Tuesday, August 30, 2011

We Need This

Interesting words from Lutheran minister Nadia Bolz-Webber:

I need to receive the Eucharist. I need to hear the gospel again and again and again, because I forget all of that. I think that’s what we do in Christian communities. We gather. We remind each other of who we are. We remind each other of God’s promises, and that’s what we proclaim.
I think people, especially liberals, conflate sin with low self-esteem. They’re like, “I don’t want to talk about sin anymore,” because [they’ve been told] sin is immorality. They’re like, “I’m tired of having someone tell me I’m immoral when I’m not.”

There’s very little to do with morality. Sometimes it intersects with morality -- absolutely, no question. Being curved in on self can cause some really immoral things.

If you could actually manage to be a completely ethical and moral person, you would still be sinful. It doesn’t mean you’re bad. It just means that God is God and you are not, and that’s actually good news.
I once visited this woman who had a 6-month-old baby die. I spent the day with her. She had a pack of cigarettes next to her bed, and she didn’t have custody of her other four kids, and she was a drug addict. She spent the whole time going, “You know, this all happened because of this cop or this social worker who had it out for me.”

She had this totally external locus of control. I was so sad after I left, and it wasn’t because of the situation, which was sad; I was sad because I felt like she was never going to experience the exquisiteness of God’s grace, because she can’t confess. She needs it, but she can’t get to that place. She’s not going to have the freedom that comes from that, because she keeps going, “No, it’s this, it’s that.” Total denial.

My church always has a confession and absolution at the beginning of our liturgy. A lot of church planters want to jettison the confession, because they don’t want people to feel bad. I’m like, “Oh my God, that’s central to who we are.”

As I was greeting a woman who has been a long-time visitor, she said one of the reasons she comes to our church is because of the communion.  The tradition that I've been a part of for nearly 15 years, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), places a lot of emphasis on communion...at least in theory.  But like most anything, I think we forget the importance of this act, this act of having fellowship with a God that knows us completely, especially when we mess up, and still loves us.

We need this meal.  We need to be reminded how we fall short and how God still loves and redeems us.  While we don't do confession and absolution, the Lord's Supper is kind of that all in one. 

I am reminded of my Lutheran seminary days where a professor said in a sermon that people want the gospel, they want to hear the good news.  They don't want tales of bunny rabbits, the want the gospel.

We need to hear that we are loved and forgiven by God and we need to see that in action through communion. 

I need this.  You need this.  Don't forget that.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Life of Brian at 30

Tony Jones links to a comment about the Monty Python movie.  I happened to see the movie for the first time on a Good Friday evening.

Yeah, I know: I'm so going to hell. ;)

Sunday Sermon: August 21, 2011

“Think Different.”
Exodus 1:8-2:10 and Romans 12:1-8
August 21, 2011
First Christian Church
Minneapolis, MN

Earlier this week, the political world was abuzz about an op-ed by investor Warren Buffet.  In the opinion piece in the New York Times, Buffet calls on Congress to “stop coddling the super-rich” and raise taxes significantly on persons like himself who happen to be super rich.

As someone who follows politics, I can tell the reaction was rather predictable.  Many on the political left cheered it, while conservatives thought that if Buffet thought he should give the government more money, then he should do so without asking for Congress to raise taxes.

I’m not here this morning to talk about Warren Buffet’s challenge or to argue the finer point of American taxation.  What I am interested in is something that Buffet talks about  at the start of his opinion piece: a call for shared sacrifice.  It’s a phrase that we hear a lot from politicians.  For Buffet the answer to is one of the upper incomes paying more in taxes.  That’s a political and economic answer to our ongoing problems with the economy and the deficit.  But what does it mean for us?  What does it mean for those of us who follow Jesus?  What does shared sacrifice look like?

Thursday, August 25, 2011


Every so often, I happen to watch the TV series "Haven."  Last week's episode spoke to me because it talked about a character with Obessive Compulsive Disorder.

