Thursday, June 30, 2011

immature faith

I'm spending this week at confirmation camp. For those who aren't culturally Lutheran, confirmation camp is where middle school students spend a week at summer camp with middle school students from other congregations. Tangentially, I would take some time to compare and contrast Lutheran confirmation camp with other types of summer camps, but this is the only thing I know; so if you want to compare and contrast your experience with mine, I'd be glad to do so, but I need to know more about your experience.

Anyway, the young people from my congregation are having a good experience at confirmation camp. They're singing songs, playing games, making friends, studying the bible, and all the other things you should do at a summer camp in the Rocky Mountains. And, despite the reality that it may not seem like it sometimes (you know how middle schoolers can be), I believe they're faith is growing. I believe they are being led by Holy Spirit into a deeper relationship with the Divine.

The faith they are growing in to is immature. Since by and large these students are just beginning to be able to think abstractly, they are not able to think about faith in ways that are complex and nuanced and in-depth. For 11- to 14-year-old people, immature faith seems pretty appropriate.

However, at least in the cultural Lutheran world where I find myself, it seems like this is where faith stops maturing for most people. See, in the cultural Lutheran world, what seems to be typical is that we learn about our faith in Sunday School when we're young; in middle school, we spend some time (two or three years) of more intense study, after which we are confirmed (we affirm our baptism). Then, beginning in high school (and having been confirmed), we are given the choice about whether or not to continue to participate in the life of our community of faith. Many of us choose to not do so. And many of us don't ever choose to return to church. Some, though, do return when we begin having children. We want our kids to have a church and faith foundation, and so we return to the community of faith. However, we find that we rely way more than we ought to on the church institution to pass on the faith, since many of us are stuck with a faith that hasn't matured beyond middle school.

This is a failing on the part of parents, though to a very small degree. It is a much bigger failing on the part of the church. We seem reluctant to challenge people, reluctant to wrestle with the difficult aspects of our tradition, reluctant to point out elements of our life together that aren't biblical. We give teenagers a choice whether or not to be part of a faith community, which is the same choice that adults reserve for themselves. I wonder if we as church leaders are scared to challenge people too much for fear that they'll make the choice to stop attending worship, or to join a different congregation, or to stop giving money ~ any of which would lead to congregational budgetary problems. Or maybe challenging people just makes us uncomfortable.

What we need is a church that people want to be part of. Many people recognize this; unfortunately, though, most people deal with this by turning to marketing- and presentation-oriented solutions. Advertise better, or make the worship and programming flashier, and people will be attracted. And it seems to work, at least to a certain degree. People will come, but when they do they'll expect to be entertained instead of challenged.

What we need is to challenge each other, and support one another as we struggle together. When individuals' faith and a congregation's faith are mature, it is obvious ~ lives and communities are changed for the better. And people are attracted to change.

At camp, young people find themselves spiritually vulnerable ~ the good camps take advantage of that vulnerability for the benefit of the campers' faith. If the church doesn't do the same, doesn't challenge people beyond their comfort zones into places of faithful vulnerability, we will not mature, and the church will become nothing but a self-serving club concerned only with its own existence.


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Rambling thoughts on Wild Goose, recorded music, and living life

I spent last weekend at the Wild Goose festival (as you know if you look at some other recent posts). As I understand it, nothing at the festival was recorded. Sure, there are photos floating around, and some people may have created audio and/or video recordings of small bits of what happened; but by and large, nothing was recorded. The conversations, the talks, the sacred space elements ~ none of it was recorded.

What might intrigue me the most is that none of the music was recorded. I heard a line on a radio show yesterday ~ I don't remember the topic of the conversation, only the phrase “unrecorded music” ~ which made me wonder, what is the value of unrecorded music?

There isn't a great deal of unrecorded music in our society these days. We go to concerts so that we can hear the songs that we like listening to on the radio. Or we go to concerts to hear something we haven't before, expecting that if we like the music, maybe we could buy a recording. Recording devices have become so small, cheap, and easy to use, that it seems like everything we ever do very well may end up recorded and published on you tube or facebook or someplace else. You never know, the band you're going to see tonight may well end up being the most important band of next year, who just haven't been discovered yet ~ doesn't it make sense to pull out your phone and record the show?

Some events, though, aren't nearly important enough to record. I attend a couple different bluegrass jams – you know, where people who may or may not know each other sit down together and play music. Usually some of the musicians are good, and usually some aren't. And most of the time, the group sits in a circle while the only people who are listening to the music are the ones in the circle. The music is only for those who are playing it. It's not worth anything to anyone else, and so it's not worth recording.

