Thursday, April 30, 2009

Eight Ways to Be A Missional Christian

A question I hear a lot at church is how we can invite people to church when all of the people around them already go to church? I've been trying to think of an answer and I've found one and boy what an answer:

Missional is not an event we tack onto our already busy lives. It is our life. Mission should be the way we live, not something we add onto life: “As you go, make disciples….”; “Walk wisely towards outsiders”; “Let your speech always be seasoned with salt”; “be prepared to give a defense for your hope”.

The writer then proceeds to share eight easy ways any of us can just be missional. Read it and be amazed.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Sunday Sermon- April 26, 2009

“So, Why did the Republican Buy a Prius?”

Genesis 1:1-25, John 1:1-14

Earth Stewardship Sunday

April 26, 2009

First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Minneapolis, MN

It was on a Friday night twenty years ago, that I went to conference at a Lutheran church in Lansing, Michigan. I was a junior in college and part of a Baptist college group which had arrange for me and for others to attend this meeting. The subject of the event was a seminar on creation and evolution, or more to the point, how evolution was a lie that was designed to bring about a “liberal agenda” and that what happened in Genesis 1 , that God created in the earth in six, 24 hour days- really happened. They tried to use scientific means to try to prove this.

I didn’t know what to believe back then. I didn’t wholeheartedly accept what they were peddaling, but I knew that Genesis 1 was true to me.

Six months later, a few of my friends went down to a park in Lansing where there was an Earth Day celebration. It was the 20th anniversary of the first Earth Day in 1970, and being that I had an interest in caring for the environment, I went. I can say that I had a good time at that event, though I wasn’t planning on joining the people who dressed like hippies or were vegetarians.

Those two experiences left me wondering how one can be a Christian and care for the environment. I thought it was important, but people around me thought the environmental movement was filled with people who would take one away from God. I didn’t really buy that, but I didn’t see many people trying to connect our faith in God with love for God’s world.

Two decades later and we see that my question has been answered. We are honoring God’s creation today in worship and accross the nation and around the world, people of faith come together to seek ways to respect Creation.

But there is still a lot to do. The church needs to be a force that reminds the world that this is God’s world and we repent and change our ways.

But to do that, we need to understand why this is an issue of faith. Genesis 1 is perhaps one of the most well known texts, and yet it is the most misunderstood. For some, it is considered a true telling of how the world came to be. They treat it as science. Others see it as a silly tale that gets in the way of the real science. Now, I don’t think first chapter of Genesis is a scientific fact. It just isn’t. But if we are followers of Jesus, we can’t ignore either. So, then what does this passage have to say to us? What does it have to say about caring for the environment?

What Genesis 1 and John 1 for that matter, is that God created this world around us. At the beginning of time, before there was even a world that existed, God was there and God started creating. In one of the stories in the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, Aslan, the mighty lion which represents God, creates Narnia, by singing. Science and evolution has its place in describing how the world came into being, but this story is a poem, a love song that shows how God lovingly creates the stars, the seas and the animals. This isn’t some scientific text, but a love note. When we read this text, we are reminded that God loves the world, the whole world. This is what Genesis 1 says, “I am love with you.”

You see that behind me, there is a cross with flowers on it. The flowering of the cross is an ancient Easter tradition. It symbolizes life coming from death. Easter isn’t simply about Jesus coming back from the dead. It is about the healing of all of creation. Jesus, the Son of Man, which in Hebrew is adam, which is in itself a taken from the Hebrew word adamah or earth, is the one that not only brings humanity and God back together though his life,death and ressurection, but he heals the rift brought on by the first Adam, when he and Eve decided that those apples on that Tree of Life would mae a good apple pie. Jesus, Adamah, heals creation. The curse of the first Adam is gone.

So what does this have to do with us and the environment? Well, it’s this: if God created this world in love, if God in Jesus lived, died and rose again to heal creation, then what is our response?

When people start to talk about the environment, one can at times feel a sense of dread. Someone that is shaming us for not paying attention to the environment and urging us to give up our 21 century lifestyles to go off and live in the woods.

I can understand that people want to highlight the importance of caring for the earth and because of growing problems like global warming, but I don’t think we should be urged to do good by being made to feel guilty. I think we should do things out of joy and not simply obligation.

