Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Lord's Prayer 3.14

I Am Who I Am, your presence saturates the galaxies, and your name is too sacred to limit to the bounds of our language. May your voice of wisdom be heard and may your vision for the world be realized. Provide us all with the things we need in life so your wisdom and vision may be embodied in our lives. Forgive us for the harm we cause to your Creation, as we forgive those who have harmed us. And lead us not into despair, but deliver us into hopefulness. For the resilient Kin-dom, creative power, and sacred glory are yours forever and ever. Amen!

This paraphrase of the Lord's Prayer is based On Exodus 3:13-15.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Father's Day

Thank you to all the fathers who work hard, make sacrifices, and have a lot of fun in order to raise happy children. Thank you to all the fathers who love and support their children. Thank you to all the adoptive fathers who expand their familes and love through open and closed adoptions. Thank you to all the foster care fathers who care for children who need better homes and role models. Thank you to all the fathering men who act as "community dads" for many children. Thank you to all the fathers who successfully find a healthy work-family-fun balance. Thank you to all the fathers who budget the time to engage in hobbies and other fun activities for yourself. Thank you to all the gay fathers who raise their children with love and grace despite the judgements and injustices from society. Thank you to all the grandfathers who guide and support new fathers. Thank you to all the grandfathers who love and play with their grandchildren. Thank you to all the fathers and grandfathers who have positive relationships with their children and with one another. Thank you to Sonora Dodd who started this national day to honor fathers in 1910. Thank you to all the fathers who do these things and more.

Pray for all the fathers who have been unable to have their own children. Pray for all the fathers who have experienced miscarriage. Pray for all the fathers who have lost their fathers. Pray for the fathers who made the choice to support their children by entering them into an adoption program. Pray for all the fathers who have lost their children to disease, murder, war, etc. Pray for all the fathers who have to work many extra hours in order to pay the bills. Pray for all the gay fathers who are told that they cannot be fathers. Pray for all the fathers who have unfairly lost custody of their children. Pray for all the fathers who have had to sacrifice too much of their own life for the happiness of everyone else. Pray for all the grandfathers who have lost their grandchilden for any reason. Pray for all the grandfathers who are raising their grandchildren for any reason. Pray for all the fathers and grandfathers who don't have positive relationships with their children and with one another. Pray for all the fathers who struggle with these things and more.

"Questionnaire" by Wendell Berry

(1) How much poison are you willing to eat for the success of the free market and global trade? Please name your preferred poisons.

(2) For the sake of goodness, how much evil are you willing to do? Fill in the blanks with the name of your favorite evils and acts of hatred.

(3) What sacrifices are you prepared to make for culture and civilization? Please list the monuments, shrines, and works of art you would most willingly destroy.

(4) In the name of patriotism and the flag, how much of our beloved land are you willing to desecrate? List in the following spaces the mountains, rivers, towns, and farms you could most readily do without.

(5) State briefly the ideas, ideals or hopes, the energy sources, and the kinds of security for which you would kill a child. Name, please, the children whom you would be willing to kill.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Enjoying Skittles in Big Tent Christianity

Philip Clayton, Brian McLaren, Sojourners, and many others have talking about the importance of "Big Tent Christianity" in our diverse world. The idea is great. But there are many questions to consider. Is there too much diversity to build such a tent? Can we bring our authentic selves, no matter how different the other people in the tent are? Should we meet in the middle? Who gets to define what the middle looks like? Is any of this actually important? Well, here are my two cents on "Big Tent Christianity."

It's hard to rally people behind a moderate message. It's easier to rally people behind something bold (e.g. liberal or conservative). I'm not saying this is right or wrong, but it just seems to be the way the is culture right now. We live in a culture that likes things bold. The trick is to make sure we don't attack the other bold people who may disagree with us. And this makes "big tent" movements especially important - and difficult. Some suggest we should meet in the middle and hide our distinctive qualities. But "big tent" movements don't mean we need to meet in a smaller, moderate tent. Or only be allowed in the tent if we promise to leave our commitments, perspectives, and uniquenesses behind.

