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Stop Offering Rancid Casseroles as Comfort Food

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An entrenched and growing peeve of mine is the manner in which too many people attempt to trivialize, minimize, and sanitize the great power of death and the terrible mess people can find themselves experiencing in the wake of the death of someone they’ve loved.  “Why, God must have needed another angel in heaven to watch over us,” they say to a parent whose child died after a tragic accident.  “It’s God’s time and God’s plan, and today he’s in a better place,” they say to a wife whose husband died after a prolonged bout of suffering.  It’s both saddening and infuriating to see people who do this as an attempt to offer comfort and support to a grieving survivor.  To hear them talk you’d think they had gotten themselves some sort of crystal ball, through which they can see the blueprint of the universe with such wisdom that they can zero in on that part of the plan that relates to the life and death of people in a particular time and place.  But when you dig down underneath their comments–and believe me, you don’t have to dig much–you find, time and again, someone gleaning some image of heaven from the most superficial and deviant encounters with the Bible and Christian tradition.

Such folks fail to realize that their attempts at “comfort” actually bring an unsettling sort of pain, because the person receiving their platitudes has to now deal with both the death of the loved one and the misguided person in their company, who is spouting the very worst thing to say at the very worst time.  Seriously.  It’s in the exact same ballpark where you find the notion that “he/she deserved to die; he/she had it coming.”  And think about the image of God conveyed in those messages saying, “God must have needed another angel.”  Evidently God reached down from his throne, caused the man driving the SUV to go into a sudden seizure, and sent him into the oncoming traffic lane to hit head-on your son coming home late from his high school jazz band practice.  That is God, the God whose “providence” also inspires the heretical saying, “He doesn’t give us more than we can handle.”  That is the God shared in an attempt to comfort this mother who has just had her only child ripped away in a senseless, violent car collision.

When you think about it though, the person saying such a thing really doesn’t have comfort in mind, comfort for the other person, that is.  It’s more about coming up with something that will bring self-comfort, because it’s tough to be in the immediate company of one so wounded by tragic death.  Our senses and sensitivities are drawn into their despair and grief, and before we know it, if we’re not careful, we find ourselves drawn into that grief with the gravitational force of a black hole–unchecked compassion can have such effects.  And this is unbearable for folks whose main hope for their lives is that there is a plan, there is order, THERE IS A REASON FOR EVERYTHING!! THERE MUST BE!!  So in this place of uncertainty, and the fearsome discombobulation that comes with it, too many people find themselves offering a painful platitude as a magic pill so that their own pain might be abated.  Sort of like those folks who once offered sour wine on a sponge to a guy in extreme pain.

Leon_Bonnat_-_The_Crucifixion

“The Crucifixion,” Leon Bonnat

When you dare to go deeper into the Christian faith tradition, you find yourself at the foot of a cross, where the sky is dark, the wind is howling, and the suffering One hanging there cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Most of us are like those 12 fellas Jesus called to follow Him; we’d rather be anywhere but there, at that intersection where death thrusts its jagged blade into the mortal flesh of life.  The place where there is nobody coming to “save the day,”  because death is blotting out the day in an unstoppable way.  Yet this is the place in our faith where we truly find Emmanuel, “God with us.”  We discover that God has become incarnate to do much more than show us how human beings should live, and then die in a gruesome way so that some sense of divine righteousness might be appeased.  Stand near the foot of the cross and see how God has come to endure the pain and isolation of our human death, and to share in the grief that death brings.  It’s remarkable to think that the Almighty Creator of the universe, the Alpha and the Omega, could lack for anything.  But our gospel suggests that was exactly the case; that God lacked one thing, the experience of suffering as we suffer, the experience of suffering with us and dying as we die.  And in all these things, the gospel tells us that the God who experiences suffering and death is able to guide us to the place we need to be when called upon to offer support and comfort to people who have been vandalized by death.  We stand with them, like  those few hardy souls who stood at the foot of the cross, bearing witness to suffering and offering the very best we have to offer–our presence, our compassion, our own hearts, that we’ve allowed to be pulled into this grief of our friends, our family, and even those whom we do not know.  We set our words on the shelf, for the most part, because what has happened is beyond the scope of words to frame and explain.   Death is too big for us.  Life is too big for us.  And somewhere, somehow, some way, hopefully, God is.  Strip all the varnish away, and that’s what we’ve got.  That’s what we find when we journey to the foot of the cross.  That’s what we find when we journey into the life of someone who has been clobbered by the fearsome strength of death.  Don’t be afraid to make that journey, to offer the most basic companionship in the midst of utter abandonment and desolation.  And for those who insist on jumping pell-mell into their own warped, twisted and shallow understandings of life, death and God, let them use all their bromides on themselves as suppositories–because that is where such things truly belong.

