First Things in ’22

Well, the New Year is only 4 days old, and already there are a lot of irons in the fire. Part of that comes from unfinished and unexpected business holding over from last year.

Probably the first major thing on the agenda this year will be sorting out our Sunday worship service. Quite shockingly, we received news from the Episcopal congregation we rent from that they were not, in fact, going to discuss or negotiate with us regarding worship times, but rather, they unilaterally decided that they wanted to reclaim the 9 a.m. Sunday morning worship time slot that our congregation has been holding for the last 6 years. This puts us in a bind, especially since we had just recently surveyed the congregation, who overwhelmingly preferred staying in that 9 O’Clock spot. I think this could have been negotiated and discussed, but it was handled very poorly from the side of our landlords. It was disappointing, to say the least.

On the other hand, maybe this is a gift. While those who are ALREADY present show a strong preference for a 9 a.m. time slot, perhaps there are others who don’t YET come to our services because they find 9 too early on a Sunday morning. This is one of the things we need to consider very carefully, not only in choosing worship times, but in a general sense, we need to keep asking: What about those who aren’t here yet? There’s a bit of a tension, to be sure, but we need to be mindful about being open to new opportunities.

Another potential gift of an 11 a.m. spot is the opportunity to move directly from worship into a shared meal. Maybe it’s a potluck and a service project wrapped into one. We don’t know yet what cool things could happen if we crack open our hearts and minds in order to allow the New Thing to take shape in our midst.

Or maybe we find another venue. That’s also a live question. Maybe it’s both a new venue AND an 11 a.m. service. These are important questions for discernment.

So, dealing with Sunday morning worship is a high priority. But there are other important issues we need to consider, as well. There are a couple of things coming up on the horizon … which isn’t really that far away, if you think about it … to which we need to pay some attention.

For example, on Feb. 19 from 10 am to 3 pm, Christ Lutheran Church will be hosting a Sacred Harp singing school. Never heard of the Sacred Harp? Check it out at fasola.org. There are copious YouTube videos that can also give you an idea what this is about.

One of the things I love about the Sacred Harp tradition is the explosive joy that folks get from singing it. I was thinking about this during the Holiday Lights event at which our awesome choir took the stage to help passersby sing a few carols. There were some … issues, shall we say? … with the PA system, and so all those great voices were either drowned out by the overwhelming loudness of the amplifiers, or the singers’ voices simply got swallowed up by the vastness of the outdoor space they were singing in. I said to Christy at the time, “You know, this wouldn’t be a problem if they were singing fasola.” She said, “Yeah, but the sound can be grating for some people.” “True,” I said, “But their voices wouldn’t be drowned out by that PA. Sacred Harp singing may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it can’t be ignored!”

Anyway, keep your eyes peeled for more info on that Singing School coming up. Even if you don’t think you can sing, I hope you’ll come and try. It’s a school, after all, and it’s designed specifically for people who “can’t” sing or read music. It’s gonna be great!

Not long after that, Lent begins. Yes, already. Yes, I know we just finished with Christmas. But I really felt like we were behind in planning on Christmas, and I want to get a jump start right now.

Which brings me to this: A Worship Planning Team. I’m looking for people who are curious about what goes into planning worship. Did you know, for example, that Sunday mornings and Saturday evening services don’t “just happen?” Who knew?! (Hint: I did. So did Julie and Sandra and all the ladies on the Altar Guild. They need some folks, too, by the way!)

So I want to put together a team that will help think through and plan worship, not only for but especially for the bigger seasons of the year. Lent, the Great Three Days, Holy Week and Easter is one of the bigger seasons. Advent and Christmastide are another. But there are also smaller fasts and feasts along the way that deserve our attention. I can’t do this on my own. It’s too much. So I’m looking for some peeps to join me.

One of the things I DO want to do for Ash Wednesday is a program I’ve been doing for the last 8 years or so. It’s called “Ashes to Go.” (See ashestogo.com) This sounds really intimidating, because it’s a little bit like <gasp!> “evangelism!” Don’t worry. It’s not really that hard. I’m a shy introvert and I can do it, so you can, too.

The idea behind Ashes to Go is that we move from our Ash Wednesday service out into the community in groups of two or more, and we take ashes to folks who, for whatever reason, are unable to attend a service with the imposition of ashes. Yes, it’s Covid season, but I have a plan to do this safely. But the wearing of ashes is an ancient reminder of our humanity, which includes mortality. But we place the ashes on people in the shape of the cross, which reminds us that death is NOT the final word.

The first time I did Ashes to Go was both extremely humbling and incredibly liberating. It made a *permanent* mark on me, and I’d like to invite you all into that blessing, too. So keep your eyes open for more information on that, as well.

What do we have so far?
* Rethinking Sunday Morning
* Sacred Harp Singing School
* Worship Team formation
* Ashes to Go and Lent planning

But wait! There’s more!
Right before Lent, we have Mardi Gras. Fat Tuesday. Fetter Dienstag. Karnival. Whatever you want to call it, it’s the last push for decadence before Lent. It feels like that’s something we need to strongly consider being involved in.

Then, in the first weeks of Lent, there’s also St. Patrick’s Day. I don’t know whether that’s a big festival for Christ Lutheran folks, but it feels like it really could be. I know how much you all enjoy getting together and eating. Who doesn’t?! But it’s something we need to plan ahead for.

Those are some of the bigger things I’ll be working on, with the help of your friendly and more-than-competent Church Council. We’re also going to be looking at expanding our policies and procedures manual, including some updates on church structure. I’m in the end stages of putting together a Funeral Policy and procedures thing, which might not sound terribly exciting, but is really quite important. I also have in mind to draft a policy on children in worship (We should be much more intentional about honoring the presence of young people among us, since they are NOT the future of the church as much as they are the PRESENT of the church.) I’d like for us to consider also being more openly welcoming and affirming for LGBTQIA+ folks who might want to worship with us, but who have either resisted so far or have remained very quiet about who they are because, while this congregation is certainly in no way UNwelcoming of this demographic of siblings in Christ, we also aren’t an openly safe space for them just yet. But all of that is part of a bigger conversation we all need to have together.

So, these are some of the bigger items the first quarter of 2022 has in store for us, along with some of the more day-to-day tasks and responsibilities. It really feels like plans are falling into place, and this is going to shape up to be an important year in the life of this congregation. I’m still very excited to be part of what God is doing in and through Christ Lutheran Church. Whatever we do, we’ll do together. Whatever we are, we remain united in Christ, who is the head of our body, feeder of our souls, and transformer of our minds.

Come on ’22! We’re ready for ya!

