<This went out today.  I’ve made no secret that I have no love for guns. That conviction is ever-growing.  Christians need to consider that perhaps, *perhaps,* faith in Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, might call our desire to own hand guns and assault rifles into question…>

Beloved,

imagesAnother act of domestic terrorism has filled the news, filled our heads, and at this writing, hundreds of people who were enjoying life just hours ago are now filling the hospitals and, tragically, over 50 are already confirmed dead.

Our addiction to violence is a disease, and it is a sin.

I refused to tune into the news channels this morning, fearing that the children that live in my house might see the world they’re inheriting.  They’re too young not to know how to be brave in the face of such madness.  Sometimes I wonder if I’m too young.

St. Peter, in one of the moments when he spoke out of love and not fear, responded to Jesus in a time of perplexity, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of abundant life.” (John 6:68)

We don’t go to guns.  We don’t go to violence.  We don’t go to partisan bickering which all just becomes a distraction.  The war of words rages while people die.  Trite moralisms and vapid optimism will not do any of us any good today.  And, when we go to Jesus, he doesn’t offer that.  He offers true solace, he offers us the chance to confess, to forgive, to breathe, to mourn, and to re-center ourselves in peace rather than fear.

But, we must remember that, if we go to Jesus, if we seek refuge under those wings, Jesus will send us back out, too.  It is not enough to pray for the victims of mass shootings, we must pray with our shoes on, prepared to work for justice and an end to this kind of violence, as Jesus calls us to in our baptism.

Walter Brueggemann, a prophet in our own time, has a book of prayers (Prayers for a Privileged People [Abingdon Press: Nashville, 2008]) that I find myself thumbing through when these mass shootings happen.

And, let me be honest: I have looked at it too much in my almost 10 years of ministry.

His prayer/poem “God’s Gift in the Midst of Violence” is one I offer to you here today.  But pray it with your shoes on.

Peace today.

P.S. One immediate thing that you can do is donate blood at your local Red Cross.  Click that link to find where your nearest donation center is. Blood donations will be needed!

 

God’s Gift in the Midst of Violence

The world trembles out of control.

The violence builds,

                Some by terrorism,

                Some by state greed,

                                Dressed up as policy,

                                Violence on every side.

You, in the midst of the out-of-control violence.

                We confess you as steadfast, loyal, reliable,

                But we wonder if you yourself are engaged

                                In brutality

                We confess you to be governor and ruler,

                But we wonder if you manage.

We in the midst of out-of-control violence,

                We in great faith

                We in deep vocational call

                We in our several anxieties.

We—alongside you—in the trembling.

This day we pray for freedom to move

                Beyond fear to caring,

                Beyond self to neighbor,

                Beyond protection to growth.

That we may be a sign of steadfastness,

                That anxiety may not win the day.

You are the one who said, “Do not be anxious.”

And now we submit to you.

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About That Knee…

Posted: September 26, 2017 in Current Events
Tags: , ,

football-player-kneeling-with-helmet-off“Take a knee,” he said.  We all knelt as he explained the next play.

I didn’t play football for long.  Let’s be honest: it wasn’t my calling in life.  Team sports leave me largely exhausted, and team players find me largely exhausting.

But for the short time I did play, we took a knee every time we had to hash through something.

“Take a knee,” she said as I grew really tired standing next to my wife during the birth of our second son.  Neither birth was long, mind you, but I had been standing up and needed to hold the hand…but also needed not to be on my feet the whole time.  I was going to give out, too.  So I knelt.

I took a knee by the bedside as we waited for something new to be birthed.

“I invite you down on your knees,” he said as I took my ordination vows.  Hands were laid on me and people spoke words over me, and I responded back, about how we’d try to care for God’s people and the world.

The position of humility, but also of power, of one assuming the mantle.

Their knees all bumped up against the counter as they sat there, still.  They couldn’t order anything, and they were harassed right out of their seats, and yet there they sat, knee to knee, protesting their right to exist at the same counter as their white counterparts.

It was another position of humble power.

We take a knee to hash things out, to encourage new things to be born, to take vows, and yes, to sit in and protest when things aren’t going well.

Are things going well?  Maybe it depends on who you ask.

But if my brother and sister are in trouble, it stands to reason that I’m in trouble…or will be soon…so maybe we do need to take a knee to hash it out.

And, from a Christian perspective, look…standing up for a flag, saluting, even putting your hand over your heart, the early church would absolutely be shocked that Christians ever do such a thing. 