So, how do we as Christians care for the environment. With joy! We do this, because God created the world in love. We were created in love. And in response, we love God back by caring for that which God made in love. It’s that simple.

Now, to do this, you don’t need to go and live in the woods eating nuts and berries. It’s simple little things that can make a big impact and can be a love letter to God. It might be using a cloth shopping bag, or a compact flourescent light bulb, or using cleaning supplies that are less harmful on the environment. There is a lot more one can do, but this is a small way of showing love to God and to God’s world. Think of it as a love letter back to God.

One of those “little things” include buying fuel efficient cars which leads me to that sermon title. Ummm, well I’m the guy that drives the Prius and yes, I am the Republican as well. I didn’t bring up my political persuasion to endorse a candidate or to make you all vote a certain way, but to prove a point: caring for the environment is not a hippy liberal thing. It is not as the man at the seminar twenty years ago believed a way to bring on some wacky left wing agenda. No, caring for the environment is a moral and spiritual issue. We can disagree on how to best deal with it in our halls of government, but we as followers of Jesus, it is our issue. This is our God’s world to not care for it, to not acknowledge God’s love of all of creation is....well it’s being an ingrate. God has shown God’s love for us and when we don’t honor God’s creation, we spurn God’s love.

Can one be a Christian and care for the earth? Well, if you have to ask...

Thanks be to God, for the sun and the moon and the trees and the mountains and all of God’s creation. Amen.

Is Autism a Difference or Disorder?

Blogger Freddie DeBoer busts a gut today in explaining that autism is not a difference, but a disorder that needs to be cured. Here is just a sample:

Let’s not mince words: autism is not just a difference. Autism is not a category of diversity that has to be respected. Autism is a disorder, one which medical science should work towards curing. If you’d like to use the more inflammatory language, rather than cure, we can use “eliminate”. Autism has debilitating effects on many that have it, often with profound negative consequences for learning, self-control, communication, and the restraint of physical violence. I cannot personally comprehend the emotional toll of dealing with autism in a family– nor can I understand the depth and love found within the relationships between families with autistic members. The value of autistic people or the relationships austic people have are unquestionable. Who would want to question such things? But there is something wrong, and deeply sad, in eliding a love and respect for the people and relationships that are affected by autism into a respect for the disorder. Autistic people are beautiful. Autism is not beautiful.

Like Mr. De Boer, there was a part of me that used to not like the whole "differently abled" tag. And I don't necessarily have a problem with the word "disabled" if it means that people have lost the function of their legs or body. But that said, since I discovered that I have Aspergers, which is on the autism spectrum, I have had less desire to see myself as "broken" and in need of a cure. I don't think that I need to be cured as much as accomodated. I would tend to see it as a disorder, but one that has to be managed, not "cured."

What bothers me is that DeBoer doesn't seem to acknowledge that there are people with autism that are living full lives as adults. There are negative consquences, but there are also positive ones as well (witness Temple Grandin).

Frankly, I wished DeBoer would have chatted with people who have autism instead of making these sweeping assumptions.

I am curious what others think. How would you respond?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Donkeys, Elephants and the Body of Christ

As many of you know, I work full time for the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area as their communications person. It's from here that I can observe another denomination as it makes it way trying to follow God. What has been so interesting is seeing how people in the denomination sort themselves into affinity groups; conservatives joining groups like the Presbyterian Coalition and liberals joining groups like the Covenant Network. In some way, there is very little talking between the two groups. Even the churches are sorted into liberal and convervative churches with very few in the middle.

I could be all smug and say that we Disciples aren't like that, but then I'd be lying which is a bad thing. In fact in many cases, Christians are starting to mirror the wider culture in that we have sorted ourselves into places where we are with other like minded people. That's something that bothers me for several reasons.

One reason is that as mainline Protestant churches become more politically liberal, I find myself more and more of an outlier because my politics tend to skew right of center. In the olden days, I would have been called a Rockefeller Republican, and for the most part I tend to vote Republican with exceptions. But the churches where I have worshipped and worked at tend to skew left of center and tend to be vocal about it, which can make me feel uncomfortable.

But if you think I'm going to flee into the arms of a more conservative church, you would be wrong. Since I am openly gay, and most conservative churches don't like that, I don't think I'm going to be darkening their doors anytime soon. And to be honest the mainline churches do have some good points, if they would just stop making me feel I've just attended an Obama rally.