With love,

Pastor Rob

More on pastors and social media stuff, but also some important theology

All human societies are rooted in violence. This has been one of my core convictions since Rev. Dr. Duane Larson introduced our Systematic Theology class to the work of French philosopher, sociologist, theologian René Girard in that first semester of seminary. The context of this introduction was a lecture on the great “Atonement Theories.” Theories of the Atonement are discussions about HOW God accomplishes the salvation of humankind from what Luther would call “sin, death, and the devil.”

(This is a theology discussion, but it’s also a practical anthropology discussion, so I promise there’s more to it than just a load of BS. Please follow along if you can, because this is really important for how we humans live together, how that living together is complicated and becomes problematic, and how we can actually get out of the trap, thanks to God’s work in Jesus. This is also central to my own ministry, which a lot of people call into question because it isn’t exactly “orthodox.)

So, back to Girard. All human societies are rooted in violence. To put it slightly differently, violence is “original” to humanity – or better yet, our cultural “origins” lie in violence. This a a good way to look at “Original Sin,” by the way, if Augustine’s (or Luther’s or Calvin’s “Total Depravity” theories of humanity make you want to vomit.) And violence is something we “catch” from our environments. (Akin to Luther’s idea that all human works are shot through by sin … it’s just not that it’s some kind of rottenness we inherit because our parents had sexual intercourse in lust.) This is a phenomenon known as “mimesis” or “imitation.”

One of the classic “proofs” of mimesis is the group of kids placed in a room with a dozen toys. No particular toy is more appealing than another … until one kid picks one to play with, and then suddenly, that is THE toy to have. Because Timmy has the red ball, it must be good, so now *I* want the red ball! It’s not that the ball is desirable in and of itself: it’s that MY desire has been shaped by what Timmy has. I’ve acquired his desire. If there are 10 kids and 10 red balls, no problem. But if there are 10 kids and only ONE red ball, that desire leads to rivalry, and the rivalry sometimes leads to violence.

Our biblical narrative plays this out with the story of Cain and Abel, which incidentally is where “sin” is mentioned for the first time in Genesis. It’s not Adam and Eve eating the fruit, but it’s at the point of rivalry between Cain, whose offering to God was not deemed pleasing, and his brother Abel, whose offering WAS acceptable to God. Cain, lacking what Abel had, became his brother’s rival, and violence ensued. God had warned him not to do what he was about to do because “sin is crouching at your door.”

Are you following me so far? Good.

Keep in mind that Abel, the son of Adam and Eve, was now dead. That left Cain to be the one who went and founded civilization. So the culture of the world, according to the biblical narrative, is founded on murder. Society is rooted in violence.

I think Cain and Abel’s story isn’t meant to be taken as a play-by-play history, but it sure does make a point about the origin of our cultures. The other interesting thing about this is that, when God confronts Cain, God tells him, “Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the soil for vengeance.” Vengeance: the taking of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life. In other words, vengeance is not justice. It’s just a continuation of the violence cycle.

How ya doin’? I hope you’re still with me. This gets even more interesting. I just want to keep checking in with you.

OK, desires are inherited from social Others (mimesis). Frustrated desires lead to rivalries. Rivalries lead to violence. Violence is self-perpetuating (and escalatory) through the vengeance cycle. The Bible highlights this reality in the story of Cain and Abel and the subsequent founding of civilizations by the murderer Cain.

Girard and Girard followers call this the Generative Mimetic Scapegoating Mechanism. “Scapegoating?” I hear you cry. “Where does scapegoating come into this?” Gosh, I’m glad you asked!

Mimetic conflict exists not only between individuals, but also between groups within a society or between whole societies. But for groups to exist in constant violent conflict is unsustainable. There needs to be ways to curb the violence, or else it will result in an all-versus-all cage match with the very likely outcome of complete obliteration. So there needs to be some kind of societal pressure valve that bleeds off the rivalry for the sake of group survival. Enter the scapegoat.

A scapegoat is an embodied symbol of the conflict, and it provides an Other, some kind of an outsider, upon whose head these conflicts (or “sins” or woes or what have you) can be placed, thereby unifying the group or groups in their common “hatred” of this “enemy.” The scapegoat, once identified, can then be dealt with, either by driving it out of the community or by killing it. In so doing, a temporary but actual peace falls over the group. At least until mimetic conflict then rises again, and the whole process has to start anew.

If you think about how this plays out in American society, just as a case in point, you can think about how conflicted groups might need to find an easily-identified Other, upon whose head they can cast blame for their lack of good fortune, their difficulty in finding jobs, their failing cultural structures, or what have you. Our own history is rife with this. The immigrant, for example, has always been a convenient scapegoat. They look different from us. They talk different from us. They eat differently from us. Let’s blame THEM for our woes, because those of us who look similar to one another can’t very well blame each other. That would result in civil war! See what I mean? Plug in any group you want. The story is always the same. WE are in conflict over land or jobs or opportunities or this, that, or the other. As long as there’s somebody different, someone easy to identify as the culprit, we can beat and chase and kill them … in small numbers, because if we got rid of them ALL, we’d have to turn back on one another, and that just won’t do.

Still with me? I have a point. I’ll get to it soon.

The thing about scapegoating is, we know it’s bad. We know it’s avoidant of the issues that actually cause the conflict. But it’s convenient. And most of the time, when we identify a scapegoat or scapegoats, we don’t even really realize we’re doing it. If we do, it doesn’t work, because it’s downright unjust. If we can’t ALL come together, convinced that this guy or that group is the one deserving of our scorn … if there isn’t unanimity over against the scapegoat, there will always be somebody to point out the truth, and the mechanism will fail.

I’m gonna bring the biblical narrative back in for a minute. And Girard, too. The Bible is LOADED with attempts to create scapegoats. Once you start to see them, you can’t UNSEE them. You can’t NOT see that Cain killed Abel, not because Abel was a bad brother, but because he had something that Cain did not. To skip over some other notable examples and jump straight to the biggie, it’s not that Jesus needed to die because he was a bad guy. It’s that he had something nobody else had. Authenticity and authority.

John’s Gospel lays it out best when it builds up the conflict between Jesus and the various groups of religious authorities of his time. The Pharisees and the Scribes and the Sadducees did not like one another. They were all vying for the authority to lay claim to authentic worship of God. When Jesus did his healing and his teaching, “and with authority,” how do you think that was viewed by those who claimed that mantle for themselves? And when Jesus’ disciples talked about him as a king, how do you suppose King Herod took that? How about Governor Pilate, the emissary for the great Caesar? Not well, I can assure you.

And so the High Priest Caiaphas spells it out for the slower-witted among them. “It is better for one man to die than for a whole nation to perish.” In other words, let’s scapegoat Jesus. He’ll bring us together – and not just US, but the Roman political powers, too – over against him. And that’s exactly what happened. John’s Gospel tells us that Pilate and Herod even became friends over the scapegoating of Jesus.

