Sunday, April 29, 2012

We Have A Choice

It seems to me that where some people see a problem, others see a gift or an opportunity. For instance, this morning the congregation I serve gathered for worship … you know, like we do every Sunday.

Like many congregations, we have two worship services each week. And, like many congregations, individual members and households tend to come to one or the other of those two worship services.

At our later worship service this morning, I'm sure I'm not the only one who noticed a little extra noise from some of the children who were there. It's not the first time that the noise of children has been noticeable, and for my part I always like hearing young people in worship.

Not everyone does, though, and I understand the reaction. If a person has come to worship for a bit of calm in the midst of a hectic life, or if they've come to hear scripture in new ways, or to sing songs, or to hear a sermon that might impact their upcoming week, a loud child might be distracting. I understand.

But this morning, as I was listening and looking around, I started noticing who was there and I started counting. Almost 25% of the people at that worship service were under the age of 8. Almost 25%.

Sure, those almost 25% were making some noise. But I started thinking that the rest of us (who know how to 'behave' in church) have a choice to make. One choice we can make is to complain about the noise.

Another, and I'd say a better, choice we can make would be to celebrate the truth that our congregation is a place where parents want to bring their children; to celebrate that we have a chance to share the faith that has enriched our own lives so much with another generation.

And maybe we can also celebrate the truth that these young people, who Jesus called to himself, might have something to teach us about how to recognize the Reign of G-d.


Saturday, April 28, 2012

Bishop's Election, Synod Assembly Follow-Up

This morning, at our Rocky Mountain Synod Assembly, we elected Pastor Jim Gonia to serve as the next Bishop of our Synod. He will be installed and begin serving in that position in September, although I'm sure he'll be plenty busy over the next months in preparation for assuming that office.

I was pleased by the results of the election. I expect Pr. Gonia to serve very well as our bishop. I believe his gifts for ministry match well with the next steps we need to take in our synod.

It seems to me that one of the gifts it seems to me that Pr. Gonia brings to this office is that he's willing to consider staffing the office of the Bishop in ways that will be unusual in our synod. See, for my entire tenure in this synod, the professional ministry staff are all part of the same demographic group … well, besides gender. They're all white baby boomers.

Now, as I've noted before, I don't have any problem with baby boomers. However, I do find it problematic when the leadership for a diverse group doesn't reflect in their own makeup the diversity of that group. In this case, the membership of the congregations of our synod is fairly diverse ~ there are newborns, 100-year-olds, and everyone in between.

Unfortunately, though, the leadership of our synod (the synod office staff) has represented only a narrow slice of that diversity.

Obviously Pr. Gonia won't staff the synod office with a 90-year-old in the office next to the 12-year-old. But to call on the gifts and different perspectives on our changing world that are represented by people of different age groups would be a good move for the synod office. And maybe, with a variety of different perspectives on ministry in our contemporary world, our synod will begin in new ways to recognize and celebrate the exemplary ministries in our synod instead of simply lamenting decreases in giving and worship attendance.

Of course, simply installing a new Bishop won't alleviate the problems in our synod or in our congregations, and we'll probably discover new problems that we don't have (or recognize) now ~ but I believe, under Pr. Gonia's leadership, we'll make good strides in the right direction.


Friday, April 27, 2012

Bishop's Election, Synod Assembly Edition, Part Two

This morning, we heard thoughts and musings, dreams and stories from the eight remaining candidates for Bishop of the Rocky Mountain Synod of the ELCA ~ and then we voted.  The results will be in after lunch, at which time we may have a bishop-elect ... but more likely is that we'll be gearing up for another round of voting.

Of the remaining eight candidates, they took eight very distinct approaches to their time at the microphone, which I imagine would be indicative of the distinct approaches they woudl take to the ministry of the office fo Bishop.

I voted for one (like I was supposed to do), and identified three who I would like to see move through to the next round of voting.  One of the three I expected to like before voting started, one I was completely unfamiliar with, and one of the three really surprised me. 

But even if those aren't the ones who make it through, I hope the next bishop takes seriously the perspectives brought by all of the other candidates, since those perspectives are mirrored among the children of G-d who are voting members of this assembly, as well as by the children of G-d who comprise this synod. 


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Bishop's Election, Synod Assembly Edition, Part One

The assembly has begun.  We started with worship ~ which is certainly a good way to start.  We've submitted our nominating ballot, seen the results, and have just turned in the second ballot.  We'll see soon who makes it to the next ballot, and then perhaps start to have a better idea about who our future bishop might be. 

During worship, the sermon that Bishop Bjornberg preached, in part, was about imagination and insight within our faith life ~ particularly about the role that imagination plays in thinking and dreaming about the future of the church. 

Our western culture is moving rapidly toward what has been labeled 'post-modernity'.  Folks have all kinds of opinions (some well-informed, some not so much) about the benefits and drawbacks of post-modernity.  Despite what any person thinks about that, it would be difficult to say that this is not the direction our world is moving. 

