Friday, July 25, 2014

Day 2 Reflections at Rethinking Faith Formation

I will begin by admitting Day 2 of Rethinking Faith Formation wore me out. Upon returning to my room after dinner I lay down and promptly fell asleep. Now I am awake writing this and have a four hour drive tomorrow after the morning session. I'm not sure this is wise, but alas, if I wait until I get home I will never have a chance to just sit down and write while this is still fresh.

In addition to yesterday's joys and sorrows, today I came away with a growing sense of that some of the pastors with whom I was interacting lacked confidence in the people they serve and the great and mysterious power of the Holy Spirit to risk the failure of an idea in order to achieve greater growth in faith formation as a whole. I have experienced this myself, and it troubles me greatly. What to do with that? I do not know. I will continue to risk failure boldly.

In our opening reflection, Rolf Jacobsen challenged us to consider what "Mature Christian Faith" might look like. After eliminating worship attendance, giving and prayer as options we were turned over for discussion. We had a difficult time articulating any measurable characteristics that were quantifiable in our group of three. Instead of an answer, we were drawn to question, is faith quantifiable?

Our presentations today included Amy Sevimli, assistant to the Bishop in the Washington DC Metro speaking on how to mentor people into faith. She used an illustration of a young man who continued to seek his pastor out as spiritual adviser, raising the question "I want to have a closer relationship with God, I just don't know what to do?" The pastor quickly realized this would take a dedication of time and intention she could not provide in her current role. In seeking a mentor for the young man, members of her congregation said they did not feel equipped to do so.

Amy went on to describe her intentional interactions with adults in the 18-24 age group (those without children) to listen to why they do not attend worship. The answers she heard were supported by research  conducted in recent years. These young adults said:

  • Preaching sounded more like op-ed page of the New York times
  • Never clear that mainline church really cared about God
  • They were often experiencing Good News as Law instead of Gospel
  • One young women mentioned in other church she experienced Grace in the preaching as she never has in 27 years in the Lutheran church
  • Preaching matters
    • Intention
    • Purpose
    • Mission -- who are we called to be in this time and place?
  • Young adults who show up in church are looking for God
  • There are a lot of young adults who don’t go to church who are totally open to God, many are even looking for God, but when they show up, we aren't speaking or living in ways that address the questions, trial, things with which they struggle.
Amy outlined the process she worked with this pastor to implement, a process by which the pastor used intentional faith formation small groups to begin a process of formation throughout the congregation, starting with one group of leaders who them became leaders of their own groups, and so on and so forth. The requirements of the group were:

  • 60-90 minutes a week (Google + Hangouts used to facilitate if unable to attend)
  • Need to be willing to talk about Bible, theology, faith, real life
  • Deep conversations about what it means to be a mature Christian in life
  • How/what do I want to do differently?
  • After 9-12 months, meet less frequently and that you will lead someone else
  • Might look like you are starting to ignore things in the organizational chart to focus on Faith Formation
  • Each faith formation group will give them language to talk to friends family/invite people 
  • It will be simple, but hard
Amy closed with the story of Jesus and the rich man and suggested that as the church we are like the rich man, we have done everything "right" that we know and have been trained to do. We have abundance in the sense our traditions that we know and love and to which we are attached. But it's not working, Despite the most faithful implementation of the current models, our people do not feel equipped to walk in faith beside another. So, we return to Jesus, saying "it's not working!" And Jesus says to us, "I care about these people who don't get what you're doing, give up your stuff (all those traditions you hold dear) and follow me."

And we are left with the challenge: will risk giving up what we know to follow Jesus call?

In so many ways Amy's talk resonated with the intuitions I have had as to where we most need to be putting our time and attention over the last three years in ministry position. I found her message affirming, empowering and challenging. Yet my heart breaks for the conversations I had afterwards in reflection groups for the number of individuals who continued to focus on what wasn't working in their contexts and were using these failings to suggest this model wouldn't work either without daring to put them down and entrust a new venture to God's care.

I am thankful for my position where I am not bound by worship attendance, giving or seminary training in what is "right worship" that might inhibit my ability to feel a sense of the Spirit's moving and simply trust that if it is of God it will flourish and if it is not it will die away. 