The thing is, though, that I believe the fact that it isn't worth anything to anyone other than those who are creating it makes it more valuable. Sure, we can experience and appreciate the experts whose music approaches near enough to the ideal that we save it for the sake of its beauty and ability to inspire. But creating music in the moment, especially when we're not recording what we're creating, allows us to sink ourselves deeply into the music as it happens, shedding pretense and any preoccupation with perfection.

This is why I'm glad Wild Goose wasn't recorded. Allowing the event to exist fully in that weekend makes our experience more valuable. That weekend is now fully contained and recorded in the memories and experience of those who were present ~ fully contained in human experience, child of G-d connecting with child of G-d, instead of being digitally diluted on a hard drive somewhere.

It is enough for us to have been fully present in that moment – in moments like that, we experience the fullness of the gift of life.


Sunday, June 26, 2011

I can't decide

I can't decide
music, in my computer
crisp, clean,
bass deep and
treble ringing
while on vinyl
scratches and imperfections
muddle what sounds perfect
as mp3

I can't decide
book readers bring me
multiple volumes in a
slim, portable package
every pixel in its place
then, picking up a bound volume
a few pages fall out and
and many others are dog-eared
with pencil marks obscuring
the printed page

I can't decide
from my computer
the library computer,
or my cell phone
I send messages instantly
to be stored in an e-server
probably forever
while ink smudges on
eventually brittle paper
only to arrive at its destination
days later

I can't decide
facebook conversations
are easy ~
I 'like' what I like
and pretend not to see
what I don't
while I bury my face in the
computer screen
doing what I can to
escape or avoid
face-to-face encounters

the perfect and quick
and digitized
has become necessary
but the tangible and imperfect
worn and used
scarred but serviceable
is essential to
our humanity

Wild Goose, day three

Day three of the brand new Wild Goose Festival, and the camp is waking with subdued excitement. Yesterday, we got up excited for the day; by contrast, today, it seems like folks are making that mental and emotional transition from here at the festival to whatever's next.

It has, in my opinion, been a good festival. There's been good energy, good conversations, good music, good art ~ a good spirit about the entire festival, from my perspective.

One thing I have noticed is that there seem to have been vastly different preconceptions about what this festival would be like. Most people were probably expecting an event that fit perfectly with our own faith. Some are evangelical, and wanted an evangelical festival. Some are progressive, and hoped this would be a progressive festival. Some are post-denominational, or post-evangelical, or post-Christian, or universalist ~ and each seemed to be hoping for (and maybe even working to form) a festival that fit with their own perspective.

With more years under its belt, Wild Goose will develop its own culture, and people will have a better idea what to expect and how to engage the event. However, it's been fascinating to experience the initial iteration of the event, especially since I'm pretty sure (based on what I've heard from speakers and musicians, and overheard as I passed by conversations) everyone has at one time or another been uncomfortable and heard something they disagree with. My firm belief is that we cannot grow without some discomfort. Everyone has had an opportunity to grow. The only way it would be possible, here at Wild Goose, for anyone to not be challenged and to grow, would be if they were so entrenched in their own position and opinion that they refuse to take in any new information.

I believe that Wild Goose will continue, will mature as an event, and will be a valuable addition to the faith conversation in this country. We seem to so often find ourselves spending time with people with whom we have a great deal in common ~ which I believe has contributed to the ridiculously hostile and vitriolic disagreements so prevalent in this country. I find an event like Wild Goose valuable if for no other reason than that there is a relatively diverse group of people of faith all in the same place together ~ and the conversation has been civil; no one is screaming at each other.

Thanks be to G-d.


Saturday, June 25, 2011

Festival Glimpses

one to seven
peaceful, but not enough time
birds' song,
far superior to
abrupt, mechanical,
screaming alarm clocks
the campgrounds wake,
poetic language
breaking open the
reality of
while blending aurally with
music the stage
music from the children's tent
conversations walking by
blending with
new encounters,
new relationships this weekend
peripherally and tangentially
informing the regular
ritual of life

Friday, June 24, 2011

Wild Goose

I'm spending this weekend at the Wild Goose Festival. It's a new festival ~ this is the first time it's happened ~ and has been billed as a Christian justice, art, and music festival. It was started by some folks who have spent time at the Greenbelt Festival, which has been an annual event in England for over thirty years. I've been to Greenbelt once, a couple years ago, and was excited about the prospect that something similar might happen in this country. Here are some observations from the beginning of the festival.

Obviously it's not fair to either festival to compare them, but I will anyway.