But the story of Jesus, and especially the story of his resurrection, spells out what happens when a society creates a scapegoat, kills it … and then it comes back. Uh oh. But what about all those sins we placed on the scapegoat’s head? Where are they? Yup. They came back with him.

Where Jesus’ story is different from other scapegoating stories, is that when he does come back, he doesn’t come back with the same cry for vengeance that Abel’s blood called out to God from the soil with. His blood comes back speaking of peace. Speaking of forgiveness. We schemed to kill God, and God forgives us. Woah.

That is the center of my theology, and this is the very basis for my ministry. As a culture, we no longer have the convenience of choosing forgiveness or unforgiveness. We’re too far down the road for that. Our choice is now between forgiveness or extinction.

The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, spells the end of scapegoating. We don’t have that option any more. The “deep magic” of it is exposed and shown to be unviable. We need a DIFFERENT way of gathering together. A way that isn’t over and against a common enemy. And that Way is shown to us, is embodied for us, by Jesus, “whose blood speaks a better word than Abel’s” (Hebrews 12:24).

I hope you’re still with me, cuz I’m still not done.

Now, just because scapegoating doesn’t work anymore, that doesn’t mean that we don’t still engage in the practice. As a minister of the Gospel, I know this on a very personal level. Not only do I see parishioners attempt to scapegoat one another, I myself am often the identified scapegoat. Did you all see my Facebook post of December 8, 2021? I called it “On Pastors and Social Media.” It was a long post, so you may not have read it.

Whether you read it or not, that post was, in a way, precisely about how people scapegoat pastors. I wrote it for myself, but I also wrote it for my fellow ministers, AND I wrote it for lay people. In that post I point out that pastors hold a post that has traditionally forced them to comply with societal expectations. In a sense, we embody Jesus — not because we are the holy Sons and Daughters of God — but because we are public figures. And when we fall outside the expectations that people hold for public figures, we’re knocked off of the pedestals that most of us never asked for. I certainly never asked for it. All I’ve ever wanted was to be faithful to the call I’ve received from God to go and live among the people and remind them that God loves them. God sometimes thinks they’re a jerk. God knows that they love to create scapegoats. But God wants to free them from that Original Sin of violence and the perpetuation of violence through revenge.

Remember when, after Jesus performed the sign of feeding the multitudes in John’s Gospel, how the people came to him and tried to make him king by force? That’s when Jesus knew his goose was cooked. The people had an expectation of him as their king. He wasn’t there for it. And they killed him because of it. Killed him. Murdered their scapegoat because he didn’t fit in with what they thought he should be.

I’m going to speak candidly here. But a quick recollection first.

Back in seminary, we had a couple of classes on dealing with life in the parish. One of the sessions focused on “church alligators.” (Now that I’m a Florida resident, I think I take some offense to that term on behalf of my new reptile friends. But I digress.)

Alligators in the church are the people who have expectations of a pastor, and when that pastor, being a human being, fails to live up to those expectations, those folks will seek to devour her or him. Sometimes these confrontations are direct. Sometimes they come in the form of anonymous letters. Sometimes they come through people gossiping and creating emotional triangles, in which they team up against a pastor (or someone else) in order to get more folks on their “side.” All of this is scapegoating.

Are you shocked that such people exist in the church? I know you aren’t. Neither am I. It’s “human nature.” It’s “original sin.”

But when we were talking about these “alligators” in our seminary classes, one thing we kind of all agreed upon was that we would put no stake in cowardly anonymous letters. If someone doesn’t have the courage to speak to another person face to face, but hides behind the anonymity of a written complaint, it’s probably not worth your time. It flies in direct opposition to the guidelines we, as a Church body, claim to adhere to and which are set out in Matthew 18:15ff. But if, as a pastor, you receive such a letter from a congregant, it would not be inappropriate to bring that complaint to light. Take it out of the shameful shadow and expose it to the light of the Truth of the Gospel.

Here’s where this rubber hits the road for me. I received a call from a synod representative today. The “synod” is a body of worshippers, an “assembly,” who is called together by the Holy Spirit for the building up of the whole. If you want to think of it purely as administrative, that’s probably appropriate. I mean, properly speaking, it’s all the clergy, rostered leaders, lay people, administrators, everybody. But in common parlance, the synod is the office of the Bishop.

Anyway, I got a call from the synod, telling me that they had received two letters of “concern.” When the representative said to me that they are truly concerned FOR me, not ABOUT me, I believe them. On a personal level, I believe them. Luther’s explication of the 8th commandment stuff, right? But when that rep told me that these members of another congregation are “concerned” about some of the things that I post on FB as “inappropriate” and “unbefitting a person in my role,” I don’t see that as “concern.” I see it as an anonymous complaint against me.

Now, as I said, I’m not interested in revenge. But I AM interested in bringing this to light. What that person or those persons meant to do was to get me “in Dutch” with the synod authorities. This is textbook triangulation. It’s textbook scapegoating. Whatever. I’m a grown-up and I can deal with it.

BUT part of the reason I believe I’m called here, not just to my current congregation (whom I love dearly!), but also to the people who call themselves christians in this part of the world, is to bring to them a message of repentance.

Repentance. Metanoia. A changing of the mind. A TRANSformation of the mind into the mind of Christ, not a CONformation of the mind to the patterns of this world. Remember this world? This world, that’s shot through with mimetic violence? Yeah, as followers of Jesus, who take our calling seriously, we have GOT to stop equating the role of pastor with a conformity to certain expectations about what we deem as “moral” or “proper” behavior.

As a seminary prof once told us, “Your job isn’t to tell people that they’re sinners. They know that. Your job is to remind them of grace.” Well, that’s what I’m here to do. Right now. Someone out there has tried to scapegoat me. It’s not the first time. It won’t be the last time. But remember this: the Kingdom of God is in your midst. The kingdom of God is a kingdom of liberation from Law and Expectation. You may hold me to an unrealistic and outdated expectation, and you may try to symbolically kill me (or drive me away, cuz that’s another thing that happens to scapegoats), but I WILL come back. And no, I won’t come back with vengeance, but speaking a better word: peace.

As God forgives all of us who tried to drive him out of this world on a cross, following the POSTIVE mimesis of Jesus (aka “imitatio Christi”), I’ll forgive you, too. But I want you to stop.

