Saturday, May 21, 2011

Sound Bites

"Obama really sucks, doesn't he?"

This is the statement I heard from a woman passing by as I closed the car door at a convenience store parking lot. I was lost in my own world, thinking about where I was going and what was on my agenda for the rest of the day. I was in my wife's car, which (among many others) displays an Obama bumper sticker. I'm sure this is what my passer-by friend has noticed and commented on.

The trouble is that I have no idea what she was talking about. My initial response was to laugh, thinking that her comment was sarcastic. My initial reaction was that her opinion was the same as mine, that so many people complain about the president, even when the work he's doing is commendable. However, before I was out of the parking lot, I had second thoughts about her intent. Perhaps she really doesn't think he's a worthy president, and that she wishes someone else had that office. Then, before I was four blocks down the road, I wondered if she believes his policies are too liberal, or that he's not doing what he promised he would when he was campaigning.

By the time I got to work, I realized what bothers me about that exchange. It's the reality that sound bite exchanges are not conversations.

It seems to me that public discourse in this country has become nothing more than individuals and groups slinging statements at one another. When we do that, it is impossible to have actual conversation.

I would have loved to sit down over coffee and have a real exchange of ideas with this woman. Obviously she has her opinions, but I don't actually know what they are based on a statement made in passing with completely no context. And the only thing she can really assume based on the bumper sticker on the car I was driving is what my preference was in the most recent presidential election.

Real life is more nuanced than sound bites, tweets, and bumper sticker slogans. I wonder what our national life would be like if we had actual conversations ~ you know the kind, where we actually talk with and listen to one another.


Thursday, May 19, 2011

faith and relationship

What if we adopted a pattern for youth ministry ~ no, a pattern for all of church life ~ based on Acts 8, the story of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch. No, I'm not interested in castrating young people physically or spiritually. I'm interested in relationship as a model for sharing faith.

I believe that most people are captivated by and interested in matters of faith. But what do we do in church when someone expresses an interest in faith? We (hand them a bible and) smother them with information. We worry about right theology, appropriate behavior in worship. We wonder whether a new participant in our worship life will 'join' the congregation, since once they 'join', we can ask them for financial pledges and they can be on the church council. But right theology, appropriate behavior, congregational membership, budgets and bureaucracies have nothing to do directly with faith.

It seems to me that faith, in fact, comes before theology; that faith comes before membership; that faith comes before commitment. And it seems to me that faith, that amazing and wonderful gift from Holy Spirit, is best nurtured in relationship. The Ethiopian Eunuch was desperate for something, and he was searching scripture to answer his longing. But he was not able to make sense of what G-d was up to outside of relationship.

Instead of hoping that the faith of (young) people will grow when we hand them a bible and fill them full of information, what if we genuinely listened to questions and explored faith together. Perhaps we are uncomfortable with this because most of us lack confidence in our own faith.

I believe, though, that if we explored faith together, in relationship, everyone would benefit. Sure, the faith of the Ethiopian deepened as he entered the waters of his baptism ~ but I have to believe that Philip came away from that encounter (with the living G-d) just as changed, if not more so, than his companion.


* Thanks to Kenda Creasy Dean's writing in Almost Christian: What the Faith of our Teenagers is Telling the American Church for sparking these musings ~ and apologies if anything seems stolen ~ it is my intention to reflect, not to plagarize. *

Phone Booth

alone and empty,
abandoned, forgotten,
no longer useful,
replaced by
what seems more relevant

the replacements,
chirping and singing from
our pockets bags purses
promise greater freedom

but seem to tether us
to that from which
we long for freedom

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

evening commute

in the cool evening,
cooler air rising from
the creek i ride next to,
my vision is tunneled down
to the width of a headlamp

this time of night (when
streetlights illumine my way
and darkness encroaches into
the gaps, under trees and bridges)
the bike path is empty. the
hundreds i may pass on a weekend
are warm and dry, while I make
my way (white lights in front,
red flashers behind) back home
trusting the path beyond
my headlamp is clear of
significant obstacle

but the path turns out
to be blocked, partially ~
i speed by a snake, startled
into stillness by my approach;
flying down the hill, i swerve
to avoid a cat that escaped from home;
and just around the turn there's a
possum, crossing onto the golf course
each obstacle surprising me as the
periphery of my vision catches an
edge-of-the-headlamp glimpse

turns out, though, that
the snake is wooden,
immobilized by its former connection
to a tree trunk;
the cat, patches in the trail
viewed from one particular
25 mph angle;
possums scurrying into the bushes
nothing but the bushes themselves
lit on one side by my lamp,
creating shadows dancing
across the curve in the trail

Monday, May 16, 2011

Church Lament

prayer, scripture,
breaking bread, community

to this simple formula
we add:
theology, liturgy,
committee, budget

we add:
with ornate decoration, or
obviously no ornament

we add:

and we add, more than the rest,
we add:
rules, regulations ~
we add law;
unnecessary law;

and we skip over the
that leads to freedom,
that leads to

prayer, scripture,
breaking bread in community

Saturday, May 14, 2011

scattered thoughts on the extremes

I'm tired of hearing black and white theology in the public discourse. Our public theology has followed the lead of the political discourse in this country, which is drawn into one-side-against-the-other fighting by the media's willingness to be complicit in feeding our voyeuristic tendencies.

