Friday, September 29, 2017

The Good News about NFL-Gate

I'm calling it NFL-gate. The flap, the hype, the fury of whether profession football players stand or kneel during the national anthem is still making its rounds. While 49ers player Colin Kaepernick's choice was fodder for argument before, it got a gas-can of fuel poured over it this week by the President weighing in. And now my facebook feed is constantly confronting me with chances to be angry, either at football players, or their critics. Thanks a lot.

It's hard to decide what disturbs me most about this ruckus.  There are so many problems to choose from.

At first, I thought it was the deification of patriotism.  The deep, gut-level reaction to athletes not behaving right for the national anthem has been intense.  One Fox News Opinion article was subheaded with an explanation that, although the author loved the sport, "My God and my country will always come before football." The tight association between God and country is telling. Those boycotting the NFL may not be equating the one with the other, but they sure sound similar.

In fact, there's a certain mix of Christianity, patriotism, and love of the military that come together, and it is a growing subset of American culture.  And I am disturbed, not because I object to those values, but because of the assumption that they are inevitable, or inseparable, or that they are of similar value.

It's become a popular way to express your faith in politics, and because my church does not offer another model (since we have a strong aversion to mingling church and state), this subculture fills the vacuum. I am disturbed because members of my church are being played by these political winds.

But I am disturbed on a deeper level. Politics and faith aside, I am amazed that we are putting our energy into this at all. It reminds me of a Sabbath afternoon conversation I sat through one week. My friends were talking about the color of the elder's socks.  Apparently, when he sat on the platform, the congregation could see he was wearing white socks, instead of black. I couldn't even contribute to this conversation. I was dumbfounded that they thought someone else's sock color was this important. Even worse, some were sure we needed to do something about it, to make sure it didn't happen again.

Yes, I know there is a big difference between the elder's sock color, and athletes kneeling to make a political, or at least a social statement.  But the intensity of our interest is very similar. I am disturbed, not because people care about following the forms of honor for the national anthem, but because we care so much about having other people conform.

And I have wrestled with why--why is this a big deal?  Why do we feel such a strong need to get involved?  What, to be exact, makes this personal?

Because that's the only way to explain the sound and fury--it feels personal. In fact, those who kneel and those who stand both feel personally judged or disregarded by the other side. Imagine being a white citizen who feels that some of the players of the sport they pay cable charges to watch are calling them racists, and insulting one of their core values (their country) at the start of every game.  Imagine being a black player being told that fans care more about standing for the flag than about racism.

Worst of all, imagine being caught up in this argument, and never stopping to imagine what it feels like to be on the other side.

This is what disturbs me most about NFL-gate, and it ought to disturb you, too. The severity of the judgment or glory we are willing to hand out to complete strangers is telling. And it's not just about standing and kneeling.  We've gotten used to demonizing those who oppose us.  We have let ourselves substitute someone's politics, or their brand of the faith, or even their fandoms, for their value as a human being. It's impressive what nasty names you can earn by having the wrong ideas.We have jumped straight into anger, and forgotten to imagine.

Imagine if we invested our energy, not in creating clever memes of our ideas, but in understanding how someone could hold a different one.  Imagine what we would think of this issue is our life experience were different, or if the people around us believed differently. Imagine how we would treat this if we weren't being prodded by people who are trying to win elections, or at least ratings, by fueling our anger.

Today, you might have strong feelings, and you might be right about them. Good. I challenge you to use that power (being right, that is) for good, and not for evil. Use it to help your neighbor, and not to crush, ridicule, or alienate them.

It's not too late to reject the culture of anger. It is possible to defend our ideals without de-humanizing the other side. We can be both right, and generous.  Or we can play into the politics.

The good news is that NFL-gate can be an opportunity. I hope that it will wake us up, and remind us to use our imaginations.  And our inside voices.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Your Quick-Start Guide to Reformation Day (with scripts!)

In 2008, Halloween fell on a Friday night.  It was great. One of our churches, in an enterprising spirit, decided to have a Bible costume party that night. Jim and I went in our generic character robes, and I put my one-year-old into my old t-shirt, and made her a fabric belt.  But the others did better.  One couple bought fake fur, and came as the fallen Adam and Eve, complete with a stuffed snake draped like a scarf on the wife's neck.  Another mom sacrificed some sown pillows to cover enormous angel wings, which her preteen son had to wear attached to a harness.  Queen Esther appeared that night, along with the usual prophets and shepherds.

