Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Bishop's Election, Part Seven

My denomination, the ELCA, publishes a magazine. It's a pretty decent publication ~ could be better, could be much worse. This month, The Lutheran published in one of the articles a statistic. According to ELCA Research and Evaluation, “... the average age of worshipers at an ELCA congregation is 57 and the average age of an American is 33 ...” (March 2012, p. 25)

I'm not sure whether the Rocky Mountain Synod statistics are identical to the national statistics, but I'm sure they're not far off.

I'm going to assume that the church finds this problematic. I'm going to assume that the ELCA would prefer for our attendance and membership demographics to more closely reflect national demographics. I'm going to assume that the church would like to connect more with younger people.

The thing is, though, that if people don't see themselves reflected in the leadership, it surely must be less likely that they would fully participate.

We can make tell ourselves all day long that we value young people. Our statements won't matter, though, if we don't make it a point to install younger people into positions of significant leadership.

Which brings me to the question, 'What would it say about our synod, and the ELCA, for our synodical leadership to be closer to the average age of the country (33) than to the average age of worshipers in the ELCA (57)?


Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Bicycle Adventure

I'm getting excited. In just over a week, I drive away from my home, bound for Nashville. And in just about 12 days, thirty of us will climb onto bicycles and ride out of Nashville.

I'm riding in the Fuller Center for Housing Spring Bicycle Adventure fund-raiser, and (like I mentioned) I'm getting excited.

What's exciting is to have the opportunity to meet new people ~ the folks I'll be riding with, and the people we'll meet along the way. What's exciting is to raise money in support of affordable housing. And what's exciting is to see how well I'll hold up sitting on a bike for that far. 

I'm getting so excited, that I've watched a couple bicycle-related movies while I've been sitting on the trainer.  Last week, it was Quicksilver.  I remember watching that movie long ago and (like many people) being transfixed by the idea of working as a bicycle messenger.  Kevin Bacon makes it look so appealing.

Then, last night I watched The Triplets of Belleville, a beautiful and mesmerizing animated film.  I was entranced for the entire film by the artistry and the storytelling.  It's well worth the watch.  

And before I leave next week, I'll be finding time to watch The Flying Scotsman

I'll be blogging about the ride, so you can follow along if you're interested. And if you want, feel free to make a contribution to my fund-raising efforts.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Noticing Children

chants and songs
ancient stories and prayers
wash over children who are
turned backward in a pew
crayons and cheerios strewn about;

others coo and mutter
from their spot with mom in the back row,
or circle the narthex, paying little
attention to worship while dad listens
with one ear to the sermon

yet the ancient stories and prayers
chants and songs washing over them
cannot help but to shape their faith
even as they, these children
shape ours

Friday, February 24, 2012

Bishop's Election, Part Six

One of my seven readers posed a question the other day that I hadn't thought much about. She shared with me that when she was younger, she had served on the synod council as the token youth representative.

Then she wondered aloud, maybe since I've been writing about the obvious changes our society has experienced, whether the synodical structure didn't also need to change.

Does it still make sense for a synod to be staffed by: a bishop, one or more assistants to the bishop, and office staff? Does it still make sense for a synod to be governed (between assemblies) by a synodical council?

It might. It might not. But since our world is vastly different from when our current bishop first took office eighteen years ago (think internet), I got to pondering what a synod structure ought to look like, starting at the top.


Should there be a bishop? Because of our constitution, having a bishop is necessary. But beyond that, I believe a bishop serves as the synodical minister of Word and Sacrament. In addition, I believe that a bishop can serve a valuable role as a public prophetic face of ministry in ways that congregational pastors are not always able to do.

One could argue that bishops are not necessary, since those roles can be filled in other ways ~ and those arguments are valid. However, one could argue that pastors are not necessary (and some denominations do). This, though, is not our polity, since we believe that some are gifted by G-d particularly for this work on behalf of the people of G-d.

Assistants to the Bishop

Should the bishop continue to have a staff? Probably. There is a great deal of coordination with and between congregations that has been facilitated by synodical staff. I believe this work is important. In fact, I believe more of this coordination is necessary.

What if the primary role of a synod staff would be to make connections, and then get out of the way? Since congregations are the places where most ministry actually happens, what if the synod staff worked to facilitate connections where they would be appropriate and helpful to ministry?

For instance, what if if there's a congregation doing great work teaching children to play guitar. And what if there's congregation on the other side of town thinking about helping the local elementary school, which has just been forced by the budget cut their music program. The congregations don't have any natural reason to pay attention much to each other ~ but if the synod staff did, then all of a sudden there's the potential for a connection and a sharing of best practices. Ministry is enhanced.