For the early church the choice was clear: you were either part of the empire, or you followed the God seen through Christ.

For that early church, you could not do both.  Any allegiance to anything other than Christ was allegiance misplaced.

And that was true until the church and politics got married…certainly the definition of a “marriage of convenience.”

Convenient for whom, though? Are they still married? Can we pledge allegiance to both today?

Maybe we should take a knee and discuss it.  It’s worth discussing.

Now, please don’t get me wrong…I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t stand for the national anthem or salute the flag or place your hand over your heart.  I fully believe you’re welcome to wrestle with whatever you do or refrain from…whatever it is you decide to do.

Women and men died for the flag; yes.  That can’t be denied, and should be honored and respected.  Why did they die?  How did they die?  For what did they die?  That’s all part of this discussion, you know…not just that they died.

There is a larger conversation that is trying to happen here, some things that are trying to be birthed, some ways we need to figure out if we’re keeping our vows to one another as a country, some people who are protesting the fact that they feel left out of the promises our flag stands for.

So perhaps we should take a knee and discuss it all.  It’s worth discussing.

loneliness_coverMy post on how your pastor is not your friend has called forth lots of emotions from people.

Some have rightly identified that loneliness is a problem for pastors, and they’re not wrong about that.  I don’t think anyone entering the ministry with eyes wide open will dispute the fact that the call to ministry is, in some ways, a call to embrace a certain amount of loneliness.

By this I don’t mean that depression is to go untreated.  This is a real problem for many service professions, pastors included.  We must take actions to counteract this terrible reality.

And by this I don’t mean that pastors should not have friends or cannot have friends, just that deep, personal friendships should rarely (if ever) be cultivated within the congregation.

I think the solution to combating loneliness within this particular profession is two-fold:

1. Pastors need to find ways to cultivate healthy relationships outside of the parish.

This is difficult to do.  Let’s be honest, many people see the church and the church community as part of their service work in the world.  Choir practice, helping at service opportunities, even sitting on the church board or on the evangelism team are opportunities for them to give to something that is not work or family related.

Pastors are usually not free with their time or energy to invest in something else.  Their focus is on making this particular thing work, and it usually requires the church to be not only their job but also their hobby/service to the world.

It is tough.  If we make it impossible for our pastor to find outside friendships because we expect them to be at everything, especially things happening on Saturdays when the rest of the professional world is largely “off,” then we’re setting them up for burn out and churn out.

Pastors have to have space and time to cultivate relationships outside of the parish.  The parish is not enough for them…will not be enough for them.

2. With all of the above being said, pastors also have to be honest about their role in the lives of people: they are the container of both promise and problem, the dead-end for words that can’t be spoken in other places and to other people, the scapegoat for troubled people’s troubles and the savior for other people desperately seeking something to save them in the world (and this last one is, of course, not a good thing…but it is a reality nonetheless).

In short: the way the pastor is seen in the profession, used in the profession, and abused in the profession will, naturally, lead to a certain amount of loneliness…and unless this is somehow embraced by them it will gnaw at the pastor and eat them up.

And we need not embrace it like a cross to bear, or as something that sets us apart or special or as an object of pity.  Please…as if anyone should seek pity.  And let me be clear: we need not embrace abuse.  Guard your heart and your mind and, yes, your relationships against the wayward person who sees you as the convenient dumping ground for all of their own insecurities and psycho-social issues.

That’s not what I mean.

What I mean is that it should be embraced kind of like your ordination vows, even the difficult ones, are embraced.  In fact, one of the vows we take in the Lutheran Church is not to give illusory hope to others.  Perhaps we, ourselves, need to take that to heart, too.

Illusory hope in this work would be to expect that this profession will provide you with friends.  Your friendship needs will not be met here, even if you seek it out…it will disappoint you.

Embrace it like you embrace the shadow part of your life: you swing punches at it even though you know it’ll always be there.

Wide-eyed, without apology, let us say that a certain amount of loneliness is just a part of this whole gig.

A pastor must do what they must to make sure that it doesn’t take more of a share than it’s supposed to.

handsThere has been quite a bit of chatter about my last blog post, so I thought I’d write a follow-up, an addendum, to clarify a bit of what I’m *not* saying.

I’m not saying that pastors are somehow “above” friendship.

I’m not saying that pastors don’t need friends.