I'm very supportive of interfaith and ecumenical collaboration. One of my professors in my seminary days was Michael Kinnamon, who inspired me to care deeply about the helpful and important work that is done through these collaborations. This is especially important in a dualistic, us-versus-them culture. But a commitment to collaboration doesn't require us to meet in the mushy middle - or to be something we're not. Instead, it requires that we bring our authentic selves to meet the authentic selves of others.

I recently joined the Consultation of Religious Communities, an interfaith council composed of more than thirty religious communities and related agencies. We don't pretend to all be the same. We don't leave our uniquenesses behind. We don't all pretend to meet in a safe middle ground. Instead, Jews come as Jews, Muslims come as Muslims, Catholics come as Catholics, Protestants come as Protestants, etc. Instead of a grey melting pot, we form a colorful bowl of Skittles. The variety of color is the thing that makes it interesting.

Here's the color I bring: I'm a progressive pastor in the United Church of Christ. And I'm this kind of pastor for many Biblical and moral reasons. I'm also compelled by process theology and open theism. To some, these commitments put me in the "liberal" camp. And if it does, then that's where I stand. I can do no other. My hope is that others are allowed to stand where they feel compelled to stand, too. I fully realize that my perspective will be different than other people's perspectives. It's the dialogue and collaboration among diverse peoples that makes the collaborative dialogue and work interesting. It's all about embracing the rainbow of colors.

Rather than attempting to unite everyone in a mushy middle, why not use a more postmodern approach that honors unity-in-diversity. This model would encourage many diverse peoples to be united under one "big tent." Distinctiveness and colorfulness in tact. This means that liberals, moderates, and conservatives can be unified despite our different commitments, perspectives, and uniquenesses. To use the language of Apostle Paul, we're each different members of the one and same body. And each member of the body has a different-yet-important function for the body as a whole.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, in his book The Dignity of Difference, describes our hope and challenge well:
"Difference does not diminish; it enlarges the sphere of human possibilities. Our last best hope is to recall the classic statement of John Donne and the more ancient story of Noah after the Flood and hear, in the midst of our hypermodernity, an old-new call to a global covenant of human responsibility and hope. Only when we realize the danger of wishing that everyone should be the same...will we prevent the clash of civilizations, born of the sense of threat and fear. We will learn to live with diversity once we understand the God-given, world-enhancing dignity of difference."
May these words be a mission statement for Big Tent Christianity. They might help us to open the flaps of the tent wide enough for everyone. Letting the Black Church come as the Black Church. Letting the Evangelicals come as Evangelicals. Letting the Progressive Protestants come as Progressive Protestants. Letting the Quakers come as Quakers. Letting the Roman Catholics come as Roman Catholics. Letting the Pentecostals come as Pentecostals. And on and on until all our different colors are included. Then we can enjoy our Skittles under one big ol' tent.

If you're interested in exploring more, please check out the Civility Covenant or the Big Tent Christianity Conference.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Choosing Unity Over Steeplejacking

Steeplejacking has become a major problem in the Mainline Church. It's just another part of the broader culture war in USAmerica. Steeplejacking happens when ideological Christians use fear-mongering, polemic rhetoric, and emotional manipulation in order to talk congregations into leaving their respective denominations. They even have exit plans. These folks act like the Glenn Beck of religion. They use many of the same styles of promotion and manipulation. And they are well organized.

The Institute on Religion and Democracy is a right-wing thinktank that facilitates the growth and development of the "renewal" groups that engage in steeplejacking. These "renewal" groups are, in reality, conservative activists who promote ideological perspectives on controversial wedge issues. They try to represent themselves as having the only Biblical (i.e. "true"/"right") perspective on these issues. And if you don't agree with them, then they try to argue that you are un-Biblical, un-faithful, and ultimately un-Christian. John Dorhauer, author of Steeplejacking, describes these groups well:
"These are not renewal groups: they are trained activists intent on the demise, the destabilization, and the destruction of Mainline Protestant Christianity. They use cleverly chosen wedge issues to divide otherwise united congregations and denominations. They produce, print, and circulate periodicals, pamphlets, and diatribes filled with innuendo and misinformation intended to inflame the passions of otherwise content congregants."
These "renewal" groups are committed to simplistic slander - not nuanced conversation. They don't believe in engaging in dialogue because they argue that they are the only people who have the "right" answer. Dialogue requires that a diversity of perspectives are honored and given equal time. So, renewal groups reject dialogue in favor of heavy-handed dispensations of their ideology. This makes them salesmen - savvy, manipulative salesmen.