 

 

 

No Date for the Prom, May Go Stag

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Last week I got an email from an East Coast synod staff person that made me smile as I read it.  “You  have been identified through our ELCA database as a possible candidate for  **** Church…”   It has been just about three years exactly since this same staff person first contacted me with an opportunity to serve a congregation and put my name in their call process.  The candidate profile I’d developed at the time had a link to this blog.  A few weeks later, she emailed to tell me the call committee decided to pass on me, in large part because they read my blog and decided I was too liberal for them.  She wrote that she too read the blog and also had some serious reservations about my fitness for ministry based on a couple of guest posts made by Wylie4Stroke.  It was Wylie’s description of hanging out with me at a bar in Denver that caused her the most problems.  But the liberal bent of the blog also caused concern.

I blew the piety test AND the political test.

What she failed to consider, however, was the way in which I was being quite honest and open about those occasions when I’d swap the clerical garb for jeans and a Hawaiian shirt to go have a few beers with some regular, blue-collar working folks—and how I’d willingly share my vocation and my Christian faith with those folks if the subject ever came up.

That’s how Wylie came to be a blog contributor.  He is a character who would NEVER set foot in a church, but is someone who is smart and curious in his own rough and homespun way.  I grew up with guys like Wylie, went through high school with them, worked on cars with them, and yes—shudder—even tapped a keg with them.  Guys like Wylie didn’t so much lose the faith of their childhood as much as they got bored with or stopped believing in the church as a viable group worth joining.

The larger church needs to learn that it’s OK to step outside the insular, pietistic bubble from time to time, and that it’s also OK to be honest about having a few beers in a bar.  In fact, it’s being dishonest about these things that can get a clergy person in trouble.   I strongly suspect you can find a very tragic Exhibit A right here.   People like Wylie are suspicious of piety, and in my experience so much of it has become the equivalent of the shields deployed by Star Trek’s U.S.S. Enterprise.   It’s something to get you through the minefields and meteor storms of life.  So what happens to a group of pious church folks–dare I say clergy– who go away on a church-sponsored spiritual retreat or conference, where they can count on being safe in a closed group outside the fishbowl?  The cigars, beer and booze come out, as does this sort of cute, rebellious attitude.  Someone gets a deck of cards, and the next thing you know, you’ve got a group of folks acting like they’re at that bar in Denver, drinking, smoking and playing poker until the wee hours of the morning.  Not all of them, mind you, but a surprising number.

Me, I always try to make the most of the spiritual opportunities presented by a spiritual retreat, especially if that retreat is at a monastery.  There’s ample time and opportunity to practice a key spiritual discipline—perhaps the most vital one—by entering meaningful, restorative SILENCE.  I was tempted to say “simply entering,”  but as I’ve discovered, there’s nothing simple about being silent, inside and out.   Try it for just 5 ninutes.  Shut off all the noise around you.  Then, shut off all the noise within you.  No inside chatter.  No music in your head.  Turn it all off.  It’s not so simple, is it?

Anyway, back to the situation of the email that  began this whole post.  I read it over, thought for a moment, then sent the East Coast staff person a reply stating that my wife and I are on the opposite coast now and don’t see ourselves making such a dramatic relocation.