No, I want to remain in the mainline church because I want to be a witness for true diversity, to really reflect the body of Christ. I hear a lot of talk in the churches about community and diversity, but if everyone around you thinks the same and has a similar lifestyle, I don't know how diverse we really can be. Maybe I'm being an idealist, but I really believe we are called to be an example to the world, and in such a world as ours that is so divided, we need an example of people who might not always get along- well, getting along as sisters and brothers in Christ.

Presbyterian blogger Michael Kruse
has been doing a series based on the book the Big Sort, by Bill Bishop. In this book (which I have yet to read) Bishop notes that over the last 40 years or so, America has been sorting itself ideologically, with liberals congregating in one place and conservatives in another and really never communicating with each other. In a post today, Kruse focuses on the church and how we tend to segregate. Kruse is focusing on the religious left, but one could say the same of religious conservatives. This is his note on mainline congregations:

Many (mainline churches)now gather around a collection of social justice causes (with politically left solutions), gay inclusion, or being green. I find that many of these congregations and their denominations hold themselves out to be ecumenical and to be seeking diversity, yet the only partners they seek out are those who also share these values and share a similar politically left orientation toward societal transformation. Ironically, embrace of “ecumenism” and “diversity” has become one more social segment around which to create a politically left homogenous community. And not being politically left means (in their eyes) you are opposed to God’s mission of societal transformation.

“Churches were once built around a geographic community, [Martin] Marty said. Now they are constructed around similar lifestyles.” (173) Bishop points to Martin Luther King’s observation that 11 o’clock on Sunday morning is the most racially segregated hour of the week and declares that now it is also the most politically segregated as well. He isn’t suggesting that most people look for a political position held by the congregation but rather they are looking for a church that comports will with their lifestyle; and political views correlate highly with lifestyle factors.

I think Kruse is correct here. I remember back in the 80s when some evangelical churches started bill themselves as "conservative." Now we see mainline congregations using words like "progressive" or "liberal." In short the church has followed politics: with "red" and "blue" churches.

But if churches are no more than extensions of the current red-blue split, then what is our witness in the world? Does the church become nothing more than a cheerleader or chaplain for their respective teams? Are we just enabeling the echo chamber that has been created in American life, where liberals and conservatives can read blogs, watch TV channels and go to church without ever seeing someone with a different outlook on life?

I don't have an answer for this. All I know is that I want to remain in my own creative tension with my liberal parishoners and fellow pastors. Because in the end, I need to hear them and they need to hear me. They are my sisters and brothers and I am theirs.

Maybe in the end the church isn't supposed to be a comfortable club, but a community of creative tension.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Are Mainline Churches Like Detroit?

I've been wondering lately if there is anything in common with Mainline Protestant Churches and the American Auto Industry.

Having been ordained in a mainline denomination, working for a church going through change and having two parents who spent years working for General Motors has made me thing there are similarities in the two.

With the onset of the financial crisis, Detroit is having to face its problems in a big way. The Big Three had their heyday in the 50s and 60s, building large cars that Americans purchased like crazy. Gas was cheap and the foreign automakers were not as present on the road.

All that changed in the 70s. The gas crises of that era caught Detroit flatfooted. People started looking for more fuel efficient cars. Japan started showing its muscle as people looked to Toyota and Honda for cheap and efficient cars.

Detroit decided to make changes. But in some cases the changes were small and not major. People complained about the quality of the cars and started abandoning domestic automakers. Detroit kept making small changes, a badge engineering here, a plant closing there, but never made the big costly changes.

The late 90s brought the SUV craze and Detroit went big guns over it. The Big Three were now flushed with cash and the good times were rolling in. The Asian automakers, no joined by the Korean upstarts like Huyndai, also built SUVs, but they also kept selling small cars to people who wanted them.

The gas started getting more expensive. First $2, then $3, then $4 per gallon. It got too crazy to spend so much in gas for an SUV that got 12 miles to the gallon. People started to look to small cars. Again, Detroit came up short. It had spent years neglecting its cars, so when people came looking for more efficient cars, Detroit had few.

Finally, the credit crisis hit. Banks weren't lending which meant, people couldn't buy cars. Two of the Big Three stand on the edge of oblivion.