Because it's been happening for so long, and because many of the same people are there every year, Greenbelt has a culture, an ethos, a sense of comfort with itself ~ Greenbelt has a maturity that Wild Goose doesn't have yet. Of course, there's no way we should expect a sense of history or culture from an event that's less than 24 hours old.

I often find myself eavesdropping on conversations happening around me. I'm not sneaky about it ~ I simply sit in a public place and listen to conversations happening around me. One thing I've notices is that when people interact with one another, especially when we encounter each other for the first time, we often approach a conversation as if we have it all figured out (whatever 'it' is). If a goal of this festival is to engage one another in conversation, we necessarily have to listen to one another. I'm going to spend the next couple days looking for people who may be confident in who they are, in where they come from, but who at the same time (in their confidence) are thoroughly interested in listening to and learning about each other.

The other thing I've noticed is that this is what I've seen from the adults. The children just jump right in and almost instantly create normal. They don't come with any pre-conceived notions about how this event should be.

Certainly what the adults are doing is valuable; but I wonder if the adults are simply creating something that the children will grow into what it should be.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011


I tend to believe that the sermon is the least important thing that happens in worship. Sure, many of us preachers tend to spend way more time writing sermons than we spend preparing the prayers of the people; way more time writing sermons than we spend writing eucharistic prayers; way more time writing sermons than we spend choosing hymns or reading scripture or coordinating with the altar guild to make sure the sanctuary is appropriately adorned.

Despite how much time we spend on the sermon, I still believe it's the least important thing we do as worship leaders. Not that the sermon is unimportant; quite the opposite. The sermon is important, because it's an obvious and tangible way that our corporate worship connects us to contemporary life. But it's not the only way.

I've often said that the only way I get anything out of the sermon is if I preach it. And then it's usually in the preparation. I listen to plenty of sermons, but it's rare that I remember anything from any of them. On occasion (maybe one time out of 100), I will be moved by a sermon. Not that there's anything wrong with the preacher or the preaching ~ it's just not how I've always connected with G-d. I've always been much more inclined to encounter the divine in the poetry and music of song as opposed to the spoken word. Further, the rhythmic back-and-forth of proclamation and response verse of liturgical worship can occasionally draw me into a holy communion in ways that sermons never have.

Beyond all that, when I preach, I fully expect my words to be flawed. I expect Holy Spirit to do divine work through my words, and I do not take the role of preacher lightly ~ but my words will be flawed. They're probably not as important as some in the congregation make them out to be. Isn't it enough to be together with the community, encounter the living Christ through story and word and meal and song and community?

Sure, preaching is important. But if that baby in front of you is screaming, and you can't hear the sermon, maybe it's G-d trying to get your attention. Maybe today G-d doesn't have anything to say to you through the sermon; maybe G-d's message is to be found in the child who some would call a distraction.

When will we move beyond the marketplace question 'what do I get out of worship?' and on to the communal question, 'how are we being church together today?'


Sunday, June 19, 2011

storm sky

the sky
as a storm passes
changes ~ ominous then,
now hopeful
as a dark-shadowed
fat frontal ferocity
gives way to layers of cloud
which, in patches,
allow glimpses of sunlight
to filter through, and
though it is still raining, now,

above the horizon
- where earth meets sky -
i see a horizon
- where cloud meets clear sky -
as it approaches

all this, from my safe,
front porch

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

What we need in church

What follows is an incomplete list of what we need in church:

We need babies in church. We need their cute faces and cute noises. We need to see the beauty of their sleep, and we need to clean up their puke every so often. We need to hear their surprised scream when the water is poured over their head, and we need to see the surprised look on their faces when they are lifted up before the congregation and pronounced the newest member of G-d's family.

We need toddlers in church. We need them to be there in the middle of worship. We need them to make noise and to run up and down the aisle. We need them to bring crayons and cheerios into the sanctuary. We need to see them watching everyone else during worship, and we need to see them learning the rituals with their whole bodies before their intellect is ready.

We need children in church. We need them to interrupt our worship, since they already interrupt the other parts of our life. We need to see them grow week by week. We need to see them singing Kyrie Eleison when we didn't know they had learned it. We need to see them praying the Lord's Prayer while pushing trucks up and down the back of the pew. We need to watch as they form community with fellow church members more easily than adults often do. We need them to remind us what it is to be fully present in the moment as a child of G-d.

We need teenagers in the church. We need to roll our eyes at them as they roll their eyes at us. We need to hear their questions about G-d and faith and life; and we need to honor their questions, remembering that we too had similar questions at that age. We need to listen closely through their dispassionate affect to hear where their real passion lies. We need to give them a space apart that is their own, and we need to give them a real voice that is not apart, but heard and valued as much as any other.