We seem to believe that if we're not stating our point of view vehemently, to the point of yelling at each other, we aren't being faithful to what we believe. We seem to believe that it is necessary (for salvation?) that everyone agrees with the 'right' belief or theological point of view. If anyone disagrees with us, especially in the areas of faith and theology, we seem to believe that they are not faithful. We seem to not be able to listen to one another, or to have meaningful back-and-forth dialogue. And we seem to not be able to understand that a position other than the one we hold just might also be born out of a truly faithful perspective.

And the thing is, I don't mean to talk about only those who disagree with me. The conservatives demonize the liberals regularly, and the liberals demonize the conservatives with equally aggressive vigor. In at least one other location, I've encouraged people whose opinions differ to sit down and have dinner together, to spend time together that is purely personal, to get to know one another as real people with real concerns and legitimate opinions.

I just returned from our synod assembly (where my denomination, in a regional gathering, does the business of the synod (regional area)). These assemblies happen annually, and at times they are exciting and invigorating. This one, however, was something of a snoozer. At every assembly, the voting members from congregations are able to enact legislation which governs the work our synod does through the year. Some years, some of the resolutions that come to the floor prompt passionate, heartfelt, theologically informed conversation and debate.

This year, however, there were no resolutions and no business before the synod that was particularly contentious. I did notice, though, that we still found something to fight about.

It seems like we've gotten to the point that it's less important what our opinion is, and more important that we can take a strong stand on an issue, thereby demarcating the boundaries between the in group (who agree with me) and the other (anyone whose opinion is not perfectly in line with mine).

I guess I long for some nuanced conversation in our public life ~ some conversation that moves beyond black-and-white thinking, and recognizes the reality that our world and our lives are much more in the middle, tending toward gray more than either of the extremes.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Children in Worship: something of a rant?

Yes, sometimes children can be loud in worship. Yes, sometimes parents can appear to be somewhat inconsiderate when they don't keep their children quiet. Yes, it's disturbing when it's impossible to hear the sermon because a child in front of you is making enough noise to drown out the preacher.

But what if G-d's plan for this week is for that mom to hear the sermon? What if Holy Spirit has nothing to say to you today through the preaching, and everything to say to you through building relationship with that noisy child when you volunteer to take him out to the narthex so mom can hear the sermon? What if worship becomes less about us getting our needs met, and more about us being willing to meet the needs of others?


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

National Day of Prayer

Apparently, Thursday is the National Day of Prayer. I've never participated in this event, but I have heard about it and I've seen the literature and website published by the National Day of Prayer Task Force.

I personally have some problems with this organization, and with this event. First of all, I see that one of their goals is to "Foster unity within the Christian Church". As I read through their definition of prayer, though, they seems to intentionally exclude much of the prayer offered in Lutheran worship (which could be viewed as formulaic, and not spontaneous).

Second, the call to prayer on this one particular day is extended exclusively to Christians. I'm sure most of us are aware that our nation is home to many different religious traditions: Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Native American traditions, Sikh, Buddhist, Hindu, Baha'i, LDS ... it's quite a long list. However, the National Day of Prayer Task Force is interested in only Christian prayer. This doesn't seem very national to me.

From the other perspective, though, it certainly does seem very national to me ~ particularly because of the way in which the Task Force seems to emphasize (and pray for) USAmerican superiority. Now, from a patriotic perspective, I don't have a problem with folks wanting their own nation to be the best in the world. Provided they don't become vindictive or destructive, patriotic tendencies can be beneficial to national identity.

However, from a Christian perspective, I'm not sure it's healthy to pray or advocate for the superiority of one nation over another. See, if one nation is better than another, then the people of that one nation are better off than the people of the other nation ... and I don't believe that G-d sees national boundaries. When G-d created humankind in their image, it wasn't just USAmerican humankind. G-d created all of humankind in the image of the divine, and praying for some of G-d's creation to be less well off than the rest of G-d's creation becomes problematic (at least from my own angle on and gift of faith).

This is the heart of the reason that I don't believe our nation should ever become a Christian nation ~ there is too much conflict between nationalistic impulses and Christian belief.

So, Thursday is the National Day of Prayer. I have not been invited to participate, and don't expect to be. I would participate, though, if I were allowed to publicly advocate love for the enemies of USAmerica, and to pray for those who persecute us. In particular, this year I'd be interested in praying for President Obama, the house and senate leadership. I'd want to pray for the people who are leaders of North Korea, of Cuba, of Afghanistan, and of Iraq.

Further, I'd be inclined to not participate if citizens of our nation who are not Christian were excluded from offering their own prayer.

Maybe I'll just celebrate Cinco de Mayo this Thursday.


Sunday, May 1, 2011

Poetry Month

poetry for a month;
my meager offering
made to,
or received from,
the Muse

does she
abandon me now,
having overstayed my
in her presence

or does she reward me
past my persistence in
spewing vapid verses
into the ether,
hoping, on occasion,
she'll string together
one, or
coherent lines

either way,
for now
the month is over, so
I'll read the comics