Like Detroit, the heyday for Mainline churches was in the 50s and 60s. Christianity had a big place in American culture. People went to church, and the sancutaries were full. But things changed in the 60s. Other religions came to the fore. Also, all those "blue laws" that closed stores on Sunday, vanished. Going to church was only one option of many.

Like Detroit, the mainline churches made some small changes, a renewal movement here, a new youth program there, but they weren't willing to see how the times had changed around them.

The mainline churches as a whole aren't at the point where Detroit is, yet. But I think the problems are similiar: we are trying to pretend it's still 1958. We think that if we make a few changes, then everything will be as it was. But the problem is that we can't go back to 1958- not for cars or for churches. America is not the place it was 50 years ago. We have changed as nation and both institutions have to learn to change.

But that change is hard. It means giving up things that have been tried and true. For a company like GM, it means letting go of some storied brands like Buick (where my Dad worked). For churches it means things like giving up the way we've done worship, or learning to welcome gays and lesbians when that was even on the radar years ago.

But the thing is, for both the auto companies and the churches, you either have to make meaningful change, or die. I think for both we are way past the point of small change.

Change requires a leap of faith, a belief that in the end, God there with open arms waiting to catch us. For the church, we have to be willing to trust, not in practices and memories of the past, but in God; knowing that God is always with us.

Who would ever have thought my love of cars and love of the church and God would ever combine. :)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Trees and Forests

One of the things that makes a bit different than most people is the fact that I see the trees instead of the forest. It's a common trait of those with autism: we tend to focus on parts of something rather than the whole.

In the day to day life that plays itself out in many ways. I and someone else might look at a certain situation and I will come away focused on one aspect of the encounter and think everything is okay, while someone else takes in everything and believes the situation is grave.

I sometimes wonder if this happens in my role as a minister. The church where I am the Associate is a church that I was a member of once, a decade ago. I had heard the stories of a church mired in its glorious past, but in the past six months, I've seen small signs of a church wanting to change. None of these are big moves, but baby steps that in some ways are farther than I expected this congregation to go.

But, then I wonder: Am I missing the big picture? Am I not seeing the whole story which might be worse than I can imagine?

I don't know. I think at times there are advantages to being able to only see parts instead of a whole, because some times we are so busy looking at the forest that we fail to see the small plant that is slowly but surely growing. And of course, there are advantages to seeing the whole picture and see that while I'm enjoying that new plant, there is a wolf nearby that sees me as lunch.

I think the congregation faces some challenges down the road, but I think there is some hope in there as well. I will use the odd gift that I have to see the hope springing forth, and I will be thankful for those who can also see the whole forest instead of just one tree. God knows we are both needed.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

I Don't Like Change.

I got a call today that just bugged me. It was from the admin of a center that helps pastors deal with vocation issues. Part of the thing here is that you have to spend a day and a half away from work at this center taking different psychological tests.

That part alone bugs me, because it means that I have to be taken away from my routine, which is to go to work. In fact, it could be why I have delayed making an appointment.

Change has always been rough for me. Shortly after my diagnosis, my partner got a call from his brother indicating that his wife was in labor. Daniel was happy and ready to head back to Fargo. I was initially freightened. We had just come back from the North Dakota the night before and I had planned my day at work and now this was all being thrown out. After I calmed down, we were able to head out to Fargo.

So, back to this appointment. I also have to take some tests prior to going and I guess some of them have to be taken at the center before the other testing days. So, not only do I have to be away from my routine for two days, but I have to take another day away and most of all no one told me about this.

I know that I probably sounded pissed when I chatted over the phone and I was. For those who aren't autistic, this is probably a no-brainer, but for someone like me, it can send me through the roof. I have to learn to calm myself down and not get so upset.

Change of course is a part of life, but it isn't easy for me. Several years ago I my roomate and best friend started dating a guy that became his husband. It really bothered me, not out of jealousy, but because everything changed. We had bought a house together and I had that planned in my mind, and we had a history of hanging out together and then all that changed. He wasn't around to go places or to go grocery shopping or things like that and I was just bereft.

My partner sometimes says "I am getting ready to do something spontaneous." It's sounds silly, but at least then I can deal and prepare for change.

But that's not how life operates all the time.