About halfway through the party, I found myself talking to one of the elders who wasn't so thrilled with Halloween alternatives.

"You know," I said, "there is actually another holiday you can celebrate on October 31."

And from that year on, we have celebrated Reformation Day in our churches wherever we went.

This year, the 500th anniversary of Luther's 95 Theses--the official event of Reformation Day--nearly the whole world knows about the holiday.  If you're ever wanted to do something for Reformation Day, but never got around to it, this is your year.  If you've never heard about it before, and think it might be cool to celebrate, this is your year.

So what can you do with just 5 weeks to go?  Here are some things we've done:

1. Encourage costumes--I've never had too many people come in costume, but there are always a dozen or so who really get into the spirit, and kids love to wear their dress-up things to church.

2. Tell the story--You can use a combined Sabbath School time, or a part of the worship service to tell Martin Luther's story.  If you go online for research, check the urls for your sources--look for a reputable organization, and be aware of bias. Don't be alarmed if Luther and other reformers turn out less than perfect. The amazing part of the story is what God can do.

3. Offer indulgences--I have handed out crossword puzzles for the adults and teens, and coloring pages for kids to do in the service. Completed pages (I don't check the answers) get an "indulgence"--a cookie in the lobby after the service. Whether or not you're offering a reward, refreshments always make an occasion more special.

4. Add some drama--You don't have to do a full length drama to make the history come alive.  I am including a handful of short scripts that can be learned (and costumed) in a few weeks. You will be impressed how a few simple costumes and props can catch the imagination and deepen the meaning of your presentation.

5. Take a picture--If you can get a hold of a few cloaks (no too hard to find around Halloween) and 16th century hats for men an women, you can have a photo nook in the lobby. Spray paint a drop cloth to look like a stone wall, and let people pose in their "costume" to commemorate the event.  If you can, add a door, and hang a replica of the 95 Theses on it. (If you don't have the wearables, let them hold some props, like the Theses and a hammer.) Take members' photos with their own phones, or designate a photographer, and make the pictures available to them on the church website.

6. Remember your neighbors--This last is a tip, not an activity. Reformation Day can be a wonderful time to invite your community in to the church, but for that you need to plan a service that is sensitive to other people's backgrounds. The Reformation was good for Catholics and Protestants both, in the long run, and can be celebrated as such. Remember what we're really celebrating is not our divisions, but the rediscovering of the Scriptures, and the grace of God.


Dramas--When I first went looking for Reformation Day content online, I didn't find much for free.  I am guessing there will be more out there now, because of the 500th anniversary. Below are links to some short scripts I've written myself.

I offer them for free, of course, because I want everyone to be able to do Reformation Day if you want to.  I only ask that my name stay attached to the documents, whether electronic or in print, and if you used a printed program, include me as the author (so others know where to look for material). Feel free to share with others, as long as my name stays on it.

LUTHER MONOLOGUE (3 minutes, 1 person)


LUTHER'S CONVERSION SKIT (6 minutes, 2 people)

LUTHER POSTS THE 95 THESES DRAMA (8 minutes, 4 people)

Costumes-- Although the season is a good one for finding costumes in stores, if you want to make your own, I highly recommend this web site, which will show you how to make many garments without needing a printed pattern:

Dawn Pages Costumes

When I make my monk costumes, I use a Bible robe pattern, and then make a hood and cowl (which I found on a popular pattern for a cloak.  Remember Luther is an Augustinian monk, so would wear a black robe.

I make knee pants for men by shortening dress pants from thrift stores and adding a casing for a drawstring to the bottom. Look for other ways to use existing garments to save time.

Crosswords/Coloring Pages--There are web sites one can use for free to make a word search puzzle or crossword puzzle using your own clues and answers.  For crosswords, I recommend a word bank of answers to choose from.  Likewise, I searched online for free coloring pages featuring old churches and castles, and people in Renaissance clothing.