We need young adults in the church. We need to prayerfully walk alongside their faith journey as they discover what it is to be an adult in this world. We need to provide a safe place for them to share their joys and frustrations as they encounter the reality of adult life. We need to encourage them to take leadership in the church. And as they take leadership in the church, we have to give actual authority to make changes; otherwise, they're just our puppets, and it's not real leadership. We need young adults in the church, so that they can share the vision for the future G-d has given them.

We need adults in the church. We need adults who have children, and we need adults who don't. We need married adults and single adults. The church needs their pragmatism. We need their maturing faith, and we need their dual concern for maintaining the church they've been given, and for handing on what they've found valuable. We need to hear their struggles with family and job, their struggles with faith in the face of a world that's changing all around them. We need to acknowledge the beginnings of their recognition of their mortality.

We need elders in the church. We need their wisdom, and we need to listen to their stories, which can share a mature faith. We need to slow down a little bit to walk with their failing hip or eyesight. We need to remember and respect the way they have lived this faith they are handing down.

We need the able-bodied in church. We need their strength to maintain our physical structures, and to help those in need. We need see in their physical beauty a reflection of the beauty of all of creation.

We need the disabled (physically, mentally, emotionally, developmentally, etc.) in church. We need to be reminded that everyone, without exception, is created in the image of G-d. And we who don't have the need for particular accommodation need to make room and provide resources for those who do.

We need immigrants and people from other lands in church. We need to hear different accents and languages. They remind us that, though the people were scattered from Babel by language, they were not abandoned by G-d; and they remind us that G-d does not speak exclusively English.

We need the poor and the rich in church together. We need to be reminded that often financial well being is more powerfully divisive than skin color or political affiliation. We need to learn how to give to each other out of our abundance, and then to learn to give out of that which we think we cannot live without. We need to learn to give for the benefit of the other, and for our own benefit.

We need each other in church. No matter who we are, we need each other.


ankle liminality

In a few minutes, I go to the doctor's office for my first post-surgery appointment. I guess he'll take the stitches out, and then evaluate my ankle. Over the past week, I've been coming to grips with the reality that this summer will be quite different from others, since my activity will be confined to what I'm able to accomplish with a big boot covering my leg, which starts at the calf and allows only then end of my big toe to stick out the other end.

The boot is a walking boot, so I imagine I'll be able to be as active as the boot and the strength of my ankle allows. One of the questions I'll ask the doctor is how much I'll realistically be able to do with the boot on. Then I'll have a better idea about how to plan the rest of the summer.

For now, though, I'm sitting on a coffee shop patio in lovely weather, good jazz music on the speaker above my head ~ and for another little while, I'm sitting in that liminal space between what isn't and what may or may not come to be.

For what it's worth.


faith - we receive a gift from Holy Spirit
faith - a gift we wrestle to define

yet we still act
we still have agency
we still live into our faith,
undefinable as it may be

and we strive to know,
to grasp, to hold,
to share,
to grow deeper into this
gift of faith

but we will fail
and even when faith is
deep as a pie tin
it is enough
to stand in the
gift of the
waters of baptism
to receive "Given and Shed"
bread and wine,
body and blood.

urban fox

a fox just trotted
down the street

we think we've tamed
the cities -
pushed wildlife
to their proper place,
beyond city limits
sure, the farthest suburbs see
deer, coyote, mountain lion -
but that's the urban frontier ...
didn't we push them
out of the city?

I've seen more "wild" land
than that fox ever hopes to -
his paws are accustomed to
pavement, asphalt
his palate, a repast of
rodent, duck, and
the occasional house-cat

he trots down the street,
down the middle of the street
like he belongs here
even more than we do

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

reflections on surgery

So, yesterday I had surgery. I first sprained my ankle when my friend and high school basketball teammate stepped on it as I was driving the lane one day in practice (which, at the time, was a tremendously uncharacteristic move on my part, since my typical move was to catch the ball and either turn & shoot, or pass it back out). Then, over the course of the next 20+ years, I would regularly re-injure the same ankle. The injuries were of degrees varying from tweak to twist to sprain. Over the years, my ankle became easier to injure, and it became easier for me to self-diagnose ... or, at least, to not go to the doctor.

Finally, though, the pain got too intense, and even when I hadn't injured it, the simple act of running caused too much pain. So I made an appointment, got x-rayed, talked with the doctor, and scheduled surgery. And yesterday was the day.

I've known for at least five or six years that I would need to have surgery, and I've known (especially for the past year) that the end result would be a functional ankle. There was no doubt in my mind that this was what I should do.

