Author Archives: allsaintslutheranchurch.com
It’s hard to believe that things are winding down in Kelowna. It’s seven years, this Summer, since my spouse and I arrived in the Okanagan, and it’s been a fun journey. We’ve worked at being a progressive voice in this area; we’ve also become parents and have begun enjoying the blessing that children are in life!
I’m always hopeful for the future of the church. The future, however, will not be as it has been. There is no “going back” to the glory-days of Christian churches being prominent fixtures in Canadian society. I can’t say where church community will end up, but I strongly suspect it’ll be something smaller – more of the “leaven in the lump” and “seed in the soil” – with influence, but not dominance (whether it was ever that way is debatable).
What I appreciate about Christian community is when people strive for grace-filled living. When people show hospitality and generosity, we start to get at what Jesus was about. When people resist the urge to be vengeful and jealous in their relating with others, we start to let go of those toxic sides of ourselves that so often do nothing but fill us with hurt and regret. When we take the time, on a regular basis, to gather with each other to sing, to eat, to share stories, we show that Sabbath rest is an important piece in our life together.
It’s easy to say that churches should just stop being – perhaps you’ve seen people with Facebook quotes or t-shirts reading things like “tax the churches and give the money to hungry children.” Or, to support the argument that residential schools and abusive priests are products of what churches are about, maybe you’ve seen slogans like “religion is the root of all evil.” Unfortunately, the church is made up of people – even people trying to do good things! Even as people try to set up systems that are helpful and desiring for positive change, we find ourselves also setting up rules and policies that end up supporting an institution more than the people it is intended to serve. So, in the same way government can get bogged down, or in the same way a school district or hospital might over-regulate itself, we churches do the same thing. …sadly, it means that churches – which might otherwise seek grace-filled living – end up spending time and energy on problem-solving.
To those who are critical and passing judgment on Christian community, with little or no experience of it: please come and see! In fact, look up an ELCIC congregation in your area, meet with the pastor, consider giving such a community a three or four month ‘trial run’ and see if there are any folks there with whom you might relate! (You may even find out that a friend or co-worker has been attending there for years!) I’m willing to bet that you’ll find the pastor more open than you may have previously thought! I’m willing to wager that there are some very decent, deep-thinking congregational members who may make good friends!
It’s true: change is happening around us. It’s true: our congregations can not continue as they have, taking for granted a future that resembles the past. Can we move in a new direction? Can we open ourselves to new possibilities and new people? Can we engage the need in our areas, and seek to meet need?
I am grateful for the opportunity to engage in ministry in Kelowna, and to seek to delve into the community around. It’s been an exciting seven years! We had a lovely ‘Celebration of Ministry’ event to observe the end of pastoral ministry, here, on June 9th. We joined for the last time in our Sunday morning Eucharist on June 24th – John the Baptist Sunday. I commend the people of All Saints Lutheran, and their courage to try something new, and I hope that the newness continues!
Peace be with you!
To continue to be in touch with All Saints, go to the community website.
The gospel text for June 17, the Third Sunday after Pentecost, is Mark 4:26-34. I’ll reprint the full text (NRSV) here…
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26 He also said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.’
30 He also said, ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.’
33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
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When we had our Celebration of Ministry event a week ago, Pastor Eric Krushel (Missions Director for BC Synod) spoke words about our congregation that noted how the community of All Saints has been like a mustard seed – being small, having influence, never growing enormous (“the greatest of all shrubs” is the description in the passage from Mark!) but having significance.
Whenever we hear Jesus speak of ‘the kingdom of God,’ we’re wise to hear it as him speaking in ways that challenge the empire and systems that oppress and lead to injustice (scholar, John Dominic Crossan, has written and lectured extensively on this). It may also be helpful to consider that we are seed (or treasure, or prodigal father – depending on the parable) and without us, the kingdom of God can not take root; like the saying attributed to Augustine: “without god we cannot without us god will not.”
When we hear Jesus describe the kingdom of God as a mustard seed – and even something that does not grow into a massive, imposing thing – we might take from that an image for how our faith might be in the midst of other cultures, faiths, traditions, peoples. We’re not to dominate, but to offer life, hope, compassion. We’re to be a seed in the world. Even as a seed, we may only be the smallest, and yet our life together can have influence and take root and be a place for others to find rest, refuge, and welcome.
At the BC Synod Convention, this month in New Westminster, our church discussed “being church” for this day and age. Alan Roxburgh, of The Missional Network, was invited to speak at a couple of sessions of the convention. If I could sum up what he said in one sentence about church-mission for today – and perhaps filter it through what I’ve experienced as where the church needs to go these days – it would be: “determine the need of the community – even disregarding the church’s desires for the future – and go and meet that need.”
