to do much of anything. They allowed for "pastoral care" to same-sex couples, and withstood all attempts to answer the question "Does 'pastoral care' mean 'blessings of same-sex unions?'" Pretty much everyone seems to think it does. So pastors will continue to be allowed to exercise their discretion over the matter. That is a good thing, or at least better than a strict prohibition, for which some were arguing. The problem with that resolution is that it began with a bunch of restrictive language about "traditional marriage" and how the blessing of same-sex unions would be in no way equivalent.

We started the conversation about Resolution #3, which would have (maybe) allowed for an exception to the ELCA's Vision and Expectations statement, which precludes persons who are "homosexual in their self understanding" from being pastors in our church, unless we practice life-long celibacy. The first amendment to that resolution would have removed the statement re. "persons homosexual" and made one rule for everyone, gay or straight. That was defeated pretty handily. At that point about a hundred of us--the Goodsoil team--moved a barrier and went onto the Assembly floor. This move was carefully planned and executed. It was respectful and quiet. We simply stood at the front of the Assembly Hall. We thought if the Assembly was going to continue to talk about us, in sometimes ugly ways, they ought to be looking at us when they did so.

We knew when we did this that we were trespassing; visitors are not allowed on the Assembly floor. We also knew that the presiding bishop, Mark Hanson, did not want to have any of us arrested, and would do what he could to keep that from happening. There were some rumblings (we were, after all, breaking the rules and Lutherans like rules. I like rules). Some of the conservative folks did all that they could to have us removed, but the bishop asked that the Assembly return to its business and allow us to stay. There were several more attempts to get a ruling which would remove us, but they all failed.

So we stood, at the front. Quietly.

Ultimately, the Assembly rejected Resolution 3 by a vote of about 48% to 52%. Some are disappointed. I stand with my Goodsoil colleagues, brothers and sisters, in allowing that it was a bad resolution, so we are better off. It would have created a "separate but equal" situation in our church for those lucky enough to find bishops and synods who will let them through a tear in the church tent. Nah. We'll come in when we're invited through the front door.

So that's what's up for now. God is great. God is in charge. The Holy Spirit is moving across the ELCA, and that wind of grace and justice will blow where it will. We are neither in charge not innocent bystanders. We are all part of the Spirit's being, and the Spirit is in us.

Pastor Donna

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Sitting Down

And sometimes you have to sit down.

The level of a anxiety at the Churchwide Assembly is troubling. It is probably also good, as it indicates that we are experiencing the pain of growth, which does sometimes require conflict. But it fells icky being in the midst of folks who are so angry with one another.

What drives it home is when we hear from other folks. Bob Edgar, chair of the National Council of Churches, spoke today, as did a rabbi (apologies that I don't have his name for you) representing Reform Judaism. This was the first time a non-Christian had addressed the Assembly. His address was wonderful (except for the part about the wall being necessary). He talked about culture run amok ("Reality television is becoming stupider and more offensive every day") and our need to call ourselves to something higher. Then he cautioned that we must also look beyond personal piety to the hurting world. Good words.

I'm reminded that at its best the church is the place which speaks a word of grace to a hurting world, brings food to the hungry, and shelters those who are homeless. It will be a good day when we move beyond arguing about issues of sexuality and return to care for a world in need.

Sorry if this is disjointed. Worship is in five minutes, and I don't want to miss the chance to share the eucharist with my fellow Lutherans, the ones with whom I agree, and the ones with whom I don't. That is what makes us the Body of Christ--the ability to stand together in the light of God's grace, the final word on all, and to all.

Pastor Donna

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Walking and Chewing Gum

So you have to stand up to send email at Churchwide. I shouldn't complain--there are some 30 computers set up with high speed internet just for us to use.

But you have to stand up.

I guess that's why we're here at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly, listening to debate over whether or not same gender relationships deserve the blessing of our church, and whether or not gay and lesbian persons in committed relationships deserve the opportunity to serve our churches as pastors.

Because sometimes you have to stand up.

