Long time, no see!

Hi, all. Haven’t written in a while. No excuses. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.

Truth is: I haven’t been inspired. In my draft box, I’ve got 3 posts on 3 different topics started, but not completed. Sometimes I make things more complicated than they need to be, and that winds up becoming overwhelming, which leads to feelings of dread and procrastination. Any other anxiety sufferers out there willing to gimme an “Amen?”

But here we are now. I’m still overwhelmed, but am diving in anyway.

A couple of things I wanted to announce:

1. Pub Theology is still going on every Thursday night. I won’t always be there – in fact, most of the time I’ll just be there the first Thursday of each month. But someone should always be there to facilitate. I’m grateful to Pr. Liz Albertson, our synod’s Director for Evangelical Mission, for stepping into the facilitator role when she can. But the rest of the folks there know the drill, so there ought always to be a friendly face at the table over at the White Lion on Thursday nights at 8.

2. Part of the reason I’m scaling back is that I can’t afford to go out every single week anymore. The budget is tight. I can write these off as non-reimbursed business expenses, but that only goes so far.

3. Another reason I’m scaling back is that I’m trying to do other things. I’m going back to my Wednesday morning “Coffee with the Pastor” meetings at Panera. A refillable coffee is a LOT cheaper than Pub Theology, though I find both very gratifying, spiritually.

But on top of this, I’ve been wanting to do some other kinds of ministry aside from just “talk ministry.” While theological work is really important, as is the kind of fellowship that happens in pubs and coffee shops, it primarily “serves” or focuses on people who can afford to pay for that kind of thing. In the meantime, people on the streets are hungry and cold.

So, on the nights when I’m not at the Pub, I plan on heading down to Night Light Tulsa. I’d be thrilled if any or all of you would join me in building relationships with some of the homeless folks in our town. If you can’t make it, please pray for us, send us good vibes or positive thoughts, whatever you can do. The people down there aren’t homeless because homelessness is part of “an active outdoor lifestyle,” but instead because they are in pain – emotional pain, spiritual pain, often physical pain.

Part of my criticism of the church when I stepped away from it years ago is the same criticism I have now – we’re so “heavenly minded, we ain’t no earthly good.” In other words, we’re turned in on ourselves, our preferences, our programs, our member care, our worship, our music. We have been gifted, as I keep saying in my sermons, not for our own good, but for the sake of the world. If we hold on to our gifts as though they were rare treasures instead of as abundant assets to be shared, we’re turning our backs on our call to serve the Lord in our neighbor, and we’re turning our backs on the gospel. This, by the way, is also a criticism that many young people have of the church. A body turned in on itself is useless.

So, this is one of the major mission focus shifts I’m making in my own life. It sure would be good if you guys would join me.

More to come. This is good for now.

Peace!

Pr. Rob

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Article for your consideration

Here’s a link to a blog entry called “Why I Still Call Myself a Christian,” which I wanted to share with you all – not because it’s a good article (it is), but in particular because of some of the comments that show up in the comment feed of the guy whose Facebook page I took this from. In light of our recent conversations about doing things differently for the sake of proclaiming the gospel (Jesus) to people outside of our currently gathered community, these things are important for us to hear. I’m just going to list them here for your collective reflection.

“I couldn’t agree more with Caleb on this. I long ago stopped understanding my Christianity as having anything to do with my adhering to a particular set of beliefs, or in my rejecting of others. I’ve also long ago had to mentally cut ties to many portions of the monolith of Christendom, while maintaining a devotion to, and fascination with, the person of Jesus. I am a Christian, not because I dent a pew, add mass to an offering bag, giddily agree to certain rules, or accept everything a particular denomination tells me is orthodox. I am a Christian because I follow the person of Jesus. Period.” (JT)

Really good and true of where I find myself too. Non of the frills and thrills do it for me anymore it’s Jesus only.” (HG)

“Yes! I bet if I did a survey of my friends 99% of them would define a Christian as one who goes to church and follows the rules. There would be little to no mention of following Jesus.” (LM)

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Why I’m being Open about my Depression

Last Sunday we were meant to hold a town hall meeting about nailing down our core values, which we would then translate into guiding principles and a purpose statement in order to focus our mission and ministries for the next couple of years. In preparation for this, I had been thinking it through for a month or so, but had been too busy with other responsibilities (and maybe some irresponsibilities?) to do the actual piecing together of the program for the town hall until the very last minute.

