Thursday, February 26, 2009

Fasting, fasting.

Getting ready for the World Vision 30 hr famine with the high school students, Friday-Saturday. I'm oddly excited for it. Last year, the time we spent fasting together worked wonders for our sense of community and solidarity with the hungry. I'm helping with worship - (big surprise). Last time, we lit 600 candles and extinguished them every 3 secs to represent the # of people who died of hunger in 30 mins. We're keeping this year's plan a surprise, but it'll be good.

Fasting is always good for me. It's hard, but good. Life-giving. Builds my relationship with God. Cleansing. I like fasting. Ok, I don't exactly like fasting, but it works.

I am committed to two new fasts for Lent. One is a dryer fast. Yep. I'm not drying my clothes in the dryer for the next 40 days. It's part of our overall carbon fast our congregation is undergoing to get ready for our garden/earth day celebration after Easter. Also, I'm going to do a car fast some week. Haven't picked the week yet, but I look forward to blogging about it. Probably will do it late in Lent. Will try to pick a week when there's not much rain (no dryer!).

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Slumdog's my choice, but it isn't written.

This weekend is the Oscars. I used to host an annual Oscars party. People would vote on the top 8 categories and the winner got a homemade Oscar sculpted out of of Rce Krispie treats. ahh. This weekend I'll probably watch at home with my mom and niece, landing at Reagan airport in a few hours. ahh. My vote goes to Slumdog.
Last Sunday I talked about Slumdog Millionaire in my sermon (click to listen).
The scene where a little-poop covered Jamal pushes his way through the crowds popped into my mind when reading about the leper finding his way to Jesus in Mark 1:40. I found another blogger who thinks that's the best scene in the movie too.

Slumdog gets my vote for best picture, but I don't think the conclusion is preordained. The Academy votes how it wants, and we're often surprised. No destiny involved.
Slumdog fascinated me in the way it juxtaposed choice and destiny. The movie's suspense was based on the choices Jamal made during the game show, Who Wants to be A Millionaire. He had to choose the right answers.

Under the many choices he made, the movie had an overwhelming sense of destiny. There was a force not of Jamal's making at work, and he couldn't choose wrong. This is clear from the start of the movie when the 4 choices are given for why he does well and the final choice is "It is written." Even knowing from the beginning that it was written, I got sucked into the plot so that each choice was dramatic and I didn't know how it would end.

This idea of destiny is powerful. We like to think some larger force is at work controlling our lives. It lets us off the hook.
The idea of destiny creeps into Christianity, and I don' t like it. I've been discovering the importance of real freedom in Christian theology. Ours isn't a destiny religion. We are free creatures and our freedom extends beyond our ability to choose between mundane choices all the way to the most radical of freedoms: the freedom to serve, the freedom to rest, the freedom to accept love and forgiveness. We are free and our sense of freedom isn't just an illusion.

Yes, God loves us. Yes, our final home is with God. But that doesn't mean that the pattern of our lives is set. A host of questions pops up immediately. What about scripture passages that indicate that our lives are known before God? How does our freedom fit with God's power?

Well, not enough time right now...(hah!). I've got to get a ham in the oven and skedaddle off to the airport. But think about it - wrestle with how you can reclaim the strain of God given freedom that runs through our lives. Enjoy the Oscars. Vote Slumdog!


Friday, February 13, 2009

Valentine's Day Love.

I recently sent my sister a card that I'd bought years ago for a boyfriend. I'd never sent it and the relationship didn't last. The card was written for a romantic love, but when I reread it, it sounded like it was talking about a great friend. It gave thanksgiving for a person who shares your hopes and dreams, helping carry the baggage on life's journey. My sister has certainly done all that for me. Why not let her know I love her for it?

My Valentine's Day got a kick-start this morning with a card from one of my best friends, Rachel. We've been friends since our freshman year of college and our friendship has gone through everything a good friendship can go through, including a year of not speaking to one another.
Many of my college photos feature Rachel, me and the third leg of that tripod, Tiffany. Wish I had one of those pictures to scan in right now. They'd at least make the three of us giggle.

Both Tiffany and Rachel are featured authors in this month's Cafe, the online magazine for Women of the ELCA. You'll see why I love them when you read what they write. I thank God for love in all its forms. Happy Valentine's Day to you and all those you love!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

What would you write on a website under practical hints about God?

Our church is undergoing a website overhaul.

As part of the prep, the web design team has been looking at other church's websites. My favorite so far is Bethlehem Methodist in Thornton Pennsylvania, (aka BethMeth) and it's not only because I like the photos or the layout (though I do). More, I like their page "Practical hints about God."