If you have a problem with me – and I understand where that’s coming from – bring it to me. Don’t be conformed to the scapegoating pattern of this world. I’m a reasonable person. At the end, we may find that we disagree anyway. Oh, well. Our unity isn’t in agreement. Our unity is in Christ, who sets us free. Disagreement ain’t nothin’ but a thang. I may not be the pastor for you. No harm there. But please don’t try to stop me from being the pastor that someone else needs: one who speaks their (often foul) language. One who drinks the same things that they drink (“John came neither eating nor drinking and they said he had a demon. The Son of Man comes eating and drinking and you say, ‘Behold a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'”)

The truth is, there is a need for variety of pastoral types for a variety of people types. Ya know? Don’t step on my funk, just because I don’t fit your mold. Don’t step on my call, just because you don’t understand it. I forgive you, whether or not you forgive me for being me.

I’d also invite you, whoever you are, to look at the comments on my post and see the people whose lives are touched by my approach to ministry before you judge it “inappropriate” and “unbecoming.” That’s just some advice. You know, the Church is in decline, and we keep wondering why. For my money, it’s precisely because nobody wants to be a pastor who gets scapegoated for pastoring the way they pastor.

Anyway, that’s it. I hope you got something out of this. Maybe the personal aspects of this post don’t resonate with you at all, but you’re intrigued by the theological aspects. Or maybe it’s the other way around. I dunno. But if this has anything of value in it, I’d like to hear from you. And again, if you disagree, well, this post is public (as you noted in your letter to the synod). That means you’re free to publicly comment on it. Cool? Cool.







Advent

Advent is upon us once again. As Jesus predicted, even though we could read the signs (or the calendar) and see this thing coming, it sneaked up on us again like a thief in the night.

This has become a season of intense preparation, a season of busy-ness. We’ve got to get ready for Christmas. It’s time to prepare the decorations, finalize our shopping lists for loved ones, fight the crowds at the Black Friday sales (always with the warning that these outstanding deals are urgent and will never be seen again! Well, until next week maybe, when the crap we’re buying goes on sale at Amazon.com or something). We need to dig out the Christmas recipes, plan the parties, attend the parties, experience anxiety about the parties, etc., etc., ad nauseam. Busy, busy, busy! Or as the Grinch complains, “Noise, noise, noise, NOISE!” (Thank you, Grinch. I feel ya, buddy.)

While this has been our reality for several generations stretching back at least as far as the 1830s, Advent hasn’t ALWAYS been a stressful time in the commercial sense. This is a season that began some time around the 4th century, and originally was a time for prayer and fasting. That’s why the traditional color for Advent is purple. (Blue is a much more recent innovation.)

It was a time for fasting, because to fast is to cut out all the non-essentials, to boil things down to what’s most important, and to bring the body, mind, and spirit into sharp focus in preparation. Preparation for what? For the “advent” or “coming” or “presence” of Jesus, the Light of the world, who was showing up “in the fullness of time” (Gal 4:4ff) to shine into and scatter the thick darkness of this world. Think of this both in a literal sense (as Christmas happens after the winter solstice and heralds the lengthening of daylight) and in the figurative sense of chasing away the shadows that lurk in our hearts.

To fast is to sharpen our attention, our awareness, in preparation for the good thing that is to come, even though it probably will be painful and rather frightening. It’s meant to keep us paying attention to what’s important, so that we may endure the trial. Fasting is an excellent tool for that kind of thing.

It’s unrealistic to expect any or all of us to abstain from parties and social gatherings, this year especially. We have sorely missed too many opportunities for fellowship and face-to-face contact, thanks to the global pandemic. But there’s something about fasting that might be beneficial for us still. Maybe a different kind of fast.

What if we were to fast from distractions like … politics? From the incessant cycle of bad news on our TV and computer and telephone screens? Don’t we see enough bad news on our own without someone whose job it is to constantly remind us of how dangerous and divided the world is?

I don’t mean complete abstinence. I’m talking about a FAST. During a fast, one doesn’t abstain entirely from food. We NEED food to live. But we don’t need a diet of constant, mindless snackbowls or bags of junk food in order to live. We eat what we need to eat. The absence of the other food which distracts from nutrition helps us to stay focused.

In a similar way, what if we took in just enough news to be informed WITHOUT all the spin, the empty calories, the all-you-can-eat buffets of accusations about people “the other side of the aisle”?

Maybe THAT kind of fast would actually help us focus on what’s truly important, so that our hearts and minds and spirits might actually be open to the presence of Christ, who is already with us, right in the faces of those we are told to fear and hate? What if we – oh, I don’t know – prayed for those same people instead? It might be a bit like eating Brussels Sprouts for some of us, but think of the health benefits!

This is the spiritual fast I propose for us this year. Keep going to your parties. Do your shopping for your loved ones. But put it in perspective. Don’t be distracted by it. Give up the Fox and the MSNBC. Find a more plain, less fatty and salty source of information, so that we’re not distracted from the TRUE call of this season. It’s worth a shot, isn’t it?

A blessed Advent to all of you.

Church Growth (?)

Friends, In 2012 I was ordained as a pastor in the ELCA. In those four years, we centered on what’s truly central: God’s Good News to the world in Jesus Christ. Did we have discussions on church growth? Sure. But the focus was on “equipping the saints” (whether in New Start Congregations – aka Mission Developments, or in standing congregations – aka Mission Redevelopments) to foster life-giving relationships among one another, but also to serve God by serving the neighbor. That’s pretty much the mission of God, and there’s lots of scriptural backup for that. Read the New Testament for specific examples.

So that’s my training. I’ve done Mission Development Training, Mission Redevelopment Training, followed “Grasshopper Myth” authors, authors who assure us that “Dirt Matters.” I’ve read the Great Permission. I’ve read about emotional systems theory and conflict transformation. I’ve trained in pastoral care. I’ve trained in biblical languages, exegesis, homiletics, systematic theology, dogmatic theology, philosophy, anthropology, atonement theology, creation theology, stewardship, and a whole doggone bunch of things you probably have never really considered.

But when you get to the parish, the main things people tend to be hoping for are comforting those already gathered into the congregation and then getting more people into the congregation so that we can keep on doing what we’ve grown comfortable with. That’s understandable. It’s human. But is it what GOD wants? Maybe. Maybe not.

Here’s what we’re looking at. Without going into TOO much detail, following WWII, we saw people grappling with a second “War to End All Wars” within two generations. People were struggling with the depth of human depravity that would allow an entire nation to exterminate a perceived enemy and to do so in the most cool, calculated, inhumane ways possible. People were facing the aftermath of that war and the growth of “godless communism” in Eastern Europe and the Far East. With a mixture of hope and hopelessness, folks turned to the church. And so the years after the War saw a massive rise in church membership – something that hadn’t really ever existed on such a scale before. And they were taking their children, the so-called Baby Boomers, with them to church.