I wish you all a wonderful 500th Reformation Day!  And remember, although this big round number will only come once in our lifetimes, Reformation Day happens every October 31. So if you don't get to have the perfect event this year, you can always plan for the next one!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Why I Do and Don't Celebrate Reformation Day

I am a church history geek.  In fact, I have a degree in it--Church History Geek, that is.  I am in love with stories, and costumes make me giddy.*  So just imagine my joy when I discovered Reformation Day, a real live holiday for both.

Reformation Day 2016, Journey Church, Kelso, WA

On October 31 every year, German citizens in many areas, and Lutherans everywhere, celebrate Martin Luther's famous 95 Theses, the smoke bomb that set off the firestorm of the Lutheran Reformation.  For the last nine years, we've done it up at our local churches, with full drama, costumes, crosswords, and even food in the lobby. My kids never get Halloween costumes, because I'm too busy sewing them new Reformation Day costumes each year. Every closet in our house (before we packed it up to move) was at least half filled with monk's robes, doublets, and gowns for the dramas. And to top off the bragging rights, nestled under the boxes of feathered Tudor hats, I have two chain mail shirts.**

Reformation Day 2013, Cloverdale Church, Boise, ID

I put a lot into Reformation Day, probably more than I do for Christmas. So I'm very happy to get some compliments, once it's all over and I'm sitting down amidst my enormous skirts taking a breath. Those are golden moments, but I know without fail I'm going to be engaged in the same conversation. Every year.

Reformation Day 2010, Souderton, PA

Every year someone, to make conversation, starts talking about being Protestants, and they always observe that we don't do a good job of protesting any more.  Protestants and Catholics are too friendly these days, the conversation always goes.  The Lutherans themselves are Exhibit A.  We need to celebrate Reformation Day because we have forgotten how to protest, and we need to be reminded.  And I can't help feeling, every time, that I must have missed the mark somewhere in the program I just presented.

Reformation Day 2013, Cloverdale Church, Boise, ID

I am a Protestant, but the word comes from a historical context, lest anyone starts to think that protesting is a fundamental belief of the movement.  It comes, in fact, not from the spiritual side of the reformation, but the political.

This is how the story goes: Luther was condemned by the Edict of Worms (1521), but the emperor, Charles V, couldn't make it stick, because he was too busy with wars. For several years, he had to send his brother to the Diets to represent him.  The best they could do, then, was to say that each prince could allow the faith he chose in his own lands. Finally in 1529, still off at war, Charles demanded that this pale attempt at religious freedom be nixed. While he didn't absolutely insist the Reformed princes go back to the old faith, he put a cap on how reformed they got to be, and demanded they allow religious freedom that the Catholic princes were not required to show.

Reformation Day 2015, Cloverdale Church, Boise, ID

Six princes, and fourteen free cities, put their objection in writing.  It was called the Protestation at Speyer, and those princes were known as Protestants.  And so are we all, to this day. But the protest wasn't an article of faith.  It was only an objection to a political situation that has long since ended.

The point isn't about protesting--it's not about what we oppose.  It's about reformation, and that means, simply told, making something better.  A protest, at its best, is really just a dignified complaint. When something's wrong, it can serve a purpose to register our complaint. But a complaint just isn't a basis for faith. Reformation is what happens when we do something about it.

My faith isn't made up of a dislike for the faults of Catholicism, or any other system.*** We are Luther's heirs when we work to make something that's better.

Reformation feature, Oregon Conference Campmeeting 2017, Gladstone, OR

Does your faith improve upon the things it objects to? Does it work to make the world better? Are you better off because of it?

I hope you celebrate Reformation Day this year.  This is the 500-year anniversary of Luther's incendiary 95 Theses, and it's an event that won't ever come again. Read up on some history, go to an event, watch a Luther movie (I recommend the 2002 version.

Because of the move, I won't be having the the full bone-weary, costume-filled pageant of fun this time, but I'm going to enjoy it.

And what I plan to celebrate is reformation.


*Just ask people who have watched Narnia movies with me.

**I did not, however, make the chain mail.  That I bought through Amazon. (And the chain mail in the included photo isn't mine--it was made by the young man wearing it and his dad, the brain-sucking monk in the final photo.)