And I’m not saying that pastors should be aloof or unfriendly.

In therapy circles we talk about the many different harbors we have in life, places where we take shelter.

What harbors do you have?  Here are some I’ve identified:

We have the harbor of our family of origin, those who raised us and (often) love us with an unconditional type of love.

We have the harbor of our close friends, a family of choice if you will, who provide the kind of filial love that we need to be fully actualized humans.

Some of us have the harbor of partners or spouses, a harbor that checks many different boxes on the needs chart.

We have the harbor of our closest friends, those intimate friendships where bonds are tighter than most any wind that can come along…most any wind.

And then we have the harbor of community, a place to belong and be loved in a communal way.

Now, just about every human needs almost all of these harbors to be fully actualized.  There are exceptions, of course.  Not everyone is called to be partnered/married.  And not everyone needs the harbor of a community past their family.  But, by and large, I think most humans need these particular harbors to be fully human.

Pastors included, of course.

But, depending on the issue that comes up in life, I would claim that not all of these harbors are *safe* harbors.  If you’re having trouble in your marriage, you shouldn’t go to your parents.  It’s not a safe harbor.  They are not unbiased.  You may receive the kind of love and comfort you desire, but it may not be the kind of love that will lead you to a resolution or an objective viewpoint.

When a pastor is looking for a safe harbor, a person to confide in, I would readily claim that a parishioner is not the port of call.  And can never be.

Categorically, can never be.  The relationship won’t work that way.

And this is what I mean when I say that your pastor is not your friend, at least not in the conventional sense of what deep friendship means: they can never confide in you.  Your relationship doesn’t provide them with a safe harbor.  There is always some distance necessary.

Most of the push back (most, not all) on my article has come from people in congregations who certainly feel their pastor is their friend.  In many ways, yes, they are right…in many senses of the word friend, they might in fact be “friendly.”

But if you cornered your pastor about whether or not they could confide in you, if you asked them clearly about the nature of your relationship, I would bet that they would be honest and admit that you’re not a safe harbor.

Because if you want your pastor to be a safe harbor, it can’t be any other way.

And look, I have lots of examples where this has messed people up, messed churches up, messed pastors up. I’ve encountered many people quite cold to their current pastor because they felt so close, so “friends” with the predecessor, even a sense of loyalty if you will, that it causes trouble, it causes deep confusion, some real hurt, and plenty of pain on all sides.

It is not a safe harbor in the end.

This doesn’t mean that you don’t have deep conversations, honest conversations, deep affection, and real love between pastors and parishioners.  That is all absolutely there.

But if the pastor is getting their friendship needs met by parishioners, they do so at the peril of the office, and the peril of that person continuing in the congregation after they leave the office.

In fact, I wonder what leads more pastors to depression: pastors realizing they can’t seek a safe harbor in their parishioners, or pastors who seek parishioners as safe harbors but then realize it didn’t work; it wasn’t safe?

Pastors need friends.  They need safe harbors.  And congregants need pastors who know that they cannot be it.

 

*Disclaimer.*

dog collarI’m not wanting to be rude or put anyone off by this statement.  And this doesn’t come out of any recent personal issue or encounter.  And this is certainly not some sort of passive-aggressive way to get a point across to someone I’m reluctant to talk to in person.  That would just be bad behavior.

But this is a consistent point of confusion for many, and so I think it deserves a little blog article, and discussion if you wish.

*End Disclaimer*

Your pastor is not your friend.

It’s hard, because they feel like they are.

And this is not a hard and fast rule, by the way.  Some pastors do make a friend in the congregation, someone they can absolutely be themselves with.

But that needs to be rare.  It may not always be rare…and then things get fuzzy…but I believe it *needs* to be rare, for you and for them.

Because here’s the truth: you’re one day going to have to tell them something that you can’t tell a friend.  Something about yourself, a deep truth, that maybe only your best friend might know, but they’re not going to give you what you need about the topic because they’re too enmeshed in your friendship.

In that case you need a pastor.  You need some abstraction.  You need someone close enough to you to care, someone with some sort of authority, but also someone far enough away from you that they’re not going to hold it as the primary thing they know about you.

Pastors are trained in the art of not hearing what we hear.