Titled, "Audrey Parker's Day Off, " has our lead character reliving the same six hours over and over ala "Groundhog Day." In each instance she sees a different friend get killed by a hit-and-run driver.  She tries to do what she can to prevent the accident from happening, but she keeps seeing her friends die. 

Towards the end of the show, we find out that the reason she is living these hours over and over is because of one man who happens to have OCD.  Anson is a man whose marriage broke down over his condition and because he thinks he caused the accident by not counting the right way or what have you, his guilt basically "resets" time and keeps Audrey dealing with the same day over and over.

The Anson character is either counting the numbers of buttons on his shirt or wondering if he should touch the phone and so one.  A choice that might seem inconsequential to most folks causes him sheer pain.

The time loop ends when Anson in a way frees himself from the guilt and chooses to step in front of the speeding car, which kills him.

I bring this all up because this display of OCD is all to real for me.  Aspergers can come with other conditions which are considered co-morbid and for me, one of those is OCD.  Over the last 10 years or so, my struggle with OCD has been tamed with medicine, but it can still pop up.  Daniel notes the times I tend to wash my hands more than once.  But it was worse before I was medicated. I can remember trying to go to bed and getting up again and again to check to see if a rag was on the stove or I had turned on the stove thereby filling my apartment with gas.  I would do this so much that I then could not get to sleep because I was now just filled with worried.  When I was younger (high school days), I would fear that I had hit someone and would even turn around to see if I had struck down a person.

I could share other stories, but I think you get the picture.  I know that writing about this might give people the impression that either a) Dennis is just a nut; or b) that I am drawing attention to myself.  I guess I just want to share this with folks. For a long time I didn't share out of shame and probably because yeah, people would think "wow, Dennis is just nuts."

But the thing is, a lot of us deal with this.  Some of us have forms of autism and this kind of comes with the package.  It's not easy, but the thing is, we do get by and can still lead normal lives. 

So if we meet somewhere and I get a bit fixated and start washing my hands a lot or something, just be patient and nudge me a bit.  I'll get the message.

And I'll keep taking my medicine.

When An Aspie Get Invited to Dinner

...kind of describes my own social anxieties.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

An Uncertain Trumpet

Several years ago, I was at a local GOP convention through my work with Log Cabin Republicans.  As I was going about meeting folks, I realized that a gentleman from a church I used to belong to was a delegate to the convention.  It was nice to see him, but it was also interesting since this man never talked about politics in church and as far as I can tell, still does not today. 

It was interesting that I never knew the man's party affiliation.  It never came up in discussions.  He's always been a straight arrow dealing with financial and legal issues facing the church.  Politics just never came up in most conversation.

I share this because I am reminded by a post by Episcopal blogger Fredrick Schmidt about American Christianity and where it intersects with today's politics.  More and more, I want to be like this gentleman that I know, keeping politics out of the life of the church.

I'm not suggesting that the church should just not be involved in caring for the poor or speaking out when need be.  But I am saying that our involvement in politics has not as much elevated the body politic as much as it has brought the church down the to level of crass partisan bickering that we see so much of on TV and on the web these days.  The church is mimicking what we see on Fox News or MSNBC and acting accordingly. 

Schmidt is not amused and he calls for Christians to be willing to pursue the truth no matter where it leads:

Christians are no better at navigating the American political landscape than anyone else. The name-calling among them may have a religious ring to it, but it is depressingly similar to the tribal incivility on display everywhere else. And, sadly, when we are commenting on the larger political drama we drop the religious language and we are as nasty and unreflective as the talking heads on Fox or MSNBC. Some of the epithets I have watched Christians use in political observations on Facebook aren't even fit to reprint here.

For that reason, I am not at all sanguine about Christians transcending the terms of the current debate. That doesn't speak well for the rest of the claims that Christians make and that's deeply troubling.
Christians will necessarily commit themselves to a point of view, but they should all be committed to the pursuit of the truth, wherever it leads. They should be tenacious about gathering the facts. They should be scrupulous about avoiding distortion. They should be committed to civil and incisive debate about the issues. They should foreswear name-calling and character assassination. And they should be capable of considering solutions to the problems that face us that lie outside the ideological parameters on both the left and the right. If we can't do that, we really add little or nothing to the public debate.