My plan had been to finish the sermon on the Friday preceding, then to spend the afternoon hammering out details for presentation. By the time I was done writing the sermon, though, I was spent. I mean, wiped. Utterly kaputt.

Then on Saturday, there were family obligations, so that didn’t work out well, either, during the day. At midnight, I woke up with an anxiety dream – it had to do with criticism about how I preside over the Eucharist. Weird dream, I know. But I think the specifics aren’t as important as the fact that I was dealing with anxiety, and that kept me from sleeping.

A friend of mine from back home noticed that I was online at 12:30 a.m., and we were doing kind of a counseling session related to his PTSD. Finished that up after about 30 minutes or so, and I remained restless. By 2:15 I had decided that I’d better go in and finish off the presentation, figuring it would probably take me all night, anyway. I was right.

I worked from 2:30 until about 7:30, and I felt pretty good about the presentation. Tired, but pretty good. We had worship service at 9:30; I reminded people to come to the town hall; and suddenly I realized that, of the 60+ people that had been in worship, only about 20 had stayed for the meeting. I also noticed a couple of pretty important faces who weren’t present. And I shut down. I told people, “Thanks for coming, but we don’t have critical mass for this meeting. You’re free to go home.” Bam. Then I kind of retreated into my shell.

Fast forward to Monday.

I was with fellow rostered leaders at the synod’s Fall Theological Conference, and I had absolutely zero desire to be there. No interest in engaging or playing any of the ice-breaking games, or even sitting with other people at dinner. Just wanted to sit in my cave of misery and sulk.

Dinner time came, and I went to a table by myself. One of my colleagues, whom I knew from seminary, came and sat next to me. He’s an EXTREME extrovert, which was really the last thing I felt like dealing with at the moment, but he sat down next to me and said, “I need to say this to you in love,” and then he began to tell me about his dad.

His dad was also a pastor. Many years before, his dad was sitting in a church council meeting and was feeling low. In the middle of the meeting, he started packing up his stuff and said to the council, “We’re done here today.” Everyone was kind of baffled, but he just said, “That’s it. You can go home now.” He had just shut down.

Long story short: My colleague’s dad was suffering from acute Depression. It was affecting his ministry, his relationships at church, his life at home. His family asked him to get some help. Soon he was placed on medication, and his life and ministry became manageable once again.

When my colleague told me that story about his dad, I said to him, “Dude. I just did that same thing to a room full of people on Sunday” and told him the story about The Town Hall Meeting That Wasn’t. He pushed me to call for help that very same day, and I did. Thanks to his intervention, I’ve met with my primary care physician and am on medication, which we’ll be monitoring for the next several months. I’m also working on setting up an appointment with a psychotherapist here in town for next week or the one after that.2014-01-18 16.25.14

I’ve been in psychotherapy on and off for a number of years. It became the air I breathe in some ways. Working with my therapist it came out that I have PTSD stemming from a number of rather dramatic losses of close family members when I was a child. This somatized for me when I was about 7 and I developed an irregular heartbeat. That physical part seems to have worked itself out, but PTSD doesn’t just go away. All of this may also play into my diagnosis with dysthimic disorder (formerly known as melancholy – there’s a reason I like Kierkegaard and Tom Waits, after all!).

Why am I telling you about all of this? First, I’ve had several people contact me privately to let me know they’re praying and sending positive thoughts. I appreciate that. Some have shared that they  have experienced similar things. I really appreciate that sharing. Everybody was working to be respectful of my privacy, and I’m also grateful for that.