People sometimes worry that a pastor’s view of them will be tainted by something they learn or know, but I assure you, we learn and know so much about everyone that we’ve come to the conclusion that everyone is just as messed up as everyone else, ourselves included, so no one is any different.  The CEO of the huge corporation with boats and houses is just as dissatisfied as the person living paycheck to paycheck, they’re just unhinged at a different point in their personhood…

By and large you need your pastor to be a pastor, not a friend, and your pastor is not your friend if they’re doing it well.

Plus, your pastor can never confide in you the way one confides in a friend.

They can’t.

I sit stone-faced in situations where people talk about one another.  My opinion in that situation may not be neutral, but it has to appear to be, because I probably have to be that person’s pastor, no matter my opinion of them.

Your pastor is not your friend.

There are certain exceptions, of course: childhood friendships, close bonds, ways we can compartmentalize our relationships that work in very specific situations.

But it’s not the norm. It can’t be the norm.  If it becomes the norm your pastor is no longer able to be your pastor.

Plus, if you and your pastor are friends, then your pastor can never leave.  As if leaving a parish isn’t hard enough, the idea of leaving not only parishioners but also friends makes it impossible. Co-dependent. Bad for vocation and bad for any avocations you now share.

This doesn’t mean you don’t kid around with your pastor. It doesn’t mean that you don’t drop by to say hi, that you don’t do things for one another that friends do.  It doesn’t mean that you don’t even sometimes take trips together, play sports, attend birthday parties, and have a beer or two…many of these things that friends do with one another.

And it certainly doesn’t meant that you don’t share many of the same qualities you would with friends.  Pastors can open up, to a point.  Pastors can kid around, to a point.  But everything is “to a point” and that point is exactly where the collar hits what you need from them…

In every situation, they are “pastor”…which is just a very different way of being than just “friend.”

And finally, one thing we have to be really clear-eyed about: friendships end.  They do.  Friends fight and squabble, hurt each other’s feelings, get jealous, and get enmeshed.  Pastors who become friends run the risk of ruining the pastoral relationship when the friendship dissolves.

This is just plain bad for the office.  It’s a bad risk to take.  It’s a risk, I think, not worth taking.

We’re not the only profession that suffers from this fuzziness.

One of my very best friends is a doctor.  I casually ask him for medical advice sometimes, but if push came to shove he’d refer me to someone else for serious diagnosis…we’re too close for him to be my doctor.  My best friend is a financial adviser. I ask him for financial advice sometimes, but he can’t manage my money.  We’re too close for that.

It’s hard to explain I guess, and hard to accept in some instances, but I really haven’t found any other way to put it:

Your pastor is your pastor, not a friend.

Gods-Politics-0921I offer this as the news of DACA being rescinded is officially hitting the news.  No matter what your views on immigration are, we must be honest about the nature of DACA and its dissolution: it is cruel to ensure a future to people who didn’t ask to be here and then take it away.

But for those who are for it’s dissolution, and for everyone else, I have to be honest with you about how hard (impossible?) it must be to be a Christian and a politician, despite what the voters want you to say about your religious tradition.

I have a hunch we have a bunch of functioning atheists on our hands most days, not just in Washington, but everywhere.  And count me in that mix most days, if I’m brutally honest.

But for those who are calling for “law and order” when it comes to this issue, or any issue, I have to point you back to Jesus.  Not to the Bible, not to tradition, but to Jesus.

Look, on the one hand I get it: we are under the assumption that that law is how we order ourselves in this country.  And in many ways, this is true.  Laws are how we find norms in our country as a society.  As Winston Churchill once said, “Democracy is the worst kind of government, except for all the other kinds.”  He’s right.  So laws and democratic rule form our norms.

But for the Christian, laws are actually not the way we order ourselves, at least not ultimately.

I am happy to write out a long, well-reasoned post arguing the many reasons I think that it may be impossible for a politician to actually be a Christian in both profession and action.

Because the orienting factor for the Christian is not law qua law, but rather a law that is centered around the good and well being of people, especially people at the margins (because, you know, that’s where Jesus operated his ministry).

In other words, and to be timely, just because we have a law, does not mean that it is good for people, especially people on the margins of society.

And so the politician who is being honest about their faith does not orient themselves to defending the law, the Constitution, or even (gasp) some historical idea of Jesus that is undoubtedly burdened by the trappings of religiosity.

The politician who is being honest about their faith must orient themselves toward the people Jesus oriented himself toward: the weak, the sick, the vulnerable, the poor, the oppressed, those in need physically, socially, and yes, spiritually.