Many churches have "What we Believe" pages that outline the basic beliefs of the congregation and denomination. BethMeth has that too, but I didn't really read it.

These "What we believe" statements almost always turn me away. I have to believe not everyone is like that because churches keep putting them up. But I pass them by, especially when I can tell at a glance that I wouldn't really fit, which was the case on BethMeth.

On BethMeth's website I glossed over "Core Beliefs" and most of "About God" because they sounded churchy and a bit preachy.

Yes, Pastor that I am, I don't like when things sound churchy and preachy. Yes, that makes it hard to preach in church.

Churchy and preachy language often sounds to me like someone reciting what they think they are supposed to say, rather than what they actually believe, especially when it's outside the context of worship. Picture this: at a dinner party someone who isn't in the habit of going to church asks me what I believe about Jesus and I respond only with the Apostle's creed. Do you think the conversation goes much further?

I've head it's a Gen-Xer trait that our authenticity radars are set pretty high.

Our online presence needs to have at least a bit of that dinner party appropriate language or it will smack as inauthentic. When a web-surfer comes with questions about God, we want to have answers. But those answers have to be incredibly authentic. Which usually means they don't answer a whole lot.

As we design our website, I'm learning that at least some people who get onto church websites.
a) Will gloss right over doctrinal statements about God (or worse, will be turned away by them.)
b) Want more than just directions and a schedule.
c) May never ever come to church. And that's ok.

That's why I love "Practical Hints."

Practical Hints on the BethMeth website, is blessedly answer-free. It talks plainly and acknowledges questioning.

So, here's the list. Would love to know what you'd add.

Practical Hints about God, from the Bethlehem Methodist Website.
1) Read the Bible – start with the New Testament books of John, Acts, and Romans.

2) Talk to people who display a genuine relationship with God—those who obviously love Him and live by His principles.

3) Spend time in nature, observing and experiencing God’s creation.

4) Question things everybody seems to take for granted – be a lover of truth.

5) Recognize that following God must make sense: truth may go beyond reason, but not against it.

6) Write down your questions as you read the Bible, and take them to knowledgeable Christians who respect your seeking.

7) Know your presuppositions – the things you already believe – and try not to let them interfere with your quest for truth.

8) Know your personal issues: your past will profoundly influence your present ability to be objective.

9) Remember that you don’t have to know everything to know something.

10) Determine to seek for a specific period of time, and continually evaluate your progress. Then try to reach an appropriate conclusion.

11) Act on what you decide: “Ask and it will be given you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; he who seeks, finds: and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Jesus said in Matthew chapter 7, verses 7,8).

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Broken Hallelujah Part 2

At a gathering of clergy last night, I mentioned my blog. A few minutes later, I heard people saying the phrase "broken hallelujah" and I was smugly satisfied that they were discussing my blog.


They were talking about the upcoming work by Chris Scharen, titled, yep, Broken Hallelujahs: Pop culture, Imagination and God. Disclaimer: I didn't know that's what he was working on. But now I feel smugly satisfied that I had even a wee bit of overlap with his work.

I could become something of a Scharen disciple. He is a Lutheran Pastor and Ethics Professor at Luther Seminary. And what he writes and the way he thinks just makes sense to me.

I first met Scharen through his book One Step Closer: Why U2 Matters to Those Seeking God. Much of the presentation I did at Prince of Peace last summer came from that book. Together, we led a U2-charist in 2005 (the first in DC, I think), and he led a provoking discussion on U2, music, God, really great rock concerts, Bono's work in AIDS relief. (By the way, I'm thrilled at the rumors that U2 will be touring again. I am determined to do what it takes to go).

I think I like Scharen's work for the same reason I like the song Hallelujah. Both strike me as sacramental. They understand that God is tied up with the most basic of things, (a pop song, a body, a piece of bread) and they blurr the lines between the sacred and the ordinary.

Rather than diminishing the sacred, this enhances the ordinary. God's power is boldly drawn, and it's not contained neatly inside the lines. A pop concert becomes genuine worship, a human body becomes a temple, bread becomes the body of Christ. Scharen understands that lines that separate the sacred and the ordinary are ultimately false. They limit God in a way that can make the church irrelevant. As for the gospel - well, if we take out the ordinary, it's something less than grace and it's certainly not for me.

Read about Broken Hallelujahs and this great theologian's thoughts on Scharen's blog. I think it's great reading. Maybe we can invite him to come out here and speak?

Ten for Ten. Ten reasons it's great to be a pastor, in celebration of my 10 year anniversary of ordination.

I'm in there somewhere. I was ordained at Luther Place Memorial Church in Washington DC on November 10, 2007, ten years ago today. ...