There were a LOT of Baby Boomers. They tended to grow up in one of two ways: they became extremely suspicious of institutions and raised children to be even MORE suspicious than they were, OR they stayed with the church, developed programs to attract (or bring back) seekers, who knew that suspicion wasn’t the best approach to life, and reminded them of their own childhood religion. Nostalgic comfort. I don’t mean it wasn’t sincere. By no means! But it did have to do with comfort and what was perceived as tradition, even though church membership following WWII was actually a novelty.

Well, ever since the late 1950s, church membership has been in decline. Yes, we have flare ups from time to time, particularly following great tragedies. Presidential assassinations, terrorist attacks, things of that nature. But the general trend in church membership has been on a downward track for decades. That feels threatening.

In the 1980s, we saw the rise of the “religious right.” And we saw many of their hero pastors fall to money and sex scandals. We turned to CEO pastors, who began treating the church like a business with a product to sell. That’s kind of the model we’ve been stuck in for the last 40 years.

We love our congregations. We want them to continue. And in an effort to make sure that happens, we grasp at every trend that comes along. Sunday School indoctrination, VBS, singles programs, widow/widower programs, small group programs, every conceivable program there is. We are literally “anxious” about the downward trend, and we will sell our souls if we have to in order to keep alive this institution we’ve poured so much of ourselves into.

Do our institutions “deserve” to continue? I don’t know. Probably. As a collective body, a congregation has a lot of good it can do in a community, but anxiety gets in our way. The will to survive often stands in the way of the need to thrive. As pastors called into struggling congregations (as if that term weren’t redundant), we feel the anxiety, too. It rubs off on us. And we depend for our own livelihoods on financially sound congregations. Let’s face that reality. And so it’s easy for us to get sucked into conversations and pressures to “grow the church.” Everyone is looking for a magic bullet approach.

The good news is, I’ve got one. If you want to “grow the church” by “attracting young families with children,” all you have to do is look to the non-denominational model. Take out the pews. Put in big screens. Host events on Saturdays, Sundays, and/or Wednesdays that a pastor either pre-records or broadcasts from offsite, and intersperse that pastor’s message with a band that plays electrified guitar praise music. Put in a coffee bar. Maybe add a rock wall and a video arcade in order to attract the kids’ attention. That’s what’s working and that’s the “magic bullet” for growing the church’s numbers. Period.

The less good news, or maybe the question that problematizes the good news: Is that what you want? More importantly, is that what GOD wants? I suspect that anyone reading this blog would say, “Not just no, but HELL no!” And I’m with you. What people WANT is to be catered to. That goes for the ever-elusive young families with children, AND it goes for the saints who already sit in our pews.

Those of us already here have strong ideas about what we want in a pastor, for example: young, married, straight, white men or women, who will sacrifice their families for the sake of the membership. We want pastors who will sacrifice their very selves in order to fit into our preconceived notions of what a pastor ought to be (pedestal dwellers, who don’t cuss, who don’t drink, who don’t sin, moral exemplars for us to follow … and then to demonize when they fail to live up to our unrealistic expectations). They should know when we are sick or sad or hospitalized without our having to inform them of it. They shouldn’t be too pushy or intrude on our private lives. They shouldn’t talk about money, but they need to help us be good financial stewards. They shouldn’t talk about politics, but they should let us rant and rave about our political opinions.

Those of us already here have strong opinions about what our worship should be. Solemn but fun, worshipful but easygoing, traditional but flexibile, at the right time of day that doesn’t interfere with our non-church lives and dinners and football games, filled with inspiring music that isn’t too old-fashioned or too repetitive or too “modern.” There should be options for Communion elements: we should have wafers for those who don’t like the bread and bread for those who don’t like the wafers. There should be a gluten free option for those who have celiac disease, but don’t make all the rest of us who don’t have that condition suffer with a gluten free wafer. There should be grape juice for those of us who struggle with alcohol (which the pastor doesn’t struggle with because he or she doesn’t drink), but wine for those of us who grew up on wine at communion. It should be red wine, sweet but not too sweet, dry but not too dry. We should have the traditional liturgy we grew up with, but not done in a boring, rote, repetitive way.

Visitors should be like us when it comes to worship. They should love our liturgy, our vestments, our liturgical colors, our lectionary cycle, our songs, and while they may have their own preferences, eventually they’ll come to know and love us and will worship exactly as we do (even though not all of us are actually very comfortable with everything in our worship). Oh, but all are welcome!

I could go on, but you get my drift. After this lengthy preamble, I just have this to say: It’s not about us or our wants or our comfort. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him to come and die.” Or as Jesus said many centuries before Bonhoeffer, “Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will find it.” “Take up your cross and follow me.”

We are anxious about losing our life – our congregational life, our comfortable faith life. That anxiety stands directly in the way of our finding our life. Our REAL life. Our BIGGER life. The one GOD wants for us. Not the smaller one we have cultivated and curated for ourselves. If we can lay that anxiety aside, put our trust in Christ … who, after all, is the ONLY one who can “grow the church” … then we will be free to focus on what it is that HE wants us to do. We already know WHO/WHAT he wants us to be: his disciples. Loving one another as he has loved us. Serving him by serving our neighbors. If we do THAT, we will surely attract all kinds of people, including the ever-sought-but-ever-so-scarce families with children.

The rest of this is just preferences. Distraction. Light as a puff of empty air.

Ritual or Sacrament … or Both?

Hey, folks! I’ve been “on the job” at Christ Lutheran in Cape Coral for just a hair over five months now, and I think I’m sufficiently settled in to start writing here again, at least occasionally.

On THIS occasion, let’s reflect on the sacraments. It shouldn’t take long, since we Lutherans only have two of them: Baptism and the Eucharist.

Before diving in, here’s what prompted this reflection. A saint of the congregation I serve listened to me preach this past Sunday, which happened to be the occasion of an adult baptism. (Yaaaaaaay!) The exact context in which I used the word “ritual” escapes me right now, but this person – a friend – was put off by the word. “You referred to Baptism as a ritual. I disagree. Isn’t it a sacrament?”

Now, that’s a really great question. Based on the rest of the conversation, to refer to Baptism and the Eucharist as “rituals” kind of degrades the “sacredness” for him. When I pointed out that the sacraments include ritual elements, he responded, “It is a ritual but Baptism and the Eucharist are special. There are a lot of organizations (even families) that have rituals, but the Lord gave us sacraments.”

Yes! The Lord DID give us sacraments, but here’s the kicker: anthropologically speaking, humans NEED rituals. It’s part of our story-telling nature. The Eucharist is a great example.

John’s Gospel tells us over and over that Jesus knew what humankind was like, and laid it out like this: “The judgment of the world is this: that the light has come into the world, and humans love darkness more than the light, because their deeds were evil.” Jesus was never naive about the way of human beings. At the same time, the REASON he came into the world was “so that the world,” which “God so loved,” “might not be condemned, but might be saved.”