So far it is going well. There are many good friends here, and new allies. I would guess that 25% of the people I've seen are wearing the Goodsoil rainbow sashes. That's a lot of folks.

More later. We're off to the Goodsoil reception, and some of those people are stressed. We'd better get there before they drink all the wine. Just kidding. Well, not really.

Early Morning Humor

So it's 4 a.m. and I've been up for a bit. Already printed the Goodsoil Talking Points and my boarding passes for both flights--what a great thing that is! And I'm reading through my email and come across the funniest thing I've seen in a while:

WordAlone welcomes gay, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered persons into churches, just as we welcome all individuals. For we all are sinners equally in need of repentance and are in need of church fellowship.

Here's all I'll say about that, from my English major heart: the subject and predicate of that sentence do not go together. And if one is going to feign welcome, one might make a small effort to get one's terms correct.

It was a great chuckle to get me going, though. No doubt there will be more statements like this at Churchwide, offering some sort of reparative "welcome." The best response is no doubt a good belly laugh. There is work to be done, and there are many hearts in our church which are open to welcome. So off we go.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The Wideness of God's Mercy

We're off to the Churchwide Assembly tomorrow. Churchwide--a funny term. I'm not sure anything is actually church-wide any more. There are folks in our church who disagree so vehemently, the church may not be wide enough to hold us all. Fortunately, God's mercy is a whole lot wider than our capacity to empathize with one another.

The Solid Rock Lutherans are hard at work trying to make sure that our church never blesses a same-sex union or ordains an openly gay or lesbian person. They are sending out daily posts, which are then forwarded on by our liberal mole to the folks identified in those posts as "The Opposition." The Opposition. I feel so special.

I'll avoid all of the obvious jokes about the Assembly being held within miles of Walt Disney World. This is important stuff, actually. The future of our church hangs in the balance. Will we be a church which grows and evolves with its people? Or will we cling to old prejudices and a literal interpretation of scripture we say we don't practice?

I'll let you know.

Pastor Donna

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Where Have You Gone, Joe DiMaggio?

Rafael Palmeiro, the Baltimore Orioles' first baseman, has been suspended for ten games for testing positive for steroids. This is the same Rafael Palmeiro who testified before a congressional panel in March that he had "never used steroids. Period."

He says now that he never intentionally used steroids. He has no idea how they got into his system.

I want to believe him. I want to believe him because he seems like a nice enough guy, and because it would be better if he were telling the truth. Like it or not, a lot of people look up to baseball players, and a lot of those people are young kids, still putting all the points on their moral compasses.

Jose Canseco, who may or may not be a nice guy, and I'm not going to weigh in on that, told Sixty Minutes that he had injected Palmeiro with steroids sometime in the past. Palmeiro says that's not true.

And I want to believe him. But this is a guy who went from hitting 15.6 home runs per season his first five years as a full-time starter, to hitting over 38 every season but one between 1993 and 2003. In 1994 he hit only 23. He also had only436 at-bats that year (average is in the neighborhood of 600).

Those are only statistics, and they don't prove a thing. So still I want to believe Mr. Palmeiro. Because he held his finger up before the congress and looked so sincere. And you should be sincere if you're before the congress. Or the American public. You should be sincere if you are a role model, and yeah, a guy with over 3000 hits is a role model. So he should be sincere, he should appreciate all that the game has given to him, and he shouldn't take illegal drugs.

Someone once asked Joe DiMaggio why he played so hard every game. He answered, "because there is always some kid who may be seeing me for the first time. I owe him my best."

Rafael Palmeiro owes the kids who come out to see him his best, too. For the sake of the future, for the sake of the game, and for the sake of his own integrity, which has taken a beating over the past few months. I want to believe that he has it in him to suck it up and give the kids his best.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Sunday Afternoons

Sunday, July 31, 2005 4:29 p.m.

Okay, so I have a Blog. What a great world we live in. What is probably more astounding is that I have this much energy on a Sunday afternoon.

I had to do it today, since one of my "If only" things was "If only we could expand our virtual capacity and start reaching out via the Web." That will only make sense if you were in church today.