Renewal groups not only use manipulation and slander, but they also use lies about other ministries in order to sell and promote their ideology - and scare people away from their respective denominations. For example, on the website of Zion Lutheran Church, pastor Dean Hess wrote:
"Soon homosexual behavior will be recommended to our youth at National Youth Gatherings, and other events. At Bible camps homosexual behavior will be advocated to our young people. Eventually church publishing houses will be producing confirmation materials that encourage homosexual behavior."
This is untrue. It breaks the 9th commandment, plain and simple. Not to mention the fact that it doesn't make rational sense. But it's brilliant for what it is. It's simply meant to create fear and anxiety in otherwise content people. So in that way, it's a brilliant piece of polemic, emotion-driven rhetoric. It may have nothing to do with truth or reality, but it's a great sales pitch. Then, to close the sale, pastor Hess continued:
"In the end every Christ follower and every congregation must decide if that is what they want and expect from their church. They must decide whether this is the teaching they want presented to their children and grandchildren."
After constructing a fear-promoting scene, the pastor then "asks" each Christian to choose between a false dichotomy: forcing children to be gay or being good Christians. Again, Hess' argument is untrue and irrational, but it's a brilliant piece of rhetoric. It leaves no room to reject the sales pitch that he is promoting. Unless, of course, you're paying attention to the facts and details, which immediately deconstruct his entire argument. But many of the pastors involved in these "renewal" groups are more interested in promoting their sales pitch than promoting the truth. And when this happens, it's important to know who these folks are - and to hold them accountable.

These "renewal" groups include: the Biblical Witness Fellowship in the UCC, Presbyterians for Renewal in the PCUSA, Good News in the UMC, Lutheran CORE in the ELCA, etc. In fact, Lutheran CORE is working hard to force many congregations out of the ELCA this summer. One example of their work is Emanual Lutheran Church in Strawberry Point, Iowa.

Emanual Lutheran Church will vote to leave the ELCA due to their pastor's leadership. They had a special meeting of the congregation on June 6th, whereby they passed a measure to vote on leaving the ELCA. Their final vote to leave the ELCA will take place 90 days after the first vote. Jason Cooper, Emanual's pastor during the discussions before the first vote, is CORE to the core. In fact, he has signed the Lutheran CORE's statement on Scripture. This statement goes far beyond a being a document about interpreting Scripture. It's a document in which collaborators sign up to join the political movement to destabilize and destroy the Mainline Church through promoting wedge issues and fear-mongering. And the current wedge issue of choice for the Lutheran CORE group is the ELCA's statement on gay rights and ordination. Instead of engaging in respectful dialogue like the rest of the denomination, the Lutheran COREs are dedicated to the my-way-or-the-highway approach. Forget the fact that each congregation is allowed to disagree with the ELCA's statement - and can freely choose not follow it. Forget about working through our differences in respectful conversation. Forget about honoring other people's perspectives. Forget about the ninth commandment. Forget about Christ's call to a ministry of reconciliation. Forget it all. Apparently the "renewal" groups are more committed to a continual renewal of discord, division, and destabilization. I don't know how Jesus responded to situations like this in his time. But I think John 11:35 may sum it up well: "Jesus wept."

As you can tell in this post, I am concerned and passionate about this problem. But my ultimate hope is not to call renewal groups to account. My hope is that the whole Church is called to account for our sins of division. Let's join and re-join together in our common ministry of sharing the Good News of God's love. We are, after all, one body with many members (1 Corinthians 12:12). We don't all have to be the same - or think the same. But we do have to reflect the ministry of unity (John 17:21) and reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18) to which we have been called. Let's be the Church. Together.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

BP Spills Coffee

Wow! This satirical video from UCB Comedy is actually pretty accurate. Enjoy!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Accounting for Human Torture and Experimentation by the USA