As part of his world-saving plan, using what we ALREADY do, but subverting it from within, he gave us a table ritual. Jesus himself first TAKES the bread, then he GIVES THANKS, then he BREAKS the bread, then he GIVES it away. He does this with the words that we call “the words of institution:” “Take and eat; this is my body. Take and drink, this is my blood. Do this in remembrance of me.”

A command from Jesus, an ordinary element, and a ritual. Of course, it’s MORE than a ritual, but it IS a ritual nonetheless. What happens in the course of this ritual is the remembrance that Jesus, knowing full well about our love for the darkness rather than the light, gives us himself as the sacrifice in the ritual – a sacrifice that substitutes his own body for the bodies of the many people we beat and humiliate and murder and devour on a daily basis, and he says, “Do that to me instead. I’m the one who can withstand your worst, and rather than ramp up the violence as revenge against you, I offer you forgiveness. Eat MY flesh instead of one another’s. Spill MY blood and drink it instead of drinking one another’s blood.” It’s a RITUAL because we need ritual, but the power is shifted from unwilling victims to a willing one. Therein lies the sacrament, or the sacredness, of this particular ritual. “Do this, whenever you do it, in remembrance of me.”

Baptism isn’t that different. It’s also based in murder: murder of the old self, the “worldly” self, the self that loves darkness more than the light. In that water, God meets us again with forgiveness rather than retribution, and this is what gives us new life. We perform this murder and raising from the dead ritually.

If we didn’t NEED ritual, Jesus would have just said, “This is my body and blood. Remember that, and we’ll be good.” If we didn’t NEED ritual, we could just understand that we die with Christ and are raised with him again and we wouldn’t need all of that messy water and anointing oil. Yes, these things are ALSO sacraments, but we can’t discount that they are also rituals, and they are given to us as “a means of grace.”

Philip Melancthon (Luther’s “right hand man”), in Article 13 of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession defined the sacraments as “rites, which have the command of God and to which the promise of grace has been added […].” He went on to clarify that “humanly instituted rites are not sacraments, properly speaking, because human beings do not have the authority to promise grace.”

In the same paragraph, Melancthon explains:

God moves our hearts through the word and the rite at the same time so that they believe and receive faith just as Paul says [in Romans 10:17], ‘So faith comes from what is heard.’ For just as the Word enters through the ear in order to strike the heart, so also the rite enters through the eye in order to move the heart. The word and the rite have the same effect. Augustine put it well when he said that the sacrament is a ‘visible word,’ because the rite is received by the eyes and is, as it were, a picture of the Word, signifying the same thing as the Word. Therefore both have the same effect.

All of this is merely to say that a sacrament contains ritual as a central component. At the same time, not all rituals are sacraments, as our mutual friend points out. While I used the term “ritual” intentionally last Sunday – to make the point of the visible aspect of God’s gift to us – maybe it would have been just as good, if not better, to stick with the term “sacrament” in this case. But I said what I said, and a good thing that has come from it is that it gave us an opportunity to clarify (at least to ourselves) the similarities and differences of those two words, and to be able to articulate to one another where we’re coming from. Did it bring agreement? Not necessarily. But neither did it bring distress or a cause for stumbling. And it brought about conversation, so I’m counting that all as good.




An Announcement

I had almost forgotten to make this announcement, because I was waiting until the folks at First Lutheran and Prince of Peace in Tulsa knew about it. But the letter is out, and the news is even “FBO” (Facebook Official): My family and I are about to become Floridians!

Bokeeelia, Florida

The good people of Christ Lutheran in Cape Coral, FL have extended me a call in their community, and I have accepted! This has been in the works for approximately two months now, and I won’t bore you with the whole story, much of which involved paperwork, telephone conversations, and Zoom meetings. (I won’t complain. The magic of Zoom is that it allows a speedier and much less costly Call process, if it’s conducted well. This one certainly was.)

It also included two trips down to Cape Coral. The first of which took place during the hideous snow storm we had here in Tulsa. When we left for the airport on the way to RSW airport, we faced freezing drizzle. By the time we were meant to return via St. Louis, TUL and OKC and even Dallas were frozen in, and so we were “stuck” in sunny Southwest Florida for several days, tortured repeatedly by beautiful weather, wining and dining by various council members, hospitality in multiple ways by others, and many sightings of Burrowing Owls and other gorgeous birds. It was awful. You would have hated it. Oh, and the seafood? It was fresh and delicious. Just so awful, you guys.

The second trip was similar, weather-wise, but we didn’t get to spend any extra time in Florida. That trip was a bit more business: meeting the rest of the congregation, locating a realtor, doing a little cruising in a borrowed Mini-Cooper and eating more seafood. (Somebody’s got to do it, and I guess we’ll take one for the team.)

In any case, things went well, obviously, and we begin our adventures together beginning on May 1. In the meantime, we’ve had to get home, endure a bit of waiting until the vote became official, informing the people here in Tulsa, starting to straighten up our home in preparation for placing it on the market. Did I mention that all of this is happening in the final weeks of Lent?

It has been crazy busy on both ends of this. The poor people back in Cape Coral have been jumping through all the bureaucratic hoops and ringing the bells in order to get my installation service set up at the same time that they’re planning their own congregation’s 60 year anniversary. It’s an interesting time, and our family is super excited to get down there.

At the same time, it’s hard saying goodbye to the place we’ve called home for the last eight years. We’ve met a lot of really great people here and have formed some friendships that are going to be hard to change by adding distance to the equation. People at church, people in the neighborhood, people at the kids’ school, people around town. It’s a bitter-sweet time, to be sure.

And hard work. Just did a two-day-long garage sale in which we got rid of most of the bulky furniture items that we don’t intend to drag with us, plus lots and lots (and lots!) of accumulated Schtuff from projects that now belong to the past. That, in itself, is hard to let go of.

All of this reminds me of the time when we were finishing seminary and were anxious about our first call. In addition to the school work, we had mobility paperwork to fill out, regional assignments to wait on, and after the regional assignments, synod assignments. Finally came the interviewing process with specific congregations.

During that time, we chose a kind of biblical metaphor to guide us as we waited. While we watched countless classmates getting calls from their bishops, we had to wait on ours. As we watched them getting interviews and first call placements, we had to wait on ours. The most fitting biblical narrative for us seemed to be “Wilderness Wandering.” We had to learn to trust. “Trust the process” was the catch-phrase, but even then I thought that was ridiculous. I did NOT trust the process. But we did trust God.

Eventually we got tired of waiting, watching a new class coming in for Summer Greek classes and then witnessing the fall semester begin. So we chose a new biblical metaphor: “Abram, Go.” We decided to pack up and move to Oklahoma, whether that would be our ultimate destination or not.
We weren’t in OK for more than a couple weeks before we got an interview at First Lutheran, and that’s where we landed. And it turned out pretty well, I dare say.

