Friday, May 22, 2009

Anna Quindlan's Last Word

As I prepare for an Ascension Day sermon, when Jesus stepped out of this world leaving a massive space for his disciples to fill, I'm reminded of the last column by Anna Quindlen in Newsweek.

She is stepping aside in order to make room for younger writers with more diversity, technological savvy, and energy. I loved her article in part because she acknowledges openly one downside of the way that her generation hangs onto youth. It doesn't allow the next generation freedom to claim their adulthood. Our institutions and our world suffer when 15-30 yr olds don't have real responsibility.

From our use of technology to rethinking the whole way we do church, young people's voices are vital to the future of the church, yet they are largely absent from power or decision-making. (By the way, in the category "Young Adult" I don't include me. I technically fit the bill, but I no longer consider myself a young adult - certainly not of the generation raised on the web or cell phones)

I think Quindlen is making a great move in stepping aside. But it also gives me pause. I hope she will keep writing in some form, because even as America and the world need the fresh insights of youth, we also need the wisdom of age and experience. We especially need power brokers who understand that youth is a precious and fleeting commodity to be valued.

There is real wisdom in the gathering of the generations. I'd never want a church where, once you hit 30, you became an irrelevant relic. As we think about how young people have real power in shaping the church, there is a challenge before us to be a church that is truly inter generational.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Testifying at the EPA (not your typical Bond girl)

Monday, I along with other people of faith testified at the EPA's public hearings on their findings that Greenhouse gas pollutants are human health hazards. The EPA is empowered to make stricter rules and regulations on greenhouse gasses as part of the Clean Air Act whether or not congress passes another bill on the matter. We were there to talk about why our faith communities are called to creation care. In addition to many many laypeople, an Imam, Rabbi, Catholic Priest, and Unitarian Universalist Minister also spoke. (As my brother said, I've already heard that joke).

I made sure to wear my best clergy clothes for credibility as a leader. I had on my collar and my clergy black. The rabbi, rabbi Fred of Adat Shalom, was dressed far more casually. Of course he was, because he biked there. As I watched him walk up to testify - with a neon green band to keep his pant leg from catching in his bike still strapped around his ankle - I thought: that's a far better collar to be wearing on a day like this.

At the end of the day, Pierce Brosnan and his wife Keely Shay-Smith showed up to give their celebrity support. I'm as shameless as anyone around celebrity - above is a photo of me with them and Allison Fisher, the talented and dedicated organizer for the Greater Washington Interfaith Power and Light. My testimony will be posted on their site soon, along with the other testimonies (check out Imam Johari's - not up yet, but it will be - it's amazing!) and photos.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Overdue report on the Creation Care Carnival

Just realized I never updated about the Creation Care Carnival. It was great! Thanks Mark for all your work setting it up.

We kicked off with a garden blessing and first planting with gardener Tim. Larry set up a "Take a Worm for a Walk" station and the squeals of kids trying not to drop their squirmy worms made us all laugh. (As a prize for taking a worm to the garden, they got gummy worms). Gordon had a station on what's recyclable where I discovered that even in green Montgomery County, there's a long way to go. Sherri had some alarming stats on plastic bags; Joyce taught us about rain barrels. Laura helped us identify plant odds and ends; April had a bean bag toss and Aaron made signs with creation-y Bible passages.

During the worship services we had a blessing of seeds, soil (a baggie full of compost!), tools, plants, and people. It was right before the offering song. I've always loved its words. Now, every time we sing it, I think of our garden. Our little plants are popping up and growing. Let the vineyards be fruitful!

Let the vineyards be fruitful Lord, and fill to the brim our cup of blessing. Gather a harvest from the seeds that were sown, that we may be fed with the bread of life. Gather the hopes and dreams of all, unite them with the prayers we offer now. Grace our table with your presence and give us a foretaste of the feast to come. (1978 Lutheran Book of Worship)

Saturday, May 9, 2009

from the Synod Assembly

Hi - I'm sitting with Steve S., Lauren G. and Pastor Steve at the Synod Assembly. That's our church's annual business meeting. We're listening to Rev. Phil Hirsch our new director of evangelical mission tell us in frank terms about the decline of Christianity in America. He just said:

"Evangelism and mission are the same thing. The good news that you say has to match the good news that you do."

