Thursday, December 30, 2010

books, bulletins, and faith

Something has happened in the Lutheran Church over the past 30 years. OK, a lot has happened in the past 30 years; right now, though, I'm thinking about books and bulletins.

I remember feeling a sense of pride and camaraderie with ELCA Lutherans when I first started breaking out of my insular church world. I remember being one of a few Lutheran students at the United Methodist seminary I attended, and early in my first year hearing one of the Lutheran students stand up and describe the Lutheran Book of Worship to the (non-Lutheran) students. He explained that, because any ELCA congregation and feel at home in worship.

Granted, the LBW takes some figuring out ~ the liturgies are in one section, the hymns in another. Plus, there are a lot of sections that usually get skipped over (since they're used once or twice a year, if at all). There's a lot of back and forth, trying to find your place. It helps to have a guide sitting nearby the first couple times you use that book for worship. But it's usable, and it's what I grew up with.

It wasn't too long after that seminary event that the Lutheran church started publishing hymnal supplements and other worship resources. Before long, instead of one hymnal in the stereotypical pew, there were two or three ~ and Lutherans started juggling ~ bulletin in one hand, liturgy book in the other, set one down to pick up the book with songs in it, and don't ask me to pick up a bible.

I don't mind book-juggling too much, if I know I'm in a group comprised entirely of people who are familiar with all the books we're using in worship. I've experienced, though, worshiping with a non-Lutheran community when I wasn't familiar with their worship books. I was lost and confused, and only stayed because I was there with a friend.

The congregation I'm part of doesn't use worship books. Instead, we print bulletins containing the entire liturgical order, hymns and everything ~ and we're not alone in that practice. Other congregations choose to use one or two books for worship. Times have changed since the days when a person could enter any Lutheran congregation on a Sunday morning and expect worship to be pretty similar to what they're used to. There's not a standard book any more.

I've heard people say that we need to teach young Lutherans how to use the worship books, since they're growing up not using it for worship. I understand the sentiment ~ that book was like a symbol of identity for me, and I think it is for many other people who have been Lutheran in this country for a long time.

But wouldn't it be better for us to teach young people to identify with the bible, or with the community, with their family, or with Lutheran theology?

Of course, this begs the question, 'for a young person, what does it mean to be Lutheran?', and more broadly, 'what does it mean to be a person of faith?' I believe that young people (and older people) are longing for a place where they can explore issues of faith among people whom they trust to not judge, and who take faith seriously.

How seriously does your congregation take faith? If we assume that a community spends more time and money are items that are more important, then we have a way to gauge what's important to a congregation; just look to see where the most time and money are spent, and you'll have an idea about what's important. How much time and money are spent on discipleship for young people? How much on the building? on feeding the hungry? on the stewardship campaign? on Sunday morning coffee? on outreach to the neighborhood? How much time and energy are spent of faith?

I still miss the sense of belonging that I felt by way of the LBW ~ maybe we can build that same sense of belonging around something that really matters.


Monday, December 27, 2010


tinsel and bows
litter the living room
or, if the wrapping paper
now litters the dumpster,
still the tree sheds needles
which persistently reject
the advances of a
worn out vacuum cleaner

when the malls move on
quickly to returns,
and as soon as possible
valentine hearts
make their appearance
even though, for some
it's still

christmas ~
don't you allow the sales
to move you beyond the twelve days
when G-d enters the world
of peace
of conflict
of joy and grief
of life and death
in our celebration, G-d rejoices
in our pain, the divine heart breaks
G-d's heart breaks open
and G-d's self is poured out,
refreshing as champagne
and bottomless as diner coffee ~

with it's incarnation
does not confine itself to
one, or twelve, days
or even to the four weeks
following thanksgiving
but whatever day
wherever two or three
in the Child's Name
collect themselves
there is Christmas, G-d incarnate

so now, a day or two after
tinsel and eggnog are disposed of
we wake to coffee with Auden
our happy morning over
and trusting that G-d is not gone
but among us always

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


we've forgotten how to wait

cell phone conversations on the highway
laptop computers on the couch
while the kids ask for homework help
over the background of television noise

we've forgotten how to wait

we're great at multi-tasking, trying not
to 'waste' time ~ since 'time-is-money'
rules our lives, the more we do
the better we get at doing doing doing

we've forgotten how to wait

"I can't wait for Christmas"
from the mouths of children
through weeks of not being able to wait
but Christmas doesn't come any sooner

we've forgotten how to wait

what we teach our children, though
we ourselves forget believing that we
can micro-manage our own lives
for each minute of the time we're awake

we've forgotten how to wait

we've forgotten how to slow down,
even just for a moment ~ we've lost
the sabbath experience of Advent
the gift of taking a break from the frantic

we've forgotten how to wait for the divine
to wait for G-d to work on G-d's own time

Thursday, December 16, 2010

meditation on Psalm 146:5-10 for Advent midweek evening prayer

We wait, in advent expectation
for the coming of our G-d
for G-d incarnate
to incarnate in our midst.

we wait, joyfully expectant
looking for new life to be embodied
* em-bodied and enfleshed *
by our G-d

New life, from the one
by whose Word
heaven and earth
the seas and all life
was once new

we wait for new heaven
and for new earth as it is in heaven

and we do not wait alone
all creation groans in joyful anticipation
of a new day
when our life is upended
by G-d’s life ~ by G-d’s Word

we wait for a new day
when the broken are made whole
when the blind see
when the lame leap with shouts of that same joyful exuberance

the mighty one will show strength
even (especially?) to the lowly,
lifting them up to stand alongside those brought down from thrones
even (especially?) to the hungry, filling them with good
even (especially?) to prisoners,
freeing us from bondage to the chains of sin