I am reminded of where this yearning began, five years ago as I began to sense the pull of the Spirit to open my eyes to the needs around me. As it turns out, that was not the context in which God would use me. Yet as I've allowed the Spirit to refine and shape my vision as the circumstances around me change, the formation of faith in all of God's people, as introduced by Amy Sevimli in her presentation, continues to be paramount. Some visual notes on Twitter courtesy of Steve Thomason Part I and Part II

From Amy Sevimli's presentation we moved into a discussion of a world that we can no longer accurately describe as "online" but instead "augmented reality" as interacting face to face and digitally become more integrated into our everyday life. Deanna Thompson presented a story through which we came face to face with the many ways the wired world allows us to be present with one another as the body of Christ as she experienced when she became an invalid in her treatment for Stage 4 cancer. You can see visual notes that reacap that discussion on Twitter

Dan Taylor continued the discussion to introduce the importance of story, ours and the Great Story. Part of faith formation is teaching people how to tell their story of faith so that they know it (because we cannot know what we don't articulate) but also so they can share it. More visual notes on Twitter Part I and  Part II.

Then the energy and passion of Lois Malcom launched onto us a discussion of the Holy Spirit's work in this formation process. I am still receiving and digesting her message and its many sides and nuances as I transfer my scribbled notes (drat that laptop battery!) and apply the truths she spoke in terms of leading into faith formation in my context and the greater church. Awesome visual notes on Twitter Part I and Part II.

We finished the day with Dorothy Bass and a discussion of the role of wisdom that was either too unstructured for my balance-seeking brain or for which my brain was too full to process. At any rate, my takeaway was that "Wisdom is knowing which story to tell when," and that when we see wisdom in others we must lift it up. We must name it honor it and notice it. I have to say, both of these statements ring true of my friend, Ruth, and I continue to process how powerful it can be to call that out in those around us as we see God's writing on the hearts of those in our midst. More visual notes.

So there it is, friends. I've probably already lost those of you who aren't church nerds, and for that I'm sorry. Please come back again when I promise to ply you with reflections on the more relate-able topics of motherhood and faith in general.

Now I really should sleep.






Wednesday, July 23, 2014

... From Ironies to Takeaways ...

So, I'm attending a Rethinking Faith Formation seminar in St. Paul Minnesota at Luther Seminary (hence last night's post of random ironies). The first half-day of presentations has certainly raised some questions, affirmed some things I already knew, and challenged me both personally and professionally. And so, I offer, my takeaways from Day 1.

~~ Flip flops are not good footwear for campus walking. I knew this, and yet that is all I brought other than my running shoes. Ouch.

~~ Checking-in a half hour before opening worship was still too early for my introverted soul to sit in the narthex full of people I do not know and awkwardly read things on my phone.

~~ The Chapel of the Incarnation in Luther Seminary's Olson Center is not a comfortable place to spend all day sitting, especially if one is trying to take notes on a laptop and maybe sip a cup of coffee on and off.

~~ ELCA pastors and lay ministers are a diverse, interesting, thoughtful, intelligent, sometimes awkward group of people to gather into one place.

~~ Worshiping with a group ELCA pastors and lay ministers (and many from other denominations) is a truly wonderful experience ... no bumbling through songs and plenty of strong voices to carry and sometimes harmonize the tune.

~~ I can have intelligent, thoughtful conversations with pastors and lay ministers and have things to contribute to the conversation.

~~ There are some very discouraged, jaded pastors out there. How do pastors continue to hope in the power of our God of Great Love and Big Things when the world around is changing and they were not equipped to adapt?

~~ I am even more confused exactly where God is calling me. Good thing, like the manna in the desert, I only need trust that he has provided enough for today. I cannot store it up, lest it spoil, and if I could see into the future I would only be fearful and confused. Trying to guess God's plan for the future is hubris. Trusting in God is the source of all wisdom.



And if you're interested in my actual seminar takeaways ... enjoy!

David Lose Presentation

~~ Said that upon watching his children perform the "Double Bach" he considered what it would have looked like if they had come every week and watched their teacher play the violin. They would have learned appreciation for the skill/art. They would learned some awareness of good method, etc. But would they have learned to play for themselves?

~~ What would it mean to make church less a "performance of faith" by the "professionals" and more of an act of formation, such that the people might develop faith practices by practicing them, instead of watching them practiced?

~~ The earliest Christians were not called "Christians" but "People of the Way". Are we showing people "the way?"

~~How can we begin to hand worship back to the congregation so worship is not just performance, but formative? 


Roger Y, Nishioka Presentation

~~ From a Muslim Imam "You are Christian, are you not? So speak as a Christian? It is very difficult to have a conversation with someone who is not speaking." How do we speak like Christians? 