The USA used torture and experimentation on fellow human beings during the Bush administration. Here is an article about the most extensive report to date. These unethical and immoral acts must be fully investigated, publicly prosecuted, and never used again. Nothing short of the moral authority of the USA and soul of our nation is at risk. Thankfully there are people speaking out. The National Religious Campaign Against Torture has partnered with Jim Winkler, Michael Kinnamon, Gerry Sorotta, Peg Chemberlin, Richard Cizik, and Scott Allen to produce a video about the torture and experimentation - and the effects of those techniques. Please take a moment to watch it. It's disturbing - and it should be. Torture is horrific. Click here, here, and/or here to take action.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Prayer For Today

All-Weather Friend, we pray that you remain with us in good times and difficult times. Help us through the hard times. Pave a way out of no way, so that we can walk from the dark valleys to the green pastures. And when we experience the good times – when we walk through those green pastures – help us celebrate them for all they are worth.

Holy Nurse, we pray for healing and comfort for all those who are sick or hurting. Allergies, AIDS, cancer, depression, and many other things afflict your people. Pour forth your healing presence. And heal us physically, mentally, spiritually, and in any and every way we need it. And help us to live each moment of our lives to the fullest.

CEO of the Seas, we pray that you end the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. Just end it. It has gone on far too long. Act swiftly to compensate for our sluggishness. Inspire us with ideas that can stop this ongoing disaster. And in the years to come, inspire us with innovative ideas that can provide for our energy needs in ways that are gentler to your Creation.

Commander-In-Chief of the Universe, we pray that you bring forth greater peace throughout the world. Help us to reduce our arsenals, cut back our spending, and keep home our soldiers. Increase our understanding of one another – and help us to work toword a more just and fair world for everyone. We pray particularly for Israel, Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the United States.

Amen!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

God Is Here, God Is Everywhere

Have you ever had a job you liked so much, you almost felt guilty for getting paid to do it?

In the summer of 2003, I had one of those jobs. I was the house-boat trip leader for camp EWALU. Basically, I got paid to cruise up and down the Mississippi river with a bunch of high school students – while chatting about God. For the whole summer! It was a pretty sweet job.

But there was a difficulty. The theme of the summer was the Holy Spirit. It was a pretty abstract concept to teach youth. And I gotta say that I was pretty nervous. Especially the first week. But each night at sunset, my co-counselor and I led a Bible study about the Holy Spirit to the best of our ability.

Everything was going okay until one of the boys began speaking up more and more. He was a smart kid, but always took the conversations in strange and nuanced directions. We were prepared to go from here to there in the conversation. But this kid was all over the place. It was interesting, thoughtful stuff he was adding. But he made it hard to facilitate a conversation – and tie in everything he said. We weren’t sure if we should kick him out of the Bible study, or make him the leader. It was a strange situation.

Then one evening on the beach, during the invocation to worship, this kid interrupted with the question: Why do we invite God into our presence? Shouldn’t we be the ones who invite ourselves into God’s presence? We’re the ones that need the reminder – not God. And without a pause he told us a story about his mother. It went something like this:

My mother often told me that God is always present in our lives. When the wind blows, a flower sprouts, a friend smiles. The Spirit is always present. She had told me this so often that I began to believe it.

But when my mom got cancer, I questioned her about God. Where is God now? I feel empty. But she reassured me that the Spirit is still just as present as ever. She then told me that no matter what happens to her that she will always be with God. And God will always be with me. So, I believed it. So much so, that I began getting irritated when people prayed for God to be present with my mom. Wasn’t God already there? It felt as though they doubted God – and my mom! But I never questioned them aloud when they offered their prayers. I stayed quiet. I kept the annoyance to myself.

Then my mom’s cancer got worse. And worse. And worse. Yet she continued believe that God was present in her life through the day she died. And she always told me that with a smile. And I’ll never forget that.

Nor will I forget what the pastor said at her funeral. “Gracie is now safely with God.” For some reason that was the last straw. I broke down and cried. My mom isn’t with God now. God has always been with her. And continues to be with her right now. And through God, I know I am still connected to her.

Because of my mom taking the time to point it out, I know – I know for sure – God is always present. She opened me to God’s ongoing presence in my life. Honestly, sometimes I still I need a reminder.

We are the ones that need the reminder. Not God. So, why do we invite God into our presence when we should be inviting ourselves into God’s presence?
What do you say to a story like that? Especially coming from such a passionate 16 year old? Seriously, I didn’t know quite what to say. The only thing I could think of was just to say “amen”! It was one of the best invocations I’ve heard.