People tell me that they think it must be hard to be a Christian politician.  Usually they mean by this that they think a Christian politician can’t be honest about their faith because, well, they don’t allow you to pray in school (which they do, by the way, they just don’t let people in power tell others how to pray).

I agree with them: it must be hard to be a Christian and a politician.  But not because I think Christians are somehow oppressed in this country or context, though they certainly are in others…and we must not forget that.

No, I think it’s hard to be a Christian politician in these days because to live out your faith would cost you re-election (or even election in the first place).  Because you’d have to be focusing your votes and your policies not on what’s popular, but on policies that watch out for the weak, the vulnerable, the stranger, the marginalized.

You’d have to focus yourself on graceful living and loving as being the norm for your work.  Not the idea of grace and love, but the actual practice of it.

In short: you’d have to be human-focused rather than law-focused.

And as someone who might one day run for office, I offer this as an honest confession. It may be impossible to be a Christian and a politician.

My parents are in Scotland and Ireland right now, experiencing the land of my foremothers and forefathers.  My people came from the cold coasts of those islands back in the 1800’s.  They came from yonder and non, and down the line sprung me, and yet so much of my life is oriented around the assumption that I somehow earned a right to be here just because my family has been here for a hundred years.

I didn’t earn this; I won this lottery.

And how difficult it must be for people who win the lottery, but have forgotten they have, to interact with others who haven’t in a way that honors that fact.

I guess I might close by saying that, the Christian’s call is to follow Christ, which would mean giving up their lottery in many ways.

Because the lottery of God is one where everyone gets the same prize.  And, man, that must be hard to follow as a politician.

 

 

926be0ae335555eb4dfe0e3eb9f2c358--sufi-quotes-jalaluddin-rumiI once heard that tortured Irish metaphysicist Peter Rollins tell this little Islamic tale:

A dervish was sitting alone one day, and a stranger came up behind him and slapped the back of his head.

The dervish whirled around, ready to defend himself, and the stranger said, “You can hit me, but first ponder this question with me: did the *smack* that we both just heard come from my hand or the back of your head?

The dervish glared at him and said, “You have the luxury of asking that question, but I do not, because I’m the one sitting here dealing with it.”

So my question to my evangelical friends who crafted and support this so-called Nashville Statement: you have a theory, loosely based on small bits of a huge tome of scripture, and not based at all in historical-critical study, that has to do with people who didn’t have a seat at the discussion table.

You released this in the middle of a huge national disaster, a few weeks after a huge white supremacist march which prompted multiple resignations from an administration that refused to outright denounce it at the highest level (but surprisingly none of those resignations came from within your advisory ranks).  You basically just reissued the same statement you’ve been trumpeting for years, chasing youth into conversion camps and suicide attempts, imperiling marriages as gay people marry straight people because there is no other option for them, continuing to be the genesis of strife in many families as parents are forced to choose between their faith and their out children.

And I want to know: “How’s this going for you?”

Because your little theory that you affirmed in this statement doesn’t take into account the people actually sitting there, dealing with it.  And every theory has to, at some point, wrestle with that refining question, “And how’s living with this perspective going for me?”

Here’s an idea: why don’t you invite a person who identifies as LGBTQ to sit with you at a bar? You bring your Nashville Statement, and they’ll bring their life story, about the fear of coming out to their family, about the shame they had to endure after that first person found out and told everyone, about how they tried to love somebody that convention told them they should and just couldn’t, about the time they contemplated (and attempted?) suicide, about falling in love but not being able to hold hands in public, about wanting children but being told by so many people that kids need a “mom and a dad.”

And then, at the end of the hour, after a few drinks (of whatever you want, don’t worry, I won’t tell), ask yourself, “How’s this statement going for me?”

Because after that, guess what: some of their experience will then be yours, if you have any semblance of a heart.

Oh, and here’s a theory: I bet many evangelicals would absolutely be open to accepting their LGBTQ kids, parents, and friends.  In fact, in their heart of hearts, my theory is that they already do.

Poet Christian Wiman writes in his heart-wrenching memoir, My Bright Abyss, “How astonishing it is, the fierceness with which we cling to beliefs that have made us miserable, or beliefs that prove to be so obviously inadequate when extreme suffering–or great joy–comes.”

Lord, this is most certainly true.

You know what I think those people in my theory are worried about?  

What other parents, kids, and friends will say.  Will they say something like this Nashville Statement?

And to them…well, I want to just encourage them to come out of the closet.