But that leads to the other reason I’m sharing: We are the church. There is a tendency in the church for people to hide their problems, as though the low spots in our lives were either some sort of punishment for sinful behavior, or probably more commonly, a sign of faulty faith – something to be ashamed of. Mental illness, though, is a disease and no more shameful than type 1 diabetes or high cholesterol or breast cancer. It’s just a thing that happens, and there’s no use pretending it doesn’t. We need to talk about this stuff if we are really to be a Christian community whose members bear one another’s burdens.

I want to be as forthcoming and transparent with all of you about this as I can be, in hopes that we might be able to share our burdens together, to be together authentically, and not have our real lives hidden behind a veneer of “I’m just fine, thanks.” I guess I hope that if I model that kind of transparency with all of you, the taboos might fall and we can be vulnerable together. (For the record, my medication has some potential side effects that I might not be comfortable sharing and that you might rather not have me share. I’m cool with that. There has to be some mystery, right?)

Anyway, I hope this can pave the way for helpful conversations. As I keep saying, if we have things that we can’t talk about it, those things won’t likely be transformed. Transformation is at the center of our whole gospel narrative. God turns sorrow to joy, weeping to gladness, death into life. Let’s talk.

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EDIT: The other thing is, I need to be healthy in order to be there for other people. If I’m a hot mess, I can’t do anybody much good. So suddenly all kinds of health are becoming a priority for me, so that I might do what I’m called to do. If you’re reading this and feel guilty about “pulling Eeyore’s tail” as one person once put it – drop that guilt like a hot potato. I’m working on health for me AND for you. We understand each other here? I hope so!

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Missional Identity, Congregational Purpose, & Core Values Town Hall Meeting

Theme: Missional Identity, Congregational Purpose, & Core Values

Goals: 1 – To draft a workable purpose statement for FELC
2 – To name and begin to prioritize a set of core values for FELC in light of our                             Missional Identity, for a team to translate into 5 – 7 Guiding Principles, which                         in turn will help us focus our mission/ministry strategies for the next 1 – 3                               years.

Tools: Prayer; Scripture; Critical thought & discussion

Preamble: Here is a quick breakdown on that term, “Missional Identity.” “Missional” refers to the Missio Dei, God’s mission: to bring healing, forgiveness, reconciliation, restoration – in short, “Shalom,” or “Wholeness” to the world. 20150920_073316

God’s missional strategy is primarily Jesus, whom God sent into the world, and also the Church that Jesus commissioned, of which he is the head, who refer to him as “Lord.”

Basically, everything we do as the Church is grounded in our identity as participants in God’s reconciling mission in and through Jesus. All of this answers the question: “Who are we?”

The next question is: “Well, what DO we do?” The answer is: “Whatever God is calling us to do.”

This is a very subjective answer that depends on a number of things that we need to discern. Discernment is a process that involves Prayer, Scripture Study, and Involvement/Engagement with and in our Context. We determine who our neighbors are and what needs they have that we can work on alongside of them; and we determine what gifts and assets we have to help us do that accompaniment. This is our Common Purpose.

So, we’re not asking, “What cool stuff can we do,” so much as we’re looking around and paying attention to what God is already up to. How is God already at work and leading us – right here in our own context – to jump in and participate in God’s mission?

Purpose Statement

Working with material adapted from Pastor Dave Daubert’s book Living Lutheran, we take a look at Acts 14:8-18. Read that and pray with me.

Lord of humanity, you have formed us in your image and called us to be your people so that your dreams could be our dreams, as well. Help us to see your purpose for our lives and give us a common sense of purpose as your church in this place. We ask you now to guide us in our work – What is it that we are to be MOST concerned with, and how may we participate in completing your dream?

Who are the actors in this story?
Who is the church?
What would you say is their Missional Identity? (How do they answer the “who are we” question?)
Describe their context in this story. How do they engage that context?
What were the gifts/assets they brought to that community and (how) did those gifts intersect with the community’s needs?
What were Paul and Barnabas willing to commit to in order to be faithful to their purpose?
If you were to write a purpose statment for the Church of Sts. Paul and Barnabas, what would you write? “God’s purpose for Sts. Paul and Barnabas is _____” (12 words or fewer).