But the problem facing the churches is the same that is so common in our society today: our insistence on being right instead of being loving.  Conservative and liberal Christians are sure that they have the answer to public policy questions and the other side is not only wrong, but probably not Christian.  Conservative Christians mimic their big brothers and advocate against tax increases and supporting what they see as "big government."  Liberal Christians follow their siblings, calling for taxing the rich and for the continuation if not enlargement of the welfare state.  Each side finds a few Bible verses to justify their side and condemn each other.

That said, we also face a far bigger problem: we want to believe that God is on our side and ours alone.  And there we definitely reach for our Bibles as weapons.  Schmidt says we can't expect the Bible to justify our position:

First, there is probably nothing in the Old or New Testament that can be applied directly and unequivocally to the debates that we are having. Ancient Israel was a theocracy with a king. The early Christian community was a church, not a country. The early church described in the Book of Acts was a minority movement within its own world. Its members did not exercise responsibility for shaping Roman policy. They did not issue currency and they did not elect representatives. So, we live, work, and vote in a completely different environment than those in which the books of the Bible were written.

We can debate the merits of big government, the size of federal budgets, the structure of the tax code, and the advisability of creating a welfare state. But the early Christian community described in the opening chapters of the Book of Acts, in which "all things were held in common and no one suffered need," is not a model for nation-building and it is not a model for creating a thriving, modern economy. To suggest otherwise is to rely on sloppy exegesis and anachronism. It is logically misleading and romantic nonsense.

What I wish to see in the modern American church is not a bunch of "red" and "blue" churches, but communities that seek to follow Jesus and are engaged in thoughtful discernment of public issues.  I want to see churches think about how best to help the poor, or spur economic growth, or what should be the scope of American foreign policies than just parrot what Rush Limbaugh or Rachel Maddow said that day.  I want to see communities where liberals and conservatives can talk about these issues knowing they don't have all the answers.  I want to see a church where we are humble about our political beliefs and willing to rest on God's grace and mercy instead of the Democratic or Republican party platform.

In the end, I'm not asking that Christians never talk about politics or their ideology.  I am asking that we model a different way of being in the world, that we learn to be Christ to each other instead of demonizing each other the way the "pagans" do. 

In some ways, this has made me an uncertain trumpet.  I'm not as willing to sound the horns for battle like I used to.  Yes, I have my opinions and as a political blogger, I do express them.  But as a Christian, I want to exhibit something a bit different.  I want to be about community and love, instead of being right.  Life is about loving our friends and fellow Christians even if we can't agree with them.  It's about loving as Jesus love.  That's a trumpet I want to sound anytime.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Backwards Church

A story about how a child with autism was welcomed into church:

Finally, when Max turned 13, I could bear it no longer. I brought him back for the one thing he always loved about church when he was a toddler: when it was over. So, that’s exactly when we showed up. We called it “backwards church.” People were pouring out of the sanctuary and we walked in! It was the coffee hour, which at our church feels more like a backyard barbecue — friends talking and laughing, children playing Nerf football. Max fit right in. But something else was going on: God was about to grab his spiritual tool belt.

Within minutes Max started helping some of the men who were stacking chairs in the sanctuary. Before we left, one of the men approached Max. He put his hand on Max’s shoulder and asked if he would like to be an official member of the “Grunt Crew,” the team of men who clean and stack the chairs after each service. Max straightened his back and gasped with a rush of air so cool and cleansing that it felt like menthol. One small invitation, that one touch, changed our lives and the life of our church. For six years now Max has been a member of the Grunt Crew. He’s even become a greeter, which for Max includes leaping and dancing when the worship music begins. Max still doesn’t sit through the service, but his joy in serving is contagious. And he is a vital part of our church. It’s as if being with Max, this boy without armor or pretense, who knows the privilege of church, lets us all feel a bit of victory too.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Putting Your Taxes Where Your Values Are?