But even as we wait
we are caught holding back
G-d’s other-focused reign
as we turn in on our own thoughts and words and deeds

G-d’s promise, though,
is bigger than our sin
bigger than our shortcomings, our faults
G-d, despite us (or because of us?)
enters into the world
enters into our brokenness

incarnates into our reality
announcing the reign of G-d for all generations

Praise the Lord
who is coming into the world


Monday, December 13, 2010

City Traffic

bicycles weaving through cars on the street
and sidewalk pedestrians

fancy boots draw attention to themselves
as they walk by worn out shoes
pushing a shopping cart
laden with everything owned by the
feet in those goodwill loafers

different modes of traffic go about
the business of their day
sometimes, high dollar business
others, spare change in a cup

on occasion, a dollar, unneeded
reaches out the window of a camry
meeting the cardboard-sign-businessman
and providing life for a moment
(intoxicating though that dollar may be)

at the next corner,
a delivery truck,
lights flashing in the loading zone
turns a bus sharply left and back into traffic
while a snowboard-jacket-clad
skater longboards down the
double-yellow stripe

each doing what they need to
as they pass by my
coffee-and-a-journal business
where the profits add up to only
a few lines of ink on paper

Church Choir

Church choir soloists will likely never be famous singers, never be on a notable stage, never sing with the symphony. Church choirs will likely never be heard by anyone beyond the church, except for maybe friends and family.

Church choirs, though, share more than the greatest operatic and orchestral performances. They share faith through music, and they share faith especially and by design within the context of community.

The beauty church choirs share, objectively, will probably never be at the same level as top performers. But beauty is not objective ~ beauty is found elsewhere. And from the voices of the choir composed of friends whose lives we share and participate in, to the ears of the beholders, church choirs open up compositions of faith in such a way as to bring to a community the promise of new life.


Friday, December 10, 2010

breaking in

Your kingdom come ...

and we wait for its coming.
but for whom do we wait?
who is coming as king?

and if the kingdom is coming,
what will it look like?
will we recognize
Your kingdom
when Your kingdom comes?

we wonder; we watch; we listen

then, when the world and its values
start to crumble
(though we know they will be rebuilt,
since we'll never let go
of what we (foolishly) value)

when it starts to crumble,
even if just for a moment,
in the crack between
crumble and rebuild
we see the start, again (& again)
of Your kingdom breaking into
a cross-shaped manger

Friday, December 3, 2010


The scandal of creation is that, no matter what the "Good Guy triumphs in the end and evil is defeated" movies might try to say, in the real world evil wins.

The scandal of the cross is that, even though evil wins, the world does not have the last word. In the resurrection, any power evil once had no longer matters. In the cross and resurrection, evil is rendered impotent.


Thursday, December 2, 2010


I've found myself reflecting on some statements about scripture that I've heard recently. People tend to say lots of different things about scripture (and all kinds of other stuff) to pastors, but the two statements that currently are capturing my attention are:

I see the bible as a book of history.
The bible's primary concern is helping us become better people.

These are separate statements, but I believe that they are related, because neither takes scripture seriously enough.

To the first statement: If scripture is a book of history, I can find much more reliable accounts in myriad other locations. If I want to know history, I'll check the library, with it's many books that were better researched and documented before they were written; I'll check written documents from other cultures to see what their accounts of events are. If I want to know history, I'll keep in mind that the documents in the bible are written from the perspective of one particular group of people, and I'll remember that everything must be assumed to be biased toward the person or group who produced the document. And beyond all that, I'll dig into the archaeological records.

To treat scripture as a historical document ignores the truth that it is a story of the way a particular people has experienced their relationship with G-d, the creator of the universe and giver of life. If I only encounter history in scripture, I never encounter the living G-d.

To the second statement: Certainly there are examples in scripture of people behaving badly. Certainly there are examples in scripture of people behaving well. Certainly there are admonitions against immoral actions, and there are encouragements toward better behavior. But truthfully, there's a whole self-help section in the bookstore (not to mention advice columns) that provide advice that's less ambiguous than scripture. I can't imagine what Dear Abby would have to say about the appropriateness of an adulterous murderer ruling a nation, a poor illegal alien in the messianic genealogy, or a hot-headed coward becoming the leader of the church.

Scripture speaks much less to morality, and much more to the relationship between the living G-d of the universe and the broken and hurting creation that tends more toward death than toward life.

If scripture is mostly history, it's flaccid. If scripture is mostly morality, then I (for one) have no choice but to despair, because I will never measure up.

If, on the other hand, scripture is an encounter with the divine, then scripture becomes authoritative in providing hope ~ and without hope, I'm lost.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

meditation on Psalm 122 for Advent midweek evening prayer

Where do you meet God?
within its walls of brick or clique?

where do you meet God?
within the city, teeming with life
as you jostle with, encounter,
or maybe try to avoid the other children of God who fill its streets?

where do you meet God?
upon the mountain,
which beckons from across the plain
promising divine encounter?

where do you meet God?
in quiet retreat,
listening through the
wind, earthquake, fire of life
through the silence
to God's still small voice

wherever you meet God
the spirit of God is present in community
where two or three gather together
so when they call to me and say
"let us go to the house of the Lord"
I do not go alone
two or three
twenty or thirty
one hundred or one thousand
we go together
God in our midst
and we in the midst of God

and though so often we fight
or skirmish
or bicker
or disagree
still we yearn for peace within the walls of
our family
our community
our world
within the walls of the advent of the new Jerusalem

yet though we long for peace
we stymie ourselves by our sin in thought word and deed
and we cannot free ourselves from this bondage

we long for peace, so we sing and pray
o come, o come, Emmanuel,
come and save us

where do we meet God?
where God has promised to meet us
in the world, incarnate, enfleshed
Emmanuel, God with us.