The great thing, as he's talking, I feel like he's not in despair about the church. He is talking about the importance of listening, hearing, and trusting God. It makes me excited. God works in such odd and amazing ways in people's lives. The church might be in transition, but God's still the same. Doesn't mean we don't need to get our act in gear and be the church we want to see, but hope, not despair, needs to drive us.

Last night, two of our members, Megan and Laura danced in the worship service. They were breathtaking. They even got an amen. I hope they'll do a repeat at our church sometime very soon. Better stop writing and start paying a bit closer attention. Peace.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Worried about the mainline? Try the a la carte line...

Hi - I've been away from this blog for a couple of weeks - feels like so much longer. I was out of the office all of last week. Part of the time I was at a conference put on by Yale Divinity School on "The Future of the Congregation."

The conference was organized "at a time when membership in mainline Protestant churches [are] in steep decline in the United States."

The mainline are traditionally Methodists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Episcopalians and yes, Lutherans.

These denominations hold much in common. They're rooted in different national immigrant cultures. They all, in their own unique ways, helped new Americans find a foothold in the unknown territory of the developing American culture.

They tend to be pitted against various Evangelical denominations (or non-denominations) as the other main Protestant group.

Every one of these mainline denominations is shrinking in the US, and it's the subject of much hand wringing. An article a few months ago in USA Today about the American Religious Identification Survey put some new stats to the scare (mainline down by nearly 6% in the past 18 yrs).

The Lutherans are scared too. We are shrinking. Many of our congregations are struggling. Some of our leaders are in a bit of a panic.

I care about the Lutheran church. I love it. But the fear about our future death has got to be examined a bit more closely.

We talk generically about "the Future of the Congregation" as if one of the options is that there is no future. That's not exactly putting a whole lotta faith in God. It makes me wonder: What exactly are we worried about?

Are we worried that bad theology (fundamentalists!) will win the day? Are we worried that Bach won't get played in church? Is it that people won't know God? Will miss out on real Christian community?

We have to name the fears. Otherwise it sounds like we're just worried about the institution. That's not going to fly.

Many people in my generation, and definitely those younger than me, don't have the kind of institutional loyalty that feeds the decline-of-the-mainline fear.

A label like "Lutheran" isn't enough for us. We require that churches prove their authenticity. And we also don't limit our church involvement to just one congregation or community.

Many of us go a la carte - finding pastoral care from a blog; uplifting worship in a CD of praise songs; spiritual community in an AA group.

I sometimes worship at an Episcopal church on Sunday nights when I'm free; I dig some aspects of mega-church evangelical worship and don't mind an altar call now and again; I'd love to be the pastor of a church where the word "Lutheran" didn't find it's way into the title.

And, true confession here, I'd look around at non-Lutheran churches as well as Lutheran were I in the position of church-shopping. The one year I had free from church commitments, I went Presbyterian as often as Lutheran. And I'm a Lutheran Pastor.

I can already hear the critiques of such an approach (too selfish, too demanding, too non-committal, too lazy, spiritually shallow). Behind the critiques is grief and lament. The church that many people love is changing, and that is sad.

But it's not only sad, or even mostly sad. It reflects that we are in a different time in America.
A hunch I have? Many of us no longer need our denominations to help us forge community as our foreparents did. That means church can be something different than a cultural religious island in the scary storm of a new country. That's a good thing.

Perhaps one reason the Lutherans are shrinking because Germans are not only cool with worshipping with Swedes and Norwegians, but also with Italians, even Mexicans, maybe even Iranians (!) and the culture of the mainlines just hasn't gotten the word.

If this is the case, I'd call off the hand wringing and start thinking about a) how to grieve and b) how to change (aka reform).

ps - For those who don't recognize the picture, it's a lego Luther reforming the church.

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. ...