~~ Military Colonel explaining the repetition of drills "In times of crisis you will not rise to the occasion, but fall back on a pattern. We are trying to set a new pattern." The training has to be what they know best. Isn't that also true of our faith? In times of crisis what pattern do we return to?

Laura Traux Presentataion

~~ What I learned walking through a divisive, difficult congregational conversation:

  • God is always on the side of the oppressed
  • I don’t get to choose which is oppressed
  • Importance of humility: God is beyond us
  • No change is sustained by anger – only love produces long-lasting transformation
  • Just like Jacob, we’ve learned to walk with a limp
~~ “Good communities are spaces where people love one another enough that they’re not afraid of disagreement.” Stanley Hauerwas

~~ Jesus Communities were

  • Forgiving
  • Confused
  • Devoted
  • Argumentative
  • Honest
  • Diverse
  • Honest
  • Forgiving
  • Unexpected
  • Angry
  • Holy
  • Questioning


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Ironies of Today

... the last time I write a blog post was March 7. Ouch.

A striking resemblance to my freshman college dorm room.
The carpet is a nice addition, though.
... I just spent four and a half hours driving to meet my dad to drop my kids off for four days so I can spend three nights in a dorm that is exactly like the one in which I lived my freshman and sophomore years at Wartburg (Woo Hoo!! Centennial Hall???!!!)

... much like my time at Wartburg I am on the THIRD floor of an un-air-conditioned building after the hottest day we've had yet this summer ... windows wide open, fan blaring, allergies ablare and sinuses full. Oh, and I'm the only female here at this point. The others likely know better than to spend an extra night in dorm housing and will be arriving tomorrow or have figured out how to secure hotel funds.

Dinner View
... my husband is sitting in our brand-new air conditioned home, by himself, while I am here and our kids are with my dad. This is a far cry from our usual date nights the week my kids are at Dads, when we enjoy dining on the deck and hanging out together.

... in spite of my elation at the opportunity to enjoy dinner, alone, sitting along the street at dusk, I ended up engaging in a meaningful conversation with a pastor who is also attending the seminar.

...in all, I'm thankful and excited for the opportunity to meet some new people, engage in conversation, and come away with some helpful perspectives ... but I'm not sure I'll take housing advice from Pastor Mark Schlenker in the future...


Friday, March 7, 2014

The Difference Between Mother and Monster: Am I Willing?

It's morning. Hectic. Crazy. Already they are amped up and it's not even 7 a.m.. Chasing. Screaming. Battling over bathrooms. Slamming doors.

And I want to explode. I want to echo back with equal amplitude the noise and energy they exude so they Will. Just. Stop.

And the difference between unleashing the fury and patiently working step by step to infuse order and calm is me.

Am I willing?

Am I willing to do the hard work of parenting with intention, of setting limits and enforcing consequences?

Am I willing to pause a beat? To let that bubbled up, boiled over anger dissipate until I can respond out of the genuine love I feel for these amazing little people.

Some days I am, and some days not so much. Some days I can't get over myself and the overwhelming sense of frustration that crushes me. 

Other days I am willing. Willing to open my palms to the sky and receive the grace first given me and extend that love and grace to these amazing little people God has given me the blessing to parent.




Five Minute Friday

Friday, February 28, 2014

Choose or Chosen?

Five Minute FridayI've finally decided to take the leap and join in Lisa-Jo Baker's Five Minute Friday writing challenge and link-up. This is a big leap for me because to do it I have to be willing and available to write on a specific day, and that can be hard. But I'm going to do it today and come back as many Fridays as I can to continue the practice. Today's prompt: Choose.




I think sometimes in the Christian community we get really wound up thinking about "choosing", whether it be the right words and actions, our friends, our children's schooling, a church, clothing, or, in some instances, a relationship with God.

The thing is, this is yet another symptom of our inability to surrender control. Our salvation is not dependent on OUR choices, but on the God who first CHOSE us (a different conjugation of the verb, I admit).

So, whatever we choose, we are first and foremost chosen children of the most high, receiving grace upon grace despite our response. And once that ultimate choice is recognized, we have the beautiful privilege of responding as we extend that grace with the world around us.

And even this sharing is not entirely a choice. Instead it is the work of the Spirit, and much like Paul and the early apostles were so overwhelmed by the power of the Holy Spirit that they could not help but spread the Gospel, so we, too, experience a joy and desire to share this amazing gift of grace that cannot be contained.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Hard Truth

Jill, Susie and me at Christmas with our dolls.*

It doesn't seem that long ago since my cousins and I were playing in my grandparents' basement, back bedroom, yard and anywhere else we could wander. Jill, Susie and me. But when I do the math I realize Just. How. Long. It. Has. Been.