We’ve already established that the Church is:
Commissioned by Jesus and
called and gifted by his Spirit
to participate in God’s Shalom mission in and for the sake of the world.

This means that we are called out beyond ourselves and service primarily to our own membership. Our Shared Vision of what it means and looks like to embody that work in our context MUST then be reflected in our Core Values. AND we must be committed to those values.

Core Values:
These are the values that drive all of a congregation’s thinking, action, and planning.

Core values fall more or less into two categories: 1) Desired or Preferred values; and 2) Actual values.

Preferred values, a lot of times, are those idealized things we’d like to be able to say about ourselves, or that we think we OUGHT to say about ourselves. That’s well and good, and we’ll talk more about that in a minute, but you can tell they’re not “real” or “actual,” because they’re the things that people don’t actually invest in (in terms of time, talents, treasures). As such, you’ll see a disconnect between what we SAY we value (preferred values) and what we ACTUALLY do invest in. The BEHAVIOR of pastors, staff, lay people don’t line up with what we claim to value.

Actual values are often unwritten and unstated. We know them if we care to observe our behavior and patterns of behavior in recent history. These values are deeply ingrained and tend to focus where we do spend our time, money, and talents, even if they have little or nothing to do with our missional identity, our purpose as a congregation, or our vision for aligning all of those things.

That’s kind of the Bad News about Core Values.
BUT, the good news is that we are Christians and we therefore believe in the possibility of TRANSFORMATION! With intentionality and commitment, with a healthy dose of behavior modification and cognitive restructuring, we can work to align our practices with what we SAY we ought to be practicing!

Let’s read Acts 4:32-5:11

Pray with me: God of new life, even though we often hear your call on our lives, we find it difficult to commit fully. We hear voices call us in many directions. We lean on and trust in your mercy and forgiveness when we fall short and follow voices other than your own. Speak to us now, we pray. In which parts of our lives do we most fall short? Where do we waiver in our commitment to you as disciples?

What core values do you see at work in the church as described in this section of Acts?
Do you see conflict or disconnect between behavior and values? Describe what you see.

I have to put in this caveat: This story bothers me a lot. I know it’s in the Bible, but look at all the room for abuse here.

I think it’s appropriate to look at two possible ways of reading this story: One is to follow the “plain reading” of the text that accuses Ananais and Sapphira of “holding out on Jesus.” That reading almost invites us to celebrate their demise.

But we can also read this in a way that stands up for Ananais and Sapphira. The text doesn’t really tell us that the values of unity of heart and soul among believers, the holding of all things in common possession, strong financial stewardship are SPOKEN and articulated core values. Maybe they’re ASSUMED, and maybe this couple missed the memo. It’s helpful maybe to examine those values – to ask whether this is just something that people do (we’ve always done this since Pentecost), what it is about those values that’s actually to be valued for the community in light of their missional identity. What presuppositions might there be behind the values we’ve just named? Are they just or unjust? (I’m not making a judgment one way or the other – just posing the idea that it’s GOOD to question WHY we value what we value.)

FELC’s stated Core Values

Based on our work with Kairos (the Congregational Assessment Tool and the subsequent work with David Misenheimer) and with the Comprehensive Ministry Review Team, here’s what we have said we value:

Worship

Christ-centered theology (of grace and love)

Christian education for all ages

Service to/care for our community and our neighbors

Fellowship among our members

Inclusivity of all people

Lutheran Tradition

Survival

What do you make of this list? Are these Preferred values or Actual values?
What is it about each of these items that we value?
In what way(s) are we (or are we not) investing in them with our time, talents, treasures?
What here are we willing to COMMIT to?
Are there things on this list that maybe shouldn’t be there?
Are there other things that we’re missing from this list?
Think about these questions in light of our Missional Identity (who we are as claimed, gathered, and sent disciples of Jesus), in light of our Common Purpose, and in light of our Shared Vision as a congregation in this particular context with our particular set of gifts/assets.

Homework

Now, given all the work we’ve done today, lets take the time we have left and craft a Purpose statment for FELC.
“God’s purpose for First Evangelical Lutheran Church (in 12 words or fewer) is:” (Go!)