Over the past year I’ve interviewed with several churches and have taken trips to Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Texas to meet with search committees. But each time they have chosen to go another way with someone else, and as I contemplate these events, I have to say that they probably made the right choices.   It’s not that I’m not qualified or not good at the pastoral vocation.  In fact, I hold the opposite to be true, that after some 10+ years of church ministry, I’m seasoned in a way that opens the door to what I think would be the best years of my ministry. And in the first 10+ years, I was pretty good.

But there has to be a good fit between congregation and pastor, otherwise there is simply too much time and effort expended in one trying to change the other and too much emotion spent resenting the relationship.   Life is far too short for such things.  I went into each situation with a desire to receive a call at each place.  At each place I found myself excited at the prospect of being pastor at such a church.  But in retrospect, I was also coming from what I perceived to be a desperate place, a place I was eager to escape, and I saw these places as great potential escape routes.  They were—and are—good, strong congregations on the whole, and I also found I was hungry to have a chance to lead one of them.  While each proved to be a disappointment, I look back and see that in fact there was some wisdom in their decisions to look elsewhere.  At each place there were red flags I chose not to see, some big and some small, which foretold some difficulties in the relationship had they called me.

In thinking back to the Wisconsin visit, I remember my host being as hospitable as possible, and doing everything she could do to make my visit comfortable.  Yet on our way to the church for the official interview with the call committee I saw a Scott Walker yard sign in the car’s back seat.  In the interview she became a suspicious and relentless interrogator, wanting me to explain my involvement in The Colorado Confession.   That was an out-of-the-blue line of questioning, since that document was developed back in ’05 and ’06, and I just attended a couple of information meetings and then signed on to it.  I’d forgotten much of the language of the document, but I wouldn’t back away from its significance or my approval of it.  I think that was the main sticking point for them, though one of the members of the call committee later thanked me for sharing my thoughts on the relationship of the church to our polarized culture.

In Oklahoma, a telling moment came in an end-of-evening conversation with the call committee chair.  He told me he liked what I’d done in arranging a special Muslim-Christian dialogue at my previous church and then told me a story that sounded all too familiar.  One of the church matriarchs was talking politics with him before the ’08 election and warned that if Obama was elected it wouldn’t be long before women would be forced to wear veils and that he would try to place the whole country under Sharia law.  While I was touring the area I got to see all the tornado-sensing equipment arrayed for advanced warning, and also saw a few buildings, trees and fences knocked down by a twister that had touched down a week before I got there.  Despite the exciting opportunities to combine parish ministry with campus ministry, in hindsight, it wouldn’t have been a good fit due to the ultra-conservative climate of the culture and the ultra-dangerous climate of the area.

The Texas church offered the most initial excitement.  It wasn’t too far from Austin, a place I still think of as home.  I’d have been an associate with a guy I had gotten to know and respect while I was in seminary.  They had an active, multi-generational membership and had added a huge gym and rec center on to one end of the church, while maintaining the historic church cemetery at the other end.  Quite literally it had become a cradle-to-grave church and they seemed to be doing a good job of opening their facilities to the surrounding community.  While I was there visiting with the youth director, a community league basketball game was in progress in the gym behind us.  But that conversation stuck with me.  The youth director talked about the difficulty in getting financial support for some creative youth-0riented projects and then noted that it didn’t take any time at all to raise about 65K to add sidewalks and landscaping for the cemetery.   Not a good sign.  Nevertheless, I was stoked to have an opportunity to come in and do ministry in a place where there was such a broad cross-section of young and old, and where they had expanded their worship services to include a contemporary, albeit praise band, worship.  We enjoyed that service, held in the gym, and then went upstairs to experience the traditional liturgy with full choir.  A couple of things stuck out, though I didn’t pay much mind to them at the time.  The first was the rinky-dink and difficult-to-manage elevator they had installed for disabled people.  It was set up more like a miniature freight elevator and one had to make sure everything was buttoned up just right before the elevator would work.  Then you had to turn a key, press a button and hopefully head up or down.  I say hopefully, because getting everything closed and ready was a chore in itself.  A disabled person would have a very tough time using the elevator by themselves, and it was barely big enough to hold a couple of people if there was a wheelchair involved.  I noticed that the traditional service had its fair share of people using wheelchairs and walkers.  On the one hand, I thought this was a good thing, since my wife often needs a wheelchair to get around.  On the other hand, if this is all they could come up with to make the church accessible to disabled folks, it showed that they didn’t care all that much about them.