This move to Florida is out of character for this guy, who was really missing the Midwest, but it was also clear that we couldn’t stay in Tulsa any longer. I think the proper metaphor for this time, considering that we weren’t financially ready for this move and that we had to trust that things will fall into place SOMEhow is simply this: “God Provides.”

We are all grateful for our time in Tulsa. We are also grateful for the opportunity in front of us. It’s an embarrassment of riches, and we are humbled by all of it.

Stay tuned here for more adventures. Who knows what God (as one of our new friends says, “The Spooky Spirit”) has in store for Christ Lutheran and us? We sure don’t know, but we’re confident that God Provides, and we will do our best to serve faithfully among these folks, who have already shown us such love and support. I think it’s gonna be great!

What’s in a Name?

Not long ago, I was chatting with some friends about names, and the topic is back on my mind. It’s really interesting to me to think about names as a label that get attached to a person long before they develop a suitable label. Most likely, that’s why there are naming traditions in families: it’s just easier to call a child after a relative who had that name before. It honors the person a child is named for, and it can also have a hand in shaping the kind of person the child becomes, but you can’t just look at a baby and say, “That one looks like a Brunhilda.” Or a Ralph. Or pretty much anything else. Nope. “We’re naming her after her great-great grandmother on her father’s side.” And there you go. Nothing to do with any innate quality in the child. It’s just kind of random.

And then sometimes there’s a story. My parents named me Robert Paul, but that wasn’t my mom’s first choice. She wanted me to be a John, Jr. My father, on the other hand, hated his name because of its bathroom connotations. Apparently he was famous for responding to people who announced they were going to the John, “Well, I hope you wipe your Mary while you’re in there.” He told my mom that if she insisted on calling me John, Jr., he’d refer to me as Little Toilet.

So they named me after Robert Wilde, my mom’s father, and Paul Martin, my dad’s father. Both of them died before I was born, and neither of them were really talked about much when I was little, so I have zero associations with either of them. Maybe that’s why my name never really felt like it fit. Other people don’t seem to have this issue. Tims and Julies and even Heathers really seem to just kind of go with what names they were given and don’t appear to think twice about it. Must be nice.

I’ve really never associated well with my name. My family always called me Robby, which I pretty much despised. It was so bad that I once tried to sneakily change my name to Rocky. When I met new friends, that’s who I’d tell them I was. Most likely Balboa was in my mind when I came up with that one. Anyway, my mom dashed that almost instantly, and I was back to Robby. But I never was a Bob or a Robert. (Well, I take that back. When I lived in Germany or among Germans, they used to call me Robert – with the German pronunciation – because “Rob” was weird for them.)

Among some of my friends, because they know other Robs, presumably, I’m “RobMartin.” Just one word. For a few others, they occasionally call me “Robert Martin” (pronounced RAW-butt MAH-tin) after the character in Jane Austin’s Emma. (He is not a gentleman, so Emma doesn’t fall for him, but her little sister eventually does. Things end fairly well for him in the novel. Yay, Robert Martin!)

But in any case, names ARE labels that get attached to us, for good or for ill. I always kind of liked how some cultures normalize taking on a new name -maybe a chosen one, maybe one related to one’s character – once they reach a certain age. But even there, I’m not quite sure what mine would be. Complains-a-Lot? Tubby Belly? Facial Hair Guy? Mr. Neurotic? I dunno.

In college, one of my friends told me that Lopaka was the Hawai’ian pronunciation of Robert, so she called me that for a while. It never stuck long-term, but I didn’t mind it. In Irish, the equivalent of Robert is Roibeárd (pronounced Ruh-BARD). Looks cool; sounds weird. In both cases, it stems from Proto-High German and means something like “Bright Fame.” Not sure what that’s supposed to mean. The Hebrew version of that is זֹהַר (Zohar). Pastor Zohar? Maybe. Apparently Boris is a Bulgarian relative of “Bob.” I kind of like Boris actually. Pastor Boris has a certain sinister Hollywood creep film kind of ring to it.

What about you? If your parents hadn’t given you the name you currently have, what would you choose for yourself? Why that? Interesting to think about.



In-person Worship Dry Run

Hi, friends!

Well, today we had our first in-person worship experience since Reformation Sunday. Had about 24 or so in attendance, and that was pretty nice. Had one guest from Ohio who was just passing through, so he didn’t know to bring his own Communion elements. We got him hooked up just fine. And one of our long-timers had left his bread & wine in the car. He’s an older gentleman, and I didn’t want him to have to go to all the work of retrieving it, so I scrubbed up really well and prepared a cup and host for him.

Music sounded good, as far as I could tell. Somehow, Helper Elf Bob managed to get the sound to come out of the speaker AND through the live stream, but please don’t ask me how he did it.

Our door opener’s alarm didn’t go off, so she was just a teeny bit tardy, but there were plenty of people on hand to cover her until she arrived.

I was disappointed in my sermon. It made a LOT of sense in my head, but didn’t come out of my mouth quite the way I had hoped. In my defense, I had been traveling this past week. As a result, my confidence in my ability to coherently put together something meaningful in a short period of time was a bit stronger than it should have been. Lesson learned. Although, to be completely honest, sometimes the best sermons are the ones where I don’t know at all what I’m going to say until I say it. Hmm.

Overall, I’d give the morning a thumbs-up, and look forward to next week for our “hard opening.” There’s no telling whether we’ll get more people for Palm Sunday, but I think we have plenty of room to still meet with reasonable safety. This has felt like a long time coming, and it was really nice to see people in the flesh again.

Not a very inspirational post today, but I just wanted to drop a wee line to keep myself in the habit and to give all of the two of you subscribers a bit of something to go on. 🙂

Building Use Partners

Six years ago, right around this time of year, I put up the sign you see in the image above, “Is your congregation looking for a home? Call 918-582-0917.”

The first call I got that Lent was from Bonnie Childers (now Bonnie Lebak), Lead Pastor for a group that called themselves House Church Tulsa. Pastor Bonnie and I had a great 30-minute conversation on the phone in which we talked about why I was looking to rent out space in our building at that time. I remember saying very specifically that I wasn’t looking for renters. Not at all. But rather, I was looking for ministry partners. Yes, we would remain our own separate entities, but whoever would wind up sharing the building with us would also commit to worshipping with us from time to time, as well as engaging with us on various ministry endeavors.