Now, let’s do some work on core values.
“The Core Values we’d like to claim for FELC are:”
Here, everybody create a list of 6-10 things AND PRIORITIZE them for YOURSELF.
What are you willing to commit to in order to make sure these things remain a priority?
(If you’re not willing to commit, there’s a question about whether it’s a value.)

I’ll take the list of items over the next 2 weeks and compile them. I’ll try to group them together by commonalities, then take them to the CORE Council. We (and anybody else who’s willing to work on this) will then craft those top 5 – 7 core values into a set of Guiding Principles, which we’ll bring back to you for discussion, approval, amendment, etc.

The goal here is to have the Guiding Principles and a functioning, faithful purpose statment in place in time for the Annual Meeting in November. This will replace our now long-outdated mission statement, and it will guide the course for what work we will be doing as a congregation over the next couple of years. We’ll also be putting together strategies for making that happen.

Thanks to you all!

Grace and Peace,

Pr. Rob

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On Sacred Harp Singing and the Call to Follow Jesus

In mid-June 2002, I first met this guy:


timincloveraboutpage

That’s Tim Eriksen. I had never heard of him before that, but my museum was in the middle of putting on its first annual Folk Festival, and Tim was there for that event. I remember the first time I saw him, he was dressed like this, more or less, sans fiddle. Just a tall, dark, intimidating guy dressed entirely in black with multiple bits of jewelry hanging from various appendages. I thought, “Who the hell IS this guy?!” It seemed he might have been a bit sinister. A few hours later, I heard him sing, and I thought, “Who the hell IS this guy!?” It seemed he might have been an angel.

Well, Tim played a little fiddle and a little banjo at that folk festival. He sang a few tunes – some traditional, some original, and I was hooked. “What a cool guy!”

sacred_harp   He came back the following summer, and that’s when I first heard about the Sacred Harp.Tim was leading a workshop, teaching us museumy folk about the origins of the Sacred Harp hymnal, and the solfage used therein. (You’ll have to check out this or this website for technical details.) He explained about the lining-out style of singing popular in the New England colonies, to which shaped note notation was a direct backlash.

We learned that the squares were called La.fasola
The circles were called Sol.
The Flags were called Fa.
And the diamonds were called Mi.
(No purple horsehoes or red baloons, Lucky Charms, fans. Sorry.)

Anyway, Tim taught us about how this kind of music was used to teach music to people who didn’t know how to read music – how a whole singing school tradition had developed from this type of hymnal. Remember Ichabod Crane? Yeah, he was a singing school teacher.

So, we did some practicing of these tunes, singing “on the notes.” That means, instead of singing the words, the singers sing the names of the notes. “Fa fa mi la sol fa sol la, la la la sol fa fa la sol…” Etc. After you sing that through once, you move to the words.

I didn’t need the words. Just the sound of people singing in harmony had me hooked.

This isn’t like a regular choir, where people are arranged by voice in rows in order to sing to an audience: we are arranged by voice into sections that face one another over a “hollow square.”
Basses (who sing the bottom line) are seated across from the
Trebles (who sing the top line);
Tenors (who sing the second line from the bottom) sit facing the
Counter-tenors (who sing the second line from the top).

Tenors carry the main melody, although the tunes are mostly written so that each line is a melody in and of itself.

And in the center, there’s that hollow square, where a leader will stand, set the pitch, and keep the time as we sing.

Again, there’s no audience. We sing to one another and for one another. In time, I came to see that we also sing to and for God, but that took me a while to get there.

The harmonies had me hooked, as I say. Each part sang their starting pitch, and the chord that emerged knocked me on.the.floor. It’s like no other sound that you’ve heard – or unlike any I had heard up until that day.

And then came the words. I was still many years separated from the church in June of 2003, and singing songs about Jesus was definitely NOT on the top of my list of Fun Stuff to Do. But somehow… somehow singing with Tim, singing in a way that felt like walking ancient paths … that made it “safe” for me. After a few months (and a wedding in which I felt the hand of God moving), I began to sing boldly.