At this assembly, we have the opportunity to imagine and to begin to live into a new way of being church ~ a way of being church in this new era of life in the western world.  I hope and pray that the process which we are beginning to undertake at this very moment will be Spirit-filled, and that we as the Rocky Mountain Synod will begin to move away from the way we have been church for the past almost 25 years. 

See, the way we've been church together has been great, particularly during much of the previous century.  However, this is a new century, and the world is tremendously different from what it was 100, or 50, or 20, or even five years ago.

The church, also, needs to change in order that the Gospel message (which does not change) will continue to be communicated with a world which is so very desperately in need of hearing a message of grace and mercy and forgiveness and reconciliation and life into the midst of a world that hears more messages of death and destruction than anything else.

In our communal life of faith in and with and through the world in which we find ourselves today, may the process and the election of a new bishop move us forward in our work together at the church in today's world.


Bishop's Election, Part Ten

When we first started the process to prepare for the election of a new bishop in our synod, I was skeptical. I was primarily worried that the people who were lifted up early in the pre-process would have greater name recognition once the process actually started at the assembly.

I'm still skeptical, since there seems to be some confusion about the process we're going to undertake in the very near future.  

See, here's the deal. About six months ago (maybe longer, but I can't remember), people in our synod were invited to submit the names of pastors who they thought might be a good bishop. The current synodical leadership tried to make it clear that those individuals weren't actually nominated ~ they were simply identified as potential candidates.

These potential candidates were invited to submit biographical information, and were invited to answer a number of questions about their vision for ministry in the synod. Seventeen potential nominees submitted information responses, and this was published. I believe that the synodical leadership was interested in trying to make the process as clear as possible.

Unfortunately, though, it seems to me that many people believe that they have seventeen people to choose from; namely, the seventeen who submitted biographical information and answers to the questions. And, despite the fact that every single time I talked about the bishop's election with people in my congregation, I made the point that these seventeen have not been nominated, and that others who aren't on the list might be nominated ~ despite my repeated reiterations, there are quite a few people from the congregation I serve who are wondering which of these seventeen will be bishop.

People don't seem to understand the process. And it didn't help even a little bit that the biographical information and responses from the seventeen are included in the pre-assembly packet. Including that information simply makes the misunderstanding about the process even more blatant.

The thing is, constitutionally there can be no nominees until the assembly begins. Further, the nominations for bishop are made by ecclesiastical ballot ~ which means that the first ballot is a blank sheet of paper, on which voting members may write down the name of any person eligible for the office (in this case, any ELCA pastor in good standing).

The field is wider open than the seventeen whose names are in the official pre-assembly materials.  I really hope this truth is clearer to most people than it seems to be to me.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Bishop's Election, Part Nine

At the end of this week, we (in the Rocky Mountain Synod of the ELCA) will know who our new bishop will be. This week we meet together in assembly, the business of which will be the bishop's election.

I'm a little surprised by the agenda for this event. In the weeks before the assembly, we usually have a handful (or more) resolutions to read through and prepare to deal with. Often the resolutions are relatively innocuous; sometimes they're potentially contentious. I'm always interested to read them beforehand ~ partly so I can think and pray about how I might vote, and partly so I can try to predict who will be arguing for & against the proposal, and to guess about how long the fighting will go on.

This year, though, there is not one single resolution that's been submitted ahead of time. This is a really unusual situation. I wonder if we're all so preoccupied with the election of a new bishop that we're not considering what other changes to our life together that we might talk about.

On the one hand this makes sense. It seems appropriate to see who the new bishop will be, let that person take on that leadership role, and then determine the necessity for communal discernment about the direction of ministry in the synod.

On the other hand, this seems to me to be a cause for concern. Yes, it's important to see what kind of leadership a new bishop will provide. At the same time, the ministry of our synod is not all about the bishop. In fact, the polity of the ELCA seems to identify the congregation as the primary locus of ministry.

As I've stated before, I believe the primary role of the office of the bishop should be to facilitate connections between congregations, and after that to be mostly invisible. If we really are a priesthood of all believers, then the identity of the person being elected to be our next bishop should not stop us from considering the rest of the ministry of our syond.

In my opinion, we ought to be discussing resolutions this week, along with the election of a bishop. Of course, I didn't submit any resolutions, either.

For those who are interested, I'll be doing my best to offer my reflections on the election process. You can find them here at this blog, or you can follow shorter, more pithy comments on twitter and facebook.


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Autumn Morning as a Boy Scout

Today there's bacon in the oven – a cookie sheet full of bacon – which gives the entire kitchen and much of the house a distinct odor. We're new to this, and I'm trying to monitor the process closely, since burnt bacon seems to me to be an abomination unto the lord.

The first time I open the oven door, there's (obviously) a strong aroma that seems to slap me in the nose; an aroma which transports me back to boy scout camping trips of my youth.

Crawling out of heavy canvas tents to a lush, green autumn morning, mist rising from the creek obscuring our view of the fog settled in the hay field across the way, we woke to the smell of bacon frying in cast iron (no, we weren't backpacking) – a little slice of misunderstood heaven, wasted on youth who were without enough experience to recognize the paradise we were waking up in the middle of.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

It's about to begin

Soon enough it will begin.  I'm thinking about the presidential campaign.  Obviously I realize that one party has been campaigning already, working to decide who will be their nominee. 

