Wednesday, September 30, 2009

U2 - take me to another place

I went to the U2 concert Tuesday night. My Jr year of high school, our choir was on tour in Decorah, Iowa so I couldn't go to their concert in Minneapolis. Been waiting to see them ever since. Wish I hadn't waited so long.

If I could, I'd cancel my meetings for tonight night and trek down to Charlottesville to see them again. I've now pledged to never miss another tour. Two days later, the concert is still playing in my head. The music, the visuals, the lights - it was all amazing.

But the best part was being there with other people. It was thrilling to be part of the echo for Bono's "oh-oh-ohs" and hear the sound rise up from the tens of thousands of people all singing together. There was a point when Bono led the crowd in a fast clap and even the most rhythmically challenged had no problem clapping along.

A high point was during one of my favorites, "Beautiful Day." Bono had us shouting "soul" over and over again. When he sang out "Touch me, take me to that other place. Teach me, I know I'm not a hopeless case," most people stretched our arms up to the open skies. I realized afterward that I was praying.

During the U2 hymn "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" the audience took over the singing. It morphed into "Stand by Me." Delightful. See it on Youtube.

I sang through the whole concert at the top of my lungs, grooving away - totally lost in the music. I contrasted that with my timidity at singing the hymns in worship last week (I helped pick them out - not blaming anyone here). We all sang those with luke-warm enthusiasm.

Music can pull people together like little else. But it's sometimes very hard in our worship services to generate that sense of oneness in music where you transcend your own little voice. U2 are masters at involving the audience. One woman in our church who went said she felt connected to the whole world during the concert.

Would love to be able to foster that sense more and more in church. Maybe we should start by all sitting next to each other, rather than all spread out?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Insights from the prodigal son for the ELCA.

I was recently talking with a group of clergy about the ELCA's recent votes on sexuality and how it's affected our churches . Pastor Dave Sonnenberg of our neighboring church, shared a sermon I found moved me to a different perspective.

He based his sermon on the parable of the prodigal son found in Luke 15. It's about a son who squanders his father's inheritance and still the father welcomes him with open arms. It's a goldmine for understanding God's abundant love and can be interpreted for a variety of situations.

Pastor Sonnenberg interpreted it n light of his thoughts on the ELCA sexuality vote and the way many have felt no longer at home in the church.
He talks about what it is like to be that begrudging older son. That son did everything right and is angry when the father accepts this child into the household who he doesn't think belongs. For more, read Pastor Sonnenberg's sermon, especially if you or someone you know is hurting about this decision. Thanks Dave for sharing.
For more on the prodigal son, check out Henri Nowen's book The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming and if you too are drawn to this parable, you might like the book "and Grace shall lead me home" a collection of art about the Prodigal Son.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Evangelicals know how to communicate. That might mean everything.

Last week I had breakfast at the Tastee Diner with an old friend from Grad School. He's Evangelical in the common sense (that is, not like I am Evangelical). Ordained Baptist, he walks in Evangelical circles. ("the evangelical cabal, is I think how he put it.)
He was in DC to speak at an evangelical conference called reform. (Made me wonder if anyone who doesn't know 16th century history would accuse Lutherans of being reformers anymore.)

Evangelicals are reforming, especially in light of poverty. Jim Wallis and others of Sojourners are one of the drivers of this growing, good trend in evangelicalism. There's been a shift away from focus on personal moral issues (gender, sex) and toward public moral issues (poverty, peace-making etc.)

As my friend described his recent work on peace-making and how the Church can become a leader in not only tending the wounds of war, but also intelligently engaging the powers that be to work for creative peace, I had one response. It's the same response I not so respectfully have when I hear Jim Wallis (who I do respect) talk about putting ending poverty at the center of religious moral life:

My breakfast partner is a good enough friend that I could say that: Duh, followed up with something like:

"This is all great stuff, but there's nothing new about it. The mainline protestants, heck, the Catholics, have been working on this for centuries. The Lutherans have people around the world engaged in creative peace-making. What about the Quakers? They know this stuff cold. What makes you late-comer evangelicals think you are so on the edge of some new discovery about the gospel???"

He agreed that the theological work, the biblical work, and the community work to put poverty and peace-making at the heart of our active christian lives has already been done well, for centuries, by a number of traditions. Lutherans are among them.

But then he came back at me with a good, no a great point. I'm paraphrasing:

"You have all this great stuff, but how do you communicate it? Have you read the Pope's encyclical on the economy? It's basically unreadable. You might have tradition and a canon of literature behind you, but without communication, it's pointless. We evangelicals, we know how to communicate. People listen to us because we know how to talk"

Point well-taken.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

She Leads me Beside Still Waters

Monday is my sabbath day and again, I was reminded yesterday of what a gift this particular commandment is. I woke up full of work-related thoughts and tried as hard as I could to set them aside. Got moving and went to my retreat at Rolling Ridge. I go there once a month for a pastors day away.
I was the only retreatant, but no matter. The host still lead a session on prayer of the heart and it awakened something heart-felt in me. I sat in the sun for an hour trying to pray right - not with my head or with a list, but to sense God's presence. Then took my walk, which always includes a visit to a little waterfall. This water restores my soul. Ate a simple meal. Talked about dreams. Came home full of energy for cleaning and being creative (Monday is also my pottery day, and that's restorative as well). And I woke up this morning with the same to-do-list in my head, but it felt much much more manageable.

The song in my head re: sabbath is the 23rd psalm by Bobby McFerrin. (This is a YouTube link - couldn't find a good listen anywhere else.) The Vintage Sacramental Winers sang it at my ordination. This song puts me in a sabbath place.

I harp on the Sabbath; I mention it all the time. I know so many in my congregation who don't have the time for re-creation. Work, family, pressures all around keep them hopping. But the wisdom of taking a whole day to re-create is undeniable. And it's commanded. And it works.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Who is my neighbor?

I've got Fred Rogers little ditty: "won't you be my neighbor?" in my head.

I celebrated labor day with a new housemate and new neighbors. Elizabeth, (a minister in training) now occupies the manse at Casey Lane. We had our neighbors over for dinner last night. I'm embarrassed to say that in 22 months of living in my townhouse, this is the first time I've had my neighbors over.

Matt and Megan, on one side of us, moved here a year ago and immediately had me over for dinner and a memorable night of Wii bowling. They extended the hand, and what difference it made. Besides them being kind and caring people, it's just nice to know someone I can call to water the plants.

Yong and Jean are new on the other side. They'll become parents in a few weeks and want to settle in before the baby comes. They needed to know where the mailbox is and when the trash is picked up. All it took was them to bring over a chocolate cake for me to feel committed to them forever.

Some Christians (me among them) have spent enormous mental energy analysing that great question in Luke "who is my neighbor." That's the question that sparks Jesus to tell the tale of the Good Samaritan.

On labor day, the answer was pretty straightforward. Who are my neighbors? Well, if we share a wall, you count. Of course Jesus wanted us to extend that sense of neighborliness to all people, but if I don't even have it with the people I live next to, how can I be expected to share it widely?

I grew up embedded in a neighborhood, but I can't believe how bad I've been at neighborliness. I've heard that if you have children or a dog it's easier to know your neighbors. But without those automatic entrees, it can be hard to reach out.

Glad I finally got my act together to do it. Thanks for a great labor day, neighbor!

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. ...