At any family gathering you could count on us finding each other and spending hours playing. In those days it seemed like we would always be together. We daydreamed of our future weddings, the children we would have, the houses we would live in and the clothes we would wear.

Today, my cousin Jill is lying in the critical care unit at our local hospital, where she has been for a week and a half. She is doing great, making progress, and they expect a full recovery, but it will be a long, hard process.

She went headfirst off a snowmobile last Saturday night and was life-flighted from Fort Dodge to Des Moines. She has bruising, facial fractures and swelling, but nothing else was broken. They kept her under sedation to keep her from the unimaginable pain for the first few days as her body healed from the trauma. As they wean her from the sedation, her family is beginning to see signs of her personality shine through, making faces when people talk and asserting her strong-willed personality in response to the nurse's directions.

Aunt Sandy, Jill (6) and me (4).*

Jill was the closest thing I had to a sister growing up. I was the oldest of three, with two little brothers, and time with other girls was a precious treasure to me. Jill was older by two years and I looked up to her. When I would visit my grandparents' house, an overnight stay at my Aunt Sandy's to play with Jill was one of my top priorities. Jill introduced me to Friday Night Videos, orange push-pops, and a host of names for colors I had no idea existed ... when dreaming of dress colors the most creative colors I could come up with were"blue" or "pink". Jill dreamed of "teal" and "fuchsia".

Her life, on the farm, was light years away from my city-girl world, and I loved exploring, riding the pony when they had one around, and spending days in the sun. At night we would camp out in the living room, watch TV until late and then talk until Jill wanted to sleep, at which point I would be unable to stop giggling until she was so mad that I gave in.

Jill, me, Susie*

There were years when our age difference was of little significance and others when it was a strain for Jill to entertain her much younger cousin who wanted to play makeup and Barbies. To me, always, she was special, and I looked forward to seeing her.

When I came home from college or teaching in California (my memory fails me) I remember an exchange we had. I -- trying to reconnect after 10-ish years of life in between, trying to pick up where we left off, eager to reminisce about our girlish ways -- jumped right in, unloading my life of late.

But I did not meet with the warm exchange I anticipated. In place of the giggling, warm cousin I knew was a wall so thick my best efforts could not penetrate.

The 10 years in-between had wounded my cousin in ways I had not anticipated. As Jill began to talk, her words stunned me. In her direct, no-nonsense manner, Jill was one of the first and most honest people to tell me how my choices and actions had affected her.

You see, in the years in between I had made a choice. At 12 years old I bent to the manipulation and pressure of my father and step-mother and abandoned my family ... my mother, brothers, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. I traded a life of unconditional love and acceptance for stuff and a false illusion of a better life -- fewer worries and responsibilities, all the little luxuries my mother could not provide, and most of all, the coveted love and acceptance of my father and temperamental step-mother.

Those years were hard. They stole a piece of all of us, and I still grieve for the little girl who learned, once and for all, that no manner of making the choices my father and stepmother wanted could earn their love. Not refusing to see my mother for visitation. Not allowing them to tape record and listen to my calls to make sure I said the things they prepped me to say. Not sitting through their endless "talks" where they explained my mother's every ill and flaw, striving to convince me she was unworthy of my time. Not bearing the onslaught of angry words when my choices were not acceptable or being the scapegoat for every ill. Not getting good grades, making good choices, going to church or keeping the house perfectly.

Nothing.

And don't misunderstand me, I fully comprehend the onus of responsibility on the adults involved. While that stepmother has not been a part of my life since college, the ghosts of those days still haunt my relationship with my father.

But that day I came to understand what happened on the other side. While I was fighting to stay whole, those who had loved me and never hurt me watched me separate myself and spew venomous lines, designed to injure.

Unlike the adults in my life, Jill didn't have the luxury of perspective to help her excuse or forgive.

Jill, too, had been just a child. And for reasons she could not understand, I chose the people who had hurt our family to "side" with. I left.

As her words pierced my heart, I scrambled to defend myself, to draw her into the reality I had experienced.

And it wasn't until much later that I realized how wrong that was.

She did not need to better understand MY perspective.

I had hurt her.

She needed me to admit that, to own it and to apologize.

And I didn't. I was still so close to all of it and wounded. I didn't have the perspective or the maturity.

In the years since I've seen Jill at family functions. We've exchanged pleasantries. Smiles. Greetings.