In a poem I wrote a few years ago, I said that the we, in the church, fear our own demise. Why is that? I mean, of course, let’s not get suicidal – but why are we so scared of death? As Christians – as ones who believe in resurrection life – why does dying to the way we’ve known scare us so much?
It seems to me that we need to connect with groups that work at meeting need. And that’s the beginning. If we can connect with, even hold up and support, groups that are working to meet needs in our communities, we can get a real sense of what it is to engage in need in our local contexts. Then, our mission as the wider church, and as local congregations, becomes that need-meeting kind of work!
The thing is, it also means giving ourselves away. Obviously, that means going places we haven’t gone before. We’ve been able to make it pretty comfortably to this point by expecting people will be here to support our church-efforts and church-structures. No one can remember a time when the church struggled for existence. But the church has struggled for existence before – and it did ministry differently in that day. It’s struggling for existence now, and we must engage in ministry differently than we have been.
You’ve probably heard me use this quote before… Walter Brueggeman identifies five primary marks of the Christian life (he draws upon the writings of Paul). We are to be generous, be hospitable, not covet, not be vengeful and observe Sabbath rest. If we did those primary things, all the secondary issues would evaporate because we wouldn’t have time for them!
If we can let go, step out in faith, and engage in ministry with those needing our compassion, our grace, our patience, and love, imagine how we could change the world! And we don’t do it with conditions or questions – we don’t go out to meet need only if the one we help commits to being in church on Sunday morning; we don’t offer help only if it means that eventually the one helped will be contributing in the offering plate. We must step out in faith by giving of ourselves – sharing of our individual resources so that our congregations might share of their collective resources. We must step out in faith by showing hospitality in the most radical way – welcoming and inviting people like us and people not like us, without judgment or attempt to change, and we must find it in ourselves as individuals to welcome in this way so that our congregations and wider church structures might also be radically hospitable and welcoming! We must look beyond our desires and wants for the future and for the church structures we’ve created so that we can see need that is more pressing, need that is more imminent, need that means life or death for someone else. And if we can work to meet need, and work for life for all people, we may find ourselves doing Jesus’ work in the world!
There’s an excellent quote by Isaac Asimov: “Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’”
We’re in a day where democracy is seen to be the epitome of civilization – and yet we struggle with how to do it. How do we honour the humanity of each person – even their right to think what they will – and yet to discern truths that can stand for all of us, giving each person the ‘benefit of the doubt,’ as it were? In many ways, this is the challenge of the legal system. Truth, at least in part, has to do with determining right from wrong, and fair and just ways of relating.
It was said recently, after the Alberta election, that ‘city folk’ did not have the common sense of those living in rural areas. (A witty response to that Alberta election comment quoted Steven Pinker saying that common sense is anything but common…) Might it be that certain ‘common’ things and certain things that have ‘sense’ about them are actually determined, at least in part, by location? Certainly we trust our neighbour differently depending on how well we know them; and we know our neighbour through interactions that may include leisure time or working together. To me, it’s a gross generalization to make a statement about common sense and urban versus rural interpretations of that.
So how do we determine what is correct and what is false? How do we determine right and wrong? How do we determine what is sensible and nonsensical?
It seems to me that there is a general need for openness. Yes, we have certain standards set by certain institutions – we trust what accredited university professors who have published their research in established journals say! But we also must be open to the traditions out of which stem so many of our cultural sensibilities and ‘basic assumptions’ (eg. we all know that it’s wrong to kill another person).
The need for openness requires giving another person the respect due simply by virtue of their being another person. So: “I’m a person; my experience makes sense to me; I have worth, and therefore so do my ideas.” The need for openness also requires seeking the good of all, which will keep in check ideas that begin to tread on the basic humanity of others. This needs to influence how we build a democratic society, as well.
If the church is to evolve into something new, or perhaps even die so something new can come into being, what kinds of things will be part of that new life? I’d like to think that – while there’s lots that’s out-dated, perhaps even lacking in relevance, in the church – there are still parts that would be every bit of use in faith-community in the future.
Has the church become simply a set of dogmatic “dos and don’ts” and “believe this and don’t believe that”? Perhaps the return to a way of life is biggest, single-piece of Christian living that we might re-embrace.
It’s key that there be regular gatherings. Community is essential to keeping people honest in their inter-personal relating. It is important to have inter-generational groups, as well. At the time of the Reformation (1530s, roughly), there was a return to including participation from the congregation in the liturgy. Perhaps our liturgy would benefit from more participation, yet – sometimes using scripted words, sometimes leaving an opening for conversation.
It’s key that there be openness. Jesus got into hot water for dining with the ritually impure, according to Jewish custom. He got into trouble with the Roman Empire for empowering oppressed people. These actions of Jesus were indicative of a radical openness to others – people not like him or the majority, or powerful. Churches have become places of homogeneity, and we would do better to invite diversity again.