Plus, for the congregations in conflict. Surely there's another pastor who's gone through similar struggles. Surely there's a former congregational president who's waded through that muck and come out healthy. What if the synod staff connects the ones who struggled formerly with the ones struggling currently ~ not to shame, not to dictate, but to share best practices and as a reminder that the struggling congregation is not alone.

I think that, probably, the bishop should still have a staff ~ and that their primary goal should be to make connections between individuals, congregations, seminaries, and other entities in the church … and then get out of the way.

Synod Council

Constitutionally we're stuck with a synod council. Some may think the synod council is unnecessary, since at times (at least in my perception) it seems rather ineffectual. It may be the case that the council is not communicating the work they do very thoroughly. That's easy to remedy.

Or, it may be true that the synod council needs to be re-structured. It seems to me pretty big, and I wonder if it's unwieldy. Right now, each different geographical part of the synod is constitutionally required to be represented on the council all the time.

I wonder if it would make sense to streamline the council. Pare the membership from 24 members down to 10 or 12 (including officers). I wonder if it would make sense for the primary purpose of the synod council to be visioning for the present and future of the synod. And I wonder if the synod council ought to meet more often than three times per year. (Obviously, these meetings wouldn't necessarily have to be in person … there are amazing tools for online and video-conference meetings available today.)


I may not have fully addressed my one reader's questions, but this is a first stab at wondering whether the synodical structure that's been in place since (at least) 1988 is still appropriate 24 years later.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Bishop's Election, Part Five

As my seven readers may know, we in the Rocky Mountain Synod of the ELCA are getting closer to the election of a new bishop. You who have been reading along know that I have some opinions about our next bishop.

You should also understand that I recognize the truth that most of my posts in anticipation of the election of the new RMS bishop have been negative ~ namely, I've complained about the way things shouldn't be more than I've offered suggestions which might lead to improvement.

Keith Anderson has written a very helpful piece in which he articulates five qualities he believes are important in a new bishop. Since he's written so well about qualities that any current bishop ought to embody, I'll not worry about the more general.

I'm especially concerned about the election of a bishop to this particular synod. In particular, what qualities and assets would be desirable for our bishop, given the peculiarities of the Rocky Mountain Synod?

1) We are an especially large synod. I often hear people refer to the geographic size of the synod as a problem to overcome. I would hope a bishop would actively help synod leadership to understand our vastness as an asset instead of a liability.

We who are called to ministry in the geographic area are bound together, in spite of our diversity, by the accident of bureaucratic proximity. However, instead of seeing this diversity as a liability, let's start to see the unique gifts our diversity brings us as blessing.

2) We find ourselves in a unique and fascinating cultural location. It's an intersection where the traditional mid-western Lutheran culture meets post-modernity; where western individualism meets congregational communalism; where Native and Mexican and white and African and African-American and Asian cultures intermingle (with greater or lesser degrees of comfort); where cultural Christians and cultural atheists argue; where some people talk on phones that are attached to the wall, and some people use their phones for everything but talking.

I would hope a bishop is not so steeped in church that she or he would not be able to recognize these intersections; and then, I would hope a bishop would enter into, and lead the synod into, the midst of these intersections.

3) I hope that our new bishop is able to articulate a vision for synodical staff which moves us away from a centralized and business-corporate mindset.

Of course, a synod office which operates out of a church basement doesn't think highly enough of itself; at the same time, a synod office operating out of a professional office building projects the wrong image of who the church is in the world. We need a bishop who will not try to make the synod something it isn't, and will not apologize for who the church is.

These are a couple initial thoughts. I may have more as we approach nearer to the election.


Monday, February 20, 2012

Bluegrass Culture and Church

I want to express my gratitude to Sierra Hull. This weekend, I was at the Mid-Winter Bluegrass MusicFestival, and was able to be toward the front of the audience when she and Highway 111 took the stage. Certainly, I appreciated her virtuosic mandolin playing, and the technical prowess and artistic creativity each of the musicians brought to the show.

More than that, though, I appreciated this one action she took in her show. In the middle of the show, Sierra Hull paused and invited a young mandolin player onto the stage to play a fiddle tune with the band.

I appreciated the fact that she took some of her stage time to give to a young player who wasn't on the billing. The thing is, though, that this is part of bluegrass tradition and culture.

