Monday, May 31, 2010

Growing Up

That in-between time in life
not still a kid, not yet adolescent
when finding a place
finding a voice
finding identity
feels impossible

When kid stuff feels juvenile ...
except when it's accidentally fun

And they (children of G-d)
are so weird
so strange in their changing
that we (children of G-d) are left confused, bewildered
wanting to stay away from them until they're normal again
staying away just when
- though they'd never admit it -
just when they need us closest

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Church of tomorrow?

From when I was young I remember at youth events, and especially in the context of young people taking showing leadership in congregational settings, hearing that high schoolers are the church of the future. I understood what they meant, and to a large degree believed that what they said was the complete truth. However, when I worked at church camp while I was in college, I started to recognize that while young people are the church of the future, they certainly are also the church of today.

We in the Lutheran church join other groups of Christians in recognizing Baptism as a free gift of G-d's Holy Spirit, that a free gift cannot be earned, and that this gift is appropriately given to anyone of any age who would like to receive it. Further recognizing the primacy of the household (or family) in faith formation, we joyfully baptize infants, knowing that G-d does not discriminate.

I fully believe that John, who's like nine months old and at whose baptism I had the privilege of officiating last October, is no less the church today than his sister or his parents are, or than I am. Sure, young people could learn a thing or two. But that's why we are church together, so that the faith can be passed from generation to generation.

I hear a great deal fewer people actually saying that youth in the church are the church of the future these days than I did over 20 years ago when I was a youth. Still, though, I don't think attitudes have changed much. It still seems like adults in the church are not interested in listening to the leadership of young people. Or, adults in the church might listen, but they certainly do not seem willing to give up any of the power that they hold. And listening without sharing power is like a condescending ecclesiological pat on the head. "That's nice ... now run along."

There's the idea that young people are the church of tomorrow, and when older folks (the church of today?) are ready to give up power, then young people can simply step into that vacuum. Part of the trouble, though, is that passing on the faith involves passing on responsibility, passing on real leadership roles, and passing on power in the institution now ~ otherwise, the church of tomorrow will be pretty empty.

And it's not just youth. In my (albeit limited) experience, the baby boomer generation (those who are in church) does not seem willing to give up power to the X or millenial generations. Some people wonder why the church is aging, and why we don't have many young adults in our congregations. I don't. If I'm a young person, and I'm constantly told (whether subtly or overtly) that my leadership and skills are not needed anywhere at church other than to be fit into the ministry structures already established, then I'm going to go somewhere where my skill set and passions are valued and utilized.

Scripture tells us that old people will dream dreams ~ these are important and valuable, and we need to listen to them. But at the same time, scripture tells us that young people will see visions ~ these, too, are valuable and important, but I wonder whether we take the time to listen deeply and intentionally? If we are not willing to actively give up the idea that young people are the church of tomorrow, then I'm tempted to start talking about older people as the church of yesterday.


Life can be complicated ~ we all know this. The thing is, it seems to me, that we in the church seem to think we ought to have life figured out. We seem to think that when people come to the church, we ought to have concrete answers for them. We seem to think that we need to understand who G-d is, what G-d is up to in the world, and how we’re supposed to make ourselves connected to the incarnate divine. We who are leaders think we need to have gotten it all together before we show up in front of the congregation. Even worse, many members of our congregations feel like we can’t even show up for worship unless we’re dressed in our Sunday best and have a happy smile on our face.

Do we give ourselves permission, and do we give each other permission, to not have everything figured out? Do we give ourselves and each other permission to show up in the community if we’re not at our best? Do we allow ourselves to be hurting, to ask serious questions to which we don’t have preconceived answers, to wrestle with life’s uncertainties? Do we allow ourselves to express our confusion about G-d without feeling like we’ll be looked down on?

What if we worked toward doing serious bible study & discipleship, and what if when we did this bible study we intentionally didn’t allow answers? What if we embraced the questions, recognizing that G-d works in the uncertainty of the in-between places? What would that do for our life of community discipleship?

Maybe part of the trouble is that we are afraid to let go of what once was certain. For many people, our faith was certain at one point in our life. Of course, life itself was less complicated when we were children. And then for many, our faith didn't grow as we grew, and now we're faced with uncertainty about the uncertainty we experience in our faith, and we're afraid to let our certainty die. But if we truly believe that G-d makes all things new, why are we afraid to let go of what is old and needs to die?