I guess there was still some doubt in my emotions, though, that was building for a couple days. I know this isn't unique, but I had a little trouble really stilling myself the day before the surgery. I'm sure I was anxious as I ventured into the unknown. And yesterday, before we went to the surgery center, I found myself pacing nervously around the house, trying desperately to make sure I did everything in my power to make sure the day went smoothly.

The whole time I knew, intellectually, that I would be in good hands; the whole time I knew that there really wasn't much I could actually do to make things go smoothly, to make the surgery successful. But I didn't actually relax until I was in the pre-op room and the nurse was telling me what to expect. She said, "... they'll wheel you into the operating room, you'll roll onto the operating table, and the anesthesiologist will put something in your I.V. that will make go to sleep. The next thing you will be aware of is waking up in the recovery room."

It was this final statement that got me. 'The next thing you'll be aware of ...' When she said this, I realized that I was giving myself completely over to the care of these doctors and nurses, and that I had absolutely no control over my fate. I had no control over whether things went perfectly, or whether I would have trouble on the operating table and end up in the ICU for a few weeks.

I realized that I had absolutely no control over the outcome ~ and this was the best thing I could have heard, because all of a sudden, all of my anxiety went out the window.

Later, probably in a post-surgery, drug-induced haze, I thought to myself, 'if that experience isn't a model for, or articulation of, faith, I don't know what is.' To give oneself over to, and trust completely in, the care of another ~ perhaps this is a small part of what it is to have faith.


Monday, June 6, 2011

morning run on the beach

running on the beach,
sand, which the breaking surf
has picked up,
tumbles into my shoes as
my stride wanders into and
out of the ocean's kiss

as i run,
sweat born of sun and humidity and effort
drips past my glasses
and into the sea
while my heart begins to
echo the waves' rhythm

after a while,
my shoes are full of sand
so i stop
allowing rich air to fill my lungs
as i lounge, shaded, above the beach

Sunday, June 5, 2011

resort vacation

resort vacations
wonderfully removing us from our life
for a moment
resort vacations
offer us a break, a respite
from the mundane
resort vacations
magical as they are
offer us,
beyond the edge of the
contrived realty
little peripheral glimpses of
actual reality
which creep in
just past the edge of the
resort bubble of luxury
created for visitors
by those who live
where our periphery glimpses

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Friday Night

friday night
warm day cooling off to
a pleasant evening

driving at dusk with
windows open
radio louder than normal
down the boulevard
i'm completely present
here, now,
present in an eternal present
(you know what i mean)

until the truck in the next lane
accelerates, then downshifts
rattling eardrums, if not windows

sight, smell, feel ~
all the same then, and now
but add the sound i can't forget
muffler pipes rattling
and immediately it's
high school, friday night
up and down main street
'til it's well past curfew

i'm drawn from the
eternal present
to the
inevitable past

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Reflections on not writing in fake Mexico

Last week, I went on vacation. It was a lovely vacation, complete with those items from a stereotypical vacation ~ tropical climate, sandy beaches, wonderful time with friends, and very little on the agenda other than reading books that don't really matter all that much. Not only that, but we even got to travel out of the country to a famous vacation destination. It was a wonderful holiday, but I found myself missing something.

For the last 5 years or so, I've felt compelled to write, and especially feel compelled to write when I travel. (Fortunately for my 7 readers, most of that writing doesn't make it on to this page.) I love noticing the differences between what I experience as normal, and what is ordinary for the place to which I have traveled. I love seeing people who are different from me, who have different life experiences and assumptions about the world. And I love the experience of moving through space, feeling the longitude and latitude sliding past as I make my way from one place to another.

Much of what I notice when I cross latitude and longitude forces itself into a journal I carry ~ which is why I was surprised in our recent travels by the complete and utter lack of desire to write anything at all. And I'm trying to sort out the reason why.

Most of the time, when I travel, I do what I can to not be a tourist. I don't think there's anything wrong with tourism; the thing is, though, that tourism seems contrived, and in some ways fake. I'm more interested in experiencing a place I've never lived while I'm in the company of someone for whom that place is their home. Of course I recognize that even this kind of travel experience is contrived ~ the only way to really and fully get to know a place is to live there, and then you're no longer traveling.

Part of what I like to reflect on in the journal I try to keep is how a new place affects me, and how that place is different from that to which I'm accustomed. Perhaps this is why I didn't feel compelled to write on our vacation last week ~ we were only sort-of in the place where we were.

The resort where we stayed was amazingly well run, our time was more relaxing than I expected, everything was beautiful and everyone was friendly and nice. In other words, it was wonderful, and it was not real life. Don't get me wrong ~ it was a wonderful sabbath time away, at the end of which, I was ready to be back home.