***Including the faults of my own faith community

Friday, September 8, 2017

The Old Lady, and the Answer to the Women's Ordination Crisis

“Young lady, are you training to become a pastor?” the accusing eye sized me up as I tried to shake the old woman's hand. I opened my mouth to answer, but apparently she didn't need one. “I wish you wouldn't,” she went on, as people leaving church piled up behind her. “There weren't any women pastors in the Bible. And Jesus' disciples were all men. And . . .”

I don't remember how long she went on, or just what she said. The stream of churchgoers was diverting to flow around us, and the pastor's wife was giving me a look of apology. I had just been introduced in this church as the volunteer assistant pastor, taking a year out from my Religion degree, and I was supposed to be meeting the congregation. I grabbed the first moment she paused for breath to assure her I was glad to meet her, and move on to someone else.

About a month later, I wiped my sweaty palms on the platform pew, and stood to give my first sermon. The pastor had called in sick a few hours before, and I luckily had little time to worry over it. This time I stood alone in the greeting line afterward, shaking hands.

The little old lady shuffled up and sized me up again. She patted my offered hand with her small one and said. “You're going to make a fine preacher one day.” And then, with a swift change in tone, “But I still wish you wouldn't . . . “ I missed the rest of her remonstrance as the press of people moved her forward and others pressed in to assure the newbie I hadn't fallen flat on my face.

A few months later I preached again. This time, my elderly friend caught my hand in both of hers. “My little pastor,” she said, pulling me down for a hug.

Three years later, and I was in a kitchen in rural Pennsylvania talking to a friend from church. Jim was the pastor, but we had six churches, and I preached as often as he to cover them all. My friend Joanne and her husband were like grandparents to us there, and some of our closest friends. But--she confessed to me that night--she hadn't approved of me at first.

“I was dead set against women preachers,” she said. “But you changed my mind. I listened to you preaching, and I've changed my mind.”

I am not a great preacher. I've never even been a pastor. I have never faced the virulent detractors some of my friends live with to be faithful to their calling from God. But I have seen the argument waged back and forth all the years since my first sermon, and I have seen that people seldom change their minds.

I have argued with a lot of people over women in church. I'm better educated than most, and I can hold my own. I've even left some confounded by my reason. But I've never had an argument end with my opponent changing their mind. I have only seen people change their minds one way, in fact.

My first critic was an easy case, almost laughably so. But I never did answer her arguments. I never even tried. Once she was comfortable with me, they didn't convince her any more. Joanne, by contrast, was no intellectual slouch. We never talked about her theology on gender, but I know she read theology, and studied deeply. What changed her mind, however, was her experience.

I am not trying to say that no one studies the issue when they change their minds. I'm not suggesting we don't make choices from reason. But I suspect that people don't study something they aren't willing to know. We don't consider a new idea objectively until it becomes something less than repugnant to us.

Since San Antonio in 2015, the debate on women in the church has become one of the most caustic, divisive issues in our history. Those who were once uncomfortable with the idea of women leading now feel morally bound not to change their minds. Argument doesn't help our cause. Instead, our talk is throwing gas on a wildfire.

The best path, perhaps the only path now, to change minds is personal experience. There's nothing to be gained by out-shouting or out-voting one another (as we wish some had learned from the 2015 vote). The only way to win, is to win the church over.*

That's why this blog a call for action.  To the women of the church, you can do something about this issue. In fact, you can do the most important thing.  You can lead.**

I am convinced that the solution is not words now, but action. The best way to convince our friends and families that women can lead, is to show them. Preach, minister. Lead.

Lead in whatever capacity, and under whatever title your context affords. For many people out there, nothing will force them to rethink their ideas except seeing a woman lead positively, and with grace.

Preach, if you can. And remember, if you don't think you can, that it's a skill, and it can be learned. Don't imagine that fearlessness is required. Volunteer, don't wait to be asked.***

Say yes to the nominating committee. Speak up in meetings. Accept the title of elder, even if not everyone in your church will like it. Give them a chance to see your example. Let experience change their minds.

It sounds small.  How does one woman preaching in one little church change the votes of the world church? It doesn't.  But thousands of women affecting their own communities can change the culture of a denomination.

If we do this, if we all did this, to whatever capacity we could, we would change people's minds.