I paid a little attention to the primary contests, mostly out of curiosity.  It was interesting to watch the potential candidates work to position themselves in what they thought was the best way; working to convince voters which of them would be the best candidate for their party to put forward in the fall. 

Now that most of the doubt about that issue is past, I suspect the two major parties will begin taking earnest and sincere jabs at each other; and I have to say, even before it's really started, I'm kind of sick of the mean things they'll say about each other. 

I'm going to try really hard to not listen.  Except, I will be listening for one particular item.  I'm going to be listening for whether the only Christian values mentioned have to do with sex and marriage.  I don't even care which 'side' talks about sex and marriage, or how they talk about sex and marriage.  I don't care whether I agree with their perspective or not.  I don't want to hear about sex and marriage, particularly as Christian moral issues. 

When it comes to Christian moral issues, I say we should follow the bible.  It's fine to talk about sex and marriage, since the bible talks about sex and marriage.  But the bible also talks about the moral issue of poverty.  In fact, the bible talks about poverty over 2000 times, and about sex only a handful. 

I'm pretty sure, based on the bible, that poverty is a more important moral issue than sex of any variety.  So, let's talk about sex and marriage, but I'll be listening for the candidates to alleviate poverty first (or at least talk about poverty as an issue of faith and morality) ~ that seems biblical to me. 



coffee, on the counter,
delivered with my name (or
the coffee's name) broadcast
by the barista past and above
conversations, the clicking
of laptop keys, and the odor
of that homeless guy muttering
to himself
                  I grasp the cup
the same way every time (in my
left hand, if you must know),
remove the lid, replace it just so
(the hole for drinking opposite the
seam in the paper cup ~ lined up
with the same deliberation that
a bicycle tire is placed on the
wheel, label aligned with valve
stem, just so).  I take one sip
(only one), as I return to my
          reminding myself,
again, that ritual keeps us sane

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Vigil of Easter

darkness hangs on
    death's grip will not ease
        will not loosen
        there is no story to be told
        once the final page of life is written
    the door of the tomb slams shut

now, light seeps from the tomb
    outside, life continues, while
    inside the tomb is death
yet, from where there is only darkness
    light begins to shine

death's grip is not loosened
    death itself is no more

light shines in the darkness

Friday, April 6, 2012


What wondrous love
when I survey
Were you There?
O sacred head
    wounded for our ...

we leave from liturgy
    from our communities
        from the sanctuary in silence

there is no song to sing
      no poetry will suffice
            no art can fully reflect reality
        tonightG-d is Dead

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Triduum Begins

triduum begins,
the three days
largely unnoticed -
even the ones who will
show up tonight for

even those who show up
tonight for a
    new commandment
will have, mostly
passed their day as a normal

yet, despite our best efforts,
    G-D is doing a
        new thing

will we see,
    will we perceive?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Ashes to Palms

remember you are dust
ashes fell, awkwardly onto our
    eye lashes
    smudge our foreheads
prompting curious glances,
comments in the grocery store

ashes gave way to a
    seasonal giving up

ashes washed away
    still mark us for a season
until, awkwardly,
    we try to sing and walk while
        waving palm leaves

the season, begun with ashes
    (our own mortality)
    now rushes toward our G-d's
        death ~
    divine mortality recalling our own,
        ashes mingling with tears.        

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Spring in Colorado

even before solstice,
    the sun warmed the air, and
    warmed the ground
    encouraging hyacinths,
        daffodils, and cyclists
    out of winter's lethargy

despite the calendar
    despite the early, though
    need to store the skis,
        lonely in a garage corner
    despite the narcissus' arrival

I could not let go of winter.
    budding trees, longer days ~ nothing
    wrestled winter away until
    last night, spring (for me) arrived
        with the smell of rain; and let go
    overnight, turning again to snow

Monday, April 2, 2012

Turn, Turn, Turn

forty days of wilderness
turning from sin
turning to G-d

for everything a season, and
this season, for turning
back to G-d

(as if we have the strength
to turn ourselves ...)
to everything we turn

whatever's flashiest
loudest, most
colorful, unusual

to everything we turn
distracted by surprise
from what gives life

to everything we turn
yearning for satiation
we fill ourselves with

image, food, drink,
relationships, everything that
does not satisfy

until compelled by
self ... life ...
to pause, slow down

to be still
for a still, small, voice

until, compelled by
to turn, again, to simple

bread, wine, water
emerging from the wild
into new life

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Palm Sunday

today, we walk around outside
    leaves in our hands
    as the wind blows our
        vestments (what are those?)
    and our hair

today we celebrate
    the impending death of G-d,
today, we do what doesn't make sense
    and what we do isn't quite right

from the beginning,
    everything we do
        singing together
        feasting on bread and wine
        capital punishment on our walls
            and around our necks
    everything we do
        doesn't make sense

in this way
        we mark what is central
    we make sense of a world turned inside-out