And what if we believed that we don't need to search for G-d, because G-d has already found us.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

music and faith

I had the chance on Sunday to play a bluegrass liturgy at HFASS. House plays this liturgy for worship a few times a year, about once a month during the summer. Usually there's a small group who plays to lead the singing. This past week, though, none of them were available. Fortunately we were able to connect with a group who plays this service at their congregation. When they came down, though, there was some miscommunication ~ their bass player had an electric bass, and thought we had a bass amp. We don't. Fortunately, there was enough time for me to drive home, get our upright bass, load it into the car, and drive back for worship. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough time to rehearse before worship began. The six of them tuned up and played together some, but they play together all the time. I was the one oddball in the group, and I didn't get to be there for rehearsal.

It wasn't an ideal situation, but everything went fine. The music sounded good, the congregation sang well (like they always do), everyone enjoyed themselves, and Jesus was present.

I realized something in the middle of the service, though. One a musician becomes fluent enough at her or his instrument, and once a musician becomes fluent enough with the type of music being played, it doesn't take much to play together with other musicians. As long as each member of an impromptu group (commonly known as a jam session) is fluent (or at least conversant) with their instrument, all that's necessary are basic parameters ~ key, tempo, style, leader, chord progression ~ for a group to play together.

I enjoy going to bluegrass jams. I'm not the best player around, but I can keep up on a few instruments with most of the songs that get played. The jams that are the most enjoyable for me are the ones that welcome players of all abilities. The picker who really tears up the fretboard sitting next to the new player who just learned and isn't able to change chords quite fast enough on the up-tempo tunes is a beautiful thing. And often the more experienced player will offer advice (give guidance) to the beginner. So what if it doesn't sound perfect ~ what's important is that people are making music together.

What if our faith life was like a bluegrass jam (or blues, rock, celtic, jazz, etc)? What if we recognize that not everyone has (or needs) the same level of proficiency or experience with faith. The more experienced person can certainly share their faith with the beginner, right?

The thing is that we have to do it together. A jam session with one person doesn't do much for anyone. One person isn't enough to make a band ~ one person can't play more than one instrument at once, at least not well. And only together can our voices harmonize.

What if we stopped looking at faith selfishly, and started sharing with others? I recognize that I don't lose the ability to play an E minor chord because I just taught someone to play an E minor. Do I recognize the same thing about my faith life, that I don't lose anything by giving away the gift of being a child of God, a person of faith?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Across the Street

across the street
in the house where the neighbor lived ~
the neighbor who died this week,
leaving his wife of many years to live
alone, in the house they built,
and shared for their adult life
the house where their children grew up
the house where the neighbor kids came
bringing cookies and candy to sell
always meeting a kind smile and a
willing wallet
the house where he worked in the yard,
mowing until only recently
and still tending to the watering

across the street, the house has been busy this week
opening its doors for friends
who don’t want her to be alone at a time like this
plenty of folks can stay for a while
so the house doesn’t feel quite so empty
now that he’s gone
across the street, today
they gather in black suits and polished shoes
sharing sympathies, crying together
telling stories before the funeral
across the street, soon, the car will come
the kind driver holding the door, while
they climb in to make their way to the church
across the street, what will happen next week
after the funeral
after the food’s gone?
will friends still come around
to ask how she’s doing?
will she listen,
thinking that’s his car in the driveway?
will the emptiness of her heart lessen
as the emptiness of the house
starts to become normal?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

comment conversations

I'm not a big fan of shouting matches. I don't mind healthy debate, where points of view are being discussed, or even argued. I don't even really mind if those debates become heated, and the debaters are emotionally invested in what they're saying and in what they believe.

Healthy debate allows a person to express their opinion, disagreeing with another person, and still have coffee together afterward.

Shouting matches, though, seem to be people disagreeing with one another for the sake of disagreeing. Maybe there's more to it than that. Maybe people are disagreeing with one another because of a (perceived) political stance, assuming that because of a difference of opinion on one thing (say, gun control) that there must also be a disagreement on something else (say, immigration). And shouting matches seem to degrade to name calling coupled with unfounded accusations and assumptions about the person's character.

Sometimes, I'm sure, this kind of thing happens in person ~ when the individuals disagreeing with one another are face-to-face. More often, though, it seems to happen in places where people don't have to interact with people who hold different viewpoints. The way I see it, these include: the online world (especially in the 'comments' section of popular blog sites), in front of television cameras (Glenn Beck/Rachel Maddow, as well as political rallies (think Tea Party)), and congress.

The way I see it, the trouble is that we no longer live in community. We can choose to interact with only those people who exactly share our view, dismissing all those whose positions are different from our own. There's no critical evaluation from, or accountability to, someone who might have a different opinion or perspective.

I know it's a greeting-card sentimentality, but I think the world would be a better place if we forced ourselves to eat with people with whom we disagree. The point would not be that eventually one person would change their opinion, 'see the light', and come around to the other side. The point would not be that the two parties would negotiate their positions and 'meet in the middle'. The point would have nothing to do with opinions or positions on any topic.