Shape note music, especially the Sacred Harp and the Missiouri Harmony, were critical stages for welcoming me back to the Church, back to a faith I had long neglected and hadn’t really been interested in rekindling.

Why should YOU come to the Sacred Harp sing on Sept. 26? Will YOU also feel a spark like that? I don’t know. There are no guarantees that my experience will be yours. But if nothing else, come for the singing. Come for the SOUND. Come for the harmony. Come.

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Another cross-over post

Background:
As part of my continuing education, I’m currently taking a class online. Our group is studying St. Paul’s epistle to the Galatians. It has been a paradigm-exploding class already, and we’re only one month in. One down, five to go.

The texts our instructor chose for us include J. Louis Martyn’s commentary on Galatians from the Anchor Yale Bible series; Henri Nouwen’s The Wounded Healer; and Zondervan’s Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals.

Here’s my cross-over post.

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For my class on Galatians, we’re also reading Henri Nouwen’s “The Wounded Healer.” I’ve tried on multiple occasions to read Nouwen, and kept coming up flat. It turned out that I liked the *concept* of Nouwen, but couldn’t really connect with his works. But it’s been my experience that sometimes things kind of need to come to me in the right season. What didn’t make sense to me last year, might hit me like a 2×4 this year.

So, I’m reading Nouwen this morning, and he’s talking about the struggle for older people (or people with what he calls a “prenuclear” worldview) to understand the mindset of the current generation. (Kids these days, eh?) What they/we can’t understand is that, while prenuclear people saw themselves in the midst of a grand narrative that has a past, a present, and a future (which opens up the possibility to despair for the future), the “nuclear” person is historically dislocated. Since we have the technological potential to wipe out all current life on this planet, end even effectivily eliminate the possiblity for all future life, there is no real sense of future to dispair of. No responsibility for that future. Ennui.

This is part of the issue the traditional church faces. I’ve heard several people in the congregation say, “I don’t understand why this isn’t important for the young people.”

To that, Nouwen responds: “When we wonder why the language of traditional Christianity has lost its liberating power for nuclear man, we have to realize that most Christian preaching is still based on the presupposition that man see himself as meaningfully integrated with a history in which God came to us in the past, is living under us in the present, and will come to liberate us in the future. But when man’s historical consciousness is broken, the whole Christian message seems like a lecture about the great pioneers to a boy on an acid trip.”

OK, Henri. I think you’ve caught my attention this time.

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violence and idolatry

When I first thought about blogging, I thought that it would be a place where I could sort of think out loud (virtually), and secondarily it would be a place where congregational newsletter items would find a home. It has turned out that Facebook has fulfilled that primary function, and that’s OK. But I DO want this blog space to be a place where I can connect with people who don’t do Facebook, but also who arent’ exactly the instagram crowd, either.

With that in mind, here’s my first cross-over post. I put this on my personal FB page this morning.
____________

A few years ago, Dubuque’s Imam (whose name I regrettably no longer recall) invited Sheikh Jawdat Said to come to town and speak. Someone at the seminary invited him further to talk to our learning community. Sheikh Said is a noted Syrian peace preacher. Most of his works are untranslated, so I’ve not read anything he’s written, but working through his interpreter that evening in Dubuque, he instructed us on the idolatry of those whose security comes in the form of violence. He said these people are worshipping the guns and missiles and bombs as gods in order to get their way instead of relying on God for their security. Very much in line with Luther’s definition of a god as that upon which you place your trust for life, security, and all the good things in life (very rough paraphrase). That came to mind as I read my morning devotional out of “Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals.”

From Psalm 16 (vv 1-4)

Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you;
     I have said to the LORD, “You are my Lord,
     my good above all other.

All my delight is upon the godly that are in the land:
     upon those who are noble among the people.

But those who run after other gods
     shall have their troubles multiplied.

Their libations of blood I will not offer:
     nor take the names of their gods upon my lips.

For all those who rely upon violence for their security, for those who use weapons of violence and destruction to secure political ends, we pray.

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