The handicapped parking in the parking lot was also minimal and not clearly defined.  Someone told me that members needing close-in parking just knew to take one of the parking spots marked “Reserved.”  But what about visitors?  And as big as the place was, I figure that not everyone there actually knows about the ability to take a “Reserved” space.

I think I’m sharing the most about this church because this one is the one that excited me the most and gave me the most hope that I’d get called to a place that could make the best use of my skill sets.  But it goes even further than that.  These “call processes” as we Lutherans term them, are much like dating processes.  It’s more than resumes and interviews; it’s meeting people, seeing how you like one another, envisioning how it might be if you became the pastor at a church where you’d visit people, be with them in many of the joys and sorrows that mark our lives, and guide them as best you could into the future.  In a way, I found myself falling in love with this place.  It was conservative, but also had that very forward-looking, can-do attitude that reflects all the best you can find in my home state.  I could see some challenges, but I could also see myself being happy there for the next ten to twelve years and doing some of my best work in the process.   I thought we hit it off well, and all my instincts told me that they liked me as well.

So I was really surprised to get back home, to Northern California, check my e-mail and find they’d already decided to pass.  The language was official and offered some encouragement about it not relating to the quality of my pastoral skills, they just wanted a different style of leadership.  But I was severely bummed out.     Again it’s a lot like the dating process.  In a weird sort of way it’s like trying to find a date to the prom, finding someone you really, really like, and having that someone shoot you down because they want to find someone they like better.

At this point, I’m not sure I can endure being part of another call process.  It may not matter, since one can stay on the active clergy roster for three years before being automatically removed if there isn’t a call to a church or other recognized church organization.  Here in the small mountain village of Northern California, this doesn’t seem likely to happen.   But you never know.  There may yet be a church out there somewhere that might have a place for liberal pastor who prefers a Hawaiian shirt to wearing some hollow sense of piety on his sleeve.

Barna: Youth Leaving Church After High School is a RECENT Trend

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So says the Barna Group, in its report, “Five Myths About Young Adult Church Dropouts.”     What some have decided is a normative part of transitioning to adulthood is actually a myth, the Barna Group says.  Instead, they trace this trend of youth leaving church to become prodigals, exiles or nomads back to the Boomer Generation:

Evidence exists that during the first half of the 1900s, young adults were not less churched than were older adults. In fact, Boomers appear to be the first American generation that dropped out of church participation in significant numbers when they became young adults. So, in one sense, the Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) were part of the evolution of the church dropout phenomenon during the rise of youth culture of the 1960s….Today’s young adults who drop out of faith are continuing something the Boomers began as a generation of spiritual free agents. Yet, today’s dropout phenomenon is a more intractable, complex problem.

Why the Boomers?  I’ve had a few thoughts on this. 

Another issue Barna addresses is the explosion in communications technology and its widespread availability.   As was the case in the Reformation, people have discovered that they’re able to bypass established channels of communication with new, internet based, wireless technology.  On the big-ticket issues and news of the day people can now  engage in two-way communication rather than remain the recipients of one-way communication.  Also resembling the Reformation is the widespread awareness that institutions have become so corrupted that they no longer behave in ways that reflect the best interests of the citizenry, whether it be a branch of government, a financial institution, an established media channel for news, or an institutional incarnation of church.   Combine these two trends and you quickly realize that the Church can’t continue to stake out the same old ground.  The Church can’t continue to operate under the assumption that people will come to the building and want to join the group there, trusting that this is the best way of finding some higher spiritual truth.   Nor can the Church assume that youth are destined to leave after high school, or that they won’t find any meaningful spiritual growth after they do.