The point of eating together would be that we begin to recognize that the other person is ... a person. If you've just spent the previous evening sharing stories about what grade school was like, it's harder to shout profanities at them the next day. If you know your families will be getting together later that evening so the kids can jump on the trampoline before the barbecue is done, your conversation earlier in the day will be much less vitriolic.

This is not to say that all disagreements ought to be done away with, or glossed over deference to niceness or harmony. On the contrary, I think disagreements are healthy. But what we need is more disagreements in which we assume that the person with whom you disagree is intrinsically valuable before, during, and after your disagreement.

I know it's tough, but I believe this is even possible in the comments section of blogs. I think in generations past they called it civility.

Scattered and disjointed post, but nonetheless my


Thursday, May 13, 2010


I showed up today at one of my favorite bookstores, but I was 20 minutes early. I had time to kill before they opened, and didn't want to move from my primo parking spot, so I walked up and down the street for a few minutes.

Tattered Cover, the location I frequent, is on Colfax Avenue, the street that's famous for all kind of reasons (not least of which, Jack Kerouac's journey down its long expanse). Colfax Avenue is known for lots of things ~ being a nice, pleasant street to walk down is not one of them. But I had time to kill, and didn't want to walk too far ('cause I'm lazy, as you could tell if you could see the way I'm sitting in this armchair). So I wandered a few blocks up and down Colfax. And my wandering surprised me.

I ended up across the street from the bookstore, where the historic East High School is located. Now every school day, the bookstore is inundated with students from over there, and I pass by the school regularly on my bike. But until today, I'd never noticed the statues and other artwork that once adorned the south entrance to the school grounds. The statutes and other artwork is still there, but I don't think it adorns the space any longer, because it seems to be mostly neglected.

Once I noticed that artwork, I looked at the school building. It, too, is surprisingly beautiful, designed and constructed as what I would call a fortress of learning. Again, I was surprised that I'd never really taken the time to stop and look at this icon of Denver's history.

When I'd noticed that side of the street, I turned to see the building where the bookstore is located. It, too, took me by surprise. I realize that we don't seem to build buildings to be looked at any more. By and large, recently-constructed shopping malls, restaurants, and office buildings pale in comparison to the beauty of former generations' architecture. In the same way, the houses in my neighborhood (built mostly between the 20s and the 50s) are vastly better than the mcmansions being thrown together in housing developments these days.

Of course there are exceptions to every generalization, but I wonder if we're losing the ability to see beauty in our mad, multi-tasking rush to get to the next place we believe we need to be.

I stopped on my walk, and wrote the following.

How often do we walk?
How often, when we do walk, do we see what we walk past?
The beauty of nature, of children playing in their yard,
of public art and thoughtful architecture
is lost on us when we go by riding on rubber
and encased within steel and glass
and absorbed by the radio/ipod/phonecall

Children walk, but when children walk, we watch them
instead of the world around us ~
but children are fascinating, so that makes sense

Teenagers walk, but we don't want to walk with them
and mentor them into noticing beauty ~
do they see it?

Old people walk, while they still are able,
and probably notice the beauty ~
do we listen to them?

Poor people walk, out of necessity
but they're not rich, so they're not important to us who are
so we likely don't listen to them speak of beauty

And the rest of us seem to be too busy or important
(in the world of our own minds)
that we don't see the beauty that surrounds us.

This is not meant to be condescending ~ in fact, I implicate myself more than anyone else with these thoughts. And, more than anything else, my accidental morning walk prompted me to wonder about how we establish and live out our priorities.


Thursday, May 6, 2010

third grade performance

an elementary school auditorium
musty from school-day sweat
is still welcoming to beaming Parents
and younger brothers and sisters
(though the older siblings seem to
just tolerate returning to where
they've already moved on beyond)

they take the stage ~ nervous, yet
confident from the brief rehearsal
earlier in the day.

the Show won't garner any tonys
or oscars ~ or even attention
beyond family pride,
and photos on the basement wall
we now know as facebook

but they perform well ~ for some
the first taste of public notoriety,
and for others the chance to again
center the room's attention on themselves

and for all, a chance to Grow,
to explore themselves, and a memory
to recall on the day when they,
from plastic audience chairs
will themselves beam with pride on
another third grade generation


For generations in this country, migrant workers have done a great deal of the low-wage manual labor that has been necessary to the development of our society. In addition to the migrant workers from (for instance) Mexico, I'm thinking of the many people who migrated from the dust bowl to California looking for work a couple generations ago.