What I know, is that this teenager taught us more about the Holy Spirit in his short story than our carefully planned out Bible study would have. And the other kids got it. They understood. It was incredible. It definitely felt like the Holy Spirit was speaking through this kid on the roof of that house-boat. He gave a powerful invocation. Inviting us all into God’s presence. Reminding us that God is present. And that rings of Psalm 139:7-12:

Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
God is here right now, just as God was on the roof of that houseboat, and with the mother of my camper.

God is with us when we rise into the heavens of life – the good times. When our eyes tear up with joy at weddings, God is there. At the beach watching a beautiful sunset. At the hospital when a grandparent holds their newborn grandchild for the first time. God is there. And God is even present when we finish big projects at work (that we, maybe, waited until the last minute to finish yet still managed to get done). God is indeed with us in all of the glorious moments of our lives.

And God is with us when we descend into the Sheols of life – the tough times. When we tear up with pain at a funeral, God is there. When we spend sleepless nights worrying about our friends and family in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the world. During the oil spill in the Gulf. And during these uncertain economic times. God is here.

God’s abiding presence is always with us. Even in the common ordinary, everyday parts of life: God is here. Making every moment of our lives sacred. Not because every moment of life is good or easy, but because in every moment we are drenched in God’s presence and activity. And when God is present, amazing and creative things are possible.

Admittedly, sometimes we may feel more connected to God – sometimes less. But the connection is always the same for God. I heard the following story a while back:

There was once a son of a rabbi who would only pray in the woods. One day, the rabbi asked her son, “Why do you go outside to look for God, when God is the same everywhere?” Her son thought for a moment and then said, “I know God is the same everywhere, but I am not. So, I go where I can feel God and listen to God best. I go into the woods to God a chance with me!”
God is always present with us, but we may not always be open or receptive to God’s presence. Perhaps the business of everyday life gets in the way. Possibly we experience God best outdoors and remain inside most of the time. Or maybe we listen for God only in the big “burning bush” or “mountain top” moments. And we know from the Bible that the place to go to hear the booming voice of the Lord is a mountain top – especially Mt. Sinai. But in I Kings 19:11-13, Elijah has a different kind of mountain top experience. The Scripture reads:

There was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before God, but God was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but God was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but God was not in the fire; and after the fire a still, small voice. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.
Elijah’s encounter with God did not include divine fireworks like Moses’ experience with the burning bush. Instead of the traditional Old Testament symbols of God’s voice coming in earthquakes, winds, and fire; Elijah heard God through God’s “still, small voice.” Or some translations say “God’s sheer silence.” Either way, Elijah heard God’s voice in the quiet, and responded to God’s call. And came out of the cave.

God may speak to us in dramatic life experiences – the highs of heavenly experiences or lows of Sheol experiences. And God may speak to us in the quiet and the ordinary – planting flowers, mowing lawn, or driving to work. However God may speak to us – wherever God may speak to us – we are to called to listen, respond, and come out of our caves like Elijah.

As we listen for God’s voice, we, in the words of Marjore Thompson, “attune ourselves to the gentle stirrings of the Spirit within and around us.” We attune ourselves to God. We open ourselves to God’s presence. We invite ourselves into God’s presence. And, we mindfully give God a chance with us.

As we pay attention to God’s presence, we can increase the “vitality and sway of God’s Spirit within us.” And since God’s presence and voice are in every aspect of our lives, we can take the advice of my camper, and practice opening ourselves to God in every aspect of life. There is no sacred and secular. There is only sacred, because every moment is graced by God.

Each moment is a holy moment; a moment to mindfully open our sails to the wind and work of the Spirit among us. For the pastor’s son, that meant being outdoors. But for each of us, it may be something different. Maybe it’s nightly prayer, silent meditation, singing hymns, going to outdoor concerts, etc. No matter what we do, the important thing is that it works for us. It just needs to remind us to be open to God’s presence in our average daily lives. And help us to listen for God’s continually beckoning voice.

God is still speaking! God is still present! God is still active!

As Peter Mayer says, "Everything is holy now." Amen.