Relevant Expressions of Church for the 21st Century

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This process of dreaming and imagining and applying some careful thought to the notion of churches that will best navigate life in the 20’s, this process has reminded me that it’s a lot easier to look back at what went wrong, and what is going wrong now, than it is to look for the new solutions and possibilities.  I’m reminded of a synod-sponsored meeting in which all the participants were invited to fill out index cards stating issues impacting their churches.  Two categories in particular were, “What Gives Life to Your Congregation?” and “What Takes Life Away?”   The cards were then arranged on a wall according to their category.  Guess which category had the most cards?  Yep, the second one.  So I guess it’s now time to take a stab at category number one and kick around a few visions of church that might leave a good footprint or two in the 21st century.

The expressions of church that will likely survive  in this new century are the expressions of church that bring spiritual meaning, connection and purpose to people who no longer find meaning in simply signing up.   Rituals will connect with people where they’re at–and yes, we’re including liturgical rituals in this imagination.  Denominational-ism, while currently devalued, will retain a place in 21st century Christianity, but without much of the pride and exclusivity that have so poorly defined its character.  As one of my colleagues, Pastor Tim, says, it’s likely though that the mainline Protestants will merge together under a big umbrella.  And like the many sub-identities of the Roman Catholic Church–from the Jesuits to the Franciscans to the charismatics–the 21st century merged Protestant churches will maintain the familiar sub-identities we call Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Church of Christ, Episcopalian.

The churches that seem to “get it,” like the historic peace churches that got out in front to lead the rest of us on the Iraq War– these churches may do quite well indeed.  This past decade, their people and leaders have modeled  Christian integrity as they have called us all, time and time again, to the principles of non-violence, reconciliation  and forgiveness that define the Good News in Christ.  Meanwhile, too many of us have been mired in church cultures where Christan belief has long been welded to American Exceptionalism, so much so that too many of us adopted a “tiptoe through the minefield” strategy in order to survive.  A lot of us Lutherans ducked behind the Augsburg Confession’s stated position that the affairs of state are best left to the state, and that we should spend more time tending to the spiritual realm.  So we kept quiet, prayed for the troops, and officiated some funerals for the unfortunate young folks who came home in a box from that damned war.   (It isn’t profanity when you call a thing what it is.)  But, I digress…………

Churches that make plenty of room for doubt, for questions and for uncertainty, will serve people who are starving for such communities.  These churches stand the best chance of becoming strong faith communities, since the primary opponent of faith isn’t doubt, it’s certainty.

I believe the Church’s best gift to this emerging 21st century culture is found in the ancient heritage that rises above the limitations of creed and doctrine, yet it’s also a heritage that  also paradoxically claims these things as the identity markers that hold different, even disagreeable people, together in community.  Like many folks, I’m drawn to the legacy bequeathed to us by the earliest Christian churches that left their mark on the New Testament.  These were different faith communities, radically different in some cases, and some communities brought radical differences together around a common table.  The New Testament witness reveals there were problems–oh boy (Oy!), were there problems!  Yet these folks continued to live together in these communities, and they ultimately gave the larger Greco-Roman culture some priceless gifts; first and foremost being the value of every person–slave, child, female, or free citizen–in the sight of a loving God.

Today we live in a culture where folks pursue their ambitions with strategies that often include de-humanizing and demonizing anyone they perceive to be in their way.   This has been going on so long that the society hasn’t been rended, it’s been “chasmed.”    That chasm seems un-bridgeable at the moment.  If the Church could see and seize this opportunity, it could become the place where people who disagree could gather together and model the behavior that can heal us and make us whole.  There is a balm in Gilead, and it’s the gift of life St. Paul lifted up to the Galatian churches as the life they could find in the Spirit:

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.  And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (today we might add “divisions”). If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.  Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.