Also during that conversation, Pastor Bonnie said, “Let me stop this conversation for a minute, because what I’m about to say might be a deal-breaker for you. We are a church made up primarily of lesbians, gay men, and their families. Is that going to be a problem for your congregation?” The first words out of my mouth were, “Of course that’s not a problem! The Holy Spirit LOVES diversity!” But then I had to backtrack a bit and say that I needed to have a conversation with the congregation. We needed to have a conversation anyway, because Oklahoma was legalizing marriage between same-sex couples, and I had to talk to First Lutheran about what that meant for us, for the building, for my own ministry.

Long story short: the conversation went really well, and House Church Tulsa has been SUCH a blessing to us these past six years, and I hope we have been a blessing to them, as well.

Quick side story: The first Sunday that they were meeting, I had invited Pastor Bonnie and her co-pastors to come to the front of our sanctuary for a blessing on their ministry in our midst. Bonnie said, “Do you just want the pastors, or should the whole congregation come up?” We decided to invite everyone from House Church, knowing that some might have trepidations entering into a “traditional” church community, because of past and present wounds that they had received from the words and actions of traditional churches. I think everyone came up, nevertheless.

When it came time to offer the blessing and all those people came forward past the First Lutheran members seated in their pews, I don’t think there was a dry eye in the place. The healing that took place in that moment was like something I had never seen and, to be honest, I haven’t seen since. That, we all knew immediately and deeply, was what the kingdom of God looked like. I’m tearing up, just from the memories.

Anyway, House Church is our longest-enduring building use partnership, but it wasn’t our first. Before then, First Lutheran had housed Comunidad de Esperanza, Tulsa’s first Latino mission-start. When none of the other congregations in town were terribly eager to take on the project of hosting an as-of-yet non-existent worshipping community, the people of First Lutheran were pleased to reach out and lend worship space, an office, and a ministry partnership in what way they could, in spite of a language barrier. Comunidad moved on to a more suitable part of town for their community, but they had blessed us richly while they were here, and we will always have a warm place for Pastor Alvaro Ochoa-Nova and the people he serves.

We also offered space for New Life Church for a time. This was a group of recent inmates on probation and their loved ones, pastored by Chris Stevens, a guy I had met at Panera Bread, I think, during our weekly Community Coffee gatherings. The logistics of that gathering were a bit complicated, not because of the background of the men involved, but simply because finding transportation to the location was very challenging and frustrating. This was a Charismatic community, which meant that they worshipped VERY differently than we did, but the worship they offered was beautiful and life-changing for them. Another blessing for us.

And we also hosted the marvelous Jonathan Martin and a community called The Table, which he had started with Nicole Nordeman and some friends of theirs. It was a praise and worship congregation who numbered more than 250 people on their first night here! It blew us all away. Simply gorgeous worship. They have since moved to Oklahoma City because that was more fitting with their needs, but again, they blessed us richly with their presence while it lasted.

To sum all of that up, First Lutheran Church, in the past seven years or so, has developed a fantastic habit of open-armed welcoming of diverse worshipping communities, and now we get a chance to do it again!

Father Dewayne Messenger and Brother Ray Knapp recently began developing a new mission start in the Ecumenical Catholic tradition, and these folks have chosen the name Todos Los Santos (All Saints) for their community. They are our newest building use partners, and it is going to be such a pleasure to work alongside them! I’ve known Fr. Messenger for several years, having met through the Tulsa Christian Ministerium some time back. He is a thoughtful, generous, reverent leader, and I believe under his leadership, along with Br. Ray’s and that of their council, this community will thrive.

I want to take the time to thank all of you at First Lutheran Church for your patience and for your willingness to embrace the role of host that I have kind of thrust upon you in the past. It’s not always easy to share the things that you’ve long considered your own, including the building where you gather. You’ve poured money, blood, sweat, and tears into building this place since you moved to this current location from downtown back in the 1950s, so it’s understandable that it might sometimes be difficult to share, but you have undertaken the task with incredible grace, and you deserve to be recognized for it. So, again, thank you all.

In that spirit, I know you will welcome Fr. Dewayne, Brother Ray and Todos los Santos with open arms (albeit at an appropriately social distance for now) as we come to know one another.

Blessings to all,

Pr. Rob

Ash Wednesday Approacheth!

Before we know it, Lent will be upon us. Thirteen days from the time I’m posting this, in fact, it will be Ash Wednesday, the first day of the Lenten fast.

Normally, this is the day in which we gather to worship, to begin a season of Metanoia (remember: this is the Greek word for “repentence,” which means “to change your mind,” or even “to enter the larger mind”), and to commit – quite literally – to “humility.” “Humility” shares a root with “humus.” Soil. Earth. Dust. According to Genesis, God shaped us from the “dust,” and when we die, our mortal form returns to “dust.” And on Ash Wednesday, we wear on our foreheads a physical reminder of both that origin in the earth, and the physical return to the earth. But we wear it in the shape of the cross, which reminds us of our shared destiny with Christ, who became one of us, died as one of us, and who also goes before us into the Resurrection. “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (Rom 6:5 RSV).

That’s under normal circumstances. But, this being the first anniversary of the CoViD-19 outbreak, we won’t be able to meet safely for this important ritual.

HOWEVER! Yes, however! We WILL be offering “Drive Through Ashes” in the circular drive on the east side of the church building. I’ll be standing outside from 11:30 – 12:30 with a container of ashes, a pair of rubber gloves, and a ridiculous number of Q-Tips, ready to impose ashes on people’s hands as they drive through. I want to do this in front of the church building, if possible, so that passers-by on Utica can also partake if they’d like. I won’t be going out to do Ashes to Go this year, so this is my compromise.

So here’s the plan. Well, Plan A.
Drive into the parking lot next to the tennis courts on Utica. Go left into the circular drive. Receive your ashes, then head down the hill and take a left onto 13th Street.

“But what if it’s rainy, Pastor?” I hear you cry. That’s why we have a Plan B.
If the weather is funky, pull in the same way, then meet me under the underpass/walkway on the building’s west side, by the glass doors where people usually enter the building from the parking lot. You’ll move from the north to the south onto 13th Street after the imposition of ashes.

I’m going to offer an online worship service at 10 AM that morning, so if you want to watch that on the Facebook page, you’re welcome to, then come get your ashes via drive-through. Is it ideal? No. Is it better than nothing? I hope so! We’re trying here.

Speaking of doing what we can: I’m working right now on brokering a deal for us to receive about 5 of those outdoor patio heaters, so that we can gather for worship in the relative safety of the outdoors, still physically distanced, but at least socially present to one another. It has been a year! A YEAR! since we last gathered, and we all miss each other. This outdoor worship will hopefully be an improvement over online-only worship, at least for some of us. More details will follow, so keep your eyes peeled.

As always, if there are questions, let us know at the office. Cathy is also putting some of this information out in the Weekly in more succinct terms, in case my long-windedness was too confusing.

Here’s to small steps toward meeting again to worship our Lord!