Alan Brevere makes a good point regarding Warren Buffet's op-ed on taxing the super-rich:

I like Warren Buffett. I admire him. He has been very generous with his money over the years. But when mega-rich folks like Buffett write editorials arguing that the wealthy should pay more in taxes, I am always puzzled by one thing. If he thinks he should pay more why doesn't he just do it? He could, for example, not take those tax breaks that the government allows him to take. There is no law requiring Buffett to do so. Or he can actually make a contribution to the federal government. Instructions on how to do so are right on the website of the Financial Management Service, which is a bureau of the U.S. Department of the Treasury...

It's one thing to write an editorial stating what others should do. I would suggest to Mr. Buffett that if he is serious about his words, he will back them up with action. Uncle Sam has his hand out and will not reject his check. I highly doubt that he will even ask Warren for two forms of ID.

When I stand up in front of the folks in church on Sunday morning and I encourage them to tithe (which should be the minimum gift to the church, not the maximum), I better be tithing and more myself. Otherwise my words have no integrity. If I insist that individuals read their Bibles and pray, I better be doing so as well.

I should add here that I agree with Alan that taxes probably need to be raised, though frankly I'd like to know why we want to raise taxes.  Buffet simply says taxes on the rich need to be raised, but then does not explain what this increased income is for?  Will it pay for social programs?  Entitlements?  Stem the debt?  We don't know.  All we know is that the rich need to pay more.

That said, I think Alan's charge that maybe Buffet should put his money where his mouth is makes some sense.  I used to think this was just a useless charge from conservatives, but not any more.  Of course, Congress and the President have to duke it out in raising revenue, but nothing is stopping Buffet from making a donation in the meantime.

The issue of taxation is one that we as a society must debate.  But if people are going to make such statements as Mr. Buffet's, maybe they should also make sure they are practicing what they preach.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Jesus for President?

Like it or not, Jesus is running for political office.

Jesus has been running for office for quite some time now.  What's his platform, you say?  Well, it's whatever happens to be your political pursuasion.  Are you a Democrat?  Well, Jesus is about as blue as can be, supporting government programs and very much for raising taxes on the wealthy so they can pay their "fair share."

And if you are a Republican?  Well, Jesus is a super patriot, is against raising taxes and government spending.

You can probably see where I'm going with this. 

In light of the recent budget and debt mess that has finally be resolved, I've heard folks talk about how it's not simply wrong, but downright sinful to cut any social programs.  I've also heard others try to infuse their conservative fiscal agenda with holy talk as well.  I hear people talk about "What would Jesus cut," as if Jesus was somehow involved in social policy during his time on earth.

Being a mainline Protestant pastor, I've hung out with other pastors who are decidedly on the liberal end of the spectrum.  The way they talk, you'd think Jesus came to earth to give every Social Security and Medicare.  Conversely, conservative Christians have somehow made raising taxes some kind of mortal sin that should send one to the very gates of hell.

I'd like to give my sisters and brothers who are partisans a little advice: stop using Jesus to prop up your arguments.

Jesus walked on earth during the first century, long before there was anything like a welfare state.  Jesus didn't have a position on Medicaid or defense spending.  Last I checked Jesus wasn't issuing his view on US tax policy. 

Jesus did care for the poor and  called us to do so as well.  But you might notice that Jesus never said how that should be done.  Maybe Jesus was smart enough (or extremely gullible) to believe we could figure that out.

I think there are good and moral arguments both for and against government programs aimed at alleviating poverty.  I think there are good and moral arguments both for and against raising taxes.  Jesus didn't call us to support this or that ideology; Jesus called us to be faithful.  We have to discern how to be faithful to his call to care for the least of these and odds are we will come to different conclusions.  That's okay. I think God is a god that likes to give us a wide berth to come up with how to be faithful.

So, can we please stop asking what Jesus would cut or not cut and stop trying to make Jesus some kind of mascot for our political parties?  Jesus came to give us abundant life, not free health care or lower taxes.