But people migrating from one part of the country to the other is not a point of contention these days. In the wake of the ridiculous law just passed in Arizona, I wonder why we're so scared of and worried about a) unlawful migration, and b) immigration reform.

Are we worried that immigration reform which leads to respect for the person-hood of poor migrant workers will lead to normalization of labor laws for all workers, and that normalization of labor laws will lead to the need for employees to actually treat migrant workers well?


scattered thoughts on Christianity and political conversation

For the past 30 years (or more?), the political discourse in this country has been influenced, and at times overtaken, by the talk about Christian values. While I certainly believe Christian believers ought to practice our faith and live out our values, for this conversation to have monopolized parts of our national discourse is detrimental to the faith community, and especially to the respect we deserve as legitimate conversation partners.

What I mean is this. By taking immutable stands on issues such as abortion, the status of Israel (especially vis-à-vis Palestine), 'under God' (in the pledge of allegiance), and placing the 10 commandments or other Christian monuments on public properties, we have created a caricature of our faith. By playing into the media's perceived need for sound bites in lieu of substantive reporting, we have overly simplified our faith to the point that we are now easily dismissed. In so doing, we have set up a straw man of our faith that is appropriately easily knocked over.

This straw man is what much of non-christianity believes to be the essence of our faith. The tradition of political discourse in this country is diverse and storied. And if we look to the history of what we've inherited, especially from England, our political history is quite rich, diverse, and fascinating. But our conversations about faith go much farther back, and are tremendously more varied and fascinating, especially if we draw on our forebears in faith from the Jewish tradition.

I believe that the complexity and richness of our Christian faith will be reclaimed in the sphere of public discourse. Maybe now is the time to start.


Monday, May 3, 2010

Music and the Sacred

I'm not a big fan of 'Christian' music. When I say 'Christian' music, what I mean is, for the most part, 'praise' music to be sung in church, and 'Christian Industrial Complex' music that is played on 'Christian' radio stations.

(I'm also not a fan of using quotation marks to make a point. However, I'm not convinced that the music I'm thinking of is necessarily always Christian (see especially the thoughts on theology below), but many people think it is and refer to this music as Christian ... so, you get quotation marks. Sorry about that.)

Some of it is melodically decent, some of it is not theologically vapid (if, for instance, you can substitute the name of your boyfriend or girlfriend, instead of Jesus, and it sounds like a pop-music love song, it's theologically vapid). Very little, in my humble estimation, is both musically and theologically palatable, and most of 'Christian' music isn't even worth listening to. Now I understand that many people appreciate, like, and even meet G-d through the medium of this music; however, that doesn't make it any more interesting to me, or make me want to listen.

Earlier today, I was reading an article about sacred art, particularly about sacred music. Now I like much of what we call sacred music. But it made me wonder whether megachurch praise music is sacred. We don't often refer to it in this way. But if sacred music is that which is written for use during the sacred time and space of worship, then I suppose it must be.

There, though, is where it breaks down for me. It seems to me that (what people call) the contemporary church has intentionally moved away from any sense of the sacred. Pastors (ministers, preachers, or whatever title gets used) no longer dress in vestments, or even in nice suits. The trend has been toward dressing polo shirts and khaki pants to stand in front of latte-sipping families sitting in movie-theater chairs. Please don't hear me saying there's anything wrong with any of these things ~ I'm absolutely in favor of intentionally changing what's normal in order to make a point or change people's perspective. And I, for one, am happy to drink my coffee in church. But I'm wondering, in the creating of space that is comfortable and welcoming and as similar to regular life as possible, whether we've lost a sense of time and space being set aside as sacred, and whether we've lost the sense that the music that belongs in that space is sacred as well.

But then I wonder about the music that I do like, and whether that is typically considered sacred music. Bluegrass gospel, black gospel, southern gospel ~ are these sacred? I'd tend to think so, but they're not ordinarily referred to as such. Is it only classical and choral music that fit that category?

Which brings up a bigger question for me ~ with the shrinking of the world through fast travel and readily-available technology (laptops, cell phones, skype, etc.), where and what and when do we set aside as separate and set apart and sacred?


Sunday, May 2, 2010

gathered and sent

table, flame, icon; bread and wine
water in the font
word spoken and acted
for us to gather around

yet we join committees
sing in the choir
volunteer for yardwork and potlucks,
and go to brunch after sunday service

even though we're called to shout
through city streets and country roads
mountains and molehills
~ even through 'death-shadow valley'

we are called to shout hope for the present
becoming visible as G-d continues to
begin to fulfill what G-d
already did on the cross

then, in spite of committees and budgets,
the bread and wine, with the water and word
gather the church together to see grace
incarnate in/with/among each other