(Galatians 5:23-26)

This won’t be a perfect model; it never was.  But it’s a model that can bring tangible healing and salvation to a world torn asunder by all those things Paul would ascribe to the life lived only in the acceptance of a physical reality.  And this church can call us all to a higher standard of behavior toward those we find disagreeable.  This church can remind all of us that the divine spark of God flickers in both friend and enemy.

There is another expression of church that will find good footing in these times.  The church with an organic gospel, the good news that God is part and parcel with every aspect of the material world–our planet as well as the universe–this church can guide people down a healthy path that folks like Emerson and Whitman thought possible only through humanism.   It’s true that the ancient gnosticism pitting noble, incorruptible spirit against the evil materialism of nature, this has gotten far too entrenched in Christianity.   Most folks know that it’s just not right to knock down mountains, poison rivers and destroy habitat merely for the sake of extracting its resources for our own gain.  Most folks know that such behavior is contributing to much of the death-dealing activity that threatens the earth and all its species.  Organic gospel churches that stand against this ongoing devastation might do very well.

But we must know that we can no longer define “well” by membership numbers.  Instead, “well” should refer to the integrity of the church and its faithfulness to its essential, historic message of a life to be lived in the love of God .   That’s the historic message carried by a diversity of historic folks, including the Ignacii from both Antioch and Loyola; the Martins of Tours, Wittenberg and Birmingham; both Billys, Billy Graham and Billy, the long-haired Jesus Freak toting around a dog-eared copy of Good News for Modern Man.

I expect the Church as we’ve known it, will continue to decline during my lifetime.  But resurrection cannot happen without death.  Even now, the 21st century expressions of church are emerging.   These expressions defy labels and categories through their newness and adaptability to the changing present.  We shouldn’t be too surprised or feel too threatened, since it all goes back to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the profound changes these events brought into the life of the world.

Meanwhile, in all we do, as we live day after day in this uncertain, sometimes fearsome, new century, maybe the best advice on how to conduct our daily business comes from one of the ancient leaders of the second century Church, Irenaeus of Lyons.  In turbulent and uncertain times, he wrote, “The business of the Christian is nothing else than to be ever preparing for death.”  As I read him, there’s not one snitch of fatalism to be found in that statement, only the paradox that we find in Christ, that to die is to live, and live abundantly.  So we live, working to make the world a suitable inheritance for those who follow us.  We live, knowing that All Things Must Pass (to borrow from George Harrison), and those things include our thoughts and dreams and everything else you and I grasp on to as a way to comfortably frame our sense of reality.  We live, believing that Life and Love continue to grow and to blossom in the new realities that exist beyond our framework.

To wrap up, here’s a version of “All Things Must Pass” performed by the Friends of George at his memorial concert, held in the dawning years of this new century.  Try watching the entire DVD of the Concert for George, especially the part where East meets West, and I think you might find some of the touchstones that are even now defining new expressions of spirituality and community in the 21st century.

Hangin’ At the Portland Airport, Thinkin’ About the Lutheran Church-ELCA

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Gustav’s Pub & Grill, Portland Airport, Portland, OR– This morning wrapped up a regional campus ministry conference with colleagues–temporary though they be–serving as campus ministry pastors throughout the West and Northwest.  We heard from the national campus ministry coordinator, who flew in from Chicago to bring us a comforting word that the church still lives, despite “restructuring.”  Actually, the “restructuring” term is mine, and it’s a polite way to describe what recently happened to the ELCA church-wide organizational structure.  Here’s a cinematic moment that pretty well captures this “restructuring,” in the way the black knight was “restructured” :

OK, I’m kidding.  Sort of.

The ELCA has gone through a bit of down-sizing, which is in many ways congruent with the downsizing of its congregations (since I’m a card-carrying ELCA pastor, I should probably use the first person plural possessive pronoun, “ours.” So I will.)

I was somewhat surprised at the number of conference attendees who felt they were standing on ground shaky enough to consider pushing the “eject” button.