But I've been missing my cousin, my first best friend, ever since.

As life has carried on, I've convinced myself this is a reality of growing up. Growing apart.

Jill's accident last week made me reconsider that conclusion. I miss my cousin. My heart breaks watching her mom, dad, sister, nieces and nephew hold time while they wait for her to recover and hope the amazing woman they knew returns.

And I hope she does, too.

I still need her, and I've got a few things to talk about, the next time we get a chance.

So, here's to Jill and her return to the spirited, no nonsense woman we know and love.

*A special thanks to my mother for finding and scanning in the images for this post.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Cursing and the Cloth -- Potty Mouthed Pastors Response

Conversation on a friend’s blog exploded this week when he addressed the topic of clergy who use profane language, specifically at the Christianity21 conference (advertised as a gathering of 21 provocative thinkers addressing some of the most controversial topics in American Christianity, so we’re not talking about a synod assembly here.)

I found myself unable to stop formulating responses in my head. My response is below…

Erik –

I, too, applaud your bravery in inviting and continuing the conversation on this topic. To address the conversation thus far, it seems the fundamental beliefs of the participants are in opposition, which overshadows the tenor of the responses but is not the topic up for debate. In essence, they are debating the very topics that have caused a chasm between the faith communities in which the participants learn and worship.  Not likely something that will be resolved via blog comments.

After a good deal of thought, I am reminded that we are reading the story of God’s work in and through his people through different basic assumptions about God.

Do we see God as an authority who demands an ultimate sacrifice to set the scales of justice right and allow us the opportunity to repent of our sins and once again be right with him? A God repeatedly frustrated by the Israelites when they blatantly refused to bend to his will, forcing him to cast them away time and again so they would then find themselves in need and repent. A God who sent his son to be the sacrifice for this ungrateful people so that they would finally come to him?

Or do we see God as the ultimate source of all life, who created humans to long for relationship with him and with one another and who grieves at our sinful selves, not as a judge who will exact justice, but as a father who sees his children hurting and alone and wishes only that they would run to him to be reconciled and made whole. A God who demonstrated this love through the Old Testament by setting up the just system of sacrifice to atone for sin, which ultimately left humanity to succumb repeatedly to its sinful nature, unable to pull out of the cycle, forcing humanity to see again and again that we cannot be redeemed simply by the force of our own will and ability to be good. And this God then sent Christ, his son, as the ultimate expression of his great love for us and desire to reconcile all of creation to himself.  And what we could not do absent of the cross became possible when we observe the cross and respond to that amazing act of love and grace in our now but not yet imperfect ways. 

So these are two of the possible natures of God. A God that would demand perfection would certainly not be okay with cursing so there's no need for further debate there, but a God of reconciliation. Well, that is a good question.

As to my experience with cursing clergy, which is very little, I read Pastrix, and found Nadia Bolz-Weber’s prose to be accessible, honest and human in ways that drew me into her story and brought me face to face with realities of grace and the cross. The language in the book was honest and real and none of it stunned me. I also enjoy reading her sermons online, a nice way to add another perspective to the prior week's Gospel. There is a curse word here or there, but certainly nothing I find offensive.

Having grown up for a while in a home that spewed anger and hate and used cursing to wound (and the f-bomb in particular), I hate the word. It makes my skin crawl, and I avoid it at all costs. Hearing certain types of profanity evokes such a visceral response that I find it difficult to enjoy otherwise entertaining movies and music when laced with f-bombs that do not seem contextually relevant but are being used just for the sake of the word. When it comes to using profanity to reach people, I would certainly not be the intended audience.

But absent my emotional attachment, words are just that. Words. They only have meaning based on our shared understanding in combination with context. No word in and of itself is sinful. No word in and of itself can bring back old wounds, it is the context I bring to it. It is not the saying of the word "Lord" or "God" that is sinful but how it is used, “in vain.” It is a word we have constructed to communicate the attributes we assign to it. We give words power by the way we use or do not use them. The F-bomb only has the power we give it.

I wonder if the context of the Christianity21 conference was one in which it was understood that swearing would be acceptable and all present should be ready to be subject to it? Had I gone to it as an aspiring church ministries coordinator, would I have found myself uncomfortable and out of place? Were participants alienated by the tenor of the language?

That, for me, is where the meat of the issue lies. Honestly, I think a pastor can communicate in any way in which he or she is comfortable in their social settings and among trusted colleagues with whom they have developed a rapport and respect. When they are in the world, context matters and to me that is a matter of personal discernment for each individual.