Carol Howard Merritt has a good post on how, despite the fact that the "emerging church" movement started among evangelicals, it may be the mainline that is best suited for the postmodern era.
One can argue about whether Lutherans are really mainline. I suppose it depends a great deal on the congregation, but at least in the case of my congregation, what Merritt says of the mainline is true of where I serve:
We have embraced scientific thought, not expecting the newest
discoveries to bow and bend to a six-day creation story. We have
wrestled with biblical literalism, and taken postmodern insights in
hermeneutics seriously. We have questioned theories of atonement for
decades. We have upheld the inherent value and equality of women in our
homes, workplaces, political arenas, and congregations. We have been
engaging in social justice issues, caring for the poor, feeding the
hungry, responding to disasters, and helping the homeless. We do not do
these things only for Christians or as a manipulative evangelistic
tool. But we have also been doing it in the public sphere, working for
change in people’s lives, because we believe in the inherent dignity
and worth of humans, of “the Other.”
I couldn't agree more, but I share her concern that it's still an open question whether the mainline can embrace evangelism enough to really reach out to an increasingly secularized world. Here in Minnesota it seems that we are finally reaching the cliff -- I mean a sudden and dramatic drop-off in the familiarity of folk with the "way we do things", be it how to find a Bible verse, a common table prayer or the assumption that kids will attend confirmation instruction. We're still not the Pacific Northwest, but there's no question which direction the trend is headed.
Can we start articulating the Gospel -- not just good social justice values but THE GOOD NEWS -- in a compelling way? If we can, all the above paragraph will be banked authenticity, the most powerful currency in our culture today.
If you want really creative exegesis, talk to confirmation students. A couple years ago we were discussing Revelation with the kids I just confirmed this past Sunday. Trying to get at the wrongheadedness of the Left Behind series, I asked if the vision of the new creation in Rev. 21 synched with the violence and destruction usually associated with the rapture.
"Is this about the destruction of the earth?" I asked. "Is it about all of us being whisked away to some heavenly realm nothing like this world?"
They were silent for a minute. Then my most divergent thinker raised his hand.
"Well, the earth can't be destroyed, because then the meek wouldn't have anything to inherit!"
There you go. I've been waiting two years for Revelation and the Beatitudes to appear on the same Sunday. Not sure if I'll use that line, but it's a keeper.
I've been wondering, like Jenell, how the Dobson crowd could spin someone like Sarah Palin as their darling. I get plenty of "you're clergy so you must be conservative" mail, but Dobson has left me off their list.
Thanks to Jenell for the report on how Palin's " Christian womanhood" is being spun. It makes me think that Anna Quindlen may be right, writing in her latest Newsweek column that the culture wars are over. People are still highly unsettled about gender roles, but there is no going back. Not gonna happen.
I'm spending my Saturday mornings (the ones I'm not at church) these days going for long luxurious runs, the kinds that allow me to escape the news cycle and think fantastic thoughts.
Here's my fantasy of the day: what if, on November 4, the news outlets decided to refrain from demographic exit polling? What if, instead of the inevitable "white men voted x% for Sen Y" we simply reported how the nation was voting?
Yes, of course we'll have to follow electoral and regional differences, but what if all those numbers were just counted as citizens? Not white or Latino, not male or female, not young or old, but just plain voters? We've had enough of parsing the nation out by differences, real or imagined. Time to elect someone and get on with being one country.
What to do, what to do with this odd Lutheran tradition? We wear red, we sing our Lutheran fight songs, and we celebrate something that the rest of the world neither cares about nor, for the most part, comprehends.
I spent my seminary years outside the Lutheran community, for the most part, so I think I have a true appreciation for what makes us distinct. The trouble is, most of the time that theological distinctiveness is lost in a sea of cultural baggage: Scandinavian food and jokes, German bullheadedness, 17th century music which is glorious but, in these times, culturally marginal.
And, frankly, there's plenty about the intellectual heritage which, while revolutionary in its time, is not so helpful in today's mission context. I'm thinking specifically about the individualism that was the Enlightenment come home to roost in the church, the "I can believe in Jesus without any mediator" element of Luther's revolution which, heard through today's ears, sounds to many people like Jesus-and-me. Why bother with the church at all? We can't celebrate the "Lutheran team" if we're no kind of community in the first place.
At ECLC, Reformation is now the day we celebrate confirmation. For me these 9th graders are a lovely witness to the fact that, by the work of the Holy Spirit, many people do survive being raised in the church. They are also a helpful reminder to me that, even after three years of instruction, they have learned much more from what they've seen the church DO than from what they hear it (or me) SAY.
So what do we say about these things on this day? That the ongoing existence of the church, reformed and still oh-so-stuck-in-the-mud, is one sure sign that the Holy Spirit does manage to work through us human beings, saints and sinners all.
In light of recent public debates in our state, I feel compelled to re-post this.
As I’ve been riding to work and taking my kids to school with the Big Dummy (our new S.U.B) this year, and following the various public conversations about cyclists and motorists sharing the road, I had a revelation.
Drivers treat cyclists the same way “one man, one woman” people treat same-sex couples.
Let me explain.
Most drivers I know (including myself, much of the time) are not belligerent roadhogs. They are, at their best, sensitive to the fact that they are driving several tons of steel and that a cyclist is a lot more vulnerable on the road. So they make “helpful suggestions” -- like the letter to the editor that appeared last month, saying things like, “Stay off the busy streets,” “don’t ride at night,” and “if there’s a bike path, don’t ride in the street.”