Ricky Skaggs, who first started playing mandolin at age five, was able at age six to play onstage by Bill Monroe. Further, Sierra Hull herself got to play with Allison Krauss & Union Station when she was 11 or 12 years old.

It's part of the bluegrass tradition and culture for the stars to recognize budding talent and give young players a shot at a wider audience, some notoriety, and therefore a better shot at a future in music.

It also seems to be part of bluegrass tradition and culture that (whenever a group's not rehearsing or performing) anyone is welcome to grab their instrument and start playing. And the thing is, whether a person is virtuosic or mediocre or just beginning, for the most part people are very supportive of others' playing.

There's a culture of support and encouragement which (I think) goes back decades in bluegrass, and centuries in roots music. This culture continues to be perpetuated today – at least in part, I imagine, because the great players now were supported and encouraged when they were young.

I wonder what church would be like if we fostered this kind of culture ~ the kind of culture where young people and newcomers to the faith are actively nurtured and supported by those who've been around longer.

In that culture, conversations would be more important than committees; relationships would take precedence over stains in the carpet; faith would be more important than finance; and worship of the living G-d, with the whole community, would be primary.

Would it be enough for us to just decide these things are already true, and then act like they are?


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Bishop's Election, Part Four

The Rocky Mountain Synod of the ELCA is not the only synod electing a new bishop this year. I've been lurking a little bit on Facebook timelines, watching what folks in other synods are saying about their own election process.

After perusing Keith Anderson's this morning, I started to think about how we talk with one another about the work of the church, particularly as we anticipate changes in synodical leadership.

Here's what I came up with:

One issue we run in to is the fact that the Bishop of our synod has been re-elected at least twice, and has been in office for over eighteen years.

It's much more likely, when a sitting bishop is available, that she or he will be re-elected. Unless there are huge problems with current leadership, my experience is that folks assume things will remain the same. When we believe things will stay the same, we don't tend to have serious conversations about what needs to change.

This year, though, we in our synod have the opportunity to take our changing culture and society seriously. This year, we have the opportunity to elect a bishop who recognizes that the world is different than it was 18 years ago.

Business as usual circa 1993 is not appropriate for the church of 2012.

It's time in our synod to talk about what needs to change in the synodical leadership … and we probably need to talk seriously about what needs to change in the (especially mainline) church at large as well.

But when we have those conversations, they tend to be reduced to language that sounds good but doesn't really mean anything. We talk about mission and ministry without defining those terms. We say we want to develop bold leaders and courageous congregations without articulating what that means.

We wonder what G-d is up to out in the world, but we fight about what happens inside the church while we tend to ignore the world around us.

We talk about transforming the culture around us, but don't understand the culture well enough to know what kind of transformation the culture is yearning for. What we need is a conversation that moves deeper than generalized language that makes us feel good, but doesn't really mean anything.

What we need is a bishop who is bold enough to consider the truth that church culture needs its own transformation.


Monday, February 13, 2012

Music in our Schools

My very excellent son played in the Denver Citywide Honor Band last weekend. He's in fifth grade, and so played with some of the best elementary school musicians from this city. He had a great time spending a Friday afternoon and seven hours of a Saturday immersed in music.

We stayed after his band's concert to hear the Citywide Middle School and High School bands concerts as well. It was inspiring to hear how much better the older bands are than the younger. It's obvious, but it's still inspiring.

I'm really glad my children are afforded the opportunity to play in school bands. In particular, I'm really glad that the school district has, so far, been willing to continue funding bands in schools. As I've noted before, I believe art (and physical education) is indispensable in public education.

But, since the economy has been recessed for a few years, and people seem to be less and less willing to pay taxes, school districts are being forced to cut their budgets and pare down to the bare bones … back to readin', 'ritin', and 'rithmetic.

I understand the dilemma ~ without enough money, do you cut the band program or the math department? Obviously, without enough money for both, the band is gone.

Colorado just received word that the state is exempted from the requirements of the so-called 'No Child Left Behind' strictures. This announcement encouraged me to look into the performance-evaluation system the state adopted that led to this exemption.

Some of the standards students should be able to demonstrate, based on the newer assessment criteria, are: creativity, innovation, communication, collaboration, initiative, and self-direction.

Colorado was granted this waiver, which allows the state more flexibility in using federal funds to assess improvement. What I really wish is that the state had more flexibility in using federal funds to actually develop these markers in students.

Here's the thing ~ I learned to play an instrument in 6th grade. I was never, and will never be, a great musician. This does not mean, though, that my musical education was wasted. I continue, to this day, to find joy in creating music, and I believe I'm a better person because of the intangibles I learned by playing in the school band.