I can't do anything about what happens at the GC's Annual Council this year. But this particular sink-hole of church politics isn't going to be escaped by the work of committees, small or large. If it's going to be won, it will be slowly, by you and I. 

So please, if you want to make a difference about Women's Ordination, pray about what you can do. And then, wipe your sweaty palms, and do what you can. That's what I'm going to do.

*And maybe outlive some of them, too.

**To the men, you can use your influence to identify, encourage, and suggest women in leadership. Notice gifts, point them out to others, mentor if you have experience that can help.

***This is a big one. If you live in a rural area, chances are there is a local pastor with too many pulpits to fill each Sabbath. Churches like these are usually more open to lay people preaching, even if the lay people are usually men. These are the places that need to see women ministering the most.

Friday, September 1, 2017

How to Break in Your New Pastor

Shoes are a problem.  The moment I realize I've finally found a truly good pair of shoes--not just practical and good-looking, but really comfortable--is usually the moment I see they are also starting to wear out. No matter how much I loved them, no matter how much I'm willing to pay, I will never find the same pair to replace them.*  Like it or not, I'm going to have to go out and find something new, something different.

I've never actually "broken in" a new pastor.  At least in my adult life, I've always been looking from the other side of the story.  Nevertheless, I have been through a few pastoral transitions, and I've learned some things, not the least of which is that metaphors like shoes have limits, especially when we start talking about "wearing them out," or "breaking them in." (Get too involved in a metaphor, and you'll find yourself trying to figure out how to "wear your pastor with heavy socks around the house to stretch them." And no one wants to go there.)

So I will keep the metaphor under control, and tell you what I know.  Because there are things you can do to make it easier, I promise.

1. Start Over--Good shoes, simple as they may be, can be hard to part with.  Good relationships are a hundred times more so.  But whether the last pastor was your best friend or just someone you put up with, you aren't ready for the new relationship until you deal with the old one. Mourn, celebrate--the important thing is to separate the old relationship from the new one. It's a common mistake to treat a pastoral relationship like a marriage, and feel you can't like one without being disloyal to the other, or that you need to rank them.  But your new pastor needs to be met as her own person, and not as a comparison to someone else.

2. Wait--New things are awkward.  New shoes can pinch, and new patterns feel weird. Someone else's face on the platform, someone else's style in the board meeting, can rub you wrong just because it's new.  Wait.  Understand that your pastor is going through the very same thing, only the change is bigger for him.  This is one place the metaphor works.  You can be certain she will adapt to you much more than you do to her.  In fact, I promise he will have a you-shaped impression in his sole in time.**

3. Smile--There's an art to introducing yourself, but don't sweat it, because you learned this in grade school.  Be friendly, but not overwhelming. Be helpful, but only if you want to help***  Most of all, be real. There is nothing so comforting as people who like you enough to be themselves with you. Make a joke, as questions.  Pastors are real people (contrary to the rumors), and they come to you as social refugees, strangers in the land.  But you don't have to befriend them for charity's sake, because they are almost universally interesting, caring people, and fun to boot.  I promise.

4. Invest--Change is hard, and change takes time, but it's also an opportunity.  A new pastor is a great time to think about other changes for your church.  What's your vision?  What's your hope? Your new pastor will have some experience or skills that the last one didn't. They can help your church stretch in new directions. Of course, you shouldn't drop big decisions in her lap right at the start. And it's important to know the difference between having a dream, and lobbying like a special interest group in Congress.  But this is a good time to invest in your church.  Come to church. Engage in the conversation.  Share your ideas, and look for others' that you can help with. Take advantage of the opportunity.

The conclusion of it all it this:  that metaphors aside, change is unavoidable.  The Advent Movement is always moving.  So, even if we want it otherwise, finding a pastor is always going to be less like choosing a spouse, and more like getting a new pair of shoes:

You'll find the best fit you can, of course.  And then you'll give it time to adjust, and to feel comfortable.  And finally, I most certainly hope, you'll start going places together.

*Okay, there are exceptions.  You might wear out shoes exceptionally fast, or you might be my dad, and buy 2 of the same pair if they fit well.

**All right, I should apologize for the corniness. But I was provoked.

***If you don't really want to do anything, offer to do anything.  But if you'd like to be helpful, make sure to offer something specific, like food, or to haul away boxes to the recycling center.