There needs to be vulnerability. Perhaps you’ve heard me say, or write, it before: when we sing together, when we eat together, when we share stories together, we are vulnerable with each other. Faith community needs to be a place that fosters and supports creative and probing endeavour – and we do it together, laying ourselves bare in front of each other!
What about the institution? It’s true that, as soon as we begin to put anything into writing (or even talk about it in detail), we limit the thing’s ability to ‘breathe.’ On the one hand, we struggle with grace in an institution that has created rules out of a hospitable and generous way of being. On the other hand, we need some rules and criteria simply for standards, and an outline as to determining what and who we are, as followers of the way. Perhaps what we need is a constant invitation to gracious dealing with one another – giving all the benefit of the doubt, so to speak.
All of this invites us into an alternative way. If anything, faith community needs to draw us out of ourselves. While we may become self-absorbed, we are invited to see the needs of others. While culture may tell us that ‘bigger is better,’ we are reminded that not all things are to be measured the same way. While politicians tell us that they have the answers to our communal questions, we step back and look at the common good and the communal need through grace-tinted lenses.
Let me say that I do not put this blog out there as a final product, but a piece in the broad conversation of who we are and who we might be. This blog is always an ongoing conversation. What do you see as essential in life together? (…I intentionally use that ‘life together’ expression, conscious of the commemoration of Bonhoeffer this week, and his very deep reflections on life together and living the Christian faith.)
Now that we’re past Easter Sunday, I can take a moment to write a blog (eg. get on a soap-box, as the case may be…).
It strikes me that, with the new atheist movement, most of its ‘legs’ are based on out-dated, stereotype-based conceptions of what Christianity is. A recent example of this, in my experience, is of a posting on Facebook where a ‘demotivational poster’ with a picture of a crucifix, has the caption: “Easter: a day when we convince ourselves that someone with the ability to come back to life is actually making a sacrifice when they die.” Now, had this been posted by someone with no knowledge of a more progressive view of the faith, I could have understood it; but it was posted by someone who knows that there are other views, and still defended their posting of it. So, I take it as perpetuating poor stereotypes (which is ignorance), or an outright offensive slight to people who don’t believe that way (including myself).
To my mind, if we’re to work at dispelling poor stereotypes and dismantling ignorance, we need to let go of our previously-held notions. There is no excuse.
If I knew better and still were to say something racist, for example, and have someone call me on it, and then justify my action by saying, “well, there are lots of people who believe that, or who have believed that” – wouldn’t that simply be an offensive and ignorant thing to do? (In effect, wouldn’t I simply be justifying a racist behaviour?) Say nothing of how it actually works against a desire that people not be so ignorant.
Anyway… that is my rant for today. A point that I would like to make, and something into which I would like to invite our church, is that we must find new and intentional ways of articulating what we believe. There are many out there who want to be more enlightened; there may even be some who are receptive to a faith-perspective that is theologically-sound. When it comes to dialogue with our atheist neighbours, I think we need to be able to speak about what we believe, how that affects our living, and even call them on their perpetuating of ignorance when they do it.
Can Christian community exist without a building and without a pastor?
There’s an old song about how we are the church together – and that the church is not a building. While we say that, and even sing about it, we have trouble living it, at times. It’s hard to dissociate ourselves from the concrete, glass, and wood – especially if our parents or grandparents had something to do with it, whether in building the structure or being baptized, married, or buried, there.
And Lutherans have worked at being egalitarian about how church life is lived out. We have guidelines about how many clergy attend convention (and can vote) versus how many laity. We recognize the gifts – even call – that different people have for different parts of our life together. In Ephesians, chapter 4, we read:
But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8Therefore it is said,
‘When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive;
he gave gifts to his people.’
11The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.
So we are to live together; we are to share of our gifts with one another; whether we have a communal gathering place, or whether we have a designated leader, we can do these things and be a model for Christian living together.
Theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, wrote a book in the late-1930s, “Life Together.” I would not want to get formulaic in any model for ministry – as though there’s a pattern or recipe that can be followed for any context – but I would say that there are basic ways in which we might all strive to come together.
As we work at living together, we must be intentional about study; we must work at openness. We can gather and engage good Christian education resources such as Living the Questions. We can learn about each other, and enjoy each others’ company in social gatherings – meals together, singing together, sharing stories together. It’s important, in Christian community, not to become insular – that is, to allow the community to become exclusive.
Lutherans have structure about how they gather. We have the larger church structured around synods and administered by bishops and office staff. We have the local church gatherings often structured around liturgy. We work at being thoughtful about who we are: why do we do what we do? We seek to engage current thinking in the culture around us, and we want to be able to comment in meaningful ways that work towards the needs and welfare of all.
Being church in the 21st Century in Canada is a challenge; we are called to engage with life around in new ways.