The experience also made me aware of my own shaky ground; especially considering the likelihood that several people in the gathering will likely interview for the position I’m currently serving as an interim pastor.   As I think on my own place and position, and how there is likely to be a sort of feeding frenzy when the position is posted on the ELCA website, I’m reminded of an experience I had trout fishing many years ago in New Mexico.

Early one crisp Fall morning, I found myself casting a line into Monastery Lake, a popular fishing hole about 45 minutes north of Santa Fe.   I’d heard the fishing there was outstanding, and so I joined about a dozen hearty souls who braved the chilly wind with hope of landing a few beauties from this lake adjacent to a Benedictine monastery.  I was still rubbing the sleep from my eyes as I found my place on the bank of this small lake in the Northern New Mexico mountains.  Then I cast my line into the cool, still water, plopping my white and red floater about ten yards from shore and settled in to see if I might land the Mighty Moby Trout.  Amazingly, it didn’t take long for my floater to dip underwater, then dip again, as the tugs on my line told me I’d gotten my first hungry customer to take the salmon egg I’d used to disguise my hook.  I reeled in a stubborn little trout.   The tyke was maybe half a pound, at most.  I looked at the little fella, as he looked at me with those wide little trout eyes, then I unhooked him and tossed him back into the lake.  Shoot, I’d caught and released perch bigger than this down in Texas when I was knee-high to a grasshopper.  I put another red egg on the hook and cast it back out into the water.  Moby Trout was bound to be out there.  Soon I got another bite, then hooked what turned out to be the little trout’s smaller brother.  Again, I removed the hook and tossed him back.  I’d just cast my newly-baited hook into the water again when a nearby fisherman walked over to me.  “Hey, man,” he said, “if you don’t like to eat trout, the next time you catch one, just give him to me, OK?”

“Ummm, OK.”  I looked at the guy and at the frayed and worn flannel coat he wore, and then it hit me.  These little fellas were prime catch in these parts.  I was in a beautiful location, by golly, but it was a hardscrabble location as well.  And there were hardscrabble folks just chomping at the bit to catch a mess of these little trout to bring home to their families.

These are hardscrabble times for pastors and staff in the ELCA.  Some will likely chafe at such language.  But the truth of the matter is, the ELCA has been rocked by the same seismic tremors that have shaken up the rest of our culture, and the quaking is not over by a long shot.

I’ve been keeping my powder dry, as it were, while pondering my own circumstances and options.  But now, sitting here in an airport eatery in Portland, influenced and inspired by the good group of very good campus pastors who are struggling to come to terms with the Way Things Are Becoming, and having that experience connecting with my own struggle, I’m feeling that it’s about time to add my two cents to the cacophony of those who are trying to make sense of what is happening and why.  I’ve been doing this sort of thing for a while now, but maybe it’s time to really hone in on those factors, circumstances and trends that seem to be the greatest effects upon the church I continue to love, the ELCA.     It ain’t gonna be pretty, and I’m guessing that my passion might occasionally dominate my objectivity.  But these are passionate times.  Just look at Glenn Beck….or the tear-stained face of John Boehner.    OK, maybe not the best standards of comparison, but sitting here, somewhat discombobulated in an airport in foggy Portland, and with a boarding call near at hand, it’s the best I can do.  More to come, stay tuned……

Religion Matters

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Stephen Prothero was on the Colbert Report to promote his book, “God is Not One,” and spoke to why the world’s 8 dominant religions are all important to the life of the world.

Personally, this perspective is  a breath of fresh air after recently getting another figurative earful of a bunch of  blogosphere/Facebook anti-religion rants that did little more than offer the same old set of nails scratching the same old chalkboard.  I’ve decided to leave all these well-intentioned folks to their own crutches, since just about everyone I know winds up limping down life’s road in one way or another.  And I suppose it’s a matter of finding where I fall on the spectrum between creeds and screeds, which seems to be much closer to the former than to the latter.

h/t HuffPo

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Big Apple About to Get Big Dose of Bible Camp

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I wish she’d-a come a month earlier so’s I might could have met her and swapped some Camp notions and picked up some pointers my own self.