The trouble is, if you’re using a bicycle for transportation, not just a fun ride around the park, bike paths are woefully inadequate in most cities (including ours), and staying off major roads is, in many communities, virtually impossible.
Yes, I am choosing to ride my bike, and I love doing it, but it’s not just a lark for me. It’s a way of life, something I do because I love the earth, my health and my children. (And yes, I do stay off the busy streets as much as I can when the kids are on the bike). I wish for a city where I wouldn’t be treated like an inconvenience at best, or a danger to others at worst.
Now, I do not believe that same sex couples are “choosing a lifestyle” in the same way I am when I ride my bike, but I can imagine the frustration that arises when people, in the name of “tolerance,” suggest that gay couples are fine with them as long as they are not visible in public. Or when people suggest that we devise some “alternative” route to civil rights for same-sex couples, just as long as we don’t call it marriage. Why is it so threatening that same-sex couples would want to share the same joys and challenges of a publicly recognized, committed relationship? (I also think the U.S. could save a lot of headaches by seriously consdering the European model of separating civil marriage from sacred marriage -- but that's a whole 'nother article).
No, it’s not a perfect analogy. For one thing, I can’t think of a single way that same-sex marriage would “slow down” anyone’s traditional marriage in the way that more bikes on the road actually could slow motor traffic. But the combination of fear and frustration I feel -- when it is made clear, in words or in a driver’s behavior, that my right to the road is only secondary – is instructive.
Well, I missed Blog Action Day on Poverty, but it's never too late to do one of the 88 actions suggested for eliminating poverty. In these days when so many people are feeling their belts tighten, it's important to remember where we stand on the global scale. ( If you don't know, enter your income at the Global Rich List. Odds are good you'll be surprised.
And today is World Food Day. Another good opportunity to speak out on behalf of those who are affected much more deeply by rising fuel and food prices than the average middle-class American.
And while we're on the topic of food, check out Michael Pollan's piece in the "Food" issue of the New York Times Magazine this past Sunday. The economic times may make shopping at Whole Paycheck a whole lot less attractive to some folk, but Pollan rightly points out that regional, local food is a matter of domestic security. Maybe the economic times will make people a little more willing to do some of those old-fashioned, perfectly sensible things we used to always do: garden, hunt, fish, and cook for -- yes -- FOOD. The fact that these social activities are fun too -- are a side benefit.
The bottom line seems to be that there's no real upside to being outright poor, but for those of us who have felt our time is very precious (and therefore we don't think it's "worthwhile" to cook for ourselves or spend time with family) there may be a healthy aspect to being more downwardly mobile.
What's dismaying is the more subtle racism that seems to be the final official strategy of the faltering McCain campaign. It started with the dis-ing of "community organizers" (that's a bad thing?) at the convention, and continues now with the "do we really know him?" thread.
I mean, seriously, the public has had all of six weeks to check out Sarah Palin, but after eighteen months of campaigning people people are still implying that Obama is hiding something.
A few weeks ago John McCain hired the consultant who engineered the
smear campaign against McCain (on Bush's behalf) in 2000, by spreading
rumors that McCain had fathered a Black child. I guess they figured the
same rumor about Obama wouldn't get them very far.
Could it be, really, that a young, African-American male is as brilliant, patriotic, committed, and, yes, even-tempered as he seems? That the campaign he has run -- disciplined, steady-as-you-go, grass-roots and inspiring -- actually reflects the way he would govern?
To suggest otherwise is, to my mind, to play on people's basest fears. We've had eight years of that already.
A lot -- yes, a LOT -- has happened since Barbara Brown Taylor published a little piece called the "Upside of a Downturn" in Christian Century a few months ago. But my mind keeps going back to the title.
Yes, the fact that we can even speak of an upside betrays a certain comfort. Our local suburban food shelf reported that requests for food were up 25% in September this year over September 2007. A long-time volunteer from our congregation says he's never seen the need so great.
Yes, we are comfortable. We don't have to retire any time soon. Our public school is just fine, and even though Will just took a new job with substantially less pay we can still afford our wonderful home in a great neighborhood. And if anyone gets sick, our health insurance is OK. So no, we aren't hurting.
But we feel the pinch of gas prices, the worries about the future, the wondering about how we'll ever pay for college for the kids. And yet, and yet, I can't help but feel an odd upside to it all.
More people than ever are biking to work and taking public transit. When I took Amtrak a couple weeks ago from Chicago, the train was full. People are trading in their SUV's for smaller cars.
I don't feel sheepish about planning a very modest birthday parties
for the kids this year. I'm getting a little excited about possibly
making a lot of our Christmas gifts. I'm experimenting with granola
recipes -- and not feeling like it's a waste of time.
somehow in the midst of all the anxiety, it seems that people pay more
attention when we pray for the poor now. The requests for help for the
food shelf ARE resulting in more donations at church. We all seem to
pay more attention to the stuff that's free -- our relationships with
each other most of all.
I'm reminded of the end of a NY Times magazine piece on Obamanomics, in which the candidate mentions a speech from Robert Kennedy:
"In it, Kennedy argues that a country’s health can’t be measured
simply by its economic output. That output, he said, “counts special
locks for our doors and the jails for those who break them” but not
“the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy
of their play.”
The second point Obama wanted to make was about
sustainability. The current concerns about the state of the planet, he
said, required something of a paradigm shift for economics. If we don’t
make serious changes soon, probably in the next 10 or 15 years, we may
find that it’s too late."