Mr. Richard Shaw, the conductor of the Citywide High School band pointed out the truth to us that these qualities (creativity, innovation, communication, collaboration, initiative, self-direction) are all inherent to playing in a band.

I wish the state had the finances and flexibility to actually take arts (and physical) education seriously. I wish we were raise more tax dollars to fund arts education. I wish we would recognize that even though it's difficult to measure the benefit of music to children in the short term (like we can measure improvement in mathematics), our society will benefit in the long term from teaching all children music and art.


Saturday, February 11, 2012

Bishop Election, Part Three

In the comments section of my post immediately previous to this one, someone made an astute observation. This person noted their discomfort with what they perceived as ageism in the church. This person draws an parallel between age discrimination and discrimination based on gender and sexuality and ethnicity.

You might agree with this person; you might disagree with their perspective. In some areas of our society, it certainly is true that there is discrimination based on age. In fact, through this recent economic downturn, I'm certain that some people I know had more trouble getting a job than they should have; and I'm certain the reason for this was their age.

However, it's also true that demographics are important. If we were to look around our congregations and see only women, we would recognize that we have a problem. And the truth is that we've been looking at ourselves for decades, recognizing the lack of ethnic diversity as problematic, and trying to address the white-ness of our congregations.

In the same way, it is necessary for the church to look around and see a dearth of young people. It is also necessary for the church to look around and not see young people in significant positions of leadership.

I don't see this as age discrimination. I see it as a problem that the church needs to address. I believe that people over 50 are vital to the vibrancy of the church. I also believe that no age group is more vital to the life of the church than any other.

The thing is, though, that when everyone in leadership is from the same generation, other age groups are necessarily alienated. In fact, this is one of the reasons that I've felt for years that younger leaders don't have a voice in this synod; the full-time ministry staff in the synod office are all demographically the same.

Because we don't have voices from a diversity of age groups in significant leadership positions, I'm afraid that the church is clinging to a way of existence that was life-giving in past decades, but that needs to be tweaked for our world today.

As we prepare for the upcoming election, I'm not asking that we ignore anyone over a certain age. What I'm asking for is that we consider the fact that many young adults are staying away from church, and what it would be like to seriously consider electing a 30-something- or 40-something-year-old bishop.


Friday, February 10, 2012

Bishop Election, Part Two

As I mention here, our synod will be electing a new bishop in a couple months. So far, over 60 people were potentially nominated. Of those, seventeen potential candidates have not withdrawn their names from potential nomination.  (I say potential, because nothing official can happen until the April assembly.)

The next step in this potential process is for the remaining potential candidates to submit biographical information and their ideas about the office of bishop.

Those were published earlier this week, and I've taken a little time to glance at what these folks have written. I have to admit, I'm disappointed in what I see.

Of course I'll have to make a closer reading before too long, but the vision I see articulated by most of these potential candidates is a continuation of the status quo. “Let's do what we've been doing, let's just do it better.” And anything beyond what's always been is wrapped in church bureaucratic jargonistic language that doesn't really mean anything.

The world is shifting and changing all around us, and the church seems to be mired in a thought process that was successful at one point in history, but no longer makes sense.

Before you, my seven readers, throw up your hands in frustration, please understand that I'm not advocating that we eschew the essentials of our faith. Word and Sacrament should continue to remain at the center of who we are. Our Lutheran perspective on Christian theology is indispensable to the future of the church. The rest, though, should be up for negotiation.

See, if we don't begin to recognize that the world is changing, we'll remain stuck in the cultural trappings of the past.

What I don't see is any one of the potential bishop candidates voicing an articulate alternative to business as usual. Further, I don't hear any one of the potential bishop nominees talking about their actual shortcomings.

What we need, in my opinion, is a bishop who is solidly rooted and grounded in the essentials of our faith. What we need, in my opinion, is a bishop who is humble enough to recognize their own shortcomings, and who is willing to build a staff to fill those gaps.

What we need, in my opinion, is a bishop who recognizes the reality that the world is shifting and changing all around us, and who is willing to push the church into the future ~ not simply for the sake of change, but because the roots and foundation of our faith has an important Word to speak into the changing world.


Saturday, February 4, 2012

Waking Up in the Winter

morning beckons,
calling from
beyond the down and
patchwork of
sewing scraps & history

thick down and a
heavy quilt
hours ago tucked tightly
under my feet and shoulders
have loosened overnight

creating the security and
comfort of warmth, which
despite a beckoning morning
my nearly-awake self
will not vacate